How Catholic Was Clinton’s Speech?

Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton’s speech in defense of LGBT rights as human rights should be required reading for Vatican leaders, who have been shamefully silent on abuses against LGBT people around the world.   The philosophical basis of Clinton’s speech is the same basis for Catholic teaching on human rights:  the inherent dignity of every individual.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Photo: Sebatien Feval/AFP/Getty Images

As I read the text of her talk (and followed it  on Twitter) I couldn’t help but hear echoes of Vatican II documents which call for respect of all people, regardless of their state in life.  I also couldn’t help dreaming a little bit as to what it would sound like if Clinton’s ideas were applied to the Catholic church. For example, the cornerstone of her speech reads:

“Building on efforts already underway at the State Department and across the government, the President has directed all U.S. Government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights, to enlist international organizations in the fight against discrimination, and to respond swiftly to abuses against LGBT persons.”

What if Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Thomas Bertone said:

“Building on efforts already under way  the Pope  has directed all bishops and church officials  to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights, to enlist international organizations in the fight against discrimination,  and to respond swiftly to abuses against LGBT persons. “

Nothing in Catholic teaching would prevent him from doing so.  What prevents such a statement is a lack of leadership.  Clinton herself addressed the topic of leadership in her speech in a beautiful way:

“Leadership, by definition, means being out in front of your people when it is called for. It means standing up for the dignity of all your citizens and persuading your people to do the same.”

As polls continue to show that U.S. Catholics are way ahead of their bishops on LGBT equality, members of  the hierarchy in this country are already behind the curve.  On the international scene, Catholic leaders could still play a pivotal role in protecting human rights for LGBT people.

Clinton’s speech, though not mentioning Catholic leaders, offered some excellent advice that Catholic leaders should certainly heed:

“Conversely, when we see denials and abuses of human rights and fail to act, that sends the message to those deniers and abusers that they won’t suffer any consequences for their actions, and so they carry on. But when we do act, we send a powerful moral message.”

Catholic leaders need to examine what effect their silence is having on the lives of people.

And in regard to the Vatican’s proclivity to attempt to silence discussionon LGBT matters, they should learn another important lesson from Secretary Clinton:

“No one has ever abandoned a belief because he was forced to do so.”

Though Catholic leaders do not speak out on human rights for LGBT people, Catholic people are making changes in their homes, their parishes, and their communities in support of their LGBT friends and family members.  We should not ever downplay these grassroots initiatives.  As Secretary Clinton pointed out:

“And to people of all nations, I say supporting human rights is your responsibility too. The lives of gay people are shaped not only by laws, but by the treatment they receive every day from their families, from their neighbors. Eleanor Roosevelt, who did so much to advance human rights worldwide, said that these rights begin in the small places close to home – the streets where people live, the schools they attend, the factories, farms, and offices where they work. These places are your domain. The actions you take, the ideals that you advocate, can determine whether human rights flourish where you are.”

If we want our Catholic church to respect the dignity of LGBT people, we must embody that change in our own lives.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways  Ministry


Once a Catholic. . .

The website for WBEZ, a Chicago public radio station, has a poignant essay on the pull of Catholicism for one lesbian woman, even in the face of discrimination.  You can read the entire essay here.

Catherine Smyka reminisces about the many personal and family occasions that took place in her parish church. While she laments that her wedding to her lesbian partner will not be able to take place there,  she still has fond memories and a close connection and attraction:

“I know now I won’t be able to get married at St. Celestine’s. There will be many more exchanges of vows under that vaulted ceiling, but not mine—but I do have history there.

“No matter who I see on those steps or what happens in the future. No matter where I get married, or to whom…my story still started right there.”

Many people ask New Ways Ministry, “Why do LGBT people remain Catholic?”  It’s a hard question to answer because the reasons are so diverse.  Each person answers that question in a unique and personal way, as Catherine Smyka did in her essay.

What’s your reason?   Whether you are LGBT or someone who supports them, why do you remain connected to Catholicism?

Please post your answers in the comments section.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

A Top Ten List

New Ways Ministry Symposium 2007

We’ve added a new page to this blog to let you know about some of what is happening at New Ways Ministry.  If this is your first time visiting here, you may want to learn something about the host of this blog, and you can do so by perusing our website. The  new page is for the Seventh National Symposium, and it can be accessed by clicking the second tab on this blog’s menu bar, which sits just below the blog’s title, above.

So let’s play a little game.

Many readers of this blog have already attended one of the six previous symposiums that New Ways Ministry has hosted over the past three decades.  So, all you veterans out there are invited to contribute to “Top Ten Reasons You Should Attend a New Ways Ministry Symposium.”

We’ll start the ball rolling by offering two reasons:

1) “We guarantee that you will be renewed and energized to continue your work for justice and equality for LGBT people in the church and society.”

2) “It is very likely that you will not have many other chances to be in a room with 500 other Catholics who support LGBT people and issues.”

Play along with us!  Add your reasons in the comments line.

The Symposium is only hosted once every five years, and it has consistently attracted over 500 Catholics who are interested in developing the church’s conversation around LGBT issues.  We try to bring together speakers and topics that will challenge us to think in new ways.

The Seventh National Symposium is entitled From Water to Wine: Lesbian/Gay Catholics and the Church, and will be held in Baltimore, March 15-17, 2012.  We chose the theme of  “relationships” because that is the key word that we have been hearing in Catholic circles since our last symposium in 2007.

For more information about the Symposium, you can visit this blog’s page about it, where you will be able to click through to our website.

We hope to see many of you in Baltimore next March.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry