British Catholic Lesbian Leader Meets With Close Papal Advisor

Ruby Almeida and Cardinal Oswald Gracias

A British Catholic lesbian leader has met with one of Pope Francis’ most trusted advisors, and she discussed outreach to LGBT people with him, reports  

Ruby Almeida, the chair of Quest, a British Catholic LGBT organization, met with Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai, India, while she visited the country on a personal trip.  During her visit with Gracias, who is one of the eight cardinals that Pope Francis has chosen to be part of his closest advisory council, Almeida discussed LGBT experience with him, and received a very favorable response. In a report to the Quest governing committee, she writes:

“On a recent trip to India, I took  some of our new Quest leaflets when I met with a group of local lgbts. We had an in depth discussion about the reality of their lives under a colonial law that does not recognise their rights as Indian citizens. A few individuals were keen to try and set up something similar to Quest, to act as contact point for social and pastoral support for lgbts. Whilst there I was also able to organise a meeting with Cardinal Oswald Gracias who is one of the Group of Eight Cardinals to help reform the Church. I took along a young gay man who is actively involved in lgbt issues there and is also an organiser for Pride in Mumbai. ! ! The Cardinal was very welcoming and interested in the problems that Catholic lgbts face in India. He was honest enough to say that he was not aware of the difficulties and pain that they suffered as he isolated from grass roots issues and only aware of what he is informed of by his advisers. I suggested to him that if he could appoint a priest as a point of contact for the gay community, so that their needs could be addressed and a level of support could be made available. The possibility of a Mass under the banner of ‘all are welcome’ was also something in which Cardinal Gracias showed an interest, and the hope is that this could be the start of something positive for the Catholic gay community there.”

Terence Weldon, who is the editor and main contributor of QueeringTheChurch.comcommented on this encounter:

“What excites me about this meeting, is simply that it took place, and that we’ve had an attentive hearing from a man so close to the pope, and who will surely be influential in the synod on marriage and family.

“What disappoints me (but doesn’t surprise me) is that he confessed to knowing so little about the real hardships faced by ordinary gay and lesbian people, as he is ‘removed from grassroots issues.’ That is precisely the problem with the Catholic cardinals and bishops as a group  they are necessarily far removed from real life issues at the coal face, especially those concerning sex, marriage and family – and yet they continue to pontificate to the rest of us on issues of which they are largely ignorant.”

I agree with Weldon.  I think this is a wonderful and important step for the Catholic LGBT movement!  Cardinal Gracias has already shown he can be courageous about LGBT issues when last year he was India’s only religious leader to speak out against the possible re-criminalization of homosexuality in that country.  The fact that he is also so close to Pope Francis means that his opinion on these matters can have a lot of weight. In addition to being a close papal advisor, Gracias is also President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and Secretary General of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, so his influence can also be horizontal to other bishops, as well as vertical to the Vatican and Pope Francis.

And we also know that a personal encounter can move someone so much more than any theological or political argument about LGBT issues.  Almeida’s account of the meeting indicates that Gracias’ heart indeed seems to have been opened.  This is certainly an occasion for prayers of joy and thanksgiving!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Commonweal, Catholicism, and Same-Sex Marriage, Part 1

Last August, Commonweal magazine published an intriguing article entitled  “The Things We Share:  A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage.”  What made it most intriguing was that it was written by Joseph Bottum, a religious and political conservative, who is the former editor of First Things magazine, a staunchly conservative publication.  You can read our blog post summarizing and critiquing the article here.

This past week, Commonweal followed up on Bottum’s landmark essay in an equally intriguing way:  they asked both a leading conservative columnist and a leading progressive columnist to respond to Bottum’s arguments.  The New York Times’ Ross Douthat and The National Catholic Reporter’s  Jamie Manson each offered their thoughts on Bottum’s work, and Commonweal provided Bottum’s to respond to them.

Today, we will look at Douthat’s comment and tomorrow we will look at Manson’s remarks.  You can read Douthat’s comments in full here.  If you want to read Bottum’s reply to both of them, you can click here.  After reading it, I decided not to comment on it because I don’t think such comment would add much to the debate about marriage equality.

Ross Douthat

Though Douthat and Bottum’s may agree on many matters, even some that concern same-sex marriage, Douthat believes that one of Bottum’s main argument–that the Catholic hierarchy has lost the debate on marriage equality and that church leaders should not argue the case anymore but instead focus on “re-enchating” the public with its traditional view of marriage–is “either confused or a cop-out.”  Douthat explains:

“For the Catholic Church to explicitly support the disentanglement of civil and religious marriage, and to cease to make any kind of public argument against treating same-sex unions the same way opposite-sex ones are treated in law and policy, would be a very serious withdrawal from political and cultural engagement. It is one thing to urge the church to prepare for political defeat on this issue—such preparations are obviously necessary, more obviously so now even than when Bottum’s essay first appeared. But it is quite another—more separatist, more sectarian, and thus more problematic—to say that the church should preemptively cease to even make the argument.”

Douthat wants no part of such retreat, and he argues that Catholics opposed to marriage equality must, on principle, continue their argument:

“If Catholics are to continue contending in the American public square, if they are going to choose active participation over catacombs and lifeboats, they need to have something to say to actual Americans about actual American debates. . . . there is no honest way for the church to avoid stating its position on what the legal definition of marriage ought to be—even in a world where that definition has changed and doesn’t seem likely to change back.”

While I disagree with Douthat about marriage equality, I have to admit that I sympathize with him about the idea of speaking out on the basis of principle.  As someone who believes in the power of argument and persuasion, I think it is important that people do not give up on their principles just because others, even a majority of others, may disagree with them.

But I don’t think that is necessarily a strategic thing to do.  Pope Francis himself has urged church leaders not to be “obsessed” about same-sex marriage, among other things.  Douthat, I think, agrees with the pope, for strategic reasons, stating:

“This need not mean starting every conversation with same-sex marriage; once the legal change is accomplished, it may involve talking about the issue less often, or talking about it in some very different way. But it cannot mean pretending that the church’s opposition to calling same-sex unions ‘marriage’ no longer exists.”

I tend to think that Pope Francis made his comment from a pastoral, not a political, perspective, based on the context in which he made the statement.  And I think that it is wise pastoral advice for at least two reasons: 1) there are many, many more important pastoral, spiritual, and social issues that church leaders should focus on; 2) constantly speaking negatively about same-sex marriage will certainly alienate many Catholics and others from the church.

Finally, I strongly disagree with Douthat in his estimation of the results of the spread of marriage equality. He states:

“I think a serious look at the trends that have accompanied the advance of gay marriage, at the legal arguments deployed on its behalf, at the shifting understanding of marriage that has made it seem commonsensical, and at the direction of the debate on related issues (from polygamy to surrogacy) should all cast grave doubt on the idea that the church could somehow incorporate same-sex nuptials into its view of marriage without transforming that view beyond all recognition.”

To me, this is not an argument, but simple fear-mongering.  As I see it, the only major social change that has happened since the advent of marriage equality has been the strengthening and protection of more couples and families, providing greater social stability.  Douthat, however, is  almost right on one point: same-sex nuptials will require a transformation of the hierarchy’s views on marriage.  I think that transformation will be for the better of all concerned. But, more on that tomorrow, when we look at Jamie Manson’s piece.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

Bondings 2.0: Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation” by Professor Lisa Fullam

Marriage Equality:  A Positive Catholic Approach by Francis DeBernardo





Canada’s Catholic Schools Take Further Steps toward LGBT Inclusion

Mural painted as part of a Pride Week celebration at a Canadian Catholic high school.

Canada’s publicly-funded Catholic school system has made some great strides in regard to LGBT issues over the past few years. Three recent developments provide hope that these schools will only become more and more inclusive of differing gender identities and sexual orientations.

In April, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) drew criticism from traditionalist groups over the union’s decision to march in the WorldPride Parade. Now, trustees of the Waterloo Catholic District School Board have voted 8-1 in support of OECTA sending over 100 educators to march in Toronto this June.

Several trustees like Anthony Piscitelli spoke about LGBT justice in light of their faith, according  The Record:

” ‘As lay leaders in the Catholic community our words and actions matter,’ Trustee Anthony Piscitelli said. ‘Let’s make it clear here today that the board of trustees supports inclusion.’ “

Other trustees, like Frank Johnson, countered anti-LGBT critics of the teachers’ participation in WorldPride by saying:

” ‘I question your understanding of God’s design…It’s diametrically opposed to what I believe about God.’

“Johnson argued that censuring teachers could force gay Catholic students further underground, where they might harm themselves.”

Elsewhere, fired transgender teacher Jan Buterman’s legal battle with the Catholic school system which fired him after transitioning has moved forward. The Alberta Human Rights Commission will hear the case, and speculation about how the court will rule and what the impacts may be has already begun. National Post writes:

“Between recent rulings demanding greater ease for transgendered people who wish to change their sex on government identification, to debates over whether public and quasi-public religious schools should be able to enforce strict covenants and morality codes that exclude gay, lesbian and transgendered students and staff, Mr. Buterman’s case has provided a worrying precedent for the faithful.

“If Mr. Buterman wins his case with the Alberta Human Rights Commission — its hearing date still to be decided — these schools fear they will be forced to accommodate people whose values and behaviour differ markedly from their own in an environment that is explicitly religious.

“If he loses, it could prove to be a gut-wrenching setback for those with unconventional gender identities.”

You can read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of Jan Buterman’s case and find links to stories about all fired LGBT and ally church workers here.

Finally, this blog reported last week on a Canadian Catholic high school’s first Pride week celebration, which included educational programming and a film screening. Students at Blessed Pope John Paul II also painted a mural to promote inclusion of all people, and in our original post, we showed the mural in progress.  At the top of this post, you can see the finished product.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Fired Employees Seek Papal Audience; Theologian Looks at Discrimination’s Root

The chorus of voices opposing the recent firings of LGBT people from Catholic institutions increased in this past week, as nine fired employees wrote to Pope Francis, seeking an audience. Additionally, theologian Lisa Fullam spoke out  against these unjust firings, and she examined the root causes of them.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT political equality organization, released a letter this week which they mailed to Pope Francis on behalf of nine people recently fired, inviting the pontiff to meet with them to discuss employment and LGBT issues in the church.  The letter reads, in part:

We have devoted years, some of us even decades, to serving our communities as teachers, leaders
and role models. We have made a conscious choice to work within the Catholic Church because we
strongly believe that a Catholic education prepares our young people to be responsible citizens, men
and women for others. For each and every one of us, our employment was far more than just a job –
it was a reflection of core Catholic values. . . .

After each termination, school and Church officials have told us we violate Catholic Church
teachings on homosexuality. Yet, such directives have not only caused great harm to our families, but
also contradict your pastoral priority for the Church to reflect the beauty of God in ways that attract
and entice rather than alienate. . . .

The letter writers appealed to Pope Francis’ well-known gestures of welcome to LGBT people:

We take hope from your messages of acceptance and see in your pastoral leadership the possibility
for the Church to correct these hurtful injustices. We ask for a Papal audience with our families, so
that you may hear our personal stories firsthand and see the impact the Church’s actions have had on
us all.

The letter was signed by nine fired employees.  Six are lesbian or gay educators: Tippi McCullough, Flint Dollar, Michael Griffin, Richard Hague, Kristen Ostendorf, Brian Panetta. One is a gay man dismissed from his parish ministry:  Nicholas Coppola. One is the mother of a gay son, who will not be re-hired at a Catholic school because she refused to sign a new, restrictive contract: Molly Shumate.

To learn more about these individual cases, and for an exhaustive list of LGBT people and allies whose service in Catholic institutions has been terminated, visit New Ways Ministry’s page of names and links.

Lisa Fullam, a professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of  Theology at Berkeley, posted an analysis on the dotCommonweal blog entitled “What Counts as ‘Unjust Discrimination’?”   After citing the Catholic Catechism’s admonition about lesbian and gay people that “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,”  Fullam recounts the story of Colleen Simon, who was recently fired from her job as social ministries coordinator at a Kansas City parish.

For Fullam, the root of the problem lies not with the employees but with unjust Catholic language about lesbian and gay people.   She concludes her post:

“I’d add also that listening to LGBT people might include being open to the possibility that language like ‘grave depravity,’ ‘intrinsic disorder,’ ‘objective disorder’ and the like is in need of revision and rejection. It seems to be utterly unjust to apply such harsh and hurtful language to two women who love each other deeply and share also a profound commitment to service of the poor. They set a standard for love of neighbor that all of us–gay, straight, or whatever–would do well to emulate. “

(Editor’s note:  Lisa Fullam recently published a theological article in support of civil same-sex marriage on this blog.  You can read it by clicking here.)

As always, we encourage Catholics to begin discussions of non-discrimination policies in Catholic institutions as a way to forestall future actions against LGBT and ally employees.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

LGBTQ Nation: “Fired teachers seek audience with Pope over Catholic Church’s anti-gay stance”





Exploring the What & Why of Church Worker Firings, and Asking ‘What’s Next?’

“Pope Francis’ positive and welcoming statements about LGBT issues have captured headlines and imaginations over the past year, seeming to herald a more inclusive Catholic church. Yet…In the last year or more, the Catholic church in the US witnessed a disturbing spate of Catholic institutions terminating individuals’ employment because of issues related to their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

That paradox is how Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, begins an essay in Conscience magazine which explores the firings of LGBT people and their allies from Catholic schools, parishes, and social service agencies.  (You can read the entire article by clicking here, and turning to page 26.   The article is part of a special issue of Conscience which focuses on religious liberty issues.  Conscience is published by Catholics for Choice.)

These tragedies are increasing, from two public firings in 2011 to more than a dozen already this year. As LGBT rights,  especially marriage equality, advance in the US, this problem could grow rapidly. DeBernardo explains one reason for this increase:

“The era of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ in Catholic institutions is ending as LGBT people become known by the fact of simply living in mainstream society.”

Tied into employment disputes are questions of religious liberty and social justice, and the reality that excluding LGBT people from Church ministries is not supported by the faithful. DeBernardo notes:

“Religious liberty becomes a factor in these cases because all institutions that have fired LGBT people and supporters have used their identity as religious organizations to justify their discriminatory actions…In most cases, institutions are favored by the law…

“While most of these employers’ actions may be protected by the law, they are not supported by morality. In almost every one of these cases when someone has been fired, Catholic people have strongly protested. The fact that many of these cases happened in schools means that the younger generation, which is more progressive on LGBT issues than their forebears, has organized petitions and active protests…A movement of Catholics outraged by their leaders’ decisions and strategies has emerged…

“All these policies and actions are rooted in the Catholic social justice tradition: a tradition that values equality, human dignity, conscience and the rights of workers.”

Francis DeBernardo
Francis DeBernardo

To counter these firings, New Ways Ministry has encouraged the adoption of nondiscrimination policies by Catholic institutions which are inclusive of “marital status, gender identity, and sexual orientation.” DeBernardo says of this effort:

“At the very least, proposing such an idea in a parish or a school will generate discussion of the issue, and perhaps help to forestall future terminations. At best, a Catholic workplace may adopt policies protecting LGBT rights. As strange as a Catholic work environment that does not discriminate against LGBT individuals may sound to some, it is not such a far-fetched idea. Indeed, there is a strong Catholic tradition of such support.”

Included within this tradition, DeBernardo cites St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York which protected gay employees as early as 1973. Now, Catholic institutions for healthcare and for higher education lead the way in extending full protections and benefits to LGBT people and their families.

There are hopeful signs elsewhere that resisting these firings is possible, and DeBernardo includes actions in Seattle, Santa Rosa, Clifornia, Vienna, Austria, and elsewhere as evidence. There is also the reality that “students have been almost unanimously opposed to the firings,” causing DeBernardo to observe:

“For this generation, LGBT equality is most assuredly one of the civil rights issues of today. It’s hard for them to imagine anything as discriminatory as firing a lesbian or gay person for marrying will still occur when they become adults.”

These firings are damaging not only those immediately affected, but the larger Church, as well.  For one thing, the Church is weakened without gifted LGBT and ally employees. And the hierarchy risks further alienating youth who are overwhelmingly supportive of LGBT equality.

In addition to promoting nondiscrimination policies, New Ways Ministry has been tracking each public firing on our “Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT Issues” page.  Each person is fired has been listed there with includes links to more information for each incident. Bondings 2.0 will continue updating readers with the latest information on these employment incidents as they emerge. To stay up to date, enter your email in the “Subscribe” box in the upper right hand of this page.  You can research all of these firings and related topics by checking out the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Space Aliens and Exorcisms: What Are the Lessons for Catholic LGBT Advocates?

The most bizarre news stories that have come across my computer desktop in the last few weeks have to be those that have focused around space aliens and exorcisms.  Are there any lessons in these topics that Catholic advocates for LGBT people can learn?

Space aliens made headlines because of Pope Francis’ well-noted line that if Martians showed up on earth and asked to be baptized, he would do so.  Out of context, the statement sounds extremely bizarre, but in the context of the homily he was giving, the pope’s comments make some sense.  He was trying to make the point that the Spirit of God, not our human prejudices, should lead us to act.  Catholic News Service provided context for the pope’s remarks, which were given in a homily on Acts 11:1-18:

“From the very beginnings of Christianity, the pope said, church leaders and members have been tempted at times to block the Holy Spirit’s path or try to control it.

” ‘When the Lord shows us the way, who are we to say, “No, Lord, it is not prudent! No, let’s do it this way” he said. ‘Who are we to close doors?’

“Many parishes, Pope Francis said, have ushers to open the church doors and welcome people in, ‘but there has never been a ministry for those who close the doors. Never.’ “

When Gay Star News ran the story about aliens, they did so with the headline:  “Pope Francis will not marry gay couples, but will baptize aliens.”   While that is true enough, it is a little misleading, too, since the pope did not make any comment at the time about marrying gay couples.  Moreover, the Gay Star News story doesn’t even mention marriage in the body of the text.

But more importantly, it misses the point that Pope Francis’ message was actually a message of welcome, of saying the church is open for all, even those who we might think of as the most “alien” to ourselves.  To me, that is a wonderful message of welcome to Catholics who feel marginalized, such as many LGBT Catholics do.

What is also wonderful about this story is that Pope Francis’ question,”Who are we to close doors?” so beautifully echoes his famous comments about gay priests, “Who am I to judge?”  It seems that Pope Francis is building up a theme in his pontificate of cautioning people from feeling too arrogant.

The news stories about the exorcisms might be a little more complicated.  The Washington Post  ran a story about Pope Francis’ seeming interest in the reality of the devil and the rite of exorcism.  Entitled “A modern pope gets old school on the Devil,” the article notes:

“After his little more than a year atop the Throne of St. Peter, Francis’s teachings on Satan are already regarded as the most old school of any pope since at least Paul VI, whose papacy in the 1960s and 1970s fully embraced the notion of hellish forces plotting to deliver mankind unto damnation.

“Largely under the radar, theologians and Vatican insiders say, Francis has not only dwelled far more on Satan in sermons and speeches than his recent predecessors have, but also sought to rekindle the Devil’s image as a supernatural entity with the forces­ of evil at his beck and call.”

The article explores Catholic history and ideas about the devil, but where the topic becomes problematic for Catholic LGBT advocates is when it quotes a priest who is a practicing Catholic exorcist and an experience he had on an airplane:

“. . . [T]he Rev. Cesar Truqui, an exorcist based in Switzerland, recounted one experience he had aboard a Swissair flight. ‘Two lesbians,’ he said, had sat behind him on the plane. Soon afterward, he said, he felt Satan’s presence. As he silently sought to repel the evil spirit through prayer, one of the women, he said, began growling demonically and threw chocolates at his head.

“Asked how he knew the woman was possessed, he said that ‘once you hear a Satanic growl, you never forget it. It’s like smelling Margherita pizza for the first time. It’s something you never forget.’ ”

The  homophobia in such a comment makes one realize that so much of “devil talk” relies more on people’s own prejudices, and less on a belief in objective evil.

It’s not just Catholicism that runs this risk of prejudicial Satan-labeling when it comes to lesbian and gay people.  Certain Charismatic Christian groups are also involved in such activity.’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote an article that took a look “Inside The Horrifying World of Gay Exorcisms.”   He cites a very reliable source, credible because he experienced such an exorcism:

“Roland Stringfellow, a pastor of the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, notes that these denominations spiritualize just about everything and believe that people have a spirit for every problem. Homosexuality, to these religions, is its own discrete problem—one even more troubling than alcoholism or drug addiction. Accordingly, Charismatic congregations are eager to cast the ‘demon’ of homosexuality out of gay people through exorcism, often in public at the altar of a church.

“Stringfellow himself was subject to such an exorcism when he was in college and was still closeted.

“ ‘I was trying to get rid of my same-sex attractions,’ he told me. ‘The person at the altar yelled so everyone could hear: “Demon of homosexuality! Come out of this young man!” And he smacked me on my forehead to “slay me in the spirit.”A friend had to get me up from the altar, pick me up, and get me back to my seat, because I was absolutely mortified. My secret had now been announced, proclaimed, to all of these individuals.’ ”

Professor Mathew Schmalz, College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit school, acknowledges a belief in the reality of the Devil, but he notes that the recent rise of interest in Satan can be dangerous.  Schmalz concludes a Huffington Post article on the topic with the following concluding paragraph:

“As a Catholic, I do believe that Satan exists and that there is something both intellectually and psychologically valuable in understanding evil as an objective force or entity. But I was also always taught that Lucifer was the most beautiful of the angels — and that evil can come under the most beguiling and attractive forms. For this reason, we have to be very careful where we see the Devil. When you try to cast out demons, it’s all too easy to conjure more in the process.”

Schmalz’ caution is one that U.S. Catholic bishops should heed, especially when they ramp up their rhetoric, a la Springfield, Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki, to insinuate that marriage equality is the work of the devil.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry