Pope Francis’ Actions May Speak Louder Than His Words on LGBT Issues

October 4, 2015

Yayo Grassi

The news that Pope Francis’ “only real audience’ (in the words of a Vatican press statement) in his United States visit was with a gay man and his partner has re-awakened the hopes of many in the Catholic LGBT community that the pontiff has not aligned himself with conservative political forces, but that he is still open to showing affirmation to the LGBT people.

While this news is positive, one of the people at the center of this story, Yayo Grassi, the pope’s gay ex-student, cautioned against reading too much into this encounter.

Grassi told The New York Times that his meeting with the pope was a personal encounter, not a political one:

“I don’t think he was trying to say anything in particular. He was just meeting with his ex-student and a very close friend of his.”

Similarly, Jesuit Father James Martin, noted author and Catholic commentator, told The Huffington Post that the pope’s meeting with Grassi, while significant, should not be seen as acceptance of same-gender relationships:

“Of course it does not betoken any sort of papal approval of same-sex marriage. But if the story is accurate, I’m glad to hear that the Pope keeps in touch with old friends, gay or straight.”

In the same article, Father Thomas Rosica, Vatican spokesperson highlighted the pastoral aspect of the visit:

“As noted in the past, the Pope, as pastor, has maintained many personal relationships with people in a spirit of kindness, welcome and dialogue.”

More details and analyses have emerged which offer some insights into why the Vatican was slow to responding to this brouhaha.

An Associated Press news story explained the difference between an “audience” and a “meeting” in Vatican-speak:

“An audience differs from a meeting in that it is a planned, somewhat formal affair. Popes have audiences with heads of state. They have meetings and greeting sessions with benefactors or Catholic VIPs. So the fact that Lombardi described Grassi’s encounter as the only ‘real audience’ in Washington made clear that Francis wanted to emphasize that encounter over Davis’ “brief meeting” with several dozen other people invited to the embassy at the same time.”

The same news story offered some background as to how the Vatican’s clarification on the Davis meeting came about:

“Initially the Vatican only reluctantly confirmed the meeting but offered no comment.

“On Friday, Lombardi met with Francis and issued a fuller statement to ‘contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired.’ Francis has made clear he dislikes being used for political ends, and Lombardi’s statement appeared intended to make clear that the encounter should in no way be exploited.”

New York Times article reported the response of Jesuit Father James Martin, who earlier this week had cautioned that the Kim Davis meeting was not an indication of the pope’s support of her cause.  He offered a theory as to why the Vatican did not speak quickly to explain the Davis meeting:

“I was very disappointed to see the pope having been used that way, and that his willingness to be friendly to someone was turned against him. What may originally have prevented them from issuing a statement was the desire not to give this story too much air. But what they eventually came to realize was that they needed to correct some gross misrepresentations of what had happened. It shows that Pope Francis met with many people on the trip, and that she was simply another person who he tried to be kind to.”

In the same article, an Italian Vatican observer also offered his view of the Kim Davis situation:

” ‘Nobody in the Catholic Church wants another Regensburg,’ said Massimo Faggioli, an associate professor of theology and director of the Institute for Catholicism and Citizenship at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. He was referring to the backlash after Pope Benedict XVI, Francis’ predecessor, gave a speech in Regensburg, Germany, that appeared to denigrate Islam.

” ‘This was not as serious as Regensburg, when Benedict read his own speech,’ Dr. Faggioli said about the meeting attended by Ms. Davis. ‘But the pope has to be able to rely on his own system, and in this case the system failed him. The question is, was it a mistake, or was it done with full knowledge of how toxic she was?’ ”

“The meeting with Ms. Davis was clearly a misstep, Dr. Faggioli said, ‘because the whole trip to the United States he very carefully didn’t want to give the impression that he was being politicized by any side.’

“He added, ‘And this thing is the most politicized thing that you can imagine.’ “

While Pope Francis’ meeting with Grassi was not the important pastoral step that needs to be done:  meeting with LGBT people because they are LGBT, it still serves as a great model for bishops and other pastoral leaders.  He showed them, as he has done in the past, that someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity should not mean they are excluded from conversations and relationships with church officials.

While Pope Francis’ words about LGBT people and relationships may not be clear, his warm and friendly gestures are very clear.  May his actions speak louder than his words!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

New Ways Ministry: Gay Priest’s Revelation Is Big Step for Himself & the Church

October 3, 2015

Statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry

Monsignor Krzystof Charamsa’s announcement of his gay sexual orientation is an important step for him personally and an important step for the Catholic Church.  This Vatican official, who worked at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,  exhibited courage and honesty in making his orientation public.

Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa

His revelation is an acknowledgement of the truth of the way God has made him, and, like millions of other LGBT Catholics, his self-acceptance and self-affirmation will help him better understand God’s love for him. For the Catholic Church, his news is another step in our growing process of coming to better terms with our LGBT brothers and sisters.

[For news stories about Monsignor Charamsa’s announcement, see the end of this post.  An English language translation of the Italian newspaper interview with him in which he revealed his orientation can be found by clicking here. The Vatican’s response to the announcement can be read by clicking here. ] 

It is sadly disappointing that the Vatican fired him when they learned of his announcement.  He now joins the long list of LGBT people and allies who have been fired from jobs in Catholic institutions because of LGBT issues.  It is unfortunate that Church leaders did not see Charamsa’s announcement as an opportunity for further dialogue with someone they have known and trusted.

We hope that his news will help the bishops of the world gathering in Rome this weekend for three weeks of synod discussions which will include pastoral outreach to families with LGBT members.  His witness to the holiness of the lives of LGBT people and the goodness of their relational lives could help these church leaders discern more appropriate and accepting forms of pastoral care.   His testimony of struggle and overcoming fear should help these bishops see the challenges and joys that many LGBT people and their families face.

The decision to come out is a highly personal one, and one which only the individual can make.  Only the individual can decide when it is safe and responsible to do so, taking into account the possible negative repercussions that can occur in terms of employment, housing, and relationships.  Only the individual can decide when the pressures of the closet have become too difficult for their emotional and spiritual lives. New Ways Ministry continues to support all LGBT people–including priests, nuns, brothers, deacons, bishops–as they discern when is the appropriate time for them to make such a revelation about themselves.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Reuters: “Vatican sacks priest after he comes out as gay”

Huffington Post:  Vatican Fires Gay Priest On Eve Of Synod”


Just When You Thought the Pope Francis-Kim Davis Story Could Not Get More Surprising. . .

October 3, 2015

The other shoe finally dropped. And then a third one dropped, too.

More than two days after the meeting Pope Francis had with Kim Davis made headlines and spawned a global debate the Vatican issued a clarification about the nature of the meeting, downplaying any support by the pontiff of the Kentucky court clerk’s stand against issuing marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples.

Yayo Grassi meets Pope Francis in Washington, DC

But just hours after that revelation, CNN reported something even more surprising:  the day before Davis encountered Pope Francis, the pontiff had a private, personal meeting with a gay couple and their friends.  More surprising, it was the pope who had requested the meeting with the Argentine gay man, who was his high school student in the 1960s, and the man’s partner of 19 years, saying that he wanted to give the former student a hug.   You can watch the video of their meeting here:

CNN’s Daniel Burke wrote:

“Yayo Grassi, an openly gay man, brought his partner, Iwan, as well several other friends to the Vatican Embassy on September 23 for a brief visit with the Pope. A video of the meeting shows Grassi and Francis greeting each other with a warm hug.

“In an exclusive interview with CNN, Grassi declined to disclose details about the short visit, but said it was arranged personally by the Pope via email in the weeks ahead of Francis’ highly anticipated visit to the United States.

” ‘Three weeks before the trip, he called me on the phone and said he would love to give me a hug,’ Grassi said. . .

“Grassi said the Pope has long known that he is gay, but has never condemned his sexuality or his same-sex relationship. Grassi said he and Iwan (he declined to disclose his last name due to privacy concerns) had previously met Francis in Rome.

“Greeting Iwan with a handshake, Francis says that he recalls meeting him, according to the brief video. At the end the meeting, the Pope hugs both men and kisses them on the cheek.

” ‘He has never been judgmental,’ Grassi said. ‘He has never said anything negative.’ “

In the Vatican statement explaining the Davis meeting, the Vatican alluded to the Grassi meeting, but did not explain the gay dimension of it:

“[T]he only real audience granted by the Pope at the nunciature (embassy) was with one of his former students and his family.”

Thus, what was already a complicated story becomes more complicated.

While I am glad to hear this story of the Grassi meeting, I still wish that Pope Francis would be more forthcoming about his personal experiences and relationships with LGBT people.  That kind of openness would set a great example for bishops and other church leaders who cringe at the thought of any association with LGBT people or issues.

And while it is wonderful to hear of Pope Francis’ personal admiration for this gay couple, it would be much more effective if he would set up formal dialogues with LGBT Catholics to discuss church teaching, policy, and pastoral practice.  As I stated two days ago, the time for vagueness, ambiguity, and secret meetings is over.

Had the Vatican responded more quickly and efficiently to the Davis story, so much ink and computer time could have been saved. When the pope has made statements that have been interpreted positively by progressives, the Vatican spokesperson is always swift to clarify that such an interpretation is wrong.  They should have also been equally speedy in clarifying the insignificance of the Kim Davis meeting, saving much heartache and concern by people all over the U.S. and around the world.

Moreover, had the Vatican been more forthcoming about the context of the Grassi meeting, they would have immediately gained much respect and admiration from the LGBT community.

The Vatican’s statement on Davis was brief, and, in my reading of it, seems like it was crafted to emphasize that the pope was not supporting Ms. Davis’ cause.  So, far from being a victory for the U.S. bishops who see Davis as a hero of “religious liberty,” the experience has turned into a confirmation that Pope Francis did not intend to make a statement of any sort of her case.

Indeed, it seems that this story has further confirmed the openness, albeit a small amount, of Pope Francis to personally engage with LGBT people and not treat them as pariahs.  Yet, I wonder why the Vatican, besieged in the last few days by criticisms from the LGBT community, did not reveal the details of this meeting the pope had with a gay couple.  It would have won great support for them and the pontiff.  The pope is a public person and so his meetings have public significance.  Was the Vatican totally unaware of the many repeated calls by LGBT Catholics for an opportunity to visit with him while he was in the U.S.?

In the last few days, rumors have been flying as to who might have been the initiator of the Davis meeting.  That mystery still remains to be solved, acknowledged, and admitted.

 The National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters offered this theory:
“Somebody messed up. A source at the bishops’ conference told me on background that the meeting happened “against the advice of the bishops’ conference.” Other reports in both the Washington Post and the New York Times agree that the meeting was arranged by a ‘Vatican official.’ Seeing as the meeting happened at the nunciature in Washington, it could only have happened with the approval and participation of the nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.”
Yet, in the same newspaper, a few days later, Vatican reporter Joshua McElwee cited a Vatican spokesperson’s explanation:

“Basilian Fr. Tom Rosica, a Canadian who assists the Vatican press office with English-language media, said Friday that the encounter between Davis and Francis was not organized by Vatican staff.

“Rosica said the Vatican was unsure who the meeting was organized by, and that it might have been an initiative by the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Vigano.”

Esquire magazine offered some strong evidence that points the finger, though non-conclusively, at Vigano:

“Vigano is well-known to be a Ratzinger loyalist and he always has been a cultural conservative, particularly on the issue of marriage equality. In April, in a move that was unprecedented, Vigano got involved with an anti-marriage equality march in Washington sponsored by the National Association For Marriage. (And, mirabile dictu, as we say around Castel Gandolfo at happy hour, one of the speakers at this rally was Mat Staver, who happens now to be Kim Davis’s lawyer.) In short, Vigano, a Ratzinger loyalist, who has been conspicuous and publicly involved in the same cause as Kim Davis and her legal team, arranges a meeting with Davis that the legal team uses to its great public advantage.”

Clearly, a definite answer is still needed.

I hope that both Pope Francis and the Vatican have learned some lessons from these experiences about communication and symbolism.  The main lesson that I hope they take away from these incidents is that many people are confused as to where Pope Francis stands on LGBT issues  If Pope Francis would clarify where he stands on some of the vague messages he has made with regard to LGBT issues, this whole media storm could have been avoided.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Related articles:
The New York Times:  “Pope Francis, the Kentucky Clerk and Culture Wars Revisited”
The Washington Post: “Vatican: Pope’s Kim Davis meeting not meant to support her position”
The Huffington Post:  “Kim Davis And The Trap For Pope Francis”


Reporting From Rome on Rainbow Catholics Assembly and Synod on the Family

October 2, 2015

St.Peter’s Basilica and Square

Saluti di Roma!  Greetings from Rome!

I am here in the Eternal City to observe the upcoming Synod of Bishops which will be discussing marriage and family issues, including LGBT topics.  In preparation for the Vatican’s synod which begins on Sunday, October 4, 2015, an international group of Catholic LGBT leaders is gathering in Rome this weekend to launch a global organization to lift up concerns of LGBT people in the church.

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) Inaugural Assembly has been organized by a coalition of groups, including New Ways Ministry, under the leadership of the European Forum of Lesbian and Gay Christian Groups. Representatives from over 30 nations will meet for three days to discuss the governance and objectives of this coalition designed to foster international cooperation, as well as to present a strong united voice of LGBT Catholics and allies to Church officials.  The Assembly’s theme is “LGBT Voices to the Synod,” and it will conclude on Sunday with a statement of pastoral concerns to be sent to the Vatican and to all the bishop participants in the synod.

During the weekend, the Assembly participants will attend an international conference on pastoral care of LGBT people which has been organized by the same coalition.  The conference is entitled “Ways of Love: Snapshots of Catholic Encounter with LGBT People and their Families.”  Among the featured speakers will be Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland and the mother of a gay man; Bishop Raul Vera, head of the Diocese of Saltillo, Mexico, and an outspoken supporter of LGBT equality; and Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder and longtime advocate for LGBT issues.

Sister Jeannine and I will represent New Ways Ministry at the GNRC Assembly.  Also attending from the USA will be DignityUSA Board Members Jeff Stone and Leo Egashira, as well as Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, head of the Human Rights Campaign’s Catholic and Latino/a Programs.

logo GNRC 2The four-day Assembly, with a full program of meetings, will work to initiate joint projects, mutual support and exchange of best practices, while seeking dialogue and serene engagement with the whole Catholic community and institutions.

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) is an international network of organisations and people involved in the pastoral care of, and search for justice for, LGBT people and their families. By means of joint projects, support and interchange, the Network strives for the inclusion, dignity and equality of LGBT people, their parents and their families, within the Catholic Church and wider society. Representing, as they do, a great variety of sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds, the members of GNRC are united in a common Catholic Faith which leads them to pray and work so that LGBT people may be guaranteed full and equal inclusion in all sectors of the Catholic Church, and the protection, by both civil and ecclesiastical law, of their human dignity, rights and equality of treatment may be upheld.

Rooted in the tradition of Catholic Social Justice teaching, the GNRC proposes the equal and intrinsic value of all people, independent of sexual orientation, relationship status or gender identity. According to a press release from the group:

“GNRC members long for a Catholic Church in which ALL the people of God – LGBT and heterosexual people – can live, pray and offer their own service together in harmony.”

The group which organized these events consisted of representatives from:  European Forum of LGBT Christian GroupsAssociació Cristiana de Gais i Lesbianes de Catalunya (ACGIL)(Spain), Dette Resources Foundation (Zambia), DignityUSA (USA), Drachma (Drachma LGBTI and Drachma Parents Group) (Malta), Ichthys christian@s lgtbh de Sevilla (Spain), LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council (UK), New Ways Ministry (USA),Nuova Proposta (Italy), Ökumenische Arbeitsgruppe Homosexuelle und Kirche (Germany), Pastoral de la Diversidad Sexual (Chile), Wiara i Tęcza (Poland).

Following this historic weekend gathering, I will be staying on in Rome to observe the synod proceedings, and, hopefully, to meet with some of the bishop delegates.  Please keep Sister Jeannine and me in your prayers during this time, as we can benefit from your support.

In blog posts in the coming week,  I’ll be reporting from Rome about the GNRC Assembly, the international conference, and, of course, the synod of bishops.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Commentators Analyze the Significance of Pope Francis’ Meeting With Kim Davis

October 1, 2015

Yesterday’s news about Pope Francis’ meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples, went viral very quickly and evoked very strong reactions in people.  In almost four years of blogging, I can’t think of any story that has generated as many comments so quickly from our readers as this one has.  The news certainly struck a nerve in people’s minds and hearts.  How significant is this news?  Is it just overblown hype or a gesture which reveals the pope’s beliefs?

Pope Francis

New Ways Ministry issued a response to this news yesterday, and you can read it by clicking here.  Today, we offer some commentary from others on the matter.

Two leading Catholic commentators, Father James Martin, SJ, an America magazine editor, and John Allen, Jr., an editor of Crux, both offered explanations to try to downplay the importance of the meeting.  Martin made seven points, including:

“Pope Francis met with many individuals during his visits in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia, at various locations and events. . . .

“It’s hard to know how much the Pope Francis knew about each individual who was introduced to him during his long trip to the United States. . . .

“His words to her, ‘Be strong,’ and his gift of a rosary seem to be the kind of thing the pope might do for anyone presented to him. . . .

“Most of all, despite what Ms. Davis said, a meeting with the pope does not ‘kind of validate everything.’ Again, the pope meets with many people, some of whom he may know well, others of whom may be introduced to him as a reward for long service, and perhaps others who will use a meeting to make a political point.”

You can read all the points and explanations of Fr. Martin by clicking here.

Allen made some similar points in a Crux analysis:

“The fact that someone arranged a brief encounter between Francis and Davis does not necessarily mean that Francis initiated the contact, or even that he necessarily grasps all the dimensions of her case. . . .

“It would be over-interpreting things to read the meeting as a blanket endorsement of everything Davis has said or done. . . .

“[W]e don’t yet know how Francis sees the balance between honoring one’s conscience and upholding one’s responsibilities as a public official, because he hasn’t addressed that question at any length.”

Kim Davis

Martin and Allen are seasoned church and Vatican observers, and there is some truth to everything that they have written.  The question in this situation of the papal meeting is a question not of content, but of emphasis.  While the pope does meet with lots of different people, he also chooses not to meet with many, many others.  It doesn’t matter whether the meeting was short or perfunctory.  The fact that it happened at all highlights a choice that the pope and his meeting planners made, and that choice–along with his comments made in the plane ride interview the other day–puts a strong emphasis on where the pope’s administration stands on the issue of people who choose not to issue marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples.

The fact that Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi said there would be no further comment on the meeting other than to confirm that it happened is also troubling.  If the meeting was arranged by Davis’ lawyers or even the pontiff’s staff (as reported by The New York Times), then the Vatican should at least clarify that.

Others have also issued reactions to the news of the meeting.  DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke said in a statement:

“The news that Pope Francis met with Kim Davis while failing to respond to repeated requests for dialogue with LGBT Catholics and their families will be deeply disappointing to many Catholics, gay, trans, and straight alike.  It may be seen as putting the weight of the Vatican behind the US Catholic bishops’ claims of victimization, and to support those who want to make it more difficult for same-sex couples to exercise their civil right to marriage. This encounter could, in many people’s minds, transform the Pope’s US trip from a largely successful pastoral visit to the endorsement of an exclusionary political agenda.

“I fear that this meeting and claims that the Pope told Ms. Davis to ‘stand strong’ will embolden the many US bishops and others who continue to try to turn back support for LGBT people. It will make even more of us feel like the Pope’s message of mercy and love was not meant for LGBT people and families. It points again to the deep divide between Catholics who affirm and support their LGBT family members and friends, and the hierarchy, which is tragically out of touch.”

The Atlantic magazine sought comment from the top bishop in the U.S., who also lives in the same state as Davis:

“Joseph Kurtz, the archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky, and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wouldn’t comment on the meeting itself and how it came about, noting that he stayed about a mile away from the nunciature where Pope Francis stayed during his visit to D.C. But ‘I can comment on the fact that in Kentucky, I had said that I’m not a lawyer or a politician, but I had certainly hoped that room could be made for people of conscience,’ he said on Wednesday.”

Michelangelo Signorile, a noted gay writer, strongly criticized Pope Francis for this meeting.  In a Huffington Post essay, Signorile stated:

“I would have more respect for the pope if he had publicly embraced Kim Davis and made an argument for her, as he did in his visit with the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are battling against filling out a form to exempt themselves from Obamacare’s contraception requirement, claiming that even filling out the form violates their religious liberty — even though I vehemently disagree with the pope on that issue. I’d have more respect if he boldly, explicitly made a public statement (not the vague, general statement he made on his plane on the way home only in response to a reporter’s question about Davis), as he did in trying to stop the execution of a Georgia inmate who was put to death this morning. But by meeting with Davis secretly, and then at first having the Vatican neither confirm nor deny the encounter — and now having the Vatican say it ‘won’t deny’ the meeting while it still won’t offer any other details — the pope comes off as a coward.”

Finally,  a Huffington Post news article reported on reactions to the news from LGBT Catholic advocates, including one of the newest on the scene:

“Aaron Jay Ledesma, a gay Catholic who was invited to the White House to help welcome Pope Francis last week, said the meeting between the pope and Davis does not in any way change his opinion of the pontiff.

” ‘The pope met so many people on his trip to the United States, so who am I to judge who he meets,’ Ledesma told HuffPost. ‘The meeting itself does not bother me — if anything she probably needs it.’

“What does bother him, Ledesma said, is that Kim Davis would use the meeting to push an agenda.

” ‘She’s using her faith and her meeting with Pope Francis out of context to justify her discrimination against gay people,’ he said. Ledesma said he doesn’t think the pope would approve of such discrimination, given his emphasis on love and compassion.”

So, what do you think?  Join the scores of other Bondings 2.0 readers who have already made their thoughts on this story known by making “Comments” on yesterday’s post.  Do you agree or disagree with any of the thoughts made by the commentators above.  Share your opinion on this important story by posting in today’s “Comments” section.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

ThinkProgress: “Everything We Know About Kim Davis’ Alleged Secret Meeting With The Pope”

National Catholic Reporter: “Pope Francis met Kentucky clerk Kim Davis”

Pope Francis’ Meeting With Kim Davis Raises a Red Flag

September 30, 2015

Statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry

The news that Pope Francis met privately in Washington, DC with Kim Davis throws a wet blanket on the good will that the pontiff had garnered during his U.S. visit last week.  Davis is the Protestant Kentucky county clerk who defied a court order to issue licenses to lesbian and gay couples after she refused to do so, citing moral reason. Though some commentators are downplaying the significance of the meeting, the fact that it happened at all raises a red flag about where he stands on LGBT issues. The pope’s decision to meet Davis with  is a puzzling one for many reasons.

Kim Davis

First of all, Pope Francis had steered clear of getting involved in any particular political situation while visiting the U.S.  Though he spoke twice to audiences on the topic of religious liberty, he carefully avoided mentioning any individual case or example.  Indeed, as was noted earlier this week, some of his comments on religious liberty were easily interpreted as supporting LGBT people.

Second, there had been numerous calls for the pope to meet with LGBT Catholics and families while in the U.S., and the Vatican ignored them all.  Indeed, many other Catholics supporting other social justice issues also requested a chance to speak with the pope.  What was special about Kim Davis’ case that the pope decided to meet only with her? Moreover,  why did he do so secretly? In his remarks during the airplane interview on his way back to Rome, Francis was asked about exactly the type of case that Davis represents, and he refused to comment on any specific case.

Third, and even stranger is the fact that few Catholic bishops or organizations here in the U.S. have publicly supported Kim Davis’ cause.   Only Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, and Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, are on the record suggesting that clerks who oppose marriage equality should refuse to issue licenses.

Fourth, Pope Francis chastised U.S. bishops at least twice in his U.S. visit for being too blatantly political.  Why then would he himself make such a blatantly political act by meeting with Davis?

Fifth, in his remarks during the airplane interview on his way back to Rome, Francis was asked about exactly the type of case that Davis represents, and he refused to comment on any specific case.  Why did he not tell reporters then that he had met with her? After those remarks became public, New Ways Ministry had commented that the pope was incorrect in labeling the refusal to issue marriage licenses as conscientious objection.

