The Spiritual Harm Caused When LGBT People Are Excluded From Church

An Indiana gay Catholic man has revealed that his pastor asked him to give up his social media advocacy for LGBT equality or resign from his volunteer leadership roles in his parish.

Sam Albano
Sam Albano

In an essay posted this week on the National Catholic Reporter website, Sam Albano described the meeting he had with his pastor last August, and the painful decision he felt forced to make:

“During the course of our meeting, my pastor notified me that I could not publicly disagree with official moral teachings and simultaneously hold positions of leadership within the parish. He asked me how I wished to proceed. It quickly become clear that I could not continue in volunteer parish ministry if I held firm to my convictions on the issues facing LGBT Catholics. My choices were quite limited. As a matter of conscience, I made a heartbreaking decision that afternoon. I resigned my position on the parish council. I resigned my position on the young adult board I had helped to found a year earlier. And I resigned my position as sacristan and eucharistic minister.”

Albano, who also serves as secretary of the Young Adult Caucus of DignityUSA, recognizes that this action is part of the disturbing trend of church firings which have been related to LGBT issues over the past few years, but his concern in the essay is less with the structural problems, and, instead, focuses on the spiritual harm these actions cause.  He observes:

“LGBT people who choose to remain in the church are often subject to attacks upon the genuineness of our faith. Our love for God and our loyalty to the Catholic tradition are frequently and cavalierly called into question. This has served to create an environment in which we cannot honestly discuss our concerns, our spiritual lives, or even our relationship with God.

“Most startling of all, we know that far too many of our LGBT brothers and sisters have parted ways with the church and given up on the Gospel of Jesus Christ altogether. We also know that there are young LGBT people sitting in the pews of every parish, waiting for the church to speak hope to them. And because we are widely failing at this endeavor, their departure too is imminent.”

Albano rings the alarm bell on the pastoral harm that is being caused by LGBT exclusion:

“I think it is reasonable to suggest that we have a pastoral emergency before us. More importantly, we have a pressing moral matter. In the harsh treatment of LGBT Catholics, we have done more than injustice. Indeed, we have erected a substantial stumbling block to knowing Jesus Christ, hearing the Gospel, and living a life of Christian discipleship. We have lost too many of our people: God’s people.”

He calls on all in the church to personally to take the responsibility to do outreach to LGBT people, noting that it may include difficulty for some:

“For some, reaching out to LGBT Catholics might mean taking up a cross. Some will surely find themselves subject to questioning, misunderstanding and suffering. Obedience to the Gospel has posed such a risk in every land and generation. Those who seek to build a better church for LGBT people should be assured that there are many Catholic people who already stand with them in this endeavor.”

Albano recognizes, too, that his own life has been changed by this experience–and his spirituality, too, has been strengthened:

“Some months now stand between me and that warm summer afternoon when I resigned my positions in the parish. I have lost the life I once had as an actively engaged parishioner. My relationship with my faith community of 13 years has suddenly changed.

“But the Christian person recognizes that only in losing our life do we ever truly gain it. I take great hope in the new life that lies ahead of me, although I know nothing about it at this time. And I remain steadfast in my pilgrimage as a gay Catholic man, trusting in God and striving to follow the way of the Gospel. I continue to love my parish. I continue to love my pastor. And I persist in my love for the church. My service to God and to the church has clearly changed, but certainly not ended.”

Only strong faith and courage could have provided this young man with the wisdom to reflect so carefully on this terrible experience, while at the same time helping him recognize important positive paths ahead.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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Reflecting on the Papal Audience with LGBT Catholics

Now that New Ways Ministry pilgrims are back in the United States, and now that the dust is settling from our exciting journey to Italy which included prime reserved seating at the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square on Ash Wednesday, it seems a good time to reflect on the the experience.  And while we’re reflecting, you might want to see a clip of our group singing the hymn “All Are Welcome” to the pope on that day.  Just click on the following video:

As for relfection, I think I can speak for my fellow pilgrims when I say that the trip and the Pope Francis experience can be summed up in one word:

“Wow!”

The news stories of our special seats went literally around the globe, appearing in news outlets in Poland, Argentina, Germany, United Kingdom, Malaysia, Ireland, Australia, Spain. And those are only the stories that we have been able to track.

I think our pilgrimage participants were more surprised than anyone that the story received so much attention.  We certainly didn’t feel special, and we certainly didn’t feel we deserved such attention. While it was certainly an honor to be seated so close to Pope Francis, in seats reserved for VIPs, we hadn’t realized that this would be the case until the very moment when we were ushered to our section. We didn’t really have much time to anticipate and prepare for the experience.

We knew that Archbishop Georg Ganswein, prefect of the papal household, had reserved seats for us, but the letter that he sent to Sister Jeannine Gramick gave no indication that these were special seats, or even where they were located.

Indeed, our first interpretation of Ganswein’s response to Sister Jeannine’s letter seemed to be something of a “consolation prize.”   She had not requested special seating:  she had requested that Pope Francis meet with our pilgrimage group of LGBT Catholics and supporters.  We assumed that Ganswein was giving us a polite dismissal, not a place of distinction.

Ganswein had met Sister Jeannine back in 2003 when she visited the Vatican, and gave him a copy of the Italian edition of her book, Building Bridges: Gay and Lesbian Reality and the Catholic Church, in order to present it to Cardinal Ratzinger.  The English edition had been a major focus of the Vatican’s investigation of Sister Jeannine and her co-author, Father Robert Nugent, which had taken place in the 1990s.  Ganswein is well aware of the controversy, and knows of the history that New Ways Ministry has had with the Vatican.  These past events did not prevent him from welcoming our group to the preferred seating section.  It is like the cloud of suspicion surrounding Sister Jeannine and New Ways Ministry is not as thick or as suffocating as it used to be.

One wrinkle in this experience was the way our group was named among those attending the audience.   The list did not mention that we were from the LGBT community, though Sr. Jeannine had made that explicit in her letter.   There was some disappointment about this fact, but most of the pilgrims took it in stride.

Part of their willingness to forgive this error arose from the treatment we received on our past two pilgrimages to Rome. Under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, our presence was not acknowledged at all.  While our LGBT status was not recognized publicly, this LGBT group was not shunned.  Indeed, it was given a place of honor.

Still, I think that this incident of not being named is in a way symbolic of the way that Pope Francis is approaching LGBT issues.  He is willing to go to a certain point, but he is not yet willing to go all the way.  For some people that approach is cowardly.  For others, it might seem political.  I tend to view it as a step forward.

Part of the step forward means that it is a great improvement over the previous two papacies.  Their approach to LGBT issues seemed to be avoidance, opposition, and silencing.  Pope Francis’ approach seems to be engagement, welcome, and discussion.   Those are important changes.

But Pope Francis, for all his welcome, has not fully embraced LGBT issues.  He has opposed marriage equality and adoption rights for lesbian and gay couples.  He has promoted the concept of  gender complementarity as a requisite for marriage.  Most recently, he attacked “gender theory,” a term to describe anything that does not fit traditional gender roles, as being akin to nuclear war.

On the other hand, it seems he may be open to civil unions.  He has opened wide the discussion in the Church on marriage and family issues by his management of the synod process and his call for bishops to consult the laity on these matters.  He has called for church leaders to seek out the marginalized and to provide a welcome to all, especially those the Church has traditionally ignored.

In other words, his record, so far, is a mixed bag.

As Sister Jeannine and I told many reporters after the audience, Pope Francis has taken some very important steps in the right direction, but the church hierarchy still needs to take many more steps in order to achieve justice and equality for LGBT people.  It must speak out against repressive laws around the globe against LGBT people.  It must condemn violence directed towards them.  It must stop firing LGBT church workers and volunteers.  It must speak out for equal treatment before the law.

When we were asked, “What more could Pope Francis be doing?” our answer was simple:  there must be more dialogue with LGBT people and family members.  We suggested that the upcoming synod and World Meeting of Families would be excellent opportunities for such dialogue, and we recommended that the pope and his team invite members of the LGBT Catholic community to speak publicly at those events about their lives, faith, and love.

Recognition of our group at this papal audience was another step in the process of LGBT inclusion in the Church.  Our hope is that the Vatican’s action will inspire national and local church leaders to follow their example.

The papal audience is all about gestures and symbols. While it was an honor for New Ways Ministry’s pilgrimage group to be recognized at the audience, we are keenly aware that this honor was not for the 49 of us alone.  It was a welcome and recognition that extends to all LGBT Catholics and allies who have worked so hard for so long for some kind of official acknowledgment.  As we prayed while sitting near the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica and just a few yards from Pope Francis, we prayed in thanksgiving for all of you who have been transforming our Church, and which helped bring it to this moment.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Proposed Review of San Francisco Teachers’ Handbook Brings Confusion

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

The Archdiocese of San Francisco has announced that its revisions to the high school teachers’ handbook will be reviewed and refined by a committee of theology teachers from the schools, but how far their recommendations will be allowed to reach is not well understood.

Earlier this month, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone proposed a long list of loyalty oaths, primarily focusing on areas of church teaching regarding sexuality (including LGBT issues), be added to the publication.  A number of protests by teachers, parents, and students have erupted.

A certain amount of confusion about what Archbishop Cordileone wants this committee to do exists, based on a conflict between what some press outlets reported and what archdiocesan statements have said.

SFGate.com reported:

“Under pressure from parents, students and staffers at the San Francisco Catholic Archdiocese’s schools, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said Tuesday that he is re-examining strict guidelines he proposed for teachers that would require them to reject homosexuality, use of contraception and other ‘evil’ behavior.”

Yet a statement from Fr. John Piderit, Archdiocesan Vicar for Administration and Moderator of the Curia, indicated that the committee would be doing much less than re-examining:

“The Archbishop has not repealed anything.  He is adding explanations, clarifications, and material on Catholic social teaching, via a committee of religion teachers he is establishing.  The committee is to expand some areas of the material to be included in the faculty handbook, and clarify other areas by adding material.  Nothing already planned to go in is being removed or retracted or withdrawn.”

Crux reported that Cordileone is asking the committee to “recommend to me an expanded draft” and “adjust the language to make the statements more readily understandable to a wider leadership.”

One critical area that does seem to indicate some change from Cordileone is in regard to his proposal that teachers be classified as “ministers.”   Such a classification would exempt them from labor law protection.   The statement from Fr. Piderit indicates that there will be a revision in this language:

“With respect to the use of the word ‘ministers,’ the Archbishop only said that ‘ministers’ is no longer being considered. That is all the Archbishop said.  The word currently being used is ‘ministry.’ Nonetheless, the Archbishop did say that he would work hard to find language that satisfies two needs.  One is the need to protect the rights of the teachers in the Catholic high schools to have complaints fairly treated.  The other is the right of the Archdiocese to run Catholic schools that are faithful to their mission.  Language must be identified that meets both needs.  Even if a substitute for ‘ministry’ is found, the substitute must guarantee that the teachers in the Catholic archdiocesan high schools promote the Catholic mission of the institutions.”

A letter Cordileone sent to teachers explaining the formation of the committee was published in Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper.  In one section he encourages their participation in the process and thanks them for their concern:

“. . . [A]fter speaking with your union negotiators, I have decided to form a committee consisting of theology teachers from the four Archdiocesan high schools to recommend to me a draft which, while retaining what is already there, expands on these statements and adjusts the language to make the statements more readily understandable to a wider readership. I will also leave to their discretion how to include the proper wider context within which to understand these points of doctrine. . . . Each of you may approach them with your thoughts, concerns and suggestions which they can then take under consideration as they prepare their draft. It is my hope that this can all be completed prior to the beginning of the next academic year.

“After my address to you on February 6, a number of you spoke to me seeking advice on how to effectively present the Church’s teaching in a compassionate and compelling way to your students who may be struggling in these areas and perhaps even feeling rejected or unwelcomed by the Church because of them. I was moved by your sincerity and commitment. Please know that I have already begun to look into resources that we can make available to you to assist you in this most important work.”

While Cordileone’s statement to the teachers is reconciliatory, his charge to the committee seems very narrow.  Based on what they are being asked to do, the committee may or may not be able to make recommendations to substantially change the material in the handbook which many find damaging.  Moreover, the language that the archdiocese develops to describe a teacher’s “ministry” will need to be parsed theologically and legally to see what the ramifications in both areas are.

How the committee responds to its charge will be critical in determining the next step of this controversy.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

National Catholic Reporter: “Controversial San Francisco handbook to be reviewed, expanded by theology teacher committee”

 

New Marianist Booklet Helps Catholic Educators Discuss LGBT Issues with Youth

blog marianist pictureA new resource to help Catholic educators discuss LGBT issues with students has been published by a committee of the Marianist community.

Addressing LGBT Issues With Youth:  A Resource for Educators is an 11-page PDF booklet which provides “strategies for assuring that our institutions and ministries promote understanding, respect and acceptance for all young people, regardless of their sexual orientation,” according to the LGBT Initiative page of the Marianist Social Justice Collaborative website.   The Collaborative describes itself as:

“a joint initiative of the Marianist Lay Network of North America, the Society of Mary (brothers and priests) and the Marianist Sisters. . . . It is a network that provides mutual support, resources, leadership for peace and justice, and links to other peace and justice groups.”

The document stresses the importance of creating safe space for LGBT students and provides a number of suggestions for educators can become “caring and supportive adults who will talk with them and guide them.”

The need for such a resource is described in the booklet’s first section:

“LGBT youth need reassurance from people who represent their faith if they are to integrate their self-understanding into their faith commitment. Catholic teaching often is misrepresented or misunderstood, which can cause turmoil for those who may conclude that God doesn’t love them. . . .

“While bullying affects a wide range of students, LGBT students or those perceived to be LGBT endure particular ridicule. . . .

“If adults don’t support their students, if they ignore bullying, if they remain silent when they should speak up, what is an LGBT youth to conclude? That he or she is not loved and valued, a flawed human person.”

The booklet situates its message within the Catholic tradition of non-discrimination towards LGBT people, which is taught in the Catechism.  Additionally, the rationale for their approach is supported by various bishops’ documents calling for pastoral care of LGBT people.  The Marianist charism itself is also referred to as a source of backing.  One of the “Characteristics of Marianist Education” that is quoted states:

“Educate persons to accept and respect differences in a pluralistic society. As the people of the world come increasingly into contact with one another, differences among them become more apparent. If the world of the future is to be peaceful, students of today must learn how to appreciate cultural difference and how to work with people unlike themselves.”

The booklet provides tips for how teachers can show support to LGBT students, but it also adds suggestions for how to educate the entire school community–administrators, faculty, parents–about sensitivity to LGBT people.  One significant section offers practical answers for how to answer critics who would oppose this type of approach.

The resource suggests a variety of practical ways to transform a school into a safe space, including updating the curriculum, adopting inclusive policies, establishing support groups, and ways of talking about LGBT issues in the classroom.

The booklet neither condones nor condemns sexual relationships, but does note that this topic is not connected to the idea of creating a safe space:

“Supporting LGBT students does not condone sexual activity any more than support ing heterosexual students condones sexual activity. Your care and support simply honors the dignity of each person and provides a place where he or she is accepted and valued.”

Connected to this topic of sexual relationships is an important concluding section on the Catholic Church’s call to all individuals to develop and follow their consciences.

Many Catholic educators can benefit from the suggestions offered in this resource.  If all Catholic schools adopted such an approach, our church and its educational system would be a much more welcoming place for LGBT students.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Students’ Resistance to Archbishop Cordileone Exemplifies Best of Catholic Education

Students lead vigilers in song and silence on Ash Wednesday

In San Francisco, hundreds of Catholics gathered on Ash Wednesday to protest the morality clauses for school teachers that the archdiocese has added recently. Singing and praying outside St. Mary’s Cathedral, the group held a candlelight vigil after sunset.

Students led this second major rally, organizing under the hashtag #TeachAcceptance, and were joined by parents, church workers, concerned Catholics, local teachers’ unions, and others.

Bay Area Catholics and their allies are persisting in their demands for justice following the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s announcement of new morality clauses in teaching contracts  that prohibit, among other items, public support of LGBT people.

Bondings 2.0‘s previous coverage of the new clause is available here.

