How Did Pope Francis Do on His LGBT Report Card?

April 1, 2015

On March 13th, the second anniversary of Pope Francis’ election, Bondings 2.0 initiated a week-long survey entitled “What Grade Would You Give Pope Francis on LGBT Issues?”    We thought you might like to know about the results.

665 readers of this blog responded to the survey,  and the percentages for each grade were as follows:

A         14%

B         34%

C         28%

D         11%

F          2%

Incomplete    7%

                                                                           Other              4%

Since “B” received the most votes, with “C” being a close second, I think we could fairly say that our readers gave Pope Francis a “B-.”  Since our readers tend to be people who are deeply concerned about Catholic LGBT issues, I think that this poll reflects that segment of the population, not all Catholic people or all LGBT people.

One interesting thing to note, however is that the number of people who gave him an “A” (14%) is almost equal to the total of those who gave him a “D” (11%) or an “F” (2%).  It seems that those who think who is doing an excellent job on LGBT issues are equally balanced with those who are very disappointed in his performance on these issues.

Some of the folks who graded him “Other” wrote their comments to explain their choices.  Here are some of their remarks:

” The 2015 Synod will be key.”

“With improvement needed.”

“He negates much of the positive done.”

“I would give him a “C” on LGB issues, an “F” on trans issues. Very different responses.”

“He needs to chip away at the flaws in the “official” theology of human sexuality.”

“Actions speak louder than words. So far just a few good words.”

“Same as all popes.”

In my view, “B-” is a good grade, but it is one that shows there is room for improvement, as well as usually showing that the grader believes that the student actually can improve, if more effort and work were done.  At least, that is how I always viewed “B-” grades, both when I was a teacher and a student. As a teacher, I used to use a “minus” grade as a way to encourage students to work a little harder, and to let them know that I believed that they could do better.

So it seems to me that people are happy with the track that Pope Francis is on regarding LGBT issues, but that they would like to see him improve, and they believe that he can improve.

What do you think that “B-” means? Offer your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



When Life’s Journey Is Not What You Expected It to Be

March 29, 2015
On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for Palm Sunday are: Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 4:1-15:47. You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.
Have you ever been traveling and things didn’t go according to your plan?  We’ve all experienced minor inconveniences like travel delays, missing reservations, or bad directions.  But have you ever had a trip go fantastically and catastrophically wrong?  If so, Simon of Cyrene might be your patron saint.

“Simon of Cyrene Helps Christ” by David O’Connell

We don’t know much about Simon, but it’s an understatement to say that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The Gospel writer says only that “they pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry [Jesus’] cross.”  Perhaps we should consider Simon’s story for a couple of moments–the story that the Gospel writer left out.

Simon was probably a pilgrim who visited Jerusalem for the Passover.  He traveled a long way (Cyrene was located in what is now Libya) and spent a lot of money to make this spiritual journey.  I am sure it involved a lot of planning and not a little risk.  So I can only imagine the hot mix of anger, fear, and resentment that Simon might have felt when his plans were upended violently and he was forced by random chance and Roman hands to become an unwilling participant in the unfolding drama of Jesus’ death.  I can almost hear Simon ask bitterly, “Why me?  Why the heck am I stuck with this man’s burden? Why do I deserve this?”  And then, just as abruptly as he appeared, Simon vanished from the Gospel narrative; we do not know what happened to him.

I think LGBT Catholics have a lot in common with Simon of Cyrene.  Most LGBT Catholics are born into the church, which means we are born into a faith community that doesn’t necessarily understand or accept us.  We are born into a faith community that is being pulled in two directions by those who affirm and those who reject LGBT rights.  It’s an uncomfortable position in which to find ourselves — a position that seems to demand everyday that we justify our identities, feelings, and relationships to our fellow Catholics.  I think that pressure to validate our existence and our rights is why so many LGBT people leave the church.  Similar to Simon, they ask, “Why me? Why am I stuck with the burden of other people’s ignorance and malice? Why do I deserve this?”  Hurt and frustrated, it’s understandable why some LGBT Catholics choose to leave.

However, just as Simon’s story didn’t end with his carrying Jesus’ cross, I don’t think the story of LGBT Catholics inevitably ends with a possible departure from the church–and it doesn’t even end if we decide to stay in the church. One of the things the Passion narrative teaches us is that the Christian calling is difficult and involves challenges not of our own choosing.  It sometimes makes us ask the “why me?” questions.

But to be able to experience the joys of the resurrection, one must follow Jesus through his suffering and death.  For LGBT Catholics, I think this might mean staying with the church and doing the hard work of education and bridge-building within Catholic institutions. It might mean suffering the burdens of other people’s ignorance and malice.  It’s not always fun or pretty, but through that effort, I believe we will experience some of the joy of Jesus’ resurrection by knowing that we are making the church a more inclusive and just place for all God’s children.

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry

Synod Data Collection Is Slow, Uneven, and Complex in U.S. Dioceses

March 27, 2015

They Synod on Marriage and the Family which will take place in October 2015 at the Vatican will be as strongly debated as the extraordinary synod on the same topic which took place last year, according to John Allen, veteran Vatican observer, who writes at Crux

Allen predicted that lesbian and gay family issues will be one of three hot-button topics, along with discussions of co-habitating couples, and divorced and remarried people.  Allen’s analysis provides detailed insights into a large number of the bishops and cardinals who will be delegates there, noting who is progressive, who is conservative, and who is in-between.  His descriptions read like a “scorecard” for the various “players” who will be in attendance.  You can read his entire essay by clicking here.

One somewhat hopeful sign for the question of lesbian and gay couples will be the presence of Santiago, Chile’s Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, who, while not supporting marriage equality, does support civil unions for same-gender couples. Not ideal, but at least there’s indication that these questions will continue to be debated.

While there is a some evidence that many dioceses have been collecting input from Catholics in the pew, the statistics are not remarkable, and, as one analyst has shown, they don’t show the full picture. In February, The National Catholic Reporter (NCR)surveyed the websites of 178 U.S. dioceses and archdioceses and found that 52% (93) of them have been collecting information in some fashion.

Of the six bishop-delegates and two alternates to the synod, six of them have shown evidence of collecting data.  No evidence of collection was available for Galveston-Houston’s Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, a delegate, and Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich, an alternate.

But NCR Editor Dennis Coday observed, the data collection time period for a number of dioceses was very short, and in some cases, the input was asked only from a select group of Catholics.  For example, he cited “parish council members in Stockton, Calif., or ‘pastors, parochial administrators, and parochial vicars’ in Venice, Fla.”

Other Catholic groups have stepped up to fill in this void.  “Strong Catholic Families,” a coalition of four national Catholic associations, has made their own survey available online, noting that not only were many dioceses not collecting data, but of those that were, the questionnaires were often long, complex, and difficult to understand.   One official of the coalition spoke to the NCR:

” ‘It became pretty frustrating for me, even as a church leader, to read [the official synod surveys] and think of the people who had to respond to them, and how difficult it is to both understand and respond pastorally to those kinds of questions,” said Michael Theisen, director of Ministry Formation at the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, part of Strong Catholic Families”

The other three organizations that are part of this coalition are the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers, and the National Catholic Educational Association.

Additionally, the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has sent out the Vatican survey to their membership, but did not ask them to answer the questions.  Instead, they asked them to rank the questions in order of importance.

Fr. Bernard Survil, an (ACP) board member, told the NCR:

“We want to let our delegates know … that this is what you should be focusing on.”

The ACP acknowledged the same problem with the Vatican survey that Strong Catholic Families noted: difficulty of answering it.  NCR reported:

“Part of the reason the priests association chose not to have priests answer the synod questions was the time associated with completing such a task. A priest from the Cheyenne, Mont., diocese told Survilthat it took him five hours to answer all 46 questions. In the instructions for its online survey, the Charlotte, N.C., diocese estimated two hours to complete.”

Perhaps the best data collection method is the simplest one, which was employed by Bishop William Medley of Owensboro, Kentucky: he listened.   He held four public town hall meetings for Catholics in his diocese to express their views.

The Bowling Green Daily News noted the bishop’s motivation, which he spoke at the beginning of one meeting that the newspaper attended:

“When the pope said, ‘You need to listen,’ I tried to take him seriously. My job here tonight is to listen to what you have to say.”

And the people responded, the newspaper observed:

“Dozens of people spoke during the meeting, sharing their thoughts on how the church can more effectively address topics such as annulment, the sanctity of life and homosexuality. Many people shared personal stories, including their struggle to get an annulment and the challenges of making their children see church as a priority.”

Not surprisingly, the issue of homosexuality became a heated one.  When one woman spoke up expressing her thoughts along the line of “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” the mother of a gay son rose to refute such thinking:

“Donna Lauth, a Holy Spirit member whose son is gay, said homosexuality is not a condition.

“ ‘My son was born that way,’ she said. . . .

“Lauth said the church should ‘either accept everybody and love them the way God would, or don’t even bother at all.’

“She was glad for the chance to express her views to church leaders.

“ ‘They need to listen to us,’ she said. ‘Listening to us and getting some ideas, maybe there will be a change. You can only hope.’ ”

At the end of the meeting, Bishop Medley summed up his feelings about the evening’s wide-ranging discussion and debate:

“ ‘This is the church. It’s messy. It’s confusing,’ he said. ‘It’s a complex world and it’s a complex church, but it’s a church I love. (We’re trying to) be the best church we can be. In the end, it’s going to be an imperfect church.’ ”

While it is true that the church will always be in need of reform,  I believe that we should still strive for getting a number of things somewhere near right, at least.  Yes, we will be imperfect, but we can still begin to take a few steps closer to perfection.  It’s because of our imperfection, that we need much more debate and dialogue at all levels on so many issues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

Bondings 2.0: New Video Focuses on LGBT Catholics ‘Owning Our Faith‘ ”

Bondings 2.0: “WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Widen the Synod Circle with Diverse Voices

Bondings 2.0: SYNOD 2015: Preparations Begin with Key Questions About Collecting Data and the Goal of Church Ministry

For all Bondings 2.0 posts on Synod 2015, click here.


Puerto Rico’s Archbishop Calls for Referendum As Marriage Law Is Ignored

March 26, 2015

Puerto Rico will no longer uphold its defense of marriage law which only permits heterosexual couples to marry and will not recognize same-gender marriages from other jurisdictions.  But the archbishop of San Juan was not happy with the decision and has called on the island’s government to hold a referendum on same-sex unions

Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves

According to Latino. FoxNews.comArchbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves responded strongly to the decision by Justice Secretary César Miranda, stating:

“We urge our people to launch a process so that a decision of such historical magnitude and significance can be decided through a referendum in which (voters) can express themselves. If not, this would be a dictatorial imposition by the government.”

Gonzalez Nieves called the decision “”very regrettable and disconcerting.”

Miranda, on the other hand, views the decision as a victory for human rights. According to a Reuters article, the Justice Secretary said:

“The decision recognizes that all human beings are equal before the law. We believe in an equal society in which everyone enjoys the same rights.”

Miranda’s decision was announced just before the deadline for the Puerto Rican government to respond to a Court of Appeals case, being heard in Boston, in which five same-sex couples were challenging the prohibitive law.  The jurisdiction of the Boston court also includes five states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Ricky Martin

Other prominent Puerto Ricans applauded the government’s decision, including openly gay singer Ricky Martin, who stated, in Spanish, on social media:

“My thanks to Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla for demonstrating that he is a leader who is not afraid of the challenges of the present. His support for the determination of the Boston Court on marriage equality does justice to equality. My appreciation to Senators and Representatives and my sisters and brothers who joined this struggle for equality and human rights.”

“Today is a great day for my island, my heart beats fast in my chest. How proud I am to live in a country of equality. I love you Puerto Rico.”

In a statement quoted by Reuters, Governor Padilla pointed to the changing attitudes in the United States, of which Puerto Rico is a territory, stating that there was an

“undeniable consensus that does not allow discriminatory distinctions as that contained in our Civil Code with respect to the rights of same sex couples.”

Padilla, a 43-year old practicing Catholic, who in the past had supported the law, added:

“Everyone knows my religious beliefs but political leaders should not impose their beliefs.”

Though not a state, Puerto Rico has enormous cultural exchange with the United States.  It will be interesting to see if this Latin island nation, where 56% of the population is Roman Catholic, will follow the tide of growing acceptance of same-sex marriage both in the U.S. and Latin America.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



What Are We to Make of Pope Francis’ Inclusive Prison Visit?

March 24, 2015

Pope Francis preaches at a Naples mass on the day he visited a prison in that city.

Pope Francis joined 90 prison inmates for lunch during his visit to Naples last Saturday, including 10 from the ward which houses those who are gay, transgender, or have HIV/AIDS. They were among the 1,900 inmates who participated in the lottery for a chance to eat with the pope.

The pope did not address LGBT issues specifically in his talk to the prisoners, but stuck to general themes about God’s love for those incarcerated.  In his talk, he stated:

“Sometimes it happens that you feel disappointed, discouraged, abandoned by all: but God does not forget his children, he never abandons them! He is always at our side, especially in trying times; he is a father ‘rich in mercy’ who always turns his peaceful and benevolent gaze on us, always waits for us with open arms. This is a certainty that instills consolation and hope, especially in moments of difficulty and sadness. Even if we have done wrong in life, the Lord does not tire of showing us the path of return and encounter with him. The love of Jesus for each one of us is a source of consolation and hope. It’s a fundamental certainty for us: nothing can ever separate us from the love of God! Not even the bars of a prison.”

The inclusion of the prisoners who are trans, gay, and HIV+ was not a special outreach by Pope Francis, but it is significant that their identities did not prevent the pope from meeting with them.  A Washington Blade article quoted New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo about the importance of this papal gesture:

“This is another example that Pope Francis does not consider sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status as something that should prevent him from engaging them in dialogue and conversation. Under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, these same personal characteristics were causes for the popes to shun and ignore people, much to the discredit of the church.”

The Washington Blade story also cited Andrea Miluzzo, director of LGBT News Italia, who said that there was an additional positive LGBT angle to the pope’s visit to Naples:

“Members of the local affiliate of Arcigay, an Italian LGBT advocacy group, were among those who were allowed to stand along the streets of Scampia, a poor Neapolitan neighborhood overrun with crime, earlier in the day as Francis passed through in his open-air car known as the pope-mobile.”

Pope Francis’ willingness to include trans, gay, and HIV+ prisoners in his luncheon and to allow an LGBT advocacy group on the parade route, but not mentioning either of them in his talks, shows the complicated approach he is taking to LGBT issues, and perhaps to other issues, too.  In an editorialThe National Catholic Reporter analyzed what they see as the pope’s strategy:

“Francis perplexes Europeans and North Americans who have split the analysis along a liberal-conservative axis, writes [Austen] Ivereigh, ‘because he uses a lens and a language that come from outside those categories.’

“Francis wades into slums, embraces those who otherwise might inspire revulsion, refuses to draw boundaries so rigidly as to exclude anyone, welcomes all questions and robust debate, and leads with the God of mercy.

“He preaches ‘the art of encounter,’ which requires moving beyond the safety of the church building and walking with the people. It is an approach schooled in the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the norm is broken lives, messy, stressed and needy.

“It is in those circumstances, he preaches, in the irrational embrace of the prodigal, that grace abounds. In a recent visit to a parish in Rome, he instructed its leaders to avoid telling people where they were wrong, but to ‘get closer’ to the people, walking with them and respecting their needs.”

The power in Pope Francis’ symbolic gestures lies in the hope that other church leaders will soon imitate him, thus opening up greater possibility for encounter and discussion on LGBT and other important issues, too.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Following Jesus by Bringing Beauty Into the World

March 22, 2015

On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent are: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51: 3-4, 12-15; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33. You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.

“The world will be saved by beauty.” Several years ago I saw this quote on a poster at a Catholic Worker house. I’m told that it’s from The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I think he’s on to something.

There’s something transcendent when you’re in the presence of beauty. Imagine the last time you experienced an epic natural landscape, admired a skillful work of art, or were in the presence of a lovely person. How did you feel? In the presence of such beauty, I sometimes feel like my soul is opened up and overwhelmed by the sight, blurring the edges between myself and the universe, making me feel a little intoxicated… it’s like briefly touching the infinite with my finite senses, if such an experience could be adequately expressed. And I think that gives us some insight into today’s Gospel.

Beauty is the key to understanding Jesus’ statement: “I will draw everyone to myself.” Jesus lived a profoundly beautiful life — perhaps not in a visual sense of beauty, but insofar as he showed us how to live a fully human life. He demonstrated compassion to the most vulnerable and marginalized members of society. He affirmed the best in people while encouraging them to overcome the worst. He shared and forgave and laughed and loved. The beauty of Jesus’ life attracts and amazes us, just as a mountain landscape or piece of timeless artwork does. That beauty inspires us to imitate his example because we too wish to be beautiful. That means overcoming our frailties and limitations, and claiming our shared identity as beloved sons and daughters of God. And that’s how beauty saves us.

To follow Jesus is to know and imitate the beauty of his life. Good disciples are signposts along the way who point others to Jesus. They are like Phillip and Andrew who, when approached by the foreigners in today’s Gospel, show the way to Jesus. As LGBT Catholics and allies, do our own actions point others to Jesus or away from him? Do we bring beauty into the world by imitating the example of Jesus? Do we practice compassion and forgiveness? Seek out the most marginalized and vulnerable?

The struggle for LGBT equality in our church and society can be disheartening at times. But you have an opportunity right now to inspire and encourage fellow blog readers by answering one or both of these two questions:

1) How do you, like Jesus, bring beauty into the world?
2) How do you see others following Jesus by bringing beauty into the world?

Write your response in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry

Challenging the Basis for Catholicism’s Sexual Ethics

March 20, 2015

A University of Notre Dame philosophy professor has challenged the reasoning that church officials use to dismiss church employees because of LGBT issues, in particular, for marrying a same-gender partner.

Professor Gary Gutting

In a blog post on The New York Times website, Professor Gary Gutting says that it is time for church leaders to

“undertake a thorough rethinking of its teachings on sexual ethics, including premarital sex, masturbation and remarriage after divorce. In every case, the old arguments no longer work (if they ever did), and a vast number of Catholics reject the teachings. It’s time for the church to realize that its sexual ethics are philosophically untenable and theologically unnecessary.”

Gutting’s argument goes to the central part of what underlies the church’s opposition to same-gender sexual relationships and marriages: natural law theory.  His explanation is one of the clearest and simplest that I have read, so I will excerpt it here, but also recommend that those interested read his entire essay.

Gutting begins with a short description of natural law theory and shows how it actually can support same-gender relationships:

“The primary arguments derive from what is known as the ‘natural-law tradition’ of ethical thought, which begins with Plato and Aristotle, continues through Thomas Aquinas and other medieval and modern philosophers, and still flourishes today in the work of thinkers like John Finnis and Robert George. This tradition sees morality as a matter of the moral laws that follow from what fundamentally makes us human: our human nature. This is what the archbishop was referring to when he said that homosexual acts are contrary to natural law. This has long been a major basis for the church’s claim that homosexual acts are immoral — indeed ‘gravely sinful.’

“The problem is that, rightly developed, natural-law thinking seems to support rather than reject the morality of homosexual behavior. Consider this line of thought from John Corvino, a philosopher at Wayne State University: “A gay relationship, like a straight relationship, can be a significant avenue of meaning, growth, and fulfillment. It can realize a variety of genuine human goods; it can bear good fruit. . . . [For both straight and gay couples,] sex is a powerful and unique way of building, celebrating, and replenishing intimacy.’ The sort of relationship Corvino describes seems clearly one that would contribute to a couple’s fulfillment as human beings — whether the sex involved is hetero- or homosexual. Isn’t this just what it should mean to live in accord with human nature?”

Sister Margaret Farley, a Catholic moral theologian, has made the same argument from an ethical point of view, pointing out that the goodness of a relationship should be judged by its relational qualities, not on the basis of any particular sexual act which may occur between two people.

Gutting doesn’t stop there, however, but goes on to critique natural law theorists’ rejection of the morality of same-gender relationships by showing that they do not provide a “satisfactory response” to two critical questions:

“First, why, even if nonreproductive sex were somehow less ‘natural’ than reproductive, couldn’t it still play a positive role in a humanly fulfilling life of love between two people of the same sex? Second, why must nonreproductive sex be only for the selfish pleasure of each partner, rather than, as Corvino put it, a way of building, celebrating, and replenishing their shared intimacy?”

Most importantly, he points out an assumption about lesbian and gay sexuality that seems to be underlying natural law theory:

“The natural-law argument might make some sense to those who see homosexuals as dominated by an obsessive desire for pleasure, to which they subordinate any notion of fidelity or integrity. The courageous uncloseting of many homosexuals has revealed them as people like most everyone else, searching for and sometimes achieving a fulfilling human life through rich and complex relationships. Since the official church, under Pope Francis, is more than ever open to this sensible view, the time is overdue for a revision of its philosophical misunderstanding of homosexual acts.”

Turning to Scripture and revealed truth, Gutting examines the natural law premise that both reason and revelation must agree with one another.  This kind of thinking usually requires reason to submit to revelation, but Gutting points out that this has not always been the case, and does not have to be the case when discussing homosexuality.  For example, in the cases of Galileo, Darwin, and the abolition of slavery, the Church accepted the testimony of reason, thus requiring new understandings or interpretations of Scripture.  Gutting concludes:

“The condemnation of homosexuality could plausibly be treated in the same way. The argument would then be that rational reflection strongly supports the claim that homosexual acts are not in general immoral, while there’s no need to conclude that God’s revelation says otherwise. This points the way to the church’s acceptance of homosexual acts as part of a morally fulfilling human relationship.”

Gutting began his essay by talking about how Archbishop Cordileone (and others) are using natural law theory to defend the firing of employees who support or are part of committed lesbian and gay relationships.   The fact that natural law is now affecting not just moral judgments, but is influencing the practical realm of employment, raises the urgency to review these types of arguments and to find ways that they can be life-giving, not damaging, to all people.

I’m thankful that Professor Gutting has started the discussion to help find those new ways.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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