The Ups and Downs of the Hierarchy’s New Discourse on Gay and Lesbian People

March 6, 2015

An African archbishop’s recent comments on homosexuality is an example of a new type of ecclesial discourse that is emerging on the topic.  His message shows the dangers of such a discourse, the small progress that our church leaders have made, and the hope for future advancement.

Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle

In an interview with the website Aleteia.org,  Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Accra, Ghana, discussed his hopes and expectations for the Vatican’s October 2015 Synod on Marriage and the Family. In a discussion about different forms of marriage, he digressed into the topic of lesbian and gay people, saying:

“In Africa — this is the context I’m dealing with — I will not close my eyes to the fact that there are instances in Africa of homosexuals, people with homosexual tendencies, people with lesbian tendencies. Africa has always frowned upon that, because we have always looked at marriage as contributing to the well being of the greater society, not necessarily only to the well being of the individuals.

“So in a way, we may have to say that anyone who had a certain tendency was not happily looked at. In fact, there have been instances when their human rights have been trampled upon. The Church is calling us to understand that. Whether the person has homosexual tendencies or heterosexual tendencies, the person is created in the image and likeness of God, and that image and likeness of God is what we must protect. That is what we must defend. And that is why we must help that individual listen to what God says about his or her state. And I think that is the beauty of what the Church teaches us.”

What are the features of this new ecclesial discourse?  First, like Palmer-Buckle, I think we are going to see a lot more members of the hierarchy speaking about the human dignity of gay and lesbian people.  That’s a step forward.  For too long, bishops have been reluctant to enunciate this aspect of orthodox church teaching.

But, another feature is the use of the word “tendencies.”  This word, which began to be used more widely towards the end of John Paul II’s papacy and continued through the papacy of Benedict XVI, is problematic for two important reasons. First, it focuses homosexuality on acts, not persons or relationships. Second, it has the connotation that homosexuality may be temporary or fleeting.  A “tendency” is much less permanent or foundational than an “orientation.”   So, using “tendencies” is a step backward, or, more accurately, remaining in place–a very bad place.

The interviewer asked Palmer-Buckle: “. . . the word “accogliere” [to welcome] was a word used a great deal during the Extraordinary Synod last October. The word, in some instances, has been hijacked to make it seem as though the Church is on its way to approving homosexual relationships. What do the bishops need to say next October in order to communicate both to Africa and and to the West exactly where the Church stands? “

Interestingly, instead of agreeing with the more traditionalist agenda embedded in that question, Palmer-Buckle answered in a more “pastoral” way:

“You know, if there is anything I find beautiful about Pope Francis, it is how he calls us back to the question: How would Christ act in this circumstance?

“And I think one of the deepest respects I have for him was when he was returning from Rio de Janeiro and was interviewed by journalists who were interested in knowing what the Pope thinks about lesbians and gays, when he said: ‘If a gay is looking for Christ, who am I to condemn the person?’

“I think the Pope took the stance of Jesus Christ. For instance, in the face of the woman who was caught in adultery, those who were standing there wanted to stone her to death. And what did Jesus say? ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’ The Bible tells us ‘they went away one by one.’ Now if you remember the question Jesus posed to the woman: ‘Woman, has no one condemned you?’ She responds: ‘No one.’ He says: ‘Then neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.’

“The beauty of what I like about this is that Jesus first thought he must save this woman and her God-given dignity and the gift of life that God had given her. After he had saved her and made her understand that God loves her, then he tells her: now go and repair whatever is between you and God. I find it beautiful.”

There is a welcome in the archbishop’s message, which, if it were unconditional, would be helpful. However, his comparison of lesbian/gay people with the woman who is caught in adultery is demeaning.  Furthermore, his emphasis on the need for repentance of sexual sin cancels out any welcome might have been offered.

Such negative attitudes in language indicate that church leaders like Palmer-Buckle still have a lot to learn about homosexuality and the lives of lesbian and gay people–particularly their lives of faith and love.

At the same time, Palmer-Buckle shows an important development in ecclesial discourse which I hope will be emulated:  he has the ability to acknowledge where the church has failed.  In answer to a question about pressure from the media, he answered:

“So I don’t blame [the media]. Most probably we have for so long a time made people suffer just because they are not ‘like us.’  We’ve made them suffer, discriminated against them, we have ostracized them. So if today the gay lobby is very loud it’s because we have almost de-humanized them. . . .

“What the Pope is bringing out is that we have no right to dehumanize anybody, either for color, for creed, or for sexual orientation. We should embrace them, and then point out, walk with them towards what the Pope believes is a certain inner voice that nobody can suffocate, that not even the media can suffocate.

“Those who are in the gay lobby, for one reason or another, have been compelled by us, the so-called ‘good ones,’ to even shove down a certain voice in themselves which definitely I think has been pointing out to them that something is not 100% right. We have contributed to that. We have also shut down in ourselves the voice which says: Everyone is a child of God, and we should welcome them all. We have no right to stone anybody, and we have no right to ostracize anybody. We should welcome them.

Self-criticism is a major step forward.  Awareness that zeal about sexual ethics has cancelled out any human empathy and Christian compassion is also a significant advancement.  To me, these qualities are pre-requisites for dialogue.  Dialogue can’t happen if either side is unwilling to see themselves from the other perspective.

My hope would be that such bishops would be open to honest dialogue with lesbian and gay Catholics, in the non-judgmental manner advocated by Pope Francis.  Palmer-Buckle’s interview contains one passage which, if he takes it seriously, could open up his approach somewhat.  In talking about the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family in October 2014, Palmer-Buckle said:

“The Holy Father himself put together a very beautiful synthesis. The long and short of it is: nobody should stop anybody from saying what he or she thinks about the current state of marriage, family, etc. Nobody should suffocate anybody. We should listen to one another and we should reflect on it and try to see what the Holy Spirit will tell us about how to accompany towards Christ people who find themselves in any form of marriage. That is [Pope Francis’] main concern: how do we bring them, whoever they are, in whatever context they find themselves, to Christ. I think that was a beautiful message.”

Yes, we need to listen and reflect.  Not just bishops with other bishops, but bishops with laity and clergy and theologians and those in the scientific community.   No one should be excluded from the dialogue.  To hear the Spirit, we need to hear all the voices.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Large Majority of S.F. Teachers Publicly Reject Archbishop Cordileone’s Handbook Changes

March 5, 2015

Students protest handbook changes outside St. Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco (NY Times Photo)

80% of the teachers and staff at four Archdiocese of San Francisco Catholic high schools have signed a statement to Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone in which they reject the changes that he has made to the teachers handbook which include an immense amount of “morality clauses” which condemn a wide variety of sexual issues, including homosexuality.

SFWeekly.com reported that the statement, which comes amid contract negotiations, declared the teachers’ reaffirmation to their

“commitment to our students and the Catholic educational mission … and the principles of respect for individual conscience, and the value placed on the diversity of our faculty, staff, and student and parent bodies.”

“We believe the recently proposed handbook language is harmful to our community and creates an atmosphere of mistrust and fear. We believe our schools should be places of inquiry and the free exchange of ideas where all feel welcome and affirmed. Such language has no place in our handbooks. We respectfully ask Archbishop Cordileone to use the faculty handbook currently in place.”

One teacher explained the motivation behind the statement:

“Jim Jordan, an English teacher from Sacred Heart Cathedral, noted ‘As teachers, we are not only seeking to preserve a safe and vibrant community that supports education and the free exchange of ideas, but the safety and well-being of our students. This language in this judgmental context undermines the mission of Catholic education and the inclusive, diverse and welcoming community we prize at our schools. It is an attack not only on teachers’ labor and civil rights, but on young people who are discovering who they are in the world.’ ”

The San Francisco controversy is shaping up to be one of the most protracted protests in the numerous cases of diocesan morality clause additions and firing of church workers over LGBT-related issues.   Last week, Cordileone announced that he would form a committee of theology teachers from the affected schools to review the language of the additions, but a diocesan spokesperson said there would be no changes in substance, but only refinements in language to be more accommodating to ordinary readers.

In a New York Times article, one scholar noted that this situation serves as an example of a wider trend in modern Catholicism:

“Michele Dillon, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire who has written a book about American Catholics, said the situation in San Francisco reflected the flux in attitudes among people in the faith.

“ ‘The church wants people to be aware of official church teachings because they think there is confusion in the culture,’ Professor Dillon said. ‘A lot of Catholics aren’t confused. They simply ignore the church’s teachings.’ ”

The Times article carried responses to the handbook changes from a variety of different people connected to the schools:

“We pray for the archbishop that his heart is changed,” said Gus O’Sullivan, an openly gay senior at Sacred Heart who spoke at the candlelight protest.

Mr. Vezzali, the union official, who is also chairman of the English department at Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco, said that union members were “worried about teachers who are gay and who are not able to live publicly.”

“We want to support our gay students,” Mr. Vezzali added. “We understand we are there to carry out the church’s mission.”

Mr. Vezzali said the archbishop was “a very wise man” and added, “We feel our schools are places where we’re supposed to share the gospel of Jesus and love, no matter what.” . . .

Some critics say Archbishop Cordileone should align his priorities more closely with those of Pope Francis, who has emphasized the plight of the poor.

“We sent our kids to these schools because they uphold the fundamental principles of our faith of love, acceptance and respect,” said Kathy Curran, a mother of a Sacred Heart freshman. “This language says some people are not O.K. — and that’s not O.K.”

With such an outpouring of protest from all quarters of these schools’ communities, it will be important for Archbishop Cordileone to take the path of reconciliation and justice.  He has already met once with teachers, but the fact that so many are now protesting his proposals indicate that he must continue to dialogue and reconcile.  The community of people protesting the new rules are not just employees, not just customers of an archdiocesan service agency.  They are Catholics who are expressing their faith, and by virtue of that, they need to be listened to.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


U.K. Catholic LGBT Leaders Meet With Cardinal Turkson While on Pilgrimage

March 4, 2015

As we mentioned before, when New Ways Ministry was on pilgrimage in Italy last month, another group of LGBT Catholics were also there.  The second group was from the United Kingdom, hailing from London’s Farm Street Jesuit Church (Immaculate Conception parish), where the Diocese of Westminster houses their official outreach ministry to LGBT people, known as “LGBT Catholics Westminster.”

Cardinal Peter Turkson

Cardinal Peter Turkson

Two of the members of this U.K. group also had the opportunity to meet with Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and his, Fr. Michael Czerny S.J., Secretary of the same Council.  The British representatives asked for the meeting on behalf of the Catholic members of the European Forum of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Christian Groups.  A press statement summarized the meeting:

“The discussion on 21 February 2015 included an exchange of views about the global impact of criminalisation on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Cardinal Turkson reaffirmed his opposition to the criminalisation of homosexuals for who they are, while also urging that neither people nor states be penalized for not embracing such behaviour.

“The Lineamenta for the 2015 Synod on Marriage and Family, with particular reference to its paragraphs (55 & 56) dealing with same-sex relationships, also came up, with the hope that the pastoral needs of LGBT Catholics, their parents and families, including those of children in same-sex families, would meet with informed discussion during next October’s Ordinary Synod of Bishops.”

New Ways Ministry pilgrims with LGBT Catholic pilgrim group from UK

New Ways Ministry pilgrims with LGBT Catholic pilgrim group from UK

The U.K. pilgrims met with New Ways Ministry’s pilgrims for Eucharistic liturgies at St. Albert’s International Carmelite Center and Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major) Basilica.

The U.K group also held Evening Prayer in Rome’s ancient San Bartolomeo Church, now dedicated to the memory of modern martyrs. The moving liturgy remembered the lives of victims of homophobic and transphobic violence, as well as those who had given their lives in witness to LGBT concerns.

While attending the papal audience on Ash Wednesday, the U.K. pilgrimage group was the first of the English language groups announced

LGBT Catholics Westminster  Pilgrims in St. Peter's Square

LGBT Catholics Westminster Pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square

at the event, identified as a pilgrimage group from Immaculate Conception parish, London.

They also celebrated Mass at San Alfonso Church, the titular church of Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who heads London’s Diocese of Westminster.  Nichols also sent the pilgrims off with a special prayer and blessing:

You are at the threshold of Lent. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. What an excellent time to be on pilgrimage in Rome! You are at the thresholds of the Apostles. What an excellent place to be on pilgrimage at the beginning of Lent.
May Saints Peter and Paul, and indeed all the Apostles, be your constant teachers, guides and companions throughout your stay in Rome – and when you return. Their heroic witness to the life, death and resurrection of the Lord is an inspiring example for us all. May their prayers again turn your gaze to the merciful face of Jesus, who calls out to you in unfailing love. He will give you grace to be his faithful missionary disciples. May you bring others into the family of the Church, founded on the Apostles, teaching us how to follow the pathways of faithfulness to Jesus in all the different aspects of our lives.
In this way may your lives be a true witness to all who are striving to find God’s love. Only Jesus can truly bring us the joy and fulfilment for which we all yearn. Let us be close to him. Be assured of my prayers for each and every one of you.Please pray for me at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, and at all the holy places you visit.
Have a wonderful pilgrimage. God bless you all. 
+ Cardinal Vincent Nichols.”
The U.K. and U.S. pilgrimages also met for an evening of discussion and interchange with members of Nuova Proposta, a Christian LGBT organization in Rome.  They shared ideas and models of LGBT pastoral ministry with one another.
I can speak for New Ways Ministry when I say that the encounter and collaboration with the U.K. pilgrims made our journey to Rome so much the richer.  Meeting with Nuova Proposta, the Roman group, and Kairos, an LGBT Christian group in Florence, also provided us with deeper understanding of the joys and challenges that our peers encounter in Italy.
New Ways Ministry is also very happy and excited that the meeting with Cardinal Turkson occurred.   May the conversation with this Vatican official bear fruit in terms of greater justice for LGBT people around the world!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Irish Arguments About Marriage Equality Go From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

March 3, 2015

Marriage equality demonstrators in Dublin, Ireland.

For those of us in countries where the marriage equality debate has been ongoing for several years, it may seem that we have already heard the most outrageous comments opposing such measures.  And, sadly, those comments often come from Catholic officials.   We may have also thought we have heard some of the most insightful pro-marriage arguments, but it seems there are still more to be made.

The debate in Ireland over marriage equality, which is to be put to a national referendum on May 19th,  has recently fostered a bishop’s comment which bewilders logic.  At the same time, a Catholic lay spokesperson has argued eloquently in favor of the measure.

Bishop Kevin Doran of the Diocese of Elphin recently offered that gay and lesbian people are already allowed to legally marry–just not each other.  In a talk at a parish, Doran went through a list of rhetorical questions about lesbian/gay people and marriage, ending with:

“Can people of homosexual orientation marry?

“This is quite interesting, because most people would probably say that they cannot legally do so. But, of course there is no legal obstacle to a person of homosexual orientation getting married, just as a heterosexual person can.

“To that extent the question of marriage equality simply doesn’t arise. (Whether it is good or just or wise for a homosexual person to enter marriage is another question.)”

Doran’s point is a silly one, which reflects poorly on him, and does not substantially add to the discussion.  The sad part of his statements is that their silliness overshadows a number of positive things that he said leading up to those remarks.  Discussing Catholic approaches to lesbian and gay people, he said:

“A. Can we recognise the fundamental goodness of people who are of homosexual orientation? Yes.

“B. Do we believe that they are loved by God? Yes.

“C. And that they are equal in dignity to every other person? Yes.

“D. Can they be actively involved in the life of the Church? Yes.

“E. Can friendships between people of the same sex be good, even if they are sexually attracted to one another? Yes, of course.

“While marriage is the ‘primary and most unique friendship’, there are many other kinds of friendship which are blessed by God. Friendship is an aspect of love, and love is the path to holiness.

“This of course applies equally to those who are homosexual in orientation as it does to those who are heterosexual.

“F. Can people of homosexual orientation receive the Eucharist? Yes, on exactly the same basis as heterosexual people, who are likewise called to the virtue of chastity.

“G. Can we engage with them in pastoral care for the family? Yes, of course.”

While the Irish bishops oppose marriage equality,  other Irish church leaders and the Irish Catholic lay people are very much in support of it.  The Irish Times reported on a recent statement from a coalition of religious organizations, including two Catholic lay groups, We Are Church Ireland and Gay Catholic Voice Ireland.  One leader was quoted in the story:

“Brendan Butler, of We Are Church Ireland, said the Catholic Church’s opposition to marriage equality was the view of ‘the hierarchical church. We are representing a huge squad of ordinary Catholics. We have people in our group who are gay people as well as mothers and grandmothers of gay people. They are appalled at the attitude of the church.’ “

Butler recently penned an op-ed for The Irish Times in support of marriage equality, and he argued:

“Jesus of Nazareth challenged the skewed values and injustices of the religious and political elites of his day and their exploitation and marginalisation of their people.

“We as followers of Jesus must also challenge the injustices of our Church and society.

“This Kingdom of God is not confined to the Church but to the creation of a more just society in which all people are valued as equals.

“This is a vision which We are Church Ireland proclaims. We wish and work for a society where a person’s sexual orientation is not a cause of discrimination or prejudice.

“When it comes to marriage, Christians do not have the ownership of the institution and should invite gay, lesbian and transgender people to share in the joys of marriage if they so wish.

“As a result of a yes vote in the referendum we will have a more just and inclusive society befitting the dignity of all people.”

PinkNews.co.uk recently reported that polls show strong support for marriage equality among the Irish population:

It recently emerged that one in five voters are still undecided about how they will vote in the referendum in May. The poll found that while 62 percent were in favour with 16 percent opposed, 22 percent of voters are still unsure/didn’t know how they would vote on the issue.

In such a heavily and traditionally Catholic nation, the results of this referendum will be significant for Catholic politics.  Una Mullaly, writing in The Guardiannoted:

“To get this far is nothing short of a phenomenal achievement. Homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993; the Civil Partnership Act passed in 2010. The dedication of LGBT rights groups has changed hearts and minds. And now, Ireland is staging a referendum that enjoys support from all major political parties and the majority of the public, something unimaginable just a decade ago. . . .

The world will be watching Ireland in the lead-up to May’s referendum. If the Irish electorate seizes this opportunity, it won’t just be a local victory, it could be the watershed moment the global movement for marriage equality has been waiting for.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


The Misconceptions Behind Pope’s Comment on Gender and Nuclear Arms

March 2, 2015

Pope Francis

As New Ways Ministry’s pilgrims to Italy were flying across the Atlantic a few weeks ago, a story broke about Pope Francis and gender theory which, due to our being on the road (or, more accurately, in the air), did not quite get our attention.  The substance of the story was that the pope, in an interview published in a a new Italian book, likened gender theory to nuclear arms.  In The National Catholic ReporterJoshua McElwee reported:

“Gender theory is a broad term for an academic school of thought that considers how people learn to identify themselves sexually and how they may become typed into certain roles based on societal expectations.

“Asked in the book about how important it is for Christians to recover a sense of safeguarding of creation and sustainable growth, the pope first speaks of the duty of all people to respect and care for the environment.

But he then says that every historical period has ‘Herods’ that ‘destroy, that plot designs of death, that disfigure the face of man and woman, destroying creation.’

” ‘Let’s think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings,’ he continues. ‘Let’s think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation.’

” ‘With this attitude, man commits a new sin, that against God the Creator,’ the pope says. ‘The true custody of creation does not have anything to do with the ideologies that consider man like an accident, like a problem to eliminate.’ “

Lisa Fullam.Photo.5

Lisa Fullam

Part of the reason that this story slipped our attention was that there was very little commentary in the Catholic press about this interview.  One great exception has been Professor Lisa Fullam, of the Jesuit School of Theology, California, who examined the pope’s misconceptions about gender in a a blog post she wrote for DotCommonweal

Fullam’s post is a great introduction to the contemporary understanding of gender from both scientific and social scientific perspectives.  She begins by offering comparative definitions of some key words, which are sometimes wrongly used interchangeably:  sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, transgender, and queer.

She then examines some of Pope Francis’ (and Benedict’s and John Paul II’s, too) misconceptions about these terms.  For instance, she notes the lack of historicity in their definitions of masculine and feminine:

“That the definition of what counts as appropriate to women varies between and within cultures and across time is not accounted for in this view. Oddly, John Paul cites fierce transvestite warrior Joan of Arc (who was killed as a relapsed heretic for wearing men’s clothing, and can certainly, if anachronistically, be thought of as queer,) as a model of the feminine genius, thus calling into question the descriptive (and certainly the normative) value of many, if not most, of the ‘feminine’ traits he inferred.”

Fullam examines the social construction of gender, and also helps to dispel some myths which have formed the basis of some of our culture’s most foundational ideas about gender:

“Isn’t human nature fundamentally a duality of male and female? This can only be upheld by ignoring the existence of millions of human beings whose sex and/or gender identity do not fit the ‘rule’ of male AND masculine (according to which illusory single set of standards for masculinity?) or female AND feminine, (according to other illusory standards of such.) The spectrum of gender can be seen every time a woman relishes some more ‘masculine’ endeavor–like, say leading a French army against the British, like Joan of Arc. It can also be seen when men embrace more ‘feminine’ aspects of their character, yet remain ‘masculine’ in their gender identity. Anyone paying attention to the numerous ways people describe and express their masculinty and feminity would have to recognize that to assert a strict duality would be a facile caricature of humankind. I can only hope that Francis’ meeting with a trans man late last month will lead him to change his mind and heart. “

She concludes with a call for Christians to be more open-minded about gender:

Recognizing the degree to which social conventions define and delimit gender expression, I’d suggest that we leave a lot of room for people to speak to what it means to them to be men or women, or other, and not to force a lovely array of human be-ing into a false duality which fails to adequately reflect biology, much less the richer experience of human life in its totality. That has to do with gender roles, but also gender identity. And aren’t Christians especially called to uphold the human dignity of all children of God, male and female, masculine and feminine, transgender and cisgender alike? That attitude doesn’t ‘destroy’ nature, as Pope Francis fears, but rather recognizes the beautiful panoply of humankind that God has created.”

I’ve only given a brief taste of Fullam’s arguments.  If you are at all interested in the topic of gender, I recommend that you read her post in its entirety by clicking here.    If you like Fullam’s work, you may want to read an article that she wrote last year on “Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation.” 

Pope Francis’ comments on gender reveal that, while he has shown a refreshing openness to LGBT issues, he–and most likely, many others in the Catholic hierarchy–need a better education on the questions of gender which the rest of the world has been engaged in for decades now.  Perhaps such an education would not only help his approach to LGBT issues, but, equally important, on issues concerning women, for which he has a famous and dangerous blind spot.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


On Being Able to Say “Here I Am!”

March 1, 2015
On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for the Second Sunday of Lent are: Genesis 22: 1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Psalm 116: 10, 15-19; Romans 8: 31-34; Mark 9:2-10.   You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.
Few experiences can match the surprise and dread I felt when, in grade school, as I was happily daydreaming during class, the teacher would call on me.  Thoughts racing and panic rising, I recall wondering what the question was and if I was in trouble.  Not knowing how to respond to my teacher, I remember that I just wanted to shrink back into my seat and disappear.
I cannot help but think that Abraham might have felt the same way when God suddenly called out, “Abraham!” in the Genesis narrative which is today’s first liturgical reading.  I imagine a person would feel an unbearable level of scrutiny and self-consciousness if his/her Creator singled them out by name.  But instead of giving into his instincts to shrink back and hide, Abraham exclaimed, “Here I am!”  There was no timidity in his voice; Abraham responded boldly and without hesitation to God’s call.
I think Abraham’s “Hear I am!” exclamation is the key to understanding the Transfiguration event, described in today’s Gospel.  For Abraham, those three words indicated that he was present and responsive to God; but for Jesus, “Here I am!” was an experience of profound self-disclosure to his disciples.  Jesus revealed more deeply who he was to his disciples in a mysterious, yet intensely intimate way.  Jesus made himself vulnerable to his disciples so that they could share more fully in the wonders of his own life.  I can think of no more powerful way to express the phrase “Here I am!” than the Transfiguration revelation.
Now what does “Here I am!” mean for LGBT Catholics and allies?  First and foremost, like Abraham, we need to boldly respond to God’s calling in our own lives.  This process of ongoing and daily conversion to conform ourselves to the Gospel is the basis for the Christian life.  And like Jesus, we must not fear opportunities to share our lives with others, particularly in regard to our support as people of faith for LGBT equality.  According to the Public Religion Research Institute, the majority of Catholics support marriage equality for lesbian and gay persons; however, 73% of Catholics think their fellow Catholics oppose marriage equality!  There is a perception/reality gap that we as LGBT Catholics and allies are called to overcome — to boldly say “Here I am!” to our fellow Catholics and be counted!
This Lenten season is a wonderful opportunity to examine how we are present to God and to others. Like Abraham and Jesus, may we be attentive to God’s calling to us — and may we have no hesitation to exclaim, “Here I am!” when the opportunity arises!
–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry

The Spiritual Harm Caused When LGBT People Are Excluded From Church

February 28, 2015

An Indiana gay Catholic man has revealed that his pastor asked him to give up his social media advocacy for LGBT equality or resign from his volunteer leadership roles in his parish.

Sam Albano

Sam Albano

In an essay posted this week on the National Catholic Reporter website, Sam Albano described the meeting he had with his pastor last August, and the painful decision he felt forced to make:

“During the course of our meeting, my pastor notified me that I could not publicly disagree with official moral teachings and simultaneously hold positions of leadership within the parish. He asked me how I wished to proceed. It quickly become clear that I could not continue in volunteer parish ministry if I held firm to my convictions on the issues facing LGBT Catholics. My choices were quite limited. As a matter of conscience, I made a heartbreaking decision that afternoon. I resigned my position on the parish council. I resigned my position on the young adult board I had helped to found a year earlier. And I resigned my position as sacristan and eucharistic minister.”

Albano, who also serves as secretary of the Young Adult Caucus of DignityUSA, recognizes that this action is part of the disturbing trend of church firings which have been related to LGBT issues over the past few years, but his concern in the essay is less with the structural problems, and, instead, focuses on the spiritual harm these actions cause.  He observes:

“LGBT people who choose to remain in the church are often subject to attacks upon the genuineness of our faith. Our love for God and our loyalty to the Catholic tradition are frequently and cavalierly called into question. This has served to create an environment in which we cannot honestly discuss our concerns, our spiritual lives, or even our relationship with God.

“Most startling of all, we know that far too many of our LGBT brothers and sisters have parted ways with the church and given up on the Gospel of Jesus Christ altogether. We also know that there are young LGBT people sitting in the pews of every parish, waiting for the church to speak hope to them. And because we are widely failing at this endeavor, their departure too is imminent.”

Albano rings the alarm bell on the pastoral harm that is being caused by LGBT exclusion:

“I think it is reasonable to suggest that we have a pastoral emergency before us. More importantly, we have a pressing moral matter. In the harsh treatment of LGBT Catholics, we have done more than injustice. Indeed, we have erected a substantial stumbling block to knowing Jesus Christ, hearing the Gospel, and living a life of Christian discipleship. We have lost too many of our people: God’s people.”

He calls on all in the church to personally to take the responsibility to do outreach to LGBT people, noting that it may include difficulty for some:

“For some, reaching out to LGBT Catholics might mean taking up a cross. Some will surely find themselves subject to questioning, misunderstanding and suffering. Obedience to the Gospel has posed such a risk in every land and generation. Those who seek to build a better church for LGBT people should be assured that there are many Catholic people who already stand with them in this endeavor.”

Albano recognizes, too, that his own life has been changed by this experience–and his spirituality, too, has been strengthened:

“Some months now stand between me and that warm summer afternoon when I resigned my positions in the parish. I have lost the life I once had as an actively engaged parishioner. My relationship with my faith community of 13 years has suddenly changed.

“But the Christian person recognizes that only in losing our life do we ever truly gain it. I take great hope in the new life that lies ahead of me, although I know nothing about it at this time. And I remain steadfast in my pilgrimage as a gay Catholic man, trusting in God and striving to follow the way of the Gospel. I continue to love my parish. I continue to love my pastor. And I persist in my love for the church. My service to God and to the church has clearly changed, but certainly not ended.”

Only strong faith and courage could have provided this young man with the wisdom to reflect so carefully on this terrible experience, while at the same time helping him recognize important positive paths ahead.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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