‘Nun on the Bus’ Speaks on Justice, Spirituality, and Equality for Women and LGBT People

As millions gather at “Women’s Marches” in cities across the U.S. and the globe to protest the new presidential administration in Washington, DC, it might be instructive for us to learn from a Catholic nun who has been an outspoken advocate for justice for decades: Sister Simone Campbell, SSS.  In fact, she will be a speaker at the main Women’s March in Washington, DC today.

Sister Simone Cambell, SSS

Sr. Simone, the “nun on the bus,” has been speaking passionately for many years now about issues of social justice such as poverty, health care, and military spending. Less well-known about her, though, is that she has also added her voice to discussions on LGBT equality.  In 2010,  she addressed a U.S. Congressional briefing about Catholic support for LGBT civil rights, including marriage equality.  In 2015, she was a speaker at DignityUSA’s biennial convention for LGBT Catholics.   And on April 28, 2017, she will be the leader of a retreat day focusing on social justice, spirituality, and LGBT issues, as a prelude to New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.”

Sr. Simone was featured recently in a U.S. Catholic profile as part of their “Unexpected Women” series.  Interestingly for today’s events, the writer of the profile, Jean P. Kelly, notes that she turned to Sr. Simone’s words for inspiration after being “paralyzed” when Kelly’s campaigning work “failed to result in the outcome I prayed for in the most recent presidential election.”  Kelly listened to a podcast Sr. Simone had made which called for political action combined with deep contemplation.  The podcast contained this advice:

“Faith [is] …groping in the dark and…listening for the nudges and paying attention….Religious life is about deep listening to the needs around us.”

Controversy is not a stranger to Sr. Simone, whose work, first as a lawyer, and then as the Executive Director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby founded by nuns.  She rose to become almost a household name when she started the annual campaign “Nuns on the Bus,” in which religious women travel the nation to hold rallies and prayer services for social justice across the U.S.

Kelly gives a bit of the nun’s biography, explaining how social action and religious life melded for her:

“In her autobiography, A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community (HarperOne), Campbell explains how her coming of age in the 1960s played a role in her decision to join a small community of religious founded in 1923 [Sisters of Social Service] with a ‘mission to be active in the world, a force for justice.’

” ‘That got them into trouble,’ Campbell says, ‘But I liked that. Jesus for me has always been about justice.’ “

Social action is only half of the equation, though, for Sr. Simone.  Kelly explains:

“Though her role at NETWORK requires very public faith in action, it was surprising for me to learn that Sister Simone sees her vocation primarily as a contemplative. “It is the most sacred piece of who I am,” she says. Her community’s practice of meditation inspired her interest in Zen meditation, which she has says teaches her how to ‘live on the edge of awareness and insight, about myself and about the world.’ “

And as happens frequently with prophetic people, her stands have sometimes found her embroiled in controversies with the church hierarchy.  But her stands are not based in opposition, as much as they are based in relationship. In her memoir, Sr. Simone states:

“No sister I know thinks she has the responsibility for the institution of the Church. Rather we walk with people in everyday life and try to live the Gospel in that context. This living reality gives us hearts of compassion for the struggle of our world….It appears that people find this attractive and describe it as spiritual leadership. The bishops, on the other hand, take their roles as chiefly one of protecting the institution. They live by rules and regulations that many people experience as judgmental and off-putting. It seems to me that some bishops are angry that the sisters are given a respect that the bishops think they alone deserve.”

Kelly notes that Sr. Simone offers great advice at times of discouragement.  It seems that with the new presidential administration, we may be experiencing discouragement on LGBT topics, but also on more broader topics of health care, immigration, gender equality, and ethnic, racial, and religious diversity.   During those times, it would be good to keep Sr. Simone’s advice in mind:

“The guilt—or the curse—of the progressive, the liberal, the whatever, is that we think we have to do it all. And then we get overwhelmed and don’t do anything. But that’s the mistake. Community is about just doing my part. Just do one thing.”

If you would like to experience more of Sr. Simone’s wisdom, consider attending the retreat day about social justice, spirituality, and LGBT issues she will be giving in advance of New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.”  The retreat day is Friday, April 28, 2017.  The symposium begins on the evening of April 28th and runs until the afternoon of April 30th.  All events are in Chicago.  For more information, click here.

For more on developing a sense of hope in a dark time, read yesterday’s blog post by Robert Shine, in which he reflects on this topic.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 21, 2017

 

Warren Hall Explains Why He Won’t Seek Reinstatement to Priesthood

Ever since it was announced that Cardinal Joseph Tobin would replace Archbishop John Myers as the leader of the Church in Newark, New Jersey,  many people have asked me if I thought that meant that Fr. Warren Hall would be reinstated as a priest there.

Some of you may recall that Hall was suspended from priestly ministry by Myers at the end of last summer.  The Archdiocese of Newark said that the suspension was because of Hall’s support of LGBT organizations, though Hall saw his outreach to LGBT people and groups as part of his ministry.   The archdiocese’s disagreements with Hall began in 2015 when they removed him as chaplain at Seton Hall University because of his support of the “NOH8” campaign and re-assigned him to the Hoboken parish of Sts. Peter and Paul.  Soon after that re-assignment, Fr. Hall came out as gay in a journalistic interview.

Warren Hall

Since Hall’s suspension of priestly faculties came well after Myers had submitted his resignation, many people, including me, thought that a new archbishop might reinstate him.

However, Hall, in an op-ed he penned for Religion News Service, recently announced that the possibility of reinstatement is not something that he would like to pursue.  Hall explains how he came to the decision, first tracing the history of how things have transpired:

It has now been a year and a half since this whole saga began, when Archbishop Myers removed me from my job as chaplain at Seton Hall University in May 2015. He did this due to suspicions that a “NOH8” posting I made on Facebook standing against attacks on the LGBT community, plus my subsequent coming out as a gay man, reflected a “hidden agenda” that he claimed undermined Catholic teaching.

It has also been five months since Myers suspended me from all priestly ministry for my “disobedience” in continuing to be involved with that same work against LGBT discrimination.

Hall said he has spent the intervening months discerning whether he should request reinstatement, something that his family, friends, and parishioners were encouraging him to do.  But then another incident happened which decided his position:

“. . . [A]s I was contemplating it all the decision was effectively made for me, on Dec. 7. That’s when the Vatican issued a document reaffirming a 2005 instruction that gay men should not be admitted to the priesthood. Apparently, Pope Francis approved of the policy.

How he could assert this is as confusing as his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment when asked about gay men in the priesthood.

In describing his ministry to LGBT people, Hall emphasizes a point that all who minister with LGBT people encounter:  engaging in ministry means encountering people who do not always agree with church doctrine:

The activity for which I was suspended last August was related to my speaking publicly to LGBT Catholics and encouraging them to stay in the Catholic Church. Yes, I said stay IN the church!

And yes, I met with groups that do not necessarily agree with our teaching. But those are the places Jesus went. I believe that today is comparable to many other times in the church’s history when the tenets of its teachings came face to face with developments in society, and things became “messy.”

Hall acknowledges that the church’s language of “objectively disordered” and “intrinsically evil” are offensive, but he believes that in the future these terms will change.   Unfortunately, though the current language prevents him from seeking reinstatement:

I can’t [seek reinstatement], simply because I could not in good conscience take the Oath of Fidelity that all priests take upon ordination and when assuming a pastorate, namely, that I “accept and hold everything that is proposed by the hierarchy” and that I “adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings.”

He recognizes that the teaching on sexuality is not the most important one, and he wishes church leadership would focus on more primary concerns:

I think the average Catholic wants the church to get back to the basics: feeding the hungry; clothing the naked; proclaiming the message of love, forgiveness and inclusion that Jesus taught his followers.

It’s a message the people are not hearing enough, and because of that their church is failing them and because of that many are abandoning their church, in droves!

Hall also asserts another important idea that seems to have played a role in his decision:

I don’t think the church knows yet how to deal with openly gay men in active ministry, even those of us who observe our vows of chastity. I don’t think the church knows how to minister to its LGBT brothers and sisters, and it’s not yet trying to learn.

I’ve excerpted what I consider the highlights of Hall’s essay,  If you are interested in LGBT pastoral ministry or the issue of gay priests, I recommend that you read the entire essay by clicking here.

The Catholic Church is diminished by the loss of Warren Hall from the priesthood.  Having met him personally, I know that he is a faith-filled person who responds to others with love, compassion, and justice.  Obviously, the decision not to seek reinstatement was a difficult one for him, but he has done so with integrity.  I was happy to read at the end of his essay that he plans to continue his ministry as a Catholic lay person:

I will work now in the secular world with that same sense of mission that was mine since I was a youth group teen and which I committed myself to on the day of my ordination.

In doing so, I’ll continue to live by the final command of the liturgy that we all celebrate: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”

Hall will be leading a focus session on “Gay Men in the Priesthood and Religious Life” at New Ways Ministry’s upcoming Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” We had invited him before his suspension, and now we think his words will be even more prescient. For more information about the symposium, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, click here.

 

Sr. Jeannine Spreads Message of LGBT Equality in Poland

While most people in the United States were enjoying turkey with all the trimmings last Thanksgiving Day, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, was feasting instead on pierogi (dumplings), golabki (stuffed cabbage leaves), kapusta (sauerkraut), and babka (bread). Far from flouting custom, she was honoring tradition and her ancestral roots by spending Thanksgiving Day in Poland.

sr-jeannine-with-sign
In Poland, Sr. Jeannine holds a sign which reads ” I support LGBT people because we are all children of God.”

She was invited for a week-long speaking tour about Catholic LGBT issues, sponsored by the country’s leading LGBT equality organization, “Campaign Against Homophobia,” and its main Christian groups, “Faith and Rainbow” and “Tolerado.” She gave three public presentations, 14 interviews with radio, TV, or print journalists, a retreat for LGBT Christians, and spoke personally with countless individual Poles, including the Secretary General of Poland’s organization for nuns’ communities.

Traveling to Poland’s three leading cities–Warsaw, Krakow, and Gdansk–Sister Jeannine spread the message that she has been spreading for over 45 years: God has unconditional love for LGBT people and it is the church’s job to make that love real by working for justice and equality.

In the homeland of Pope John Paul II, journalists naturally questioned Gramick about her opinions on both the former pope and his current successor. Initially, she said, she had great enthusiasm for John Paul when he was elected. She felt great pride because of her own Polish heritage, but that quickly dissipated. While he called for justice in the secular arena, he was adamantly opposed to any discussion of injustice within the church’s walls. Moreover, she disagreed with John Paul’s views about sexuality, expressed in his talks on the “Theology of the Body,” stating that his notions about gender complementarity made no sense at all to women.

Concerning Pope Francis, she is more optimistic.  In an interview with Queer.pl, she said,

“I think his emphasis is in the right place. He is emphasizing the heart, not the head. He speaks often about dialogue and getting to know LGBT people, even though he maintains that he will not change church teaching (on sexual ethics). I believe that it is most important to first talk with people and thus open people’s hearts. Change (in sexual ethics) will come after there is a change of heart.”

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After one of her speaking appearances in Poland, Sr. Jeannine greets members of the audience.

In an interview with Kobieta.wp.pl, Sister Jeannine described what motivated her to become involved in this ministry. She began her work in 1971 when she met a young gay man who had left the Catholic Church. After many discussions with him and his friends, she realized that Catholics needed to be educated about LGBT lives. She explained:

“I wanted to give a voice to those in the Church who could not speak for themselves. I believe LGBT people, just as any of the faithful, should have their rightful place in this institution…

“I’ve always been interested in those who are overlooked by society. If you read the Bible, you know that Jesus came to defend the outcasts. Another issue for me is conscience. Sometimes your conscience guides you to differ with the church hierarchy…the only thing that should concern us is love and helping others.”

When asked by Queer.pl about her impressions of LGBT issues in Poland, Sister Jeannine responded:

“I’m very surprised, in a positive sense, about what I’ve seen and experienced in Poland. There is more talk about LGBT people than I had anticipated. I’ve seen great acceptance among Catholics, even among priests. They are beginning to understand that this is an important issue of human rights.”

z21076110ihsiostra-jeannine-gramick-fot-agata-kubis
During one of her talks, Sr. Jeannine holds up New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBT-friendly parishes in the newsletter “Bondings.”

She noted that Catholic lay people in the U.S. and many other nations are much more supportive of LGBT people than the Catholic hierarchy. She felt that the “hierarchy of the Church is responsible for the administration of the community, but they should also feel a responsibility to listen to the people.”

The Campaign Against Homophobia and Faith and Rainbow, two organizations that sponsored Sr. Jeannine’s speaking tour in Poland, launched a nationwide reconciliation campaign last September.  “Let’s Exchange a Sign of Peace” posted billboards all over Poland depicting a handshake in which one hand wore a rosary around the wrist and the other wore a rainbow bracelet. While Polish bishops decried the efforts, the Polish citizenry responded quite positively. Many prominent Catholics and several Catholic publications supported the effort.

Sister Jeannine’s lecture series built on so much of the enormous work already done by these organizations and their supporters—efforts that Sister Jeannine feels will bring about many blessings. When asked about the situation in the U.S. in the future, she responded that the mission may become more difficult to accomplish in the new presidential administration, but like her friends in Poland, she is ready to keep on working. To Weekend.gazeta.pl, she said:

“Good work will go forward because the hearts and minds of people who support the LGBT community have been changed. These hearts and minds were opened and are no longer shut. We will not step back. It will be much harder. But we can handle it. We have to.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 17, 2017

 

 

On Martin Luther King Day: A Parish’s Work for LGBT and Racial Justice

Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the great African-American leader of the civil rights’ movement of the mid-twentieth century.  He would have been 88. In the United States, tomorrow is the legal holiday for this occasion, but today is the actual birth date.

Rev. Martin Lutlher King, Jr.

Therefore, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the connections between the African-American civil rights movement and the LGBT civil rights movement.  Perhaps there is no better place to start than St. Vincent de Paul parish in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. It’s a parish where a painting of the 17th-century St. Vincent hangs alongside a photograph of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In December, The National Catholic Reporter featured the parish’s emphasis on social justice, which covers the gamut of issues.  A partial list of those issues was included in the newspaper’s story:

  • An emergency food pantry;
  • Participation in the “New Sanctuary” movement, assisting immigrants to gain legal status;
  • Welcoming to gay, lesbian and transgendered Catholics;
  • A twinning relationship with a parish in El Salvador;
  • A program focused on racial reconciliation;
  • Assistance to poor parents who send their children to Catholic schools;
  • Shelters for the long-term homeless, those transitioning to work, and for former convicts;
  • A Catholic school whose enrollment has increased from 225 students to 425 over the past four years, drawing parents — many non-Catholics — seeking an alternative to the hard-pressed Philadelphia public schools;
  • Active membership in Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER), an ecumenical organization devoted to social justice concerns, such as minimum wage legislation and racial justice.
At St. Vincent De Paul Church, Philadelphia, pastor Sylvester Peterka (left), exonerated death-row inmate Harold Wilson (center), and other participants in a prayer rally against capital punishment join hands and sing.

This parish that prides itself on being known as “the social justice parish” understands welcoming LGBT people as part of its broader agenda.  Interestingly, this social justice focus seems to be a response to a history that has not always been exemplary.   The article states:

Begun in 1851, it began as an Irish parish, attacked early on by Know-Nothing mobs in anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant actions. In the style of many ethnic-centered Philadelphia parishes, African-Americans and, later, Italians and other later immigrants were discouraged from joining. One parishioner, Joy Wuenschel, was baptized in a nearby parish because her family was told that St. Vincent would not baptize those who were not Irish. Her background is half-Italian.

Working on the issue of racial and ethnic prejudice seems to be at the root of the parish’s justice-oriented focus.  The article described a recent program about racial reconciliation held in the parish:

“African-American parishioners told stories about the historical struggle of being black Catholics in Philadelphia, including accounts of being spat upon by white Catholics going to Mass, as well as recollections of rules that forbade black Catholics from many parishes. There were also the bright spots in Philadelphia Catholic history, such as St. Katharine Drexel, who ministered to both black and white Catholics in early Philadelphia.

” ‘It was one of the most moving experiences,’ said Browning, who noted, ‘We have the resilience of black folks who have endured.’ It’s a lesson, she said, appropriate for those discouraged by this year’s elections.

“The discussion process, which lasted over weeks, provided a safe space for all to share concerns, said Wiley Redding, co-chair of the parish council. ‘When you mention race, the room becomes quiet’ in many places, but not so at St. Vincent.”

A lesson that I take from reading about St. Vincent parish is how important it is to recognize that working against injustice on one issue often paves the way for the ability to see injustice operative in other issues.  In our interconnected, globalized world, we must remember that we need to be aware of justice issues beyond our own personal connections.  If we work on LGBT justice issues, we should also be open to working on justice issues concerning racial minorities, migrants, refugees, the urban and rural poor.

The parishioners and staff of St. Vincent recognize what Martin Luther King, Jr. said decades ago: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

St. Vincent de Paul parish is listed in New Ways Ministry’s catalogue of LGBT-friendly Catholic parishes.  To find a parish near you, click here

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 16, 2017

Fired N.C. Gay Teacher Files Federal Discrimination Lawsuit

U.S. federal court will be the venue for the latest employment suit brought by an LGBT person against a Catholic institution.

Lonnie Billard, who in 2014 was fired from his job as an English and drama teacher at Charlotte Catholic High School, North Carolina, is suing the school and the Charlotte Diocese which operates the institution.  Billard was fired after his impending marriage to longtime partner Richard Donham.

Lonnie Billard and Richard Donham

The Daily Mail explained the basis of the suit:

“Billard’s lawyers argue the firing violates prohibitions against sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. . . .

“The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which determined Billard has the right to sue, says on its website that religious organizations can give employment preference to members of the faith but can’t otherwise discriminate against protected classes of people.

“The commission’s position is that the definition of ‘sex’ contained in Title VII protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from workplace discrimination. It says a number of federal court decisions support the view that sexual orientation is covered under prohibitions against sex discrimination.”

However, according to one legal expert, the law in this regard is still being tested, so the outcome is not a certainty.

Billard’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyers are more confident about the case, according to The Charlotte News Observer:

“ACLU State Legal Director Chris Brook says in this case religious organizations are not immune from the ban against workplace sex discrimination outlined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

” ‘The school has a right to its religious beliefs,’ he told the Observer. ‘It does not have the right to ignore Title VII.’

“Billard said his adherence to Catholic doctrine ‘was never a part of the employment process.’

” ‘I was interviewed about my qualifications to be in the classroom. There was absolutely nothing said about “Are you gay or are you straight?” Although it didn’t take very long for people to figure that out,’ he said. ‘In the classroom, there was nothing about the Catholic religion. I taught the curriculum. I taught what was in the books.’

‘Brook argues that other employees of the school violate Catholic teachings about divorce and other spiritual matters. ‘Lonnie was the only one fired.’ “

One of the more troubling aspects of this case, which has occurred so many times in similar cases in the past, is that Billard said that school officials were aware of his relationship and did not consider it a problem until it became public.  From an ethical point of view, one has to question Catholic officials’ reasoning:  Is it okay to have a same-sex relationship as long as it is secret?  Unfortunately, time and again, that seems to be the message that they are sending. Fox 46 reported:

“Billard said it was no secret at Charlotte Catholic High School that he was in a committed relationship with his partner, Rich.

” ‘For all these years, Rich and I were a known entity. We were a gay couple in that environment. They knew it and no one ever said a word,’ Billard explained.

“A lawsuit filed on Wednesday alleges Billard was fired in 2014 after a Facebook post announced his intentions to marry his partner.

” ‘He had come to all the plays I directed. The kids knew him, the parents knew him, the administration knew him and, in fact, the administration would be sure to say, “Make sure to bring Rich, make sure to bring Rich,” ‘ Billard said.”

The Daily Mail reported that the lawsuit noted that a diocese spokesman said that Billard was let go for ‘going on Facebook, entering into a same-sex relationship, and saying it in a very public way that he does not agree with the teachings of the Catholic Church.’

To add to the injustice, Billard,69, taught full-time at the school for more than a decade (though he had scaled back to be a long-term substitute)  and was given the”Teacher of the Year Award” in 2012. He commented on his teaching career to The Daily Mail:

“I know that the Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage, but I don’t think my commitment to my husband has any bearing on my work in the classroom. I have never hidden the fact that I’m gay and my relationship with my partner was no secret at school. But whether or not the school previously knew that I am gay is not the point. People should be able to fall in love and get married without risking their jobs.”

Since the firing,  Billard has left the Catholic Church.

Several other church employees fired because of LGBT issues also have similar cases pending in federal court:  Sandor Demkovich, Colin Collette, John Murphy, and Flint Dollar.  Shaela Evenson brought a federal suit, but reached a private settlement before trial.  Other similar cases have also settled, but these were brought in state courts.  For a list of legal cases involving LGBT Catholic church employees, click here.  For New Ways Ministry’s resource page on “Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT Issues,” click here.

If you are concerned about the issue of LGBT employment in the Catholic Church, consider attending New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” April 28-30, 2017, Chicago.  One of our plenary session speakers will be Leslie C. Griffin, Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a national expert on the intersection of law and religion.  She will be speaking on the topic of “Religious Liberty, Employment, and LGBT Issues.”  Additionally, one of the symposium’s focus sessions will be on “The Challenges of LGBT Church Workers” and will feature Colleen Simon, Margie Winters, and Andrea di Vettori, who have all experienced firings from Catholic institutions because of marriage issues.  For more information and to register, click here.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 13, 2017

 

A Question of Language: ‘Same-Sex Attraction’ vs. ‘Gay or Lesbian’

The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) recently featured an interview with Fr. Philip Bochanski, the new director of Courage, a ministry which promotes celibacy as the only path for gay and lesbian Catholics.  The article states that the priest reported that “the organization feels supported by Pope Francis’ encouragement to accompany those ‘with same-sex attraction’ on their spiritual journeys.”  Bochanski is quoted as saying that Francis’ language of accompaniment, “is very useful for us. It recognizes the approach we take.”

Fr. Philip Bochanski

It is noteworthy that Courage is taking direction in their pastoral work from Pope Francis, who is seen by many as having initiated on new openness on LGBT issues in the Church.  But, as the NCR article points out, the leadership of Courage does not follow Pope Francis when it comes to language about LGBT issues. The reporter stated:

“[The Courage] approach includes using a language that some might consider arcane. Unlike Francis, Courage does not use the term ‘gay, preferring the phrase ‘same-sex attraction.’ Still, the pope’s Amoris Laetitia apostolic exhortation on the family also uses the more formal same-sex attraction language.”

The language difference is not insignificant.  First of all,  for many gay and lesbian people, the term “same-sex attraction” is offensive because it does not adequately describe themselves or their personal experiences.   To call someone “a person with same-sex attraction” sounds very much like referring to someone who has a disease or condition which is different than the natural way that things should be.   Gay and lesbian people, however, do not experience their sexual identities as something irregular, but as something natural to themselves.

When Jesuit Father James Martin received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award last autumn, he noted in his acceptance speech that the Catechism calls people to treat lesbian and gay people with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.  He noted that it is a sign of respect to address people in the way in which they identify themselves.  Fr. Martin elaborated:

“. . . [R]espect means calling a group what it asks to be called. On a personal level, if someone says, ‘I prefer to be called Jim instead of James,’ you naturally listen. It’s common courtesy. And it’s the same on a group level. We don’t say ‘Negroes’ any longer. Why? Because that group feels more comfortable with other names: ‘African-Americans’ or ‘blacks.’ . . . Everyone has the right to tell you their name.

“Names are important. Thus, church leaders are invited to be attentive to how they name the L.G.B.T. community and lay to rest phrases like “afflicted with same-sex attraction,” which no L.G.B.T. person I know uses, and even “homosexual person,” which seems overly clinical to many. . . .And if Pope Francis can use the word gay, so can the rest of the church.”

In the NCR article, Bochanski is quoted as saying “A person is not defined by a sexual orientation.”  But referring to oneself as gay or lesbian does not mean that one defines oneself by that designation.  It is merely descriptive of one feature of person’s constitution.  If a man describes himself as “a tall guy,”  it doesn’t mean that he defines himself by his height.

Another problem with the use of the “same-sex attraction” language is that for many people it actually seems to emphasize sexual activity more than “gay” or “lesbian” do.  Many gay and lesbian people view their identities as being about so much more than their attractions, which is only one part of their sexuality.  Their sexual identities are also about their relationships, emotions, and personal interactions.  Their sexual identities also have a social dimension, by which I mean that lesbian and gay people have often been made to feel different or stigmatized in mainstream culture which is predominantly heterosexual.

For the NCR article, I was asked about the difference between New Ways Ministry and Courage:

” ‘The difference in approach has less to do with celibacy and more to do with the understanding of sexual orientation,’ he said.  New Ways Ministry sees gay orientation as a gift from God, not a problem that needs to be overcome, said DeBernardo.

” ‘Courage has often taken a 12-step approach to sexual orientation, seeing it as a defect in a person. We don’t believe that is an authentically helpful response.’ “

In one respect that difference is encapsulated in the difference between the terms “a person with same-sex attraction” and “a gay or lesbian person.”

The good news from this article is that Courage has officially separated itself from reparative therapy.  The reporter stated:

“Courage has evolved, taking a different position on what some call reparative therapy, through which gays are encouraged to become heterosexual. In the 1990s, Courage literature was encouraging, stating, ‘for those who really want it, reparative growth is a possibility and happens regularly.’ “

“Courage is now officially neutral on reparative therapy which, while popular in some evangelical Christian circles, is controversial in the wider counseling community.”

Even better than remaining neutral on the topic would be for Courage to condemn it outright since it has proven to be pastorally and psychologically harmful for so many people.

The article also noted another development in Courage’s policy:

“Bochanski said he is open to discussion with other ministries to Catholic gays, including New Ways Ministry, an organization which holds that gays can be sexually active and still maintain their Catholic faith. But the difference in approach makes such dialogue difficult, he said.”

It is good to know that Courage is open to dialogue.  We here at New Ways Ministry would welcome such an opportunity.  We do not see that our differences would make dialogue difficult.  Dialogue is, after all, precisely about differences.  We believe dialogue would help us understand one another better, and help our organizations minister more effectively to LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 11, 2017

 

 

A Prayer at New Year’s

May God make your year a happy one!

Not by shielding you from all sorrows and pain,
But by strengthening you to bear it, as it comes;

Not by making your path easy,
But by making you sturdy to travel any path;

Not by taking hardships from you,
But by taking fear from your heart;

Not by granting you unbroken sunshine,
But by keeping your face bright, even in the shadows;

Not by making your life always pleasant,
But by showing you when people and their causes need you the most,
And by making you anxious to be there to help.

God’s love, peace, hope, and joy to you for the year ahead!

— St. Thomas à Becket (1118 or 1120—1170)