Why Being in Love Leads Us to Seek Justice and Equality

Can the erotic power of being in love so often transform us to more radically seek justice? This question drives David A.J. Richards’ book, Why Love Leads to Justice?, which was recently reviewed for the National Catholic Reporter by this Bondings 2.0‘s Associate Editor, Robert Shine. The reviewer starts off:

“Being in love and being loved by someone are the heights of human experience, unleashing the erotic part of us in a most profound and powerful way. Love is the crucial good most of us seek, the fire that fuels us, and the God whom many of us worship. We believe in love.

“Why, then, do most of us so desperately seek to restrain and restrict love? And what would happen if we stopped policing intimacy through civil laws and cultural taboos, enforcing them as if they are a set of Love Laws? What if we just let love run wild through our lives?”

51noegiw18l-_sx329_bo1204203200_The book, wrote Shine, is an “interdisciplinary exploration about erotic power and ethical resistance to patriarchy,” explored through the lives of artists and activists such as Benjamin Britten, W.H. Auden, Bayard Rustin, and James Baldwin. Critiquing the book for a lack of female protagonists, Shine suggested Why Love Leads to Justice could be a foundation for further exploration of other boundary transgressive relationships. He wrote:

“Patriarchy is fundamental to injustice because, in Richards’ words, it ‘destroys the search for real relationships with other persons, as the individuals they are,’ and it demands exacting violence against any resisters. It afflicts all people through attendant oppressions, such as homophobia and racism, and it brutalizes the powerless and the privileged alike. Patriarchy is ‘a threat to love itself.’ . . .

“But in the very love threatened, we find the roots of resistance because ‘breaking the Love Laws can have an emancipatory ethical significance, empowering ethical voices of resistance.’ By loving across boundaries, by being beloved and experiencing the power that erotic intimacy has, by knowing love’s disarming vulnerability and unknowable mystery, we are led to true freedom.”

Of particular interest to LGBT Catholics and their allies is Shine’s juxtaposition of Richards’ book with the Church’s “Love Laws”:

“I have witnessed firsthand this phenomenon in Catholics whose intimate love breaks the Catholic church’s own Love Laws. The faithful people who are in queer relationships or second marriages, who practice contraception or accompany a partner transitioning genders, who say they have experienced God’s love more robustly through boundary-breaking intimacy.

“Through love, these Catholics find a voice to defy the ecclesial patriarchy that bans the ordination of women, condemns same-gender love, and leaves open the wounds of clergy sexual abuse. Too many church leaders cause harm because Catholic programs of formation have stifled education about the erotic.”

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 know both how often and how widespread this type of repression happens. But also on display in these daily updates is the power of love to transform the church and the world, a point also made in the book which, Shine said, “deeply affirmed my belief in love, specifically the radical power of the erotic.”

The review, which you can read here, concluded with a challenge, an offer for readers to examine their own lives and whether a “failure to let love run wildly through [their] lives” is impairing their work for justice. Shine ends with a provocative question:

“Yes, love is patient, and love is kind. But if it is not also radically free and resisting injustice, is it really love at all?”

How would you respond to the book’s central that love leads to justice? Has love led you or someone you know to seek LGBT equality in the church? Or has church leaders’ stifling of certain types of love impaired you or someone you know from being able to do this work?

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 3, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Priests Exchange Opposing Tweets on Transgender Equality

Last Saturday, Bondings 2.0 posted about Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s positive tweets about transgender people in the wake of the announcement that the Trump administration was rescinding federal guidelines for how schools can support transgender youth.

screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-16-20-50Fr. Martin’s tweets landed him in the middle of a Twitter exchange, initiated by another priest who challenged the Jesuit’s comments. Gay  Star News  reported that in response to one Martin’s supportive messages, Fr. Matt Bozovsky, an associate pastor of St. Joseph parish, Wilmette, Illinois, tweeted:

“Um… this is a joke, right? Someone please tell me this is a parody account and not actually coming from a Catholic priest.”

Martin responded to Bozovsky’s challenge:

“No, I’m an actual Catholic priest in good standing who stands with the marginalized. Some charity is in order here, Father.”

Gay Star News commented that Martin’s comment was “the perfect response” to a “transphobic” clergyman.  They added that Martin “responded as calmly and as perfectly as possible.”

In Buzzfeed’s coverage of the exchange, they offered a compilation of Fr. Martin’s series of tweets last week in support of transgender youth:

“Trans students endure so many indignities already. They should be able to use whatever bathrooms they choose. It’s doesn’t hurt anybody.”

“It saddens me that a #trans student cannot choose what bathrooms to use. A basic need. It’s an affront to their dignity as human beings.”

“And who is harmed by a #trans student using a bathroom? I’ve seen women using men’s rooms when the ladies’ rooms were full. Who is harmed?”

“As usual, the one who is made to suffer indignities is the one on the margins, the one seen as ‘other,’ the one seen as ‘them.’ “

“But for Jesus, there is no ‘other.’ There is no ‘them.’ There is only ‘us.’ So we must be about openness, acceptance and inclusion. #trans”

The Daily Mail reported that since the exchange, Bozovsky changed his Twitter account to private. The newspaper also reported that many Twitter users came to Martin’s defense with addtitional tweets:

“The exchange has lead to dozens of users to reach out in support of Martin, calling his comeback a ‘holy mic drop’ and others cheering for Martin to ‘drag him with kindness, father.’

“One user called it ‘the most polite shade ever’, while another added: ‘No shade like Jesuit shade.’ “

New Ways Ministry is very proud of Fr. Martin!  We admire not only his solidarity with transgender people and youth, but also the gentle, but firm, way he responded to criticism. We are delighted that we presented him with New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award last October.  He continues to build bridges, not only with LGBT people but with those who oppose them.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 2, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

From Ashes, We Will Rise

ish-ruiz
Ish Ruiz

For Ash Wednesday and the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 is presenting spiritual reflections from a diverse group of students at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California,  who either identify as LGBTQ+ or who are involved with LGBTQ+ theological research and/or ministry.  Today’s post is from Ish Ruiz,  a Ph.D. student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. His academic interests explore the intersection between social ethics, human rights, education, and marginalized groups such as LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, women, and religious minorities. A lifelong Catholic, Ish is dedicated to living out his faith through the practice of justice: he passionately envisions a Church that is open and inclusive to all.

The Ash Wednesday phrase “you are dust and to dust you shall return” has always felt a bit incomplete to me. When I reflect on this humbling reminder of the frailty of life, I am reminded that journeys do not end with a return to dust. In fact, we have all witnessed marginalized communities rise up from the ashes of injustice and oppression. Our country has seen the deaths of queer people, black people, immigrants, and countless others transformed into seeds that sow new life. The same dynamic happens with many marginalized communities and their journeys as the beloved children of God–journeys that are often marked by moments of despair and instances of hope.

The Israelites’ journey to Zion was not quick or easy. It was filled with a desert of trials. There were dark moments and they came to experience death in many forms. Nonetheless, they also experienced the constant assurance that they were the Chosen People of a God that would never abandon them.

Is the same true of our marginalized communities? Are LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, homeless people, and other disenfranchised groups aware that they a part of the Chosen People of God? Do they hear from us a message of love that affirms them as the “beloved of God”? Or are we a voice that brings death? Are we the ones that turn human life into ash? Or do we help them rise from the ashes to new life?

Last week I learned a great lesson from the LGBTQ+ community about what it means to journey from ashes to new life.  I had the chance to attend the San Francisco premiere of ABC-TV’s new mini-series When We Rise (a fitting title), which portrays the lives of several key figures in the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement. This intersectional history series captures the reality of this community’s heartfelt quest for justice. Their trials and victories are a testament to the journey of all of God’s beloved Chosen People.

When the LGBTQ+ community experiences discrimination from law enforcement, the assassination of heroic political figures, indifference in the face of an epidemic that takes away their loved ones, threats to many of their legal rights, rejection from many religious groups, a devastating massacre in a gay club in Orlando, and countless other threats to their dignity, they rise from the ashes and their hearts pulse together as one.

When they see the suffering of their fellow human beings who are Muslim, immigrant, female, poor, homeless, or marginalized in other ways, they rise from the ashes with them and remind them of their dignity.  These communities are the Chosen People of God – the “new “Israelites” – and we, as a Church, have much to learn from their journey as a people.

Seeking justice for all of God’s people is essential for a life lived in accordance with the Gospel. All humans deserve respect: we are all united in our common human journey. When we become indifferent to the cries of LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, racial minorities, women, and others in need, we become less human and we move farther away from the Gospel. We send a message that “ashes” are the end of the journey. We tell people: “The Resurrection of Christ is not for you.”

In a recent doctoral dissertation by Kevin Stockbridge, the term “Easter People” is used to refer to the journey of queer people who have become agents of social transformation through their witness. Their experiences of oppression-turned-into-love are a call for all to work together to experience new life. Everyone is asked to follow the footsteps of the risen Christ. We are all rising from the ashes as a human family – we are called to do it together so that everybody regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, ability, and background is able to embrace the Resurrection of Christ as their own.

May this Lenten season help us renew our commitment to creating a world where love and justice rise from the ashes of hate and oppression. May it also be a time of reflection and gratitude for those whose have turned to ash so that the rest of us can continue to build the Kingdom of God. May this Lenten journey bring us closer together, reminding us that we are all together in this one struggle that unites the human race – a struggle to rise together from ashes. May this Lenten journey help us all become an “Easter people.”

We ask this through Christ, our brother. Amen.

–Ish Ruiz,  Graduate Theological Union, March 1, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

One-on-One Pastoral Care Is Not Sufficient for LGBT Youth

An editorial in the St. Louis archdiocesan newspaper has commented on the controversy which erupted two weeks ago at Nerinx Hall H.S., a Catholic school, when the Nerinx president turned down a request from students to establish a gay-straight alliance (GSA). The editorial’s headline, “One-on-one pastoral care suggested for adolescents with same-sex attraction,” summarizes its main point, and it also shows the main problem with policies which deny students the opportunity to have a GSA in Catholic schools.

shameWhile some, and perhaps many, LGBT youth need one-on-one pastoral care,  such a model should not be the only one offered to them.  The problem is that if this is the only assistance provided, the method itself sends a message: your sexual orientation is a private matter which you should only talk about in secret and confidential meetings with authority figures.  When this type of pastoral care is the only kind offered, it can foster, even if unintentionally, feelings of shame, fear, and alienation.

A more public model, such as a GSA, helps students to recognize that they are not alone, that they have peers with whom they can discuss these issues, that the topic itself is not a taboo. Moreover, such groups provide social experiences for youths who are at risk of feeling isolated and alone.  GSAs help not only LGBT youth, but heterosexual and cisgender students who may have a close friend or family member who is LGBT.

At the heart of the controversy at Nerinx Hall was the application of a set of guidelines for working with LGBT youth, entitled “Hope and Holiness: Pastoral Care for Those With Same-Sex Attraction,” that the Archdiocese of St. Louis had developed.  Again, the title belies a negative assumption about LGB youth by referring to them as having “same-sex attraction.”  Fr. James Martin, SJ, noted the problem of such terminology in the talk he gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award.  He said:

“. . . [R]espect means calling a group what it asks to be called. . . .

“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. I’m not prescribing what names to use, though ‘gay and lesbian,’ ‘L.G.B.T.’ and ‘L.G.B.T.Q.’ are the most common. I’m saying that people have a right to name themselves. Using those names is part of respect. And if Pope Francis can use the word gay, so can the rest of the church.”

In the editorial, an archdiocesan official defended the guidelines document, saying that the goal is to help youth:

“Kurt Nelson, superintendent of Catholic education for the archdiocese, said the very idea that students requested a club signals that they ‘want more help and support.’

While it may be true that the students want help and support, the fact that they requested a club indicates that the kind of help and support they want is peer socialization, not one-to-one counseling.  If they wanted the latter, that is what they would have requested.

The editorial continued:

“But Nelson also said that ‘just because you don’t have a club doesn’t mean you’re not providing help and support to kids.’ However, many factors need to be considered, such as the adults who will lead the group, as well as providing content that doesn’t contradict Church teaching, thus posing the threat of creating a public scandal.”

When a church official speaks of LGBT issues and uses phrases like “doesn’t contradict Church teaching” and “creating a public scandal,” I always assume that they are discussing issues of sexual ethics.  Of course, not providing sensitive pastoral care to LGBT people or actively discriminating against them both also contradict Church teaching, but I don’t think that these are what Nelson had in mind.  I may be wrong, but I’ve never heard an official use those terms in the ways I described.

If I am correct, then the big problem here is that the archdiocesan officials are only looking at LGBT issues as relating to sex.  They are avoiding things like stigma, oppression, alienation, repression, family difficulties, mental illness, self-loathing–all of which are frequently experienced by youth who have no support for their LGBT identity.  And these are all things which a GSA would help to mitigate.

The editorial noted correctly:

“The one-on-one approach also provides students an experience of accompaniment in many individual aspects of their lives, beyond the issue of sexual orientation.”

Yes, one-on-one is a much-needed form of ministry with LGBT people, especially youth.  But social opportunities, community-building, group prayer, and mutual peer support are also very needed.  GSAs can help provide that kind of ministry.  And their model of openness, honesty, trust, courage, and pride which they inspire are things that one-on-one ministry simply cannot provide.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 28, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Reflect on Lent By Reading ‘Scripture and Story’ from LGBTQ Catholics

Today’s post is from guest blogger Jeff Vomund, who is Chair of the Liturgy Committee at Dignity/Washington.

I have heard the song “Lift Every Voice (and Sing),” known as the Black American National Anthem, sung hundreds of times over the course of my life.  (If you’ve never heard it, click here to listen to a moving a cappella version.) The hymn mixes James Weldon Johnson’s stark poetry with his brother John’s determined score.  Never has its title and first line felt so viscerally true to me as it has in our increasingly post-fact and post-truth world. The importance of each and “every voice” rings truer than ever.

dw-coverAnd while many voices have been raised recently in some form of protest, building bridges between people is also a vital concern for every voice.  Creating community has been a driving motive behind Dignity/Washington’s Lenten project:  Scripture and Story:  Lent through an LGBTQ Lens.  Dignity/Washington is a community of LGBTQ Catholics in Washington D.C., as well as friends and allies from across the spectrum of the Christian faith.  Scripture and Story is a book of daily reflections for Lent.  It contains a short reflection based on the daily readings for each of the 47 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.  These reflections are not just a commentary on the Scriptures but they also relate the lived experiences of the LGBTQ people of faith who authored them.

You can download a free PDF of the entire booklet by clicking here:  You can order hard copies, while supplies last, by emailing jeffvomund@gmail.com.

This project began as a service to Dignity/Washington members as a way to show how unique yet universal each person’s “journey through the desert” is.  However, in a world where vocal volume can be equated with truth, we wanted to share our own quiet encouragement to community with others, too.  It seems more important than ever to lift up the voices of any who have been outcast or oppressed.  This imperative is not true just for the discrimination waged against LGBTQ people by Church leaders. We seek to join a chorus of voices that want to make their presence known to a world in which members of a minority can feel invisible and unimportant.

In no way do we denigrate the faith experiences of those in the majority.  Just the opposite.  If you look at the reflections of these 47 brave authors, the most obvious characteristic is the universality of all faith experience.  We LGBTQ-identifying Catholics have, in so many ways, a journey that looks like any other believer:  the struggle to understand God’s call; the desire to love deeply and have meaning; the call to follow Jesus’ example of compassion.

At some point, we are all in the desert, seeking the freedom of a Promised Land that we worry might never be ours.  This is true, even as we rejoice when we catch glimpses of that land “across the Jordan” from where safety and peace beckon us.  Yet while our journeys traverse a universal arc, we also look through a particular lens–the lens of having to live with being told that even though “God is love,” our love is wrong.  That mixed message has driven most LGBTQ-identifying folk to the brink of non-belief.  But for these writers, who have stayed the course, surviving the crucible of Church and sex has made them that much more invested in their journey through the desert.  

Yet while our journeys traverse a universal arc, we also look through a particular lens–the lens of having to live with being told that even though “God is love,” our love is wrong.  That mixed message has driven most LGBTQ-identifying folk to the brink of non-belief.  But for these writers, who have stayed the course, surviving the crucible of Church and sex has made them that much more invested in their journey through the desert.  Paradoxically, that which the Church identifies as disorder has shown itself to be just a different way that God has “ordered our steps” as we travel to the Promised Land for which all creation groans.

That symbiosis between our faith and our sexuality is what we most wanted to share with those believers and fellow travelers outside of our community.  We offer it, not because our community or any of the individual authors believe we have reached this land of “milk and honey,” but because we are still on that journey. The more people who walk together, the further everyone can go.  We offer our voices of faith in the hope that it will encourage other people to share their own stories.  We are more convinced than ever that sharing our stories (and listening to others) matters deeply for our world.  And we have never been more convicted that for every voice to be lifted each person must add their own–no matter how imperfect–to the chorus.

Jeff Vomund, Dignity/ Washington, February 26, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Dutch Bishops’ Statement Critiques Negative Approach to Lesbians and Gays

History-Option 1“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff 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. 

Dutch Bishops’ Homosexuality Document Released in English by New Ways Ministry

On February 20, 1980, which was Ash Wednesday that year, New Ways Ministry published an English translation of the Dutch bishops’ recently published document, Homosexual People in Society, a groundbreaking text, which strongly critiqued the way Catholic leaders had traditionally approached lesbian and gay issues.

The document, which had been published in the Netherlands in August 1979 by the Catholic Council for Church and Society, an official agency of the Dutch hierarchy comparable to a committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was intended to promote discussions in parishes and Catholic groups in Holland.  New Ways Ministry said that it reprinted the document in English to be “a tool for discussion among grassroots people and hopefully as a spur to larger study” on gay and lesbian issues. The National Catholic Reporter announced the English translation in the pages of its March 7, 1980 issue.

As its title suggests, the document was primarily concerned with the social effects that gay and lesbian people experienced, particularly as a result of Church doctrine and practice.  In its introduction, the Council stated:

“In light of the Church’s traditional views of sexuality, this position of excluding homosexual persons from Church life causes even further discrimination.  Singling people out within the Church community can tend to foster social discrimination.  Consequently, it is not surprising the the Church’s pronouncements about rejecting social discrimination do not always sound very credible.”

One of the important points of the document was its critique of traditional Scripture interpretations which were used to condemn lesbian and gay people.  In some of its strongest language, the Council observed:

“First, a direct biblical basis for judgment on a homosexual orientation as such is absent; the Scripture writers were not aware of a constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation.  This means that any appeal to the Scriptures in order to condemn a homosexual orientation and to transfer that condemnation into social discrimination must be rejected as an abuse of Scripture.

“Secondly, when the Scriptures speak disapprovingly about homosexual acts, the main emphasis appears to be on the condemnation of abuses in which homosexual acts play only a part.  Most often these abuses are mentioned very explicitly: violation of hospitality, blackmail, prostitution, and especially idolatry. . . .

“There seems to be insufficient grounds for justifying discrimination against homosexual persons by appealing to those texts.”

Also, significant for its time, was an openness to critique natural law by appealing to new scientific research.  The Council wanted to examine

“. . . the problem of how an appeal to the natural law can be convincing in those cases where homosexual behavior can not be shown to be an expression of arrested development or perversion of a heterosexual orientation from personal or social pressures, but is understood and experienced as a natural expression of a homosexual orientation. This problem is even more urgent since, even in the sciences, a consensus is growing about the constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation.”

In a certain respect, the Dutch document was promoting similar ideas of non-judgmentalism that we have seen advocated by Pope Francis.  In one section, the document states:

“. . . [F]rom the moral judgment on homosexual behavior one cannot derive automatically a total condemnation of someone who behaves homosexually, let alone relegate him or her to the position of a social outcast or second-class citizen.”

These words are extremely important for Church leaders and pastors to pay heed to before excluding LGBT Catholics from sacraments, volunteer ministries, or employment.

 The document continued in the vein of Pope Francis.  In the following section, we read a forerunner to the pope’s complaint that Church leaders overemphasize sexuality issues. The document condemns “all too one-sided and exaggerated attention to sexual behavior.”  It continued:

“This overemphasis plays a role in another way in the problems of homosexual people in society, since this overemphasis can itself be a source of discrimination.  The Council wants to call attention emphatically to this.  Respect or personal freedom and conscientious striving for a just society exclude a position on sexuality which identifies orientation and behavior too closely together.  This creates a danger of shortsightedness and one-sidedness in judging people.  It can easily lead to an excessive attention to sexual behavior especially in its strict expressions of genital sexuality.”

The document does not challenge the prohibition of sexual activity between persons of the same sex, though it does acknowledge at one point that “the rejection of homosexual behavior embarrasses the Church precisely because some successful homosexual love relationships do exist.”

The more important emphasis in this document, however, is its insistence that Church leaders and pastors should not become condemnatory of lesbian and gay people. The authors were aware that the Church’s prohibition on same-sex activity could be inflated and destructive.  They warned that the prohibition “should certainly not be viewed as any indication of silent support for discrimination,” noting:.

“For that would be a sad caricature of Christianity.  In fact, the destructive results of this caricature are already being felt.  There is evidence of this, for example, in the fact that the self-acceptance of the homosexual person, which is often the result of a difficult struggle, frequently leads to an automatic break with the Church.  This is understandable within the framework of that caricature.  But in our opinion, it is a sad state of affairs both for the Church and the homosexual person.”

For its time, the Dutch document spoke truths that were hard for people to accept.  I think that even today, unfortunately, some Church leaders would be uncomfortable with some of the idea that the document expressed.  But in many quarters of the Church, including in the papacy, we are seeing some of their ideas finally taking root.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 22, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Vatican Wants to Hear from Youth for 2018 Synod

In 2014, there was great excitement when the Vatican announced that in preparation for the extraordinary synod on the family,  it would be sending out a questionnaire to local bishops to solicit opinions and perspectives from the people in their dioceses.

In the U.S., at least, the excitement soon fizzled when it soon became apparent that many bishops were not distributing the survey broadly, but instead, some handpicked responders.  In 2015, with a similar Vatican questionnaire, there was wider distribution, but still pockets of reluctance on the part of some bishops to really listen to what people were saying about family, marriage, children, sexuality, gender.

Pope Francis poses for a selfie with young people at World Youth Day in 2013.

As the Vatican prepares for the 2018 synod on youth, officials in Rome have decided to bypass the bishops in terms of soliciting the opinions specifically from youth in the Church.  Instead of distributing a survey or questionnaire for bishops to disseminate, the Vatican has set up a website for youth to speak their minds directly to Vatican officials. The website, http://www.sinodogiovani.va, (Translation: “youth synod”) will not be live until March 1, 2017.

Robert Mickens, a longtime Vatican observer, reported in his “Letter from Rome” column posted on the Commonweal website:

“Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, head of the Rome-based secretariat that coordinates the Synod’s activities, told journalists on Friday that his office was launching a website in March that will allow youngsters to honestly raise questions and share their views about life and faith inside the Catholic church.

“He said their input—in addition to a questionnaire sent to bishops and heads of religious orders—would then form a substantial part of the working document (instrumentum laboris) that will frame the discussions when Pope Francis convenes the XV General Assembly of the Synod in October 2018 around the topic, ‘Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.’ “

In a letter addressed to youth, released when the website was announced, Pope Francis encouraged their participation in the electronic forum, stating:

“A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity. Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master. The Church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism. Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls. St. Benedict urged the abbots to consult, even the young, before any important decision, because ‘the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.’ (Rule of St. Benedict, III, 3).”

Why is this development important for LGBT issues?

First, a number of observers had commented that during the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family, the data collection and summarization was potentially and very probably biased toward what local bishops wanted to hear.   Since the questionnaire was distributed by bishops, and then the answers collected and summarized by the same officials, people’s voices were filtered. Such filtering would be the case even from the most open-minded bishops because filtering is inevitable when collating and summarizing responses.

Second, as survey after survey has shown, young Catholics, here in the U.S. and in many nations abroad, take LGBT equality and justice much more seriously than older generations and church officials.  By allowing youth to speak for themselves directly to the Vatican, the likelihood that there will be strong voices for greater acceptance of and advocacy for LGBT people will surely come through loud and clear.   Not to mention that youth have a much different attitude toward sexuality and gender generally than Church leaders typically do.

Mickens notes that the Vatican may be in for an earful, but that this might be exactly what they want.  He commented:

“Giving such a prominent voice to the young people themselves (which the Vatican identifies as between ages sixteen and twenty-nine) could open up a can of worms. In fact, the internet initiative has the potential of soliciting a whole range of opinions and criticism that the church’s pastors may not want or be prepared to hear.

“But, no doubt, that’s what the pope wants. And he may see the younger generation as a resource and ally in bringing change to a church that too often seems stuck in stale formulas from a bygone period that no longer have meaning for contemporary people.”

According to the plans for the synod so far, young people will also participate as auditors, similar to the way married lay people participated at the synods on the family.  Unfortunately, during the family syonds, there were no voices that disagreed with church teaching allowed to speak. At the 2015 synod, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago commented on this absence, stating that he thought church leaders would have gained from hearing differing perspectives.  He explained:

“I know that myself, when I did the consultation in my diocese, I did have those voices as part of my consultation, and put that in my report, and so maybe that’s the way they were represented.  But I do think that we could benefit from the actual voices of people who feel marginalized rather than having them filtered through the voices of other representatives or the bishops.  There is something important about that, I have found personally.”

It looks like the Vatican may be more open to hearing these diverse voices for the 2018 synod.  If they don’t take these voices seriously, at least giving them an open airing, the synod on youth will simply fall flat as an evangelizing moment.  The Vatican has taken steps in the way of openness to young people’s ideas. Let’s hope and pray that they continue in this direction. And let’s hope and pray that Catholic youth will participate robustly in this exciting project.

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

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.