With a Call for Compassion, Jesuit Scholastic Comes Out as Gay

April 18, 2015

Because we know that so many priests and members of religious communities are gay and lesbian, and since so many of them choose to remain private about their sexual orientations, it is news when one of them decides to come out publicly.

Damian Torres-Botello, SJ

Damian Torres-Botello, SJ, is a Jesuit scholastic from Chicago, who went public about his orientation yesterday in an essay on The Jesuit Posta blog by young Jesuits.  Entitled “This I Believe: Created in God’s Image, the essay is primarily a call to the Church to be more inclusive and compassionate, and Torres-Botello only comes out as subtle example of the diversity of our religious home.

He begins with a reflection on current challenges the Church faces in regard to accepting minorities, including LGBT people:

“As Catholics, we have a sense of the Church being a truly universal home, a place where all are welcome, as the name Catholic would indicate. Yet within that sense of universality there are many who feel the Church is not a welcoming home for them. Teachers have been terminated from jobs, children with disabilities have been refused sacraments, and many divorced men and women continue to feel unwanted. You don’t have to look hard to find similar stories from African-American Catholics,Latino Catholics, Catholic women, and former Catholics alike. And all of this tension has caused people to leave the church, and in some cases, lose their faith.”

Torres-Bottello notes, however, that these problems only exist because we fail to take seriously a simple, basic truth of our faith:

“Yet here’s the truth I know and believe: I am created in God’s image and likeness, just as God creates us all. It is actually that simple. But sometimes we take that image and likeness and complicate it.”

After acknowledging that entering the Jesuits did not force him “into the closet after seventeen years of accepting myself as gay,” he observes:

“I am more than my skin color, my sexual orientation, and my economic class. It restricts God’s image and likeness if I only see myself as those three aspects. Defining myself purely on what I am limits who I am and how I can be of service. Even allowing these characteristics to dictate my life would prevent me from engaging the world as a wholly integrated human being. Besides, I prayed, and discerned, and made a choice. I made a commitment to live the vows of consecrated chastity, poverty, and obedience because of my belief in Christ, the mission of the Church, and the people of God. I share my struggles openly just as I share my joys. Like my parents did with each other, transparency helps me live my vows honestly so that I am always available to live out my calling as a Jesuit.”

Originally published on The Jesuit Post, the essay was also re-blogged on America magazine’s website, with the following detail in the author’s bio:

“This article was approved for publication by his Jesuit superiors.”

Father James Martin SJ

Father James Martin SJ

In a separate blog post on America’s  website, Jesuit Father James Martin, celebrated spiritual author, commented on the significance of this detail:

“A little background: Jesuits, like members of other religious orders, take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. For most Jesuits, obedience is often the easiest of the vows: basically, carry out the job to which you have been missioned. But in some cases obedience is brought to bear on more sensitive topics. And over the last few decades no Jesuit, as far as I know, has been permitted by his superiors to “self-identify” as gay in a public way.”

Martin examines some of the reasons, both personal and spiritual, that may prevent a Jesuit superior from granting permission for a member to come out as gay, but at the same time, he notes that this example is a welcome change:

“So the decision of Damian’s superiors to grant him permission is notable. It is the first time that I can think of that a Jesuit has been permitted to do write about being gay. So I’m proud of two things today: Damian’s courage and honesty, and that of his superiors.”

Torres-Botello’s reflection is a reminder not only that we already have many dedicated LGBT people serving in the Church, but it is also a signal that the younger generation of these ministers will be more visible and vocal than the predecessors were, understandably, able to be.   His announcement bespeaks a future Church where all will be welcome, accepted, cherished.

His closing sentence shows us the way to help propagate that kind of church:

“I pray as a Church we discover tender compassion for each other to love the God that dwells in us all.”

Benjamin Brenkert

Amen to Damian!  Let’s pray that his witness will help pave the way for a church where all of its LGBT ministers–clergy, religious, lay–are welcome and accepted, and, at the very least, not fired, as so many lay church workers have been over the past few years, due to LGBT issues.

Let’s remember thankfully, too, the gay Jesuits who came out in the 1970s, and also Benjamin Brenkert, who recently left the Society of Jesus because he could no longer remain closeted or accept the firings of LGBT church employees.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Jesuit Schools Gather to Discuss LGBT Issues on Campus

April 16, 2015

Students and campus personnel from Jesuit colleges and universities across the U.S. gathered at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, last month for a weekend conference about LGBT issues at their school.

Image from dotCommoweal.org

Entitled “IgnatianQ,” the meeting was organized by GU Pride, Georgetown’s LGBTQ student organization, but was also supported by the university’s administration, campus ministry, and LGBTQ Resource Center, the first of its kind on a Catholic campus.  In an interview with The Hoyathe campus newspaper, Thomas Lloyd, president of GU Pride, explained the need for such a meeting:

“IgnatianQ is a very unique space. There are very few people who understand what it means to do LGBTQ work in a Jesuit context and there are unique challenges, concerns but also rewards … for me personally doing LGBTQ work has been how I’ve made my meaning. . . .

““I’ve always said the most important part of LGBTQ work in this [Jesuit] context is to affirm that we have a duty to LGBTQ students because our context demands it. It’s part of supporting the whole person. It’s part of being a universal church and a universal community, and a university community,”

In another Hoya article, Fr. Greg Schenden, SJ, campus chaplain, echoed the Jesuit grounding of this conference:

“The purpose of this student-led conference is to help students from Jesuit universities grow in their faith and appreciate their worth as human beings. These values are central to the Jesuit commitment to cura personalis — care for each person in their uniqueness.”

Jesuit values were the focus of one of the keynote speakers, Dan Cardinali, who is an openly gay 1988 alumnus of Georgetown and now the director of Communities in Schools, the largest dropout prevention organization in the country.

According to a news report on the conference in The Hoya, Cardinali described his struggle with sexuality while a student, and then explained how, while he lived as a Jesuit for a while after graduation, he came to understand a positive Catholic approach to LGBT people:

“As a Jesuit, I was gifted with a set of opportunities to give back to the world. It prepared me for what I do now. I realized that being gay and being Catholic … can go together, as long as we believe in the dignity of [the] human person. Overtime, we would be able … to have the courage that [it] takes to make changes. . . .

“If you believe that God is in the world, and that he never abandons, it is our life journey to discover that. There are tools to discover that, and once we made that discovery, it will prepare us for the world in unimaginable ways.”

Elizabeth Donnelly

Other speakers included Elizabeth Donnelly, a Catholic philanthropist who offered her experience on speaking about women’s equality in the church as a model for speaking on LGBT issues; Deacon Ray Dever, a father of a transgender woman, who described his family’s experiences in a Bondings 2.0 blog post last December; and Lisbeth Melendez-Rivera, the director of Catholic and Latino/a Initiatives at the Human Rights Campaign.

Among the participants at the conference were a group from Santa Clara University, a California Jesuit school.  A news story in their campus newspaper,  The Santa Clara, summarized the experience of their delegation to the event:

“Students had the opportunity to collaborate and brainstorm ways to get more support, resources, visibility and acceptance for LGBTQ groups at their respective schools. This allowed representatives to network and share strategies for improving student engagement.

“ ‘It was cool to see how progressive some universities are and how some universities didn’t have any resources at all,’ said sophomore Adrian Chavez. ‘Santa Clara seemed to fall more in the middle of it, leaning progressive.’ ”

The Georgetown meeting was the 2nd annual gathering of its kind. The first meeting was held at Fordham University last year, under the theme, “Finding God in the LGBTQ Jesuit Campus Community.” The theme of the this year’s meeting was, ““Forming Contemplative Communities to Ignite Action.”

Georgetown sophomore Samuel Boyne, a participant at IgnatianQ, summed up his reaction to the meeting for the campus newspaper:

“I think that IgnatianQ was an essential event to host at Georgetown. As a school dedicated to educating its students on being men and women for others, the messages for which the conference stands for coincides with our Jesuit values. Specifically, as it is vital for students to come together in an environment like this to discuss the intersection of faith and the LGBTQ community. . . . Overall, the opportunity to speak openly about these issues is a definite step forward.”

Catholic college campuses are among the most important leaders of LGBT equality in the Catholic Church.  The IgnatianQ conference is just one more example of how they are paving the way for a brighter future.

To read more about news of LGBT issues on Catholic campuses, click on “Campus Chronicles” in the “Categories” box in the right hand column of this page, or you can click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

dotCommonweal: “Ignatian LGBTQ & Ally conference turns two”

The Hoya: Georgetown to Host IgnatianQ

The Georgetown Voice: “Georgetown to host allied Catholic universities at second annual IgnationQ conference”

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sacrificing Profits to Avoid Discrimination and Protect Religious Freedom

April 14, 2015

For a person like myself who cherishes both religious freedom and LGBT equality, the recent discussions over state laws designed to allow religious people and institutions to discriminate against LGBT people are somewhat vexing.

Let me state outright that I do not believe laws should allow this type of discrimination.  That said, I have to admit that I feel sympathy for people who feel that their religious principles are compromised.   As someone who opposes the death penalty and military intervention on religious principles, I feel that my U.S. tax dollars are being used against my religious principles when a federal prisoner is executed or when our government has cavalierly become involved in overseas military expeditions.

A recent New York Times news article caught my eye and interest on this topic.  The headline: “To Keep Free of Federal Reins, Wyoming Catholic College Rejects Student Aid.”  A small, conservative Catholic school in Wyoming has rejected federal funding so that they do not have to comply with regulations on social issues which they disagree with because of their beliefs.  The story reported:

“Citing concerns about federal rules on birth control and same-sex marriage, the school decided this winter to join a handful of other religious colleges in refusing to participate in the federal student-aid programs that help about two-thirds of students afford college. For students here, the decision means no federal loans, work-study money or grants to finance their annual $28,000 tuition, which includes housing in gender-segregated dorms and three meals in the school’s lone dining hall.”

While, of course, I disagree with this institution’s beliefs about same-gender marriage, for one thing, I admit that I find this decision to be an intriguing answer to the current religious liberty question.

What has bothered me for a long time about conservative religious freedom advocates is that they often want it both ways.  They want to be able to have government aid or contracts, but not to live up to the obligations that come with such support.  So I have a certain amount of admiration for religious people who are willing to sacrifice something because of their beliefs.

This Wyoming decision reminds me of the many Catholic peace advocates that I have admired over the years who have resisted paying federal military taxes.  Sometimes such peace people keep a low income so that their federal tax obligation is minimal to nil. Sometimes, they have done jail time for their beliefs.  Until hearing of this Wyoming case (and the examples of several other religious colleges, Catholic ones included, which the Times article cites), I have not seen a similar interest in sacrificing for principle on the part of conservative religious individuals or groups.

At the business level, one way the religious freedom question plays out is that establishments such as photographers or bakers want the ability to deny service to same-gender couples’ weddings.  It seems that one recourse they can have to live out their religious principles is to refrain from not providing business services for any weddings.

The logic behind such a suggestion is that since same-gender marriage has become the law in many locations, it is incumbent on businesses licensed in a locale to provide services for all people. After all, the state is providing the business with the opportunity to exist within its borders; it is reasonable to expect that the business would follow the state’s laws, including non-discrimination laws. If, for religious reasons, a business does not feel they can follow the law of the land, they could simply refuse to provide that service to any one.

Of course, such a decision would involve sacrifice on their part. Weddings, in particular, are big money-makers.  Yet, abstaining and sacrificing are appropriate religious responses to situations where people are motivated by faith principles.  Discrimination is not.

Such decisions will not solve the religious freedom questions that our nation faces.  It doesn’t solve the problem of what to do about legitimately identified religious organizations (churches, for example) and how they conduct their employment policies.  But the route of sacrifice looks like it could be a viable alternative for conservative religious leaders who feel they are being harassed by doing business transactions which they feel violate their beliefs.

Another alternative would be what I do for issues like the death penalty and military intervention, for which I have religiously principled objections.  I follow the laws while I do what I can through civil channels to influence them.  Is my religious freedom impinged upon?  Yes, but I also recognize that we do not live under a religiously-based government, so I have to find the best way to be in dialogue with those with whom I disagree.  The strategy of dialogue is also a valid religious response.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Gay Teacher Case in Omaha Affects Community, Statehouse, and Future

April 11, 2015

Matthew Eledge

In Omaha, the repercussions of Skutt H.S.’s decision not to renew the teaching contract of gay teacher Matthew Eledge are reverberating in the local community, the statehouse, and, perhaps even into the future.

The Catholic school made the employment decision when they learned from the English teacher and speech coach that he plans on marrying his partner, a man.  Immediately, students, parents and alumni organized a petition drive–with over 45,000 signatures in two days–to support Eledge.  But perhaps the most interesting developments are yet to come, as Eledge has stated that, as far as he knows, he is still employed by the school to finish out the academic year.

KETV reported that Eledge told them

“. . . that he respects the school and the Archdiocese.

“Eledge also said, while he’s scared and nervous, he is also humbled by the outreach from alumni, parents and the community.”

The case had repercussions at the Nebraska statehouse in Lincoln. KETV stated:

“Some state lawmakers sounded off during debate on the Legislature floor. . . .

” ‘No one should be fired or judged on the ridiculous standard of whom they love,’ Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said.”

If you would like to see a copy of the Archdiocese of Omaha’s teacher contract, click here.

The case illustrates the importance of laws outlawing LGBT discrimination, though with the inclusion of religious exemptions, these laws would still not be applicable to Catholic institutions. In an Associated Press article, Steven Willborn, a University of Nebraska employment discrimination law professor said that a 2012 Omaha law and a proposed state law are both not applicable to Eledge’s case because of religious exemptions.

Wilborn was not without hope, though.  The article reported:

“Any reversal would be more likely to come from a public opinion backlash, Willborn said, such as seen recently in Indiana when that state’s lawmakers passed a religious objections law that critics said would sanction discrimination against gays and lesbians.

” ‘Of course, the public opinion that would matter most at Skutt would be what their parents and supporters and donors think,’ Willborn said.”

The inclusion of a financial factor in Willborn’s analysis raises an important question.  Throughout the last few years as we witnessed the over 40 employment disputes over LGBT issues in Catholic institutions, we have seen Catholic people protesting these unjust decisions from a faith perspective.   The most significant feature of these protests has been the outpouring support from young people.

While Catholic school leaders need to question the justice of their actions in regard to dismissing employees over LGBT issues, they also need to think about the practical consequences for the future of these institutions.  Will this next generation of Catholic students consider sending their children to schools which discriminate against LGBT people?  If they don’t, how much longer will Catholic schools survive?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


The Life and Times of the ‘Gayest Catholic Parish’ in the U.S.

April 9, 2015

The National Catholic Reporter’s Tom Fox greatly helped the burgeoning movement of gay-friendly Catholic parishes in the U.S. by publishing a five-part series examining the life of one such parish, Most Holy Redeemer (MHR), San Francisco, which he notes is often referred to as “the gayest Catholic parish in the nation.”

The interior of Most Holy Redeemer parish church.

Fox’s series on this parish should be read by anyone interested in Catholic LGBT ministry.  Links to the individual articles are interspersed throughout this post, as well as listed individually at the end.

What emerges from this in-depth examination, however, is not how extra-ordinary MHR is as a Catholic community, but, instead, more about how much it is similar to every other well-run parish.  It is a center of faith which responds to both the spiritual and practical needs of the people in its neighborhood.

MHR’s welcoming atmosphere is partly a result of the fact that it is located in the Castro neighborhood of SF, probably the largest LGBT communities in the country.  But what is interesting is that not all parishioners are locals.  Fox pointed out that many people travel from all over the Bay Area to attend Mass and programs there.

Young people, a demographic that seems to be disappearing in most Catholic parishes, are one group in particular that have found MHR to be a spiritual home.  Fox explains:

“Younger Catholics come from around the Bay, making up much of the parish. The very diversity that once moved some Catholics to flee MHR now seems to draw others, especially younger ones who feel at home and want to help prepare their children to live in an increasingly diverse world.”

That’s a lesson that many Catholic parishes should learn:  if you want to attract younger people, welcome the LGBT community.

Fox raises an issue which many LGBT-friendly Catholic parishes face:  how to be welcoming when so many LGBT people are suspicious of official Catholicism.  Jim Stockholm, a longtime MHR parishioner, explained the challenge:

“It’s the Catholic faith. It’s got a bad rap in the LGBT community. We have an archbishop who helped fund and led the charge against same-sex marriage. All that translates down to, in some way, our parish. We’re in the Castro, in the community, and so we have the challenge to overcome that, to say we are welcoming.”

While certainly unique because its parishioners are predominantly members of the LGBT community, the parish operates very similarly to other parishes of its size. In the third part of the series, Fox examined an important question for MHR and for many LGBT-friendly parishes:  Are they the “gay parish” or are they a Catholic parish that welcomes gays?  Parishioners seemed to be definite that MHR was the latter, and not the former.  One member, Bob Barcewski said:

“We don’t see ourselves as a gay community, but rather as a community that’s open to gays.There’s nothing in this church — no functions — that are gay here. There’s nothing gay about what we do here. It’s an acceptance and a realization that people feel OK to be who they are that makes this place different. It’s also a history of knowing that this was one of the few places anywhere, where people who were catching a mysterious disease and dying like flies, stepped up and responded.”

Most Holy Redeemer parishioners march in San Francisco’s gay pride parade.

Indeed, when the AIDS epidemic hit the Bay Area in the mid-1980s, it was at the same time that the parish had begun to open their doors to the LGBT community.  Ministering to people with HIV and AIDS became a focus of the parish’s ministry.  The fourth part of the series examines this critical time in the parish’s life, and it notes that MHR’s outreach is recognized by many others in San Francisco as being pioneering.

Their solidarity with those who suffer now extends to the homeless community, with weekly suppers, which, as one parishioner pointed out, are more accurately described as “banquets.”

In the fifth and final installment, Fox summarized his experience of researching this series.  His comments serve as a reminder of the importance of LGBT ministry in the Catholic Church:

“In dozens of interviews over several weeks with MHR parishioners, I found both pain and an eagerness to celebrate. I found a desire to be better understood by the wider church community. I found a willingness to forgive. I found much openness and universal abhorrence of judgment.

“I found hope, sometimes fledgling, that [Pope] Francis, given enough time, can change the course of the church, especially in how the institution affects the lives of LGBT Catholics. I found an extraordinary eagerness to come together as people of faith to help each other in ways big and small. I found, in words often suggested by Most Holy Redeemer parishioners, community in the Castro.”

Accompanying this five-part series are two side-bar articles which allow the voices of LGBT Catholics to be amplified:  1) a profile of Robert Pickering, a gay Catholic man from Denver who, like many other out-of-town LGBT Catholics, visited MHR when he was in San Francisco one Sunday; 2) snippets of conversations from the dozens of interviews that Fox conducted with MHR parishioners.

The series certainly does justice to the immense amount of faith-filled outreach that this community of and for LGBT people has accomplished.  The work done here is a perfect example of the hundreds of Catholic parishes across the nation who have welcoming LGBT ministries.  You can find a list of many of them by clicking here.

To read all previous posts on LGBT-friendly Catholic parishes and pastoral work, go the the category “All Are Welcome”  or click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

      Links to Tom Fox’s National Catholic Reporter series             on Most Holy Redeemer parish, San Francisco:

1)  ‘Gayest’ US Catholic parish strives to maintain openness, accepting

2)  Though welcoming, inclusive parish can be a tough sell to LGBT community

3)  ‘There’s nothing gay about what we do here’

4)  LGBT-friendly parish has long history of ministry to homeless, sick

5)  Finding community in the Castro

Side-bar articles

1)  One gay Catholic’s journey

2)  ‘Most Holy Redeemer is our home’

 

 

 

 

 

 


Easter Sunday: Roll Away the Stone!

April 5, 2015

“Roll Away the Stone” by Gary Rowell

This fecund earth has lain covered long enough.
It wants to throw off its asphalt blankets,
Stretch and yawn and send forth
Ten thousand blades of grass.
Behind their dams, rivers dream of the sea.
They yearn to burst their bonds and run wild,
To feel the caress of the banks and beyond,
To sing their ancient songs of joy and abandon.
Something has been calling to you
For longer than you can remember.
Calling you to step out into the light, into your life.
It doesn’t matter whether you think you’re ready or not.
The time has come.
Roll away the stone!
Roll away the stone!
–Larry Robinson, “Roll Away the Stone”

Easter Blessings to you and your loved ones from New Ways Ministry


Holy Saturday: A Huge Silence

April 4, 2015

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

–Pablo Neruda, from “Keeping Quiet”

Image:  Fourteenth Station, Jesus Lying in the Tomb, St. George the Martyr Church, Newbury, UK.


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