Executive Order 50: The Battle Between Two New York Dioceses Over Gay Rights

July 29, 2016

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  produces 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. 

 

New York City is divided up into two dioceses:  the Archdiocese of New York covers three city boroughs–Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island–and seven upstate counties, while the Brooklyn Diocese covers the city’s other two boroughs–Brooklyn and Queens.  In the early 1980’s these two dioceses were headed by bishops of very different temperaments:  Archbishop John O’Connor was a very rule-oriented bishop in the Archdiocese of New York, while Bishop Francis Mugavero was a more pastorally sensitive prelate, known for compassionate views on justice and sexuality.

While the two dioceses generally found agreements on public policy issues, a case in 1984 saw the two churches taking opposite stands on a very important lesbian/gay issue.

An NC News Service story from July 1984 recounts that the two bishops took opposing positions on Mayor Ed Koch’s Executive Order 50, a directive which the news account described as “prohibiting agencies that receive city funds from discriminating against homosexuals in employment.”   The directive greatly impacted both dioceses, as each one had social service agencies partially funded by millions of dollars of city funds.  The words of the Order were that discrimination could not occur on the basis of “race, creed, color, national origin, sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation or affectional preference.”

The news story reported that the order “has been challenged by Archbishop John J. O’Connor of New York on the grounds that it would impose undue government interference with Church agencies.”  The story continued:

“In an interview earlier in June, O’Connor said contracts for social service performed by the archdiocese for the city would not be signed for the fiscal year beginning July 1 unless the issue was resolved.”

(Cardinal) Archbishop John O’Connor

The Brooklyn Diocese, however, disagreed with this position.  The Brooklyn stand on Executive Order 50 was articulated by Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Sullivan, the head of the diocese’s Catholic Charities agency and a national expert on social service.  The story reported Sullivan’s reaction:

” ‘I see no obstacle in the requirements of Executive Order 50 which prevents us from adhering to Church teaching,’  Sullivan said in an interview.  The bishop, who is vicar for human services in Brooklyn, said, ‘To me, non-discrimination does not imply approval of behavior.’ “

The story continued with Sullivan’s perspective on the difference:

“Sullivan claimed that there was no ‘split’ between the Brooklyn Diocese and the New York Archdiocese over the morality of homosexual behavior.

” ‘We are in absolute agreement with the archbishop on Church teaching,’ he said. ‘But the archbishop has made a prudential judgment on the requirement of Executive Order 50, and we are in disagreement. Bishop Mugavero has taken the pastoral approach that this clause implies no approval of homosexual behavior.’ “

Mugavero himself did not make a statement because he was hospitalized at the time, recovering from surgery.

Bishop Joseph Sullivan

This story has some interesting points worth noting.  First of all, it’s important to remember that Executive Order 50 had been in place since 1980, when Cardinal Terence Cooke headed the New York Archdiocese.  This controversy did not take place until 1984, when Archbishop O’Connor came to the office. That means that even Cooke, a conservative prelate by anyone’s standards, had not objected to the Order.

But, more importantly, this story recalls a time when bishops expressed disagreement on LGBT policy issues, though this incident may have been the last public disagreement for a long time to come.  Fr. Richard Peddicord, OP, author of a landmark study,  Gay and Lesbian Rights:  A Question–Sexual Ethics or Social Justice?,  recounts the ecclesial history following the Executive Order 50 case.   O’Connor, along with several other conservative religious leaders, took NYC to court, and they won their case.  But that did not end the story.  The court recommended that non-discrimination be handled legislatively, not executively.  However, a gay civil rights bill had been stalled for years in New York’s city council.

When the bill was brought up again following the court case,  O’Connor predictably opposed it.  But Peddicord describes an unusual twist that occurred from the Brooklyn Diocese:

“. . . [T]he Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights believed that it had received a pledge of neutrality from the neighboring diocese of Brooklyn.  Representatives from the coalition had met with auxiliary bishop Joseph Sullivan, counsel Mildred Shanley, and canonist Monsignor William Varvaro; it was reported that Bishop Sullivan had told Catholic Charities that they had no problem with the bill.

