The Best of 2011: The Year in Review, Part 2

Yesterday, we posted “The Worst of 2011,” listing the worst of the negative LGBT Catholic news from the past year.  As promised, today we offer the “The Best of 2011” for the same topic.

As you will see when you compare these lists, the “best” outweigh the “worst,” making 2011 a pretty good year for LGBT Catholics and those who support them.

The Best of 2011 in LGBT Catholic News

1)  According to a Public Religion Research Institute report, the majority of  U.S. Catholics support justice and equality initiatives for LGBT people, including legal rights for lesbian/gay committed couples.

2) Marriage equality becomes law in New York, the largest state yet to make marriage legal for lesbian/gay couples.  Passage of the law is credited to Catholic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who strongly supported the bill despite strong opposition from the state’s Catholic hierarchy.

3) Equally Blessed, a coalition of four Catholic organizations that work for LGBT justice and equality (Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry), sponsors the first-ever Congressional briefing on Catholic support for LGBT issues.  Scores of congressional staffers attend the event on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC.

4) Bishop Joseph Sullivan of Brooklyn, NY, publishes an op-ed essay in the Buffalo News on Catholic outreach to LGBT  people.

5) The “More Than A Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church” conference series is held four different college campuses, two of them Catholic:  Fordham University, Union Theological Seminary, Yale University, Fairfield University.

6) Georgetown University’s LGBTQ Resource Center receives a $1 million donation from former National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his wife, Chandler.

7) The students at DePaul University, the largest Catholic university in the nation, elect their first openly gay student body president, Anthony Alfano.

8) When a Boston-area parish elementary school bars admission to the child of a lesbian couple, the Boston archdiocese overturns this decision and institutes a non-discrimination policy.

9) Marquette University institutes domestic partner benefits for faculty and staff.

10) A report on the sexual abuse crisis from John Jay College states that gay priests were not the cause of the crisis, and that homosexuality is not linked to pedophilia.

11) The Los Angeles Archdiocese celebrates 25 years of its Ministry with Lesbian and Gay Catholics program.

12) The Bishops of England and Wales support civil partnership laws for lesbian/gay couples.

13) Bishop Raul Vera of Saltillo, Mexico, vows to continue his LGBT outreach after he was called to the Vatican to discuss his program.

14) Though marriage equality does not pass in Maryland, the bill is introduced by Catholic Senator Robert Garagiola, is supported by numerous Catholic legislators and the Catholic Governor Martin O’Malley.  When it is announced that the bill will be introduced again in the next session, O’Malley plans to work harder for its passage.

15)  DignityUSA hosts its biennial convention, featuring television personality Phil Donahue as a speaker.

16) New Ways Ministry publishes a new book, Marriage Equality: A Positive of  Catholic Approach, and quickly runs out of its first printing.   New Ways also sponsors a conference day in Maryland on marriage equality.  Later in the year, New Ways Ministry institutes a blog to cover LGBT Catholic news, Bondings 2.0  (you’re reading it now!)

Some analysis

2011 may well be seen as a turning point year in the Catholic LGBT movement due to the many positive things that have occurred.

A definite trend to watch is how much positive movement there is on Catholic college campuses in this area.  As we know, young people are much more inclined to accept LGBT people, so campuses are responding in the same spirit.

Another trend I notice is that politicians, even Catholic ones, no longer fear the wrath of the hierarchy on issues like marriage equality.  One reason for this is probably that political leaders are becoming aware that Catholic are more positive on LGBT issues.  Another reason that is true for Catholic politicians, though, is that they are starting to support marriage equality because of their Catholic faith, not in spite of it.  Many of their statements use Catholic social justice teaching to back up their pro-marriage equality positions.

Yesterday I pointed out that all the items on the “worst” list involved bishops.  What I noticed as I put together this “best” list is that bishops figure prominently in some of these events, signaling that there is hope for change in the hierarchy of the Catholic church.

What do you think?  Did we miss some positive events that you thought worthy of the list?  Do you notice any other trends in the past year?

Here are some other year-end round-ups that, while not on LGBT  Catholic issues, might be of interest: 14 Reasons That Made 2011 Great for Trans People

New York Times Blog: In California, 2011 Was a Good Year for Causes of Gays Pro-LGBT Christian Voices Take Center Stage in 2011: The Top 10 (though I have to wonder why, given the wealth of stories listed above, that no Catholic story made this list) On Faith Blog: The 11 Most Important Religion and Politics Findings of 2011

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


The Worst of 2011: Year in Review, Part 1

2011 is coming to a close, so it’s proper that we should look back over the past to review what has happened in LGBT Catholic news.  Two weeks ago, we asked for your votes for the best and worst news stories of the year.  Thank you to all who submitted entries.  Today we will list the stories that fall in the “worst” category, and tomorrow we will post the list of the best.

The Worst of 2011 in LGBT Catholic News

1) Daniel Avila, a marriage adviser to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, writes a column in Boston’s archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot, in which he claims that the devil is the cause of homosexuality.  After much outcry, the paper pulls the column and Avila resigns as an adviser to the bishops.

2) Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George compares the LGBT movement to the Ku Klux Klan.  Given three opportunities to clarify his comments, the cardinal persists in applying the analogy, though, he says he was not talking about people but only about the similarity between parades of the two groups.  This story is still ongoing.

3) Six dioceses in Illinois close down adoption services rather than adhere to a state law which recognizes civil unions of lesbian/gay couples.    The same response had been taken by bishops in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia when those jurisdictions legalized marriage for lesbian/gay couples.

4) Los Angeles’ Archbishop Jose Gomez protests the inclusion of LGBT history in the state’s education curriculum.  The inclusive curriculum is instituted.

5) New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan, in an interview, refers to lesbian/gay people in this way: “we’re going to be booed if we don’t hire these people.”

6) Boston Archdiocese cancels Pride Mass at St. Cecelia’s parish.  Silver Lining:  Mass goes on one month later with strong message of welcome from the pastor.

7) Bishops in New York, Rhode Island, Maryland, and Minnesota mount major campaigns to prevent marriage equality from becoming the law of the land.Marriage bills are defeated in Maryland and Rhode Island.  Gender non-discrimination bill is defeaed in Maryland.

8) The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops initiates a campaign to defend religious liberty, claiming that religious institutions and people are suffering because lesbian/gay people are acquiring more rights.

Some Analysis

In compiling this list I’ve noticed two important trends.

The first finding is that all of these negative items involve bishops.  While the one at the top of the list, Daniel Avila’s comment about the devil, was not perpetrated by a bishop, Mr. Avila was an adviser to the bishops, which is what made this story all the more egregious.

This trend shows what we have long known and what statistical researchers are starting to prove:  Catholic lay people are much more supportive of LGBT people and issues than the bishop Catholic bishops are.

The second finding is that it was actually difficult to find negative stories that occurred this year.  I used readers’ comments, and I reviewed the past issues of our print newsletter, Bondings, and the positive stories way outnumbered the negative ones.   This trend shows that things are, in fact, getting better.  I think you’ll see that tomorrow, when we post the best of 2011 list.

Do you agree with this list? With these trends? What stories have we missed? What trends do you see?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

In Adoption Controversy, Put the Children First

Of the numerous negative interventions that Catholic bishops have made in social issues that address LGBT rights over the years, truly the saddest and most damaging has to be the closing down adoption services in Catholic Charities agencies rather than allow legally married or civilly united lesbian/gay couples to adopt children.  Everyone gets hurt by these decisions:  children, lesbian/gay couples, social service agencies, the entire church, and the common good of the greater civil society.

Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times has written an in-depth article which examines the decisions by bishops to close these adoption and foster care services.  (Mere coincidence that it was published on the Feast of the Holy Innocents?) What makes this situation even more tragic is that the bishops are claiming that they are the victims and their religious freedom is at stake.  Goodstein quotes one of the bishops at the center of this struggle:

” ‘In the name of tolerance, we’re not being tolerated,’ said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Ill., a civil and canon lawyer who helped drive the church’s losing battle to retain its state contracts for foster care and adoption services.”

What is really at issue here is not principle, but money.  The agencies are closing because if they discriminated against lesbian/gay couples, they would no longer be eligible for state funding.  It’s not religious liberty which is at stake, but whether state dollars will be used to fund discriminatory agencies.  Goodstein writes:

“The Illinois experience indicates that the bishops face formidable opponents who also claim to have justice and the Constitution on their side. They include not only gay rights advocates, but also many religious believers and churches that support gay equality (some Catholic legislators among them). They frame the issue as a matter of civil rights, saying that Catholic Charities was using taxpayer money to discriminate against same-sex couples.

“Tim Kee, a teacher in Marion, Ill., who was turned away by Catholic Charities three years ago when he and his longtime partner, Rick Wade, tried to adopt a child, said: ‘We’re both Catholic, we love our church, but Catholic Charities closed the door to us. To add insult to injury, my tax dollars went to provide discrimination against me.”

In Matthew 25’s Final Judgement scene, we learn that we will be judged by how we care for the poor, defenseless, and needy in our world.  There is no mention of sexuality  or any mention of strictly interpreting or applying church teaching.

While the bishops may claim that they are the victims, they are ignoring the wide array of victims that their decisions have created–particularly the most defenseless: children.  It is a sad and tragic spectacle for bishops to say that their supposedly threatened religious liberty is more important than the welfare of children.  Let us pray that the bishops’ hearts be opened to the needs of children, and that they put those needs above any other agenda.

Catholics need to write to their bishops and tell them that we want legally married and civilly united lesbian/gay couples to be able to adopt children, just as heterosexual married couples are able to do.  We need to tell the bishops that we do not want to see adoption services closed simply because it is legal for lesbian/gay couples to adopt.  Catholics need to let the bishops know what our priorities and values are, and they do not include discrimination, and worse, sacrificing children’s welfare to uphold a discriminatory principle.  If our faith means anything to us, it means that we should put children first whenever a question of morality or principle arises.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Getting to Know Transgender People

Transgender symbol, a combination of the male ...
Transgender Symbol: A combination of the male sign, female sign, and a third arm representing transgender people

Lately at New Ways Ministry, we have been receiving more and more questions about transgender people than we have in the past.  This trend is probably the result of the fact that transgender people are only recently becoming more visible in mainstream society.

The good news is that part of that visibility is coming from the fact that more and more states, counties, and municipalities are enacting laws to protect the civil rights of transgender people.  The sad news is that some of that visibility is coming from media attention to the fact that violence (some times fatal) against transgender people is rampant.

A Christmas Day article by social worker and sex educator Amy Johnson that appeared in a Pacific Northwest newspaper very clearly addressed some introductory questions about transgender people. In particular are the distinctions she makes between biological sex, gender, and gender roles.

What initially caught my eye about this article was the title:  “Can transgender people pray?’  When Johnson learned that a friend of hers was asked that question, her response was:

“How much work do we have to do in our culture when anyone — anyone! — wonders if they are even allowed to pray?

“My friend put together a request for those who were willing to share a prayer. To read the responses, go here (

The prayers on that site are beautiful and worth a moment or two of reflection.

Another transgender resource has recently crossed my desktop.  JJ Marie Gufreda, a Catholic transgender woman recently published a book,  Lefthander in London: A Field Guide to Transgenders, Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals – In the Family, On the Job and In the Pew.  The book offers some handy and homey advice for people who are just learning about transgender people.

Finally, at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, From Water to Wine:  Lesbian and Gay Catholics and Relationships, we will be offering a focus session on transgender issues entitled “Accidental Lesbians:  Catholic Marriage Through a Gender Change.”  It will be led by Celestine and Hilary Ranney-Howes, who have been married for 33 years.

A quick reminder:  the early bird registration fee deadline for the Symposium is December 31, 2011 (postmarked), so please be sure to sign up soon to get the discount!  You can get more information and register online by visiting New Ways Ministry’s website.

If you are perplexed about this issue, take the advice that Amy Johnson offers at the conclusion of her article mentioned above:

“You may think you don’t need to know about this, or that it doesn’t affect you. As you look forward to the New Year, I challenge you to learn more about the people behind this issue — their stories, their pain, their triumphs.

“Instead of standing in judgment or confusion, take a chance and walk with them.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

‘I Was Thirsty and You Gave Me Drink’: A Suggestion for Cardinal George

Cardinal George

Since Cardinal George’s insensitive comments comparing the LGBT movement to the Ku Klux Klan occurred just days before Christmas,  it has been difficult to keep up with all the commentary occurring about this matter.   Three responses are very much worth noting.

Dignity/Chicago, the local chapter of DignityUSA in the Windy City, released a statement calling on Cardinal George to clarify and apologize for his comments.  Chapter President Chris Pett noted,

“The fact is the LGBT community is not the enemy nor have we called the Catholic Church our enemy. This is another attempt to make the church appear to be the victim when so many LGBT people and youths have been victimized by the church’s exclusion and intolerance. As LGBT Catholics, we at Dignity/Chicago have experienced both great love and acceptance in the Catholic Church, but also dishonesty and condemnation from many of our churches leaders.”

More importantly, Pett instructs the Cardinal what a true Christian response should be to any perceived animosity the prelate may feel:

“If there is hostility in the gay community toward the Church, then the remedy from the Church is love.”

At America magazine’s blog , a post by  Kevin Clarke  also noted the issue of hostility:  the potential for hostility in the future, specifically at Gay Pride in Chicago next year.  (You may recall that the controversy which was the occasion for Cardinal George’s statements is that the Gay Pride parade will be passing by Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish at the time when the parish has its scheduled Sunday liturgy;  crowds and noise from the parade are expected to hamper parishioners from getting to the church building and praying peacefully.):

“If George was worried that something worse might be in the offing at Mt. Carmel [parish] by way of expression of antipathy to the church from gay priders turned protestors, his unfortunate comparison seems likely to assure such a confrontation now.”

Fortunately, as Clarke points out, not all Chicago Catholic leaders feel the way that Cardinal George does.  In fact. Fr. Thomas Srenn, the pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, posted  a statement on the parish website explaining the issue and hoping for an agreeable outcome for all.  The following are excerpts:

“Our Lady of Mt. Carmel has been part of the East Lakeview neighborhood for 125 years. From its founding as an immigrant parish until today, our parish has witnessed many demographic changes. Parishioners, indeed, are proud of their local history and particularly proud of the current diversity that exists in our church and school communities.comments seem to assure….

“The annual Pride Parade is one of the hallmarks that make Lakeview unique and we in no way wish to diminish its place in the community. The petition simply asks the City and the Chicago Pride Parade planners to consider our concern that the impact of the new route and time would have on the ability of people to participate at Sunday morning Masses

“Attempts to provide other access to our church will in no way enable our parishioners to navigate the anticipated crowds or to be able to celebrate Mass in the reflective, contemplative atmosphere that is so important to us.

“Parishioners, the residents of our diverse community, the many visitors who will enjoy our neighborhood that weekend, all want to have a safe, peaceful and enjoyable Pride Sunday.”

Chicago city officials and Pride parade organizers have worked out a compromise to start the parade later so as not to interfere with the parish’s Mass and other church services along the route.    Here’s an additional suggestion:  Wouldn’t it be great if Our Lady of Mount Carmel parishioners were outside their church building to greet parade participants and offer them cups or water?

The third response is from Cardinal George himself. carries a video from WABC-TV which shows the cardinal making the following clarification on Christmas Day:

” ‘Obviously, it’s absurd to say the gay and lesbian community are the Ku Klux Klan, but if you organize a parade that looks like parades that we’ve had in our past because it stops us from worshipping God, well then that’s the comparison, but it’s not with people and people – it’s parade-parade,’ said George.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t sound like an apology or a clarification which ameliorates the situation.  Cardinal George will need to do better.  Here’s another suggestion:  Wouldn’t it be even greater if Cardinal George greeted parade marchers and handed out water to them, too?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Breaking the Catholic Silence on LGBT Human Rights Violations

A big “thank you” to the editors of America magazine, the Jesuit weekly, for standing up for Mrs. Clinton’s human rights’ day speech on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) issues, and also for speaking out about the oppressive anti-gay bill in Uganda. They’ve broken what has been a terrible silence from mainstream Catholic leaders on both of these issues.

In the first editorial of the new year (published in the January 2, 2012, edition, but available now online), they praise Mrs. Clinton for her Catholic vision in defending the human dignity of LGBT people around the globe.  As the editors point out,

“Much of what she says can, and should, be supported by Catholics. Same-sex marriage has been strongly opposed by the church. But Mrs. Clinton’s speech is referring to the more fundamental right of gay and lesbian people to live without fear and without threat of death.”

Uganda, a heavily Catholic nation (42% of the population is Catholic, the largest denomination in the country), is currently once again considering a bill that would institute the death penalty for homosexual activity. Despite the fact that Catholic teaching should oppose this extreme punishment (indeed, any punishment), Catholic leaders have been shamefully silent on this and other international human rights violations against LGBT people.  The silence of Catholic leaders bespeaks a homophobia that is destructive not only to LGBT people, but to the leaders themselves, as they violate their own integrity by not speaking out about what is obvious to so many are flagrant human rights violations.  Particularly in Uganda, forceful messages from Catholic leaders-from the Vatican down to the parish ministers-could make the difference whether or not that nation accepts or rejects this terrible legislation.

It will be a great day when Catholic leaders speak out on violations of church teaching on the human rights of LGBT people with even a fraction of the energy, intensity, and frequency with which they speak against marriage equality initiatives.

Let’s hope and pray that other leaders here in the U.S. , in the Vatican, and around the globe will follow the courageous lead of the America editors.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Tidings of Great Joy!

A merry and blessed Christmas to all of New Ways Ministry’s friends, supporters, and blog readers!

"Nativity" by Master of Salzburg, 14th century

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”

Luke 2: 1-14

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry