The Many–And Wrong–Definitions of ‘Gender Ideology’

Earlier this month, the bishops of Panama met with Pope Francis, and the conversation turned to the Vatican buzzword of “gender ideology.”   It is difficult to define exactly what is meant by that term which only church leaders seem to use.  It has never been clearly defined.  In a Crux news story about the meeting, Vatican correspondent Inés San Martín  initially defined gender ideology as:

“. . . [A]ttempts by Western governments and NGOs to impose a permissive sexual morality on poor countries as a condition of development assistance.”

Just two paragraphs later, she changed the definition to:

“. . . [T]he idea that sexual orientation and identity are self-determined rather than given in nature, and it’s seen as a cornerstone of a secular Western vision.”

Cardinal José Luis Lacunza

Cardinal José Luis Lacunza, bishop of David, Panama who publicly discussed “gender ideology” with the press after he met with the pope, seemed to put forward yet a different definition that deals with sex education in schools.  According to Crux:

“Lacunza too brought up the issue of gender theory, saying that in Panama, teaching a liberal, Western form of sexual education in schools is considered a human right, but ‘from our perspective of faith, this has nothing to do with human rights.

” ‘The human rights homosexual people must have are in respect to their dignity, their choices, and that they are not discriminated against,’ Lacunza said. ‘But to go from there to pushing so that society should accept those choices as something good, desirable, digestible, and that it is taught to little children, we are not willing to go there.’ “

One of the main problems of keeping the term “gender ideology” so undefined is that it allows users of the term to let it fit it to whatever idea they want to criticize.  So, while sometimes it is used to describe new ideas of gender roles, it is also used to denigrate gender transition and transgender people, as well as to oppose legal rights for lesbian and gay people.

No educational curriculum that I have read about forces people to make choices about their gender or their sexual orientation.  No one really chooses such things.  Rather, people discover these identities within themselves, just as they, in the normal process of adult development, discover other parts of their psychological and emotional make-up.

So, while the cardinal talks about accepting “choices as something good, desirable, digestible,” in fact he is not talking about the real lives of LGBT people, but about a myth and stereotype about them.

Archbishop José Ulloa Mendieta

Another prelate who met with the pope, Archbishop José Ulloa Mendieta of Panama City, defined gender theory in yet another way, and characterized it as “diabolical.”   The National Catholic Reporter quoted him:

“Ulloa said that gender theory, which argues that male and female characteristics are largely malleable social constructs, is ‘diabolical’ in that ‘it wants to break a bit with the reality of the family.’ “

Again, this is simply incorrect.  For example, transgender people do not say that their gender identity is malleable or socially constructed, but rather that their stable, interior identity does not match their physical body.

Diabolical? Nothing can be further than the truth.  Growth in self-knowledge is not diabolical, but, indeed, it is divinely inspired as people develop an awareness and acceptance of the way God has blessed them to experience the world and to love other people.

Using the term “gender ideology” is a rhetorical strategy.  First of all, using the term makes it sound like it is an alternative to something natural and de facto.  But, for LGBT people, isn’t the promotion of  heterosexual and cisgender norms a form of ideology?

Secondly, it is a strategy to make a set of ideas sound sinister.  Whoever thinks anything that is an “ideology” is good?  Furthermore, the term makes it sound like there is a master plan lurking behind the “ideology,”  when, in fact, what is behind most of our discussions about gender and sexuality are people who are struggling to live honest and authentic lives.

Pope Francis himself has used the term “gender ideology” as a reference to supposed programs about gender with which he disagrees.  Unfortunately, he, and many other church officials, are often misinformed about the reality of new ways of living out one’s gender.  Church leaders need so much education on gender and sexuality so that they will not use such meaningless and incorrect terms to describe the most intimate facets of people’s lives.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 25,  2017

Dear Bishop Paprocki: An Open Letter

As we reported in yesterday’s Bondings 2.0 post, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, has issued a wide-ranging decree barring lesbian and gay couples in civil marriages from communion, pastoral leadership, being granted funerals, among other things.  The following is an open letter to Bishop Paprocki in response to that decree from New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo.  

New Ways Ministry recommends you to send your own letter to Bishop Paprocki, and we encourage you to communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with him.  

Contact information:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Catholic Pastoral Center

1615 West Washington Street

Springfield, Illinois 62702-4757

Phone: (217) 698-8500



Dear Bishop Paprocki,

Your “Decree Regarding Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ and Related Pastoral Issues” has been received by Catholics across the nation with one of the strongest negative reactions that I have witnessed in almost 25 years of ministry with the LGBT community in the Church.

While there have been many harsh and negative statements from church leaders over the past quarter century, I think the reason that people responded so emotionally to your edict is that it addresses two very core Catholic areas:  sacramental experience and life/death issues.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Of all the responses that I have heard and read in just the last day–and they have been numerous–the directives you issued which have wounded people most deeply are your prohibition of communion reception by married lesbian and gay people, and your denial of funeral services to the same group.  Catholics just do not understand how such regulations correlate with a Church that preaches love and inclusion.

Most Catholics are well aware that you do not support civil marriage for lesbian and gay people and respect the legal right of Churches not to marry such couples. But Catholics do not understand how this one area of disagreement can lead to such draconian measures of exclusion–especially at times of death, loss, and grief.

Despite whatever good intentions may have motivated you to issue these regulations, you need to know they will, in fact, do no pastoral good, and they will wreak much pastoral harm.  You have not singled out any other group for such negative pastoral treatment.  It seems as if you consider civil same-sex marriage to be the ultimate sin, beyond the pale of any of the countless ways that human beings do not follow church teaching.

Regardless of whatever doctrines you think you are enforcing, the effect of such enforcement will be that more and more Catholics–gay, lesbian, heterosexual, bisexual, transgender, and all in-between–will leave the Church because of the negative images of LGBT people and the Catholic Church that you have communicated.  And many will never return.

What’s more, the negative messages that you sent will be heard by many young people (and some who are not so young) who are struggling with their sexual and gender identities.  They will interpret this message as one more piece of evidence that the Church and God do not love them.  That message will move them many steps closer to psychological harm, self-destructive behaviors and tragically, for some, suicide.

Many gay and lesbian couples are leading lives of heroic devotion to each other, their children, and their communities.  Many, too, are leading lives of struggles and stumbles, where they are seeking support from churches.  Those couples who are Catholic seek nourishment for their spiritual and human journeys.  They seek a community where they can share and develop their faith through education, relationship, service, and ritual. They seek Eucharist.

Catholics, who are often very aware of how their lives in many ways do not conform to ideals that the church has presented them, are ready and eager to welcome these lesbian and gay couples into their communities and their hearts.  No Catholic, not even the pope who famously offered the primary definition of himself as a “sinner,” is perfect.  All fall short.  All depend on grace.  The many who seek grace through membership and participation in the Catholic Church should not be denied God’s free gift.

I hope and pray that you will reflect not only on the harm that this decree will cause but also the good that can occur if you withdraw it.  Please welcome lesbian and gay families back into the Springfield Diocese’s Catholic parishes.


Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry, June 23, 2017







CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Hawaii Bishop Raises $$$ to Oppose Marriage Equality

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 of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Hawaii Bishop Raises Funds Opposing Marriage Equality

One of the earliest U.S. cases to sue for the right of same-sex couples in Hawaii was the Baehr v. Miike case in Hawaii, which was in state courts from 1990-1999.  Perhaps not surprisingly, it was also one of the first instances where a Catholic bishop became involved to prevent a marriage equality outcome.

In 1993, Baehr v. Miike was decided by a split Hawaii Supreme Court decision which sent the case back to a lower court to be retried.  The Supreme Court put the burden on the state to show that it had a compelling interest in the matter of marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples.

Hawaii responded with a legislative commission to study marriage equality, and in 1995 recommended the passage of a law granting marriage rights to lesbian and gay couples.

In response, some legislators proposed a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as being only for heterosexual couples.  The amendment was put on the ballot for a state-wide referendum in 1998.  And that’s where the Catholic bishop of Hawaii stepped in.

Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo

A June 19, 1998, news story in The National Catholic Reporter revealed:

“In a novel move, Honolulu Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo has appealed to his mainland colleagues to urge wealthy lay Catholics to back a Hawaii lobbying group opposed to same-sex marriage.

“The Hawaii State Supreme Court’s effort to mandate same-sex marriages has to be stopped, DiLorenzo wrote last month in a letter to all U.S. bishops.

In the letter to his brother bishops, DiLorenzo warned that the Hawaii case had “implicates for all the people of the United States.”

The newspaper reported the type of donations he was seeking:

“DiLorenzo wants donations (not in excess of $1,000 per person) to go to a ‘grassroots, nonreligious, nonpartisan, non candidate political action committee, Save Traditional Marriage 98.’  DiLorenzo said at an opening fundraiser that STM needs ‘almost a million dollars.’

The Hawaii campaign against marriage equality was successful in 1998, and the constitutional amendment passed.  In  1999, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that, in light of the new constitutional amendment, their earlier decision was no longer in effect.

Hawaii passed a marriage equality bill in 2013, after the U.S. Supreme Court case United States v. Windsor invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act and similar laws.

Bishop DiLorenzo was appointed as Bishop of Richmond, Virginia, by Pope John Paul II in 2004.   Marriage equality became legal in all 50 states in 2015.

Many millions and millions more dollars were spent by Catholic officials and organizations to oppose marriage equality.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 18, 2017



Missouri Diocese Issues Guidelines on Accepting Students from ‘Non-traditional’ Families

The Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, has issued a set of guidelines which encourage its Catholic schools to be open to accepting students from “non-traditional” families, including those with LGBT members.  At the same time, the guidelines require all parents to make a pledge of loyalty to church doctrine.

In what may be the first set of such policies in the U.S. church which stress conversation, the Jefferson City diocese has established the guideline that “Wherever possible, enrollment is the goal,”  according to a news report in The Fulton Sun.

op-story-lgbt-safety-300x250The guidelines were issued by Sister Elizabeth Youngs, diocesan superintendent of schools, and were approved by Bishop John Gaydos, the diocesan bishop.

While the guidelines emphasize conversation and acceptance, they also offer the requirement of parents signing a “Covenant of Trust,”  which the news report describes as enumerating:

“. . . a school’s expectations regarding how parents are to validate the church’s teachings at home.

” ‘We are not going to change what it is that we teach in compliance with our church to make somebody else comfortable, Youngs said.

Another goal of the guidelines is to emphasize evaluation of the situation.  The guidelines offer the following recommendations:

” . . . ‘[S]pecial needs’ of students — which include being a member of the LGBT community or having parents who are — are to be evaluated in the same manner as learning, physical and psychiatric disabilities: A Catholic school is willing to make accommodations up to a point, but past that, students from non-traditional families are probably better served elsewhere. The documents provide frameworks for pastors and principals to lead those conversations with parents.”

If it is found that a parent has violated the “Covenant of Trust,” then the student may be expelled from the school.  The newspaper reported:

“If it becomes clear through a student’s conduct that the partnership parents agreed to in the covenant is not going to work out, Youngs said, schools may ask parents to withdraw their student. The same is already true of discipline issues and of students outgrowing the resources a school is able to provide for needs like learning disabilities.”

The good news here is that the Diocese of Jefferson City appears to be willing to dialogue with parents, rather than rejecting students outright because of LGBT issues.  Dialogue and conversation are always beneficial.  It is interesting to note that The Fulton Sun reported that some critics of the policy would like an outright ban on LGBT students or students whose parents are LGBT.  The diocese has not chosen to do this, so the new policy is at least a first step.

In fact, one diocesan administrator sees that dialogue will be important not even for working with nontraditional families, but with the Catholics who oppose support for non-traditional families.  The news article stated:

“[Associate Superintendent of Schools Sister Julie] Brandt said any bridges that can be built with opponents of the diocese’s guidance can use the same processes the documents lay out: encouragement of dialogue and conversations about questions.

” ‘By being able to engage in some civil conversation, and not just accusatory conversation, I think we all grow,’ she said.

” ‘I really believe the Holy Spirit is active in our church,’ she added. Through prayer, ‘the Spirit is guiding us in this, even in the midst of what at times seems to be challenges and disagreements.’ “

The bad news is that asking parents to sign a “Covenant of Trust” already singles them out as people who are suspect, treating them as people who are accepted only under certain conditions.  Will other families whose lives, beliefs, and actions violate other areas of church teaching face the same penalties as non-traditional families or are only sexual and gender matters singled out?

Another negative is that it seems that school officials will be monitoring students from nontraditional families to see if the parents are violating the “Covenant of Trust.” The news article reported:

“As for fears of whether parents will abide by the agreements they sign on to, ‘how can we monitor anything that we ask parents to do?’ Youngs said.

” ‘We’re not living in the houses with families,’ Brandt said. They do make observations of the students’ actions, though, like a student saying, “‘Well, my mom says this isn’t right.'” “

The Diocese of Jefferson City’s policies have value as a transitional step toward full acceptance of families with LGBT members.  It is a step forward, much better than the more draconian policies instituted in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 2015.

The Jefferson City policy can be successful if it is used as a genuine tool of welcome, instead of a tool for suspicion.  Perhaps the experience of conversations with so many families of very different compositions will help to move towards a new policy where all will truly be welcome.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 15, 2017

Related article:

Jefferson City News Tribune:  “Diocese schools get advice on ‘non-traditional’ families”







Blog Meet-Up in Atlanta, Georgia!

small-group-discussion-clipart-1If you enjoy reading Bondings 2.0, you will probably enjoy meeting others who also are part of this blog community!  New Ways Ministry will be hosting a gathering in Atlanta, Georgia, next week for blog readers to meet one another and discuss in person some of the Catholic LGBT topics important to their hearts.

All are welcome to drop by and say hello!

Event details:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017, 7:00-8:30 pm
Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
48 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, NW
Atlanta, Georgia 30303
(inexpensive parking lot available)
Moderators:  Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo

Court Decision Against Gay Employee Should Not Be Final Word

The news that a gay man’s suit against the Chicago-area Catholic parish which fired him was dismissed by a judge because of the religious exemption rule is disappointing, but should not be the last word on this case.

U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras told Colin Collette, who was fired as music director from Holy Family parish, Inverness, that his suit against both the parish and the Archdiocese of Chicago was dismissed because churches are exempt from employment discrimination laws if the position in question is deemed to be ministerial.

Colin Collette

The Arlington Daily Herald reported that Kocoras viewed Collette to be a “key ministerial employee” and the judge’s decision stated:

” ‘The Supreme Court has recognized the right of religious organizations to control their own affairs,’ Kocoras wrote. ‘This right includes the freedom to “decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.” Matters of church government include the right of churches to select their own leaders.’

“Kocoras added Collette also served as a director of worship with duties ‘specifically oriented toward helping the church carry out the celebration of Mass.’ “

Collette commented to The Chicago Tribune about the ramifications of the church’s decision to fire him:

“Collette said Wednesday that the decision ‘flies in such contradiction to the wonderful things that are coming out of Rome. The pope is speaking about unity and love, and here we are creating a church of fear and division.’

His attorney saw more sinister motivations behind Collette’s firing. The Tribune captured her thoughts:

“Collette’s attorney Kerry Lavelle, who had argued that Collette’s role was not ministerial, said in a statement Wednesday that the Catholic Church has ‘chosen to stand behind its ministerial exception to discriminate against members of the gay community.’

” ‘That someone of (Collette’s) commitment and ability is prevented from pursuing their career in this day and age is a sign of how far some institutions have to go in accepting all members of society, and demonstrates that there are still many individuals who are not granted equal rights in the workplace,’ Lavelle said.”

Collette had been fired in 2014 because he announced his engagement to another man. The Arlington Daily Herald reported the comments of the then-head of the Chicago Archdiocese:

A letter from the late Cardinal Francis George, published in Holy Family’s bulletin in October 2014, stated Collette was dismissed for his “participation in a form of union that cannot be recognized as a sacrament by the church.”

Though the legal case has, at least for now, been lost, this should not be the end of this matter.  While Cardinal George had made opposition to LGBT equality a hallmark of his archdiocesan administration, the new pastoral leader of Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich, has been much more open to LGBT people.

While Cupich may not have been able to comment on Collette’s case while it was still going through the court, now is the time that he can offer reconciliation with this Catholic man who has been so unjustly treated.

Cardinal George’s claim that Collette’s marriage “cannot be recognized as a sacrament by the church” is a red herring.  Collette was not asking that his civil marriage be so recognized.  Catholics of all sorts may avail themselves of legally valid opportunities that are not recognized by the church and still maintain their employment in church institutions.  Why can’t Collette do so?

The judge may be right that the church does not have to follow civil law.  But the church should at least follow God’s law and treat people with respect, compassion, and dignity.  It should treat all people equally, not set up separate rules for some and not for others.

Civil law may permit Colin Collette’s firing, but Christian charity demands that he not experience discrimination.  Cardinal Cupich should meet with Collette soon, and reinstate him to his former position in Holy Family parish.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 9, 2017

Related articles and posts:

For all Bondings 2.0 posts which mention Collette’s story and trace its development, click here.

Cook County Record: Catholic church can’t be sued for discriminating against gay man fired as music director: Judge”

The Daily Mail: “Gay music director loses his battle against Catholic parish”



Cool Minds Avert a Stand-Off in Rainbow Flag Flap

In the Mediterranean island-nation of Malta, a potential controversy about the use of a rainbow flag at a prayer service has been diminished by the pastoral admonition of the local chancery and the graciousness of the leader of the group which was hosting the service.

The Times of Malta reported:

The rainbow flag at the altar in the university chapel.

“The altar decorated with a rainbow flag at a prayer vigil at the University of Malta chapel has stirred up a hornet’s nest, but the Catholic LGBT group of behind it is insisting that their only intention was to convey a message against discrimination.

“Organised by Drachma [Malta’s LGBT Christian organization] on May 17, the religious event was meant to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

“However, eyebrows were raised when organiser Chris Vella upload a photo of the university chapel altar wrapped in a rainbow flag on his Facebook account amid criticism that this went too far.”

A conservative Catholic watchdog group from North America saw the photo and publicized the use of the rainbow flag, calling it “sacreligious.”

A diocesan spokesperson in Malta, however, remained calm and viewed the incident not as an opportunity to make anti-LGBT remarks, but to reiterate regulations from the Roman Missal concerning the decoration of an altar.  The Times reported that the Missal states:

” ‘. . . out of reverence for the celebration of the memorial of the Lord and for the banquet in which the Body and Blood of the Lord are offered, there should be, on an altar where this is celebrated, at least one cloth, white in colour, whose shape, size and decoration are in keeping with the altar’s structure.’

“Furthermore, it states that ‘moderation should be observed in the decoration of the altar.’ These rules also make it clear only Mass-related items should be placed on the altar, apart from a ‘discreetly’ arranged mechanism to amplify the priest’s voice.

“Asked whether the Church condoned the use of the rainbow flag or any other symbol, the spokesman invited the faithful to be aware of and adhere to the liturgical instructions.

Vella, the Drachma leader, also responded civilly by noting that no offense was intended and that the liturgical regulations were not known to the group.  The Times quoted him:

“. . . Mr Vella said that he was not aware of such regulations. However, he said he had no qualms about refraining from using the rainbow flag in future if ordered to do so by the ecclesiastical authorities. Nonetheless, he refuted criticism of the use of the flag, insisting that no Mass had been celebrated.

” ‘We had no intention to convey a political statement. Our only intention was to put our prayers to God for all those suffering. Drachma was never about defying the Church or offending people… We did not want to fuel confrontation but to hold dialogue,’ Mr Vella insisted.”

So, despite the best efforts of a conservative Catholic group to sow seeds of enmity between the diocese and the LGBT group, the two sides brought this small controversy to an amicable close.

Moreover, Drachma used the occasion as a teachable moment to raise up both LGBT spirituality, as well as to highlight atrocities committed against LGBT people globally.  Lovin Malta reported on sections from Drachma’s press statement about the issue:

“It was only natural for us, this year, to place the rainbow flag around the altar, along with the statue of Our Lady, as we prayed especially for our brothers and sisters in Chechnya who are undergoing brutal persecution just for being gay.

“The rainbow colours of the flag symbolise the diversity that exists among God’s children and replace the colour pink as this is reminiscent of the six-pointed pink star that gay persons had to wear at Nazi concentration camps.”

“Unfortunately, discrimination and homophobia are still rampant in all countries, including Malta, as exemplified by the fact that a small number of persons seem to have taken objection to the use of the rainbow flag in the chapel during this said vigil. It is, indeed, ironic and sad that the persecution, electrocution, arrest, public flogging and killing of gay persons in countries such as Chechnya, Nigeria and Indonesia goes unnoticed and is not even considered to be newsworthy, while such a simple and spontaneous gesture marking the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) was interpreted as a sacrilegious action.”

Malta’s church officials may soon learn that the use of rainbow flags and vestments are not such an anomaly in churches around the world.  Many parishes that welcome LGBT people have displayed the rainbow colors as a sign of welcome.  One parish in Australia maintains rainbow banners in its church building year round.

It’s also not unheard of for various ethnic and cultural groups to decorate a sanctuary with symbols of their traditions for specific celebrations or prayer times.  Perhaps for next year’s prayer service, Drachma will find a way to display the rainbow flag in a way that will not violate any liturgical directives about how an altar table should look.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 8, 2017