More Than a Monologue

Seated at the Fairfield Conference: Sister Jeannine Gramick (left) and Jamie Manson (right). Standing at left is moderator Diana Swancutt, associate professor of New Testament, Yale Divinity School.

The “More Than A Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church” conference series ended with a program at Fairfield University entitled  “The Care of Souls:  Sexual Diversity, Celibacy, and Ministry.  The headline for an article in the National Catholic Reporter  explains the focus of this conference: “Homosexuality among church leaders discussed at Jesuit university event.”

New Ways Ministry co-founder Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL was a featured speaker, discussing the history and spirituality of lesbian nuns.   Her respondent was Jamie Manson, an NCR columnist, who will be a workshop speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, March 15-17, 2012, in Baltimore.

In her response to Sr. Jeannine’s talk, Manson reflected on how the experience of church is different for lesbian women than it is for gay men:

” “For lesbians the experience of being Catholic affects more than their sexual orientation; it relates to the anatomy itself. By banning women from serving as priests, the hierarchy says — in this great cosmic hubris — that God simply cannot work sacramentally through the body of a woman. For most lesbians, and many straight women, this leads to feelings of isolation and disempowerment,’ Manson said. ‘I cannot stress enough how corrosive it is to the spirit to have never seen a woman’s bodily form wear a stole, stand behind an altar, raise the bread and wine, place her hands in the waters of the baptismal font, step through the center door of the confessional.’ ”

The More Than A Monologue series began with a conference at Fordham University, which featured another Symposium workshop speaker, Hilary Ranney-Howes, a transgender Catholic woman.  An NCR article on that event featured the following from Hilary’s talk there:

“Hilary Howes, a 56-year-old event designer and transgender activist from Washington, D.C., who said she was born “with male genitalia and a female brain,” talked about the unique position of transsexual people who are Catholic. Howes “transitioned to live as a woman” through a sex-change operation 16 years ago, and was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic eight years ago. “[I] remain in my Catholic marriage of 33 years, to the most understanding woman in the world — making ours one of the few same-sex marriages affirmed by the Roman Catholic church,” Howes continued, drawing laughs from the audience.”

Let’s hope that “More Than a Monologue” becomes more than a one-time series.  Our church needs more discussion, education, and debate on LGBT issues, especially when presented in such an informative and engaging manner.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Minnesota’s Bishops Making “A Significant Mistake”

Rev. Herbert Chilstrom

A former presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has asked the Minnesota Catholic bishops to re-think their opposition to marriage equality.  In an op-ed open letter published in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune, Rev. Herbert W. Chilstrom tells the bishops’ that their support of the “so-called marriage protection amendment” is “a significant mistake.”

Rev. Chilstrom offers a suggestion to the bishops.  It is one which New Ways Ministry and other Catholics have made to the hierarchy for many years:

“Let me put out a challenge to each of you brothers. Invite 15 gay and lesbian persons from your respective areas, one at a time, to spend two hours with you. . . . When you have finished your time with these sisters and brothers in Christ, spend a quiet hour reflecting on a single question:  ‘As I understand the heart of my Savior Jesus, how would he treat these sons and daughters of my church?’ “

Let’s hope and pray that the Catholic bishops will heed this advice coming from one of their brothers in the faith.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

“How Can This Be?”

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which, despite popular understanding, celebrates the conception of Mary, not the conception of Jesus.  Catholics celebrate that Mary’s conception, achieved through natural means, also had a supernatural dimension because from the moment of conception she was created without Original Sin.  The purpose of this supernatural intervention was to create the human being who would birth the Savior.

Theologian Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, reminds us that the Catholic focus on Mary’s uniqueness is not to separate her from the rest of humanity, but to remind us that what God has planned for her is what God plans for ALL people: to be free to do good.

Although this feast day focuses on Mary’s, not Jesus’ conception, the Gospel reading for today’s liturgy is Luke 1: 26-38, the story of the Annunciation.  We read the story of  Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel, who announces God’s plan for the Savior’s birth and Mary’s role in it, and we see Mary responding in a way that is a model for us all:  she freely decides to do good.

On a “Next Steps” weekend sponsored by New Ways Ministry a few years ago, a gay Marianist Brother offered an insightful reflection on the Annuniciation gospel.  In a discussion about LGBT spirituality, this Brother observed that gay spiritual experience can be summed up in the question that Mary asks Gabriel after the news of Jesus’ birth through her, as a virgin, is announced.  Her response:  “How can this be?”

For this Brother, “How can this be?” is the question that almost all LGBT people of faith ask themselves as they begin to come to awareness of their identity.  It is a question that reflects the surprise, wonder, and mystery that people have when they realize that God has created them in a unique and special way–the way Mary was created.  It is a question that is often asked over and over through their lives, as they begin to grow and evolve into their identity.

Everyone’s sexual and gender identity is a unique mystery.  Despite the scientific world’s best efforts, we still do not know what is the origin of these personality facets in our lives.  For many LGBT people of faith, the answer to the question “How can this be?” is that their identity is a gift from God, similar to the way God gifted Mary with her unique calling.  It is a gift to be shared with others and used to foster our own salvation, as well as the salvation of the individuals and communities to which we belong.

On this feast of the Immaculate Conception, you are invited to reflect on your own uniqueness–either as an LGBT person or someone who supports LGBT people.   Consider your own answer to the question, “How can this be?”  In what ways has your sexual or  gender identity been a gift?  Feel free to share your reflections in the comments section.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry