Bishops of England and Wales Endorse Civil Partnerships

In their November 25, 2011 issue, The Tablet, a leading Catholic news and opinion publication from the United Kingdom, reported that the Bishops of England and Wales have endorsed the idea of civil partnerships (what those in the U.S. refer to as “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships”)  From The Tablet:

Archbishop praises civil partnerships

The Bishops of England and Wales believe civil partnerships successfully provide a legal protection for those in same-sex relationships, according to the Archbishop of Westminster.
“We would want to emphasise that civil partnerships actually provide a structure in which people of the same sex who want a lifelong relationship [and] a lifelong partnership can find their place and protection and legal provision,” Archbishop Vincent Nichols said at a press conference after the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales meeting last week.
As far as we know, the furthest any part of the  U.S. Catholic leadership has gone in this regard is a statement by the Maryland Catholic Conference which notes:
“The Church’s support for marriage between a man and a woman does not mean that unmarried persons of any sex should be denied the right to enter into legal arrangements with one another regarding medical decision making, life insurance, the disposition of property, and other benefits, which often can be accomplished through a simple power of attorney. Nor should the recognition and promotion of marriage between a man and a woman – a relationship valued in church and civil law more highly than any other – imply discrimination against homosexual persons. “The Church’s teaching about the dignity of homosexual persons is clear. They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Our respect for them means we condemn all forms of unjust discrimination, harassment or abuse.” (5)”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

World AIDS Day: Joyful Hope?

Michelle Somerville, a poet,  is involved in LGBT ministry in St. Augustine parish and Immaculate Heart of Mary parish, Brooklyn, NY.   She often writes about her experiences in this ministry on The Huffington Post.

Yesterday, on World AIDS Day, she published a touching article, “World AIDS Day 2011: One Catholic’s Musings on Hope,” describing her involvement with people affected by HIV/AIDS .  It is definitely worth a read.  Amid her personal stories, two paragraphs stood out as an example of  waiting in joyful hope:

“I believe the Roman Catholic Church has done tremendous good for many individuals with AIDS. I also believe that the Roman Catholic doctrinal prohibitions against the use of condoms have caused AIDS to spread. Yes, it is with sorrow I say that I am one of those who believes that the current pope and his predecessor have the blood of many victims of AIDS on their hands.

“But Ratzinger might be changing his tune on condoms and AIDS; he has already come half-way around on the matter. Many of his bishops have long been pressuring the Vatican to revise its doctrine on the use of condoms to prevent the spread of disease. Many Roman Catholic clerics working among the poor in the developing regions disregard the Magisterium’s teaching on condoms for reasons of conscience, for the greater good of saving lives. I may be dreaming — but I believe there is reason to hope that the Vatican will finally do the right thing for the hundreds of thousands of people at risk for contracting HIV.”

Just dreaming?  All important social, cultural, and religious changes begin with a dream.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Abolish “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in Ontario’s Catholic Schools

In Ontario, Canada, Catholic schools receive public funding, so it is easy for there to be a morass of entanglement when the interests of government and religion conflict.   Over the past year, a debate percolated in the press and legislature about  the idea of requiring Catholic schools to establish gay-straight alliances for students.  The requirement has become law, but with a compromise that allows Catholic schools to call these student organizations “equity clubs,” instead of  “gay-straight” alliances.

The Globe and Mail, an influential Canadian newspaper has editorialized that this compromise defeats the purpose of the new law.  The paper offers a powerful and poignant reason why:

“To be made nameless is not a small thing. It is to be told that some shame is associated with who you are. The clubs can exist but, depending on how the Catholic schools react, perhaps only in the closet, a place of shame.”

The editorial likens this compromise to another historic compromise on gay issues, which was recently repealed in the United States:

“It is similar to president Bill Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” law of 1993, now repealed, under which homosexuals were allowed in the U.S. military, as long as they didn’t breathe a whisper of it. That put gay and lesbian soldiers in a terrible position – vulnerable to expulsion, and still treated as if they needed to hide who they are.”

While conceding that the Catholic schools have a right to their religious beliefs, the editorial challenges them to a higher standard:

“The Catholic schools have the right to their beliefs about homosexuality. But they are public schools and they do not have the right to insist on a second-class status for students who identify as homosexual, or who simply have questions about their identity, or who have gay or lesbian parents. They need to try a little harder to make religious belief and equality work together.”

It’s sad that these schools have to be reminded of this challenge.  The Catholic tradition itself calls these institutions to the higher standard of defending the dignity of every human life.   The Catholic schools of Ontario should be doing a lot more for LGBT students, and having their reality named in the organizations that are designed to support them is just the beginning.

The Globe and Mail editorial highlights the reason why this issue is so critical:

 “This is not an abstract issue. It is difficult to be gay in high school, and gay teens suffer from depression, and depression is a factor in suicide. If Ontario truly wishes to defend those vulnerable to bullying, it should do so wholeheartedly. The best answer is to promote acceptance, and require it from those who refuse to give it.”

Catholic leaders seem slow to learn that discrimination and silencing are life and death issues.  They could learn a lot from the political leaders of Canada.  Another article in The Globe and Mail describes what these government leaders are doing in the wake of suicides caused by bullying.  What are Catholic leaders doing?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry