Catholic Scouting’s Response to BSA Policy Does Not Bode Well for Scouting

July 29, 2015

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS ) has responded to the decision by the Boy Scouts of America to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and also to allow local troops to decide, based on religious principles, if openly gay men would be allowed to serve as leaders. Their response. which is not affirmative, could harm the future of Catholic scouting.

In a letter to Catholic Scout leaders from NCCS National Chairman Edward P. Martin and National Chaplain Father Michael P. Hanifin that was published by the website, the two leaders offered a mixed message about the decision:

“It is not entirely clear how these rights will be squared with previous policy changes the Boy Scouts have made, or how they will work in practice, but it appears that the resolution respects the needs of Catholic-chartered organizations in the right to choose leaders whose character and conduct are consistent with those of Catholic teaching. At the same time, we express strong concern about the practical implications of this resolution, especially for our young people in Scouting, and whether the term ‘sexual orientation’ will be correctly understood and applied only in reference to sexual inclination and not to sexual conduct or behavior. We also express concern that the resolution articulates a position on adult sexual conduct that does not make clear that sexual behavior should be reserved to a husband and a wife in marriage.”

It is unfortunate that this statement confuses “sexual orientation” with “sexual conduct or behavior.”  “Orientation” has been used popularly for many decades now, and it has always clearly meant a person’s interior constitution, not a decision to be involved in sexual activity.  Even the U.S. bishops, in their 1998 letter Always Our Children, offered this understanding of the term:

“. . . [I]t seems appropriate to understand sexual orientation (heterosexual or homosexual) as a deep-seated dimension of one’s personality and to recognize its relative stability in a person. A homosexual orientation produces a stronger emotional and sexual attraction toward individuals of the same sex, rather than toward those of the opposite sex. It does not totally rule out interest in, care for, and attraction toward members of the opposite sex. Having a homosexual orientation does not necessarily mean a person will engage in homosexual activity.”

Do the leaders of the NCCS not know this understanding of the term?  Why would they think it would be incorrectly applied to sexual behavior?  I don’t know of any policy situation in any field of endeavor where these two terms have been confused–except for the fact that many anti-gay people assume that “orientation” guarantees behavior, which, of course, is not true.

Most importantly, framing the discussion strictly between the terms “sexual orientation” and “sexual behavior” disregards an important quality of gay men that is germane to this debate:  the ability to enter into loving and committed sexual relationships.   As long as people keep using the orientation vs. activity dichotomy, they make invisible the real lives of lesbian and gay people, who for the most part, are interested in relationship and love.

The NCCS letter does not state directly whether they will discourage local BSA troops to allow openly gay men serve as leaders, but the last sentence in the paragraph quoted above, which deals with a definition of marriage, seems to indicate that at the very least, they will not welcome openly gay men who are civilly married.

Time and again over the past few years, the U.S. Catholic Church has witnessed how Catholic parents, educators, and students have risen up in protest against the unjust firing of gay and lesbian Catholic school teachers who have legally married.  It should be clear to the leadership of the Catholic Church that Catholics are not tolerating this kind of discrimination.

So, what will happen to Catholic scouting if gay men–single or married–are not accepted as leaders in their local troops?  As most troop leaders are parents of scouts, what will happen when a scout’s gay dad is not allowed to be a leader? In both these cases, I predict that parents and youth will vote with their feet and join another troop which does not discriminate.

We already saw something like this in 2013 when the BSA lifted its ban on openly gay youth becoming scouts. When one pastor in Illinois tried to separate the parish’s troop from the BSA, the parishioners and scouting parents strongly protested.

In 2013, the NCCS and many diocesan bishops, supported the policy change to welcome gay youth.

The recent 2015 NCCS statement gay men as scout leaders stated:

“Our youth don’t want to leave Scouting.”

I agree. But I think that youth today want Scouting that is discrimination-free.  And as the years go by, more parents and youth will be joining that belief, too.

The NCCS has an opportunity to encourage and promote a discrimination-free Catholic Scouting by encouraging their troops not to ban gay men from leadership.  It has the opportunity to promote a realistic view of gay men that is rooted in the desire for relationship and love.  NCCS can help today’s Catholic youth develop a healthy respect for gay men by allowing these men to serve openly and freely.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles and posts:

The New York Times: Catholic Panel Urges Churches to Continue Sponsoring Scout Troops

The New York Times: “Boy Scouts Are Poised to End Ban on Gay Leaders”

The National Catholic Reporter: “Religious groups weigh support for Boy Scouts after vote to end ban on gay leaders”

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting:  FAQs Regarding BSA’s Youth Membership Standard”

On 2013 BSA decision to accept openly gay youth as scouts:

Bondings 2.0: National Catholic Committee on Scouting Supports Boy Scouts’ Inclusive Policy

Bondings 2.0: National Committee and Local Dioceses Begin to React Boy Scouts’ Decision

Bondings 2.0: Boy Scouts Inclusivity Could Signal End of Catholic Scouting




Lifting Up the Holiness of LGBT Families at Philly’s World Meeting

July 22, 2015

The World Meeting of Families, a Vatican-sponsored gathering of thousands of families from around the globe at the end of September, has already had controversy associated with it about LGBT issues.  For one thing, it will only have a minor nod to gay issues on the program (a celibate gay man and his mother will be part of a panel).

Equally Blessed LogoBut a group of families with LGBT members will be at the WMF to share their faith journeys and to represent, unofficially, the religious experience that these families have had.  And you can help support this effort by donating to support their work at this important international gathering.

Equally Blessed, a coalition of Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry, is sponsoring a dozen families to be a visible presence of LGBT love at the WMF.  According to the webpaged devoted to this project the pilgrims have a unified mission:

“By embracing the spirit of prophetic non-violence, we will witness to our fellow World Meeting of Families (WMF) participants by…

  • Having one-on-one conversations with a wide range of WMF participants
  • Engaging the media
  • Being a visible presence at WMF events, especially by distributing materials that affirm LGBTQ Catholics
  • Witnessing through vigils or rallies with the message that we are all Equally Blessed.”

The pilgrims will participate in the educational and prayer activities of the WMF, and they plan to share their stories with other participants and with the Church officials who will be in attendance.  In this way, they hope to make sure that LGBT families’ lives are not forgotten in these discussions.

You can be a part of this program by supporting the pilgrims with prayer and with financial support.  To make a donation, please click here.

In anticipation of their pilgrimage to WMF, many of the pilgrims are keeping blog journals of their preparations.  They will also be blogging during the WMF so that you can learn about their experiences each day as they happen.  You can access the blog pages by clicking here.  Reading through these blog entries will help you get a better sense of the personal stories of these families, and I’m sure some of you will find echoes of your own experiences in theirs.

Equally Blessed members have joined with 26 other Catholic organizations to send a letter to Pope Francis requesting that he meet with LGBTQI Catholics and their families during his visit to the U.S. The letter points out:

“Our Church’s teaching and pastoral practices surrounding homosexuality are causing an enormous pastoral crisis, as well as upholding systemic, institutionalized discrimination against LGBT people and our families. In the U.S. and around the world, we are experiencing alienation from the Church, higher rates of poverty and violence, and discrimination in employment, housing, educational opportunities, and access to health care.”

The pilgrimage is not the only way that LGBT issues will be present in Philadelphia during the WMF.   Other groups are sponsoring events and programs “outside the walls” of the WMF, but nearby in Philly.

New Ways Ministry will host a half-day workshop on gender diverse families entitled TransForming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholics Perspectives, on Saturday, September 26, 2015, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at St. John the Evangelist Parish Center, 1212 Ludlow Street, Phialdelphia.  For more information, click here.

We have heard of several other programs being organized by other groups, but details are not yet settled. Bondings 2.0 will continue to update you on any news of other Catholic LGBT-related events at WMF as we hear of them.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Missing LGBT Webpage Mystery Is Partially Solved, But Questions Remain

July 20, 2015

In the Bondings 2.0 post on July 19, 2015, we described a communion denial near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and in the course of the story, we provided a link to the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ webpage of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on LGBT issues and the Catholic Church.  We commented that it was one of the best resources on LGBT issues coming from a website of the institutional Church.

One of our readers, however, informed us that by the afternoon of July 19th, the FAQ webpage was no longer active.  Indeed, the entire webpage for the LGBT ministry that the archdiocese had set up was also taken down.

Bondings 2.0 was able to obtain a copy of the page’s text from the morning of July 19th, and it contained a wealth of information from authoritative Catholic sources on issues directly affecting LGBT ministry, presented in a pastorally sensitive way, which is why we had recommended it.  You can read the material by clicking here.

Today, the Archdiocese of New Orleans posted the following statement on their main website concerning why the LGBT webpage was deactivated:

“The website and Facebook page for the Pastoral Care of Persons with Same-Sex Orientation, also known as LGBT, have been deactivated. An unauthorized person was able to access the website and post information that contradicts the teaching of the Catholic Church. We deeply regret that this has happened and are taking steps to secure the websites. Our mission is to represent accurately the teaching of the Bible and the Catholic Church and to provide ministry with integrity.

“We are very sorry that this misleading information has been posted and has caused confusion.”

The mystery of this story lies in what the definition of “unauthorized person” is.  Does this mean that someone hacked into the website?  Or does it mean that someone from the archdiocese had posted the information without getting clearance from higher sources?

It’s very sad that this information has been taken down because it actually explained the full teaching of the Catholic Church on lesbian and gay issues, including teaching on conscience, biblical interpretation, the evaluation of the sinfulness of sexual activity, civil rights, and the development of doctrine.

The archdiocese has said that it is unknown as to when the webpages will become active again.

It will be interesting to see which of the explanations that were on the site on the morning of July 19th will re-appear when the page comes up–particularly those sections which come from authoritative church documents and leaders.

For example, in answer to the question “What about conscience?” the webpage yesterday included the following quotations:

  • “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his [sic] conscience. If he were to deliberately act against it, he would condemn himself.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1790
  • “If a man [sic] is admonished by his own conscience—even an erroneous conscience, but one whose voice appears to him as unquestionable—he must always listen to it. What is not permissible is that he culpably indulge in error without trying to reach the truth.” John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 1994, p. 191
  • “Deep within a person’s conscience one discovers a law which one has not laid upon one’s self but which one must obey. Its voice, ever calling the person to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in that person’s heart at the right moment. . . . For one has in his or her heart a law inscribed by God. . . . One’s conscience is one’s most secret core and one’s sanctuary. There one is alone with God whose voice echoes in that person’s depths.” Gaudium et spes, par 16; also Catholic Catechism, #1776
  • “Above the pope as an expression of the binding claim of Church authority, stands one’s own conscience, which has to be obeyed first of all, if need be against the demands of Church authority.” Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI); from a commentary on “Gaudium et Spes” (“The Church in the Modern World”); Published in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II (Vorgrimler, Herbert – Ed, Burns and Oats, 1969), p. 134.

It will be a shame if this sound Catholic doctrine on conscience is not included in the new page.  It should be included in every discussion about LGBT issues.

On the topic of development of doctrine, the page contained opinions of some leading theologians and church figures, as well as this excerpt from the Code of Canon Law:

  • No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless it is clearly defined as such. Code of Canon Law, 1983, Canon 749 §3.

In the section on the evaluation of sexual sins, a passage from an official document from the Bishops of England and Wales was cited:

  • Pastoral care does not consist simply in the rigid and automatic application of objective moral norms. It considers the individual in his (or her) actual situation, with all his (or her) strengths and weaknesses. The decision of conscience… can only be made after prudent consideration of the real situation as well as the moral norm… the pastoral counselling of homophile persons cannot ignore the objective morality of homosexual genital acts, but it is important to interpret them, to understand the pattern of life in which they take place, to appreciate the personal meaning which these acts have for different people…” Catholic Bishops of England and Wales Catholic Social Welfare Commission, An Introduction to the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People, 1979.

Too often, people think of Church teaching on LGBT issues as narrowly focused on sexual matters.  They also forget that teachings on conscience and evaluation of any act’s morality must also be considered in these discussions.  Let’s pray that the new webpage will keep these important topics as part of their explanation of the Catholic Church’s view on LGBT topics.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Another Gay Person Is Denied Communion at a Parent’s Funeral

July 19, 2015

While religious conservatives are predicting that they will become victims of imagined dire violations against religious freedom in the wake of the Supreme Court marriage equality decision, it seems the real victims which are piling up are LGBT people.

After over a week of terrible news concerning the firing of married lesbian teacher Margie Winters from a Philadelphia Catholic school, a new story out of Louisiana about a communion denial seems to indicate that much more education work needs to be done with Catholic clergy on pastorally responding to married gay and lesbian people. Baton Rouge’s Advocate newspaper reported this news out of Louisiana:

“Tim Ardillo said he was standing next to his mother’s coffin leading his young son to receive a blessing when the priest presiding over the funeral Mass denied him communion.

 “The longtime Catholic said the priest told him it was because he married outside the church, but Ardillo doesn’t think that’s the whole story.

“He believes he was denied the sacrament because, as is stated in his mother’s obituary, he is married to a man.”

This is the fifth known case in recent years of gay and lesbian people being denied communion.  It is the third case where the denial occurred at the funeral of a parent.  (See links to previous stories at end of this post.)

The priest, Father Mark Beard of St.Helena Church, in the town of Amite, did not return the reporter’s phone calls to comment, but the Diocese of Baton Rouge, where the parish is located, issued an apology to Ardillo, which was also followed up by a personal apology from Archbishop Gregory Aymond of the neighboring Archdiocese of New Orleans.  [Editor’s note:  In my search for a copy of the apology which I thought might be on the archdiocese’s website, but was not, I found a page of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about LGBT issues and the Church which provides some of the most sensitive and pastoral explanations about these issues that I have found from an official Catholic Church source.  Click here to read it. The homepage of the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ LGBT ministry can be found here. ]

The denial at the funeral did not end there, though.  The Advocate reported:

“Ardillo said the church passed out a quotation from 1 Corinthians at Mass the next Sunday, which states, in a portion highlighted in red ink, ‘Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks in judgment of himself.’ “

The Diocese of Baton Rouge clearly sees the pastor’s behavior as wrong, from the way they explained regulations about communion reception:

” ‘With respect to the specific matter raised, the Catholic Church expects that any individual Catholic who is in a marital situation which is not in conformity with its doctrines will not come forward to receive the body and blood of the Lord at Mass. For Catholics, reception of Holy Communion among other things is an expression of unity with the church’s teachings, including those about marriage,’ the diocese wrote in a statement.

“Diocese spokeswoman Donna Carville, a Eucharistic minister, said the diocese does not condone denial of communion to Catholics just because they are gay.”

Carville echoed Pope Francis’ famous phrase in her explanation:

” ‘That’s very surprising that he was denied communion. That just doesn’t happen. … We don’t deny people communion,’ she said. ‘Who are we to judge whether they believe (the church’s teachings on the communion) or not? It’s between you and God.’ “

The news story also quoted a canon law expert on the topic, who agreed with the Diocese of Baton Rouge’s assessment, and also disputed Father Beard’s incorrect explanation of why he denied communion:

“Being married outside the church should not be used to deny someone the Eucharist, said the Rev. Roger Keeler, executive coordinator of the Canon Law Society of America.

“As a practical matter, Keeler noted that a priest or Eucharistic minister can’t possibly know the marital standing of everybody in line. He also raised more philosophical concerns.

” ‘This is not a weapon. Communion is not a reward for good behavior,’ he said. ‘It’s the food for weary souls.”

So there is good news and bad news that arises from this terrible incident.  The good news is that we hope the publicity this story receives, including the instructions on communion reception from the Diocese of Baton Rouge and the canon law expert, will educate pastors not to repeat such an egregious act again.  There’s no place in the Church for such pastoral insensitivity.  Especially at funerals, which may be an occasion for people to reconnect with their faith or experience in a deeper way, such denials are not only insensitive, but downright spiritually harmful.

The bad news, however, is that for Tim Ardillo, who had prayed intimately with his mother in the period leading up to her death, this action was spiritually devestating. The news story stated of him:

” ‘He said he still believes in the Catholic faith but isn’t sure of his ‘place’ in the church.

“Toward the end of his mother’s life, the two would pray together; she signed the cross on her leg when she couldn’t lift her hands higher. They prayed the rosary together the last time they saw each other, Ardillo said.

“He had thought the funeral would serve as a reintroduction into the Catholic community, but not anymore.

” ‘I can’t,’ he said. ‘I don’t have it in me.’ “

We can only pray that the Spirit will find the way and the means to heal this additional hurt which he experienced, and that he will find peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation in his heart.

Let us pray, too, that this will never, never, happen again.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Bondings 2.0 past posts about communion denials to lesbian and gay people:

February 28, 2012:  “Communion Denied to Lesbian Woman at Her Mother’s Funeral

August 9, 2013: “Rhode Island Gay Couple Denied Communion at Parish

February 1, 2014: “Missouri Lesbian Couple Denied Communion at Mother’s Funeral

September 23, 2014: “Montana Bishop’s Divided Thinking in Communion Denial Case



Now’s the Time to Reflect on “What Makes a Family?”

July 16, 2015

With marriage equality now legal across the United States, but yet with so many debates and controversies, particularly Catholic ones, still raging about the issue, it might be good to step back a second and reflect on the question “What makes a family?”

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder, did exactly just that recently in a National Catholic Reporter essay with a title that is the very question  “What Makes A Family?”

Honour Maddock and Kathleen Kane

Sister Jeannine reflects on this question by examining the lives of a Catholic lesbian couple that she encountered this year, Honour Maddock and Kathleen Kane.  In one sense, the essay begins on the note of what does not make a family, exemplified by Kathleen’s marriage to an emotionally possessive man:

“Kathleen loved being a mother, but her husband wanted her entire attention and resented the time she spent with their children. Their relationship grew strained, and they became increasingly quarrelsome with each other. . . .”

After her husband left the family, without letting anyone know he was doing so, Kathleen met Honour, who became an emotional support to her and her three children after divorce.  They eventually come to recognize a new dimension in their lives:

“Throughout this time, Honour was her lifeblood. Kathleen felt joy whenever Honour was around and missed her when they were apart. After some time they both came to realize that their companionship had blossomed into something deeper.

“ ‘Our wonderful friendship evolved into the beautiful love we’ve now shared for over 30 years,’ Kathleen told me. Although neither Kathleen nor Honour had ever been in a lesbian relationship, they wanted to be committed to each other.”

Because of concern for how people would treat their children if the two women moved in together, they waited until the last went off to college to do so.  But when they did, their home became

“not an exclusive one; [it] was always open to others in need.”

They took in a teenage granddaughter who had been sexually abused and helped her recovery and adjustment to adult life.  They took in Kathleen’s mother for ten years when she had become unable to live on her own.

And at the heart of their relationship is their faith:

“ ‘I’ve always had a deep, visceral connection with my Catholic faith,’ Kathleen said. ‘I’m not sure that the church will ever change its views about lesbian and gay people, but I firmly believe my relationship with Honour is a blessing God bestowed on me. All the opposition we encountered from society and church teachings could never shatter my trust that our love is a gift from God.’ “

For Sister Jeannine,  reflecting on the life of Kathleen and Honour helped her understand what is at the essence of family:

“I think about [Kathleen’s] life with Honour and their time with Kathleen’s mother and granddaughter. For most of their years together, Kathleen and Honour had no marriage license and they had no biological children from their union. What they did have was the deepest kind of love I have encountered — the love of sacrifice for each other, for those they care about, and for those in need, the love of putting the other’s happiness and welfare first, the love of common spiritual values, the love of feeling uniquely blessed by God because of the other.”

There is a lot more to this lovely story, and so I recommend reading the entire essay, which can be found by clicking here.

I pray that our Catholic leaders will open their minds, hearts, eyes, and ears to receive stories like this one–especially as they prepare for the fall’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and the Synod on Family in Rome.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



Two Catholic Schools Approach Employees’ Same-Gender Marriages Very Differently

July 15, 2015

While Philadelphia becomes a new focal point in the continuing story of lesbian and gay employees in Catholic schools being fired for marrying, a Catholic university in New York City has shown that it is very possible for Catholic institutions to accept, and even celebrate, that a gay employee who recently tied the knot.

Archbishop Charles Chaput

The latest development in the case of Margie Winters, a married lesbian teacher fired from Waldron Mercy Academy in suburban Philadelphia, is that the local leader of the Catholic Church there, Archbishop Charles Chaput, has made a statement praising the school’s leaders for firing the teacher.

In a statement released Monday, and quoted on Philly.comChaput said:

“Schools describing themselves as Catholic take on the responsibility of teaching and witnessing the Catholic faith in a manner true to Catholic belief. There’s nothing complicated or controversial in this. It’s a simple matter of honesty. I’m very grateful to the Religious Sisters of Mercy and to the principal and board members of Waldron Mercy for taking the steps to ensure that the Catholic faith is presented in a way fully in accord with the teaching of the Church. They’ve shown character and common sense at a moment when both seem to be uncommon.”

Yet, in New York City, another Catholic educational institution, Fordham University, was recently faced with a similar situation. The chair of the theology department, J. Patrick Hornbeck, recently married Patrick Berquist, in an Episcopal ceremony.  The marriage was announced in The New York Times, and several conservative Catholic bloggers jumped on this item, criticizing Fordham for not taking action against Hornbeck or making a statement about the wedding.

Patrick Berquist and J. Patrick Hornbeck

This week, Fordham did make a statement:

“While Catholic teachings do not support same-sex marriage, we wish Professor Hornbeck and his spouse a rich life filled with many blessings on the occasion of their wedding in the Episcopal Church. Professor Hornbeck is a member of the Fordham community, and like all University employees, students and alumni, is entitled to human dignity without regard to race, creed, gender, and sexual orientation. Finally, same-sex unions are now the law of the land, and Professor Hornbeck has the same constitutional right to marriage as all Americans.”

What a contrast to the statement made by Philadelphia’s archbishop or even the regional head of the Sisters of Mercy, who operate the school from which Margie Winters was fired.  NBC Philadelphia quoted from a statement by Sister Patricia Vetrano, president of the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Mercy Sisters:

” ‘When a school is called to make a decision such as this, it challenges us as a faith community at the deepest levels. . . . The leadership of Waldron Mercy has acted in accord with the school’s fundamental Catholic identity.’

“Vetrano called the decision to let go of Winters ‘final, although very painful’ and said the Sisters respect that not everyone agrees with the firing.”

The Fordham statement, while clearly not sanctioning same-gender marriage, is gracious and life-affirming.  It is not based on laws and rules.  It is a statement that is confident of the institution’s Catholic identity.  It is one that affirms the people involved in the situation and doesn’t shame them.

The statements by Archbishop Chaput and Sister Vetrano are statements based on the logic that the Church’s teaching on marriage is fundamental to an institution’s identity–which it is not.  The teaching on marriage is not at the same level of teaching as the basic principles of faith such as the nature of God, salvation, the Incarnation, the Resurrection.

On the other hand, Fordham’s statement grounds itself in Catholic identity based on respecting  “human dignity without regard to race, creed, gender, and sexual orientation.”  It is one that recognizes that Hornbeck’s and Berquist’s marriage has a civil dimension to it that is separate from religious identity, that they have exercised “the same constitutional right to marriage as all Americans.”

While it is true that Fordham is a nationally recognized university and Waldron Mercy is a small, local elementary school, both institutions value their Catholic identity.  Fordham seems to have done it in a way that does not see that Catholic identity threatened by the changing world, whereas Waldron Mercy seems to think that their school’s Catholic identity is a fragile house of cards that can crumble easily.

In truth, Catholic identity is a big term that encompasses so many facets of an institution’s life.  Narrowing it to accordance with the Church’s teaching on marriage significantly demeans such an identity.  In trying to save their religious identity, the leaders of Waldron Mercy have actually significantly harmed it.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles: “Chaput says ‘nothing controversial’ about dismissal of lesbian teacher”

ABC News: “Archbishop: School That Fired Gay Teacher Showed ‘Character’ “


Should Catholics Opposed to Marriage Equality Use Civil Disobedience?

July 14, 2015

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling, some government officials and religious leaders who oppose the decision have been calling for citizens and congregants to actively protest the advent of marriage equality.  Some are using the language of conscientious objection and civil disobedience.

Is it proper to use such descriptions?  Is preventing a marriage for a gay or lesbian couple justified by moral principles?  Should government officials who, because of religious principles, disagree with the Court’s decision on marriage, be allowed not to issue licenses or perform ceremonies?

Questions like these are going to be debated hotly in the coming months,  The Catholic community will not be exempt from such discussions either.  At least two Catholic bishops have already used such language in their reaction statements to the court’s decisions. Yet, a religious ethics scholar has also recently showed why the use of “conscientious objection” and “civil disobedience” are totally incorrect for the question of marriage equality.

Bishop Joseph Strickland

First, let’s look at what the two bishops have said.  Bishop Joseph Strickland, Diocese of Tyler, Texas, in a June 26th statement said the Court’s decision was

“unjust and immoral, and it is our duty to clearly and emphatically oppose it.”

Later in the statement, Strickland goes on to say:

“We know that unjust laws and other measures contrary to the moral order are not binding in conscience, thus we must now exercise our right to conscientious objection against this interpretation of our law. . . “

Bishop Thomas Tobin

The Providence Journal reported on Rhode Island’s Bishop Thomas Tobin, who, on July 1st, posted an encouraging statement on Facebook for a Texas court clerk who, at first, refused to issue marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples. (She has since relented.) Tobin’s statement said, in part:

“We need many more conscientious objectors – public officials, private businesses, advertisers, religious leaders, and family members, people of courage who will abide by their conscience, protect their religious rights, and not support or enable the furtherance of this moral aberration – so called, ‘same-sex marriage.’ “

David Gushee

But a Christian ethicist has recently refuted such dramatic calls to civil disobedience and conscientious objection in the face of marriage equality by noting that the response does not fit the situation.  Rev. Dr. David Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, Georgia, penned an an essay for Religion News Service entitled “Why civil disobedience is irrelevant to gay marriage.”

Here’s the gist of Gushee’s analysis of civil disobedience:

Here’s a good definition: If a government mandates what religious people believe God forbids, or forbids what religious people believe God mandates, civil disobedience may be required. . . .

The federal government has not mandated that houses of worship or clergy perform gay marriages. Nor has it forbidden congregations or clergy from performing such nuptials. Government has permitted gay marriages — and thus the solemnization of these marriages by whoever is authorized to offer it.

Therefore, those who wish to perform gay weddings are free to do so, and those who do not wish to perform them are free to decline. There are no legitimate grounds for civil disobedience here.

Gushee also takes on the more particular case of government officials who oppose marriage equality on religious grounds:

“In my view, regardless of whether state officials like a particular law, they are required to submit to it in the performance of their duties — or should resign from office.

“Government clerks are not religious officials. Nor are they simply individual citizens who might find a government’s law to be a violation of conscience. They are on the state payroll. Refusal to adhere to or enforce the law on the part of a government official is dereliction of duty, not civil disobedience.”

And he doesn’t shy away from perhaps the thorniest church/state question regarding marriage equality:  will the government require religious institutions to adopt policies which treat all married couples–gay, lesbian, heterosexual–equally?  Gushee does not mince words in his answer:

“It seems very unlikely that government would simply mandate that religious organizations change such policies. It might, however, withdraw tax-exempt status, not from congregations, but from religious organizations.

“Or it might ban federal funds, such as government social-service contracts, research grants or student loans, from going to such organizations. This is not the same thing as simply banning such organizations from adhering to their preferred policies, but for many organizations it remains a nightmare scenario.”

There will be consequences for religious institutions if they do not honor the marriage laws, but they will not be anywhere near the imagined threat that some leaders are describing.  Instead, the consequences will be more practical.  Gushee writes:

“. . . [N]o organizational leader will be arrested or imprisoned if these organizations stick to their policies, and if government withdraws financial assistance (by no means a certainty).

“No organization will be raided and padlocked. No civil disobedience strategy will be relevant.

“Instead, such organizations essentially will be shut out from using government dollars, with predictably scary effects on their bottom lines and reputations.”

But losing government money is not their only option.  Gushee suggests other alternatives:

“They could change the relevant policies, perhaps under protest, while claiming no change in their values. They could do this because they decide that their organizational mission is too important to let it wither because of its LGBT policies.

“Or, of course, they could take this as an opportunity to dig deeper and actually reconsider their beliefs about LGBT people and their relationships, as some of us have already done.”

Civil disobedience and conscientious objection give a moral gravity to a religious person’s objections to marriage equality law.  But as strategies to oppose them, they are not practical or appropriate.

As I’ve argued before here on Bondings 2.0, people with religious objections to civil laws have several options to respond in religious ways.  Sacrificing something, like government grants, may be involved, and sacrifice is a treasured religious response. Peace activists have endured jail and other sacrifices for resisting war taxes.  Why aren’t religious opponents against marriage equality advocating such sacrifices instead of arguing for discrimination?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related post

Bondings 2.0: Sacrificing Profits to Avoid Discrimination and Protect Religious Freedom




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,709 other followers