Statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry
The news that Pope Francis met privately in Washington, DC with Kim Davis throws a wet blanket on the good will that the pontiff had garnered during his U.S. visit last week. Davis is the Protestant Kentucky county clerk who defied a court order to issue licenses to lesbian and gay couples after she refused to do so, citing moral reason. Though some commentators are downplaying the significance of the meeting, the fact that it happened at all raises a red flag about where he stands on LGBT issues. The pope’s decision to meet Davis with is a puzzling one for many reasons.
First of all, Pope Francis had steered clear of getting involved in any particular political situation while visiting the U.S. Though he spoke twice to audiences on the topic of religious liberty, he carefully avoided mentioning any individual case or example. Indeed, as was noted earlier this week, some of his comments on religious liberty were easily interpreted as supporting LGBT people.
Second, there had been numerous calls for the pope to meet with LGBT Catholics and families while in the U.S., and the Vatican ignored them all. Indeed, many other Catholics supporting other social justice issues also requested a chance to speak with the pope. What was special about Kim Davis’ case that the pope decided to meet only with her? Moreover, why did he do so secretly? In his remarks during the airplane interview on his way back to Rome, Francis was asked about exactly the type of case that Davis represents, and he refused to comment on any specific case.
Fourth, Pope Francis chastised U.S. bishops at least twice in his U.S. visit for being too blatantly political. Why then would he himself make such a blatantly political act by meeting with Davis?
Fifth, in his remarks during the airplane interview on his way back to Rome, Francis was asked about exactly the type of case that Davis represents, and he refused to comment on any specific case. Why did he not tell reporters then that he had met with her? After those remarks became public, New Ways Ministry had commented that the pope was incorrect in labeling the refusal to issue marriage licenses as conscientious objection.
Though LGBT and ally Catholics have welcomed Pope Francis’ affirming remarks, many, including myself, have also remarked that he sometimes talks out of both sides of his mouth. Moreover, while he is LGBT-positive in general ways, his remarks on specific moral and political issues are often at odds with his welcoming stance. The time for vagueness, ambiguity, and secret meetings is over. Pope Francis needs to state clearly where he stands in regard to the inclusion of LGBT people in the church and society.
Lance Sanderson, a senior at Christian Brothers High School (CBHS) in Memphis, who had sought permission to bring a same-sex date to the school’s Homecoming Dance last weekend, not only was excluded from last weekend’s dance, but found himself suspended by school officials when he arrived for classes on Monday.
Sanderson’s explained his request in a Change.org petition which has gained nearly 25,000 signatures:
“I just want to bring a date of my choice to homecoming like the rest of my friends and classmates. I’m not asking for special treatment. I’m just asking for respect, and the chance to make my last homecoming a truly memorable experience.”
A CBHS teacher told him last spring that the school “doesn’t discriminate” and the decision ultimately is the principal’s, Sanderson reported. When school resumed in September:
“One administrator told me that even though some people interpreted Pope Francis’s teachings on the issue as meaning they should support same-sex couples, these people are, ‘not the authority to which Christian Brothers High School is accountable.’ And now my school is making daily announcements across the whole school, saying that students can’t bring same-sex dates from other schools.”
Another administrator mentioned a gay couple he knew, saying Sanderson was “a lot like this one person” but that “the guy’s boyfriend murdered him” in an event the student understates as “a little rough.”
The daily announcement mentioned above is a new policy implemented in response to Sanderson’s request, reported The New Civil Rights Movement. It allows female dates from other schools, but “for logistical reasons” bars male dates.
Sadly, CBHS officials believe that seeking equality warrants a week long suspension for Sanderson. Called to the office when he arrived, Sanderson was told that the administration “had 890 other students to worry about” and did not “appreciate the unwanted publicity,” reported NewNowNext.
CBHS officials are defending their actions in a statement that claims outreach to gay students was a goal for the school year and that the community was “a kinder and gentler school. . .not homophobic.” Several steps, including training for teachers and appointing a gay alum to the board, are listed as evidence.
Having been out at CBHS since he was a freshman, this is not the first time Sanderson has faced harassment or discrimination. One time a classmate “kept referring to one of the main characters [in a movie the class was watching] as a ‘fag’ at least 17 times.”. However, receiving punitive sanctioning from the administration is new. Sanderson, still excluded from receiving his education this week, wrote a letter to school officials that said, in part:
“I am hurt by this exclusion. It goes against the Lasallian value of brotherhood that the school is supposed to stand for. You won’t let me dance with my date and you won’t let me go to class now either. I had hoped that today would be one for positive conversation going forward. Instead, I was sent home.
“I haven’t done anything wrong and haven’t hurt anybody. I want to be welcomed back to the school building today and I want this mean-spirited semi-suspension ended, so that I can do my classwork like anybody else.”
Thankfully, Sanderson is receiving growing support from the outside. Crowds at the Mid-South Pride Festival chanted “Let Lance dance!” over the weekend, including several gay CBHS alumni reported NewNowNext.
One gay alum, Mike Halford, is however defending the school’s actions, reported Fox 13. Halford claims the reasons behind the suspension are unclear and CBHS officials may simply choose to remain silent on these matters, though Halford is optimistic “eventually that part of the policy [on dance dates] will be changed.”
Administrators at Christian Brothers High School owe it to Lance, to the school community, and to Memphis Catholics to end that silence and be transparent about why they have pursued this course of action. There seems little reason other than punishment and intimidation why an otherwise good student like Lance Sanderson receives a week long suspension. Further, barring same-sex dates at Catholic school events is not the only option.
Other institutions, like McQuaid Jesuit High School in New York, have found ways of truly welcoming LGBT students when it comes to homecoming dances and proms. CBHS officials should apologize for the deep harm they have caused, welcome Sanderson back to classes immediately, and when prom comes in the spring, let Lance dance!
In one of his famous airplane interviews on his flight back to Rome, Pope Francis spoke out in a more conservative tone than he used during his week-long visit to the United States.
Two items that are grabbing headlines from the interview are his support of government officials who refuse to issue marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples, and his continued support of the magisterium’s ban on ordaining women to the priesthood.
On the first issue, in response to a reporter’s questions, Pope Francis spoke generally, but refused to speak specifically about the situation of Kim Davis, most celebrated case of a clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses. From Our Sunday Visitor’s transcript of the interview:
“Terry Moran, ABC News:
. . . Holy Father, do you also support those individuals, including government officials, who say they cannot in good conscience, their own personal conscience, abide by some laws or discharge their duties as government officials, for example in issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. Do you support those kinds of claims of religious liberty?
I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscience objection. But, yes, I can say the conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right.Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying ‘this right that has merit, this one does not.’ It (conscientious objection) is a human right.It always moved me when I read, and I read it many times, when I read the ‘Chanson de Roland” when the people were all in line and before them was the baptismal font and they had to choose between the baptismal font or the sword. They had to choose. They weren’t permitted conscientious objection. It is a right and if we want to make peace we have to respect all rights.
“Terry Moran, ABC News:
Would that include government officials as well?
It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right.”
Though he did not want to comment on a specific case, his broad generalization of the issue, particularly in his last two sentences, makes it seem that he is categorically in support of ALL cases where conscientious objection comes into play. So, in effect, the pope HAS spoken in support of Kim Davis.
Conscientious objection is a noble principle, unfortunately, it does not apply to the situation of clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses to couples of whom they disapprove. Why? Because clerks are not being forced to issue the licenses. If they don’t want to do so, they can resign.
Conscientious objection is not the principle that is involved in these cases because the clerks are not being asked to compromise their consciences. They have the freedom to choose another job.
Military conscientious objectors choose not to participate in military action. They seek other jobs that are more in line with their values. Clerks whose consciences do not allow them to issue marriage licenses should similarly seek other employment.
I do not believe in the death penalty. If I were employed at a correction facility which required me to execute a prisoner, I would seek another job. Clerks with conscience objections should do the same.
If Pope Francis wants to honor conscientious objection, why doesn’t he reinstate Father Roy Bourgeois whose conscience required him to participate in the ordination of a Roman Catholic Woman Priest. If the pope honors conscientious objection, he should honor the consciences of all Catholics who support women’s ordination and provide entrance to the clergy for all women called to ordination.
In his final two days in the United States, Pope Francis provided his most explicit focus on the highly contested social topics of marriage and religious liberty, and he did so by avoiding full support to either the U.S. bishops or the LGBT community on both topics. And in his final public appearance, at the Philadelphia Mass, he made, in the words of a National Catholic Reporter news story “a strong exhortation to American Catholics to be unafraid of trying new things, even if they seem to threaten long-practiced traditions or existing church structures.”
On the morning of September 27th, the pontiff addressed bishops attending the World Meeting of Families, and made his most direct remark about the growing acceptance of marriage equality around the globe:
“Until recently, we lived in a social context where the similarities between the civil institution of marriage and the Christian sacrament were considerable and shared. The two were interrelated and mutually supportive. This is no longer the case.”
[Editor’s note: Although the pope delivered the speech in Spanish, the quotes in this blog post are taken from the Vatican’s official English translation of the talk, which can be read in full by clicking here.]
Francis introduced this observation with a call to the bishops to recognize that social changes in marriage take place over the course of history:
“Needless to say, our understanding, shaped by the interplay of ecclesial faith and the conjugal experience of sacramental grace, must not lead us to disregard the unprecedented changes taking place in contemporary society, with their social, cultural – and now juridical – effects on family bonds. These changes affect all of us, believers and non-believers alike. Christians are not ‘immune’ to the changes of their times. This concrete world, with all its many problems and possibilities, is where we must live, believe and proclaim”
Most remarkable about this comment is the absence of a condemnation of the marriage equality movement, which has become a hallmark of Francis’ discussions on marriage. Equally important though is the implicit acceptance of the fact that civil marriage and church marriage are two distinct realities.
It is this latter point which is the critique of the approach of U.S. bishops who have continuously tried to argue that a change in civil marriage negatively impacts the church’s understanding of marriage. The bishops have tried to argue that the institution of marriage–even civil marriage–is a divinely ordained institution which cannot be changed by civil authorities. Francis’ comment acknowledges that governments and the Catholic Church can peacefully co-exist without sharing the same views on marriage.
At the same time, however, Francis clearly did not endorse marriage equality, civil or sacramental, and, as we’ve reported from talks earlier in the week, his position is clearly that marriage should be kept a heterosexuals-only institution.
David Gibson of Religion News Serviceobserved that the pope made his point “without mentioning gay marriage,” and instead:
“. . .made a brief reference to the legalization of same-sex marriage that the American bishops have made a centerpiece of their public ministry and policy battles, with many of them casting the acceptance of gay relationships as the beginning of an era of exclusion and even persecution for Christians.”
It is the fact that he did not explicitly support the U.S. bishops’ campaigns which is particularly important in his remarks.
In a separate article about the pope’s impromptu speech at a Saturday night celebration for participants in the World Meeting of Families, Gibson made a similar observation about Francis’ discourse:
“. . . [I]n this address, Francis also conspicuously avoided the culture war rhetoric often associated with Catholic leaders and instead stressed the economic challenges that hurt families. . . .
“Notably missing was any condemnation of gay marriage or an exaltation of the ideal nuclear family headed by a mother and father. Nor did the pontiff bemoan the growth of divorce or cohabitation or point to rampant secularization or slackening sexual mores as the reasons that traditional family life is facing difficulties.”