One of the latest rally’s organizers, high school senior Mairead Ahlbach, told the National Catholic Reporter that students were:

” ‘learning and living the Catholic values of acceptance and love…We hope the archbishop hears this. [Jesus] would be here next to us.’ “

During intercessions, other students prayed for teachers, parents, those who are marginalized, and an openness of heart for Archbishop Cordileone. 14-year-old Hannan Regan told The Huffington Post:

” ‘The message we’re trying to get across is that we support all of our teachers, no matter their gender, sexuality, religion or race…The majority of students are very concerned about our teachers and all we want to do is show our love and support.’ “

Parents echoed those sentiments, including Vincent Campasano, a married gay man with a son in one of the affected Catholic high schools, who said the clause instills a “sense of fear.” He continued:

” ‘We object to this type of language. We are afraid we are going to lose teachers, good teachers, some of the best in the world, because of that fear that I mentioned earlier.’ “

Students rallying for #TeachAcceptance

Teachers and parents expressed concern for students when these new policies are implemented, especially LGBT youth. Veteran teacher Jim McGarry, who taught in area Catholic schools for over 25 years, said the archbishop’s decision may force LGBT youth to remain closeted and doubt their dignity and worth:

“At the same time, McGarry said he believes the vast majority of students ‘cannot and will not turn their backs’ on their gay peers. Students are very aware of the violence to which their LGBT friends can be exposed, he said, and many ‘have seen gay friends of theirs beaten up.’

” ‘The church needs to be “putting its arms around, providing extra layers of protection’ for the gay community, not turning its backs on them as he feels the new handbook statements could encourage, he said.”

Local clergy have privately and publicly questioned the wisdom of this new morality clauses as well. Fr. David Ghiorso said to the National Catholic Reporter:

” ‘This is a wonderful church in the archdiocese…[but] I struggle with understanding what is transpiring…We can be so much better than what is happening presently in this local church.’ “

The action on Ash Wednesday follows a previous rally of more than 200 people at the cathedral. Bay Area Catholics are promising more actions in coming weeks. A online petition has gathered more than 6,300 signatures. You can sign it here.

Archbishop Cordileone added to the already tense controversy in his response to a letter from Bay Area lawmakers who asked the archbishop to remove the morality clauses which they called “discriminatory and divisive.” According to Crux, The eight state legislators represent in those areas where Catholic schools will be affected. In his response, Cordileone defended the right to fire church workers by asking legislators:

” ‘Would you hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those you stand for, and who shows disrespect for you and the Democratic Party in general?’ “

The National Catholic Reporter  added that the archbishop claimed the legislators’ view was a misunderstanding.

Cordileone’s explanation only fanned the flames, however, according to SF Gate columnist C.W. Nevius:

“Here’s the concern the teachers have. What if a high school student comes to one of them in confidence and says he or she is having questions about their sexuality. That they think they may be gay and are worried about how to handle it in their life.

“What should the teacher say, that homosexuality is a mortal sin? That they must never think of a lasting, loving relationship? That marriage is out of the question? Because that’s Cordileone’s party line.

“And if the teacher should cave in and counsel the student with some actual sympathetic advice, tell him or her that it may be difficult but a normal part of human existence, what would the consequence be? Because it sounds, from Cordileone’s letter, that the teacher would be fired.”

Click here to share this graphic on Facebook.
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Further actions on this controversy are coming from organized labor. They are concerned about Archbishop Cordileone’s suggestion that educators in Catholic schools would be designated as “ministers” and deprived of employment non-discrimination rights.

Cordileone addressed the San Francisco Archdiocesan Federation of Teachers Local 2240 in early February, but according to the National Catholic Reporter few faculty members were appeased. Union representatives are presently in contract negotiations and though the archbishop signaled he was flexible on the ministerial designation, no positive steps have been announced in the weeks since.

The California Federation of Teachers expressed its support for the local union and concern for the archbishop’s actions in a February 13th statement, saying the autonomy of religious institutions should be respected but “those views must be questioned and confronted when they fundamentally violate the constitutional rights of individuals who work in these schools.”

At the same time as the debate about the new morality clause intensifies, a related controversy shows the potential impact new teaching contracts could have. Elementary students at The Star of the Sea School received an examination of conscience pamphlet from the parish’s priest (the same priest who made headlines for banning female altar servers) asking them about their sexuality, including topics like masturbation, sodomy, and sterilization.  Many students, no older than 10 or 11, were mystified. Columnist C.W. Nevius connected this bizarre incident with the teaching contracts:

“And [Cordileone] doesn’t think that has a chilling effect on the teachers? Or that when teachers at Star of the Sea, a Catholic school in the Richmond, had grave reservations about a pamphlet including some questions about sex that was given to students they supposed to keep silent and let students read a document that was clearly inappropriate?…

“The fact is the teachers were right about that pamphlet in the first place. And they shouldn’t have to check their conscience at the door when counseling students — even (gasp!) if some of them turn out to be gay. It’s unfair, unethical and a misrepresentation of a religion that celebrates a loving, accepting God.”

Archbishop Cordileone’s decision to scrutinize church workers’ lives according to a narrow understanding of Catholic identity and Christian faith is deeply troubling and an unfortunate move for the archdiocese. However, the witness of students and teachers to resist discrimination and exclusion is a clear indication that the church–the People of God–are far more adherent to the Gospel and willing to struggle for LGBT justice.

To lend your support, connect with the #TeachAcceptance movement on Facebook, Twitter, or the online petition. You can also sign up online to volunteer through the Google form here.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of these and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can also find a full listing of the more than 40 incidents where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equal rights made public since 2008 here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

LGBT Groups, Politicians Criticize NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade for Lack of Irish Identity

LGBT people boycotting the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade in a previous year.

LGBT and political leaders are again criticizing New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade for the way it has permitted openly gay contingents.

Though the host committee announced last September that it would welcome an LGBT-specific group of marchers, critics question the Irish credentials of that group, OUT@NBCUniversal, an LGBT employees group at the media giant which broadcasts the parade.  The critics expressed their desire that LGBT groups with Irish links be welcomed too.

According to CBS New York, these critics include several local politicians, who announced their own boycott of the 2015 event:

” ‘The issue has never been about having a gay group in the parade — it has always been about having an Irish gay group in the parade,’ openly gay Council Member Dan Dromm said Tuesday…

” ‘It is clear that last year’s decision was just to placate the parade sponsors,’ said Council Member Rosie Mendez. ‘Until my Irish queer brothers and sisters can march in this parade, I will not be marching at all.’

” ‘Until the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is really and truly inclusive of all I will not march in it,’ City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said in a statement. ‘Half measures will not suffice for a parade that should be open to everyone regardless of who they are or whom they love…Proud Irish New Yorkers should not be forced to hide their identities – period.’ “

Mayor Bill DeBlasio, who himself boycotted the parade in 2014, has not announced his plans for this year’s event. However, sources indicate he will again refuse to march unless a more inclusive plan is announced.

LGBT advocates are claiming the host committee’s ban on openly LGBT Irish contingents effectively remains in place. Brendan Fay of the Lavender and Green Alliance, which has applied to march, are hoping for a last minute decision to open the parade. Fay told The Irish Voice:

” ‘We have a month to go…The doors are still open and 2015 could be a celebration we can all be proud of. With the line of march yet to be published there is still time for both sides to reach an agreement. We at Lavender and Green Alliance have been working for decades for an inclusive Irish parade. My motto is “It’s always a yes until it’s a no.” ‘ “

Emmaia Gelman of Irish Queers told the Wall Street Journal:

” ‘To suggest again, for the 25th year, that we have to closet ourselves in order to be allowed into the parade is outrageous.’ “

Advocates are presently appealing to the parade’s 2015 Grand Marshal, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, as well as political leaders to help negotiate a more welcoming policy.

However, the parade host committee’s response has yet to budge. Top official Hilary Beirne endorsed OUT@NBCUniversal’s Irish credentials and said inclusion would be taken “one step at a time,” but this decision should “not necessarily” be understood as a wider welcome to openly LGBT contingents in coming years.

In September 2014, Bondings 2.0 said the inclusion of LGBT groups in New York City’s and Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parades greatly improved these celebrations “in the spirit of Catholicism’s long tradition of social justice — and perhaps most pertinent here, the Irish charism of unbounded and warm hospitality.” Parade organizers in New York should redouble their efforts to welcome all by listening to affected communities who claim the host committee’s efforts are insufficient.

For our continuing coverage of St. Patrick’s Day controversies in New York City and elsewhere, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Rainbows, Deserts, Wild Beasts, and Angels

On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for the First Sunday of Lent are: Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25:4-9; 1 Peter 3: 18-22; Mark 1:12-15.   You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.

I have always liked that the rainbow flag is a strong symbol of LGBT equality and justice. It is such a colorful, happy symbol.  And it is strongly connected to how Christians view the symbolic power of the rainbow. In today’s first reading, God tells Noah that the rainbow will serve as the symbol of God’s never-ending love for us.  God says:

“I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign
of the covenant between me and the earth.
When I bring clouds over the earth,
and the bow appears in the clouds,
I will recall the covenant I have made
between me and you and all living beings,
so that the waters shall never again become a flood
to destroy all mortal beings.”

Rainbows help me to remember that no matter what hardship or tragedy or injustice we experience, God will be with us, loving us, and helping us find new ways to continue in spite of negative forces.

Today’s gospel reading has a similar message.  It is a short passage, only three verses long, but filled with an important message.  In two sentences, St. Mark packs a profound theological lesson:

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.”

In his book, Following in the Footsteps of Jesus, Year B, José Pagola, one of my favorite Scripture interpreters, provides the following insight into these lines:

“According to the evangelist, ‘the Spirit sent him out into the desert.”  He doesn’t go on his own initiative.  The Spirit sends him out until he finds himself in the desert. Success is not going to come easily to him. Rather, trials, insecurity, and dangers await him. But the desert is at the same time the best place to listen to the voice of God in silence and solitude. . . .

“Jesus is tempted by Satan in the desert. . . . He will appear no more in the whole Gospel of Mark, but Jesus sees him in all those who want to lead him astray from his mission, including Peter.

“The brief account finishes with two strongly contrasting images: Jesus ‘was among wild animals,’ but ‘angels attended to him.’  The wild animals, the most dangerous in all creation, evoke the dangers that will always threaten Jesus and his plan.  Angels, the best beings in creation, evoke the nearness of God who blesses, takes care of, and protects Jesus and his mission.”

If you are an LGBT person or someone who works for LGBT equality, then you are most likely someone who has great familiarity with being in the desert.  Work for justice and equality is often a painful, desolate, discouraging experience, and one where temptations to give up, give in, or just becomes cynical and bitter abound.

I take hope from Pagola’s reading of this passage, however. Like all people, I have experienced “the desert” several times in my life.  I usually think of it as a negative experience, but Pagola’s interpretation reminds me that the desert can be a place not just of isolation, suffering, and temptation, but a place where God speaks to us most intimately.  It’s a place where we can find our deepest, truest selves.  A place where we can experience God’s care even though we may feel that we are being attacked.

I’ve been working in LGBT ministry and advocacy for over 20 years.  While I’ve seen some remarkable advances both in civil society and the church, it can also sometimes feel like the desert as I ask “How long, O God, before justice is made real?”   What I need to do is to turn that experience around.  Instead of focusing on what is not happening, I should instead focus on what God is doing for me in this desert time, how I am growing personally, how I am meeting incredible people, and how God is building something new–usually something so new that I often don’t recognize it.

While LGBT equality is not a reality in the Catholic Church, I am thankful for the desert experiences I’ve had because they have helped me see that God is working in mysterious ways in my life and in the life of the Church.  While we still have much work to do to educate the hierarchy, in the past 40 years, we have seen incredible growth in support from the laity.  More importantly, we have seen that in the desert, the laity have had to become more mature Christians than they might otherwise have been.  Sometimes the exile or desert experience that progressive Catholics have felt over the past few years has forced them to rely on prayer, community, and the development of their individual consciences.  In doing so, they have actually formed the model of the church that they want to see.  Without the desert experience, this would not have happened.

The rainbow is a wonderful sign of God’s love, and it is easy to see how its beauty and diversity of color symbolize divine love.  I think we also have to start to see that the desert can also be a sign of God’s love, if we look at it as an opportunity for listening to God’s word more intimately.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry