SYMPOSIUM: Kentucky Bishop Speaks Out Against Church Firings of LGBT People

When Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv, spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” he also gave an interview to  Patricia Lefevere of The National Catholic Reporter.  During that interview, Lefevere asked the bishop from Lexington, Kentucky, about the contentious issue of  LGBT employees being fired from Catholic institutions (which was also the topic of a plenary session and a focus session at the symposium).   His answers to her questions provide the strongest statements yet in support of LGBT employees from a U.S. Catholic bishop.

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Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv.

Lefevere reported that the bishop stressed that the firings of LGBT employees amounted to a form of discrimination which was not appropriate for a Catholic institution to exhibit:

“When Stowe was asked how he felt the church should respond to cases of LGBT employees — many of whom had been fired from long-held church positions when their same-sex marriages were publicized or outed — he stressed that the church must be consistent and non-discriminatory in dealing with all its employees.

” ‘We must preserve our tradition and our integrity as a church,’ he said. ‘We risk contradicting ourselves if we want our employees to live by the church’s teaching and if we ourselves as an institution don’t live by our teaching, which has always opposed discrimination of any sort.’ “

While some bishops contend that firing LGBT employees is protected under the church’s religious liberty protections,  the Franciscan bishop pointed out that a more creative response was needed.  Lefevere reported:

“Stowe thought the church could find a way to ‘defend our religious liberty without violating any one’s human rights.’ “

For Stowe, it seems, the church’s teaching on the dignity of work and workers should be a guiding force when it comes to church employment issues:

“He pointed to its century-long championing of working people, of their rights to a living wage, to humane treatment in the workplace and to collective bargaining. ‘We must be consistent, even though that can be very difficult sometimes.’ “

And the dignity of the human person must be preserved above all,  even above institutional ideals:

“The challenge is to ‘articulate Gospel principles consistently and implement them compassionately,’ he said, noting that Catholic social teaching has always upheld the dignity of each human person. ‘We preach that human flourishing is a primary goal,’ he said, ‘much more important than the protection of our institutions.’ “

Stowe’s comments constitute the most comprehensive positive statement from a U.S. bishop on the employment of LGBT people in Catholic institutions.  To this date, only one other U.S. bishop,  Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap, who in 2014 told Bondings 2.o that the firings “need to be rectified.”

The bishops of Germany have instituted a policy that protects legally married gay and lesbian workers in Catholic institutions. An  America magazine editorial in 2016 called the firings “unjust discrimination.”

For other positive developments in the church worker controversy, click here.  To view New Ways Ministry’s resources on the topic, visit our Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT People page.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 23, 2017

Nuns As Queer

Nancy Corcoran, CSJ

Today’s post is from guest blogger, Sister Nancy Corcoran, CSJ. Students at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, first introduced themselves to Nancy as trans or gender-variant in her role as the Catholic Chaplain at the school. Recently retired, she is on a sabbatical, exploring a ministry of presence and accompaniment with other queer folk.

 

Before I became a Sister of St. Joseph, I visited New York City to meet Sister Anne Brotherton who was getting her doctorate at Fordham University.  As we toured Greenwich Village together, I asked Anne if she felt funny walking around in a traditional habit. “Oh, no”, she responded, “I feel quite comfortable.  We’re all queer here”.

Merriam-Webster defines the word “queer” as  “differing in some odd way from what is usual or normal.”  And today, the term “queer” is being reclaimed as a source of pride to folks who disdain the rigid binary classifications of being either female or male.  So why do I think of nuns as queer?

Presently, I am on a sabbatical exploring ministry with LGBTQIA folks after working at a women’s college that graduated a few men every year.  The students exposed me to the rigid binary construction of female and male.  The way they used their clothing and hair styles in ways that did not fit the gender binary politicized my consciousness.

When I no longer had the energy to keep up with the 18-22-year-olds as their Catholic Chaplain, I retired, and I am now on sabbatical. During this time, I have learned that rather than “peculiar, bizarre or weird”, the term “queer” has come to mean “unconventional, unorthodox folks who make visible that maleness and femaleness are social constructions rather than divinely assigned categories”.

Believing that one cannot minister with humans that we believe to be “other” than ourselves, I began reflecting on how I and my religious sisters have also challenged the binary. Let me share some examples which have existed in convents. In an age when a woman’s glory was her long hair, nuns cut theirs off before they pronounced vows. They often were given names reserved for men. Richard Joseph, Francis Regis, John Kenneth, James Patrick, Christopher, Leo, Paul are names of some of my sisters who are alive today.  If sisters did not bind their breasts, they often wore bib like material to disguise their natural form.  Like males, most sisters did not wear makeup. When in habit they went “stealth” at times, especially at the beach.

When I was a child in the 1950-60’s, religious women did the jobs that men did. They were presidents of colleges, principals of schools, administrators and financial officers of hospitals. Some sisters note that when they wore a habit, they were no longer perceived as a woman. We were given instant authority, instant deference.  They were perceived equal to priests–or at least of higher privilege than other women.

Like the experience of many transgender and gender non-conforming humans, many of our parents were not pleased with the choice of our entering the convent.  Our parents’ dreams of traditional weddings and grandchildren faded with our choice.  So I find I have a lot more in common with folks who claim the term “queer” than I had thought possible.

I have hope that by normalizing our “unconventional” and “unorthodox” choices, we might also claim our love and support of humans who likewise challenge the social construction of our society. Rigid constructions of our social norms do need to be challenged. Perhaps by looking at the choices made by nuns, we might expand our acceptance of other queer folk, and explore together how to be fully human.

Sister Nancy Corcoran, CSJ, May 20, 2017

Catholic Parishes Hold IDAHOBIT Prayer Vigils to Oppose Anti-LGBT Actions

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia  (IDAHOBIT). While this commemoration is not widely marked here in the United States,  in other nations, particularly in Europe, it is an important time to oppose prejudice and discrimination.

An IDAHOBIT prayer vigil held in Milan, Italy, May 12, 2017

Catholic participation in IDAHOBIT has grown over the past few years.  According to Progetto Gionata, an Italian LGBT Christian group, reports that this year prayer vigils marking the occasion (over the course of a week) will be held in Catholic churches in seven Italian cities and one in Spain.  The cities and churches are:

Italy

  • Milan: Santa Maria della Passione
  • Reggio Emilia:  Regina Pacis
  • Pistoia:  Santa Maria Maggiore di Vicofara a Pistoia
  • Catania:  SS. Crocifisso della Buona Morte
  • Florence:  Madonna della Tosse
  • Bologna:  San Bartolomeo della Beverara
  • Genoa:  San Pietro in Banchi

Spain

  • Seville:  San Pedro de Alcántara

Most notably on this list are the additions of Genoa and Palermo, two places where bishops put a stop to such prayer vigils in previous years.  Notably, the Archdiocese of Palermo has an archbishop, Corrado Lorefice, appointed in 2015 by Pope Francis.

Progetto Gionata also reports that at least in one location, a high-ranking diocesan official will lead the prayer vigil:

This is not the only news for this year, for the first time religious orders and Catholic associations will also publicly take part in the vigils. In Genoa the vigil will not only be hosted by a parish but, last minute changes notwithstanding, the general vicar for the dioceses Nicolò Anselmi will participate. “I think this is the most visible sign of how the Church is beginning to really ask itself the questions brought forth by the Synod in regards to providing pastoral welcoming for LGBT people and their families” says Innocenzo Pontillo, from Progetto Gionata.

Last month, at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” participants heard Frank Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, speak about how homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia translate in his country into oppression and violence.   After his talk, New Ways Ministry asked symposium participants if they would pose for a photo that would be used on IDAHOBIT to show over 300 U.S. Catholics who oppose such prejudice and discrimination.  Here it is:

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Catholic doctrine is so clear in opposing harmful attitudes and actions based in phobic reactions to people’s sexual orientation or gender identity.  Catholic parishes around the world should be opening their doors on this day to sponsor prayer vigils to counter such destructive practices.  The growing number of parishes, including those listed above, are great pioneers in this movement.

It may be too late to organize and IDAHOBIT action for this year.  But one thing you can do is make a pledge that you will work to get your  Catholic parish, school, or other institution, to host a prayer vigil on May 17, 2018.  It’s not too early to start now!

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

CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Boston Archdiocese Admits Lesbian Couple’s Child to Catholic School

“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Boston Archdiocese Overrules Parish To Admit Lesbians’ Child to School

The list of  painful actions Catholic institutions have been taking against LGBT people is staggering. LGBT people are fired from church jobs.  LGBT people are denied sacraments or liturgical participation at funerals of family members.  And perhaps most emotionally painful action, children of LGBT people are denied entrance into Catholic schools.

But not all dioceses follow these practices regularly.   Some offer their acceptance quietly, but in one case, in May 2010, church officials protected  a lesbian couple after their son was initially denied admission to  a local Catholic school

Boston. com reported on May 13, 2010:

“The Archdiocese of Boston said yesterday that administrators of a small Catholic elementary school in Hingham were not following archdiocesan policy when they rescinded admission of a prospective student after learning that his parents are lesbians.

“Spokesman Terry Donilon said the archdiocese has no prohibition against same-sex couples sending their children to Catholic schools.”

The school involved  was St. Paul Elementary School, Hingham.

This Boston example was particularly important at the time because only two months before, in March 2010, the Archdiocese of Denver had upheld a local parish school’s decision not to admit a child to a pre-K class because the parents were a lesbian couple.  Bosont.com reported:

“In Boulder, Colo.,  in March a Catholic school refused to allow a student in prekindergartn to reenroll after discovering the child’s parents were lesbians.  Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput defended the decision, writing in the Denver Catholic Register newspaper that the church does not condemn gays and lesbians or their children, but does define marriage as a hetgerosexual union.  He said families with other views ‘have other, excellent options for education.’ “

Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill

Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill, the Archdiocese of Boston’s Secretary for Education & Superintendent, said in a statement about the case:

“The Archdiocese of boston is committed to providing quality Catholic education, grounded in academic excellence and the teachings of the Catholic Church to the students at all of our schools.   We believe that every parent who wishes to send their child to a Catholic school should have the opportunity to purse that dream.  . . . The Archdiocese does not prohibit children of same-sex parents from attending Catholic schools.  We will work in the coming weeks to develop a policy to eliminate any misunderstandings in the future. “

O’Neill went on to explain that she met  with the school’s pastor and principal, and that she also contacted the parents to let them know she would help them find another Catholic school in the Archdiocese for their child.

Fr. James Martin, SJ

At the time, the case also caught the attention of Jesuit Father James Martin, who has emerged as a strong voice for justice for LGBT people in the Catholic Church.  On May 17, 2010, Martin wrote in a blog post for America magazine:

“The archdiocese’s decision is not only pastoral, but sensible–even practical.  For how can one adequately determine if the parents of a child agree with all of Catholic teaching?  Or even ‘respect the beliefs’ of the church? Many of the parents in parochial schools in the U.S. aren’t even Catholic.  How many of them are divorced and remarried?  How many believe in everything that the church teaches on important matters?How many even know what the church teaches on important matters.  Likewise, how many funerals of less-than-devout Catholics are celebrated?  How many couples with little interest in the faith are married in Catholic churches?

“Singling out children of same-sex couples smacks of targeting one particular group.”

The Archdiocese of Boston did act wisely and pastorally in this case, and in the process, set a precedent for all other U.S. dioceses to follow.  With the expansion of marriage equality in the U.S. in 2015, more Catholic schools are going to be faced with similar situations, if they haven’t been already.  The Boston example provides an excellent rationale for other church leaders to follow.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 16, 2017

 

QUOTE TO NOTE: London Cardinal ‘Rejoices’ in LGBT Acceptance, While Still ‘Obstinate’ on Marriage

London’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols has been one of the global church’s strongest advocates of pastoral outreach to the LGBT community.  At the same time, he has opposed marriage equality though, unlike U.S. bishops, he seems comfortable in making social and ecclesial accommodations for lesbian and gay couples.

The Catholic Herald recently reported on remarks Nichols made at a public lecture.  His remarks show the two sides of his approach to matters of gay sexuality.  The news story stated:

“Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the most senior Catholic cleric in England and Wales, has said the Church will continue to be ‘obstinate’ about gay marriage and other questions of sexual morality.

“Answering questions after a talk at St Ethelburga’s Centre, London, Cardinal Nichols was asked about the Church’s response to homophobia. The cardinal said that society had become more empathetic and compassionate towards gay people, and that he ‘rejoiced’ in the change.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

“However, he went on to say that Catholics ‘still stand for’ a definition of marriage as ‘between a man and a woman’ which is open to new life.

“Cardinal Nichols went on: ‘There has never been a time when Christian sexual morality has been totally accepted in any society.’ But, he said, Christians would ‘persist’ in being ‘awkward’ on such matters.”

No doubt some will criticize Nichols’ opposition to marriage equality and his upholding of traditional church teaching on sexuality.  Nichols is no stranger to criticism, though. For years, conservative Catholics in England have been criticizing the pastoral outreach he began to London’s LGBT community, some of these critics even bringing their complaints to the Vatican. Nichols, however, stood firm, and the pastoral outreach program, LGBT Catholics Westminster, is alive, well, and thriving today.

While Nichols may be correct that Christian sexual morality has never been totally accepted in any society, that doesn’t mean that Christian sexual ethics hasn’t changed as new scientific information and social understandings and customs have evolved.   The fact that ethical principles have changed over the centuries is the best argument that they can change in the future.

Still, Nichols serves as a model to other prelates that their opposition to same-gender marriage does not mean that they cannot welcome LGBT people into the church community.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 15, 2017

 

New Anti-Bullying Manual for Catholic Schools Is a Gift to the Church

A new manual for Catholic school teachers in England and Wales on how to combat homophobia and biphobia has caused a bit of a minor controversy based on its origin, perhaps because the document offers strong practical advice on how to stop and prevent bullying of sexual minority students.

The document, entitled “Made in God’s Image:  Challenging homophobic and biphobic bullying in Catholic Schools” was produced by the Catholic Education Service of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, in partnership with St. Mary’s University, Twickenham.  The Catholic Herald reports, however, that some critics have questioned who contributed to the document:

“A covering letter accompanying the document, reported online, states the CES has ‘received funding to cover the printing and distribution of a hard copy for each school.’

“However, a spokesman said: ‘The document is a collaboration between the CES and St Mary’s and no external funding has been received for it.’ “

The critics said that portions of the document are very similar to anti-bullying materials produced by Stonewall and lgbtyouth Scotland, two leading UK LGBT equality organizations. Stonewall denied any involvement but said their materials are public and they’d be glad if their ideas were used by others.

What is most remarkable about this “controversy” is that the criticism seems intended to discredit what is a fine document on how to educate Catholic students about respecting gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.  Regardless of its source, the document explains its Catholic rationale very clearly.  Here are some excerpts from the first section:

“This guidance forms part of the commitment of the Catholic to the pastoral care of pupils and in particular the elimination of homophobic stereotyping and bullying for all children and young people educated in our Catholic schools. Its aim is to challenge all forms of homophobic and biphobic bullying in order to create safe spaces for pupils to come together to learn. . . .

“The intention of this guidance is to help our schools flourish as communities of loving respect where everyone is cherished as a person made in the ‘Image of God’. In April 19971 Cardinal Basil Hume wrote, ‘The Church recognises the dignity of all people and does not define or label them in terms of their sexual orientation. The pastor and counsellor must see all people, irrespective of their sexuality, as children of God and destined for eternal life. . . .

“Any systematic failure to respect that dignity needs to be tackled, if necessary by appropriate legislation. Nothing in the Church’s teaching can be said to support or sanction, even implicitly, the victimisation of anyone on the basis of his or her sexuality. Furthermore, ‘homophobia’ should have no place among Catholics. Catholic teaching on homosexuality is not founded on, and can never be used to justify ‘homophobic’ attitudes.”

And the document is clear that the material presented is based on Catholic social teaching. The following is an excerpt that descibes “inclusive education” as founded on Catholic social teaching:

“Inclusive education:  If we are serious about inclusive education in our Catholic schools then we must be concerned with the quest for equity for all who work within our communities. The social teaching of the Church and our participation within this teaching should be at the heart of what guides our work as a community. The well being of all – staff and pupils – requires the removal of any barriers of prejudice, discrimination and oppression if all are to strive and to realise our potential as unique and fulfilled human beings.

“What is Catholic Social Teaching? “The immediate purpose of the Church’s social doctrine is to propose the principles and values that can sustain a society worthy of the human person”. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 580) Catholic Social Teaching calls us…

  • to be aware of injustice in our society and the wider world
  • to challenge and change our attitudes to take action to bring about a more just society and
  • to be aware of injustice in our society and the wider world
  • to challenge and change our attitudes
  • to take action to bring about a more just society and world”

The bulk of the document presents eight detailed lesson plans that teachers can use to address bullying against gay, lesbian, and bisexual students, within an authentic Catholic context. Though transgender people are not mentioned in the general sections of this document, bullying against them is mentioned briefly in the lesson plan section.  More discussion of transphobia could have improved this document.

The Catholic “frame” and material conained in these lesson plans make it difficult to understand why critics would suggest that it was too heavily influenced by secular sources.  And what would be the problem if secular sources were used?  The Church as always learned from knowledge developed in the secular world.  Why should such learning be a problem in this case?

The document points out the need teachers have for guidance on bullying:

“Very few teachers in primary schools (8%) or secondary schools (17%) say they have received specific training on tackling homophobic bullying.

“Three in ten secondary school teachers (29%) and two in five primary school teachers (37%) don’t know if they are allowed to teach lesbian, gay and bisexual issues. . . .

“Scheider and Dimito (2008) found that 68% of teachers did not feel enough resources were present in schools to deal with issues on sexual orientation. 60% of teachers interviewed did not feel they had appropriate training and 56% of teachers believed parents would protest if sexual orientation or gender identity were raised at school.

“For teachers working in church school contexts there can be a hesitancy in addressing or challenging issues related to sexual orientation. It can be wrongly assumed that, for teachers working in a church school, there is a tension between a strongly held religious belief and equality and respectful treatment for gay people. As the St Mary’s University survey shows . . . many of our Catholic schools toned support in approaching issues relating to sexual orientation and, indeed, to respond to issues of homophobic bullying.”

Clearly, this document addresses an important need.  While there are certain sections in it that apply to UK law and policy regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, the bulk of this document, especially the lesson plans, can be useful for Catholic school teachers in almost every location.

If you work in a Catholic education or youth ministry, or if you are someone who is concerned generally about bullying, you should read the entire document by clicking here.  Made In God’s Image is a great gift to Catholic education!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 14, 2017

 

Scottish School Apology Is a Model for the Church

In Scotland, a Catholic secondary school official responded in an extremely appropriate and effective way when anti-gay leaflets were discovered on campus:  he apologized to the students.

Glasgow’s Herald newspaper reported that when Stephen Phee, the Head teacher (chief administrator) at St. Mungo’s school, Falkirk, was informed of the leaflets’ existence by the student who discovered them, he immediately offered an apology. The student, Aidan Callaghan, said:

“Mr. Phee apologised straight away and said they shouldn’t have been there, and he would investigate how they got there.”

St. Mungo High School

The fliers, which were published by an organization called “The Catholic Truth Society,” were immediately removed from the school.  Entitled “The Church and same-sex attraction,” the tract used terms like “deep-seated tendencies” and “acts of grave depravity” to discuss, respectively, homosexual orientation and gay sex.”  These terms are often used in Catholic magisterial writing. Why is an apology such an appropriate and effective response in this case?  Because it signaled to the students that the administration sees part of its role as protecting LGBT people from harrassment,

Why is an apology such an appropriate and effective response in this case?  Because it signaled to the students that the administration sees part of its role as protecting LGBT people from harassment.  That is a task that every Catholic institution administrator should consider as part of the job description.

Scottish LGBT advocates noted how important it is for the school to respond strongly to this situation. The Herald reported that Cara Spence, Senior Programmes Manager at LGBT Youth Scotland, explained:

 “[These] messages are deeply damaging to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender learners and could have a long-term impact on a young person’s confidence and their ability to talk to others about how they feel.”

With a positive response like Phee’s, it’s not surprising that Callahan, the student who found the fliers, noted that the school’s atmosphere is an accepting one.  He stated:

“Homophobia isn’t an issue at our school, so I was really surprised to see something like this.”

Last June, Pope Francis had called on church leaders to apologize to lesbian and gay people for the ill-treatment they have received from religious institutions.  Few leaders have done so, which makes the school administrator’s statement all the more remarkable.

The spirit of apology seems to be infused in Scotland lately.   The theological forum of the Church of Scotland (the established Presbyterian church) has announced that it will ask the General Assembly of the denomination meeting this month to offer an apology to lesbian and gay people.  A report issued by the forum stated:

“We recognise that as a Church we have often failed to recognise and protect the identity and Christian vocation of gay people and believe that the Church as a whole should acknowledge its faults.”

Let us pray that this action from the Church of Scotland will inspire other Christian churches to follow suit.  And let us pray that the action of this Scottish Roman Catholic school official will spark other Catholic officials to begin the process of reconciliation with the LGBT community by offering their own apologies.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 11, 2017