Two Catholic Governors and Two Bishops Oppose LGBT Discrimination

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Governor John Bel Edwards

With North Carolina’s passage of a “license to discriminate” law that now jeopardizes LGBT communities’ civil rights in the states, new attention is being afforded to similar legislation across the U.S. This year alone, there have been at least 105 bills in statehouses across the country which seek to protect those who discriminate against LGBT people or otherwise curtail civil rights tied to sexual orientation and gender identity, often in the name of religious freedom.

How have Catholics responded to this latest struggle for full legal equality? Bondings 2.0 highlights two developments below.

Support from Catholic Governors and the Laity

Catholic governors have intervened to defend LGBT civil rights in at least two states where these “license to discriminate” movements popped up. In Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards announced his intention to rescind an executive order which allows discrimination against LGBT people. The order was signed by former Governor Bobby Jindal, who is also Catholic, about which The Advocate reported:

“Jindal, a Republican who once sought his party’s presidential nomination, last year issued the Marriage and Conscience Order, which bars the state from taking punitive action against an individual, business, or nonprofit group acting in accordance with a ‘religious belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.’ “

Edwards’ Press Secretary Shauna Sanford said the current governor “intends to rescind it in the near future.” He will replace the old executive order with a new one protecting LGBT state employees from discrimination.

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Governor Terry McAuliffe

In Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Catholic, vetoed Senate Bill 41 aimed at protecting those who discriminate based upon someone’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. McAuliffe said the bill was “nothing more than an attempt to stigmatize,” reported the Washington Blade, and added:

“Legislation that immunizes the discriminatory actions of certain people and institutions at the expense of same-sex couples would damage Virginia’s reputation for commonsense, pro-business government.”

Thankfully, Edwards and McAuliffe have joined the vast majority of U.S. Catholics who oppose such legislation despite some bishops’ problematic support for these bills. Data from the Public Religion Research Institute revealed 61% of U.S. Catholics opposed allowing business owners to deny services to LGBT people and 73% endorsed non-discrimination protections related to sexual and gender identities.

As with marriage equality laws and LGBT justice at large, these Catholics oppose LGBT discrimination because of their faith and not in spite of it. This was well articulated in a recent statement by the Catholic Committee on Appalachia against such legislation proposed in West Virginia:

“Catholics are called by God to oppose discrimination in all of its forms. No religious conviction justifies our treatment of anyone as a second-class citizen.  All are made in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, religious freedom does not trump civil rights, as both are important and should be protected equally.”

The Quandary of Catholic Bishops

Catholic bishops have often been ambivalent, at best, in opposing discrimination. Most recently, North Carolina’s two bishops have been thus far silent about passage of that state’s anti-LGBT law.

Yet, two Catholic bishops in Georgia have responded somewhat positively to Governor Nathan Deal’s veto of a “license to discriminate” law there.

In a statement, reported by diocesan newspaper The Southern CrossAtlanta’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory and Savannah’s Bishop Gregory Hartmayer said they “do not support any implementation of [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] in a way that will discriminate against any individual” because each person’s dignity is “the basis for religious liberty.” Acknowledging the governor’s veto would not end the debate over LGBT civil rights and religious freedom, the bishops added:

“Under these circumstances, the general well-being of the state requires that all respectfully acknowledge the worthy motivations on each side and progress into a future of dialogue which, more than continually revising legislative language, will focus on greater compassion and mercy so that every individual can develop his or her full potential.”

More bishops need to recognize the violations of church teaching on human dignity and non-discrimination which are inherent in religious freedom bills. Too many bishops in the U.S. have yet to stand with LGBT communities and instead seemingly remain opposed to LGBT equality altogether .

While episcopal opposition to marriage equality was robust and well-financed, this new battleground about non-discrimination laws is less clear, wrote Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter. Winters pointed out an important language development in the debate which reveals the problem U.S. society faces with these laws:

“But, in all the news coverage of the Georgia legislation and veto, the thing that should really give the bishops pause is the fact that many news outlets routinely now place the words religious liberty in scare quotes as ‘religious liberty’ as if to say, ‘so-called.’ A fundamental principle of our constitutional system, that has served the nation very well for over two hundred years, is now rendered in scare quotes. And, yes, the bishops are partly responsible for this unhappy outcome. By listening to the professional agitators who wield an extreme interpretation of religious liberty as their hammer, and just so see any and all issues as a secularist nail, the bishops have been complicit in a political and legal strategy that has precious little to do with Catholic doctrine.”

In Winters’ estimation, the bishops are at a decision point about their political and pastoral future that includes confronting “why some of them seem intent on preventing gays and lesbians from working for Church organizations when there are plenty of other sins that do not prevent employment.” More than 60 church workers have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since 2008.

No justification for the bishops’ support of  discrimination. The bishops should listen carefully and humbly to the many Catholics who have articulated their support for LGBT civil rights in law and in deeds.Bishops should applaud Catholic governors like Edwards and McAuliffe who have actively opposed discrimination and who have endorsed LGBT nondiscrimination protections. That would be a real defense of religious liberty.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

Gay Ambassador Faces Harsh Letter from Bishops and Ban from Catholic School

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Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster

Religious leaders’ opposition to gay U.S. Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster is again intensifying in the Dominican Republic (DR), spearheaded by the actions of Catholic officials in the Caribbean nation.

In a mid-March statement, the Dominican Episcopal Conference (the organization of Catholic bishops in DR) condemned Ambassador Brewster, and they urged the nation’s government to complain formally about his appointment by the U.S. government. The bishops criticized “abuses” by Brewster since he arrived in 2013, saying the “sovereignty of the nation and its traditional values” is at stake.

The alleged violations of law and of protocol include visits to schools and youth events by the ambassador and his husband, Bob Satawake. Such visits are offensive to the bishops because the couple has “a family model that is incompatible” with the Dominican Constitution and the couple allegedly attempts to “confuse our youth.”

The bishops cited Pope Francis’ condemnations of “ideological colonization” to defend their criticism of Brewster, and Victor Grimaldi, the Dominican Republic’s Ambassador to the Holy See, sent the Conference’s statement to Pope Francis, according to Dominican Today. There is no comment thus far from either Pope Francis or the Holy See about this devolving situation in the Dominican Republic. Responding to the bishops’ statement, Brewster said in a radio interview reported by Buzzfeed:

“We’re promoting equality around the world. . .That’s not why we went to the school, but we’re not going to have people continue to condemn and try to keep Bob and I or anyone else in the closet because [sic] that’s not who we are — and we’re proud of who we are, and we’re proud of representing the values of making sure that people aren’t marginalized.”

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Signs outside San Juan Bautista

In a second incident, San Juan Bautista School in Santiago banned Brewster from its property. Officials posted at least three signs outside the school which read, “The entrance of the US Ambassador of the United States is not permitted in this institute.” They have since been defaced by LGBT activists and were then removed for Holy Week. The school’s director, Fr. Manuel Ruiz, defended the signs,reported Dominican TodayRuiz told a radio interviewer he had the right to put up signs on private property and that “[Brewster’s] presence and of his partner in a school isn’t innocent.”

Finally, a petition launched by the Dominican Council of Evangelical Unity, a Protestant coalition, which asks President Barack Obama to remove Ambassador Brewster has gained 32,000 signatures.

In response to the criticism of the ambassador, public figures and organizations in the U.S. and the in the Dominican Republic have come to Brewster’s defense against these religious attacks. The Human Rights Campaign released a statement supporting Brewster, and one of their board members said it was “deeply concerned” by the religious leaders’ actions. HRC President Chad Griffin invoked the pope when he reiterated that support in the Blade, saying:

” ‘It’s time Pope Francis spoke out against this campaign of hate being perpetrated by Catholic Church leaders.’ “

Rosanna Marzan, director of Diversidad Dominican, an LGBT equality group, said the issues referenced by the ambassador’s critics are “a smokescreen to cover up other issues.” Her remarks were backed by Cristian King of Trans Siempre Amigos, another Dominican LGBT organization.

In the last few months, the White House and the State Department have been clear that they fully support Ambassador Brewster. Last week, 61 congresspeople signed a letter to the Dominican Republic’s president, Danilo Medina, affirming their support for Brewster and his work to “advance universal human rights,” reported the Washington BladeThese politicians and others are using the hashtag #ImWithWally to express their support. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, a Catholic, previously wrote to Pope Francis asking  him to intervene in attacks against Brewster, who is Durbin’s friend.

Brewster himself has been diplomatic but firm in rebutting Catholic leaders’ criticism and promoting LGBT human rights. In an interview with Michael Lavers of the Washington Blade, he commented on Cardinal López’s repeated homophobic comments:

“The disappointing thing for me is that I don’t see that as something that you’re hearing from the leader of the Catholic Church in Rome. . .I would hope that the Vatican — as we would not do that with their officials — would understand and condemn those types of words to any official with any government. . .”

Brewster said, too, that the attacks against him and his husband have prompted many Dominican citizens to express their support for marginalized LGBT communities:

“It’s a great social conversation that needed to happen and I think its happening now. . .It’s rising the level of those who bully and perpetuate prejudices in areas for all marginalized groups and it’s allowing them to be seen for who they are.”

While these incidents may indeed be increasing visibility of and support for LGBT justice in the Dominican Republic, Catholic officials’ participation in the homophobic attacks must cease immediately. What is happening in the Dominican Republic against Ambassador James Brewster and his husband demands ecclesial action.

Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus López Rodriguez, the leading prelate in the DR, has previously said Brewster was “wife to a man” and should stick to housework. In 2013, López used an anti-gay slur to refer to the ambassador , and he said Brewster should “take his gay pride elsewhere.”  The Washington Blade reported that López once described LGBT tourists as “social trash” and “degenerates.” Cardinal López’s remarks made Bondings 2.0’s lists of Worst Catholic LGBT News in both 2013 and 2015.

Cardinal López’s anti-gay leadership has harmed the Dominican hierarchy and other clergy.  Pope Francis should immediately accept his letter of resignation submitted four years ago on López’s 75th birthday. As Bondings 2.o previously argued, Pope Francis’ direct involvement in the local church would not undermine his efforts towards decentralized power in the Catholic Church. It would be a necessary action to cull some Catholic leaders’ overt prejudice. Dominican Catholics should use the Year of Mercy to promote greater respect for and inclusion of LGBT communities, as a way to undo some of the damages recently inflicted.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

Catholic School Backs Away from Banning Transgender Students

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Students at Mount Saint Charles Academy

A Catholic high school in Rhode Island has taken a step away from its ban on transgender students  after receiving sustained criticism from alumni and the local community.  This move follows earlier conciliatory statements from officials at Mount Saint Charles Academy (MSC), Woonsocket, attempted to explain its original ill-conceived policy banning transgender students from enrolling.

In their latest statement, quoted by an MSC school board member at The Valley Breeze, MSC officials said that they deeply regret “unintended hurt feelings at and seeming insensitivity of our policy regarding the acceptance of transgender young people.” The policy that banned trans students was recently removed from the online version of the Parent-Student Handbook for 2016-2017.

That action, coupled by an invitation from MSC President Herve Richer to meet for discussion, was welcomed by those involved with the Facebook group “Concerned Alumni of Mount Saint Charles.” Organizers explained in their own statement, reported by RIFuture.org:

“Mount has always been a home to us, and we are happy to see that they understand our concern and agree the language in the policy needs to be changed and a solution for accommodation implemented. We will be accepting an offer to go to a meeting with the administration to add our help and talent to finding a solution for all parties.”

2004 graduate Mike Martin told NBC 10 he was glad the discriminatory policy had been removed noting that it was progress toward the institution living up to “what it taught me to do, which was to accept people for being people.”

Another alumnus, Brendan DeBeasi, crowdfunded over $5,000 in just two days to help MSC develop and implement accommodations for trans students, reported The Valley Breeze. DeBeasi spoke to the impact Catholic education had in rallying alumni to the defense of LGBT students:

“It is my belief that Mount did not include this provision intentionally out of hate. .Students at MSC are taught acceptance, love, and service. . .It was these values Mount instilled in us that led to the rapid organization against this new policy.”

But what meaning can be attributed to the handbook changes seems somewhat unclear. In a The Valley Breeze news report, President Richer said that he had welcomed the debate which had emerged at the school and on Facebook, and again explained:

“[Richer] said school officials are also currently revisiting the handbook to see if the policy was ‘phrased correctly.’

“Our conversation has never been about whether or not we want transgender students in our building. It’s been: How can we serve transgender students?”

This statement echoes MSC’s earlier explanation that, in implementing a ban on trans students, the school actually aimed to help trans students by acknowledging the school had no support system in place. Some critics questioned the logic of that rationale.  The school has not yet made a statement of explicit openness to trans students, nordid MSC officials offer information about any policy for admitting trans applicants. This lack of clarity leaves the situation unresolved, but this latest round shows that a way for reconciliation and for growth is still available.

Thomas Ward, a new MSC board member, welcomed the handbook change as the school’s latest evolution in its 92-year history and admitted more work was needed to accommodate all genders. He wrote in The Valley Breeze:

“Those hurtful – and completely unnecessary – lines have now been removed, and I’m glad they have. . .Mount’s been here before! As boarders left, the girls arrived, and the all-boys school had to accommodate young women they had never welcomed before. . .It has always been this way. Now, there is more evolving to do.”

Ward, who is also a 1971 alumnus  and parent of former students, pointed to Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua, New Hampshire, about which he wrote:

“A sister school to Mount, also founded and run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, it currently serves a transgender student, and accommodates them. Mount has never been asked to. No doubt, in time, that will change. We should learn a lot before that day comes.”

Removing the ban on transgender students from MSC’s Handbook online is a start. Such a step would be aided by administrators’ assurance that not only would such policies never reappear but that MSC would be adding gender identity to its non-discrimination protections for all community members. Meeting with concerned alumni and LGBT advocates will be beneficial, too, but only if administrators are really willing to hear criticism and to prioritize the steps necessary to provide transgender accommodations.

Thomas Ward is completely correct that, if it has not already happened, soon enough MSC will need to help students of all genders flourish. Let’s hope that other board members and the entire MSC community will join him to thoughtfully and quickly make MSC a more inclusive space, not only because they face public criticism but because doing so is intrinsically connected to the school’s Catholic mission. They could become a shining example to hundreds of other Catholic high schools.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

Jail LGBT People, Say Malawi’s Bishops in New Pastoral Letter on Mercy

ecm-logo-300x292In a new pastoral letter, Malawi’s bishops have encouraged Catholics to advocate for the arrest and imprisonment of LGBT people as a top national priority.

The Episcopal Conference of Malawi’s joint letter, “Mercy of God as a Path to Hope,” was released as part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy called for by Pope Francis. The bishops say they seek to contextualize mercy as it relates to their country and speak words of hope, but their words do not seem either merciful or hopeful to LGBT people and their supporters. Listed second among seventeen “areas of grave concern” is a section on family issues and LGBT rights which states:

“From this perspective, we agree with those who have faulted the Government for putting a moratorium on laws governing homosexual acts. This means that those guilty of homosexual acts or unions cannot be prosecuted. The Government has bowed down to pressure from donor community, international bodies and local human rights campaigners. As Pastors, we find this path very unfortunate. It is an act of betrayal on the part of those in power to sell our country to foreign practices and tendencies contrary to the will of God because of money. . .We call upon all Catholics and people of good will to stand up for what is morally right today in the face of the hugely funded campaign for homosexual rights and unions.”

This portion is preceded by a statement that the church does not judge someone based on sexual orientation, though same-sex activity is called “objectively evil and totally unacceptable.” The bishops follow the excerpt above with a statement condemning anti-LGBT violence:

“[W]e wish to condemn in strongest terms those inciting violence against homosexuals and those guilty of homosexual acts or unions. In this Jubilee of mercy, we recall with gratitude the words of St. John XXIII that indicate to us the path to follow as believers: ‘Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity’ (Gaudet Mater Ecclesia, 11).”

The bishops’ support for LGBT criminalization is well-documented and has been strongly condemned by LGBT advocates. Earlier this year, Malawi’s bishops made false claims about foreign aid pressures during U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People Randy Berry’s visit to their nation.  Berry categorically refuted their claims. Individual bishops from this African country have made troubling remarks about homosexuality, too.

In the new pastoral letter, the bishops ignored the reality that criminalization leads to increased suffering by sexual and gender minorities. Their claims about respecting LGBT people and rejecting violence against them are basically meaningless when they encourage LGBT people’s imprisonment. Being gay in Malawi is illegal, and a conviction can lead to up to fourteen years of hard labor for men and up to five years imprisonment for women. Thankfully, there is a government moratorium on enforcement of such laws while they are reviewed.

Malawi’s bishops have significant influence in the country, despite Catholics composing just 20% of the population. Catholic leaders played a key role in the country’s 1992 transition to democracy and have been described by some as the conscience of their nation. The bishops could again be helpful pastoral leaders, given the real areas of grave concern Malawians face. The vast majority of this pastoral letter called attention to real injustices, such as food insecurity experienced by 2.8 million people and problems in government that leave the nation severely underdeveloped. But hunger is listed tenth and ecological justice, a hallmark of Pope Francis’ tenure, listed last despite the climate’s devastating effects on Malawi. As noted above, LGBT issues were listed second.  This ranking hardly seems warranted and shows the bishops’ priorities are seriously amiss.

Equal civil rights do not pose a threat to Malawians’ well-being. Moreover, Catholic teaching does not support punishing people because of sexual orientation and/or sexual expression. Advocating for the criminalization of one’s identity undercuts the bishops’ otherwise valuable and needed call for social justice. That is a real tragedy for the Year of Mercy and for Malawi.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

Easter Sunday: Resurrection and God’s Faithfulness

“Glory of Christ–Easter Day 2008” by Stephen Whatley (21st century)

The resurrection does not solve our problems about dying and death. It is not the happy ending to our life’s struggle, nor is it the big surprise that God has kept in store for us.

No, the resurrection is the expression of God’s faithfulness….

The resurrection is God’s way of revealing to us that nothing that belongs to God will ever go to waste.

What belongs to God will never get lost.

–Henri Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift

Holy Saturday: From All I Am to All I Have Not Yet Become

“Body of Christ” by Annibale Carraci (16th century)

Letting Go

By Edwina Gateley

It is time to go.
I can smell it.
Breathe it
Touch it.
And something in me
Trembles.
I will not cry.
Only sit bewildered.
Brave and helpless
That it is time.
Time to go.
Time to step out
Of the world
I shaped and watched
Become.
Time to let go
Of the status and
The admiration.
Time to go.
To turn my back
On a life that throbs
With my vigor
And a spirit
That soared
Through my tears.
Time to go
From all I am
To all I have
Not yet become.

Good Friday: Losing Your Life to Make It Worth Living

“Christ Crucified” by Diego Velazquez (17th Century)

Inspection stickers used to have printed on the back, “Drive carefully: the life you save may be your own.” That is the wisdom of men in a nutshell.

What God says, on the other hand, is, “The life you save is the life you lose.” In other words, the life you clutch, hoard, guard, and play safe with is in the end a life worth little to anybody, including yourself; and only a life given away for love’s sake is a life worth living.

To bring this point home, God shows us a man who gave his life away to the extent of dying a national disgrace without a penny in the bank or a friend to his name. In terms of men’s wisdom, he was a perfect fool, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without making something like the same kind of fool of himself is laboring not under a cross but a delusion.

–Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life