Priest Marches in Pride, Shares His Story of Being Gay and Faithful

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Fr. RJ at Manila Pride 2016

A gay Catholic priest in the Philippines marched at Pride this year, and recently shared his story about being gay, being ordained, and being faithful.

Fr.  RJ, a pseudonym, marched in Manila’s LGBT Pride Parade earlier this year, reported Rappler. Joined by family and friends, the priest told those celebrating:

” ‘I am gay. . .Homosexuality it is not an issue anymore within the Catholic clergy. . .Why should I be ashamed? My sexual preference never hindered my mission as a Catholic priest.

” ‘Since the day I understood my real identity and fully embraced my sexuality, I also got to understand how to serve God with everything I have, without pretending to be someone I am not.’ “

Ordained four years ago, Fr. RJ knew he was gay in adolescence, but, at the time, this knowledge was worrisome and confusing. The priest’s family was conservative, and the Philippines is a very traditionally Catholic nation. For several years, he kept quiet about being gay and focused on his studies. Then, he fell in love at college. Rappler reported his description of the experience:

” ‘I fell in love with a man who taught me how to accept my true identity,’ RJ said.

“RJ was swept into a year of ‘firsts.’ His first bouquet of roses, first time to hold hands while walking, first time to hear and get notes with ‘sweet nothings,’ his first kiss, and his first gay sexual encounter.

” ‘Our days were among the happiest moments of my life. I felt I belonged and recognized. I was freer; I didn’t have to hide my fears. I was me whenever I was with him.’ “

That relationship eventually ended, but Fr. RJ said he learned to “accept my true self and sexuality” through the experience. And soon after, he realized the call to priestly life.  Rappler’s report continued:

“The priest remembered how he prayed that pain and hatred leave his heart. The scars of his first agony were still there. . .Staring at the Paschal candle as it flickered in the cold afternoon breeze, the priest began to realize that his first love was not the man who broke his heart. It was Christ.”

Fr. RJ would begin formation a year later, and he has been in religious life since then, saying he has “never felt different or discriminated.” He commented:

” ‘I don’t know if they are aware that I am gay, but I believe, even if they do, they will not judge me. . .homosexuality is common within the organization of the priests.’

” ‘We crack jokes about it. We talk serious matters concerning sexuality and there are a lot of priests who are vocal they are homosexuals. . .[while others hide] inside the closet because of fear or confusion or guilt.”

Fr. RJ’s story has helped initiate a conversation about gay priests, and LGBT rights more broadly, in the Philippines. Professor Jayeel Serrano Cornelio of Ateneo de Manila University, a Catholic school where he directs the Development Studies Program, said “a priest who is gay is not unusual” and further:

” ‘For me, the bigger issue is whether many other Catholics still find it problematic. There are so many young people now who do not find it a problem at all. And maybe they are ‘freer’ because they are not priests. . .[the church should send] a stronger message of compassion and inclusion.’ “

Obstacles for gay priests remain, as the church has offered mixed messages about homosexuality and the priesthood. The Rappler news article quoted Fr. Eduardo Apungan of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines as saying openly gay men should not be admitted to the priesthood, but if a priest comes out as gay after being ordained, he should not be condemned. This stance was backed by Bishop Broderick Pabillo, auxiliary of Manila, an archdiocese led by the pastorally-oriented Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.

Pope Francis, himself, has weighed in about gay priests, which were the object of his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment that he has since expanded to include all LGB people. Recent gay controversies at Ireland’s national seminary and  resigned Archbishop John Neinstedt reveal the issue of gay men and the priesthood is far from settled, to the detriment of gay priests and the People of God they faithful serve alike.

But Fr. RJ is contributing what he can to promote inclusion of LGBT people in the church. Last year, he wrote about baptizing the child of a same-gender couple and challenged Filipino bishops on their anti-marriage equality stand which Fr. RJ said was “wrong and hurtful and a far cry from the Gospel.” Bearing witness by sharing his story of coming out and coming to religious life is another step in that work.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

God’s Transgender Quality and Our Call to Take Risks

At the beginning of this month, The New York Times ran an op-ed with the provocative title, “Is God Transgender?”  Written by Rabbi Mark Sameth, the essay examined language from the Hebrew Scriptures, noting that God is sometimes referred to as a man, sometimes as a woman, and sometimes as both.  Other people in the Biblical stories also display characteristics of the two genders. Here’s an excerpt from Sameth’s essay:

“. . . [T]he Hebrew Bible, when read in its original language, offers a highly elastic view of gender. And I do mean highly elastic:  In Genesis 3:12, Eve is referred to as ‘he.’ In Genesis 9:21, after the flood, Noah repairs to ‘her’ tent. Genesis 24:16 refers to Rebecca as a ‘young man.’ And Genesis 1:27 refers to Adam as ‘them.’. . .

“In Esther 2:7, Mordecai is pictured as nursing his niece Esther. In a similar way, in Isaiah 49:23, the future kings of Israel are prophesied to be ‘nursing kings.’ . . .

“The four Hebrew letter name of God, which scholars refer to as the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, was probably not pronounced ‘Jehovah’ or ‘Yahweh,’ as some have guessed. The Israelite priests would have read the letters in reverse as Hu/Hi — in other words, the hidden name of God was Hebrew for ‘He/She.’

Sameth, whose cousin Paula Grossman was one of the first people in the U.S. to undergo sex-reassignment surgery (in the 1970s), comes to several conclusions, all of which support transgender equality, but the one I thought was most important was:

“Counter to everything we grew up believing, the God of Israel — the God of the three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions to which fully half the
people on the planet today belong — was understood by its earliest worshipers to be a dual gendered deity.”

This wonderful essay, which you can read in its entirety by clicking here, recently became the subject of a National Catholic Reporter commentary.  After reading Sameth’s essay, writer Mariam Williams speculated why she had never heard of a dual gender god before, especially when the evidence seems to be so clearly embedded in several key texts.  Commenting on Sameth’s involvement with a transgender family member, Williams writes:

“I wonder how many people before him had read the same verses and drawn the same conclusions, but — because they didn’t have a cousin Paula they knew and loved and rooted for, or because it was the 1950s or 1890s and not the 21st century — they dismissed their discovery. They would have disrupted the status quo, and they would have been alone in their thinking.

‘How often do theologians and practicing ministers read Scripture in its original language and keep the knowledge to themselves out of fear of what they find?”

Williams, far from being paranoid, acknowledges that human frailty may play a part in why scholars don’t make such challenging discoveries public:

“. . . [I]t could be dangerous for the individual posing the argument, because disrupting the status quo is always dangerous, perhaps especially when you are personally invested in it. Furthermore, bringing counter-arguments into one’s belief system is scary. It means sitting in places where you’re uncomfortable, where doubt, the very enemy of faith, can fester.”

I think Williams is partially correct in this conclusion.  Yes, it is uncomfortable to be in a place where uncertainty reigns, where the status quo is challenged. But, isn’t that the place where all of us are every day of our lives?  Though things in our life are generally familiar, we never know what each day will bring, and we are often called to make decisions and choices based on how we assimilate dangerous, new knowledge into our more comfortable, secure values.  Whether we are aware of this or not, we do it every day.

Sometimes those experiences loom larger in our consciousness because they require a greater risk in our choices.  Sometimes we need to wrestle with our consciences in order to arrive at a decision.  But the more we act in this courageous way, the easier it becomes for the future–though, admittedly, it never becomes totally easy!

So, my main disagreement with Williams’ remark is that she places doubt as the enemy of faith.  Doubt is not an enemy of faith.  It’s a step on the way to faith.  The enemy of faith is fear–fear of taking the risk of the leap of faith.  Such fear sometimes reveals itself as a calcified certainty which prevents us from making a decision because we assume this decision is already made–usually by some other authority.

In the Catholic LGBT world, I have met many people whose courage and risk continue to inspire me.  These aren’t reckless people. They are faith-filled people.  I believe that it is through these many acts of individual courage, risk, and faith, that our church, as an institution, will eventually be able to make its own such acts.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Lawsuit Filed by Fired Gay Church Worker Claiming Discrimination

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John Murphy, right, and husband Jerry Carter

A fired church worker has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the church institution which fired him, and its affiliated diocese.

John M. Murphy filed the federal lawsuit earlier this month against the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, and against the St. Francis Home, a facility serving low-income elderly people, which Murphy had been hired to direct. The Richmond Times-Dispatch detailed the lawsuit’s contents:

“[Murphy says that] just eight days into his job as executive director of the St. Francis Home in Richmond, two diocese officials visited his office — Chief Financial Officer Michael McGee and Human Resources Officer Dorothy Mahanes.

“Murphy alleges that on the day McGee and Mahanes visited his office, the pair said they had learned he was gay, a fact he confirmed.

“According to the lawsuit, McGee then told him ‘same-sex marriage is antithetical to Roman Catholic church doctrine and this makes you unfit and ineligible to be executive director of St. Francis Home. We are here to advise you that your employment is terminated effective today.’ “

According to the suit, Murphy’s sexual orientation was discussed only after he had been offered the job, the lawsuit revealed.  The charges say he mentioned his husband, Jerry Carter, to Board President Tina Neal, who had invited Murphy to a fundraiser, and that Neal said his same-gender marriage would not be a problem because, “This is 2015.” The Times-Dispatch noted further:

“According to the lawsuit, after his firing Neal said she and the board members who make up the executive committee had met with Bishop Francis Xavier DiLorenzo the previous day. The bishop, the suit alleges, ‘insisted that the executive committee terminate plaintiff on the grounds of same-sex marriage.’ “

Murphy was fired in April 2015 after only eight days into his new position directing the lay-administered St. Francis Home. Diocesan intervention seems to have been the cause, as Board members were quite unhappy with the decision.  One member even resigned. Murphy has compared the incident to being “kicked in the stomach.

LGBT organizations and Catholics have rallied behind Murphy, including the Center for American Progress which produced a video about the case.  In a statement, New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick said, in part:

“Conforming to Catholic sexual morality should not play a part in employment decisions. Otherwise, Catholic institutions should be firing thousands of heterosexual individuals for their sexual sins. Judgments about hiring and firing need to be based on characteristics such as competence, honesty, and responsibility.”

The lawsuit is proceeding now after the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission failed to rule within 180 days on Murphy’s discrimination complaint. Murphy, who has been emotionally distressed and unemployed since the firing, is seeking $750,000 in damages plus legal fees.

Murphy’s firing and pursuit of justice are experiences shared in recent years by too many LGBT church workers. Most recently, a Catholic high school in New Jersey fired a lesbian educator after her same-gender marriage became known to administrators. Thousands of alumni and community members have signed an open letter protesting this decision.

Though limited, there have been legal advances for fired church workers. Colin Collette’s discrimination lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Chicago was allowed to proceed earlier this summer, and Matthew Barrett reached an undisclosed settlement in May with the Catholic high school that fired him. Colleen Simon also reached a settlement with the Diocese of Kansas City. Hopefully, John Murphy will obtain justice in his case and add to this growing list of victories.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 60 incidents since 2007 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

Why Good Homilies Matter, Especially for LGBT Issues

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Pope Francis preaching

Attending Mass on Sundays, and listening to the priest’s homily, are primary ways by which Catholics practice their faith. These experiences can, therefore, impact the faithful’s lives and the lives of loved ones quite deeply, even determining whether Catholics join or remain in a parish.

Therefore, good homilies matter–especially when they touch on LGBT issues.

This is the argument of Brian Harper of the National Catholic Reporter, who takes up this question in his recent column, “What we say and how we say it.” Harper opens by describing an experience he and a gay loved one had at Mass, which they attended on the Feast of the Holy Family, which is the Sunday after Christmas. He wrote:

“[T]he priest saw fit to treat the congregation to a litany of what he perceived to be the most serious threats to the family unit. Homosexuality and bestiality topped the list.

“Even Catholics with orthodox views on sexuality should have found the homily brash and insensitive in its delivery. I was embarrassed, angry, and, perhaps most of all, disappointed by the missed opportunity. A great deal of modern society sees the Catholic church as judgmental and repressive, a reputation that moments like these make hard to refute.”

Harper said his gay loved one was unsurprised by the priest’s words, as this prejudiced homily was “what he had come to expect from the church.” This experience returned to Harper after the mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando this past June. Prejudice was so openly displayed as in both instances.

The incidents provoked deeper reflection for Harper, reflection that he suggested would be good for the church as it grapples, slowly, to be more inclusive:

“But how many of us know how LGBTQIA Catholics and non-Catholics alike feel? Not just about hot button issues, but how they feel as they go about their days, enduring slights at work, during their free time, or, God forbid, at church? . . .

“I think all Catholics would do well to accept the notion that unflattering assumptions about our religion are not solely the result of others misunderstanding or rebelling against it. The fact that Catholicism has been a source of comfort for many does not mean it has been for all. We ought to consider the implications of this realization.”

Harper’s column, which you can find by clicking here, ended by suggesting that Catholics should respond to the LGBT question by listening, as it is “one of those instances that calls not for others’ conversion so much as our own.”

This ecclesial conversion may be particularly important given a new study from the Pew Research Center, reported on by Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ, in the National Catholic Reporter. The study surveyed U.S. Christians on what matters when they look to join a new congregation. Reese commented on the survey findings:

“[W]hat matters to people looking for a new congregation is good preaching, feeling welcomed, and the style of worship of the congregation.”

While Protestants generally rated these factors higher, 71% of Catholics said feeling welcomed by religious leaders was important and 67% said preaching was important. Reese wrote that “these are numbers pastors can ignore only at their peril,” and these factors will likely rise as generational demographics progress.

Too many LGBT Catholics and their families have experienced damaging homilies and insensitive pastoral care, like the homily described by Brian Harper. It is sad to consider just many Catholics have been excluded by condemnatory language or uneducated clerics. If church leaders are really interested in evangelization, ensuring that parishes are welcoming and safe spaces for every person is a necessary step.  They could begin by simply ending bad homilies against LGBT people and their loving relationships.

And for those church ministers who might be preaching during next year’s Feast of the Holy Family, or just anyone interested in reading moving words about LGBT families, check out Deacon Ray Dever’s reflection on the Holy Family by clicking here, or Joseanne and Joseph Peregin’s reflection on the feast by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

How Important Is It to Know If an Archbishop Is Gay?

It always makes me uncomfortable when I read a news story which alleges or reveals the homosexuality of a church leader who has a particularly nasty record on LGBT issues.  Not because I don’t believe that these stories are possibly true.  It’s more because such stories often seem to have a not-so-subtle message of “Aha!  We always knew it! What a hypocrite!”

Archbishop John Nienstedt

Such a story emerged this past week.  MinnPost.com carried an essay by Tim Gihring with a title which explains the situation: “Does it matter whether Archbishop John Nienstedt is gay?”  Nienstedt is the retired archbishop of St. Paul, Minnesota, who, in addition to having a very strong stand against marriage equality and other LGBT issues, was forced to resign when his gross mishandling of clergy sex abuse cases was revealed.  Rumors have also circulated for a long time that Nienstedt himself is gay, and that he was sexually active in secret.  He has denied these rumors.

Gihring’s article differs somewhat from the usual form these stories take, though.  In the conclusion of his essay, Gihring writes about the “trap” in which Nienstedt seemed to be caught:

“By closing the door to homosexuality, marking its expression as the work of Satan and the most aberrant of sins, Nienstedt had nowhere to go with his own desires. He left himself no way out.”

That, to me, is such a sad set of sentences.  They describe to me a gay man who did not learn to accept himself, and whose lack of self-esteem provided him no opportunity than to act out sexually in unhealthy ways, and to project his own self-hatred onto others.

Gihring’s “trap” in which he believes Niensteedt was caught is bigger than just his denial of homosexuality.  Gihring speculates that Nienstedt made a deal with church officials that if he covered up sexual abuse cases, they would cover up his homosexual liaisons.  Gihring writes:

“For pushing back on gays in the church, among other issues, Nienstedt would be promoted and promoted and promoted again. He would also be protected: Among the revelations in the documents unsealed last month is that the Vatican envoy to the United States quashed an investigation into Nienstedt’s homosexual activity and ordered evidence destroyed.

“The evidence that exists, in the form of corroborated witness accounts, suggests that Nienstedt spent his time in Minnesota, from 2001 to 2015, living a precarious double life: indulging his homosexual tendencies, even as he railed against them. . . .

“. . . .[T]he deal that Nienstedt long ago made for the benefit of his career — to follow the church into conservatism — now seems a kind of ecclesiastical quid pro quo: if he covered for the sins of the church, the church would cover for his. The internal investigation of him, reportedly quashed by the Vatican, had been his idea — he was that confident that his name would be cleared.”

Gehring is skating on thin ice here.  He has made it seem like an agreement was made by the Vatican and Nienstedt.  Unfortunately, his case is built totally on speculation.  If, in fact, the Vatican did quash an investigation of Nienstedt, it is a huge leap of inference to claim that this was connected to any kind of “deal” that was arranged.

I am not defending Nienstedt’s actions, either in his mishandling of sex abuse cases or his possible homosexual liaisons.  But let’s remember that these two different types of actions are qualitatively different.   In the sex abuse cases, his actions did terrible harm to vulnerable people, and to the Church community. If he engaged in promiscuous, casual, or anonymous sexual encounters, any potential harm would have affected only himself and his partners, who presumably were consenting adults.

Neither am I excusing Nienstedt’s terrible record of opposing LGBT equality.  He has spent an inordinate amount of energy and church money to deny LGBT people their civil rights, and as this blog’s archives show, New Ways Ministry has opposed him on all these matters.

In the case of his sexual behavior, the real culprits here are the structures of the church which actually promote such behavior:  clericalism and homophobia. The privilege that clerics receive and the fear and silence that surround any discussion of homosexuality in the church create a toxic atmosphere, even for those who supposedly “benefit” from these structures.

So what’s the answer to the question of Gihring’s title question: “Does it matter whether Archbishop John Nienstedt is gay?”  I think the answer is yes, it does matter because it is an integral part of who he is.  I think, though, that the answer is not just important for the public to know, but, more importantly, for Nienstedt himself to know.  Part of the great tragedy here is that a church system has let a man get to Nienstedt’s place in life without allowing him the freedom and security to know and accept who he is.

If any definitive evidence emerges that Nienstedt is, in fact, gay–and the only solid evidence of that would be his own admission–then I don’t think that would be an occasion to gloat over hypocrisy.  It would be an occasion first to lament the pain that he must have experienced as a terribly closeted gay man. It should also be an occasion to reinvigorate our efforts to end clericalism and homophobia in the church, and all the myriad personal and structural ills they bring.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts and articles:

For all Bondings 2.0 posts about Archbishop Nienstedt’s connections with LGBT issues, click here.

Bondings 2.0:  “Minneapolis Archbishop Nienstedt: “I’m not gay…I’m not anti-gay.”

Minnesota Public Radio: Archbishop authorized secret investigation of himself”

Star Tribune: Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt faces new sex claims”

National Catholic Reporter: Report: Minnesota Archbishop Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships”

TwinCities.com: “Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships, ex-official says”

The Wild Reed: “Has Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Shadow” Finally Caught Up With Him?”

Pope Francis’ “Amoris Laetitia” is Authoritative Doctrine, Writes Theologian

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Pope Francis signing his exhortation on family life

Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family released in April, is an exercise of the Magisterium, said a new column in the Vatican’s official newspaper. This announcement could be good news for LGBT advocates in the church, many of whom were disappointed by the document’s treatment of gender and sexual orientation issues.

Theologian Fr. Salvador Pie-Ninot wrote a column in L’Osservatore Romano suggesting that, while Pope Francis failed to identify the text as an exercise of his teaching authority, it should be nonetheless read as such.

Pie-Ninot’s analysis relied upon a 1990 Instruction On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s authority.  Part of this document outlined how the Magisterium understood levels of church teaching. The National Catholic Reporter explained that, according to the Instruction, the three highest levels of church teaching are dogma, definitive doctrine, and authoritative doctrine.  The newspaper further reported:

“Amoris Laetitia falls into the third category, Pie-Ninot said, adding the 1990 instruction’s statement that examples of ordinary magisterium can occur when the pope intervenes ‘in questions under discussion which involve, in addition to solid principles, certain contingent and conjectural elements.’

“The instruction notes that ‘it often only becomes possible with the passage of time to distinguish between what is necessary and what is contingent,’ although, as the Spanish priest said, the instruction insists that even then one must assume that ‘divine assistance’ was given to the pope.”

The teaching authority of Pope Francis’ exhortation has been questioned by some Catholics, including prominent church leaders like Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, who currently heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Raymond Burke, who previously said certain parts of the exhortation were merely the pope’s opinions.

Pie-Ninot’s response is not the first, and likely not the last, defense of the exhortation. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said Amoris Laetitia had evolved Catholic doctrine on family life. Moreover, in an essay published in L’Osservatore Romano earlier this summer, historian Rocco Buttiglione said the exhortation is consistent with tradition.

What remains to be seen is whether the debate around the exhortation is a sign of the church’s improving health or of a growing division.

Pie-Ninot’s column contributes importantly to the conversation by making a claim for what authority should be afforded to the exhortation. While his thoughts are those of a theologian, not a church official, their publication in the Vatican’s newspaper lends them additional weight. And if, indeed, Amoris Laetitia is authoritative doctrine, there are important implications.

First, authoritative doctrine is not considered infallible, nor is it considered divinely revealed. It is doctrine stated, according to the Instruction, “to aid a better understanding of Revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths.” The possibility of error of an authoritative doctrine is admitted, even if the Magisterium has only done so implicitly thus far.

Second, the possibility of error derives from the reliance on contingent factors when articulating a doctrine. These contingent factors are the parts of human knowledge–science or social sciences, for instance–which change over time. Though presumed to be true, authoritative doctrine can and has been reformed or reversed when human knowledge shifts and thus requires a shift in church teaching. This concept holds implications for LGBT issues in the church. Like much of church teaching, Amoris Laetitia is rooted in outdated science in regard to gender and same-sex relationships. Recognizing contemporary understandings of these topics will change the contingent factors upon which Pope Francis has made his normative claims in the exhortation, thus requiring the doctrines to change accordingly.

Third, as with all church teaching, these differentiations are important for what response Catholics owe a particular teaching or set of teachings. As authoritative doctrine, “religious submission of will and intellect” is due for Amoris Laetitia. But submission here is better understood not as blind obedience, but as intentionally tending to the matter at hand, and making a good faith effort to understand and integrate the teaching into one’s life. And the response due can be fulfilled, if one truly studies and prays over the matter in good faith, without offering assent towards the teaching. Therefore, the document has weight for Catholics, but there is room for Catholics to disagree faithfully with what Pope Francis has laid out.

In my view, being explicit about just what weight this exercise of Pope Francis’ teaching authority possess is good news for LGBT advocates in the church. It reclaims the hierarchy of truths which Vatican II envisioned, helping Catholics recall that there are indeed certain teachings which take priority over others. LGBT advocates have long pointed out the hierarchy’s submission of more important teachings, like the dignity of the person and human rights, under less important teachings, like prohibitions on genital activity.

The claim of authoritative doctrine for Amoris Laetitia is bad news, too, for those like Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia who have sought to use the exhortation as a further hammer against LGBT Catholics and others marginalized by the church. Voices like Chaput have treated church teaching as if every utterance, with which they agree, is of equal weight and imposes an equal burden on Catholics. This approach is simply incorrect, and it would refreshing to jettison such thinking.

While Amoris Laetitia was disappointing to LGBT advocates (despite some of the exhortation’s good general developments), given that it failed to address seriously issues of gender and sexual identity, identifying the document as authoritative doctrine enables space for our questions to be respectfully submitted and our experiences to challenge the contingent factors upon which Pope Francis has made his teachings.

So what do you think? Is Amoris Laetitia rightly considered authoritative doctrine, like Pie-Ninot suggested? If so, what could be the implications for the church? We invite you to leave your responses in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

Vatican’s Sex Ed Curriculum Gets Low Grade for LGBT Topics

A curriculum for youth sex education has been released by the Vatican, and while it provides a more holistic approach to sexuality, some glaring omissions make it dangerous material for LGBT young people.

For heterosexual cisgender* young people, the Vatican’s new sex education curriculum, entitled The Meeting Point: Course of Affective Sexual Education for Young People,” offers healthy approaches and guidelines for personal integration and development.  Absent from this document, however, is any mention of similar guidelines that will help  lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth understand their own unique and holy experiences of sexuality and gender. [*Editor’s note:  “cisgender” refers to people whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex.]

If this program is used in schools and parishes, it will send a damaging message of silence and invisibility to LGBT youth at very vulnerable points in their lives.  The material sends the message that they are not considered by the church, not welcome, and, worst of all, that they do not even exist.

Because the curriculum assumes heterosexuality as the only valid form of love, and because it assumes that gender is definitively binary and assigned to individuals based on sex (male/female), this material will instill shame, fear, and self-hatred in LGBT young people who are taught from it.   Such negative feelings lead to depression, anxiety, addiction, self-harm, and, tragically, even suicide.

Some examples of the deficiencies in the document include:

In suggestions to the religious education teacher, the document includes the following statements:

  • “The step before falling in love is feeling attracted to a person of the opposite sex.”
  • “Choosing our boyfriend/girlfriend. This is another step in which they have to mature, opening themselves up to what is most difficult – to that which is different -, discovering reciprocity and heterosexuality.”
  • ‘Two ways of existing as a person: The body and soul constitute the unified corporeal-spiritual totality that is the human person. But this totality necessarily exists in the form of a man or of a woman. There is no other possibility than this for the existence of the human person. . . .Our very anatomical traits, as an objective expression of this masculinity or femininity, are endowed with an objectively transcendent significance: they are called to be a visible manifestation of the person.”
  • “The duality of the sexes affirms the axiological meaning of sexuality: man is for woman, woman is for man, and parents are for their children . The sexual difference indicates this reciprocal complementarity, and is oriented toward communication: toward feeling, expressing and living out human love, opening oneself to a greater fulfillment.”

Additionally, the document incorrectly refers to “pansexualism” as occurring when “happiness becomes confused with the greatest amount and duration of pleasures.” In the scientific community, the word refers to “the belief that a sexual instinct drives all human behavior.” With regard to an identity, “pansexual” describes “the sexual attraction, romantic love, or emotional attraction toward people regardless of their sex or gender identity.”

What makes this curriculum even more disappointing is that there are actually some good, broad approaches to other aspects of sexuality which would be good for LGBT young people to apply to their lives.  The document discusses areas including the idea that sexuality is far more than sexual activity, the various dimensions of human relationships, the importance of respecting the human dignity of others and of self,  the ways to integrate emotions into one’s life, the proper exercise of freedom, the importance of developing healthy relationships, the place of morality in making decisions about relationships, and many others.  These are lessons important to all young people.  However, since the material has a bias for heterosexuality and the gender binary, it is likely that these valuable messages will not get through to LGBT youth, who will likely feel themselves excluded from this conversation.

Likewise heterosexual and cisgender youth also lose if LGBT issues are not included, as they are deprived of a wealth of information about human development.  Such information could most readily be of use to this group if students if they have an LGBT friend or relative.

The fact that several secular sex education experts have praised it, and that a number of ultra-conservative Catholics have condemned it, may be the best evidence that there are some good ideas in this new approach.  For instance, Cleveland.com reported:

Seattle’s Tina Schermer Sellers, author of an upcoming book titled “Sex, God & the Conservative Church – Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy,” praised the new curriculum’s departure from teachings that were “ineffective and often hurtful,” including scare tactics, and presentation of God as unforgiving, unloving and damning.

Sellers said programs that couple sex education with a framework of values – as the new Vatican program does – help young people “make better sexual choices, get involved sexually later and have more satisfying sexual lives later in life.”

Indeed, it is commendable that there are no explicit condemnations of LGBT people in this curriculum.  Such would not have been the case even five years ago. This development shows that the Church is changing.  But, LGBT Catholics and their allies cannot be satisfied simply with the absence of condemnations. And our church’s leaders need to recognize the damage done by avoiding LGBT people in discussions of gender and sexuality.  In many places around the globe, these issues are discussed daily in mass media and ordinary conversation.  Young people, in particular, are acutely aware of these realities.  The silence about LGBT issues in this curriculum will speak loudly–and negatively–to young people.

If the Vatican wants to truly be comprehensive in their approach to sexuality, which this curriculum is one step towards being, Church leaders need to be pro-active in humanely addressing the experiences, lives, and relationships of LGBT people, and to affirm their holiness.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

Global Pulse:  Vatican launches sex ed website

Cruxnow.com: “Vatican issues its own sex ed guidelines