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

August 27, 2016

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. 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 whom 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” “Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships, ex-official says”

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

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

August 25, 2016

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, 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 “Vatican issues its own sex ed guidelines





Parents Implore Pope to Put an End to Homophobia in Poland

August 19, 2016

We’ve often commented on this blog that the Catholic parents of LGBT people are among the strongest advocates in the Church for equality and justice.  Parents’ groups have been speaking boldly and effectively around the globe, perhaps most notably here in the U.S. through the organization Fortunate Families, and in Malta through the organization Drachma Parents.

A new set of parental voices has joined this growing chorus, this time from the very Catholic nation of Poland.  When Pope Francis visited there last month for World Youth Day, a group of parents of 16 gay Poles wrote to the pontiff, asking him to help put an end to the “widespread” homophobia which they say exists in their nation. reported on the parents’ letter:

“Pointing to a recent string of ‘attacks on offices of organisations working with homosexuals, burning of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) symbols, and beatings of non-heterosexuals,’ the group implored Francis to intervene.

” ‘Instead of compassion for families, society is engulfed by a wave of homophobia,’ the group said in an open letter, which was published by several Polish newspapers and magazines in the past week [end of July].

” ‘Only the voice of Your Holiness can prevent future tragedies,’ they told Francis, who famously remarked ‘Who am I to judge?’ about gays earlier in his papacy.”

The news report described other important passages from the letter, including the experience of LGBT Poles, and the failure of the Polish church to protect the dignity of LGBT people:

” ‘On a daily basis, our children face hate attacks, verbal assaults and even physical violence only because they were created that way by God,’ said the parents, who did not publish their full names for fear of reprisals.

 ” ‘Why is there so much homophobia among Polish Catholics?’ they asked, quoting passages from Church teachings that call for gays and lesbians to ‘be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.’

” ‘Why aren’t priests reminding people in their sermons that LGBT people are also God’s children and only God can judge them?’

” ‘Jesus himself never said anything about the love between people of the same sex,’ the letter said.”

Unfortunately, Pope Francis did not address LGBT issues in any of his public addresses at World Youth Day, though he did refer negatively to gender issues in a private meeting with Polish bishops.

One Polish gay advocate feels that Francis’ more positive messages on LGBT issues is having an influence on the minds and attitudes of Catholic Poles. reported:

” ‘It’s not yet at the point in history when the Catholic Church in Poland would be ready to agree (to officially recognise LGBT groups) — we are not yet there,’ [said] Misza Czerniak, an LGBT activist.

“He however acknowledged that ‘Francis has changed the tone and the vocabulary that is used when speaking about LGBT people in the Church, and we are extremely grateful for that.’

” ‘And what is a big sign of hope for us, is that the Polish church is gradually learning from him.’ “

Catholic parents of LGBT people are the true prophets in our Church.  Their journeys of acceptance and love, their experience of understanding new realities, are exactly the same journey that the entire Church, especially the hierarchy, need to learn.  Parents have a lot to teach church leaders about unconditional love, and about treating all people equally as brothers and sisters.  Their strong voices in support of their LGBT children are a true gift to our Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry.

In Ontario, Catholic Teachers Pave the Way for LGBTQ Inclusion

August 15, 2016
Kevin portrait

Kevin Welbes Godin

Today’s post is by guest blogger Kevin Welbes Godin.

For the past four years, I have served as Equity and Diversity Coordinator at Egale Canada, a national LGBTIQ2S equality organization.  My work has primarily been with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), the world’s largest Catholic teachers’ union, helping them to better serve their LGBT students.

While the slogging is still tough in Catholic schools, definite gains are being made for LGBTQ youth.  Egale Canada has faithfully supported the training of Catholic teachers and has touted this service as “one of a kind” in the world.  Contrary to what some conservative Catholics may think, many members of the LGBTQ community have been supportive of the work Catholic teachers are doing to create safer and accepting schools for LGBTQ students.

Many Catholics, including myself, still expect our Catholic hierarchy to lead. After all, it is a bishop’s role to teach. Many educated, concerned Catholics have questioned local Catholic authorities as to why there is such a roaring silence that plays into structural homo/bi/transphobia in schools.  Perhaps Church overseers are choosing to be silent toward our LGBTQ brothers and sisters because they see the rest of us so willing to take the lead?  Even if unconsciously, I wonder if the spirit of Vatican II is swirling in the minds of episcopal gents as many Catholics refuse to let stubborn, rigid language and rules ruin and even take people’s lives?   It would be good to hear from our Bishop-teachers, though, right?   They still exercise the power when they choose to.

Ontario Catholic teachers have resoundingly told me that LGBTQ inclusion–creating safer schools and curriculum–is a priority.  OECTA members participated in Egale Canada’s “Every Teacher Project.”  Have a look at the report by clicking here.  This research tells a good story of where Catholic educators want the Catholic school system to move.  Here are some of the key findings:

What the classroom teacher sees as a need, doesn’t always get reflected as a priority for a  school board.

Religious schools are often assumed to be sites that are hostile to LGBTQ-inclusive education, but educators from Catholic schools were only slightly less likely to approve of LGBTQ-inclusive education (83% vs. 85% of respondents from secular schools), and slightly more likely to be opposed to it (6% vs. 4%). This suggests that the relationship between educators’ perspectives on the issue and the official perspectives of their schools is not a straightforward one.

Catholic teachers want to do the job of LGBTQ inclusion, but…

 Educators from Catholic schools were much less likely to feel comfortable discussing LGBTQ issues with their students (57%) than those from secular schools (76%), even though, as noted earlier, they were almost as likely to approve of LGBTQ-inclusive education (83% vs. 85%). This suggests that their discomfort has more to do with their school context than with their personal values.

Teachers know what they need and the kind of leadership necessary to support their work with LGBTQ inclusion.

 When asked why they did not practice LGBTQ-inclusive education, very few Catholic school educators cited their own religious beliefs. Their biggest reason for not practicing LGBTQ-inclusive education was insufficient training (29% vs. 17% from secular schools), followed by fear-based reasons concerning lack of leadership.

Even without leadership, Catholic teachers are boldly standing in solidarity with their LGBTQ students. Among their accomplishments:

Many Catholic schools have established Ontario’s legislated Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA).

Recently, I was invited to a Catholic high school assembly that openly proclaimed the need to be more inclusive of its LGBTQ students and staff.  While the chaplain prophetically spoke gospel truth to institutional power, students rallied and advocated for a school GSA, and the school administrators led the line in signing the rainbow flag.

Catholic student leaders keep the system accountable.

Across the province of Ontario, I’ve seen courageous student leaders, fueled by a deep passion, and tired of being invisible, raise their voices to challenge lackadaisical Catholic school boards. They urge these boards to support  LGBTQ students and keep them safe.  Catholic student trustees continue to make LGBTQ inclusion a priority on their school boards.

Many OECTA local units, especially the Toronto Secondary Unit, stand in solidarity with LGBTQ members.

Marching in Pride parades, advocating for LGBTQ member human rights, and speaking strongly to other Catholic partners all need to continue.  The time has arrived, and sitting on our hands and exercising a complicit silence can no longer be the norm if Catholic schools in Ontario are to viably speak to its students and teachers and remain authentic to the gospel mandate to love.

All sorts of resources and new social and cultural initiatives have been added to schools.

School libraries showcase books on diverse families (same-sex families). School hallways advertise pink shirt days and safe space initiatives.  A Catholic high school outside Toronto crowned Prom-Queens!  Rainbow flags are expressly being waved inside and outside schools.  These and more continue to be signs that LGBTQ inclusion is countering the nervous, nibbled-knee responses that have darkened the Spirit in the past.

Catholic teachers have recognized the “signs of the times” and are acting accordingly, and quickly, to support the dignity and well-being of LGBTQ students.  The problem is with those who wait, doing nothing,  while the suicide rate of LGBTQ youth is four times the average.  Gratitude is to those who take the prophetic, bold steps to seize the moment and stand with the most vulnerable.

Courage will still be needed to stand in the face of hate, and dignity will be needed to sway those who prefer a splintered community.   As we forge ahead, let us raise each other up, stand arm in arm, and wholehearted welcome the part of the Body of Christ that is LGBTQ.

Yes, the slogging still remains tough, but as Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn said, “nothing worth happening comes without some kind of fight.”  Continue on… there’s no turning back now.

–Kevin Welbes Godin


The Murder of Paul Broussard: A Catholic Bishop Speaks Out

August 14, 2016

History-Option 1

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

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions 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. 

1991: “The Murder of Paul Broussard”

In 1991, the gay-bashing death of a young Houston banker sparked a strong reaction from the local Catholic bishop in which he stated that to hate homosexuals “is to offend God.”

Paul Broussard was brutally beaten by ten youths–nine of whom were high school students–when he and his friends were leaving a nightclub in the Montrose section of Houston, known as a gay neighborhood, in the early morning hours of July 4, 1991.  Broussard was just blocks away from his home.  He was fatally stabbed twice during the attack.

First responders were slow to arrive at the scene, which was seen as a common practice for incidents in the Montrose neighborhood at that time because of fear of the AIDS virus.  The medical examiner indicated that “delay in treatment” was a cause of Broussard’s death.  In the days that followed, the city’s police chief declared that he had no intention of solving the crime, sparking days of protest marches at the mayor’s home by the gay community.  The protests went on to become the largest gay rights demonstration in Houston’s history.  Eventually, the attackers were apprehended and plea bargained to receive prison time.

Paul Broussard

On August 9th of that year, in the midst of all this turmoil, Houston’s Bishop Joseph Fiorenza took the unprecedented step of speaking out to condemn the brutality of this attack.  No bishop had ever spoken up against a gay bashing in such a public way. In a column in The Texas Catholic Herald entitled “The Death of Paul Broussard,” Fiorenza stated:

“To hate homosexuals is to offend God whose creative love gives life to every person and it is a violation of the Church’s teaching that every human being has immeasurable value and dignity which is to be respected by others. “

Fiorenza provided a theological basis for this claim:

“. . . [I]t is a religious truth that every person, regardless of lifestyle, is a child of God , formed in His image.  The ‘image of God’ in every person, whether a homosexual, a bisexual, or a heterosexual, is what gives dignity and worth to each individual, and is the reason that every person is th subject of human and civil rights.”

The bishop also got more specific in his instructions about how to eradicate the homophobia which caused such cruel acts:

“Any hatred of homosexuals or jokes about gay bashings or calling homosexuals by common epithets is clearly a violation of our responsibility to love as Christ loves every human person.  To hate or to violate another person, no matter whoo he or she is, continues the cyle of violence that can lead to other Paul Broussards’ being brutally killed just because they were thought to be homosexuals.  Please God, this will never again happen in our community. “

Bishop Fiorenza

Fiorenza also explained some recent experiences which brought the Broussard murder into a clearer focus for him:

“Shortly after Paul’s murder, I visited Central Europe and Berlin where I saw evidence of neo-Nazi anti-semitism   We must not forget that the demonic evil of Nazism also targeted homosexuals for the gas chambers.  Hitler wanted them eliminated.  God forbid that the Nazi hatred for homosexual would ever infiltrate into our community.  It is possible, however, if we are not alert to its dangers, and if we fail to teach the God-given dignity and worth of every human person.”

In an interesting move, the bishop also acknowledged that the failure to proclaim this teaching was part of the problem which caused gay bashing:

“. . . [O]ur tradtional mediating institutions [religious congregations, schools and homes] have failed society if anyone thinks ‘gay bashing’ is an acceptable form of diversion. Or what is worse, if any member of our religious congregations and schools has developed a hatred for homosexuals.”

He stressed that  the church’s teaching about human dignity needed to be proclaimed more strongly:

“The Church has always made an important anc clear distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual genital activity.  The Church has not and does not condemn those with a homosexual orientation.  Furthermore, every religious faith teaches that homosexuals are to be respected and loved as brothers and sisters in the human family and any attack upon them is a violation of religious principles.

“In view of the tragic death of Paul Broussard, it is timely for all faiths to recall this teaching to that it will be clearly understood and hopefully prevent a repeat of deaths resulting from ‘gay bashing.’ “

Bishop Firorenza’s example stands as a witness which should motivate Catholic bishops around the world to speak out against violence inflicted on the LGBT community.  This lesson is particularly important for the bishops who continue to support laws which criminalize and severely penalize LGBT people.  The teaching on human dignity is clear and unambiguous.  Application of this teaching to these situations should be similarly clear and unambiguous.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



Australian Liturgy Answers Pope Francis’ Call for Apology

August 12, 2016

At the end of June, Pope Francis made headlines when he called on the church to apologize to lesbian and gay people for the harm that they have experienced.  In the six weeks since the pope made that call, no church leader or organization has accepted the pope’s challenge.  Until today.

What is likely the first public apology to LGBTIQ people in response to Pope Francis’ statement, an Australian Catholic parish and a Catholic LGBT coalition will be hosting a “An Apology Liturgy to LGBTIQ People” today, in which the two groups will ask pardon of the sexual and gender minority community, and seek to chart a more just course for the future.

RCiA-Ecumenical Orlando roundatable2

‘Pastoral organizers including St Joseph’s Church Newtown Parish Priest Father Peter Maher (3rd from right) at an ecumenical pastoral leaders’ roundtable hosted by the interagency’

The Mass is being sponsored by St. Joseph’s Church, Newtown (a suburb of Sydney), and the Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry, an umbrella group for several Australian Catholic groups that work for LGBT equality.

“We are taking Pope Francis’ words to heart, along with all the other positive things he has had to say over the years, not only about gay people, but also about Jesus’ words to welcome, heal relationships and show mercy” said Father Peter Maher, pastor of St Joseph’s, in a press statement.

Francis Vroon, a Rainb0w Catholics Interagency for Ministry spokesperson noted the innovative and unique experience this Mass will be:

“Perhaps for the first time in Australia, and possibly the world, we have a Catholic Church respond to these words, where we are inviting people of goodwill to community prayer in recognition of our church’s and collective failure to keep LGBTIQ people safe from discrimination and hurt. More importantly, we pledge that we do better from here on.”

Vroon noted that in hosting the Mass, the group  was joining with Pope Francis and the newly appointed Bishop of Parramatta, Vincent Long, in acknowledging the ways that the church has harmed or failed to protect LGBTIQ people.

Noting that just over 25% of the Australian population identifies as Catholic Vroon added:

“It may be also be possible that one in four people in the LGBTIQ community has come from a Catholic background, church or school. Many have left our church, some have remained, finding peace in reconciling both their sexuality and faith.”

The groups’ press statement offered an explanation of the purpose of having a Mass of Forgiveness, not just issuing a statement:

What can our humble prayer service do? In our Catholic tradition, we have a saying ‘lex orandi, lex credendi’ which is a fancy way of saying that what we pray informs our beliefs. As we pray for forgiveness, we resolve to change our hearts and be part of the healing process for those we have hurt or failed. One of our saints has been quoted as saying ‘Pray as if everything depended on God, Work as if everything depended on you.’ Some might say that words are empty without action, and perhaps we need the LGBTIQ community to keep us accountable, in positively encouraging ways. We have to start somewhere, and we hope our prayers are a beginning, as we start to walk with our LGBTIQ siblings in relationships that lead to a change of hearts towards each other. And then who knows what good fruits will be born of this?”

The Mass will be held at 8:00 p.m. on August 12th at St. Joseph’s, whose mission statement says is “to provide a safe place for all people to pray regardless of age, race, creed, gender, cultural background or sexual orientation.”  The parish was featured last year in a Bondings 2.0 post because of the rainbow banners which are a permanent fixture in the church building.

The Rainbow Catholics Interagency describes itself as a “coalition of Catholic organisations whose primary purpose is to build relationships, to pray, and to educate, in advocating for justice and the full inclusion of LGBTIQ Catholics and their families in the Australian Catholic Church and our larger community. Their members include parents, clergy, religious and pastoral leaders from various parts of the Australian Catholic community.”

New Ways Ministry will be praying with these groups, and we encourage all of our friends to do the same.  We will also be praying that other leaders, parishes, and church organizations will follow their example and make some public statement or action of apology, as Pope Francis has asked.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Putting Pope Francis’ “Ideology of Gender” Comments in Context

August 10, 2016
Cristina Traina

Cristina Traina

Today’s post is by guest blogger Cristina Traina, Professor of Religious Studies, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.  Professor Traina is also a member of New Ways Ministry’s Advisory Board.


At World Youth Day in Krakow last month, Pope Francis again condemned “the ideology of gender.” The outcry from LGBTQ advocates that resulted was both predictable and understandable.  Francis once again upheld gender essentialism against the more complex experiences of LGBTQ people.  Once again he seemed paternalistically to prefer a “simple faith” over sophisticated theological reflection on gender.  And once again he seemed simply to repeat the maxims of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

And yet it would be too bad to overlook an important difference in Francis’s position, a difference we need to understand if we hope to have thoughtful discussions on LGBTQ issues with people of his persuasion. Specifically, we can listen more closely to Francis’s claim that rich countries are unjustly shoving the idea of gender choice down the throats of poor ones. We hear Francis as if he were talking primarily about gender, but for him the real problems are northern cultural imperialism and the still-potent effects of colonialism.

The story behind the slogan “the ideology of gender”—a slogan that almost always appears in the context of coercion of poor countries—concerns a loan for the construction of schools for the poor. Its approval, Francis notes, was contingent on a minister of education accepting and using a textbook that the funders prescribed in which “gender theory was taught.”  In Francis’ words:

Pope Francis

“This is ideological colonization. They introduce an idea to the people that has nothing to do with the people. With groups of people yes, but not with the people. And they colonize the people with an idea which changes, or means to change, a mentality or a structure….certain loans in exchange for certain conditions….Why do I say ‘ideological colonization’? Because they take, they actually take the need of a people to seize an opportunity to enter and grow strong — through the children.”

It’s clear from the context that the situation was coercive:  if you want to borrow our money to serve children in desperate need of education, you will use the book that we approve, whether or not it makes sense to your students in their historical and cultural setting or addresses their most pressing educational deficits.

From Francis’s perspective, northern countries who still benefit from colonialism should not be placing endless conditions on almost all forms of grant-in-aid, and even interest-bearing loans, that they make to the global south, as if southern countries should “earn” northern support.  Rather, as a matter of justice northern nations should be freely sharing wealth, academic expertise, and other advantages they wrongly gained from colonialism with their neighbors whom they wrongly impoverished by it.  That some conditions the north places on aid seem intended to undermine what he perceives as southern nations’ last outposts of strength, their family networks, is the last straw.

I’m not arguing that Francis does not have a traditional Argentinian cultural view of gender as binary.  He does.  I’m not arguing that he’s demonstrated a subtle understanding of LGBTQ experiences of gender.  He hasn’t.  And I’m not arguing that all Latin American family traditions are always empowering.  They aren’t.  But what Francis is saying, we need to hear:  if almost nothing the global north has forced on the global south has benefited it, if almost everything the global north does is poisoned by self-interest, and if almost everything it has imposed has destroyed southern cultural systems, why should he trust the global north on gender?

We can work, write, and pray for Francis’s conversion on this issue.  But in the meantime, here is an opportunity for creative response to his legitimate frustration with the global north.  We can recognize that bad delivery systems compromise good content.  For example, despite coercive, ultimately unsuccessful northern methods of “conversion” that Bartolomé de Las Casas condemned nearly 500 years ago when the dominant approach evangelization method of European explorers was, in his words, to “annoy, persecute, afflict, and arouse” Native Americans. Some northerners managed to follow his advice of employing “the power of gentleness, service, kindness, and the words of the gospel to encourage them to put on the gentle yoke of Christ.”  He argued for this, and more, for Native American peoples European courts.  He didn’t always win.  But thanks in part to his critique of coercion, Christianity stuck.

Likewise, we northerners believe that the Spirit of freedom and truth is truly stirring among LGBTQ people today.  Yet, our governments and multinational institutions are justly accused of repeating the sin of coercion.  What if, despite our marginalization, we recognized our comparative privilege and power? What if we used that power to lobby not just for loans, but for reparations, for the global south?  What if, in addition to continuing our important efforts at gentle, kind, compassionate service to LGBTQ people worldwide, we used that power to convince our perhaps well-meaning but coercive governments to be less heavy-handed?  That might preach.  Like Bartolomé de Las Casas, we will lose some cases.  But our message too will eventually stick.

–Cristina Traina

Related posts

Bondings 2.0: “Pope’s Lament About Children and Gender Identity Reveals Serious Blind Spot

Bondings 2.0: Pope Francis’ Remarks on Gender in Schools Deemed Ambiguous, Out of Touch


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