In his remarks on religious liberty at Independence Hall, the pope also took a direction which did not fully satisfy either side of the controversial issue. Perhaps the most salient quote from his speech which embodies the pope’s dual critique of both sides of the religious liberty discussion is the following:
“In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or, as I said earlier, to try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religious traditions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and the rights of others.”
The conservative side of the debate, which seeks to advocate for the rights of religious institutions and leaders, the pope’s reference to silencing religious voices in civil debates would seem to satisfy them. Yet, his reference to those who use religious freedom for hatred and brutality would seem to satisfy those on the progressive side who see religious institutions using their faith as a means to discriminate against groups they oppose–too often LGBT groups and individuals.
In an Associated Press news story published in US News and World Report, Rachel Zoll quoted a theologian who observed a deft political move by Francis:
Vince Miller, professor of theology at University of Dayton in Ohio, said Francis, employed “exquisite political skill,” in his speech, which Miller saw as the pope’s attempt to balance conflicting worldviews that prioritize one issue over another.
“He’s very clearly stitching these sides together,” Miller said. “He’s challenging people get out of the defensive ruts they’re stuck in.”
In the same article, papal biographer Paul Vallely noted that the religious liberty speech should be viewed in Francis’ overall theme of the U.S. visit: the promotion of the common good. Vallely stated:
“That speech is not what they would have been expecting in a talk about religious liberty. The pope is saying these rights have to call you to conversation and reconciliation. It’s about balancing.”
Zoll noted as significant Francis’ total omission of any reference to marriage equality, which is the U.S. bishops’ top concern in regard to religious liberty.
Francis kept his remarks on religious freedom philosophical and historical, and he notably did not cite the U.S. bishops’ battles against gay rights or the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.
Both of those campaigns have been a prime focus of the hierarchy’s public policy efforts in recent years, and the religious freedom argument is central to each of them.
With just one more day before he flies back to Rome, the pope used his time defending immigrants and promoting social justice, eschewing cultural-warrior language and encouraging dialogue and engagement.
What is even more significant is that the pope made these comments in Philadelphia, where Archbishop Chaput, leader of the local Church, has been one of the U.S. bishops’ most vocal and strident mouthpieces on “culture war” issues.
At the closing Mass of the World Meeting of Families on Sunday afternoon, Pope Francis gave what was perhaps his most passionate and eloquent speech of his trip, in which he urged the U.S. church to be more courageous in trying new things and in reaching out to those who are different. I cannot help but hear in this homily a strong rebuke by Pope Francis of the way that many U.S. bishops have been leading the Catholic Church here.
“In a homily to hundreds of thousands at an outdoor Mass packing Philadelphia’s iconic Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Francis said that Jesus’ disciples were also afraid of new things — but that Jesus broke down all barriers to allow the Spirit to do its work.
” ‘Jesus encountered hostility from people who did not accept what he said and did,’ the pope told the crowds, many of whom had waited for long hours to participate in the last of his three public Masses while in the U.S.
” ‘For them, his openness to the honest and sincere faith of many men and women who were not part of God’s chosen people seemed intolerable,’ said the pontiff.
” ‘The disciples, for their part, acted in good faith,’ he said. ‘But the temptation to be scandalized by the freedom of God, who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike, bypassing bureaucracy, officialdom and inner circles, threatens the authenticity of faith. Hence it must be vigorously rejected.’
” ‘For Jesus, the truly “intolerable'” scandal consists in everything that breaks down and destroys our trust in the working of the Spirit!’ said Francis. . . .
” ‘To raise doubts about the working of the Spirit, to give the impression that it cannot take place in those who are not “part of our group,” who are not “like us,” is a dangerous temptation.’
” ‘Not only does it block conversion to the faith; it is a perversion of faith!’ he said.
For the past four decades, many U.S. bishops appointed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI have tried to rein in any new ministries or alternative and creative ways of being pastoral. They have often tried to create strong distinction between what they considered authentic Catholicism and dissenting Catholicism.
Throughout his trip here, Francis has offered his most pointed advice to bishops–a special concern he has had throughout his papacy–directing them to give up this divisive mentality. In his Sunday homily, Francis is offering U.S. Catholics, and particularly U.S. bishops, a new paradigm for a more open and pastoral church. This paradigm, if applied to LGBT issues, could open up a whole new world of possibility and liberation in our church.
Pope Francis did not directly address LGBT people or issues at all in his U.S. visit. Yet, the messages he gave on other issues could have an impact on advancing the inclusion and equality of LGBT people in both society and the Catholic Church.
Just as Pope Francis began his schedule in Philadelphia, Catholics gathered in a church hall in downtown to explore ideas and personal experiences about gender identity. The New Ways Ministry-sponsored workshop, titled “Transforming Love,” featured four speakers sharing their stories of being trans*, of being intersex, of being an LGBTQI person’s family member–and doing all of this as Catholics.
After an opening communal prayer service, Julie Chovanes, a transexual Catholic woman from Philadelphia, began the morning’s presentations. Steve Ahlquist of RIFuture.org reported:
“Chovanes was raised in the Byzantine Catholic tradition. . .Coming out and transitioning has been a challenge, but she feels she has ‘been accepted in the city, I feel that Philadelphia is the best city in the world for [trans persons].”
“I don’t consider myself a man or a girl. . .I am a trans. My brain and my soul are a woman’s, but my body is a man’s. . .My life is a testament to God’s glory.’ “
Later in the workshop, having claimed “I am very proud of who I am,” Chovanes highlighted her privileged experience compared to many other trans persons. She is a successful lawyer whose marriage and family remained intact while she transitioned. Chovanes lifted up trans people of color who suffer most in the U.S. due to economic hardships and physical and emotional violence.
delfin bautista, who identifies as trans* and specifically two-spirit or genderqueer, spoke next. [delfin does not use male or female singular personal pronouns for self-reference. Instead delfin prefers the non-gendered plural “they, them, their” pronoun set for self-identification. Also, delfin’s name is correctly spelled with lower-case initial letters.] delfin began listing their many personal identities that “sometimes clash and sometimes coexist.” These include being Catholic and being the LGBT Center director at Ohio University.
bautista detailed their Latino/a Catholic upbringing as they came to know themselves more authentically in an ongoing journey to know “what means to be both/and rather than either/or.” RIFuture quoted bautista:
“Being different is not an option. . .I wore dresses and played princess. I prayed every night to wake up in a new body, but was greeted with silence.’
” ‘When I came out I came out as gay because that’s all I knew, but even then I knew it didn’t fit me. . .My mom wanted to help me and sent me to therapy to be cured. I don’t hate my mother, she was trying to help me.’ “
bautista gently explained the concept of transitioning, saying it was not a matter of changing one’s identity but rather of affirming one’s identity and sharing it with others. The journey is a communal one, involving a person’s partner, friends, and family members.
Responding to participants’ questions, the speakers zeroed in on trans* oppression by the lesbian and gay communities. Chovanes alluded to the historic Stonewall riots in 1969, reminding those at the worksthop that it was trans* people who kicked off the LGBT movement.
bautista said, “We’ve been coming out. We’ve been here for centuries.” They added that sexism and misogyny still silence trans feminine voices even within LGBT circles, bautista’s expanded this critique to the Black Lives Matter movement which has prioritized black men who are killed even though trans women of color face the highest rates of violence.
Both turned to Scripture to further their points, Chovanes highlighting the Apostle Philip’s merciful treatment of the Ethiopian eunuch (see Acts of the Apostles 8) who is as he is not because of sin but “for the greater glory of God” and noting that from Genesis to Galatians, gender is presented as a spectrum.
The workshop’s second panel featured two speakers from El Salvador. Nicole Santamaria is an intersex Catholic woman and activist, now residing in the U.S. She was joined by Vilma Santamaria, her mother and a teacher involved with feminist advocacy.
Assigned male at birth, Nicole identified as a girl by the age of three and thought of running away as early as age five. When she finally came out to her mother, Vilma responded, “I love you, whoever you are. I will always have you in my heart.” Vilma had known her daughter was different from a young age. Less understanding was Nicole’s father at whose hands she suffered greatly in adolescence, which she described for RIFuture.org:
” ‘[I was told,] don’t talk like that, don’t move your hands like that! Oh my God, don’t breathe like that! . . .My father mentally and physically tortured me. He’d heat up coins and burn my nipples.”
Her father’s damage destroyed her natural breasts and early medical help was equally problematic, but eventually through reconstructive surgery Nicole is now able to present as she identifies. Though she is “passing” [meaning: being visibly recognized as a woman], a term she said she only recently learned in the U.S., Nicole refuses to remain silent and rest in that privilege. As she stated:
“God gave me the opportunity to survive. I’m going to continue to speak out for those who didn’t.”
Citing that faith for the “strength to continue,” she told RIFuture.org:
“I came here to the World Meeting of Families with Pope Francis, to speak for the voices that were silenced by those who will torture them, by those who will kill them. And the voices that were silenced already by people who feel they have permission and they have the obligation to murder us, to exterminate us, to persecute us, because their religion told them that it is okay to kill a person that is different. When every religious leader spoke out against sexual diversity, or even against abortion, a transgender woman is killed. Every time those kind of things are heard, that means death. Whenever this is reported in the media, you can read the comments from the people, and the comments are, They deserve it, they are abominations, God doesn’t love them, it is okay.”
Violence against LGBTQI people in El Salvador is extensive and often involves sexual violence and torture as well as physical assault. Nicole is currently seeking asylum in the U.S. because, as she told her mother, “I left my country because I won’t let you recognize my body in pieces.” She left El Salvador after several physical attacks and more than several authentic death threats.
The speakers’ words showed the power and grace present at the workshop yesterday morning. Their words were filled in by many smaller interpersonal conversations by participants who shared their faith, their identities, and their hopes as well as pains. You can get a glimpse of the atmosphere in this video from Religion News Service.
It is worth noting, finally, that this workshop almost did not happen after Archbishop Charles Chaput ejected it and other LGBT-related events coinciding with last week’s World Meeting of Families from a local Catholic parish. Thankfully, a Arch Street United Methodist Church, a nearby congregation at opened its doors and its arms to the New Ways Ministry program, as well as to Equally Blessed’s World Meeting of Families pilgrims, thus allowing LGBT and Ally Catholics to witness to the power of faith, hope, and love, in their lives, relationships, and families.
To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Equally Blessed pilgrimage, the World Meeting of Families, and/or Pope Francis visit to the U.S., you can click here.
Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 surveyed Pope Francis treatment of LGBT issues during his visit to Washington, D.C. Today, as the pope begins his schedule in Philadelphia, here are some LGBT Catholic takeaways from New York City.
“Without the recognition of certain incontestable natural ethical limits and without the immediate implementation of those pillars of integral human development. . .[social progress] risks becoming an unattainable illusion, or, even worse, idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption, or for carrying out an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.”
At least one critic, writing in The Advocate, has questioned whether those “anomalous models and lifestyles” are a reference to homosexuality. At one point, Pope Francis criticized the still undefined term “gender theory: during his appeal for natural law reasoning, saying “natural difference between man and woman” must be respected.
More positively, Francis’ repeatedly attacked exclusion as the bedfellow of degrading creation and said “social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment.” Again, though not directly citing LGBT people, his words are readily applicable to those sexual and gender diverse minorities globally who suffer profound social exclusion.
Mass at Madison Square Garden
Rather than Pope Francis’ words or acts, it was comedian and journalist Mo Rocca’s scriptural reading during Mass at Madison Square Garden which is most striking for LGBT advocates.
Rocca is not only Catholic, but is openly gay after coming out publicly in 2011. He said on Twitter that he was “deeply grateful and humbled to have delivered a reading at a Mass” celebrated by Pope Francis.
Many people on the social media channel quickly noted Rocca’s sexual orientation, reported NBC News.It is indeed significant that in a time when LGBT Catholics find themselves unwelcome in many U.S. parishes and more than fifty church workers have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since 2008.
Pope Francis’ homily may explain, in part, the welcome Rocca received. The pontiff heartily affirmed diversity and said cities contain the “hidden riches” of “cultures, traditions, historical experiences. . .all the different ways which we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life.” He repeated his condemnation of social exclusion.
Vespers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Finally, though out of order in the chronological style of this post, Pope Francis’ spiritual reflection during Vespers in New York is worth briefly highlighting. He said nothing about LGBT issues, but the pope praised U.S. women religious when he asked: “What would the Church be without you?”
His gratitude for the sisters comes just months after the Vatican’s investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) concluded. Pope Francis continued praising the sisters for being on “the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel. . .the front lines in meeting the challenges of adapting to an evolving pastoral landscape,” seemingly the very reasons LCWR was investigated in the first place–which included their support of LGBT issues, generally, and New Ways Ministry, specifically.
Onward to Philadelphia
As I noted yesterday, Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. has been quite ambiguous when it comes to LGBT topics, a sharp contrast to many American bishops’ culture war mentalities. Foremost among such bishops is Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, where Pope Francis now concludes his visit over the weekend.
Will Francis will speak more clearly and at length about marriage and family life in the city where the World Meeting of Families has just concluded. Already, the pope is drawing criticism from LGBT advocates but I am sticking to a “wait and see” approach.
Check back in the coming days for Bondings 2.0‘s ongoing coverage from Philadelphia and analysis about LGBT Catholic outcomes, reactions, and next steps after Pope Francis’ U.S. visit concludes on Sunday.
To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S., click here.
The World Meeting of Families’ (WMF) only session on homosexuality was held Thursday afternoon, drawing more than 750 people to the talk featuring a Catholic celibate gay man, Ron Belgau, and his mother, Beverley.
Their aim, according to an interview in Slate, was to “help Catholic families to be better at loving LGBT people.” In the session, the Belgaus shared their personal stories, this being the first time since WMF began two decades ago that an openly gay person has spoken. Beverley Belgau called Ron’s coming out “the worst day of my life.” They also reiterated current teachings on homosexuality which mandates celibacy, though they admitted church leaders’ response to LGB Catholics could be improved.
The Belgaus’ session was standing room only, due in part to a last minute room change that left hundreds of would-be attendees standing outside, reportedReligion News Service. World Meeting of Families officials did not comment on why a session concerning homosexuality was shifted from a plenary hall capable of holding 10,000 to a much smaller room with the capacity for only 1,000. Call To Action’s Ryan Hoffman commented:
” ‘We are just trying to understand and give [World Meeting of Families officials] the benefit of the doubt. . .This just speaks to the fact that people want to talk about LGBT Catholics and their relationship with the Catholic Church.”
Following the lecture, a question and answer period lasted two hours, at which point those still present were asked to leave the room, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer. Some questions were concrete, like whether a Catholic could attend a family member’s same-sex marriage to which Beverley Belgau suggested that whatever the questioner decides to “do it with love.” Others challenged Ron Belgau’s underlying assertions, like Fortunate Families board member Ed Buechel’s criticism of mandatory celibacy:
” ‘That’s fine for somebody who has been given the gift from God of chastity and celibacy. . .I’m the father of a gay son. . .He’s 34 years old. He loves his church and he loves his God. But because of the conflict between the teachings of the church and his wanting to stay a good Catholic, he had a nervous breakdown 12 years ago.’ “
Titled “Always Consider the Person: Homosexuality in the Family,” critics claim it failed to consider the person and focused primarily on enforcing rigid understandings of sexuality. Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA wrote on Facebook:
“[T]he problems started for me when they spoke of Ron as having ‘same-sex attraction.’ This immediately takes it/us to a place of disorder, illness, defect. That leads to dehumanization, a sense of moral inferiority, and assumption of sinfulness. From there we get to discrimination, exclusion and violence. That whole chain was never addressed. There was no sense of identity as intrinsic to personhood, or of our sexual orientation as blessed gift. The view of ‘Church’ presented was also disempowered and hierarchical.”
delfín bautista, another Equally Blessed pilgrim, said in the session that LGBT Catholics are not struggling with who they are, but “with the rejection and marginalization that exists within society and also within the church.”
The lack of LGBT Catholic perspectives, except for Ron Belgau’s celibate life, was striking. Ronnie Polaneczky, columnist for the Daily News, called it a “wasted opportunity,” writing further:
“Really? This is the best that the church has for LGBT Catholics – the expectation that they be celibate? At this extraordinary meeting of Catholics from around the globe, why is this celibate gay man the only representation of the church’s LGBT members?”
LGBT Catholics Respond
The opportunity was not entirely wasted because LGBT Catholics and their families associated with the Equally Blessed pilgrimage kept the conversation going during a Thursday evening panel.
Featuring Claire Dente, John Freml of Equally Blessed, and Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA, the conversation became an honest and at times heated dialogue on not only Ron Belgau’s talk but broader questions in the Catholic LGBT movement.
One theme panelists picked up on was the need to positively appraise and present diverse sexual and gender identities.
Freml said homosexuality is “not a disorder, a curse, a birth defect. It’s a gift. It’s cause to celebrate.” Duddy-Burke spoke about coming out as a Resurrection experience, adding LGBT folks need to be more outspoken in celebrating their fabulousness. Dente pointed out that though God’s voice is speaking through same-gender relationships, when LGBT people are excluded from the table that part of God’s voice is stifled.
Those in attendance added to the conversation for more than an hour, respectfully, though honestly, dialoguing about sensitive topics. These included the need to diversify the LGBT movement, incorporating global perspectives as well as centering communities of color in the U.S. Greater solidarity by LGBT communities with those movements for racial, economic, or migration justice was requested by several attendees.
Others highlighted the pain Catholics feel when their priests and religious remain silent in the face of injustice. Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, spoke movingly about the fear that keeps many from taking prophetic action and emphasized the need to educate church leaders.
Having attended this response period, I witnessed in the church hall an embodiment of precisely the loving dialogue called for repeatedly by Pope Francis during his U.S. visit. As they have for a long time, LGBT Catholics and their families are fostering encounters in the church–a very hope-filled witness. I was also aware of the deep pain all too present for LGBT Catholics and their family members–a pain church leaders are not only inattentive to, but too often inflict. It cannot be forgotten even for those of us who find hope in what has happened this week.
Mustard Seeds Planted
The Eighth World Meeting of Families with all its LGBT-related controversies and failure to welcome all families has concluded at last. Equally Blessed pilgrims generally reported respect from WMF participants in the many one-on-one conversations held, but there were also moments of hostility. Fortunate Families board member Tony Garascia told NBC 10that some at the WMF asked why Catholic parents of LGBT children even bothered attending and claimed gay children were perverted.
Still, from my perspective, we must focus on the seeds of love and faith planted all over the Philadelphia by Equally Blessed’s pilgrims. Their deep sharing in conversation, challenging questions, and rainbow witness are the mustard seeds by which God’s inclusive grace will expand narrow-minded areas of our church increasingly into a Catholic Church that is, to quote Pope Francis, “home for all.”
To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of and from the World Meeting of Families, click the appropriate category to the right or you can find it here.