Fired Church Worker Still Proclaims Justice, Even After Diocese Settles Lawsuit

There’s a feeling you get when you’re in the presence of someone holy. It’s different than when you meet a celebrity. With a celebrity, you feel awe because of their reputation, and tend to feel a little diminished in yourself. When you meet someone holy, you feel a mixture of awe and ease.  You are astonished at the goodness that radiates from that person, and at the same time, the person’s humble presence makes you completely relaxed.

Awe and ease are what I felt when I met Colleen Simon two weekends ago.  If you are a regular reader of Bondings 2.0, you will recall that Simon had been fired from her job as social justice director at St. Francis Xavier parish in Kansas City a few years ago, when a newspaper story inadvertently mentioned that she was married to another woman.

colleen simon
New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo (left) and Sister Jeannine Gramick (right) pose with Colleen Simon (center) on the day after the diocese settled out of court with her.

I was in Kansas City with my colleague Sister Jeannine Gramick for a couple of events focused on Catholic LGBT ministry.  It turned out to be the day after news had broke that the Diocese of Kansas City, Missouri, had settled a lawsuit that Simon had brought against them and former Bishop Robert Finn, concerning her unjust firing.  I would have expected a person in her situation to be beaming victoriously, but instead, she was humbly matter-of-fact about the case.

According to The Kansas City Star, neither party would discuss the amount of the settled suit, in which Simon had been asking for “unpaid wages, fringe benefits, compensation for emotional distress, punitive damages and attorney fees.”  The newspaper reported that Jackson County Judge Kenneth R. Garrett dismissed one of Simon’s allegations in the case because it would have crossed into areas of canonical law, which the secular court is unable to adjudicate. Simon charged that the priests who hired her had committed fraud when they told her she would not be fired because of her sexual orientation and relationship status.  However, the other parts of the suit were able to advance towards trial, the judge said.  The Kansas City Star reported this possibility motivated the diocese to settle:

“Garrett declined to dismiss questions regarding whether the diocese had failed to issue a service letter detailing Simon’s employment that met requirements called for under Missouri law and whether Simon’s employment status qualified her for overtime pay when she worked more than 40 hours a week.

“ ‘These unsettled … issues are the province of the jury,’ Garrett wrote in his ruling.

“The diocese did not want those matters discussed in court, said E.E. Keenan, a Kansas City lawyer representing Simon.

“ ‘For over a year and a half, the diocese fought hard to prevent Ms. Simon’s case from going to a jury,’ Keenan said. ‘We feel good that this judgment affirms the ability of church employees who are wronged to seek justice in our courts.’ “

Brian Roewe of The National Catholic Reporter provided further commentary from Keenan on the fraud charge’s dismissal:

“E.E. Keenan, one of Simon’s attorneys, told NCR that the court’s determination that the First Amendment prevented it from ruling on the fraud claim did not indicate how it viewed the merits of the claim.

“ ‘We continued and continue to contend, according to the amended petition, that she was not told the truth going into her employment,’ he said.”

Colleen Simon, left, with her wife, Donna Simon.

My praise for Simon, with which I began this blog post, is not just my opinion alone.  Kansas City Star columnist Mary Sanchez had similar high praise for her:

“In the end, the person dismissed under a religious dictate proved to be the one behaving the most godly.

“Colleen Simon never intended to throw down an ultimatum to Catholic doctrine or to challenge the faith’s constitutional religious freedoms.

“She simply wanted to serve the poor. She wanted employer commitments upheld.”

Sanchez discussed a quality I observed immediately in Simon:  her humility.  Sanchez wrote that Simon shunned publicity, and tried not to cause division at the parish where she had worked. But she went ahead with her suit because of her concern for justice in the Church:

“Simon averted embarrassment to St. Francis Xavier and lessened pressure on the diocese by discouraging several planned protests. She seemed to dodge the outrage that some wanted to exhibit on her behalf. An online petition gathered more than 20,000 signatures.

“She seemed conflicted about being a public symbol as national press began calling. Repeatedly, she’d cite her desire to work with people on the margins of society as her primary calling, not a lawsuit.

“But the fact that other gay and lesbian people are in similarly precarious predicaments also weighed on her. They serve as teachers in parish schools, lead choirs and fill non-clergy roles. Some of them likely fear that one false step, one disgruntled person with connections, could threaten their employment.”

Simon is only one of a handful of fired LGBT employees to have some sort of victory in a court challenge. Matthew Barrett, whose contract as food service director at a Massachusetts Catholic high school was rescinded when the administration learned he was married to a man, won a discrimination ruling against the school from a state court earlier this year.  The National Catholic Reporter also mentioned the following cases:

  • “In 2013, Christa Dias won her suit against the Cincinnati archdiocese, which fired her after she became pregnant by artificial insemination;
  • “Also in 2013, Marla Krolikowski reached a confidential settlement with a New York Catholic high school after she alleged her firing was prompted by acknowledging she was transgender.
  • “In November, Sandor Demkovich filed a discrimination complaint against the Chicago archdiocese, alleging he was fired from his music director position because of his same-sex marriage. Also that month, the archdiocese denied mediation in a similar complaint from another former music director, Colin Collette.”

Simon has moved on in her career.  She now works for Journey to New Life, a non-profit which helps ex-inmates adjust to their new lives outside prison.  It is life-giving work both for them and for her.  Obviously, God is still using her as an agent for justice and reconciliation in the world even if the Diocese of Kansas City won’t allow her to do so professionally.  Her gifts are still being used to help make God’s Reign real on earth, as it is in heaven.

Sanchez let Simon have the last words in her column, and I will do the same, quoting the concluding paragraphs of Sanchez’ essay.   These are words which remind us to reflect not just on what we should do in the world, but on how we should do it:

“Perhaps Simon’s story caused many people to mull their consciences, to examine their beliefs more deeply.

“That is one of the greatest rewards and challenges of any faith.

“As Simon wrote in her farewell address to parishioners: Life is not so black and white, so “us against them.” … I think that life is about how we are in relationship with each other and that has many nuances and complexities.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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 60 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

Related article:

Crux: “Lesbian settles lawsuit over firing in Kansas City diocese”

Burning Bushes, Barren Fig Trees, and Us

On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for the Third Sunday of Lent are: Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15; Psalm 103: 1-4, 6-8, 11; 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12; and Luke 13:1-9. You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.

Problematic vegetation is the dominant imagery in today’s Scripture readings.  In the first reading, the well-known image of the burning bush, a plant on fire but not destroyed.  In the gospel passage, we hear of a fig tree which just won’t produce fruit and face the threat of being cut down. God is obviously a pretty showy and aggressive landscaper!

One theory (and there are many) about the symbolism of the burning bush that I have read is that it is a symbol of God’s justice and mercy.   The Bible often refers to God’s justice as an all-consuming power, but the fact that in this case the power is revealed but does not consume is taken to mean that God’s justice includes mercy.  This theory fits with the rest of the passage, which describes God’s willingness to show mercy to the suffering of the Hebrews in Egypt:

“I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt
and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers,
so I know well what they are suffering.
Therefore I have come down to rescue them
from the hands of the Egyptians
and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land,
a land flowing with milk and honey.”

I like this God.  This is a God who hears prayers and answers them as people expect they should be answered.  If you are someone who works for justice for LGBT people, this is probably the kind of God you hope to one day meet and experience–a God who acts justly and mercifully to people who are treated oppressively.

But what about the image of God in the gospel passage?  The image of God in the parable that Jesus tells is not as re-assuring as this previous image.  The Gospel image, perhaps surprisingly, appears to be an image of a God who is unforgiving of failure and impatient for results.  I’m glad I’m not a fig tree.

Wait. Maybe I am one.

I think the introduction to this parable contains some important guides for understanding the behavior of the orchard owner (God) in the parable.  In the first part of the reading, Jesus is upbraiding his followers for a behavior which I think is all-too-common among us humans, especially us humans who claim to have faith.  They have been badgering him with questions about why others have suffered calamities, hoping that the answer will be that these people who suffered were being punished for their sins.  And, of course, the implication of that answer is that those asking the question, who have not suffered, have obviously not been judged by God as sinners, allowing them to be self-satisfied.

Jesus will have none of it.  His answer–terrifyingly direct–is:

“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!”

This seems to be such an important message for Jesus, that he repeats it almost verbatim.  God doesn’t punish people because of sin. God cannot be anything but just and merciful, kind and gracious, loving and forgiving, as today’s Psalm reminds us. But one thing God doesn’t like very much is people who feel self-satisfied and don’t repent.  God is not too fond of people who grumble about the sinfulness of others rather than focusing on repenting of their own sins.  The second reading warns us:

“Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure
should take care not to fall.”

Jesus uses the parable of the fig tree to illustrate God’s opportunities for us to repent, not a thirst for vengeance.  God wants the fig tree to grow and produce fruit. God gives it plenty of times (three years) and then offers a fourth year extension filled with care and fertilizer.  But if the fig tree does not cooperate, is that God’s responsibility?

I know that in my own work to promote justice for LGBT Catholics, I can often fall into the trap of self-satisfaction. We’re the good guys! Aren’t we?  Or are we?  Do we sometimes feel that because we think we are right that God is going to help us more–and in addition, throw in the smiting of those who oppose us, who we too-often think of as greater sinners than we are?  Gulp.  I’m afraid to answer those questions.

We need to do our work for LGBT justice in a spirit of humility, avoiding the trap of being so convinced of our own rightness that we start seeing those who oppose us as sinners, while we are on the side of the angels.

Our task is to rely on God and to repent of our own sins.  Our task is to rely on God’s justice and mercy to save us, not our own efforts. Our hope is in God, not in ourselves.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Transgender Digital Archive Opens at Holy Cross

digital-trans-archiveThe Digital Transgender Archive was launched at the Jesuit-Sponsored College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts, last week. Below, Bondings 2.0 highlights this and other developments in Catholic higher education related to LGBT issues as part of our “Campus Chronicles” series.

Transgender Archive at Holy Cross

The College of the Holy Cross launched the Digital Transgender Archive last week, the first of its kind organizers say. The archive will include “a compendium of historic documents, oral-history transcripts, photographs, and newsletters” about transgender people and issues, reported The Boston Globe.

The archive is the idea of English professor K.J. Rawson, who now directs it, after Rawson was challenged finding accessible transgender materials during doctoral research. 21 institutions and organizations will ultimately contribute materials to the archive. It is being well received according to Rawson, meeting needs beyond simple academic research:

” ‘A number of transgender individuals have already reached out with gratitude to find a history they weren’t able to find and read about before. . .To know that they’re not alone in this, and it’s not the first time someone is experiencing what they’re experiencing. That this has been happening for a really long time.’ “

You can visit the Digital Transgender Archive by clicking here.

La Salle Students Back Gender-Neutral Housing

Four-fifths of participating students in a student referendum at La Salle University voted to back a gender-neutral housing proposal by sophomore Nicholas Lario. The proposed policy would apply to the Philadelphia-area University’s townhouses and allow LGBTQ students to access safe and more comfortable housing options.

La Salle’s administration has no position on the issue, though president Colleen Hanycz said it would receive “careful and thoughtful consideration,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Campus Pride reports 200 colleges and universities in the U.S. provide gender-neutral housing, but La Salle University would be a trendsetter in Catholic higher education if the proposal moves forward.

Christendom College Republicans Withdraw Over Gay Rights

College Republicans (CR) at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, withdrew from state and national affiliations because the College Republican Federation of Virginia added sexual orientation as a protected class within its policies, reported CrossMap. Representatives from the Christendom CR’s said they were concerned they would have to include LGB students in their organization and formed a new group, the Christendom College Political Action League.

Assumption College’s LGBTQ Group Profiled

A recent article in campus newspaper Le Provocateur profiled Assumption College’s LGBTQ group, AC Allies. Guided by Campus Ministry, whose director Paul Covino mentors the group, AC Allies hosts weekly meetings and partners with other campus organizations for education programs at the Worcester, Massachusetts, school. Covino said it is a “great consolation. . .the sentiment expressed by the students in the group that they feel accepted on our campus.”

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right hand corner of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Are Catholic High Schools Supportive of LGBT Students?

High school students rally in support of a fired gay administrator outside Eastside Catholic High School, Seattle, in 2013

Are Catholic high schools supporting their LGBT students? That is the question behind a new article in U.S. Catholic analyzing the ways in which church-sponsored education does, or more likely does not, assist vulnerable LGBT youth.

Those in Catholic education generally agree the church needs “a thoughtful approach to talking about Catholic teachings on sexuality” within a society which is increasingly accepting of diverse sexual and gender identities, wrote Reneé K. Gadoua, a free-lance writer investigating the topic. But unlike for public or private schools, no organization and department exists to ensure LGBT students’ needs are being met at parochial schools. A “best estimate” proposed by Gadoua is that only 18% of Catholic schools in the U.S. may have a gay-straight alliance.

Failing to more robustly ensure all students’ flourishing is tied to the hierarchy’s own ambivalence about LGBT pastoral care, the article suggested. That “built-in tension,” said campus minister Michael Maher, “contributes to a reluctance to talk about it” and effectively contributes to silence LGBT issues within most Catholic primary and secondary schools.

Educators’ reluctance or ambivalence is reinforced when LGBT supports are explicitly rejected by those in power. Sr. John Mary Fleming, executive director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Education, does not believe in GSAs or other LGBT-focused supports. (It is not in the U.S. Catholic piece, but I would add that the dozens of church workers who have lost their jobs in recent years because of LGBT issues have had a chilling effect too.)

Thankfully, Maher said high school students more and more expect their Catholic schools to provide support and are making demands. He explained the many shifts that have taken place since the 2001 publication of his book, Being Gay and Lesbian in a Catholic High School:

” ‘When I began to study this, it was not on people’s radar at all. . .Now you have very young people who self-identify and expect support. . . They see it in the larger culture. They watched Glee. You have same-sex parents who expect to be welcomed in the community. That’s only going to increase with legal gay marriage.’ “

Even if few, there are positive responses from some institutions. Gadoua highlighted the efforts of a GSA at the Jesuit-sponsored Xavier High School in Manhattan. That group provides a safe space for LGBT and ally students to socialize and support one another, as well as hosting Ally Week in October and GLSEN’s National Day of Silence. Senior Andrew Perez said sexuality was discussed in religion classes, too, specifically in light of Pope Francis’ more welcoming style. He said being an ally in the group means, “you are actively practicing having open arms.”

Alexander Lavy, an openly gay physics teacher who advises the GSA at Xavier, said the group began after the high profile 2010 suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi. Anti-bullying education is a key component, but the GSA exists for the entire community to be “building not just tolerance, but love” and “to acknowledge that everyone’s feelings and experiences have value,” said Lavy.

LGBT supports have an evangelization component, too, said Heather Gossart, who directs special projects at the National Catholic Educational Association. Gossart told U.S. Catholic that “to not have these conversations is a failure to evangelize.”

Gossart’s assertion that Catholic education has “a lot of support and counseling” happening but “without a lot of fanfare” points to a big part of the problem in Catholic schools. Fanfare is needed to highlight supports so students can know their school is safe and accepting without having to seek such assurances from a trusted mentor in between classes. There is good evidence to back this multi-faceted approach, said GLSEN spokesperson Kari Hudnell:

” ‘We know from our research that GSAs, supportive educators, and comprehensive and inclusive antibullying policies have a direct influence on school climate.’ “

Gadoua profiled the experiences of “The Gay Catholic” blogger Aaron Ledesma to show just how important better LGBT supports in Catholic education could be. Ledesma said his school, Strake Jesuit College Preparatory in Houston, Texas, kept quiet about sexuality, and homosexuality “was completely avoided all together.” He added:

” ‘When you’re 13 and coming to terms with your sexuality, it’s terrifying. . .It doesn’t help to feel alone in that. Without GSAs or a campus counselor who can provide a safe haven, some of the LGBT community will feel lonely and scared’. . .

” ‘[Ledemsa and other Strake alumni who have since come out] all agreed that we might have come out sooner if there had been support and resources available to us. . .In my class of nearly 210 alone, there are at least seven openly gay men and two transgender women.’ “

Catholic higher education has led the church in ensuring LGBT students and allies feel welcomed and affirmed on campus, but it appears that Catholic high schools have not kept up. Words from a 2002 review of Maher’s book published in America seem sadly fitting today:

“The pious admonitions of the Catholic magisterium are being lost in a vast sea of homophobia.”

The vulnerability of LGBT youth is a crisis that should concern the People of God. These youth experience higher rates of bullying, harassment, and violence that translates into higher rates of self-injurious behavior and suicide. The church should be supportive of all youth on the most sacred path of coming to know oneself as God created. But it should make a special option for LGBT youth because their specific reality is a minority one that is still stigmatized by some. Coming to know one’s identity is a complex process, particularly in adolescence, and coming out as LGBT can be immensely difficult without love and affirmation. But this is a holy journey that Catholic education can and must support.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

For LGBT Rights, Is Pope Francis a Partisan or Not?

Pope Francis

Should the pope be political and/or partisan or not? Pope Francis’ trip to Mexico raised these questions after he challenged whether Donald Trump could be considered Christian. The question also bears on LGBT issues, particularly in Italy where legislators are debating the legalization of civil unions.

Pope Francis gave an in-flight interview returning from Mexico, as he regularly does when apostolic journeys conclude. When asked about the civil unions issue in Italy by Il Sole 24’s Carlo Marroni, the pope responded:

“First of all, I don’t know how things stand in the thinking of the Italian parliament. The Pope doesn’t get mixed up in Italian politics. At the first meeting I had with the (Italian) bishops in May 2013, one of the three things I said was: with the Italian government you’re on your own. Because the pope is for everybody and he can’t insert himself in the specific internal politics of a country. This is not the role of the pope, right? And what I think is what the Church thinks and has said so often – because this is not the first country to have this experience, there are so many – I think what the Church has always said about this.”

From this answer, one would believe the pope refrains from partisan engagement over specific policy questions, and this would include legal recognition of same-gender couples in Italy. But Francis’ record is not so clear. Here are a few relevant facts to consider.

First, in Italy, he has refrained from explicitly condemning civil unions or using the church’s influence to lean on Catholic politicians. This approach directly refutes some Italian bishops’ highly partisan campaigning and is notably different from his predecessors, said theologian Massimo Faggioli. But speaking to the Roman Rota in January, Pope Francis offered his strongest criticism yet of marriage equality saying “there can be no confusion between the family as willed by God, and every other type of union.” This was seen by some observers as a comment on Italy’s civil union debate.

Second, Pope Francis has commented on the “specific internal politics of a country” at least twice before when it comes to LGBT rights. In Slovenia in December 2015, during the week of a national referendum which eventually banned marriage equality and adoption rights by same-gender couples, Pope Francis encouraged all Slovenians, especially those in public life, “to preserve the family” .  A similar moment happened in February 2015 when the pontiff exhorted pilgrims from Slovakia to “continue their efforts in defense of the family,”  just days before an unsuccessful referendum in that nation against equal marriage and adoption rights.

Third, Pope Francis often speaks through gestures, actions, or the statements of his surrogates. For instance, this week, in the midst of the Italian civil unions debate, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said it was “essential” that Italian law differentiate between civil unions for same-gender couples and marriage for heterosexual couples.

It helps to remember, too, that Pope Francis is a solitary person shepherding 1.3 billion people, and that his voice can be used and misused, making it hard to know at times what comes from Francis and what comes from contrary parties.

Fourth, and finally, when called upon to be a voice for marginalized LGBT people, Pope Francis has remained silent. Advocates pleaded with him to speak against laws criminalizing homosexuality during his apostolic voyage to Kenya, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic last fall. Advocates have asked him to intervene in the Dominican Republic, where a cardinal has repeatedly used anti-gay slurs against U.S. Ambassador James Brewster. Last week, this blog commented that the case of Cameroon bishops calling for “zero tolerance” of homosexuality was a perfect case for papal intervention.

From my perspective, these facts suggest, despite the pope’s latest claim, the lack of a consistent position for Pope Francis when it comes to partisan involvement in a given nation’s politics. Pope Francis is, rightly I believe, a politically engaged pontiff and affirmed that to be human is to be political. But he has been partisan where it may be imprudent and even inappropriate for him to be so engaged. The damage U.S. bishops have done to the church in their country. because of their hyper-partisan agenda in recent years, is a cautionary tale. I speculate on two possibilities for why Pope Francis lacks a consistent position.

More negatively, it could be that he claims distance when convenient, and becoming more involved when similarly convenient. He chooses whether to speak about LGBT issues depending on whether he will obtain a positive reception from the audience. Could it be that Pope Francis changes not just the style, but the substance of his messaging depending on who is listening? That would be troubling.

More positively, maybe the humble Pope Francis is learning “on the job” as he navigates unprecedented reforms in a church that is now truly global and truly hurting. His inconsistencies arise because he admits to not having the answers and to shifting course when a better way forward appears apparent. Francis’ actions could reveal a leader who is willing to listen to others’ voices and to encounter those from different perspectives. That would be refreshing.

What do you think? Should the pope be involved in partisan national politics? If so, when? Should the pope be political, raising up issues without endorsing specific policy positions? Should the pope be neither? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Italian Prime Minister Rebukes Cardinal Over Civil Unions Involvement

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi

Italy’s prime minister rebuked a Catholic cardinal for his involvement in the nation’s debate over civil unions, and suggested his government would call a confidence vote to advance the stalled bill.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi criticized Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco’s interference after the cardinal, who heads the Italian Episcopal Conference, said the Italian Senate should employ a secret ballot when voting on the civil unions bill. Renzi told state radio RAI:

” ‘Parliament decides whether or not to allow secret votes … not the head of the bishops’ conference. . .What is there to fear from two people who love each other? Why not give these rights to two people who love each other? The majority of the country is clearly in favor of it.’ “

Despite Bagnasco’s claim that a secret ballot would allow legislators a conscience vote, Business Insider reported that a secret ballot “could sabotage the legislation” if legislators vote against their party’s platform.

Prime Minister Renzi is correct that 70% of Italians endorse legal protections for those in same-gender partnerships, but the civil unions bill has been stalled due to disputes over adoption rights. Only 24% of Italians support allowing same-gender partners to adopt each other’s biological children, and even in Renzi’s own center-left Democratic Party there is resistance to legalize adoptions.

Renzi dropped the adoption provision from the civil unions bill. LGBT advocates criticized this action, saying it guts the bill and leaves children unprotected. They are expected to demonstrate in Rome today.

Renzi, who is Catholic, said he would call a confidence vote to jumpstart the bill in the Senate, where opposition legislators have drowned it in amendments. The confidence vote is risky because, if lost, Renzi and his party would face elections after only two years in office. But the prime minister is clear that LGBT rights are an essential part of his reform platform and the “debating game being played in the Senate” must end, reported The Telegraph. Addressing his party, Renzi reiterated:

” ‘The issue of civil rights is the biggest challenge currently for us. . .we have two alternatives. . .My proposal. . .is for governing parties to try to reach an accord and put forward an amendment on which I believe we must be ready to call a confidence vote.’ “

Matteo Renzi is a high-profile lay Catholic advancing LGBT justice in Italy, but as Bondings 2.0 noted a few weeks ago, unlike Catholics in other European nations like Ireland, the laity in Italy are split on the matter of civil unions.  Nearly 300,000 Italians rallied in Rome earlier this month during the church-supported Family Day protests.

Italy remains the only Western European nation to not grant legal protections to same-gender partners, a status criticized formally by both the Italian courts and the European Court of Human Rights. To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of LGBT rights in Italy, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Catholic Officials Criticize and Support Anti-Gay Remarks by Boxer Many Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao

Anti-gay remarks by Filipino Manny Pacquiao have drawn both criticism and support from Catholic officials, who say the well-known boxer and Senatorial candidate is correct to oppose marriage equality, but should not demean LGBT people while doing so. According to Crux:

“Pacquiao, a high school dropout from a poverty-stricken rural family who went on to become a boxing legend, made the remark when he and other Philippine senatorial candidates were asked by the local TV5 network about their views on same-sex marriage. . .

“Animals, he said, are better because they recognize gender differences, and ‘if you have male-to-male or female-to-female (relationships), then people [in such relationships] are worse than animals.’ “

Facing criticism for these comments, Pacquiao doubled down on his social media channels before he partially apologized. The boxer said on Instagram he was “just telling the truth” about the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality, and in a second, now-deleted post cited a passage in Leviticus which has been used to imply that gay people should be put to death. Pacquiao, who is a convert to Catholicism from a more conservative Evangelical Christian background, later apologized on Facebook for comparing LGB people to animals.

Church officials in the Philippines, which is 80% Catholic, criticized Pacquiao’s description of LGB people. Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan expressed shock at Pacquiao’s comment, reported The Inquirer:

“When I first heard his statement, I was shocked because he said that he was a Christian but how can he stand firm on his view? Isn’t it one of the teachings of Christianity is to love other people?”

Based on this, the former archbishop said LGBT people should never be understood as or treated less than human beings.

But Cruz did express admiration that the boxer opposes marriage equality, according to Interaksyon, saying Pacquiao was unlike many Filipino politicians who the bishop believes support LGBT rights to simply gain votes.

Fr. Jerome Secillano, head of the Public Affairs Office for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said the Leviticus quote posted on Instagram is undeniably in Scripture, and it was “unfair” to criticize Pacquiao for quoting it. But Secillano did say the passage should not be used to offend gay people, reported Rappler:

” ‘The church. . .says that if this is your lifestyle, if this is your orientation, then we respect that, we cannot condemn them.’ “

LGBT celebrities and advocates have been more forceful in their criticism of Pacquiao. Nike ended its contract with Pacquiao, calling his remarks “abhorrent.” Gay comedian and TV host Jose Marie Viceral posted a photo of Pope Francis alongside the pontiff’s famous “Who am I to judge?” quote and tweeted:

“The LGBT is a group of people. We are humans. But not animals. Though we’re no saints, we will pray for Manny Pacquiao.”

Manny Pacquiao is famous globally after winning eight boxing world championships and he appears set to win a seat in the Philippines’ Senate this May.  By his own admission, he ultimately seeks the presidency. Given his profile, Catholic officials should have been more critical of his deeply prejudiced remarks which are unrelated to their position on equal marriage rights. Describing people with diverse sexual identities as “worse than animals” and improperly using Scripture to threaten those in same-gender relationships are intolerable. Archbishop Cruz and Fr. Secillano should have said so more clearly. In a nation where so many are Catholic and the bishops’ influence remains quite heavy,  LGBT communities deserve better from the Catholic Church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry