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.”
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 Today. Ruiz 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 Blade. These 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