The Best Catholic LGBT News of 2015

Yesterday, we reviewed the top ten worst Catholic LGBT news events of 2015.  The list was determined by votes cast from Bondings 2.0 readers all week.  Today, we close out the year by looking at what you, the readers, voted in as the top ten best Catholic LGBT news events of the past twelve months.

The item which received the most votes is in the number one position, and they follow in descending order.  A simple analysis of the list follows.

  1. Ireland passes marriage equality by popular referendum, with many priests and nuns speaking out to support it.
  2. German Bishops institute a policy protecting LGBT church employees from discrimination.
  3. Catholics, particularly young people, continue to protest the unjust firings of LGBT church employees.
  4. St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon, becomes the first known Catholic institution to adopt a non-discrimination policy based on marital status for lesbian and gay employees.
  5. Jesuit-run Fordham University issues a congratulatory statement to one of its theology department professors after he marries another man.
  6. St. Patrick’s Day Parades in Boston and New York City allow openly LGBT groups to march with banners, after decades of refusing admission.
  7. Pope Francis meets with a Spanish transgender man at the Vatican. 
  8. New Vermont bishop makes positive statement welcoming transgender people as he is installed in his diocese. 
  9. After a week of questions concerning Pope Francis’ encounter with anti-marriage equality activist Kim Davis, it is revealed that the only formal meeting the pontiff had in the U.S. with any individual was with a gay man who was his former student, and the man’s partner.
  10. TIE (3-way)  i) New Ways Ministry’s LGBT and Ally pilgrims gets VIP seating at papal audience at the Vatican. ii) Ireland’s two most important archbishops strike positive notes on LGBT people even during the contentious marriage referendum there. iii) At the Vatican, Pope Francis welcomes Bishop Jacques Gaillot, a French bishop who had been removed from office, in part because he blesses lesbian and gay couples.

I’m not surprised that Ireland’s successful referendum on marriage equality was voted as the top story.  What I am somewhat surprised at is that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision enacting marriage equality–and the positive Catholic response to it–did not make the list at all.  Granted, it is not as “Catholic” a story as Ireland, yet it is considered by many news organizations here in the U.S.  (where the majority of Bondings 2.0’s readers live) as one of the year’s top news events, generally.  I suppose the Catholic dimension of Ireland’s success, as well as their hierarchy’s moderate response  (see number 10), made it a more important Catholic story.

In yesterday’s “worst” list, employment discrimination against LGBT church workers topped the list, showing that people are very concerned about this terrible trend.  It is good, then, that three positive stories about LGBT church employment are in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th positions of this “best” list.

Pope Francis is involved in four of the items on this “best” list, though he also was mentioned in the same number of items on yesterday’s “worst” list.  In some respect, that equal number of mentions on both lists may indicate what many have suspected:  Pope Francis record on LGBT issues is very mixed.

Transgender issues are mentioned in two items on the “best” list, and in no items on the “worst” list, perhaps revealing that 2015 was a positive year for Catholic transgender issues?

What are your thoughts about this list and yesterday’s list?  Offer your observations in the “Comments” section of this post.

Onward to 2016!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry




The Worst Catholic LGBT News of 2015

Only two days left to 2015, so let’s take stock of the year that is passing.  All week, Bondings 2.0 readers have been voting for what they considered the ten best and ten worst news events of the Catholic LGBT world that occurred over the last 12 months.  Below are the results of the voting for your choices for the worst events.  The ranking is based on the polling numbers received by 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, U.S., on Tuesday, December 29th.

Tomorrow, we will close out the year with a report on what you voted in as the best events.  The event with the most votes is in the number one position, and the others follow in descending order.  A simple analysis of the results follows the list

  1. The firing of LGBT church employees continues. 
  2. Cardinal Robert Sarah compares LGBT advocates to Nazis and says marriage equality has “demonic origins” in remarks at the Synod on the Family.
  3. Pope Francis fails to address crminalization laws against LGBT people during his visit to Africa in November.
  4. A married gay man in Louisiana is denied communion at his mother’s funeral. After a news story about the incident contained a link to the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ positive webpage on gay ministry, the information is taken down from the web.
  5. Pope Francis endorses Slovakian and Slovenian proposals to ban same-sex marriage.
  6. Vatican Secretary of State calls Ireland’s enactment of marriage equality “a defeat for humanity. 
  7. U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke compares committed lesbian and gay couples to murderers. 
  8. Cardinal in Dominican Republic, who once used an anti-gay slur, made repeated homophobic remarks against U.S. Ambassador James Brewster. 
  9. Pope Francis coins the term “ideological colonization” and applies it to new forms of marriage.
  10. TIE: i) Pope Francis likens “gender theory” to nuclear arms.   ii) Despite recommendations from Pope Francis and many bishops, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops votes to retain work against marriage equality as a top priority.

Here’s some simple analysis of the results.  It seems that what gets people angriest are when high-ranking church officials–particularly Pope Francis–make negative comments about LGBT people.  Of the 11 top choices listed above, seven of them have to do with offensive statements made by top prelates around the globe.

But, with the top choice being the firing of LGBT church workers, Bondings 2.0 readers show that they believe actions are much harsher than words.

Interestingly, with the exception of the first item, all the other choices for worst news events feature a church official in a top leadership position.  Perhaps, in a way, this has a silver lining which is something we’ve been aware of for many years now:  Catholic lay people are overwhelmingly supportive of LGBT people.  Perhaps in the new year, more bishops will continue to follow their example.

Do you notice any other trends or lessons in these results?  Offer your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Married Gay Catholics Chosen as “Persons of the Year”

Michael DeLeon and Greg Bourke

Married gay Catholics Greg Bourke and Michael DeLe­on were chosen as Persons of the Year by the National Catholic Reporter for their role in the U.S. Supreme Court case which led to marriage equality’s legalization across the nation last June.

Bourke and DeLeon were plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that marriage rights should be extended to lesbian and gay couples.

NCR‘s editors said this ruling was among the “truly important, history-changing events, events that will touch future generations intimately and profoundly.” Catholic responses have ranged from some bishops who decried the decision, to some bishops made welcoming statements to lesbian and gay people, to exuberant LGBT advocates who had worked for years for this outcome. But whatever the response, the legal question of marriage equality is now a settled matter in the U.S.

What is less settled are how cultures and churches are changing as people in same-gender marriages become more well-known. The editorial cited theologian Lisa Fullam’s response to the Obergefell ruling, which in her estimation strongly echoed Catholic teachings on marriage. Fullam said church leaders should “take note of the powerful spirit of love and commit­ment vivifying lesbian and gay marriages as well as straight marriages.” Eventually, “acceptance will replace fear,” but until then the editorial continued:

“Today, we address a more fundamental issue: How will we as a church live with our gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters? We are past the time of ‘love the sinner’ platitudes.”

Bourke and DeLeon, who are Catholic, are “emblematic” of these challenges in the Catholic Church. By their existence as a married same-gender couple who practice their faith, “they force us to ask not how will we live out a hypothetical situ­ation, but how will we live with Greg and Michael.” Current answers by the church are, in the editors’ words, “confused, uneven and often cruel” and LGBT Catholics deserve better.

Indeed, the couple’s involvement challenging Kentucky’s marriage equality ban came out of Greg Bourke’s expulsion as a local Boy Scout leader because the troop was hosted by a Catholic parish. Bourke remains barred from leadership despite the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to accept gay leaders because Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville refused to accept that decision.

NCR’s editors further highlighted the discrimination faced by LGBT church workers, writing:

“Bourke and DeLeon are lucky in that they are only parishioners and volunteers. Their livelihoods do not depend on the institutional church. In 2015, at least 10 church employees in the United States lost their jobs because of sexual orientation. . .In most cases, their orientation and even their partners were known by the community. They expe­rienced no difficulties until they entered civil mar­riages.”

Church workers’ rights are, as this blog noted yesterday, a preeminent issue with which Catholic communities must grapple in 2016, the Year of Mercy. The editorial noted that even Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich, who repeatedly calls for LGBT Catholics’ consciences to be respected, is facing two discrimination claims from terminated church workers.

The Catholic Church’s response to marriage equality’s ongoing expansion is troublesome. The presence of sexual and gender diverse Catholics in the Church requires that we review pastoral ministry, employment policies, doctrinal teachings, and deeply rooted identities . Their lives and their love demands of Catholics that our faith communities abide by the principles we preach and that our church universal lives with greater fidelity to the Gospels.

I have to add that, in and of itself, it is significant that the leading U.S. Catholic newspaper chose a married gay couple as their Persons of the Year in 2015. This was a year with few comparisons for U.S. Catholics, which included major events like the papal visit in September, and the Synod on the Family in October. That the National Catholic Reporter chose lay Catholics who remain, in many ways, on the margins of our church is a positive step towards a less hierarchical and more inclusive church.

Greg Bourke, Michael DeLeon, and the many, many faithful LGBT Catholics who bear witness to the true sanctity of marriage are hopeful signs for the coming year! It is so good that they have been recognized so prominently.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Church Worker Rights a Key Concern for Year of Mercy

Employment Graphic
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LGBT workers’ rights remain deficient at Catholic institutions, a divisive reality demanding even greater attention in 2016 despite a few victories in 2015. Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy, which began December 8th, is a moment asking all Catholics hard questions about how our church cares for its faithful employees.

This year was more hopeful for employment concerns than previous years. In April, U.S. church workers formed a solidarity network. In May, German bishops approved new employment policies protecting LGBT church workers. In July, Fordham University publicly congratulated the chair of its theology department on his same-gender marriage. In September, St. Mary’s Academy, Portland, Oreogn, reversed its dismissal of a lesbian counselor and introduced an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policy. Most recently, a Massachusetts court ruling stated  Matthew Barrett was discriminated against when a Catholic school withdrew its food services director contract offer when they learned he was a married gay man.

Despite these developments, at least fourteen church workers lost their job in LGBT-related employment disputes this year, including Jeffrey Higgins’ recent firing as a Maryland parish’s cantor. Nearly 60 church workers have lost their jobs since New Ways Ministry began tracking all public incidents in 2008. Commenting on Matthew Barrett’s case, Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry told the Boston Globe a plain truth:

“It’s something the Catholic Church still hasn’t been able to deal with.”

Unless new policies are implemented to protect LGBT church workers’ rights, it is unlikely these firings and forced resignations will cease in the coming year. This seems particularly true because conservative opponents of equality continue using fabricated religious liberty concerns in their attempts to justify discrimination and exclusion. U.S. bishops refused to admit a post-Obergefell reality at their November meeting, choosing again to concentrate on marriage and religious liberty issues.

The Supreme Court’s June ruling legalizing marriage equality is a landmark legal case. Stephen Schneck noted in U.S. Catholic that this decision will impact many areas of law in many ways. But he refuted any notion that the religious liberty at Catholic institutions is being severely curtailed:

“How the Obergefell ruling will eventually play out isn’t fully clear, but as I have argued previously, religious liberty concerns have been exaggerated. Just as Catholic institutions in the United States have found ways to work with the country’s laws regarding divorce and remarriage, I believe our institutions will also gradually find ways to deal with the legality of same-sex marriage. . .

“Worries about the burden imposed on religious liberty here seem overblown in regard to religious institutions.  For important ministerial positions, every indication is that the courts recognize that religions have the authority to apply religious criteria. But for non-ministerial positions religious institutions will be required to abide by the implications of the law.”

Schneck further asserted that, in some cases, religious liberty concerns expressed by Catholic institutions are covers to exempt them from labor laws church officials simply find burdensome, such as union organization by adjunct faculty at colleges.

More legal disputes around same-sex marriage’s implications for the church will be a reality in 2016. Sadly, more LGBT church workers who are committed and skilled at their jobs will likely be forced out. Fighting for justice in the courts is necessary. When it comes to employees at Catholic institutions, however, a tremendous impact has already been made by the People of God when communities where such firings occur stand up and say: “Not in our name.”

An editorial in the National Catholic Reporter has said the Year of Mercy now underway is a “year of big questions or the year to ask questions.” A strict legalism dictated church affairs for 35 years, about which the editors said:

“The fear inspired by legalism dominated the community’s life for decades, but we’ve learned that fear stifles and kills; it does not nourish or transform. Mercy is an encounter with the other, and ultimately an experience of God. Mercy is transformation. That is Francis’ message this holy year.”

Pope Francis, the editorial concluded, has said mercy must come before judgment. Catholic institutions and the communities which they serve should look at their employment policies this year and ask whether they are just, not according to civil laws (although these are crucial too), but according to God’s law of mercy.

It is time to ask tough questions at every parish, school, and social service agency. Is firing an LGBT church worker putting mercy before judgment? Are these exclusionary actions really what Catholic identity means? Is our community’s care for employees really transformed by God’s mercy? How does the church’s mission suffer when we lose wonderful church workers?

Progress happened for church workers’ rights in 2015, but we still have a long way to go. The responsibility is on each of us to take action this coming year. To get started, consider getting an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy passed at your Catholic parish, school, hospital, or social service agency. You can find more information on making this change here.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

What Makes the Holy Family–And Our Families–Holy?

Today’s blog post for the Feast of the Holy Family is a reflection on Luke 2:41-52. The reflection is written by Joseanne and Joseph Peregin, leaders of Drachma Parents’ Group, an organization for Catholic parents of LGBT children in the island nation of Malta (a more complete bio of the Peregins can be found at the end of this post).

“Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”

In today’s Gospel, we are reminded that the Holy Family, too, experienced moments of frustration and anxiety similar to that of many parents these days.  Mary and Joseph must have felt let down by their family’s communication breakdown and possibly considered themselves failures as parents.

They were travelling for one full day when they realised Jesus was not with them. And it took them three days to return and find him. It probably took them this long because they had been looking in all the wrong places.  But in the end, they found him — in what was probably the least likely place they expected. The parents were stunned to find out their twelve-year-old son was not in some dire situation as they may have imagined: distressed, panicking, or severely sick. Instead, he was found quizzing the teachers in the temple, totally engrossed and fully absorbed in his quest to learn.

Jesus’ choice to stay in Jerusalem, seemingly indifferent to the family’s plan to head back home to Nazareth, may have stirred a relationship power struggle, quite similar to the ones that families experience today. The dynamics in the Holy Family seem very familiar to our own, so what is it that makes this family holy?

They are holy primarily because of the way in which they faced this challenging occasion. It was a moment for them to understand that parents must give up their own expectations and allow necessary space for their children to live out their own roles and fulfil their own life calling.  This gospel story is more about Jesus’ role and place in society, and not about their own hopes and plans.  Mary and Joseph probably touched the pain parents feel when they think they are being side-lined, made redundant, and feel out of touch with the reality of their children. This was their first leap in parenthood.

Jesus digs the wound even deeper: ‘Why were you looking for me?’ as if to say that if they knew him at all, it was obvious where he would be. Was it not yet clear to them that he should be in his Father’s house?  Have they been so blind to all his attempts to talk to them about his life purpose?  Although they may have felt worried and hurt over those four or more days travelling, in the end, they knew it was not all about them.  It was rather about Jesus and his well-being. This was their second leap in parenthood.

It is similar to the anxiety felt when teenage LGBT sons or daughters ‘come out’ to their parents.  Many parents still see this announcement as their child causing them anxiety, rather than their child showing trust — which is a gift. Mary and Joseph did not understand what Jesus was all about, and sometimes we parents don’t understand what being LGBT is all about. As parents we are sometimes astonished and bewildered.  We too would not have seen it coming.  We too may have ‘looked everywhere’ except in ‘the proper place’ and this leaves us feeling like failures. But the Holy Family assures us that this is all part of the process — all part of the journey to holiness!

In the silence of their hearts, during that dramatic moment, Mary and Joseph must have recognised they did not have all the answers any more.  Their son needed to find things out for himself. The holiness is, therefore, in their humility to backtrack–to go to that place where Jesus was and to meet him there. To acknowledge Jesus’ life calling, perhaps different from theirs.

So during their second attempt to return to Nazareth, they probably stuck closer together and used this crucial time to iron out any of their differences, hurts, and conflicts. They probably shared their own pains and dreams. This second journey must have united this family more significantly. Jesus was obedient and advanced in wisdom, age and favour. He knew he was loved unconditionally and felt supported by his parents. They did not walk ahead or he lag behind. Instead, they walked together aware of their unique purpose and holy path.

This story may uncover the secret to our own families’ journeys to holiness: to accompany one  another.

–Joseanne and Joseph Peregin, Drachma Parents’ Group

joseanne & joe
Joseph and Joseanne Peregin

Joseph & Joseanne Peregin have been married for over 30 years and have two sons and a daughter, all in their 20s. They have been active leaders in the Christian Life Community (CLC) of Malta for over 35 years. CLC is an international lay association inspired by Ignatian spirituality, integrating contemplation and action in a spirit of discernment. They are among the co-founders of the Drachma Parents’ Group (est.2008) which is a support group for parents of LGBT people in Malta.  They are members of the newly founded Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, for which Joseanne serves on the steering committee.

Vote for the Best and Worst of 2015’s Catholic LGBT News!

2015 is almost over–and what a year it has been for Catholic LGBT issues!   Marriage equality made amazing steps in the U.S. and Ireland. The Vatican’s synod on the family revealed some strong support for LGBT equality, as well as some shocking resistance.  LGBT church workers continued to lose their jobs.   And so much more!

On December 30th and 31st, Bondings 2.0 will review the news of the past year in the Catholic LGBT world by posting “The Worst of 2015″ and “The Best of 2015.”

Please help us prepare these posts by taking a moment to take the two one-question surveys below.  You can choose up to TEN responses to each question.  One of those responses can be “Other” where you can write-in your own selection. Please respond by 5:00 p.m., Eastern U.S. Time, Tuesday, December 29th.

If your memory needs refreshing about what happened this past year, just use the tools in the right hand column of this blog to find blog posts which correspond to each item.  You can search by clicking on a category, by using a search term, or by reviewing posts by month.

Thanks for your help with this project!  We look forward to reading your responses!



–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Merry and Blessed Christmas to All!

Icon of the Nativity by Julie Venter

Probably few of us have the faith or the nerve to tamper with hallowed Christmas traditions on a large scale, or with our other holiday celebrations.  But a small experiment might prove interesting.

What if, instead of doing something, we were to be something special?

Be a womb.  Be a dwelling for God.  Be surprised.

–Loretta Ross-Gotta, Letters from the Holy Ground