Fr. James Martin to Receive New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award

September 6, 2016

For an updated version of this page, please click here. 

James Martin cropped

Fr. James Martin, SJ


New Ways Ministry is proud to announce the presentation of our Bridge Building Award to Father James Martin, SJ, in recognition of his ministry of communication which has helped to expand the dialogue on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church.

The award will be presented at a ceremony on Sunday, October 30, 2016, 2:00-5:00 p.m., at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, 1726 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, Maryland, 21208 (near Baltimore).  Immediately following the presentation Fr. Martin will offer remarks.  An hors d’oeuvre reception will conclude the event.


For information on attending the award ceremony for Fr. Martin, click here

For information on honoring Fr. Martin on this occasion, click here.


Fr. Martin serves as Editor At Large for America magazine, the national Jesuit opinion journal.  In addition, he is one of the most widely recognized Catholic personalities on social media, with a Facebook following of close to half a million people.  Fr. Martin has used his communication skills and channels to allow for an extensive discussion of LGBT issues among Catholics of varying ideologies.

To read all of Bondings 2.0 blog posts which refer to Fr. Martin, click here.

New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award honors those individuals who by their scholarship, leadership, or witness have promoted discussion, understanding, and reconciliation between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church. The award was first given in 1992 to Father Charles Curran, a renowned moral theologian. Other awardees were: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton (1995);  Sister Margaret Farley, RSM (2002); Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata (2005); John J. McNeill (2009).

The October 30th award ceremony and reception are open to the public. A suggested donation is $35 per person (all are welcome regardless of ability to donate). If you would like to attend the event, please click here, and fill out the form by October 20th.

If you would like to honor Fr. Martin’s achievements in a special way, New Ways Ministry invites you to have your name or your organization’s name listed in the program booklet for the event.  You may choose to be listed in one of the following categories:

  • Patron ($1,000 donation)
  • Benefactor ($500 donation)
  • Supporter ($250 donation)
  • Contributor ($100 donation)
  • Friend ($50 donation)

To have your name or organization’s name listed, please click here and fill out the form by Ocvtober 7th.

If you have any problems with the online form, please contact New Ways Ministry at 301-277-5674 or info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

Father Martin is the author and editor of numerous books including Seven Last Words: An Invitation to a Deeper Friendship with Jesus, and The Abbey: A Story of Discovery. His 2014 publication  Jesus: A Pilgrimage was a New York Times bestseller and won both a Christopher Award and a Catholic Press Association Award. Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life was named as one of “Best Books” of 2011 by Publishers Weekly.

His book on Jesuit spirituality The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life, a New York Times bestseller, was awarded a 2010 Christopher Award, and was also a number one bestseller in Catholic books.  His memoir My Life with the Saints (Loyola, 2006), which received a 2007 Christopher Award, was named one of the “Best Books” of 2006 by Publishers Weekly, and also received a First Place award from the Catholic Press Association.  Together on Retreat: Meeting Jesus in Prayer is an e-book that uses the technology of the e-reader to lead readers on a guided retreat.

For further information call (301) 277-5674 or email info@NewWaysMinistry.org

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: September 6, 2016

September 6, 2016

News NotesHere are some news items that you might find of interest:

  1. Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, made headlines last month when he officiated at a same-gender wedding.  Several church officials criticized him for the action.  DelawareOnline.com reports that a small group of Catholics staged a protest at the Diocese of Wilmington’s (Delaware) chancery, calling on Bishop Francis Malooly to “repudiate Joe Biden or resign.”  Biden is from Delaware.
  2. Bondings 2.0 blog post by Cristina Traina about Pope Francis’ comments on the “ideological colonization” of gender was picked up and re-distributed by Religion News Service.  Traina revised the article for the new publication.
  3. Diane DeBernardo, who has participated in several New Ways Ministry pilgrimages, was the subject of a National Catholic Reporter personality profile that examined, among other things, her involvement in starting her parish’s LGBT outreach ministry.  She is also the sister of New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo.
  4. DignityUSA, an organization of LGBT Catholics, recently called on U.S. Senator Marco Rubio not to appear at an Orlando conference of anti-LGBT groups, which took place on the two-month anniversary of the Orlando nightclub massacre, reported Miami New Times.
  5. Fr. Mike Tegeder, a Minnesota priest who was a strong supporter of LGBT rights, has passed away from lung cancer.  The Minneapolis Star-Tribune said he was “a vocal critic of former Archbishop John Nienstedt and the church’s attempts to block gay marriage, opposition that threatened Tegeder’s status as priest at his two Minneapolis churches, St. Frances Cabrini and Gichitwaa Kateri. He kept his bus driver’s license up to date in case he was dismissed from the priesthood.”

Revealing the Potential Harm of the Vatican’s Sex Education Curriculum

September 3, 2016

Today’s blog post is from New Ways Ministry’s newest staff member, Glen Bradley.  A 2016 graduate of the Jesuit-run Santa Clara University, California, Glen is a member of the Loretto Volunteer Program.  We were delighted to welcome him to the staff last week, and now we are delighted to welcome him as a contributor to this blog.

As Bondings 2.0 reported last week, the Vatican’s new sexual education program (The Meeting Point) inadequately educates youth on sexuality and gender because it does not include LGBTQ inclusive material and instead relies on strong heterosexist and cis-sexist biaseswhich privilege the lives and experiences of heterosexual people and people whose gender identity/expression conforms to societal norms and with their sex assigned at birth.

The Vatican’s negligent program excludes the reality of LGBTQ people in our world today and poses serious threats to all students–LGBTQ and straight-cisgender alike–by potentially negatively impacting their academic performance, personal development and health.

Some Catholics oppose educating children on LGBTQ people and relationships, believing that doing so would confuse them and harm their development. However, recent educational research shows that an inclusive curriculum does just the opposite. Josh A. Goodmancounseling psychology doctoral candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Huffington Post contributorpointed out the benefits of inclusion in his article “5 Reasons Schools Should Adopt LGBTQ-inclusive Sex Ed”:

“[LGBTQ inclusive sexual education] teaches about sexual orientation and gender identity as they actually exist. Regardless of a person’s moral views, it is a fact that humans have a diverse array of sexual orientations and gender identities. To only teach about one sexual orientation, to ignore gender minorities, and to suggest that a heterosexual marriage is the only acceptable relationship for sexual activity makes invisible the experiences of LGBTQ people and presents an inaccurate view of human sexuality. If we are to prepare youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities to feel good about their sexuality, make safe and responsible choices involving relationships and sexual activity, and appreciate—or at least tolerate—the gender and sexual diversity of their peers and community members, incorporating LGBTQ topics and perspectives into the curriculum is essential.”

In short, excluding LGBTQ topics from a curriculum teaches a dangerous lie: that either LGBTQ people do not exist or they do not have healthy relationships.

Not only would students at Catholic schools be miseducated on the realities of sexuality and gender, research has found that sexual education excluding LGBTQ identities and relationships create health and development risks. GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey found that LGBTQ children who did not receive LGBTQ-inclusive sexual education programs were

  • less likely to feel safe at school, more likely to miss school because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable
  • less likely to feel comfortable talking about LGBTQ issues with school personnel
  • less likely to be able to identify educators who were supportive of LGBTQ students (GLSEN).

Regardless of the curriculum, LGBTQ children are already negatively affected by LGBTQ-phobia from their peers and the adults at school. According to The Southern Poverty Law Center’s resource guide Best Practices: Creating an LGBT-inclusive School Climate:

“LGBT students report being harassed at schoolboth verbally and physicallyat twice the rate of non-LGBT youth. With heightened stressors like bullying, harassment and a lack of role models, LGBT students are also more likely to experience negative educational outcomes.”

A non-inclusive curriculum sends a brutal message: that the school does not fully support and value their LGBTQ students.

Other research has found that LGBTQ-inclusive sexual education is an effective way of reducing LGBTQ-phobia in schools. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States released guidelines saying,

“Most importantly for LGBTQ youth, comprehensive sex education provides factual, non-stigmatizing information on sexual orientation and gender identity as a part of human development and teaches youth to respect LGBTQ people with messages like ‘Making fun of people for not acting the way society expects them to based on their biological sex [sic.] is disrespectful and hurtful’ and ‘People deserve respect regardless of who they are attracted to.’

Furthermore, lowered LGBTQ-phobia from inclusive sexual education has been effective in reducing mental health problems and improving academic performance. A new report found that students with LGBTQ-inclusive sexual education had increased academic performance because they were less likely to report harassment and more likely to feel safe at school. The same research found that while inclusive curriculums in other subjects also contributed to higher academic performance because of decreased abuse and mental health problems, but that inclusive sexual education classes had the greatest impact with regard to school climate.

Very importantly, research has shown that inclusive sexual education does not only benefit LGBTQ students. GLSEN revealed positive outcomes for both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ students in a report saying that an inclusive curriculum

“. . .would benefit not only LGBT youth, but also provide non-LGBT youth with an opportunity to dispel myths about issues of sexual orientation and gender and broaden their understanding about LGBT peoples and communities.”

Similarly, decreased LGBTQ-phobia in schools improves the health and development of all students. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s resource guide states:

“Creating a supportive environment for LGBT students improves educational outcomes for all students, not just those who may identify as LGBT. And remember, it’s not about politics—it’s about supporting students. Any educator, regardless of his personal beliefs, can be a resource for LGBT students.”

Research has also quantified the positive effects of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) and anti-homophobic policies on heterosexual boys, finding that “heterosexual boys were half as likely to attempt suicide as those in schools without GSAs” and “heterosexual boys [at schools with anti-homophobic policies that have been in place for more than three years] had 27% lower odds of suicidal thoughts than heterosexual boys in schools without.”

While Catholic schools certainly need GSAs and LGBTQ-supportive policies to combat LGBTQ-phobia in schools, inclusive sexual education is a place to start. GLSEN’s A Call To Action report says LGBTQ-inclusive sexual education is, “a logical venue to help young people learn about identity and encourage acceptance for LGBTQ people and families.”

An inclusive sexual education program for our church would properly educate our children on the realities of LGBTQ people in our world today, while improving students’ mental health, reducing suicide and improving academic performance. Sadly, our Church leaders have not done this in The Meeting Point. The result is a sexual education program that can be very dangerous. But instead of responding with despair, we can use this opportunity as a rallying cry to work to save our children from the dangers of an inadequate curriculum, which has potential for so much damage.

Perhaps the authors of The Meeting Point gave us the analytical test we need when evaluating their curriculum. They quote Rev. Servais-Théodore Pinckaers, O.P., on truth:

“Without the truth, there is neither happiness nor lasting love” (Contents6.0_Educator, page 6).

The first step toward justice is in our ability to seek, see, and reveal the truth to others. The Meeting Point is anything but truthful with regard to sexual and gender realities, realities that include LGBTQ identities and relationships. In this disillusionment, we find neither truth nor love, yet it is our duty as faithful followers of Christ to now bring both to our children and our church.

–Glen Bradley New Ways Ministry


Reading Between the Lines of Massachusetts’ Bishops Statement on Transgender Rights

September 1, 2016

When Massachusetts passed a law in July allowing transgender people access to locker rooms and restrooms that align with their gender identity, the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC) responded with a statement that was very non-confrontational. Indeed, it might even have seemed like the Conference welcomed the law’s passage.  In part, the statement read:

“We urge respect in this discussion for all those whose rights require protection. In our parishes, schools and other institutions, the Church will respect the civil law while upholding the principles of our faith and our religious freedom.”

A quick reading of these two sentences might tell someone that the MCC supports the new law and that they plan to implement it in Catholic Church institutions across the state.  But the particular phrasing of the statement might indicate that the MCC is keeping its options open.  For example, although they “urge respect in this discussion,” they are vague about who this respect is for, saying only that is “all those whose rights require protection.”  I might assume that this means transgender people, but the MCC may mean it applies to churches who feel their religious liberty is at stake.

Similarly, the statement says that they will “respect the civil law.”  I did a double-take on this one.  At first, I thought that they intended to mean “obey” or “follow” the civil law.  The rest of the sentence qualifies the respect they will give the law, implying they will do so only as they are “upholding the principles of our faith and our religious freedom.”

So, what do they mean?  Is the MCC supporting transgender rights or are they defending the Catholic Church against a perceived attack on its religious freedom?