“However, Brooklyn’s ordinary, Francis Mugavero, did not remain neutral.  He joined Cardinal O’Connor in issuing a public statement which attacked the proposal as ‘exceedingly dangerous to our society’ and said that ‘what the bill primarily and ultimately seeks is the legal approval of homosexual conduct and activity.’ “

Bishop Francis Mugavero

Peddicord offered an explanation of Mugavero’s flip-flop:

“. . . Bishop Mugavero was assumed to have been pressured into the stand he took.  He denied any such thing, but as Arthur Moore remarks:

‘This denial was not widely believed, the only question being where the pressure came from.  Informed sources say that O’Connor got the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pio Laghi, to do the job for him.’

The bill passed.  But it would be a long, long time before we ever saw bishops disagreeing in such a public way.  That didn’t happen again until the Vatican synod on the family in 2014.

Bishop Joseph Sullivan would go on to being a strong voice for LGBT ministry in the Catholic Church, until his untimely death in 2013.  He spoke at New Ways Ministry’s National Symposium in 2007.

Equally important in this case is that we see an early predecessor of the type of thinking Pope Francis expressed in Amoris Laetitia.  Not all bishops have to address problems in the same way; there can be a diversity of approaches.   The pope stated:

“I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it.”

As we in the 21st century Church debate questions of religious liberty and face issues like the firing of LGBT people from church jobs, remembering the debate that took place around Executive Order 50 can remind us that not all Catholic leaders need to take a law-and-order attitude toward LGBT issues.  Pastoral sensitivity is very much a part of the authentic Catholic tradition.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Remembering Gay Holocaust Victims, As Pope Prepares to Visit Auschwitz

July 28, 2016

With World Youth Day 2016 taking place in Krakow, Poland, it is only natural that both pilgrims and pope will visit the remains of the Auschwitz concentration camp, which is only a short distance from where events are taking place.

Train tracks leading to Auschwitz concentration camp

I had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz in 2003, when New Ways Ministry led an LGBT Catholic pilgrimage to Poland.  It was a visit that will stay with me until I die.  The eerie silence of the place is both appropriate and chilling.  Almost all visitors there did not breathe a word while walking around, stunned by the awareness of the reality that took place where they were walking.  If people did speak, it was in hushed whispers.

I have been to dozens of shrines all over the globe, but Auschwitz is probably the most sacred spot I have ever visited.

Pope Francis, who is visiting the camp tomorrow, July 29th, has already said that he anticipates the stop to be primarily a spiritual exercise.  Crux reported on his plans for the visit:

“When Pope Francis goes on a silent pilgrimage to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp this Friday, it will be his first time in the former Nazi concentration camp that stands as the universal symbol of totalitarian horror.

“That is one reason he won’t be giving a speech. He wants to go alone and say nothing. ‘I would like to go to that place of horror without speeches, without crowds – only the few people necessary,’ he told journalists on the flight back from Armenia.

” ‘Alone, enter, pray,’ he said. ‘And may the Lord give me the grace to cry.’

“The only proper human response – as so many visitors find – to the mystery of such evil is recollection and silent prayer. Francis’ decision to say nothing has been deeply appreciated by the Chief Rabbi of Poland.”

Jewish people were certainly the most victimized group of Nazi atrocities, with up to six million perishing, approximately 1 million of them at Auschwitz.  But among the other groups targeted, gay men were probably the ones next in line to receive such the most vicious treatment, though the number of victims was much smaller.  Even before the camps were established, gay men were arrested in Germany in alarming numbers.  According to the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s website:

“An estimated 1.2 million men were homosexuals in Germany in 1928. Between 1933-45, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested as homosexuals, and of these, some 50,000 officially defined homosexuals were sentenced. Most of these men spent time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 of the total sentenced were incarcerated in concentration camps.”

(Curiously, although the Nazis closed some lesbian bars,  lesbian women were not systematically arrested, according to the Museum web page.  Wikipedia.org said that the reason lesbians were not targeted was that they were “considered easier to persuade or force them to comply with accepted heterosexual behavior.)

A concentration camp inmate’s uniform with the pink triangle to identify gay prisoners.

Another Holocaust Museum’s webpage says that gay men were singled out for particularly cruel treatment.   The website states:

“Prisoners marked by pink triangles to signify homosexuality were treated harshly in the camps. According to many survivor accounts, homosexuals were among the most abused groups in the camps.

“Because some Nazis believed homosexuality was a sickness that could be cured, they designed policies to ‘cure’ homosexuals of their ‘disease’ through humiliation and hard work. Guards ridiculed and beat homosexual prisoners upon arrival, often separating them from other inmates. Rudolf Hoess, commandant of Auschwitz, wrote in his memoirs that homosexuals were segregated in order to prevent homosexuality from spreading to other inmates and guards. Personnel in charge of work details in the Dora-Mittelbau underground rocket factory or in the stone quarries at Flossenbürgand Buchenwald often gave deadly assignments to homosexuals.”

On yet another web page from the Holocaust Museum, it states:

“Nazis interested in finding a ‘cure’ for homosexuality conducted medical experiments on some gay concentration camp inmates. These experiments caused illness, mutilation, and even death, and yielded no scientific knowledge.”

Wikipedia.org notes that because of ill treatment by both guards and even other prisoners, gay inmates died at a higher rate than other groups:

“A study by Rüdiger Lautmann found that 60% of gay men in concentration camps died, as compared to 41% for political prisoners and 35% for Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Even after the Nazis were defeated and the camps were liberated, gay prisoners continued to be mistreated.  The Holocaust Museum web page states:

“After the war, homosexual concentration camp prisoners were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution, and reparations were refused. Under the Allied Military Government of Germany, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment, regardless of the time spent in concentration camps. The 1935 version of Paragraph 175 [the law which criminalized homosexuality] remained in effect in the Federal Republic (West Germany) until 1969, so that well after liberation, homosexuals continued to fear arrest and incarceration.

“Research on Nazi persecution of homosexuals was impeded by the criminalization and social stigmatization of homosexuals in Europe and the United States in the decades following the Holocaust. Most survivors were afraid or ashamed to tell their stories. Recently, especially in Germany, new research findings on these ‘forgotten victims’ have been published, and some survivors have broken their silence to give testimony.”

Pope Francis’ promise to be silent at Auschwitz is an appropriate gesture.  As he prays for the millions of victims there, let’s hope he will include the gay victims of the Holocaust.  I hope, too, that he will pray for the victims of contemporary laws around the globe which criminalize LGBT people and subject them to cruelly harsh punishments.  The Nazi Holocaust is over, but other nations and groups have continued their atrocities in other forms.  In addition to political bodies which criminalize LGBT people, medical authorities continue the Nazi legacy by using destructive “reparative” psychological therapy on LGBT patients.

Let’s hope, too, that someday a pope–or even some other Catholic leader–will visit the site of the Orlando gay nightclub shooting, and pray silently there for those victims and all victims of anti-LGBT oppression and violence.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Welcome Center for World Youth Day in Poland

July 20, 2016

LGBT youth and their supporters will have a safe place to meet each other and share faith perspectives at World Youth Day in Poland, thanks to Faith and Rainbow, a Polish LGBT Christian organization, and the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, an ecumenical organization.

13438908_1128332957225446_5699180952132394142_n“Pilgrim’s Haven,” which will be housed in a cafe in Krakow’s Kazimierz Jewish quarter, will offer hospitality, as well as a program of presentations and discussions for pilgrim’s attending the week-long World Youth Day (WYD) program which is sponsored by the Vatican and hosted by the Polish bishops.  The Pilgrim’s Haven is not an official part of the program, but organizers feel that it fills an important purpose since there is no other place for LGBT pilgrims and supporters to connect.  WYD will take place July 26th-31st, and hundreds of thousands of young Catholics are expected to attend.

Misha Czerniak, one of the organizers, told Queer.pl (article in Polish):

“We wanted to create so-called. ‘safe space’ where people who participate in World Youth Day can talk, discuss topics of faith, orientation, or gender identity in the situation safe, friendly and accepting. Such a space missing in the WYD.”

Czerniak said that members of Faith and Rainbow contacted Bishop Damian Muskus, auxiliary of Krakow who is overseeing WYD, but they were told that the Pilgrim’s Haven could not be part of the program.  Still, the Polish LGBT group will invite the Polish bishops to stop by to meet with youth who gather there. Czerniak said that organizers had cordial meetings with Krakow’s Bishop Grzegorz Rys and Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz.   He hoped that these bishops’ kindness “will inspire Pope Francis to make positive statements about LGBT people.”

Pilgrim’s Haven has a Facebook page, which includes a schedule of events in Polish and English.  The first presentation at the center will be a screening of “In Good Conscience:  Sister Jeannine Gramick’s Journey of Faith,”  a documentary by award-winning filmmaker Barbara Rick, which chronicles the life and LGBT outreach of New Ways Ministry’s co-founder (whose heritage, coincidentally, is Polish).

On successive days, two films by Brendan Fay will be shown:  “Remembering Mychal” about New York Fire Department chaplain Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, who was openly gay and who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11;   “Taking a Chance on God” about John McNeill, the theologian who first critiqued the church’s ban on gay/lesbian sexual expression.

Krakow’s central square with St. Mary’s Basilica

Among other events, Marcela Kościańczuk, a religion scholar who is a member of Faith and Rainbow, will offer several pastoral presentations, and Michael Brinkschroder, a Catholic theologian and sociologist who has served as co-president of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups,  will discuss spirituality and advocacy topics.

Pilgrim’s Haven can be found in Ogniwo Cafe, located at Paulińska 28, in Krakow.

In addition to the schedule of presentations, the Facebook page describes the opportunities that the Pilgrim’s Haven will offer:

“The point is open for those who wish to rest a bit from the heat and the crowds. Several lay and clergy volunteers will also be available and ready to listen, to talk about issues of faith, sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as to offer advice and counselling, or to pray together.
We invite LGBT believers as well as non-Catholics or those who do not belong to the Church but want to spend some time together with us.”
At World Youth Day in Brazil in 2013, a group of LGBT and ally pilgrims attended the programs and struck up conversations with youth from around the world.  Their received many positive reactions.  Their participation was sponsored by the Equally Blessed coalition which is made up of Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry.
Pope Francis will be in Krakow for five days for the WYD program, and will close the event with a Mass on July 31st.  It was on his return flight from his first WYD program that he uttered his famous “Who am I to judge?” statement, which was his first indication that LGBT issues would be treated differently under this papacy than they had been in the past.
Wouldn’t it be great if Pope Francis made history again during this WYD by visiting the Pilgrim’s Haven and greeting the LGBT youth there?  While security issues alone may not allow that to happen, perhaps the pontiff could simply address concerns of LGBT youth in his public remarks during his five days at the event.  LGBT issues are a high social justice priority for the next generation, and Pope Francis has already shown that he is willing to address these topics in a new and candid way.  World Youth Day would be a great opportunity for him to expand on his call for an apology to the LGBT community, and for him to continue to call for the members of our church to dialogue with individuals who have been historically ostracized from the church.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Related article:

Die Zeit:  “Homosexual Christians want to participate at Catholic World Youth Day in Poland” (article in German)

 


Catholic Theological Society Gives Top Honor to Openly Gay Scholar

July 18, 2016

The most prestigious U.S. Catholic theological organization for the first time has awarded its highest honor to an openly gay scholar, the first.

The Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA), the primary professional associations for this area’s scholars, presented its John Courtney Murray Award to Orlando Espin, a professor of systematic theology at the University of San Diego, a Catholic school in southern California.  Espin, who was awarded the honor at the society’s meeting in June, was cited for his work on intercultural issues.  The citation announcing the award praised him for having “wrestled with problems associated with the historical and contemporary legacies of colonization, slavery, racism, and prejudice against LGBT persons.”

Ricardo Gallego

Orlando Espin

In his acceptance speech, Espin included thanks to his husband, Ricardo Gallego, who was present at the meeting, which occurred in Puerto Rico. Gallego is director of Latinoa Services at the San Diego LGBT Community Center.  They have been married since 2008, though they have been a couple for 23 years.

In a statement to Bondings 2.0, Espin said that he thanked Gallego for his work with vulnerable minority populations, noting:  “I write theology. He lives it.”  His speech received a standing ovation.

The citation additionally praised Espin for being  “a pioneer and leader in the field of Latino/Latina theology” who “has played a central part in promoting the highest scholarly standards for Hispanic/Latino theology.”  According to The National Catholic Reporter, Espin also “founded and directs the Center for the Study of Latino/a Catholicism. He is also a founder of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States (ACHTUS) and has twice served as its president.” He is only the third ethnic minority to receive this prestigious award, and the first openly gay theologian to do so.

Espin led a workshop on LGBT ministry in the Latino/a community during New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in 2012.

The theme of this year’s CTSA meeting was “Justice and Mercy,”  examining themes that are key to Pope Francis’ papacy.  The theme  very similar to the theme of New Ways Ministry’s upcoming Eighth National Symposium, which is “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.”  It will be held in Chicago, April 28-30, 2017.  (For information send an email to info@NewWaysMinistry.org or phone 301-277-5674.)

In addition to Espin, two previous New Ways Ministry guest speakers made presentations at the CTSA event.  The National Catholic Reporter quoted Fr. Paul Crowley, SJ, a professor at Santa Clara University, who gave the keynote speech in which he stated:

” ‘Religious institutions can be the source of so much good, as the holy church most surely is; but they also can be the source of so much suffering and even violence,’ he said, adding that ‘the church is itself the bearer of sin, not only through its members but as a body.’ “

The same news story quoted Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, professor emerita at Yale Divinity School:

” ‘Without justice, mercy has no power to meet the truly wounded or give hope to the truly broken. . . .

“In a world and church where ‘things are falling apart,’ forgiveness — out of all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy — is the work of mercy for our time, Farley said. Forgiveness is active, not passive, ‘a decision to let go of something within ourselves,’ she said, describing the need for ‘anticipatory forgiveness’ of those with no remorse or regret, even as resistance continues.”

LGBT issues were mentioned in one of the conference’s daily public Scripture reflections.  M.T. Dávila, a Catholic professor of Christian Ethics at Andover Newton Theological School, Massachusetts,  commented on the story of the woman who washes Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50), by noting:

“And we like this woman, we have cried at the absurd exclusion of our black and Latin@, Indigenous and Asian, and LGBTQ realities from syllabi and reading lists, department faculty rosters, promotion lists, conference themes, and all the other forms of exclusion at which the academy is so adept.”

Referring to the woman’s action in the Gospel story as an “extravagant interruption,” Dávila observed:

“While Jesus had been at this home for a certain amount of time, it wasn’t until the woman’s extravagant interruption that Jesus became woke. For the #BlackLivesMatter, #TRANSLIVESMATTER, and other recent movements for social justice, STAY WOKE or BE WOKE means working toward that social consciousness that finally wakes us up to the realities of suffering around us and in which we participate or bear an impact, whether we know it or not. They too choose extravagant interruption to make us attentive to their tears. Because of the woman’s actions Jesus woke up both to her sacred affection and the deep emotion that brought on her tears, and also to how this contrasted with his host’s fumbles and omissions in hospitality.”

Theologians have been one of the groups leading the way on moving our church toward an appreciation of the fact that LGBT equality and justice are not just accommodations of the Catholic tradition, but are intimately linked to the Catholic tradition.   The events of this year’s conference show that LGBT issues are becoming part of the central fabric of these scholars’ discussions.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


A Call for a Mass for LGBT People at the Vatican

July 17, 2016

Today’s post is from guest blogger Benjamin Brenkert, a contributor to The Daily Beast.  Brenkert will pursue doctoral studies in education at Columbia University, New York, in the fall.  His previous contribution to Bondings 2.0 can be read here.

As a Christian gay person, and former candidate for the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church, I propose that in response to the recent LGBT mass shooting in Orlando, Pope Francis celebrate a Mass for LGBT people in St. Peter’s Basilica and Square in Vatican City.

The Pope’s effusive, rhetorical question, “Who am I to judge?” is a promising question, but it needs actions to back it up. While a non-judgmental tone sounds good, unless clear and tangible follow-up happens, it doesn’t mean much.

His call for an apology to gay people shows that he is willing to ask their forgiveness.  Jesuit Fr. James Martin told CNN, “No group feels more marginalized in the church today than LGBT people.” Clearly, active forgiveness and reconciliation are needed.  What better way to celebrate that than to participate in the Eucharist together?

What the secular and religious world needs is an unequivocal demonstration of prophetic support for LGBT people, especially youth. A Mass for LGBT people all over the world is a good first step to let gays know that they are accepted for who they are, and that they are loved unconditionally.

A public Mass is the type of action the LGBT community thirsts for.  They want to know you truly offer presence, inclusion and acceptance.  A Mass would allow a group that has been so excluded to participate in an action that is never conditional or situational: God loved the world so he sent His Son to save it.

At the Mass, Pope Francis could invite gay priests to come out of the shadows of their closets, allowing them to be completely and utterly honest about who they are. He could call parents of LGBT youth not to abandon their children. He could remind the rest of the world that pastoral outreach to the LGBT community is necessary.  He could decry governmental policies which discriminate against or criminalize LGBT people.

The Pope could remind the world that God delights in all people—straight, gay, lesbian, trans, bisexual, and all who don’t fit a label—and that God made us human, embodied beings. Pope Francis could do this by calling for a reform of the catechism of the church.

At a mass for gays, the Pope could finally lead the church out of people’s bedrooms, beyond talk about sex, and to human relationships and the whole life of every person. He could say that LGBT people are not sinners and that their relationships of love are not sinful.  Such is already the cornerstone of a papacy that proclaims the Joy of the Gospel.

The Pope should allow all LGBT people to receive the Holy Eucharist at such a Mass, creating an important symbolic gesture for all pastors and bishops who seek to limit reception of communion.  He must allow them back into the Catholic family. If the church is truly maternal, it will open her arms in welcome.

It is sad to point out that the world is still not safe for LGBT people. The recent massacre of gays in Orlando reminds us that, despite the gains in marriage equality and the overturning of other discriminatory laws, the current wave of LGBT equality is still met with resistance in the secular world and with destructive messages in the religious world.

I call out to you, Pope Francis, please invite LGBT people throughout the world to make a pilgrimage to Rome in order to celebrate Eucharist with you.  We will respond overwhelmingly, and this celebration will be a blessing for all.

–Benjamin Brenkert

Related article:

The Orlando Sentinel:  “Dear Pope: Open the doors of St. Peter’s to gays”

 

 


Is Church Teaching a Weapon Used Against LGBT People?

July 13, 2016

Weeks after both the Orlando massacre and the pope’s call for an apology to lesbian and gay people, I’m still wading through articles and commentaries about both incidents.  It’s no wonder. For entirely two different reasons, both events certainly touched deep emotions in many people.

Because I’m reading about both events almost simultaneously, I’d like to report on a little linguistic oddity that I found, though I’m not quite sure what it means.

On June 22nd, Jesuit Father Russell Pollitt, the director of the Jesuit Institute of South Africa, reflected on Orlando, noting that organized religion, and Catholicism in particular, needs to take some responsibility for propagating the hate which causes violence. Pollitt ends his reflection with what I consider the most powerful and blunt observation I’ve yet to read:

“Bad religion, which includes bad religious language, is an assault rifle – and it is used often. Some pulpits are assault rifles. We need an urgent discussion in our church about the way we speak about and treat gay people. We need a conversion of mind, heart and language.”

Pope Francis

On June 26th, just a few days later, Pope Francis uttered his now famous call for the church to apologize to lesbian and gay people.  Probably in the interest of journalistic brevity, usually only the main sentence of his interview was reported:

I think that the Church must not only ask forgiveness from the gay person who is offended, but she must also ask for forgiveness from the poor too, from women who are exploited, from children who are exploited for labour.

But later accounts also took note of the sentence which immediately followed these words:

“She [the Church] must ask forgiveness for having blessed so many weapons.”

Assault rifle? Many weapons?  Coincidence?

Honestly, I’m not quite sure.  I will admit that the first time I read the pope’s full quotation, before reading Pollitt’s essay, I assumed that Francis was referring to the fact that churches, historically, have literally had blessing rituals for weapons of war.  After reading Pollitt’s reflection, I started to wonder if there was a different way of interpreting the pope’s remarks.  Was he saying that some of the church’s language and messages about gay people, the poor, women, and exploited children can be compared to weapons?

I acknowledge that I may be stretching it a bit. I was an English major, after all, and we are known for sometimes finding meanings where none were intended. But Pope Francis is a Jesuit.  Is it too much of a stretch to think that just a few days before he uttered his call for apology he might have read the online reflection of Pollitt, also a Jesuit and the head of an influential Jesuit agency?  Even if Pollitt were not involved with the pope’s language, the question still remains if he meant “weapons” literally or metaphorically.

It may be impossible to discern Francis’ intentions from the linguistic evidence, and I do not want to stretch the point beyond credibility.  What I do know, though, is that many LGBT people–and women–have experienced the church’s language and messaging as weapons.  For some, their experience has shown that weapon is not just a metaphor.  Pollitt describes an incident:

“When I was working in a parish community I remember being called to the emergency room of a local hospital one night. A young man had been admitted, hardly recognisable, because he had been beaten to a pulp. Earlier that evening he had “come out” to his family. His father justified the assault saying that it was against his religion to have a ‘moffie’ in the family. The family was deeply involved in the Catholic Church.

“While religion and religious language cannot be used as the sole motivating factor for this killing, it seems appropriate that believers interrogate the words they use and the positions they take. Religious positions and language contribute to a cocktail in which homophobia is incubated and bred. The kind of language, for example, which is used in official texts of the Church powerfully shapes perceptions, attitudes and actions. After all, isn’t that what religious teaching strives to do – shape perceptions, attitudes and actions – hopefully for the good? Phrases such as ‘objectively disordered’ are not helpful.”

I would like to think that Pollitt’s metaphor of bad religious language as an assault rifle is an overstatement, but I’ve heard too many painful stories over the years of physical, emotional, and spiritual violence to be able to convince myself of that position.  Similarly, I would like to think that Pope Francis’ use of the church having “blessed so many weapons” might indicate that the pontiff was making an extremely strong statement about the harm the Church has caused people, but I don’t have enough evidence of that for certainty.

What I can be sure of, though, is that whatever Pope Francis meant by his words, he did call for the Church to apologize, and it is now incumbent on our leaders to begin this process of apology before more people are needlessly harmed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Roy Bourgeois: Catholic Church Must Change Its Teachings on Homosexuality

July 11, 2016

Today’s post is from guest blogger Roy Bourgeois, a former Roman Catholic priest and the author of My Journey From Silence to Solidarity.  Bourgeois is a nationally-known speaker on conscience and church reform.  He founded the School of the Americas Watch, which holds an annual protest against the training of Latin American soldiers at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.

Homophobia, according to Webster’s dictionary, is “the irrational hatred or fear of homosexuals.”

Roy Bourgeois

The language we use breeds hatred and fear, which often leads to violence.  It’s time to disarm hatred and fear.  A good place to start is with church teachings.

According to the official teaching of the Catholic Church, as stated in its Catechism, section 2357:

“Basing itself on Sacred Scriptures, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’  They are contrary to the natural law.  They close the sexual act to the gif of life.  They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.  Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

This teaching instills shame and self-hatred.  It has contributed to gay people being rejected by their families, fired from their jobs, bullied, and even killed.

Throughout history, the Bible and “tradition” have been used to justify discrimination.  The Bible was used to support slavery, as it was used to oppose the right of women to vote.

Growing up in Louisiana, we used our “tradition” and the Bible to justify our segregated schools and worshiped in a Catholic Church that reserve d the last five pews for blacks.  And today, once again, we are using the Bible and tradition to discriminate against gay people.

Over the years, I have had to deal with Catholic church teachings.  I served as a priest with the Maryknoll Fathers for 40 years.  In 2012, I was expelled because of my public support for the ordination of women.

Being kicked out of the priesthood and my community of long-time friends was very painful.  However, this experience gave me a glimpse of what millions of people have gone through, on a much deeper level, because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Since my expulsion from the priesthood, I have been hearing the stories and experiences of gay people  Two stand out and kept me awake at night:

  1.  Catholic parents told me about their high school son who was gay.  While they expressed unconditional love for him, he was bullied at school and did not feel welcome at their church.  Two weeks before graduation, he committed suicide.  They told me that the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality contributed to the death of their son, and they left the church.
  2. On a recent human rights delegation to El Salvador, we met with LGBT people.  They told us about the danger of coming out in El Salvador and how some of their good friends were killed.  El Salvador is a very Catholic country. When asked about support from the church, they said Catholic bishops and priests were their biggest enemies.

Outside the Catholic Church, others see homosexuality differently:

  • Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said, “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”
  • In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association declared that homosexuality is a normal variation of human sexuality.
  • On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, “Nearly two-thirds of LGBT Americans report having experienced discrimination in their personal lives,” and  “only 19 states explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

Today, 25 countries have legalized gay marriage, while 75 nations treat homosexual behavior as a crime.  In 10 countries, it is punishable by death.

When we are born, we do not choose our race, gender, or sexual orientation.  No matter how hard we may try to justify discrimination against others, including using the Bible and tradition, in the end, it is not the way of a loving God who created everyone of equal worth and dignity.  There are no exceptions.

It is time for the Catholic Church and other churches to change the oppressive teachings on homosexuality.

–Roy Bourgeois


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