In Major Address, Fr. James Martin, SJ, Invites LGBT People and the Institutional Church to Mutual Respect

Fr. James Martin, SJ, called for greater mutual respect between the institutional church and LGBT communities during a major address he presented yesterday.

Fr. James Martin, SJ recieving the Bridge Building Award from New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo and Co-Founder Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL

Titled “A Two-Way Bridge,” the address was framed around the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s exhortation that lesbian and gay people be treated with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

Fr. Martin offered his remarks after receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award, which recognized his ministry of communication and the ways it has expanded dialogue on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church

In the address, Fr. Martin asked  what living this exhortation out might mean for church leaders and ministers, but also for LGBT people as they relate to the institutional church. Today’s post features highlights from the address, and you can find the full text by clicking here.  (The text of the talk can also be found on America magazine’s website.)


For the institutional church to respect LGBT communities would mean, at least, the acknowledgment that such persons exist, Fr. Martin said.  In addition, the needs to offer pastoral responses through welcoming Masses, outreach groups, and efforts to make LGBT people known they are part of the church. Fr. Martin continued:

“Second, respect means calling a group what it asks to be called. . .Because it is respectful to call people by the name they choose. Everyone has the right to tell you their name. . .

“Names are important. . .people have a right to name themselves. Using those names is part of respect. And if Pope Francis can use the word gay, so can the rest of the church.”

Commenting on the firings of LGBT church workers, of which more than 60 have become public since 2008, Fr. Martin said:

“The problem is that this authority is applied in a highly selective way. Almost all the firings in recent years have focused on L.G.B.T. matters. Specifically, these firings have most often related to those employees who have entered into same-sex marriages, which is against church teaching, and where one or another partner has a public role in the church. . .

“Moreover, requiring church employees to adhere to church teachings means, at a more fundamental level, adhering to the Gospel. To be consistent, we should fire people for not helping the poor, for not being forgiving and for not being loving. That may sound odd, but why should it? Jesus’s teachings are the most essential ‘church teachings.’ “

When it comes to LGBT people showing respect to the institutional church, Fr. Martin said Catholics must practice ecclesial respect for church leaders and simple human respect for these leaders who are our siblings. He stated:

“This may be hard to hear for people who feel beaten down by the church. But being respectful of people with whom you disagree is not only the Christian way. Even from a human point of view, it’s good strategy.  If you sincerely want to influence the church’s perspective on L.G.B.T. matters, it helps to earn the trust of the hierarchy. And one way to do that is by respecting them. So both the Christian approach and simple wisdom would say: Respect them.”


Fr. Martin also explored what it would mean for the institutional church to be compassionate towards LGBT people. He highlighted twice that compassion means “to experience with, or suffer with.” Being compassionate includes listening, expressing solidarity including through episcopal statements, and celebrating joyfully. He noted:

“The first and most essential requirement is listening. It is nearly impossible to experience a person’s life, or to be compassionate, if you do not listen to the person, or if you do not ask questions. Questions that Catholic leaders might ask their L.G.B.T. brothers and sisters are: What is your life like? What was it like growing up as a gay boy or lesbian girl or transgender person? How have you suffered? What are your joys? And: What is your experience of God? What is your experience of the church? What do you hope for, long for, pray for? For the church to exercise compassion, we need to listen.”

LGBT people showing compassion to the institutional church and its leaders would include seeing bishops “in their humanity, in their complexity and amid the great burdens of their ministries.” Fr. Martin wondered if LGBT communities could give the institutional church the “gift of time,” that is time to make sense of diverse experiences of gender and sexuality:

“Challenging as it may be to hear, and without setting aside the suffering that many L.G.B.T. people have experienced in the church, I wonder if the L.G.B.T. community could give the institutional church the gift of time. Time to get to know you. In a very real way, an open and public L.G.B.T. community is new, even in my lifetime. In a very real way the world is just getting to know you. So is the church. I know it’s a burden, but it’s perhaps not surprising. It takes time to get to know people. So perhaps the L.G.B.T. community can give the institutional church the gift of patience.”


Finally, Fr. Martin called for LGBT people and the institutional church to show greater sensitivity towards each other. For the church, this last point means responding to Pope Francis’ call for encounter and accompaniment, and Martin said one reason church leaders struggled to show sensitivity is they knew very few LGBT people:

“That lack of familiarity and friendship means it is more difficult to be sensitive. How can you be sensitive to a person’s situation if you don’t know them? So one invitation is for the hierarchy to come to know them as friends. . .

“In this, as in all things, Jesus is our model. When Jesus encountered people on the margins, he saw not a category but a person. To be clear, I am not saying that the L.G.B.T. community should be, or should feel, marginalized. Rather, I am saying that within the church many of them do find themselves marginalized. They are seen as ‘other.’ But for Jesus there was no ‘other.’ “

If sensitivity is based on”encounter, accompaniment, and friendship,” then it must be enacted by seeking to not offend. Using language like “objectively disordered” is not sensitive, Fr. Martin said, and further:

“Saying that one of the deepest parts of a person—the part that gives and receives love—is ‘disordered’ in itself is needlessly cruel. . .Part of sensitivity is understanding that.”

For LGBT people to show sensitivity to the institutional church, Fr. Martin said they should be aware of “who is speaking and how they are speaking.” This sensitivity means acknowledging the hierarchy of authoritative teaching, and what weight each teaching has, noting that not all statements, figures, and documents are not of equal weight. Authority is also possessed by holy people, and Fr. Martin continued:

“Moreover, there is an invitation to be sensitive to the fact that when someone in the Vatican speaks—whether the pope or a Vatican congregation—they are speaking to the whole world, not just the West, and certainly not just the United States. Something that seems tepid in the United States might be shocking in Latin America or Africa. . .

“Well, perhaps in the West those words seemed insufficient. But the pope is writing not simply for the West, much less simply for the United States. Imagine reading that in a country where violence against L.G.B.T. people is rampant and the church has remained silent. What is bland in the United States is incendiary in other parts of the world. What might be obvious to a bishop in one country is a clear, forceful, even threatening, challenge to another bishop. What seems arid to L.G.B.T. people in one country may be, in another country, water in a barren desert.”

Fr. Martin concluded his address by inviting the institutional church and the LGBT community to “step onto a bridge of mutual ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,” and said:

“Some of this may be hard to hear for the L.G.B.T. community. It is hard to step onto that bridge. And some of this may be challenging for bishops to hear. Because neither lane on that bridge is smooth. On this bridge, as in life, there are tolls. It costs when you live a life of respect, compassion and sensitivity. But to trust in that bridge is to trust that eventually people will be able to cross back and forth easily, and that the hierarchy and the L.G.B.T. community will be able to encounter one another, accompany one another and love one another. It is to trust that God desires unity.

“We are all on the bridge together. Because, of course, the bridge is the church. And, ultimately, on the other side of the bridge for each group is welcome, community and love.”

In a special appeal to LGBT Catholics, who struggle with the church and are hurt by its ministers, Martin stated:

“The Holy Spirit is supporting the church and is supporting you. . .For you are beloved children of God who, by virtue of your baptism, have as much right to be in the church as the pope, your local bishop or me. . .In short, you are not alone. Millions of your Catholic brothers and sisters accompany you, as do your bishops, as we journey imperfectly together on this bridge. More important, we are accompanied by God, the reconciler of all men and women of good will, as well as the architect, the builder and the foundation of that bridge.”

To read the full text of Fr. Martin’s address, “A Two-Way Bridge,” click here. Further information about the Bridge Building Award ceremony, including a video of the address and comments made by one of the attendees, Yayo Grassi, a gay man and former student of Pope Francis, will be posted later this week.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 31, 2016


WATCH LIVE: Fr. James Martin Addresses LGBT Issues

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Don’t Miss Out!
Watch Fr. James Martin, SJ’s Major Address LIVE!

We know you don’t want to miss Fr. James Martin, SJ’s major address advocating for LGBT Catholics after he receives New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award. We also know not everyone is able to make the event this Sunday.

But we have good news! Our staff has organized a “live stream” of the whole event.

You can join us from your computers and mobile devices for the entire Bridge Building Award ceremony and hear what promises to be an enlightening and entertaining address on Catholic outreach to LGBT people.

How and When to Watch Live:

Click here and join us at 2:00 pm Eastern Time TODAY, October 30, 2016

You will be redirected to our Facebook profile for the live video, which will appear at2pm on Sunday.

(Does the hyperlink not work? Copy and paste this link into your browser:

And it’s not too late to attend in person! Just click here to register.

We look forward to this new opportunity to join us in this historic moment!

PS: Want to spread the word to your friends? Share the link on Facebook, Twitter, email, and other social media! Your friends won’t want to miss this event!

Catholic LGBT History: 30th Anniversary of the “Ratzinger Letter”

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 will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions ofBondings 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. 

Thirty years ago today,  the Vatican released a document entitle “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” This document is probably the most influential piece of church teaching on the topic of homosexuality, and debates about it still continue among theologians, lay people, pastoral ministers, and bishops.  It set the tone for most of the very harsh messages about gay and lesbian people that emerged from Catholic leaders over the past three decades.

Because the news of this letter made headlines on the following day, October 31st, (and probably also because of the harsh content of the document) it is sometimes referred to as the “Halloween letter.”  (In fact, the Letter was actually promulgated on October 1st, but not made public until the 30th.)

Because the document was authored by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (which was the Vatican office which released it), it is also sometimes referred to as the “Ratzinger letter” or “CDF letter.”

It’s official Latin title is perhaps the most telling about the document’s contents.  Latin titles of church documents are always the first two or three words of the document itself.  In this case, the Latin title is “Homosexualitatis probelma” or “the problem of homosexuality.” From the very first words of the document, the author understood the issue in negative terms, as a problem.  The introductory paragraphs explain that the letter was written in response to a growing acceptance of homosexuality, not only in society, but in the church too:

“The issue of homosexuality and the moral evaluation of homosexual acts have increasingly become a matter of public debate, even in Catholic circles.”  (section 1)

Reading between the lines, and remembering the historical context of this document, it’s important to point out that this Letter was, in fact, a reaction to many positive developments concerning lesbian and gay persons that were occurring in Catholicism.  The 1970s and early 1980s were a rich time for discussion and initiatives in the Church around lesbian and gay issues. This Letter was designed to shut down those projects, as we shall see later in this post.

A more proximate cause of the Letter’s origin was the fact that in 1975, in the Vatican’s “Declaration on Sexual Ethics,” homosexual orientation was recognized as not a sinful state, though homosexual activity or relationships were still considered immoral.  So, in this new document, the CDF set out to clear things up:

“In the discussion which followed the publication of the Declaration, however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” (section 3)

Those last two words, “objective disorder,” were the ones which launched the major battles of the next thirty years.  Although theologians explained that it was not intended to refer to a medical or psychological disorder, but instead was a philosophical term to describe heterosexuality as part of the natural moral order,  the term has caused great pain and harm to people.  Only a few understand the philosophical nuances of it, and many who proclaim it are likely intending people to accept its very negative connotations.

In addition to the theological content of the letter, a significant feature of it was how it tried to close down any positive discussion of  lesbian and gay issues in the church.  The letter contains many references to Catholics who question or challenge the church’s teaching on homosexuality.  Some examples from the Letter:

“Nevertheless, increasing numbers of people today, even within the Church, are bringing enormous pressure to bear on the Church to accept the homosexual condition as though it were not disordered and to condone homosexual activity. Those within the Church who argue in this fashion often have close ties with those with similar views outside it. . . . The Church’s ministers must ensure that homosexual persons in their care will not be misled by this point of view, so profoundly opposed to the teaching of the Church. But the risk is great and there are many who seek to create confusion regarding the Church’s position, and then to use that confusion to their own advantage.”(section 8)

“The movement within the Church, which takes the form of pressure groups of various names and sizes, attempts to give the impression that it represents all homosexual persons who are Catholics. As a matter of fact, its membership is by and large restricted to those who either ignore the teaching of the Church or seek somehow to undermine it.” (section 9)

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

“. . . [T]his Congregation wishes to ask the Bishops to be especially cautious of any programmes which may seek to pressure the Church to change her teaching, even while claiming not to do so. A careful examination of their public statements and the activities they promote reveals a studied ambiguity by which they attempt to mislead the pastors and the faithful. For example, they may present the teaching of the Magisterium, but only as if it were an optional source for the formation of one’s conscience.” (section 14)

“The Bishops are asked to exercise special care in the selection of pastoral ministers so that by their own high degree of spiritual and personal maturity and by their fidelity to the Magisterium, they may be of real service to homosexual persons, promoting their health and well-being in the fullest sense. Such ministers will reject theological opinions which dissent from the teaching of the Church and which, therefore, cannot be used as guidelines for pastoral care.” (section 17)

“All support should be withdrawn from any organizations which seek to undermine the teaching of the Church, which are ambiguous about it, or which neglect it entirely. Such support, or even the semblance of such support, can be gravely misinterpreted. Special attention should be given to the practice of scheduling religious services and to the use of Church buildings by these groups, including the facilities of Catholic schools and colleges. To some, such permission to use Church property may seem only just and charitable; but in reality it is contradictory to the purpose for which these institutions were founded, it is misleading and often scandalous.” (section 17)

So, far from being a document which was theological in nature, the Letter had a strong emphasis on trying to repress discussion of homosexuality and in the church and to silence any and all forms of openness towards lesbian and gay people and their concerns.

The Letter had some seemingly positive statements, but these statements were always undercut by other messages in the text.  Section 10 of the Letter is a classic case of this phenomenon:

“It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.”

Yet the next paragraph undercuts any positive message from the one above:

“But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.”

In terms of pastoral care, the Letter offered similarly mixed messages. For example, in section 17 the Letter stated:

“. . . [W]e would ask the Bishops to support, with the means at their disposal, the development of appropriate forms of pastoral care for homosexual persons. These would include the assistance of the psychological, sociological and medical sciences, in full accord with the teaching of the Church.”

Yet, earlier in the Letter, they warned against scientific understandings:

“The Church is thus in a position to learn from scientific discovery but also to transcend the horizons of science and to be confident that her more global vision does greater justice to the rich reality of the human person in his spiritual and physical dimensions, created by God and heir, by grace, to eternal life.” (section 2)

And earlier on , the Letter described what an appropriate pastoral program would look like, and it was one which assumed that gay and lesbian people were always tempted towards sexual activity:

“No authentic pastoral programme will include organizations in which homosexual persons associate with each other without clearly stating that homosexual activity is immoral. A truly pastoral approach will appreciate the need for homosexual persons to avoid the near occasions of sin.” (section 15)

We are still living with the effects of the 1986 Letter, but there may be signs that some leaders in the church are moving away from it’s negative message.  During the 2015 synod, we heard many bishops state that the language of “objective disorder” and “intrinsic moral evil” needed to be scrapped.  We also see that some bishops are willing to open discussions about homosexuality, and to listen to voices which disagree with the Church’s teaching.  We see  gay-friendly parishes and diocesan programs which do not see avoidance of sexual activity as their prime focuses.

The 1986 Letter did an enormous among of pastoral harm and damage to lesbian and gay people.  Many people,  straight and gay, left the Church because of its message, and many more continue to do so when they hear its message proclaimed.

But perhaps, 30 years later, we are starting to see that the criticisms that theologians and lay people have leveled against this document are starting to reach the highest levels of the Church.

Whenever I read the Letter, I always end up having an idea that the author imagined the Church being besieged from inside and outside by people who had a positive view of lesbian and gay people.  I always imagine that the authors imagined that this Letter was building a fortress wall around the Church.  Perhaps, thirty years later, we are seeing that wall begin to crumble at least a bit.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 30, 2016

Lessons from Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Woman of Mercy

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder of New Ways Ministry, was featured by the Catholic reform organization FutureChurch as their Woman Witness of Mercy for October. The following reflection by Bondings 2.0’s Associate Editor Bob Shine was included in a resource packet on Jeannine. For more information, and to purchase the packet, click here.

home-page-slide-jeannine-gramickAfter fifty -plus years in religious life, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL has encountered numerous people and touched many lives in her ministry of justice and reconciliation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the Catholic Church. I first met Jeannine a few months after college and in this reflection, I share a little of how she has impacted my own life and what I know younger Catholics can learn from this holy and humble person.

I began at New Ways Ministry during a service year with the Loretto Volunteers. The first evening at the Volunteers’ opening retreat, held at the Sisters of Loretto’s motherhouse in Kentucky, we watched a documentary about Jeannine’s life and ministry. I lay in bed that evening and, quite overwhelmed, questioned myself on how I had jumped into such deep waters. Sisters had shared their stories with us over meals and in side conversations. Theirs were stories of integrating schools and accompanying communities, of artistry and feminist witnesses, of poetry and anti-war protests. Theirs was a mission, to paraphrase their famed former superior Sr. Mary Luke Tobin, of going out to the ends of the branches of our world because that is where the fruit resides. And I had committed to wandering out an ecclesial branch with a sister who was taking on the Catholic Church.

Events that fall would not, at first, quiet the questions from that opening retreat. Within a few weeks, I had spent a Saturday witnessing at various sites in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the Loretto Community’s 200th anniversary and helped organize Catholic events for the marriage equality campaign in Maryland. I had discovered that even the enthusiasm and energy I had at 22 could not keep pace with Jeannine and the other sisters.

With time, working alongside Jeannine and Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, I have learned much. Four years on, Jeannine and I now teach one another. It is not quite equal – I help her navigate Facebook and she helps me navigate the complexities of being a disciple of Christ – but it is a friendship I cherish. The following are four lessons Jeannine has taught me, lessons which can aid younger Catholics like myself as we find our way in the troubled church we love.

Jeannine Gramick Photo
Sister Jeannine Gramick

“What is the Catholic Church doing for gays and lesbians?” A young gay man named Dominic posed this question to Jeannine in 1971, and it would be this question that radically transformed her life. Jeannine began organizing home liturgies for gay people in the Philadelphia area, educating herself on homosexuality, offering some workshops, and, in just a few years, launched New Ways Ministry with Fr. Robert Nugent. Being open to Dominic’s question and tender to the pain of gay people excluded from the church led Jeannine down a path she never expected, but which came to define her life. I was not there, but I believe it was the Spirit speaking through Dominic when he asked that question. This story is a reminder that we, as Christians, must be ever present to the people around us, ever listening to voices at the margins, and ever willing to let the Other make claims on our life that may have profound consequences.

Don’t say the church when you mean the hierarchy. Jeannine lives committed to Vatican II’s teaching that the church is fundamentally the People of God, and that community is essential for Christian life. Before I knew Jeannine well, I thought she was a rogue figure who alone had challenged the Vatican, yet this narrative is not accurate. Her decades of ministry would not be possible without the people and communities that support her and work with her – the congregations to which she has belonged, other women religious, LGBT Catholics and their families, supporters of New Ways Ministry, theologians and scholars, and more. And Jeannine is not only supported by, but actively contributes to the communities she is in. For younger Catholics in the United States, we cannot forget how essential community will be for our journeys even if parish pews are thinning out and the hair of fellow believers’ greys. Enacting the church’s evangelical mission is not possible unless we live as the People of God: baptized as priests, called to holiness, and supporting one another whatever may come.

The envelopes need stuffing. On Tuesday evenings, you will find Jeannine with the New Ways Ministry volunteers who prepare the organization’s bulk mailings and then gather for pizza and camaraderie. Jeannine models what it means to be a leader who serves. Even though she is quite busy, she attends to people with kind notes and small loving acts. She willingly does the tedious but necessary tasks with everyone else. She works long hours to ensure every detail is correct, and exhibits a persistence in ministry possessed by few (and the teacher in her never wastes an opportunity to teach me a grammar lesson). Jeannine teaches younger Catholics that seeking ecclesial reform and renewal means hard work that is hardly glamorous. We must resolve each morning to seeking a just church, steadily running the race Christ has set before us that is not even a marathon but an ultramarathon.

“I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression.” These words, with which Jeannine responded to the Vatican’s attempt at silencing her, are a haunting reminder to me of what being Christian entails. Being part of the church means calling the church to live more fully the Gospel that we proclaim, but people will resist this threatening call. Jeannine endured two decades of degrading investigations and punitive sanctions by church leaders because she refused to believe LGBT people are anything less than wonderfully made by God. She challenges even today the church she loves and the communities to which she belongs, exercising the prophetic office which we all share through baptism as she invites all people to be reconciled. To be Christian is to prioritize Christ against all else, and there will be times when following the decisions we make in conscience leaves us isolated, rejected, and deeply pained. But we should never collaborate in our own oppression or the oppression of others, especially when it is the church for which we are responsible that is inflicting wounds.

Jeannine Gramick, SL & Bob Shine

The widespread acceptance of LGBT people among Catholics in the United States and growing acceptance internationally can largely be attributed to Jeannine’s tireless labors. She is an incarnation of these words from Blessed Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger, foundress of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, words which Jeannine introduced me to (they hang in a frame over her desk) and which are so powerful for Catholics who seek a reformed and renewed church:

“All the works of God proceed slowly and in pain; but then their roots are the sturdier and their flowering the lovelier.”

Holy people are holy not because of their greatest flowering acts, but because of their quietest habits which create sturdy and deep roots. Jeannine Gramick has acted greatly in listening to Dominic’s voice and being faithful to her response even when the Vatican bore down. Yet, the person I know Jeannine to be is a person whose quietest habits in daily life are what have most catalyzed the reception of Vatican II and renewal of the Catholic Church on matters of gender and sexuality. Honored to know Jeannine as a colleague and as a friend, I conclude with this prayer:

Radiant colors stretched across the sky,
the rainbow is your sign of loving covenant,
after flood waters bathed the earth, O Divine Creator.

From You, creation is breathed into being,
from chaotic waters, infinite diversity rises,
every person reflecting You, wonderfully made,
every creature beloved by You, wonderfully made.

Arms stretched to the ends of the Cross’ beam,
Jesus is your sign of lasting covenant,
after we forget how to love, O Divine Redeemer.

Slowly, creation seeks Your embrace by
our daily labors and our bread broken,
yet imperfect lives keep restrained the love
You poured into our beings, love to pour out.

With lives stretched outward from within,
we are your sign of liberating covenant,
after we encounter the Other, O Divine Healer.

Pierced by the Other’s inquiry of “Will you love?”
our reconciling hopes foundations for new bridges,
creating a church where God’s queer people
from margins to center come, radiant people,
lives echoing Jesus’ prayer to be One.

We are the People of God, invoking your creative breath,
as a sacrament in the world, as an outstretched rainbow
proclaiming anew in our renewing witness,
Your loving, lasting, liberating covenant.
May this be so; may we be one. Amen.

–Bob Shine,  New Ways Ministry, October 29, 2016

Reaching Out to Trans People Should Be Done with Humility, Not Pity

Two days ago, I posted a critique of Austen Ivereigh’s Crux essay entitled “Transgender debates require distinction between theory and principle,” in which he gave what I thought was a faulty definition of the ideas that some church officials label as “gender theory” or “gender ideology.”

Although I thought that Ivereigh’s essay had some faults, I thought it also contained some positive recommendations, which I would like to examine in today’s post. Along with these positive points, I’ll also continue to point out weaknesses.

First of all, Ivereigh rightly points out that often church officials and pastoral leaders are sometimes more concerned with critiquing so-called “gender ideology” than they are with providing pastoral care to transgender people.  He cites several examples–including from both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis–to support his claim.  One example that he looks at more carefully is a letter from Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, England, in which the bishop warned Catholic schools against “gender ideology.”  Ivereigh says of Davies’ letter:

“. . . [S]uch statements have mostly ignored the reality and plight of transgender people. Of the 17 paragraphs in Davies’s letter to schools ‘on the truth of the human person,’ only the first acknowledges what he calls ‘individuals who, for a variety of complex reasons, experience difficulty identifying with their biological sex, be that of male or female.’

“But after calling for ‘respect, compassion and understanding’ for such people (he never describes them as “transgender” or suffering from gender dysphoria) the remainder of the letter is a cogent summary of papal arguments against gender ideology.

“It is as if transgender people themselves are absent.”

It is good that Ivereigh highlights this glaring omission, as it is an omission from which many hierarchical statements suffer.  I’m not sure what Ivereigh’s intention is in making this point, but from my perspective, it highlights the fact that church leaders have mostly been unwilling to listen to the experience not only of transgender people, but of all LGBT people.  In one sense, Pope Francis, who has been spouting messages against “gender theory,” is the rare exception in this case, since he met with a transgender man at the Vatican, and has spoken openly about discussions with gay and lesbian people, even making public his meeting with a former student who is gay.

Ivereigh rightly notes that church leaders are following the same method that they used in dealing with gay issues–avoiding personal dialogue:

“As with the Church’s response to gay people, whose experiences have so often been ignored in the process of resisting homosexuality, this lopsided response can make the Church seem more interested in defending doctrine than in responding to concrete human suffering.”

But then Ivereigh makes a point, which, may seem on the surface to be positive, but, because it is incomplete, may not actually be so:

“In rejecting a theory or movement, Catholics can seem to reject the person – or at least to be unconcerned by them. God’s mercy, as a result, is subsumed by the focus on law and truth, creating a lopsided picture of Christianity which in Pope Francis’s view has been the principal obstacle to the Church’s evangelization.”

He’s right, of course, that the Church needs to be more concerned with people, but what he doesn’t seem to acknowledge is the fact that the Church, too, may have to develop because of the encounter with people, gaining new knowledge and perspectives as it accompanies people.  In Ivereigh’s view, mercy appears to be something that the Church dispenses to the downtrodden. I tend to think of mercy as also being an attitude of humility with which to approach the people one is ministering to, not just a balm to be offered, which can sometimes appear to be condescending.

As one of Bondings 2.0’s commenters mentioned in regard to yesterday’s post, the suffering that transgender people experience is “not from any intrinsic quality of transgenderism, but from negative and misrepresentative social reaction.”

Another weakness is that Ivereigh seems insistent on labeling “gender theorists” as the enemy.  While critical of church officials for their blind spots, he is equally harsh in describing “gender theorists”:

“Ironically, this Catholic response mirrors the way gender-theory activists attempt to harness transgender people to their cause. In both cases, the people at the center of the issue – the victims, if you like – have been largely passed over.”

I don’t know any transgender people who think they have been victimized by people who promote non-traditional views of gender.  The victimization argument fits in well with Ivereigh’s general direction in the essay of seeing transgender people as pitiable, with which I disagree.  No doubt that transgender people suffer, but to characterize them only in terms of their problems and not in terms of their strengths and gifts diminishes them.

I look forward to reading the second part of Austen Ivereigh’s analysis on Crux.  I am hoping that he will build on his positive contributions and revise some of the more negative ones.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 28, 2016





Jesuit Weekly Criticizes “Unjust Discrimination” against LGBT Church Workers

A major outlet in the English-speaking Catholic media has opined against the firing of LGBT church workers.

downloadAmerica Magazine, a Jesuit weekly in the U.S., printed an editorial titled “Unjust Discrimination” on the issue of LGBT firings. The editors opened by discussing a 2015 policy change by German bishops to prevent church workers who are divorced and remarried or in same-gender partnerships from being discriminated against in employment. The editors wrote:

“Civil unions for same-sex couples have been legal in Germany since 2001. What sparked last year’s policy change? The bishops recognized that the previous church law, which included a ‘morals clause’ for Catholic employees, was being selectively applied. . .

“Under the new law, the church in Germany can dismiss an employee who publicly expresses ‘opposition to fundamental principles of the Catholic Church—for example by support for abortion or for racial hatred’ or who disparages ‘Catholic faith content, rites or practices,’ on the grounds that these infractions would constitute a ‘grave breach of loyalty.’ “

The editorial cited Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, who at the time the German bishops announced their new policy explained that the change sought “to limit the consequences of remarriage or a same-sex union to the most serious cases [that would] compromise the church’s integrity and credibility.”

Such reasoning and reasonableness has not been present among the U.S. episcopate, even after the nation’s Supreme Court legalized marriage equality nationwide and despite the growing number of church workers who are entering same-gender marriages. The America editors noted a disparity between Catholic colleges and other Catholic institutions in the treatment of LGBT employees and acknowledged cases where “individuals have been secretly reported to their supervisors by other members of the community.” They continued:

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church, while teaching that homosexual acts cannot be morally accepted, also requires that homosexual persons be ‘accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided’ (No. 2358). The high public profile of these firings, when combined with a lack of due process and the absence of any comparable  policing of marital status for heterosexual employees, constitute signs of ‘unjust discrimination,’ and the church in the United States should do more to avoid them. In addition to any possible harm done to the employees who have been fired, the appearance of unjust discrimination weakens the church’s overall witness. The church will lose talented, devoted workers because of institutional decisions made under pressure or without sufficient discernment.”

Employment issues about gender and sexuality pose a further problem since many lay Catholics disagree with the Magisterium, yet church institutions are dependent on the same lay people whose consciences have led them to a more accepting stance. The editors asked how this situation could be sustainable in the long term, and replied:

“The answer is not to downplay or gloss over these teachings. Catholics are called to preach difficult truths about a range of subjects, including but not limited to marriage and sexuality. But what is the best way to do that? It is true that sometimes an employee of a Catholic institution can cause scandal by his or her public words or deeds. But it is also true that treating employees unfairly, by holding them to different standards or dismissing them abruptly or without consultation, can itself cause scandal.”

One proposal the editorial cited is that of Archbishop Joseph Tobin, newly named to become a cardinal in November, who advocated a case-by-case approach in a recent interview with America. There are complex questions of formation and support, too, and the editors conclude:

“The church must be free to conduct its ministries without government interference and with room to challenge prevailing social mores. But we also have a duty to proceed with wisdom and mercy, attentive to the dignity of the individual and the common good.”

This editorial from America adds significantly to Catholics’ responses against the firings as discriminatory and unjust, adding to a 2014 editorial from the National Catholic Reporter. These pieces come as more than 60 church workers have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes since just 2008. The firings continue, such as the case of  educator Kate Drumgoole and music director Michael Templeton. This latest editorial highlights both the need for positive action in defense of LGBT church workers, the complexities of church employment, and ultimately the tremendous harm done when church leaders discriminate against faithful employees.

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.

Just What Is the Definition of “Gender Ideology”?

Crux, a Catholic news website, recently published an analysis essay on transgender issues and Catholicism, written by Austen Ivereigh, one of the site’s regular contributors.  Ivereigh’s essay, the first of two parts (no indication of when the second part will appear), sets out to examine some of the current debates in what he calls a topic on which the church is “developing.”  The essay contains some weaknesses and some strengths.  Today, I will look at some of the weaknesses, and later this week, I will offer a post on its strengths.

The biggest weakness is that the author has a skewed interpretation of the term “gender ideology,” which is understandable given the fact that although church officials, even the pope, toss this term around, they have never offered a plausible definition of it.

Ivereigh lays out the problem of  Catholic discourse about transgender issues, noting that the “transgender issue is in reality two discrete phenomena”:

“On the one hand, it involves the growing awareness of a suffering group that often has been marginalized and brutalized. On the other, it is an academic theory that has grown out of feminism and gay rights that challenges the notion that gender is rooted in biological sex.”

Ivereigh is correct that this two-fold approach is what is causing so much confusion about transgender issues.  Where he misses the mark though, is in his analysis of “gender ideology,” which he explains this way:

“A person’s gender, in this thinking, is an arbitrary social construct, the result of social conditioning that can (and should be) thrown off in the quest for self-realization. Expressed in political action, it demands not just ‘rights’ for transgender people – their own bathrooms, and so on – but the abolition from public documents and passports of the very notions of masculinity and femininity.”

The problem with Ivereigh’s thinking is that he reduces the whole field of gender theory to social constructionism.  Not all people who argue for rights for transgender people hold this view. Most trans people and theorists affirm the fact that gender identity is, in fact, a psychological experience, not one defined by social roles.

Similarly, not all trans people and theorists are pushing for the erasure of masculinity and femininity.  What they are asking from governments is their right to be accurately described in official documents.   And trans people are not asking for “their own bathrooms,” but for the ability to use whichever bathroom available is appropriate for them.

Ivereigh’s big weakness becomes magnified even worse when he claims:

“The task for the Church is to work out how, on the one hand, to critique the theory as false and to resist this new public ideology, while on the other mercifully to embrace those suffering from gender dysphoria as vulnerable people in need of pastoral care and the Church’s protection.”

As for the first part of the claim,  I ask a simple question:  “Why?”

Why does the church have to critique this theory as false and resist new accommodations that make trans people more integrated into social and civic life?   I think the church could learn a lot if it paid more positive attention to these theories and learned from them.  Learning more about these theories could help end the stifling and deadening gender discrimination which infects our church at all levels.

As for the second part of the claim, it is true that the church needs to reach out to trans people more, but not just to give them  comfort, as Ivereigh suggests, but also to learn from their experiences and unique spiritual and personal gifts.

As I mentioned above, Ivereigh’s essay does make some good points, and I’ll look at them in the second part of this blog post, later in the week.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 26, 2016