The rest of the MCC statement does not give any further insight into the intention of these church leaders. In fact, the statement defies taking a solid position at almost every turn.  For example, they say of the new law:

“. . . [I]ts implementation will require both careful oversight and respect for all individuals using such public accommodations.”

Does this mean that they support transgender persons’ rights to use the bathroom which aligns with their gender identity or does it mean that individuals who do not want transgender people in their public restrooms will be allowed to eject them?

Additionally, the MCC statement offers the following advice:

“The complex challenge of crafting legislative protections for some in our community while meeting the needs of the wider population will require sensitive application of the legislation just passed.”

Again, using a vague term like “sensitive application” means we don’t know where the Massachusetts bishops stand on this law.  I’m sure that every law enforcement official believes they are applying laws sensitively, but that doesn’t mean they are always doing so.

Perhaps most revealing of the MCC’s position on transgender issues comes from a statement they made alluding to Pope Francis’ negative approach to gender identity questions.  They state that the pope

“. . . acknowledges the pluralism within and among cultures regarding sexuality and marriage, but he also warns against an absolute separation of the physical and cultural understanding of sexuality and gender.”

This statement clearly shows that the MCC does not support the idea of gender transition.  Yet, it doesn’t say where the MCC will stand on the rights of transgender people in society.  (You can read the statement in its entirety by clicking here.)

A recent op-ed essay in The Cape Cod Times notes that the vague and ambiguous wording of the MCC statement will only lead to further problems down the road.   John J. Donovan, the author, who has taught college-level theology, says the bishops’ response is “very vague at best, and very troublesome at worst.”  He explains his position:

“Because the Massachusetts bishops’ statement is so poorly written it would seem that one of those little church/state clashes is inevitable. Those clashes produce neither sanctity nor good law. The state law is well-crafted, written by lawyers. It would seem the onus is on the bishops to write a better response.”

I think he is right. Since the MCC would not take a definitive position on the law, it seems like they may be positioning themselves to defend a church institution who would deny restroom or locker room access to a transgender person.  Donovan offers good advice for the bishops’ future statements on such issues:

“Before a better response is attempted, perhaps more theologizing should take place. The theologizing should cover in as much depth as possible not only the concept of gender identification but also the entire scope of sexuality in all its beauty and mystery.”

When bishops write so vaguely and ambiguously, they easily open themselves up to writing like politicians do.  Our church deserves better from its leaders.  We need bishops who will speak boldly and courageously to protect the human and civil rights of all, especially those, like transgender people, who continue to be marginalized across our nation and around the world.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


God’s Transgender Quality and Our Call to Take Risks

August 30, 2016

At the beginning of this month, The New York Times ran an op-ed with the provocative title, “Is God Transgender?”  Written by Rabbi Mark Sameth, the essay examined language from the Hebrew Scriptures, noting that God is sometimes referred to as a man, sometimes as a woman, and sometimes as both.  Other people in the Biblical stories also display characteristics of the two genders. Here’s an excerpt from Sameth’s essay:

“. . . [T]he Hebrew Bible, when read in its original language, offers a highly elastic view of gender. And I do mean highly elastic:  In Genesis 3:12, Eve is referred to as ‘he.’ In Genesis 9:21, after the flood, Noah repairs to ‘her’ tent. Genesis 24:16 refers to Rebecca as a ‘young man.’ And Genesis 1:27 refers to Adam as ‘them.’. . .

“In Esther 2:7, Mordecai is pictured as nursing his niece Esther. In a similar way, in Isaiah 49:23, the future kings of Israel are prophesied to be ‘nursing kings.’ . . .

“The four Hebrew letter name of God, which scholars refer to as the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, was probably not pronounced ‘Jehovah’ or ‘Yahweh,’ as some have guessed. The Israelite priests would have read the letters in reverse as Hu/Hi — in other words, the hidden name of God was Hebrew for ‘He/She.’

Sameth, whose cousin Paula Grossman was one of the first people in the U.S. to undergo sex-reassignment surgery (in the 1970s), comes to several conclusions, all of which support transgender equality, but the one I thought was most important was:

“Counter to everything we grew up believing, the God of Israel — the God of the three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions to which fully half the
people on the planet today belong — was understood by its earliest worshipers to be a dual gendered deity.”

This wonderful essay, which you can read in its entirety by clicking here, recently became the subject of a National Catholic Reporter commentary.  After reading Sameth’s essay, writer Mariam Williams speculated why she had never heard of a dual gender god before, especially when the evidence seems to be so clearly embedded in several key texts.  Commenting on Sameth’s involvement with a transgender family member, Williams writes:

“I wonder how many people before him had read the same verses and drawn the same conclusions, but — because they didn’t have a cousin Paula they knew and loved and rooted for, or because it was the 1950s or 1890s and not the 21st century — they dismissed their discovery. They would have disrupted the status quo, and they would have been alone in their thinking.

‘How often do theologians and practicing ministers read Scripture in its original language and keep the knowledge to themselves out of fear of what they find?”

Williams, far from being paranoid, acknowledges that human frailty may play a part in why scholars don’t make such challenging discoveries public:

“. . . [I]t could be dangerous for the individual posing the argument, because disrupting the status quo is always dangerous, perhaps especially when you are personally invested in it. Furthermore, bringing counter-arguments into one’s belief system is scary. It means sitting in places where you’re uncomfortable, where doubt, the very enemy of faith, can fester.”

I think Williams is partially correct in this conclusion.  Yes, it is uncomfortable to be in a place where uncertainty reigns, where the status quo is challenged. But, isn’t that the place where all of us are every day of our lives?  Though things in our life are generally familiar, we never know what each day will bring, and we are often called to make decisions and choices based on how we assimilate dangerous, new knowledge into our more comfortable, secure values.  Whether we are aware of this or not, we do it every day.

Sometimes those experiences loom larger in our consciousness because they require a greater risk in our choices.  Sometimes we need to wrestle with our consciences in order to arrive at a decision.  But the more we act in this courageous way, the easier it becomes for the future–though, admittedly, it never becomes totally easy!

So, my main disagreement with Williams’ remark is that she places doubt as the enemy of faith.  Doubt is not an enemy of faith.  It’s a step on the way to faith.  The enemy of faith is fear–fear of taking the risk of the leap of faith.  Such fear sometimes reveals itself as a calcified certainty which prevents us from making a decision because we assume this decision is already made–usually by some other authority.

In the Catholic LGBT world, I have met many people whose courage and risk continue to inspire me.  These aren’t reckless people. They are faith-filled people.  I believe that it is through these many acts of individual courage, risk, and faith, that our church, as an institution, will eventually be able to make its own such acts.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


How Important Is It to Know If an Archbishop Is Gay?

August 27, 2016

It always makes me uncomfortable when I read a news story which alleges or reveals the homosexuality of a church leader who has a particularly nasty record on LGBT issues.  Not because I don’t believe that these stories are possibly true.  It’s more because such stories often seem to have a not-so-subtle message of “Aha!  We always knew it! What a hypocrite!”

Archbishop John Nienstedt

Such a story emerged this past week.  MinnPost.com carried an essay by Tim Gihring with a title which explains the situation: “Does it matter whether Archbishop John Nienstedt is gay?”  Nienstedt is the retired archbishop of St. Paul, Minnesota, who, in addition to having a very strong stand against marriage equality and other LGBT issues, was forced to resign when his gross mishandling of clergy sex abuse cases was revealed.  Rumors have also circulated for a long time that Nienstedt himself is gay, and that he was sexually active in secret.  He has denied these rumors.

Gihring’s article differs somewhat from the usual form these stories take, though.  In the conclusion of his essay, Gihring writes about the “trap” in which Nienstedt seemed to be caught:

“By closing the door to homosexuality, marking its expression as the work of Satan and the most aberrant of sins, Nienstedt had nowhere to go with his own desires. He left himself no way out.”

That, to me, is such a sad set of sentences.  They describe to me a gay man who did not learn to accept himself, and whose lack of self-esteem provided him no opportunity than to act out sexually in unhealthy ways, and to project his own self-hatred onto others.

Gihring’s “trap” in which he believes Niensteedt was caught is bigger than just his denial of homosexuality.  Gihring speculates that Nienstedt made a deal with church officials that if he covered up sexual abuse cases, they would cover up his homosexual liaisons.  Gihring writes:

“For pushing back on gays in the church, among other issues, Nienstedt would be promoted and promoted and promoted again. He would also be protected: Among the revelations in the documents unsealed last month is that the Vatican envoy to the United States quashed an investigation into Nienstedt’s homosexual activity and ordered evidence destroyed.

“The evidence that exists, in the form of corroborated witness accounts, suggests that Nienstedt spent his time in Minnesota, from 2001 to 2015, living a precarious double life: indulging his homosexual tendencies, even as he railed against them. . . .

“. . . .[T]he deal that Nienstedt long ago made for the benefit of his career — to follow the church into conservatism — now seems a kind of ecclesiastical quid pro quo: if he covered for the sins of the church, the church would cover for his. The internal investigation of him, reportedly quashed by the Vatican, had been his idea — he was that confident that his name would be cleared.”

Gehring is skating on thin ice here.  He has made it seem like an agreement was made by the Vatican and Nienstedt.  Unfortunately, his case is built totally on speculation.  If, in fact, the Vatican did quash an investigation of Nienstedt, it is a huge leap of inference to claim that this was connected to any kind of “deal” that was arranged.

I am not defending Nienstedt’s actions, either in his mishandling of sex abuse cases or his possible homosexual liaisons.  But let’s remember that these two different types of actions are qualitatively different.   In the sex abuse cases, his actions did terrible harm to vulnerable people, and to the Church community. If he engaged in promiscuous, casual, or anonymous sexual encounters, any potential harm would have affected only himself and his partners, who presumably were consenting adults.

Neither am I excusing Nienstedt’s terrible record of opposing LGBT equality.  He has spent an inordinate amount of energy and church money to deny LGBT people their civil rights, and as this blog’s archives show, New Ways Ministry has opposed him on all these matters.

In the case of his sexual behavior, the real culprits here are the structures of the church which actually promote such behavior:  clericalism and homophobia. The privilege that clerics receive and the fear and silence that surround any discussion of homosexuality in the church create a toxic atmosphere, even for those who supposedly “benefit” from these structures.

So what’s the answer to the question of Gihring’s title question: “Does it matter whether Archbishop John Nienstedt is gay?”  I think the answer is yes, it does matter because it is an integral part of who he is.  I think, though, that the answer is not just important for the public to know, but, more importantly, for Nienstedt himself to know.  Part of the great tragedy here is that a church system has let a man get to Nienstedt’s place in life without allowing him the freedom and security to know and accept who he is.

If any definitive evidence emerges that Nienstedt is, in fact, gay–and the only solid evidence of that would be his own admission–then I don’t think that would be an occasion to gloat over hypocrisy.  It would be an occasion first to lament the pain that he must have experienced as a terribly closeted gay man. It should also be an occasion to reinvigorate our efforts to end clericalism and homophobia in the church, and all the myriad personal and structural ills they bring.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts and articles:

For all Bondings 2.0 posts about Archbishop Nienstedt’s connections with LGBT issues, click here.

Bondings 2.0:  “Minneapolis Archbishop Nienstedt: “I’m not gay…I’m not anti-gay.”

Minnesota Public Radio: Archbishop authorized secret investigation of himself”

Star Tribune: Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt faces new sex claims”

National Catholic Reporter: Report: Minnesota Archbishop Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships”

TwinCities.com: “Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships, ex-official says”

The Wild Reed: “Has Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Shadow” Finally Caught Up With Him?”


Vatican’s Sex Ed Curriculum Gets Low Grade for LGBT Topics

August 25, 2016

A curriculum for youth sex education has been released by the Vatican, and while it provides a more holistic approach to sexuality, some glaring omissions make it dangerous material for LGBT young people.

For heterosexual cisgender* young people, the Vatican’s new sex education curriculum, entitled The Meeting Point: Course of Affective Sexual Education for Young People,” offers healthy approaches and guidelines for personal integration and development.  Absent from this document, however, is any mention of similar guidelines that will help  lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth understand their own unique and holy experiences of sexuality and gender. [*Editor’s note:  “cisgender” refers to people whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex.]

If this program is used in schools and parishes, it will send a damaging message of silence and invisibility to LGBT youth at very vulnerable points in their lives.  The material sends the message that they are not considered by the church, not welcome, and, worst of all, that they do not even exist.

Because the curriculum assumes heterosexuality as the only valid form of love, and because it assumes that gender is definitively binary and assigned to individuals based on sex (male/female), this material will instill shame, fear, and self-hatred in LGBT young people who are taught from it.   Such negative feelings lead to depression, anxiety, addiction, self-harm, and, tragically, even suicide.

Some examples of the deficiencies in the document include:

In suggestions to the religious education teacher, the document includes the following statements:

  • “The step before falling in love is feeling attracted to a person of the opposite sex.”
  • “Choosing our boyfriend/girlfriend. This is another step in which they have to mature, opening themselves up to what is most difficult – to that which is different -, discovering reciprocity and heterosexuality.”
  • ‘Two ways of existing as a person: The body and soul constitute the unified corporeal-spiritual totality that is the human person. But this totality necessarily exists in the form of a man or of a woman. There is no other possibility than this for the existence of the human person. . . .Our very anatomical traits, as an objective expression of this masculinity or femininity, are endowed with an objectively transcendent significance: they are called to be a visible manifestation of the person.”
  • “The duality of the sexes affirms the axiological meaning of sexuality: man is for woman, woman is for man, and parents are for their children . The sexual difference indicates this reciprocal complementarity, and is oriented toward communication: toward feeling, expressing and living out human love, opening oneself to a greater fulfillment.”

Additionally, the document incorrectly refers to “pansexualism” as occurring when “happiness becomes confused with the greatest amount and duration of pleasures.” In the scientific community, the word refers to “the belief that a sexual instinct drives all human behavior.” With regard to an identity, “pansexual” describes “the sexual attraction, romantic love, or emotional attraction toward people regardless of their sex or gender identity.”

What makes this curriculum even more disappointing is that there are actually some good, broad approaches to other aspects of sexuality which would be good for LGBT young people to apply to their lives.  The document discusses areas including the idea that sexuality is far more than sexual activity, the various dimensions of human relationships, the importance of respecting the human dignity of others and of self,  the ways to integrate emotions into one’s life, the proper exercise of freedom, the importance of developing healthy relationships, the place of morality in making decisions about relationships, and many others.  These are lessons important to all young people.  However, since the material has a bias for heterosexuality and the gender binary, it is likely that these valuable messages will not get through to LGBT youth, who will likely feel themselves excluded from this conversation.

Likewise heterosexual and cisgender youth also lose if LGBT issues are not included, as they are deprived of a wealth of information about human development.  Such information could most readily be of use to this group if students if they have an LGBT friend or relative.

The fact that several secular sex education experts have praised it, and that a number of ultra-conservative Catholics have condemned it, may be the best evidence that there are some good ideas in this new approach.  For instance, Cleveland.com reported:

Seattle’s Tina Schermer Sellers, author of an upcoming book titled “Sex, God & the Conservative Church – Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy,” praised the new curriculum’s departure from teachings that were “ineffective and often hurtful,” including scare tactics, and presentation of God as unforgiving, unloving and damning.

Sellers said programs that couple sex education with a framework of values – as the new Vatican program does – help young people “make better sexual choices, get involved sexually later and have more satisfying sexual lives later in life.”

Indeed, it is commendable that there are no explicit condemnations of LGBT people in this curriculum.  Such would not have been the case even five years ago. This development shows that the Church is changing.  But, LGBT Catholics and their allies cannot be satisfied simply with the absence of condemnations. And our church’s leaders need to recognize the damage done by avoiding LGBT people in discussions of gender and sexuality.  In many places around the globe, these issues are discussed daily in mass media and ordinary conversation.  Young people, in particular, are acutely aware of these realities.  The silence about LGBT issues in this curriculum will speak loudly–and negatively–to young people.

If the Vatican wants to truly be comprehensive in their approach to sexuality, which this curriculum is one step towards being, Church leaders need to be pro-active in humanely addressing the experiences, lives, and relationships of LGBT people, and to affirm their holiness.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

Global Pulse:  Vatican launches sex ed website

Cruxnow.com: “Vatican issues its own sex ed guidelines