Though LGBT and ally Catholics have welcomed Pope Francis’ affirming remarks,  many, including myself, have also remarked that he sometimes talks out of both sides of his mouth.  Moreover, while he is LGBT-positive in general ways, his remarks on specific moral and political issues are often at odds with his welcoming stance.   The time for vagueness, ambiguity, and secret meetings is over.   Pope Francis needs to state clearly where he stands in regard to the inclusion of LGBT people in the church and society.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Catholic School Suspends Gay Student for Seeking Same-Sex Homecoming Date

September 30, 2015

Lance Sanderson

Lance Sanderson, a senior at Christian Brothers High School (CBHS) in Memphis, who had sought permission to bring a same-sex date to the school’s Homecoming Dance last weekend, not only was excluded from last weekend’s dance, but found himself suspended by school officials when he arrived for classes on Monday.

Sanderson’s explained his request in a Change.org petition which has gained nearly 25,000 signatures:

“I just want to bring a date of my choice to homecoming like the rest of my friends and classmates. I’m not asking for special treatment. I’m just asking for respect, and the chance to make my last homecoming a truly memorable experience.”

A CBHS teacher told him last spring that the school “doesn’t discriminate” and the decision ultimately is the principal’s, Sanderson reported. When school resumed in September:

“One administrator told me that even though some people interpreted Pope Francis’s teachings on the issue as meaning they should support same-sex couples, these people are, ‘not the authority to which Christian Brothers High School is accountable.’ And now my school is making daily announcements across the whole school, saying that students can’t bring same-sex dates from other schools.”

Another administrator mentioned a gay couple he knew, saying Sanderson was “a lot like this one person” but that “the guy’s boyfriend murdered him” in an event the student understates as “a little rough.”

The daily announcement mentioned above is a new policy implemented in response to Sanderson’s request, reported The New Civil Rights Movement. It allows female dates from other schools, but “for logistical reasons” bars male dates.

Sadly, CBHS officials believe that seeking equality warrants a week long suspension for Sanderson. Called to the office when he arrived, Sanderson was told that the administration “had 890 other students to worry about” and did not “appreciate the unwanted publicity,” reported NewNowNext.

CBHS officials are defending their actions in a statement that claims outreach to gay students was a goal for the school year and that the community was “a kinder and gentler school. . .not homophobic.” Several steps, including training for teachers and appointing a gay alum to the board, are listed as evidence.

Having been out at CBHS since he was a freshman, this is not the first time Sanderson has faced harassment or discrimination. One time a classmate “kept referring to one of the main characters [in a movie the class was watching] as a ‘fag’ at least 17 times.”. However, receiving punitive sanctioning from the administration is new. Sanderson, still excluded from receiving his education this week, wrote a letter to school officials that said, in part:

“I am hurt by this exclusion. It goes against the Lasallian value of brotherhood that the school is supposed to stand for. You won’t let me dance with my date and you won’t let me go to class now either. I had hoped that today would be one for positive conversation going forward. Instead, I was sent home.

“I haven’t done anything wrong and haven’t hurt anybody. I want to be welcomed back to the school building today and I want this mean-spirited semi-suspension ended, so that I can do my classwork like anybody else.”

Thankfully, Sanderson is receiving growing support from the outside. Crowds at the Mid-South Pride Festival chanted “Let Lance dance!” over the weekend, including several gay CBHS alumni reported NewNowNext.

One gay alum, Mike Halford, is however defending the school’s actions, reported Fox 13. Halford claims the reasons behind the suspension are unclear and CBHS officials may simply choose to remain silent on these matters, though Halford is optimistic “eventually that part of the policy [on dance dates] will be changed.”

Administrators at Christian Brothers High School owe it to Lance, to the school community, and to Memphis Catholics to end that silence and be transparent about why they have pursued this course of action. There seems little reason other than punishment and intimidation why an otherwise good student like Lance Sanderson receives a week long suspension. Further, barring same-sex dates at Catholic school events is not the only option.

Other institutions, like McQuaid Jesuit High School in New York, have found ways of truly welcoming LGBT students when it comes to homecoming dances and proms. CBHS officials should apologize for the deep harm they have caused, welcome Sanderson back to classes immediately, and when prom comes in the spring, let Lance dance!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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