QUOTE TO NOTE: Gay Priest’s Orientation a ‘Blessing from God’

computer_key_Quotation_MarksAs part of Sr. Camille D’Arienzo’s regular interviews with extraodinary “ordinary” Catholics in the National Catholic ReporterFr. Ron Cioffi reflected upon his 47 years as an ordained priest. He spoke about being raised Catholic, his call to ordained ministry, connections with the Catholic Worker movement, and most of all the parish in New Jersey where he has served for many years. Then, asked if there is anything else readers should know, the priest came out, tying together beautifully his sexual identity with his vocation:

“Yes, I am a gay person whose self-identity includes an abiding call to ministry in our church. I wish to testify that there is nothing in seriously living out my life as a priest that dissuades me from any other conclusion than that my orientation is a blessing from God for use in and for the church that is called to help each of us discern and celebrate the good and always affirming love of God for all persons.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 11.48.14 AM.png
Fr. Ron Cioffi

Earlier in the interview, Fr. Cioffi said he had an as yet unrealized goal of establishing an outreach committee with a “focus on welcoming and credibly supporting” LGBT people. He explained at the interview’s end how his coming out as a gay priest might advance that welcome and support:

“In sharing this deeply personal fact, I hope it will give courage and hope to so many people who find their minority status a deeply wounding and unrelieved burden that too few religious leaders have moved to redress with a healing that acknowledges one’s full human dignity.”

Despite research suggesting that a high percentage of Catholic priests are gay, there are very few priests who are out publicly. Like other out gay priests before him, Fr. Cioffi provides an example which helps combat the stigma that keeps too many clergy silenced.  Such an example can heal the wounds of exclusion that too many LGBT people bear because of church ministers. This witness is, most certainly, a blessing from God!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Celebrating a Fantastic Four and 1/2 Years of Catholic LGBT Blogging!

This past weekend, Bondings 2.0 marked its fantastic 4 and 1/2 year anniversary!  We have been providing readers with at least one post about Catholic LGBT news and opinion every day since November 29, 2011.  We’ve made a commitment to serve our readers, and we are gratified that we continue to receive positive feedback about this information ministry that New Ways Ministry has undertaken.  Many of you have told us that Bondings 2.0 is the first thing you read in the morning, and that it sometimes helps to shape your morning prayer time.  We consider that a beautiful blessing!

We’ve been blessed with a wide and varied readership, many of whom take the opportunity to share their own thoughts and ideas in the “Comments” sections of individual posts.  Those contributions make this blog truly “social media,” composing a forum where readers who are distant from one another because of space, age, culture, nationality, and opinion can refine their own thinking by hearing various perspectives.

Only twice a year do we turn to blog readers to ask for your financial support to help New Ways Ministry continue this project:  on the yearly anniversary at the end of November and on the half-yearly anniversary at the end of May.  If you find this resource to be valuable to your ministry, advocacy, personal and spiritual development, or for any other reason, would you consider making a contribution today to keep the blog vibrant?  Donating is as easy as clicking here, filling out the donation form, and writing “Blog” in the “Comments” box at the end of the donation form.  Your donation is tax-deductible.

A $50 donation would amount to less than one dollar a week.  If you think that receiving daily information on Catholic LGBT issues is helpful to you, please consider donating right now.   If you donation can be more than $50, we would certainly be grateful, and if your donation needs to be less than that, we are even more grateful for your sacrificial giving.

Another helpful way you can help to grow this blog is to tell your friends and network contacts about it.  Ask them to check us out, and let them know they can become followers of the blog by typing their email address into the “Follow” box at the top of the right-hand column of this page and clicking the “Follow” button below it.  They will be notified when the blog is updated, and they can decide if they want to hear from us daily or weekly.  If you would like us to send your friends an invitation, just send their email addresses to info@NewWaysMinistry.org, and we will send them a notice that makes it even easier for them to check out the blog.  We promise we will not keep the email addresses you send or use them for any other purpose.

As we mentioned last week, our blog is starting on a new venture of scheduling “meetups” for blog readers and friends to come together in different cities to which New Ways Ministry staff will be traveling. We’ve already scheduled our first meetup in London, England, where we will partner with Terence Weldon, the editor of Queering the Church, for an evening of lively discussion.  Stay tuned for upcoming meetups in Chicago, Illinois, Columbus, Ohio, and Atlanta, Georgia, later this summer.

Here at Bondings 2.0, we have tried to provide you with the latest important news, offer some background and contextual information, and let you sample what we think are the most provocative commentaries we have read. It has been an exciting half-year since the end of November 2015 when we last came to you asking for financial support.  Amoris Laetitia has been published,  a Catholic school in the U.S. has made a commitment to continue to employ a transgender teacher, a Catholic university president publicly congratulated the school’s lesbian basketball coach on her marriage, and LGBT Irish people were finally fully welcomed in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  On the downside, we continue to hear bishops speaking harmful language about LGBT people,  LGBT employees continue to be fired, and LGBT youth face unnecessary obstacles to their self-acceptance.

If you read this blog for ideas about pastoral care, to learn what is going on at Catholic colleges and universities, to keep track of the terrible trend of LGBT employment disputes at Catholic schools and parishes,  to hear how Pope Francis is and is not changing the church’s approach to LGBT issues,  to understand how Catholic laity and clergy are affecting politics and society, or to learn about Catholic LGBT history, we hope you will find it in your heart and your bank account to keep the blog going by offering a small contribution.

If you prefer not to donate on-line, you can call our office 301-277-5674, during business hours, Eastern U.S. time, and we can take your credit card information over the phone.  Or you can send a check made to “New Ways Ministry” to 4012 – 29th Street, Mount Rainier, Maryland 20712.  However you decide to donate, your gift is tax-deductible.

Thank you for considering a donation!  Thanks for sharing this blogging adventure with us!  Our readers’ interest and support are what keep us going and what make this work a true labor of love!

–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Untying the Knots and “Nots” of Natural Law Theory

One of the most frequent questions I get asked from Catholic advocates of LGBT equality is how to counter natural law arguments which condemn lesbian and gay relationships.  For many people, natural law, with its basis in philosophy, can be a daunting area of knowledge to engage or refute.  People tend to shrink from it more because it seems impenetrable than because they don’t want to acknowledge what its negative messages about LGBT issues.  And the way it has been applied by Church leaders it seems to be not just a jumble of knots, but of “nots,” as well.

U.S. Catholic ran an essay “The Church might be approaching natural law in the wrong way,” by Patrick McCormick, a professor of Christian ethics at Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington, which not only does a good job of explaining natural law theory, but interprets it in a way that can be used to affirm lesbian and gay relationships. This essay appeared in the magazine in October 2014, at the time we were busy covering the news of the first synod, so it eluded our attention, then.  It recently appeared on our desktops, and, even though it was not published recently, we felt it was too good of a resource not to pass along to our readers.

McCormick recognizes that huge numbers of Catholics around the globe are largely ignoring church teaching based in law, particularly with those teachings that concern gender and sexuality.  He traces the problem to Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae encyclical in 1968, which re-affirmed the church’s teaching banning artificial contraception.  Paul, in writing the encylical, relied on natural law theory to persuade people, but it did not succeed.  McCormick writes:

“Unlike doctrinal teachings that we accept on faith, moral teachings should be supported by clear and transparent arguments with evidence capable of persuading people of good will. You should not just order Catholics to believe that contraception is always wrong. You need to persuade them, using reason to show the rightness of church teaching. So the pope relied on so-called natural law arguments to defend the church’s ban on contraception.

“Overwhelmingly, however, Catholic theologians, pastors, and laity were not convinced by the natural law arguments in Humanae Vitae. In the nearly half-century that followed, a growing number of Catholics around the world have found church teachings on sexuality, gender, and reproductive technologies unpersuasive and unreasonable.”

But our social relationships often get overlooked when church leaders discuss natural law, who use it simply as a primer for biology.  As sexuality deals with a great deal more than biology, this application is inadequate.  McCormick calls for a new understanding of natural law:

“According to natural law, we must act in accord with our nature as humans when making moral judgments. And since humans are by nature rational, free, social, and equal creatures made in the image and likeness of God, this means that we must always use our reason to solve moral problems. It also means that we must always and everywhere preserve and protect the sanctity, liberty, and equality of all people, and treat them as ends in themselves and never as mere means. It furthermore means that we must recognize and honor the social ties that bind us to others and defend the social networks and communities that allow persons to flourish.

“Natural law obliges us to use reason when solving moral problems and to treat all other humans with respect and dignity. The duty to be reasonable obligates us to look long and hard for the truth, examining all the evidence, listening to all the experts, attending to everyone’s experience, and acknowledging our own mistakes and biases. This is extremely hard and humbling work, which must be done in conversation with others, and which is never finished. Meanwhile, the duty to respect others obliges us to practice justice, to defend a wide range of human rights and liberties, and to honor our obligations to persons and communities everywhere.”

Looking at sexuality through an interpretation of natural law that only examines biological data ignores the many other facets of human personhood we experience.  McCormick critiques the biologically-based interpretation:

“The problem with this kind of natural law reasoning, which tends to show up in church teachings on sexuality, is that it overlooks the big picture of our human nature. It confuses the nature of people with the function of their organs. When individuals or couples are trying to figure out what God is expecting of them in their bedroom or marriage, it is simply not enough to know how our organs are supposed to work. We have to pay attention to the bigger picture of our lives and families, and to the circumstances, contexts, and consequences of our actions, not just the function of our sexual faculties. “

One of the biggest problems associated with the way Church leaders have applied natural law is that it is often employed with the threat that no dissent or discussion can be allowed.  For McCormick, this is most un-natural:

“Our nature as humans obliges us to use our God-given reason to sort out moral problems in the area of sexuality, and to use this reason in ways that respect the dignity of all people and communities. We need to work together to understand the meanings and purposes of human sexuality and the answers to our moral questions in this area. As noted, natural law demands that we examine all the evidence. That means paying attention to everyone’s experiences, listening to differing and opposing opinions, self-critically examining our own biases, and entering into dialogue with others.”

And, in McCormick’s view, a true use of natural law would also include the humility to re-evaluate our own opinions:

“More than anything else, natural law obliges us to be reasonable. It calls us to treat others as reasonable persons by presenting them with clear and persuasive arguments. The same natural law morally binds us to use reason to critically examine our own arguments and to listen to the criticisms and objections of those who disagree with us. It requires us to revisit and rethink our positions in light of new and broader experience and evidence. Natural law compels us to recognize the dignity, equality, and freedom of others.”

If you would like to read McCormick’s essay in its entirety, which I would recommend, you can do so by clicking here.  You’ll be treated to an understandable explanation of natural law and be supplied with some useful ways to counter-argue natural law ideas when they are tossed your way.   And let’s not forget that though McCormick wrote in 2014, since then Pope Francis has expressed a similar view of natural law to the theologian’s ideas. In his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis has encouraged pastors and leaders to avoid a narrow understanding of natural law, and to embrace a more holistic approach.  In paragraph 305, the pope wrote:

 . . . a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives. This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, ‘sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult case and wounded􀀃 familie”. Along these same lines, the International Theological Commission has noted that ‘natural law could not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions’. Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin –which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.􀀃 Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



Major German Catholic Gathering Offers Historic Welcome to LGBT Catholics

Catholic Day attendees view a video message from Pope Francis

LGBT organizations were welcomed for the first time to a major Catholic gathering in Germany, an historic step by which Catholics are living into the church’s more inclusive and justice-oriented future.

Katholikentag, or Catholic Day, is a high-profile, biennial conference organized by the lay-led and LGBT-supportive Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK). Catholic Day, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, was attended by 30,000 people and featured more than 1,000 exhibitors and events, according to Terence Weldon of Queering the Church. He reported:

“Prominently in attendance, present by direct and explicit invitation to promote [LGBT] inclusion in church, are three countrywide LGBT advocacy groups: Netzwerk katholischer Lesben (the Catholic Lesbian Network), Arbeitsgruppe Homosexuelle und Kirche (HuK)(Workgroup Homosexuals and Church), and Initiative Kirche von unten [Initiative for Church from Below], a progressive grass-roots organization that actively advocates for LGBT inclusion.”

The Catholic Lesbian Network’s Manuela Sabozin said this welcome is more than toleration because they have been “able to push our themes to the fore.”

Those themes became programming events, including a forum on marriage equality, a workshop called “Cross and Queer” on gay communities in the church, and spirituality events. The organizations worked from a Rainbow Center hosted at a Protestant church. Other LGBT events included concerts by Leipzig’s gay choir and an LGBT Christian musical group called “Queerubim.” Church reform organizations that advocate for other progressive issues exhibited at the meeting as well.

Catholic Day’s influence and that of ZdK generally are evident in the number of church and political officials who participate, including an official message from Pope Francis. Notable ecclesial attendees included Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising who also is the President of the German Catholic Bishops Conference, and Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin. Public officials included German President Joachim Gauch, who offered a keynote address, and openly gay legislator Stefan Kaufmann who spoke about marriage equality.

Weldon observed that inviting LGBT organizations to Catholic Day is “of major importance” because of the central role ZdK plays in the German church despite its formal independence from ecclesial structures. Weldon quoted a conservative news outlet which said this year’s Catholic Day gives “witness to the revolutionary power of the Central Committee of German Catholics.” Deutsche Welle also commented on the significance of welcoming LGBT groups:

“In fact, the presence of Kaufmann with three of the most important gay and lesbian Catholic advocacy groups in the country shows that the ZdK is willing to take an openly progressive position, and controversial in equal measure, with regards to the type of church it wants to promote.”

It is important to note that the three organizations invited by ZdK were not simply pastoral ministries seeking greater welcome. These organizations are truly radical on LGBT inclusion and demand the fullness of justice from the church. ZdK itself took the bold step last year of calling on the Catholic Church to bless same-gender unions in church. Issues concerning LGBT people and their families were openly and freely discussed at Catholic Day.

Deutsche Welle concluded its coverage of this year’s Catholic Day by noting a strong progressive movement among the laity:

“. . . [I]t is possible to make out the sketch of the church that German Catholics envision. . .[one that is] already diverse, complex and lively.”

That vision of a church which seeks justice in the world while practicing justice itself was readily apparent at Catholic Day. The Rainbow Center, symbolizing justice in the church, integrated seamlessly with the 21-foot refugee boat used as an altar by Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, symbolizing Catholics’ pursuit of justice outside the church.

Catholic Day’s theme this year was, “People First: What should we want and do for people of today to live together in the future?” This marvelous question is one the church universal should reflect upon.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Will 2nd Largest Catholic Country Boldly Move Forward on LGBT Equality?

Protestors march for LGBT rights in Mexico

Will the world’s second largest Catholic country boldly advance LGBT rights? This is the question being asked after Mexico’s president announced a new rainbow political agenda in late May.

President Enrique Peña Nieto said he would ask Congress to legalize marriage equality, non-discrimination protections for same-gender couples seeking to adopt, and the ability for people to self-identify their gender on government records.

These moves are significant and somewhat unexpected from a president whose popularity has waned. Mexicans are split over LGBT issues, though legal rights have progressed slowly through state legislatures and the courts. Last year, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled state marriage equality bans unconstitutional which makes the president’s announcement more a symbolic gesture, but a welcome one, say some pundits. On the adoption item, Fusion explained the background to the president’s move:

“[LGBT lawyer Jose Antonio] Caballero says the issue with same-sex adoptions is slightly more complicated. The president’s initiative doesn’t necessarily grant same-sex couples the right to adopt children, but states no institution can discriminate against homosexuals by excluding them from the adoption process.”

President Enrique Peña Nieto

Whether or not Peña Nieto’s push will be successful is unclear. However, the tone of the debate around this rainbow agenda may be revealing how Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia is being practically employed by Mexican church leaders.

The Mexican Episcopal Conference (CEM) criticized President Peña Nieto’s initiative, but their statement which heavily quoted Amoris Laetitia, struck a different tone than expected resistance from Catholic bishops. The Conference stated, in part:

“We are sure that in the plurality that characterizes our nation, all voices must be heard with seriousness and spirit of constructive dialogue, with full respect for the institutions. . .We take this opportunity to remind our willingness to serve in building a better society in which nobody feels discriminated against and alone.”

While clearly defending an exclusively heterosexual understanding of marriage, the CEM statement affirmed the need to “ensure a respectful accompaniment” for those people with different sexual orientations and recognized “the great variety of family situations they can provide some stability” even if not analogous to marriage.

Individual bishops and dioceses offered their own statements, too, emphasizing different elements of the communal statement. Fr. Hugo Valdemar, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, suggested the president should attend to “more serious issues” but still encouraged legislators to follow their consciences if a vote occurs. Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristobal de Las Casas said opposing marriage equality is not homophobic, and he respects people of divergent sexual orientations “whether by choice and personal taste, or by consequences of childhood and environment.” Cardinal Alberto Suárez Inda of Morelia said the church must oppose attacks on the family, even recalling the need for conscientious objection spoken about recently by Pope Francis. He previously had said children are traumatized if not raised by a mother and a father.

What all this reveals is the absence of a clear idea about how Amoris Laetitia should relate to complicated questions of public policy. It also shows that Pope Francis is impacting the Mexican church which he visited earlier this year. Church leaders can employ the pope equally in their calls for greater respect of LGBT people, for legislators to follow their consciences, or for marriage equality to be condemned and for homosexuality to be misunderstood.

In short, despite the CEM statement being reported as a denunciation, the bishops collectively prioritized respect for LGBT people in their response and countered only with the idea that same-gender unions cannot be equated to marriage. While imperfect, this is progress that will hopefully spread.

The president’s new agenda is being hailed as a significant political step in this heavily Catholic nation. Andrew Chesnut, chair of Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University said President Peña Nieto’s advocacy is “just of monumental significance” and continued, according to the Associated Press:

” ‘It really is symbolic of the rapidly waning, eroding influence of the Catholic Church on both politics and the social front. . .This, in tandem with Colombia, which is still close to about 80 percent Catholic and is usually kind of looked to as the most devout Catholic nation in Latin America. . .it’s amazing.’ “

Four states in Mexico, as well as Mexico City, recognize same-gender marriages. If marriage equality is nationally recognized, Mexico would become the fifth Latin American nation to do so, and the 24th globally.

With over 100 million Catholics, or 90%+ of the population, a rainbow flag waved in victory over Mexico would be quite a victory for the Catholic Church, too!

To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of LGBT Catholic issues in Mexico, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Priest Leads Opposition to Queensland’s “Gay Panic” Defense

Fr. Paul Kelly

A Catholic priest in Australia has been leading efforts to eliminate the “gay panic” defense in his state.  The “gay panic” defense, which allows defendants to claim that a victim’s sexual advances motivated a criminal violence, is responsible for letting two men escape murder charges in a 2008 killing.

Fr. Paul Kelly launched an online petition in 2012 to repeal the “gay panic” defense law, which is still allowed in the states of Queensland and South Australia. In that petition, which now has nearly 248,000 signatures, Kelly explained his powerful reason for being involved:

“I’m a Catholic Priest and 8 years ago a man called Wayne Ruks was bashed to death in my Brisbane churchyard. Unbelievably, his killer’s convictions were downgraded to manslaughter, using ‘gay panic’ as a defence. . .

“I’ve made it my mission to see this revolting law abolished – it belongs in the dark ages. I have no words to describe how offensive, harmful and dangerous it is that two of our governments uphold that a person can be panicked enough by gay people to justify murder.”

Wayne Ruks was killed by John Meerdink and Jason Andrew Pearce in July 2008, his body found at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Maryborough. Extensive video evidence revealed the assailants beat Ruks for fifteen minutes, leaving him to die from internal bleeding. They avoided murder charges by claiming Ruks made sexual advances on them.

Father Kelly renewed efforts around the petition because the “leisurely pace” of change had been so slow.  He told News.com.au that eliminating this legal issue is “such a no brainer. . .It should’ve changed with one signature, not [240,000].”

Thanks to the efforts of Fr. Kelly and others, Australian government officials have finally promised to act. Premier of South Australia Jay Weatherill replied to the petition, describing the “gay panic” defense as an “outdated and offensive notion.” He promised legal reforms to remove it. Yvette D’Ath, attorney-general for Queensland whose government promised to eliminate the defense in 2015, said change was forthcoming so that the state’s criminal code would not be perceived to “condone violence against the gay community, or indeed any community.”

Fr. Kelly’s activism show how Catholic thought can help bring about justice for LGBT people.  Unfortunately, not all church leaders in Australia are standing with the LGBT community, though. The nation’s bishops have chosen the occasion of upcoming elections to reiterate their opposition to marriage equality proposals.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 12.43.47 PMThe Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) released a two-page statement in advance of federal elections to be held July 2. The statement included two paragraphs about marriage that imply expanded LGBT rights would victimize marriage and family in the “throwaway culture” criticized by Pope Francis. The bishops wrote that political decisions can end up “undermining marriage” and, alluding to a proposed plebiscite on marriage equality, said future decisions could further undermine marriage:

“Support for marriage and the family does not look a big vote-winner, so that even the most basic human institution, upon which the health of a society depends, can become part of the throwaway culture or at best an optional extra.”

These remarks intensify the Australian bishops’ collective opposition to marriage equality, as political reporter James Massola wrote in the Brisbane Times

“The remarks about same-sex marriage are significantly stronger than in the 2013 statement – which simply stated there ‘must be legal recognition of the unique nature of marriage between a man and a woman’ and 2010, when the issue was not mentioned and underscores concern in the Church.”

Whichever party wins in the July elections, it appears marriage equality is an inevitability for Australia. The nation’s residents overwhelmingly support it, with recent polls showing approval ratings above 60%. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic supportive of LGBT rights, said a plebiscite on the issue first proposed by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a Catholic who opposed marriage equality, would proceed if his Liberal party is re-elected. The opposition Labor party has promised to pass marriage equality in its first hundred days.

In a final related note, a discrimination complaint against the Australian bishops over an anti-marriage equality booklet they published last year has been withdrawn. Transgender advocate and politician Martine Delaney voluntary withdrew her complaint against ACBC and Archbishop Julius Porteous of Hobart after mediation efforts by the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner in Tasmania ended in futility. She explained to 9 News:

” ‘My primary reason [for withdrawing the complaint] is the tribunal process is a very long and drawn out process and during that time the message of this booklet is going to continue to be spread. . .My intention was to force (the church) to understand the gravity of their actions, but they refuse to do so and the damage has been done.’ “

The booklet, titled “Don’t Mess with Marriage,” was released last year to widespread criticism. In the Diocese of Hobart schoolchildren were controversially used as couriers to bring it to their parents. LGBT advocate Michael Bayly even called booklet and its dissemination a “new low” for the Australian bishops.

Australia’s bishops should reconsider how invested they will be in opposing the seemingly inevitable passage of marriage equality when real and pressing issues of justice beckon. They could learn well from Fr. Paul Kelly’s example, and focus instead on how they can help protect the lives and well-being of sexually and gender diverse people.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Posts

August 17, 2012: “Australian Priest Meets with Attorney General to End ‘Gay Panic’ Defense

July 13, 2012: “Australian Catholic Priest Re-Launches Campaign to End ‘Gay Panic’ Defense

January 26, 2012: “News Notes: January 26, 2012

January 2, 2012: “Catholic Priest Speaks Out for Equality in the Law



THIS MONTH IN CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Georgetown University President Calls Gay Expulsion “Obscene”

History-Option 1“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s new feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor:  Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Since this is a new experiment, we would appreciate hearing from you in the “Comments” section if you think an occasional feature such as this is helpful to you.  For other posts in this series, click here.

1990: Prelate’s order made priest wonder what has happened to the Church

After the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued its “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” in 1986, many U.S. bishops began expelling chapters of DignityUSA from the use of church property.  The ostensible reason was that the bishops believed that the groups did not follow church teaching on gay and lesbian sexual relationships.  One of the chapters which eventually was expelled from church property was Dignity/Washington in the nation’s capital, which had been meeting at the Dahlgren Chapel of the Jesuit-run Georgetown University.

Fr. Timothy Healy, SJ, was the president of the university at the time, and he personally delivered the expulsion notice to the Dignity community at a liturgy.  Fr. Healy, who has since passed away, was one of the leading college presidents and intellectuals of his day.  From Georgetown University, he went on to another prestigious position: the president of the New York Public Library system.  In 1990, Fr. Healy gave the John Courtney Murray Forum Lecture at Fordham University, New York.  During that talk, he said that he felt his expulsion of the Dignity chapter was “obscene” and made him wonder “what happened to my Church.”

Religion News Service story published in The Catholic Messenger, Davenport, Iowa, on May 31, 1990, with the headline “Prelate’s order made priest wonder what has happened to the Church,” reported on the lecture and the comment.  The story began:

“The Jesuit priest who formerly headed Georgetown University said he questioned what has happened to the Catholic Church the day he was forced to tell an organization of homosexuals that it could no longer have Mass on campus.”

Father Timothy Healy, SJ

The story continued:

“Fr. Healy said the university chapter of Dignity, an organization of homosexuals, had been holding Sunday Masses for 15 years when he received a formal order in 1987 from Archbishop James Hickey of Washington, D.C. that the Mass had to be discontinued.”

But delivering the news was not the end of the story for Fr. Healy:

“Although he obeyed the order, he said he was haunted by a contrasting memory of 30 years earlier.  As a young priest spending some time in Spain, he was asked to assist in hearing confessions for two nights in Valencia when ‘the cathedral was reserved for “las carteladas,” the city’s prostitutes. . . .

The memory of that confessional experience of listening to people who were outcast from society was with him the night he delivered Hickey’s order to the Dignity community. He said of that night:

“For the first time in my life as a priest I felt what I was doing at that altar was obscene, and with the Spanish memory strong in my mind I wondered what had happened to my Church.”

One wonders what Fr. Healy would think about the last few decades of the Church, where under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, we have witnessed an even tighter closing of the doors and shunning of anyone whose thinking might differ one iota from official doctrine.  How rare it was in 1990 for a church leader to admit that he had been wrong about a negative policy regarding lesbian and gay people.

Fr. Healy’s comments were made  in his lecture titled “Probity and Freedom on the Border,” which the news story described as a talk which

“. . . discussed the function of the Jesuit university as a meetingplace of Church and world.  As a forum, the university, he said, ‘is full fed and draws upon the best of science, the humanities, the social sciences and the arts.”

The story continued to expand on Healy’s opinion:

“But some Church officials, like those in Galileo’s time, ‘solemnly refused to look through the telescopes for fear of what they might see,’ he said.  In two recent cases the document on in vitro fertilization [a CDF instruction condemning artificial means of conception] and the first draft of a universal catechism, officials in charge of those efforts ignored Church-related academic institutions.

“Referring to the in vitro fertilization document, Fr. Healy said, ‘With five major Catholic medical centers at its disposal, Rome consulted none of them.  The result is, of course, a faulty document.’ “

Healy’s comments about Catholic campuses are extremely relevant today.  As Bondings 2.0 reports in our “Campus Chronicles” series, Catholic colleges and universities are often leading the way in terms of policies and programs which support LGBT students, faculty, and staff.

And despite the expulsions in the late 1980s, Dignity chapters and DignityUSA continue to thrive, bringing justice and pastoral care to those still considered outcasts.

Catholics in the future will look back on the days of struggle for Catholic LGBT equality in the 1980s and 1990s, and even up to today, and ask a similar question to Healy’s:  “What happened to our Church?”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry