Court Says Case of Fired Lesbian Teacher Can Go Forward–for Now

For the second time, a New Jersey judge has ruled that the employment discrimination suit of a lesbian teacher fired from a Catholic school can go forward, despite motions by the school and archdiocese attorneys to get it dismissed.  But because the judge’s decision was based on a very specific legal technicality, the possibility that the teacher will be victorious in the case still remains highly uncertain.

Kate Drumgoole

Kate Drumgoole, a former guidance counselor and basketball coach at Paramus Catholic H.S., in the Archdiocese of Newark, is suing because she was fired from her job when administrators learned that she was married to a woman.

Judge Lisa Perez Friscia denied the request by the school and archdiocese, the defendants, to reconsider her August 22nd decision to dismiss the case, saying that no new facts were presented by the institutions’ lawyers.

According to

“Friscia ruled in August that the case should go to the discovery phase, which would end Sept. 3, 2017.

“ ‘Only after discovery is complete, can the court review each claim to determine whether the religious organization exception, grounded in the First Amendment applies,’ Friscia wrote.”

So, the defendants’ request for a religious exemption from New Jersey Laws Against Discrimination (NJLAD) may yet be allowed to proceed.  The judge’s ruling stated only that the religious exemption could not apply at this stage of the case.

According to the news article:

“Friscia ruled that the defendants ‘have not established, at this early juncture,’ that the school can apply religious tenets to employees not engaged in ministerial duties and she said that by merely claiming the religious exemption the school is not necessarily entitled to it.”

It looks like the case is going to turn on the court’s understanding of the definition of a minister and ministerial work.    According to a news report, the attorneys for the school and archdiocese point out:

“Drumgoole signed an acknowledgement that she received the Archdiocese’s ‘Policies on Professional and Ministerial Conduct’ and a ‘Code of Ethics.’ The school’s faculty handbook also says that all teachers must comply with the code of ministerial conduct policies. Her collective bargaining agreement allows for tenured teachers to be terminated for ‘violating accepted standards of catholic morality as to cause public scandal,’ according to the written ruling this week.”

However, the other side sees the situation differently:

“Drumgoole’s attorneys, Eric Kleiner and Lawrence Kleiner, have argued that Drumgoole’s job did not include ministerial duties and that the school uses some of the NJLAD in its faculty handbook, making it liable to all of the laws against discrimination.”

Drumgoole also claimed in her suit that she thinks her firing may be related to her raising charges against two school employees in the recent past:

“Drumgoole, in her certification, said she also believes her firing may have been retaliatory. Drumgoole had alerted school officials to an incident involving two Paramus Catholic employees who allegedly had sex with students during a school trip to Germany.

“In late 2011, two male former employees of the high school were indicted on charges of having sex with at least three female students during a school trip to Germany.

“The state Supreme Court in March 2015 threw out all the overseas sex charges involving Artur Sopel, the school’s vice president of operations at the time of the trip, and Michael Sumulikoski, a substitute teacher. The court ruled local prosecutors had no jurisdiction to charge the two, who were chaperones for the February 2011 school trip.”

Drumgoole’s case has already sparked a number of controversies in the local church.  Fr. Warren Hall, an archdiocesan priest, was suspended from priestly duties in part because of his support for the teacher.  The school’s principal was suspended from work for a few days, and the school’s president still remains suspended. their jobs for a while. Over 3000 school community members have signed a petition protesting Drumgoole’s firing.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 25, 2016


Exploring Pope Francis’ Mixed Messages on LGBT Issues

Why doesn’t Pope Francis seem to fully “get it” when it comes to LGBT issues?

Kaya Oakes, writing at Religion Dispatches, tried to answer this knotty question.  She believes that those who hoped the pope would become a “staunch LGBTQ ally in three years of papacy were probably setting their sights too high.”  Instead, she has a theory to explain his contradictory messages:

Pope Francis

“The pope and the Catholic church are both on a learning curve, scrambling to keep up with the larger social acceptance of LGBTQ people in many Western nations. Francis is, after all, a 79-year-old Argentine, and sometimes his ideas about gender reflect his complex responses to the pervasive machismo of the Latin American culture in which he was raised. . . .

“As with many members of his generation, his struggle to understand the realities of LGBTQ life has been one of small steps forward, large steps back.”

Oakes also attributes the pope’s more open, dialogic style to his training as a Jesuit:

“. . . [Many Jesuits also train in spiritual direction, which is a guided one-on-one conversation about faith. Jesuits often teach and write in addition to working in pastoral ministry during their formation, all practices that involve a fair amount of back and forth with people from all over the Catholic spectrum. Rather than ‘either/or,’ Jesuits like to talk about ‘both/and,’ another invitation to dialogue.

“With that background as a Jesuit, it’s no wonder that the pope often follows broader sweeping statements about gender and sexuality with pastoral stories.”

This dichotomy of being socially/sexually conservative on one hand, and open to discussion and dialogue on the other creates confusion when trying to figure out where the pope stands on LGBT issues.  Oakes used the recent example of the pope’s remarks about “gender ideology” in a speech, which were followed up two days later by a call for more pastoral understanding for LGBT people.  She commented:

“. . .[I]t would seem that Pope Francis was trying to have it both ways: condemning the ‘ideological colonization’ of children supposedly being taught they can choose their gender (rather than trying to understand how some people are born feeling trapped in the wrong one), and also putting the emphasis yet again on the Jesuitical notions of dialogue and accompaniment.”

Oakes also cites Fr. James Martin, SJ, who explained Pope Francis’ comments from a non-USA perspective:

“Martin . . . emphasized how much Francis is trying to speak to a global church. ‘Imagine reading this [in the Global South] and even parts of Europe where a bishop or a priest may be antipathetic to LGBT people,’ where for more conservative clergy, this emphasis on walking with LGBTQ people ‘is quite a challenge.’ “

But Oakes comes down on the side of cutting the pope some slack, noting that he is way ahead of his predecessors on LGBT issues.  She concludes her essay by positing a very important choice fo our church has to make:

“We will either learn to walk with one another, or we will be forced by dogma to condemn one another. That is the choice both we and the pope have to make.”

Oakes’ essay is a good reminder that we can’t just take Pope Francis’ message from the surface of his words, but there is a need to look at context, influences, and even intended audiences.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 24, 2016




Is Teaching LGBT Youth About Celibacy a Healthy Possibility?

St. Francis (Frances) Cabrini is often quoted as saying “If something is possible, it will be done.  If something is impossible, it must be done.”  That saying came to mind to me this weekend when I read the news about a Catholic college’s lecture series being criticized because it is designed to train Catholic educators on how to present doctrine concerning mandatory celibacy for lesbian and gay people to students.

The series is being held at Regis College in Toronto, a theology school associated with the University of Toronto.  The lecturer, Fr. Gilles Mongeau, SJ, a professor at the school, will be delivering six talks under the umbrella title, That They May Have Life to the Full – Accompanying LGBT Youth.  Some university personnel are complaining about the series because it is based on the Ontario bishops’ document Pastoral Guidelines to Assist Students of Same-Sex Orientation, which, not surprisingly, heavily promotes mandatory celibacy.

Mongeau, in defending the lecture series, told The Varsitythe university’s student newspaper:

“It’s just not possible in a Catholic school to propose alternative moral paths… The challenge is to present that teaching in a way that remains psychologically sound.”

That’s when I thought about Mother Cabrini.

Not possible?  Well, maybe that means it must be done.  I don’t intend to just be playing with Mother Cabrini’s words or intentions here, but to look for a broader understanding of Catholic educators’ obligations.  If their obligation is to teach church doctrine, doesn’t that include teaching them the doctrine of the primacy of conscience? If their obligation is to teach sexual morality, doesn’t that include reinforcing to heterosexual students that sexual activity outside of marriage is also not permitted?

The issue is usually never looked at in these broader perspectives.  Bans on sexual activity between people of the same gender are always absolutized in church policies.  While teachings about the same sort of absolutes regarding heterosexual people are often overlooked.  I’m not suggesting that church officials be harder on heterosexual people, but that they treat lesbian and gay people in the same manner.   Why can’t pastoral understanding and appreciation of people’s individual life stories, situations, and mature consciences be applied generally in the Church’s practice?

Fr. Mongeau went on to explain:

“a healthy psychological life is the basic condition for the possibility of make healthy and fruitful moral choices for one’s life. If anyone makes moral choices from a place of psychological or spiritual unhealth, that’s not a good thing and I would never suggest that’s a good thing.”

I agree with Fr. Mongeau here.  But where I don’t think he would agree with me is that I think celibacy is only a healthy psychological and spiritual choice when it is freely chosen, not when it is imposed by an outside authority, fear, or immaturity.

Matthew MacDonald, a University of Toronto alumnus, commented on the series along similar lines of thought.  In an email to The Varsity, he wrote:

“The aims of this course… make no student safe or encourage them to live a full life. . . .This course is harmful and damaging — as a bisexual man who grew up in a christian household, I can attest to the inner torment and anxiety these kinds of programs and teachings cause in youth and LGBTQ people of all ages.”

Fr. Mongeau also told the newspaper some of the lecture series’ goals:

“It will not be a part of this lecture series to suggest that the experience of homosexual or non-cisgender gender identity is wrong. . . .What we’re trying to prevent by having this [lecture series] is instances where religious authority or any form of power is used to oppress the young person or cause them to have a distorted psychological or psycho-spiritual development.”

Those goals are worthy ones.  But if the series is only trying to make a harsh teaching sound sweeter, or do anything to stigmatize the lives of LGBT people, those goals will not be achieved.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 23, 2016



The Pope’s Reaction–Maybe–to Two Former Nuns Marrying

By Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 19, 2016

Two weeks ago, Bondings 2.0 reported on the story of two former nuns in Italy who joined together in a civil union, noting that the lesbian couple expressed their commitment not only to one another, but to their Catholic faith.   A few more details have emerged from that story which make it even a more poignant tale.

The headline -grabbing follow-up was that the pope has seemingly expressed some sadness about the couple.  London’s Daily Mail reported that a Vatican official disclosed in a tweet that the pope was was downcast when told the news about the women.     Vatican Deputy Secretary of State Archbishop Angelo Becciu tweeted:

“How much sadness on the pope’s face when I read him the news of the two married ‘nuns’!’ ”  (This is a translation of the tweet which was originally written in Italian:  “Quanta tristezza sul volto del Papa quando gli ho letto la notizia delle due ‘suore’ spose!”)

The news story further explained that it was the pope’s famous “Who am I to judge?” remark which inspired the two women (for privacy’s sake, known only by their first names Federica and Isabel) to see their feelings from one another as a graced phenomenon, or, in their words “a gift from God.  The story reported:

“The couple revealed they decided to act on their feelings when Pope Francis encouraged those in the Catholic Church not to judge others. . . .

“The two nuns said: ‘That phrase has opened our hearts.’

“They took advantage of a law passed this year that offers homosexual couples legal recognition in Italy – one of the last countries in the West to do so.”

The tweet from Becciu is irresponsible because of the vagueness of the message.  Did the pope speak any words?  Was he sad because the women had left religious life? Because they were lesbians? Because they entered a civil union? Because their union was public?

Was Becciu counting on the fact that his audience would “know” why the pope’s face showed sadness?  Was he counting on relying on his followers’ negative opinions about civil unions for lesbian and gay people?  Why did he call them “nuns,”  and put that word in scare quotes, when it was obvious that they were former nuns?

If the pope had something to say on the matter, why didn’t he do so in an official statement instead of through ambiguous facial expressions?  If his facial expressions were not an official statement, why did the Vatican Deputy Secretary of State feel empowered to suggest that they might be by tweeting such news?

Our Church really needs better communications.

On a happy note, though, it is so nice to hear that among the many things that the “Who am I to judge?” remark has prompted, it has also prompted a faith-filled, committed love between two women.



QUOTE TO NOTE: Let the Truth Be OUT!

By Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 19, 2016

computer_key_Quotation_MarksLast week, the LGBT community in the US celebrated National Coming Out Day.  As part of the commemoration of this occasion, The Huffington Post  ran a blog post by Rev. Gary Meier, an openly gay priest in St. Louis , Missouri, where he described what National Coming Out Day felt like for him as a closeted priest.

Particularly poignant in this description was his recounting of what he felt once he had decided to come out:

“I began to realize that what I really want is the truth to be out. I want the truth about homosexuality to be out. I want others to know that homosexuality is a gift. That you can live and love as God created you to love. We are created by love for love. Homosexuality is not a cross, it’s not a curse, it’s not an intrinsic disorder, it is a gift, created by love for love. It is a life-giving gift from God that embodies the infinite ways God’s love can be manifested in our world. That’s what I want. I want the truth to be out. I want people to know, to love and to respect one another by accepting this truth.”

Amen to that!

What If God Is Not Answering Our Prayers?

By Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 16, 2016

Today’s gospel reading describes a situation that Catholic advocates for LGBT issues might find familiar. In Luke 18:1-8, we hear Jesus’ parable of a widow who keeps clamoring to the local dishonest judge to give her justice.  The judge, who describes himself as someone who neither fears God nor respects any human being, will offer her a just decision if only to stop her from continually harassing him with her pleas.

Jesus explains that God, who is all just, will certainly do as much as, and even more than the dishonest judge to protect “the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night.”

As someone who feels like he has been clamoring to God for decades now for justice for LGBT people, Jesus’ answer provides some amount of comfort:  God will, in fact, hear us, and protect our rights, too.

But guess what?  So far, God hasn’t done so.  And I’ve been clamoring for a while.  And I know a LOT of people who’ve been clamoring for a while–and many of them have been clamoring a LOT longer and a LOT more than I have.  So, what does that mean about God’s response to us?

I think Jesus gives us an answer to that question at the conclusion of today’s gospel.  After assuring his listeners that God will answer their prayers, he ends with a question:

“But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Now, I’m always leery of sentences that begin with “but.”  It often indicates that whatever was said before it should not be taken seriously, like: “I really like your outfit, but I would not want to wear it.”  So, when Jesus offers his “but” statement, I think he is telling us, “Yeah, God is going to answer your prayers, but what really matters is not your petitions and God’s response, but whether you have the attitude of faith.”

I know that in a lot of my clamoring to God, I often don’t have that element of faith in my prayer.  I clamor to God because I’m kind of hopeless, and out of options, and my prayers have more than a tinge of desperation, but usually not much faith behind them.  I think that in today’s gospel, Jesus is reminding us not just to clamor to God desperately, but faith-fully. We should approach God in prayer with the confidence that God will answer us, even if we can’t see the evidence of God’s answers in our lives.  As St. Paul instructs us in his letter to the Hebrews (11:1):

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Beyond the purely spiritual benefits of praying with faith, there is an important practical benefit.  When we pray with faith, it’s like receiving new eyes to see the world through the lens of faith.  This new vision helps us to see things that we might have overlooked in the past.  We can start to see where progress on LGBT issues is being made, and where work still needs to be done.  We can start to see how God has actually indeed answered our prayers already, but maybe not in the way that we were expecting.  We can see more clearly that even though we may not have reached our goals of equality and justice, God is so intimately close to us, loving us, strengthening us, as we continue our work.

This approach is not asking us to just “look on the bright side” of things or to see things with rose-colored glasses.  It’s asking us to acknowledge a reality that is bigger than ourselves and our own particular desires.

So instead of wondering why it seems that God has not answered our prayers, maybe we need to look again at the world with eyes of faith to see that God indeed has heard our clamoring, and is helping us achieve our goals, little by little.

And, keep clamoring!


Would Pope Francis Condemn or Defend LGBT Church Workers?

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 15, 2016

The recent, terrible trend of Church employees being fired because of LGBT issues raises many questions about justice, equality, and human rights in the Catholic community. An Associated Press reporter also identified another important tension that this trend highlights. Michelle Smith noted that this trend also shows “the confusion that permeates some U.S. Roman Catholic parishes over Pope Francis’ words on homosexuality.”

Michael Templeton

Many of Bondings 2.0’s readers have often wondered in their comments why Pope Francis, who seems concerned with pastoral outreach to LGBT people, has not become involved in the too many examples of church workers being fired because of a pastor’s or bishop’s disapproval of LGBT issues. Reporter Smith examined this question using the recent case of Michael Templeton, a Providence, Rhode Island, parish music director who was fired for marrying his male partner.

Smith notes that in this case:

“Francis is being cited by both the music director, Michael Templeton, and by Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin, known for taking a hard line on church teaching about marriage and abortion. Tobin has criticized Francis, writing after the pope’s summit on the family two years ago that ‘Francis is fond of “creating a mess.” Mission accomplished.’ “

The pope’s positive statements on LGBT people have been mixed with traditional orthodox defenses of heterosexual marriage, thus making the positive statements “a Rorschach test open to interpretation,” observes Smith. The reporter summed up this problem with a quote from a theological expert:

” ‘Pope Francis has not said, “Here’s what you should do in a parish where you have a music director who has married his partner of the same sex,”  said the Rev. James T. Bretzke, a professor of moral theology at Boston College. ‘Pope Francis is articulating general principles: forgiveness and mercy and not harsh judgment. But how you handle a particular case like this, he has been very reluctant to weigh in on it.’

“That means a gay Catholic’s fate depends on his diocese or individual pastor.”

Bishop Thomas Tobin
Bishop Thomas Tobin

As Bondings 2.0 reported previously, Bishop Tobin had released a statement citing Pope Francis’ statements and actions to defend the firing of Templeton.  (Yet, not all of Tobin’s supposed precedents are relevant.  For instance, the bishop said Francis fired Msgr. Kryzstof Charamsa of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for coming out as gay and acknowledging he was in a relationship.  Yet, more likely is that the prefect of the CDF fired Charamsa, and, in any case, the examples are not parallel since Charamsa was ordained.)

Smith offered a few recent examples that show the mixed messages that Francis has been giving:

“Francis underscored his emphasis on mercy over defending orthodoxy with his first U.S. picks for cardinals, announced Sunday, choosing bishops who have taken a more welcoming approach to gays and others who have felt alienated from the church.

“Asked this month about how he would minister to transgender Catholics, Francis responded: ‘When someone who has this condition comes before Jesus, Jesus would surely never say, “Go away because you’re gay.” ‘

“At the same time, he recently supported Mexican bishops working against a push to legalize same-sex marriage.”

The mixed messages may be indicative of how far–or not–Francis wants to go.  Smith cited Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry:

“Before Francis, ‘people were afraid to even say the words gay or lesbian,’ DeBernardo said. ‘I do think he’s taken an important step that could lead to further steps. I’m not certain, I don’t think he will make a change in church doctrine, but I think he is laying the groundwork for future changes.’ “

Pope Francis may not opine directly about a specific church worker firing or even the trend of firings now being experienced, but a close reading of his writings clarifies how he might respond. In Evangelii Gaudium, the pope warned against pastoral workers who exhibit a “spiritual worldliness,” manifest in one form as the “self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism” of church officials who act as if they are superior to others. Francis commented:

“A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying.”

Where a church worker is fired for their gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, or political beliefs, church leaders have harmfully analyzed and classified that person strictly according to their gender and sexuality. Right-wing Catholics have expended themselves inspecting and verifying, and then publicly outing and shaming too many LGBT people in the church.

For those who think Pope Francis has made a mess of the Church, like Bishop Tobin has expressed, they would do well to ponder the words of Cardinal-elect Kevin Farrell who recently said, “If you find Pope Francis ‘confusing’ – you have not read or do not understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

In Evangelii Gaudium and elsewhere, Francis condemns church ministers whose foremost attitude is not mercy. Foremost for the pope is to see every person as beloved by God, and he consistently attacks each and every effort which reduces the mystery of the human person to something less than a child of God.

Like all of us, Francis is human and he is clearly grappling to understand sexuality and gender, confined as he may be by his own limitations and contexts. His outreach to LGBT people is as notable as it is imperfect, but on this point we can be clear: one can find no support for discriminating against LGBT church workers in the pastoral witness of Pope Francis.