“The Dawn From on High Shall Break Upon Us”

I imagine that for many of you it has been a hectic week as you make last minute preparations for Christmas.  It has been that for me and for everyone I know.

Regardless of what you still might have left to do today,  be sure to take a moment to reflect on the gift of peace which we celebrate on this upcoming silent night.

The gospel reading for this morning’s liturgy contains one of my favorite lines from Scripture.  The reading, Luke 1: 67-79,  is the Canticle of Zechariah, and ends with these words, which are worth contemplating as we spend our final day waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ:

“In the tender compassion of our God,  the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

May it ever be so.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


A Gay Catholic in Uganda Speaks; Cardinal George Should Listen

Frank Mugisha

Amid the hubbub of Cardinal George’s insensitive comments yesterday comparing the LGBT movement to the Ku Klux Klan, a New York Times op-ed column by a gay Catholic man from Uganda was overlooked.

Frank Mugisha, who is the 2011  Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award laureate, wrote movingly about the oppression against LGBT people which exists in this African nation whose population is almost 42% Catholic–the largest denomination in the country.

As you may be aware, in 2009, the Ugandan government tried to institute the death penalty for people who are lesbian or gay.  Though the bill was tabled, it has been revived recently.  Even if the bill is not passed, its revival has already caused damage, Mugisha explains:

“. . .the bill’s influence has been felt in Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon, all of which have recently stepped up enforcement of anti-gay laws or moved to pass new legislation that would criminalize love between people of the same sex.”

A common argument to support anti-gay repression in Africa has been that homosexuality is an import from the West.  Mugisha turns that argument on its head:

“Many Africans believe that homosexuality is an import from the West, and ironically they invoke religious beliefs and colonial-era laws that are foreign to our continent to persecute us.

“The way I see it, homophobia — not homosexuality — is the toxic import. Thanks to the absurd ideas peddled by American fundamentalists, we are constantly forced to respond to the myth — debunked long ago by scientists — that homosexuality leads to pedophilia.”

It is bad enough that Catholic leaders have not spoken forcefully against this obvious right to life issue.  What makes matters worse, however, is that the verbal abuse exemplified by Cardinal George’s comments the other day fuel the homophobia that leads to such hateful and violent attitudes.

Cardinal George, and other Catholic leaders, could learn a lot from Frank Mugisha.

At the close of his essay, Mr. Mugisha calls on world leaders to stand with LGBT Ugandans

“Political leaders like Mrs. Clinton and religious leaders like Archbishop Desmond Tutu are willing to publicly state that being gay is just one of many expressions of what it means to be human. I call on other leaders — particularly my African-American brothers and sisters in politics, entertainment and religious communities — to come to Uganda, to stand with me and my fellow advocates, to help dispel harmful myths perpetuated by ignorance and hate. The lives of many are on the line.”

Cardinal George should go to Uganda.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Ireland’s Christmas Gift to New York’s Couples

The nation of Ireland has a Christmas gift for lesbian/gay married couples in New York state:  the Emerald Isle will recognize their legal relationship.

IrishExaminer.com reports that a government order has paved the way for this recognition, and it will take effect on Christmas Day.  Married same-sex couples from New York will be recognized as civil partnerships in Ireland, which allows for tax and immigration rights, among other things.

This is great news, coming from the pre-dominantly Catholic nation.  There is only one black cloud in this silver lining, which reminds us Americans that federal marriage equality is needed here:

“However a similar couple based in Ireland would not have immigration rights to New York as civil marriage in New York is a state law and does not include federal rights, such as immigration.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Cardinal George, LGBT People, and the Klan

Description: A Ku Klux Klan meeting in Gainesv...

The Catholic hierarchy are starting to let their claws and teeth show.

Fox-TV News in Chicago reports today that Cardinal Francis George of Chicago has compared the gay liberation movement to the Ku Klux Klan.   A story and video of the interview is available on their website.

The Huffington Post report of this incident has the text of the Cardinal’s explanation of his analogy:

“You don’t want the gay liberation movement to morph into something like the Klu Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism.”

When the Fox host pointed out that George’s comparison was “a little strong,” the cardinal stood by his statement.

“It is, but you take a look at the rhetoric,” he continued. “The rhetoric of the Klu Klux Klan, the rhetoric of some of the gay liberation people. Who is the enemy? Who is the enemy? The Catholic Church.”

This comes on the heels of last month’s statement by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, where he said, in reference to lesbian and gay people:

“We said the next thing will be we’ll be sued if we don’t do marriage, we’re going to be harassed if we don’t do receptions, we’re going to be penalized if we don’t allow adoption, we’re going to be booed if we don’t hire these people.”

The sheer ridiculousness and callousness of these comments show not only  ignorance of the LGBT movement, but also bespeak an irrational fear.

What else can account for such vicious responses?  Part of the fear may be due to the fact that the hierarchy senses they are losing the argument on LGBT equality.  I do not think that these men are evil.  I believe them to be motivated by good and trying to do good, but that pressure is getting  the best of them and making them act in irrational ways.  I am not excusing their behavior or statements at all, but I think it is important to understand what may be behind these statements.

Regardless of the motivation, an apology is needed in both cases.

I first learned of  Cardinal George’s  statement from our friends at the Unitarian Universalist website, www.standingonthesideoflove.org/blog.  I agree with their call to action:

“Get in touch with Cardinal George. Ask him to reconsider his comments and issue an apology. Above all else, approach this conversation with the greatest amount of love you can muster, lest we give credence to his beliefs that “the gay liberation movement” is full of angry hate-mongers. Our issue isn’t with Catholics — it’s with those leaders who use divisive, incendiary language and tactics to suppress an entire group of people and our families.

“You can leave a message for Cardinal George through his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FrancisCardinalGeorgeOMI

“Or try the Diocese Catholic Information Line: 312-534-8204.”

Equally Blessed, the coalition of faithful Catholics who work for LGBT equality and justice (of which New Ways Ministry is a member), has released this statement in response to Cardinal George’s comment.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Catholics Are Not the Problem in Maryland—And Neither Are African-Americans

Marriage Equality USA logo

An article in today’s MetroWeekly, a gay news magazine in the DC region,  focuses on the upcoming legislative battles on marriage equality and gender non-discrimination in Maryland.  The article begins:

“Despite large socially conservative Catholic and African-American populations, heavily Democratic Maryland was seen by many at the start of 2011 as primed for marriage equality.

But the bill to legalize same-sex marriage died without a vote in the House of Delegates in March. . .”

Unfortunately, these lead paragraphs propagate the popular myth that Catholics are opposed to LGBT equality.  Not true—particularly in Maryland.  Catholics did not impede the passage of the marriage bill in Maryland in 2011.  During the spring of this year, I spoke with numerous Maryland legislators–Catholics and those with large Catholic constituencies–and only one said that Catholic faith played a role in his decision to oppose the bill.

In fact, it was a Catholic who introduced the bill in the Senate: Robert Garagiola, the majority leader.  In the House of Delegates, many Catholics were in the forefront of the bill:  Heather Mizeur, Joseline Pena-Melnyk, and Kriselda Valderrama, among them.  Even the more traditionally-minded Catholic delegate Anne Healey, who is the former editor of The Catholic Review (Archdiocese of Baltimore’s diocesan newspaper), and who is married to a permanent deacon, spoke out in support of marriage equality from the House floor.

While it is true that the Catholic hierarchy in the state opposed the bill, the Catholic people did not.  A 2009 Greenberg, Quinlan, and Rossner poll revealed that a 49% plurality of Maryland Catholics favor legislative action that would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, with only 42% opposed.  Given that this poll is now almost three years old, and that support for marriage equality keeps increasing, especially among Catholics, the statistic of support from that poll has most likely increased.

In February, 2011, New Ways Ministry published a book, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, which explains the reason for such growing support among Catholics.  It includes personal testimony from 28 Catholic Marylanders, including former lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.  You can order a free copies of the book or download a PDF from New Ways Ministry’s website.

And while the press identified African-American opposition to the bill as a reason for its downfall, this explanation does not do justice to the amazing amount of support for marriage equality among African-Americans.  If you have any doubt about this, visit the website of the Maryland Black Family Alliance.

The same problem plagues both Catholics and African-Americans:  while some leaders of these communities are vocally and stridently opposed to marriage equality, the grassroots folks are strongly supportive.   It’s up to these supportive throngs to contact their legislators to let them know that they support marriage equality–whether it is as a Catholic, an African-American, or both.  Legislators–and the media– need to learn that the leadership of these communities do not speak for the base.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Silence Is Not Golden

Towards the end of a recent article on a Canadian’s campaign to end homophobic bullying,  an interesting discussion takes place about how to bring an anti-bullying message to Catholic schools.  You may recall that we reported on a controversy that has been brewing in Ontario, where state-funded Catholic schools are mandated to institute gay-straight alliances, but that church officials do not want to refer to these organizations by those terms.

The Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association is devising a list of names other than “gay-straight alliance” which it will recommend to local school boards.   Nancy Kirby, the Association president, comments on the naming controversy:

“Everyone is getting so caught up on the name of what the club should be that they’re getting away from what we’re trying to do and that’s to help protect our students, help support them.”

Ms. Kirby misses the point.  By not using the word “gay” you are already not protecting children because the omission sends the message that there is something wrong with the word, and by extrapolation, the reality. Not to use it sends the message that this topic is shameful, dirty, secret.

In using the word “gay,” the schools would be acknowledging that the reality is something that can be discussed.

In another earlier post, we mentioned that the first step for parishes who want to welcome LGBT people  is to use the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” “transgender” in natural, normal, and affirming ways.   To do so sends a message of acceptance.

How can there be protection and support of youth if the adults who supervise them are afraid to use words honestly and accurately?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Deadline Approaches for Discounted Symposium Registration

December 31, 2011, is the last day to register for New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium to receive a discount on registration fees.

Don’t miss this opportunity to sign up with a more than 15% savings for From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, which will bring together hundreds of Catholics who are eager to move forward the discussion of LGBT issues in their church.

And Symposium registrations make EXCELLENT last-minute Christmas gifts!  Surprise a friend or family member and bring them along with you to this event which has transformed hearts, minds, and communities!

The Symposium features internationally-known keynote speakers:  Luke Timothy Johnson, Patricia Beattie Jung, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, Richard Rodriguez, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.   Complementing this line-up are focus sessions which cover some of the most important topics in Catholic LGBT conversations.

For more information on the Symposium, and to register today, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry