Theologian: Natural Law Affirms Marriage Equality and LGBT Rights

ethicsbooksMarriage equality’s expansion has left its Christian opponents on the defensive.  As their arguments from Scripture fail, they have more and more,employed natural law theory in their opposing critiques.

U. S. Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Antonin Scalia relied upon natural law arguments for their dissents to the Obergefell decision legalizing same-gender marriage across the United States, and top anti-LGBT figures have all but abandoned more religiously based strategies in favor of natural law arguments.

Ethicist Daniel Morris, a lecturer at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois, writing in Political Theology Today, said arguments based in natural law against same-gender marriages and relationships call for reflection, and ultimately refutation. Morris’ audience is Christians generally, but his reflection is extremely worthwhile for Catholics because so much of the Church’s sexual morality is based in natural law theory.

Natural law theory, Morris explained, is premised upon the idea that human beings as rational animals can observe the created order, and then from such observations, they  develop moral norms. Applying this process, Morris developed a novel perspective:

“It is not at all clear to me that the natural law must lead one to oppose legal recognition of same-sex marriage. In fact, I want to suggest that the basic premises of the natural law can lead us to endorse same-sex marriage as a matter of legal policy.”

Morris begins to reverse the arguments of equality opponents by examining families with LGBT children, Morris observes that it is not homosexuality but homophobia which threatens these households:

“This fear of homosexuality destroys families by causing conflict between parents and children. Nuclear families are torn apart when children realize that they have same-sex attractions or that they deviate from commonly-accepted standards of masculinity and femininity in any way. Realizing this, children face the terrible decision: they can either keep their secrets to themselves, or they can reveal them to parents who may condemn them. Indeed, many parents do condemn and ostracize children who fail to live up to social norms surrounding sex and gender. . .This phenomenon ought to be of great concern to any natural law thinker, given that the basic premises of the natural law prioritize whole, unified, and loving nuclear families.”

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Daniel Morris

Opponents rely upon a “selective and incoherent evaluation of the nuclear family,” but for Morris that does not mean the family ceases to be a good which LGBT advocates can affirm. Indeed, he holds that the flourishing of families is a good which actually advances the acceptance of LGBT people and their relationships. When a child comes out, Morris said, families generally have three options: reparative therapy, expulsion, or acceptance.

Reparative therapies are “widely discredited,” considered by most to be ineffective and harmful. Issues within families “cannot be solved by forcing kids to conform to hetero-normative social custom,” a reality verified by the social sciences and human experience. These fields are “two sources that natural law thinking can accommodate,” Morris noted, and therefore natural law theory cannot support this option.

Expulsion from families is troubling if, as natural law theorists suggest, families are essential for the flourishing of individuals and societies. But Morris said he has “never read a natural law case against this sad reality,” and there is scant recognition by such theorists that “parental homophobia bears significant blame for destroying families.” The damage to families and dissolution to relationships caused by expelling a child is not supported by natural law theory, which seeks to affirm and to solidify family.

Acceptance, as families report, is “the most effective way to reunite families torn apart” by a child’s coming out. It requires affirming the child’s identity without negatively moralizing, and being in solidarity with the child when they encounter prejudices outside the family. This acceptance can be healing even after parents may have rejected their child. He writes:

“One would think that natural law ethicists would welcome such acceptance, as it promises to reunite estranged families, and whole, loving families are—at least ostensibly—of great value to natural law theorists. And yet, one looks in vain for such theorists to advocate parental acceptance of gay kids in the interests of keeping families together. Natural law thinkers may not want to admit that accepting homosexual kids is better for families than condemning such kids because such an admission would lead to major revisions of basic natural law ideas about human sexuality. Recognizing that we may have been wrong in discerning the natural order of human sexuality can be a difficult thing to do.”

But since acceptance is clearly the natural law’s choice for families, this raises the further question of what constitutes acceptance when it comes to homosexuality and marriage. Morris identifies among the more refined natural law opponents of marriage equality a strong desire to seem accepting of gay people and their relationships, while separating the question of marriage. Morris critiqued such arguments, which “still constitute homophobia,” writing:

“The problem with their argument, though, is that they cannot both accept same-sex attraction and relationships while also denying the legal right for people in such relationships to marry. Despite the fact that they want to appear ‘accepting,’ the moral reality. . .is that same-sex love is inferior to heterosexual love for the purposes of sustaining families and society. As natural law thinkers, they base this judgment on the possibility of procreation. . .

“Denigrating same-sex activity in this way reaffirms the idea that homosexual love is inferior to heterosexual love. Add to this denigration the condescending argument that same-sex partners should think of themselves only as ‘friends,’ and the conclusion that these partners should not be given the right to marry, and it becomes clear that, protestations aside, the authors view homosexuality as inherently inferior.”

Homosexuality cannot be second class in a true family acceptance model, he argues.  Acceptance is the good which families with LGBT members must seek because it strengthens families which are themselves goods. Therefore, Morris concluded, the Obergefell decision should be welcomed by natural law thinkers:

“This is because, consistent with a natural law account of legislation, the civic law can train us in the virtues necessary to participate well in social life, including family life. In the natural law theory of Thomas Aquinas, one of the effects of the human law is to make people good (ST I-II, 92).

“On the specific question of homosexuality and familial stability that I have been addressing here, the relevant virtue is parental acceptance of a child’s same-sex attraction, toward the good end of familial reconciliation. Following the Supreme Court’s elimination of state bans on same-sex marriage, I predict that many parents will come to accept their children’s sexual identities and families will recover from estrangement.”

Morris also cited the American Psychiatric Association’s declassification of homosexuality as mental illness as a similar moment after which families became more accepting.

Ultimately, Morris points to a more radical shift that must occur for natural law thinkers because the experiences and insights of LGBT people and their families must be brought to bear when reflecting upon the natural order to ascertain morality. Humility is required to admit inconsistencies–and even mistakes–so that revisions encompassing these additional experiences and insights may be produced. Morris writes:

“The easiest ways for natural law theorists to achieve greater coherence on these questions will be to abandon their reverence for anatomical complementarity and to relax the ethical requirement that sexual partners intend procreation for sex to be permissible. . .

“Such recognition would not weaken the natural law’s moral authority. On the contrary, it would gain integrity by demonstrating enough humility to admit fallibility. The only thing natural law accounts of human sexuality have to lose is their dual status as the last holdout against marriage equality and as the last voice against the full dignity of people who do not conform to heternormative social standards.”

Natural law theory has been used for a long time by Catholic Church leaders and theologians who reject LGBT people’s identities and their relationships. Engaging the theory and the anti-gay or anti-transgender arguments derived from it is not always easy, even while Catholics know from their lives and consciences that the arguments are wrong. Morris’ piece contributes to a growing body of research and writing that reclaims natural law theory as a tradition used to advance social justice and, as such, the rights of LGBT people and their families. You can read Morris’ piece in full by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

World Youth Day Is a Perfect Moment for Pope Francis’ LGBT Apology

98944ae5-b1c9-4290-a9ca-ca630ec8e7b1Tomorrow, Pope Francis concludes his visit to World Youth Day in Poland by celebrating a closing Mass. This moment would be perfect for him to act on his call for the church to apologize to LGBT people and other marginalized groups.

There are at least three reasons why World Youth Day is an ideal moment for a papal apology.

First, World Youth Day has in the past been a time for apology and for reconciliation. Pope Benedict XVI apologized to Australian victims of clergy sexual abuse in 2008, saying to attendees in Sydney that he wished to “acknowledge the shame which we have all felt. . .I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured and I assure them that, as their pastor, I too share in their suffering.” He also met privately with four victims and celebrated Mass with them. Pope John Paul II apologized in Paris during World Youth Day 1997 for the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572, where Catholics killed thousands of Protestants.

It would also not be the first World Youth Day during which Francis himself offered reconciling words, including on LGBT issues. In 2013, the pope said his famous “Who am I to judge?” line during an interview on the return flight from Rio. He expanded these words to “Who are we to judge?” in another in-flight interview this past June, in his call for the church to apologize.

Second, church teachings on sexuality and gender are foremost areas with which Catholics wrestle. This is especially for younger Catholics, who are increasingly affirming of LGBT rights and who are coming out in greater numbers. Critics have accused Pope Francis of tailoring messages to his audiences, but in this case, he should do just that. Eve Tushnet, a lesbian Catholic woman, offered insightful comments about what an apology on behalf of the church could and should be. She framed her thoughts around the Act of Contrition, writing at Vox:

“Even attempts to offer nuanced reflections on Christian relationships with gay communities often assume that repentance is the gay person’s role, forgiveness the Christian’s. The pope has overturned this model.

“The pope demonstrates that right relationship with God and others requires admitting fault even, and especially, toward those we have been trained to view as less moral. He has taken the lowest place at the banquet and offered his own moral authority as a mantle to cover gay people who have been harmed.”

Tushnet said, too, that Pope Francis has asked Catholics to “notice our sins” so they can be avoided in the future and amends can be made. An apology to LGBT people would even bring the church closer to God, she wrote, but only if reconciling work is carried out:

“Amends should cost us: our time and money and blood, our comfort and prior assumptions, perhaps our physical safety as we seek to serve LGBTQ people who are targeted for violence. Catholics sometimes worry that supporting gay people in need will be misunderstood as changing church teaching. But what kind of witness does our failure to support God’s LGBTQ children present?”

Acknowledging the church’s mistreatment of LGBT people would be refreshingly honest, would call the Catholic church to encounter and to dialogue with LGBT communities, and might even allow Francis to offer an unqualified and evangelical welcome to LGBT youth worldwide. But if apologizing on behalf of the Catholic church is not desirable or feasible, Pope Francis could also offer a personal apology, suggested Michelangelo Signorile of The Huffington Post:

“One thing, however, that the pope could easily do is apologize for his own harsh and, yes, violence-inciting words about gays when he was Cardinal Bergoglio in Argentina in 2010. As the Argentine government was moving to legalize marriage for gays and lesbians, Bergoglio was quietly lobbying for civil unions instead, having spoken to at least one gay activist, realizing that the rights gays were deprived of were real and knowing that he and the church couldn’t support marriage.

“When that didn’t work, and the government made it clear it was moving forward on marriage. . .He issued an ugly, earth-scorching attack against gays, equating gay marriage and adoption by gay couples with the work of the Devil, and declared that gay marriage was a ‘destructive attack on God’s plan.’ “

It is harsh words like these for which Pope Francis is calling the church to apologize, said Signorile. A personal apology would not only be a powerful sign that Francis is committed to reconciling with LGBT communities, but would be a model for other church leaders to imitate.

box_strona_glowna_enThird, apologizing would enact World Youth Day 2016’s theme of the fifth Beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” In this case, as Tushnet noted, it is not the church which is merciful towards LGBT people but rather recognizes the ways by which LGBT people and their loved ones have tirelessly shown mercy towards a church which victimizes them without remorse.

This reversal and this witness from the pontiff, Latin for bridge builder, not only acknowledges sins but calls Catholics to be converted towards Gospel inclusion. It could radically reorient how LGBT issues are handled in the global church. And if Pope Francis wanted to model even further how all Catholics should act, he could go to the margins of World Youth Day and visit the LGBT Pilgrims’ Haven, which has organized LGBT-related programming throughout the week. Let us pray that Pope Francis will seek to obtain mercy and offer healing words of apology at World Youth Day.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Executive Order 50: The Battle Between Two New York Dioceses Over Gay Rights

History-Option 1

“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s 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  produces 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. 

 

New York City is divided up into two dioceses:  the Archdiocese of New York covers three city boroughs–Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island–and seven upstate counties, while the Brooklyn Diocese covers the city’s other two boroughs–Brooklyn and Queens.  In the early 1980’s these two dioceses were headed by bishops of very different temperaments:  Archbishop John O’Connor was a very rule-oriented bishop in the Archdiocese of New York, while Bishop Francis Mugavero was a more pastorally sensitive prelate, known for compassionate views on justice and sexuality.

While the two dioceses generally found agreements on public policy issues, a case in 1984 saw the two churches taking opposite stands on a very important lesbian/gay issue.

An NC News Service story from July 1984 recounts that the two bishops took opposing positions on Mayor Ed Koch’s Executive Order 50, a directive which the news account described as “prohibiting agencies that receive city funds from discriminating against homosexuals in employment.”   The directive greatly impacted both dioceses, as each one had social service agencies partially funded by millions of dollars of city funds.  The words of the Order were that discrimination could not occur on the basis of “race, creed, color, national origin, sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation or affectional preference.”

The news story reported that the order “has been challenged by Archbishop John J. O’Connor of New York on the grounds that it would impose undue government interference with Church agencies.”  The story continued:

“In an interview earlier in June, O’Connor said contracts for social service performed by the archdiocese for the city would not be signed for the fiscal year beginning July 1 unless the issue was resolved.”

(Cardinal) Archbishop John O’Connor

The Brooklyn Diocese, however, disagreed with this position.  The Brooklyn stand on Executive Order 50 was articulated by Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Sullivan, the head of the diocese’s Catholic Charities agency and a national expert on social service.  The story reported Sullivan’s reaction:

” ‘I see no obstacle in the requirements of Executive Order 50 which prevents us from adhering to Church teaching,’  Sullivan said in an interview.  The bishop, who is vicar for human services in Brooklyn, said, ‘To me, non-discrimination does not imply approval of behavior.’ “

The story continued with Sullivan’s perspective on the difference:

“Sullivan claimed that there was no ‘split’ between the Brooklyn Diocese and the New York Archdiocese over the morality of homosexual behavior.

” ‘We are in absolute agreement with the archbishop on Church teaching,’ he said. ‘But the archbishop has made a prudential judgment on the requirement of Executive Order 50, and we are in disagreement. Bishop Mugavero has taken the pastoral approach that this clause implies no approval of homosexual behavior.’ “

Mugavero himself did not make a statement because he was hospitalized at the time, recovering from surgery.

Bishop Joseph Sullivan

This story has some interesting points worth noting.  First of all, it’s important to remember that Executive Order 50 had been in place since 1980, when Cardinal Terence Cooke headed the New York Archdiocese.  This controversy did not take place until 1984, when Archbishop O’Connor came to the office. That means that even Cooke, a conservative prelate by anyone’s standards, had not objected to the Order.

But, more importantly, this story recalls a time when bishops expressed disagreement on LGBT policy issues, though this incident may have been the last public disagreement for a long time to come.  Fr. Richard Peddicord, OP, author of a landmark study,  Gay and Lesbian Rights:  A Question–Sexual Ethics or Social Justice?,  recounts the ecclesial history following the Executive Order 50 case.   O’Connor, along with several other conservative religious leaders, took NYC to court, and they won their case.  But that did not end the story.  The court recommended that non-discrimination be handled legislatively, not executively.  However, a gay civil rights bill had been stalled for years in New York’s city council.

When the bill was brought up again following the court case,  O’Connor predictably opposed it.  But Peddicord describes an unusual twist that occurred from the Brooklyn Diocese:

“. . . [T]he Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights believed that it had received a pledge of neutrality from the neighboring diocese of Brooklyn.  Representatives from the coalition had met with auxiliary bishop Joseph Sullivan, counsel Mildred Shanley, and canonist Monsignor William Varvaro; it was reported that Bishop Sullivan had told Catholic Charities that they had no problem with the bill.

“However, Brooklyn’s ordinary, Francis Mugavero, did not remain neutral.  He joined Cardinal O’Connor in issuing a public statement which attacked the proposal as ‘exceedingly dangerous to our society’ and said that ‘what the bill primarily and ultimately seeks is the legal approval of homosexual conduct and activity.’ “

Bishop Francis Mugavero

Peddicord offered an explanation of Mugavero’s flip-flop:

“. . . Bishop Mugavero was assumed to have been pressured into the stand he took.  He denied any such thing, but as Arthur Moore remarks:

‘This denial was not widely believed, the only question being where the pressure came from.  Informed sources say that O’Connor got the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pio Laghi, to do the job for him.’

The bill passed.  But it would be a long, long time before we ever saw bishops disagreeing in such a public way.  That didn’t happen again until the Vatican synod on the family in 2014.

Bishop Joseph Sullivan would go on to being a strong voice for LGBT ministry in the Catholic Church, until his untimely death in 2013.  He spoke at New Ways Ministry’s National Symposium in 2007.

Equally important in this case is that we see an early predecessor of the type of thinking Pope Francis expressed in Amoris Laetitia.  Not all bishops have to address problems in the same way; there can be a diversity of approaches.   The pope stated:

“I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it.”

As we in the 21st century Church debate questions of religious liberty and face issues like the firing of LGBT people from church jobs, remembering the debate that took place around Executive Order 50 can remind us that not all Catholic leaders need to take a law-and-order attitude toward LGBT issues.  Pastoral sensitivity is very much a part of the authentic Catholic tradition.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

Remembering Gay Holocaust Victims, As Pope Prepares to Visit Auschwitz

With World Youth Day 2016 taking place in Krakow, Poland, it is only natural that both pilgrims and pope will visit the remains of the Auschwitz concentration camp, which is only a short distance from where events are taking place.

Train tracks leading to Auschwitz concentration camp

I had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz in 2003, when New Ways Ministry led an LGBT Catholic pilgrimage to Poland.  It was a visit that will stay with me until I die.  The eerie silence of the place is both appropriate and chilling.  Almost all visitors there did not breathe a word while walking around, stunned by the awareness of the reality that took place where they were walking.  If people did speak, it was in hushed whispers.

I have been to dozens of shrines all over the globe, but Auschwitz is probably the most sacred spot I have ever visited.

Pope Francis, who is visiting the camp tomorrow, July 29th, has already said that he anticipates the stop to be primarily a spiritual exercise.  Crux reported on his plans for the visit:

“When Pope Francis goes on a silent pilgrimage to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp this Friday, it will be his first time in the former Nazi concentration camp that stands as the universal symbol of totalitarian horror.

“That is one reason he won’t be giving a speech. He wants to go alone and say nothing. ‘I would like to go to that place of horror without speeches, without crowds – only the few people necessary,’ he told journalists on the flight back from Armenia.

” ‘Alone, enter, pray,’ he said. ‘And may the Lord give me the grace to cry.’

“The only proper human response – as so many visitors find – to the mystery of such evil is recollection and silent prayer. Francis’ decision to say nothing has been deeply appreciated by the Chief Rabbi of Poland.”

Jewish people were certainly the most victimized group of Nazi atrocities, with up to six million perishing, approximately 1 million of them at Auschwitz.  But among the other groups targeted, gay men were probably the ones next in line to receive such the most vicious treatment, though the number of victims was much smaller.  Even before the camps were established, gay men were arrested in Germany in alarming numbers.  According to the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s website:

“An estimated 1.2 million men were homosexuals in Germany in 1928. Between 1933-45, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested as homosexuals, and of these, some 50,000 officially defined homosexuals were sentenced. Most of these men spent time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 of the total sentenced were incarcerated in concentration camps.”

(Curiously, although the Nazis closed some lesbian bars,  lesbian women were not systematically arrested, according to the Museum web page.  Wikipedia.org said that the reason lesbians were not targeted was that they were “considered easier to persuade or force them to comply with accepted heterosexual behavior.)

A concentration camp inmate’s uniform with the pink triangle to identify gay prisoners.

Another Holocaust Museum’s webpage says that gay men were singled out for particularly cruel treatment.   The website states:

“Prisoners marked by pink triangles to signify homosexuality were treated harshly in the camps. According to many survivor accounts, homosexuals were among the most abused groups in the camps.

“Because some Nazis believed homosexuality was a sickness that could be cured, they designed policies to ‘cure’ homosexuals of their ‘disease’ through humiliation and hard work. Guards ridiculed and beat homosexual prisoners upon arrival, often separating them from other inmates. Rudolf Hoess, commandant of Auschwitz, wrote in his memoirs that homosexuals were segregated in order to prevent homosexuality from spreading to other inmates and guards. Personnel in charge of work details in the Dora-Mittelbau underground rocket factory or in the stone quarries at Flossenbürgand Buchenwald often gave deadly assignments to homosexuals.”

On yet another web page from the Holocaust Museum, it states:

“Nazis interested in finding a ‘cure’ for homosexuality conducted medical experiments on some gay concentration camp inmates. These experiments caused illness, mutilation, and even death, and yielded no scientific knowledge.”

Wikipedia.org notes that because of ill treatment by both guards and even other prisoners, gay inmates died at a higher rate than other groups:

“A study by Rüdiger Lautmann found that 60% of gay men in concentration camps died, as compared to 41% for political prisoners and 35% for Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Even after the Nazis were defeated and the camps were liberated, gay prisoners continued to be mistreated.  The Holocaust Museum web page states:

“After the war, homosexual concentration camp prisoners were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution, and reparations were refused. Under the Allied Military Government of Germany, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment, regardless of the time spent in concentration camps. The 1935 version of Paragraph 175 [the law which criminalized homosexuality] remained in effect in the Federal Republic (West Germany) until 1969, so that well after liberation, homosexuals continued to fear arrest and incarceration.

“Research on Nazi persecution of homosexuals was impeded by the criminalization and social stigmatization of homosexuals in Europe and the United States in the decades following the Holocaust. Most survivors were afraid or ashamed to tell their stories. Recently, especially in Germany, new research findings on these ‘forgotten victims’ have been published, and some survivors have broken their silence to give testimony.”

Pope Francis’ promise to be silent at Auschwitz is an appropriate gesture.  As he prays for the millions of victims there, let’s hope he will include the gay victims of the Holocaust.  I hope, too, that he will pray for the victims of contemporary laws around the globe which criminalize LGBT people and subject them to cruelly harsh punishments.  The Nazi Holocaust is over, but other nations and groups have continued their atrocities in other forms.  In addition to political bodies which criminalize LGBT people, medical authorities continue the Nazi legacy by using destructive “reparative” psychological therapy on LGBT patients.

Let’s hope, too, that someday a pope–or even some other Catholic leader–will visit the site of the Orlando gay nightclub shooting, and pray silently there for those victims and all victims of anti-LGBT oppression and violence.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

One Year Later, Boy Scouts Stronger With Gay Leaders – Except Catholic Troops

boy_scouts_gay__0A year ago, the Boy Scouts of America ended its ban on openly gay leaders despite opposition from the Catholic hierarchy and other religious figures. Reports now reveal a Boy Scouts organization that has not been harmed, but, indeed strengthened by the decision. These benefits, however, have been more limited in Catholic contexts.

The Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) National Executive Board overturned the ban last August, a follow-up to its 2013 decision allowing openly gay Scouts. In the proceeding months, the Albuquerque Journal reported:

“Youth membership is on the verge of stabilizing after a prolonged decline, corporations which halted donations because of the ban have resumed their support, and the vast majority of units affiliated with conservative religious denominations have remained in the fold — still free to exclude gay adults if that’s in accordance with their religious doctrine.”

Outgoing BSA president, Robert Gates, even hoped in a May speech that there would be “positive national growth for the first time in decades.” But one area where Scout numbers have not grown is Catholic-affiliated groups, which have seen a decreased membership since the decision.

As for whether or not openly gay leaders, volunteers, and employees are joining up or coming out, there are not reliable statistics. And there are no numbers on whether and, if so, how many openly gay leaders have been rejected by religiously-affiliated councils, who are allowed to do so because of a religious exemption. But  a number of Catholic officials have repeatedly given the impression that gay leaders are not welcome.

Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, South Carolina, who heads the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, said the BSA “has been wonderfully supportive” of church-affiliated councils and that he “knows of no instances where a Catholic unit — there are more than 7,500 — has taken on an openly gay adult leader since the policy change.”

Last year, Catholic officials criticized the BSA decision publicly, and Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck even disaffiliated the entire diocese from the organization. But, by Guglielmone’s own count, only about 20 Catholic parishes across the U.S. have withdrawn their support of BSA troops.

There is one reported instance where a gay man was rejected from leading a BSA troop. Greg Bourke, initially ejected as a scoutmaster in 2012, reapplied after the ban had been lifted but was again turned down by Louisville’s Archbishop Joseph Kurtz. Bourke, who along with his husband Michael were among the plaintiffs in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell case which led to national marriage equality in the U.S.   The couple was named “Persons of the Year” in 2015 by the National Catholic Reporter for their role in the court case. The couple also help lead Catholics for Fairness in Kentucky. Most recently, they challenged a Catholic cemetery which rejected their tombstone design.

Other religious traditions, including the Mormons, Baptists and some mainline Protestant churches, had warned against the BSA decision, too. But the Journal said, a year out, most churches have chosen to remain affiliated with the BSA, some exercising their religious exemption to continue excluding gay leaders.

Catholic leaders should pay attention to this new reality. After much hand wringing from religious leaders about allowing openly gay members and leaders into the Boy Scouts, none of their fears (often premised on false information) have come true. In fact, the opposite has happened. By becoming more inclusive, the Boy Scouts have become stronger and more capable of enacting their mission. This development has been attractive to many youth, their families, and returning BSA supporters who had withdrawn from the organization because of discriminatory policies.

The principled decision to overturn bans on LGBT people in Scouting has also been the practical one. And Scouting now offers something to the Catholic Church: there are clear parallels for how LGBT issues could impact the rest of parish life, if only church leaders would allow themselves to see new horizons.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

Lesbian Student Ejected from Catholic Prom Welcomed by Neighboring School; More Updates on Previous Stories

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Aniya Wolf, left, and her date at prom

At Bondings 2.0, we often find that there are almost always too many Catholic LGBT news stories and perspectives to cover.   Not to mention the fact, that some of the best stories often have important follow-ups.  Today’s post covers developments in stories which our blog has previously covered.

Lesbian Student Ejected from Prom Welcomed by Neighboring School

Aniya Wolf, a lesbian student ejected from her Catholic school’s prom for wearing a suit, was welcomed by William Penn Senior High School in York, Pennsylvania, suit and all. Principal Brandon Carter said the school does “embrace all” students and had welcomed its own students many times in attire which was comfortable for them.

Wolf had been removed from the prom of Harrisburg’s Bishop McDevitt High School because, school officials claimed, female students were required to wear a dress. Wolf showed up in a suit purchased for the occasion, which she was finally able to wear to Penn’s prom. Her mother, Carol, told The Washington Post:

” ‘This is Aniya. . .This is who Aniya has been since she’s very young. And she would not look right in a dress. She looks great in a suit.’ “

This is not the first instance where gendered clothing in Catholic education has caused tremendous pain and public controversy, but it hopefully might be one of the last.

Bolivia Passes Transgender Law Against Bishops’ Opposition

Despite heavy opposition from Catholic bishops, Bolivian legislators passed a transgender rights bill in late May that President Evo Morales then signed into law.

The law affords transgender people the right to alter government records in accordance with their gender identity, reported TeleSurReuters reported that a recent study shows that Bolivia becomes now only one of five nations in the world to constitutionally protect the rights of LGBT people, the others being Britain, Fiji, Malta, and Ecuador. Legislators had been pressured by some Bolivian Catholics to reject the law, according to The Washington Post:

“Predictably, the gender identity law has met with stiff resistance, not least from the Catholic Church. There have been protest marches, particularly in Santa Cruz, the conservative city that is Bolivia’s economic motor. Writing in Bolivian newspaper El Diario, theologian Gary Antonio Rodrígues Alvarez even warned that the concept of ‘hate,’ as used to define crimes committed against gays because of their sexuality, is ‘highly dangerous.’ “

Bolivia’s bishops specifically criticized the law, according to Crux, because it “wasn’t publicly debated, and didn’t receive the necessary consensus.” It did not, in their opinion, “solve the underlying problems.” The bishops did affirm the church’s opposition to discrimination.  This recent response from the bishops softens slightly language from Bishop Aurelio Pesoa, president of the nation’s episcopal conference, who said in December that the law “aims to subvert one of the foundations of our human lifestyle” and was “a clear attempt of cultural colonization.”

Florida Implements LGBT Youth Protections Opposed by Bishops 

A policy which bans the bullying and harassment of LGBT foster children in group homes has finally been reinstated by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), after it was withdrawn for a time as a result of religious opposition, reported the Orlando Sentinel.

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said the process was “basically just listening to all involved,” and the decision had now been made about “how you best protect young people who have already been abused and neglected and who are the most vulnerable in our system.” An ombudsperson position has been created to monitor discrimination. The new policy explicitly bans “reparative therapy.”.

This policy was again criticized by the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops who said in a statement the policy “goes too far” and does not consider other children’s well-being if they must share space “with someone who ‘identifies’ as the same gender, but remains biologically different.” The Conference, in conjunction with partner religious organizations, had successfully had the policy reversed late last year. Bondings 2.0 said, at the time, that the Conference’s treatment of this issue was “misguided and ill-informed.

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–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Catholics Recommit to Bridge Building after Orlando Tragedy

Australians Hold Candlelit Vigils For Victims Of Orlando Nightclub Shooting
Memorial for Pulse Nightclub victims

Many bridges still need building when it comes to LGBT people, their families, and the Catholic Church. Where can Catholics turn for models of bridge building, especially after the mass shooting in Orlando which left 49 people dead and 53 more wounded?

Lay people and religious have offered some compassionate models of how this reconciling work can be done. For instance, the Sisters of St. Agnes in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin organized a vigil shortly after Orlando. Sister Sally Brickner told the Fond du Lac Reporter that 150 vigil attendees “really do feel that discrimination is wrong . . . hate crimes are wrong.” This vigil was the most well attended of any which the sisters have held for other causes, revealing both the deep need for such an action by a Catholic group.

The Orlando incident and the sisters’ response helped to shine the spotlight on two Wisconsin parishes that offer welcoming ministries. The same article which reported the sisters’ vigil took a look at the week-to-week ministry that goes on in Catholic parishes that welcome LGBT people. At Holy Family Catholic Community in Fond du Lac, a group called All God’s Family meets every couple of months. There, according to pastor Fr. Ryan Preuss, lesbian/gay people and their families share their stories and discuss how they engage church teaching. Barbara Lent, the group’s coordinator, told the Reporter:

” ‘Everyone’s the same. . .It’s just who you love. You really have a right to love who you want to love. . .Sometimes [change] takes time, but you got to keep doing it.’ “

Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Menomonee Falls hosts Gay and Straight in Christ, about which founder Ann Castiglione said:

” ‘It’s just important that everyone be welcome in our church. . .[LGBT people don’t] feel welcome, so we’re trying to do something about that in our little corner of the world.’ “

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, explained to the news reporter the background motivation that inspires such groups:

“Catholic support of LGBT people is done because the people are Catholic, not in spite of being Catholic.”

DeBernardo, however, was critical of bishops who “have been very negative in their approach to LGBT issues.”

The majority of U.S. bishops’ responses to Orlando seriously challenges their claims of engaging LGBT people with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” Just a handful of bishops acknowledged the targeting of an LGBT nightclub, and even fewer admitted the church’s complicity in encouraging anti-LGBT prejudices. In its editorial on the mass shooting, the National Catholic Reporter stated:

“The massacre in Orlando was a heinous hate crime, a moment screaming out for moral outrage, for the words to match the horrific reality. What the Catholic community in the United States received from the president of its bishops’ conference was a three-sentence serving of sanctimonious boilerplate that, except for the use of the term ‘violence,’ might have been referring to a natural disaster or a plane crash. . .

“It is good to have the language of a few members of the hierarchy who understand that intolerance breeds contempt and violence, but we can’t and don’t need to wait for bishops to speak. The laity are leading the bishops on this issue, and with a strong, persistent voice, we can and must advocate against discrimination based on sexuality and gender in society and in our church.”

It is not too late for more bishops to engage positively with LGBT people and their families, in the church and outside of it. Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden wrote about Orlando in the Catholic Herald, saying:

“Just as heart wrenching as the deaths themselves, I am troubled that the victims were specifically targeted because of their sexual orientation. No human being should ever suffer the hate of others. Hate is an affront to God.

“As Christians we are subject to the Law of Christ. “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is His new commandment. ‘One another’ includes gay people. A Catholic who demonstrates hate toward a person — because of his or her sexual orientation, religion, or the color of his or her skin — needs to seek the forgiveness of God. From where does such hate originate? And, why are homosexual persons too frequently its victims?

“Our LGBT sisters and brothers are as much made in the image of God as I am. Their sexual orientation does not make them less in the eyes of God. As someone who is loved by gay relatives and friends, and who loves them equally, I fear that they too could be victims of such hatred.”

In a letter to those Catholics who gathered for prayer about Orlando, Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver expressed particular sadness because the victims were “targeted for being identified with the LGBT community.”

The lesson about building bridges after Orlando may be that acts are more necessary than words if the church is going to be in real solidarity. This is a point driven home by Caitlin Opperman, a queer Latina student at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, who write in campus newspaper The Hoya:

“We cannot forget Pulse was an LGBTQ club. We cannot forget it was Latin night. We cannot forget Latinxs, specifically Puerto Ricans, were most affected by this tragedy. We cannot let people use this massacre as an excuse to engage in Islamophobia. We cannot stay silent on the issue of gun control. We have to acknowledge that masculinity is toxic. We have to accept that queer people of color need safe spaces. But most of all, we need to act. Silence and inaction perpetuate violence against members of my communities and other oppressed groups. We are living in fear. We are out of safe spaces. We need more than thoughts and prayers.

“To the 49 beautiful queer folks whose lives were taken on June 12, rest in power. Que en paz descansen [Rest in peace]. I hope wherever you are, you keep dancing.”

The National Catholic Reporter’s editorial emphasized that lay people need to lead the way if church leaders remain unresponsive.  The editors said that Catholics do not “have to wait for approval or direction from on high to know what to do in this extreme circumstance.” They continued:

“The Catholic community knows a hate crime when it sees it and should do all it can to promote understanding and tolerance. . .The Catholic community, making the case from the church’s social justice tradition and the inherent Christian concern for the common good, can become a formidable influence in challenging the status quo. Standing together, we can say no to a culture of gun violence. We can say yes to gender justice and inclusivity.”

How have you or your faith community responded with a yes to justice and inclusivity after Orlando? How have you witnessed bridges being built between LGBT people and church leaders? Please let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry