Despite Vatican Opposition, Italy Passes Civil Unions Bill for Lesbian and Gay Couples

May 13, 2016

In what is being referred to as a rejection of Vatican influence into Italian politics,  the Italian Parliament voted in a civil unions bill this week, becoming the final nation in the 28-member European Union to do so.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had called a confidence vote, as a way to prevent further delays and amendments, and he received a victory of 369-193. A later vote on the actual bill in the lower house of Parliament resulted in a tally of 372-51, with 99 abstentions, paving the way for civil unions to become the law of the land. The Senate had already approved the bill in February.

Rome’s Trevi Fountain was lit up in rainbow colors to celebrate the passage of the civil unions bill.

In their news report of the decisive vote, The New York Times stated:

“It was a historic occasion for a nation that is still dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, which opposed the measure, and where traditional family norms are still strong.”

CNN noted in their reporting:

“Previous attempts to legalize gay unions had been stymied and fiercely contested by conservatives and the Roman Catholic church, which holds significant sway in the nation.”

Despite the historic victory, the bill is not an ideal law, say some Italian LGBT leaders.  One leader spoke to the New York Times, noting the waning of church influence, buy also dissatisfaction with the bill:

” ‘The wall erected mostly by the Vatican against civil rights in this country has fallen, so it is a historically and politically important moment,’ said Franco Grillini, the honorary president of Arcigay, and advocacy group, and a gay rights advocate. At the same time, same-sex couples in Italy wanted marriage equality, a right held by their counterparts in the United States and many Western European countries, and he said that struggle would continue.

“It has been 30 years since lawmakers first proposed giving legal recognition to civil unions in Italy.  The Vatican under Pope Francis, while expressing more liberal positions on some social issues, has kept us steadfast opposition to legal recognitions of same-sex couples, influencing some Italian lawmakers.”

The San Diego Gay & Lesbian News provided a succinct summary of the bill’s negatives and positives:

  • Does not go as far as civil union laws elsewhere in Europe, the US and Canada, critics say
  • Clause that would have enabled gay people to adopt a partner’s biological children was dropped
  • No blanket ban on adoption, but family judges will decide on a case-by-case basis
  • Requirement for gay couples to pledge loyalty was dropped – to make civil union less like marriage
  • Gay couples get right to take each other’s names and receive deceased partner’s pension

Bishop Nunzio Galantino, the head of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, called the Prime Minister’s confidence vote “a loss for everyone,” according to Reuters.  EUobserver reported that after the passage of the bill, Galantino said to Vatican Radio that the law should stress the “importance of the family consisting of father, mother and children.”

The work to defend and expand the law will continue.  Already right-wing Italian politicians, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, are promising to call for a referendum to nullify the law.

In the meantime,  we rejoice with the Italians for preserving family and honoring Catholic principles of human dignity by extending civil union rights to lesbian and gay families.  We pray that they will soon expand those rights to include marriage and adoption so that all Italian families will be respected and protected equally.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Related articles:

Religion News:  “Italy OKs gay civil unions despite strong church opposition”

Slate.com: “At Last, Italy Defies Catholic Church and Legalizes Same-Sex Civil Unions”

 


New Ways Ministry Thanks Sisters of Mercy and Mercy H.S. for Continuing Employment of Transgender Man

May 12, 2016

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director

New Ways Ministry congratulates and thanks the Sisters of Mercy and the administrators of Mercy H.S., San Francisco, for their Gospel-based decision to continue employment of one of their teachers who identifies as a transgender man. This decision stands as a beacon of hope in the midst of the terrible darkness of the recent trend of firing LGBT employees from Catholic institutions. The decision was announced in a letter to parents of students, which, after describing the teacher’s situation, stated:

“This afternoon, we informed students, faculty and staff about our resolve to support the dignity of each person—regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identification.”

We applaud, too, the courage of English Department chair and teacher Gabriel Stein-Bodenheimer for honoring his gender identity, as well to his commitment to educate students in the Mercy tradition. His personal example will be a most powerful lesson to all in the school’s community, especially because his decision involved a large degree of risk.

This story reflects a true Catholic commitment to respecting the dignity of LGBT people—a principle which is shared by millions of Catholics across the U.S. The experience of this school will help our Church to heal from the pain of too many past negative decisions regarding LGBT people. Our Catholic Church will only be strengthened by this decision.

The Sisters of Mercy offer a courageous example of inclusion and equality that could be replicated by so many other Catholic schools, parishes, and social service agencies when they learn of an employee’s gender identity, sexual orientation, or marital status. This example can be a turning point in what has been a dark chapter of the U.S. Catholic Church, when over 60 faithful employees have lost their church jobs because of LGBT issues.

Their process included wide consultation, reflection, and prayer. As the letter described:

“. . . we collaborated with the Board Chair Diane Lawrence and a team of key administrators while we studied how to respond in a manner consistent with Mercy and Gospel values and your School’s Catholic Identity. We prayed for guidance. We also consulted trusted advisors as we applied these principles to this circumstance.”

Furthermore, the Sisters showed their commitment to caring for the entire school community by having counselors available for anyone–student, parent, staff–to discuss their questions and concerns.

The Sisters of Mercy grounded their decision in the principles of Mercy which form the charism of their community. These same principles of mercy are promoted by Pope Francis, particularly in this year which he declared as a Jubilee of Mercy. Pope Francis’ message of acceptance and encounter with the LGBT community have been given flesh and blood by the Sisters’ decision to continue the teacher’s employment.

New Ways Ministry calls on other Catholic religious communities of Fathers, Brothers, and Sisters–and indeed, all Catholic administrators—to rejoice in the Sisters of Mercy’s example, and to honor it by following it as a way to end employment discrimination against LGBT church employees.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.


Will Gay Man’s Employment Case Settlement With Catholic School Affect Future Cases?

May 12, 2016

Matthew Barrett has received a settlement in  his suit against a Massachusetts Catholic high school which had rescinded their contract with him to be the food service director after they learned that he was legally married to another man.

The Boston Globe reported that the details of the financial settlement are undisclosed, but that the decision means the school, Fontbonne Academy, Dorchester, will not appeal a 2015 state court decision that the school discriminated against Barrett after listing his husband on an emergency contact form.

Matthew Barrett (left) with husband, Ed Suplee

That earlier decision, which found the school discriminated against Barrett, was the first of its kind, according to legal experts, because it did not allow the school to claim a religious exemption to the state’s anti-discrimination law.  The Globe reported that Barrett’s lawyer predicted that the settlement arrived at this week will have wide ramifications for future employment cases:

“Ben Klein, a lawyer with GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) who represented Barrett in the case, said the settlement means the ruling against Fontbonne Academy stands, creating an important legal precedent that bars employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, regardless of religious conviction.

” ‘This is a case that there was not a factual dispute about whether discrimination occurred, but whether they had a permissible reason,’ Klein said. ‘They do not.’ ”

“Klein said he expected the case to have broad and lasting implications.

” ‘This is the first case in the country to rule that an employer has no religious justification for discrimination,’ Klein said. ‘Everyone deserves to be treated on their merits, and not based on whom they love or any other protective category.’ “

I admit that I am not a legal expert, but I am reluctant to share’s Klein’s optimism about this case.   While I sincerely hope that this decision will become a precedent, I fear that the precedent might be limited, at best, to Massachusetts, since this was a state court ruling.  Anti-discrimination laws across the nation are written and interpreted very differently from one another.  I am glad for Barrett’s victory, but I think it will still require more legal disputes to end the terrible scourge of Catholic institutions discriminating against married lesbian and gay employees.

The December court decision about the school’s discrimination was very specific to this particular case.  The news story quoted part of Superior Court Judge Douglas H. Wilkins’ reasoning:

“Requiring Fontbonne to retain a food service director who has done nothing more than list a same-sex husband as an emergency contact does not significantly and seriously burden Fontbonne’s expressive situation.”

Religious liberty debates still rage in state houses and courtrooms, and I expect that similar cases will be decided in various ways before one of them makes it to the Supreme Court for a final decision.  As happened in the sexual abuse crisis, it is very disheartening that Catholic leaders and institutions end up being forced to do the right thing because of legal decisions, instead of being moved by the Gospel’s call for avoiding judgmental discrimination.

Leaders at Fontbonne Academy were gracious in their reaction to the court decision, saying in a statement:

“Fontbonne Academy expresses deep gratitude to Mr. Barrett for his willingness to come together with us in a spirit of conciliation, and wishes him well as the school moves ahead in its mission to foster educational excellence and social justice in an open and inclusive community.”

May this renewal of their commitment to social justice and inclusion contain a more open and welcoming attitude than they expressed in Barrett’s case.

Barrett’s own statement about the decision reads somewhat like a hope-filled prayer for the future:

“It’s just a relief to have this off our shoulders. We’ve gone through a lot and we’re happy it’s behind us now. We just hope it doesn’t happen to someone else.”

Amen!

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

 

NewBostonPost.com: “Catholic school settles case that pit gay rights against religious liberty”

 


A Look Into What Drives the Conservative Public Policy of the USCCB

May 6, 2016

Tony Spence’s forced resignation from his position as editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service is indicative of a greater disturbing trend at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  That’s the claim made by John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life. In a Commonweal article, Gehring lays out the USCCB’s recent trend of digging deeper into culture war battles, just at the time when Pope Francis has been calling church leaders to put aside such strident partisan involvement in favor of a method which engages culture and differing opinions.

Tony Spence

Spence left his job a little over two weeks ago, primarily because tweets he sent out from his personal Twitter account in which he criticized some state legislative battles involving LGBT issues and religious liberty.  The USCCB, which owns Catholic News Service, forced him to submit a letter of resignation.

Gehring spoke with Spence after his sudden departure and reported that the former editor has observed much anxiety and tension among Catholic leaders.  Spence told Gehring:

“I think it’s a very tense time in the American church and some things are off limits for discussion in any kind of rational way. It’s difficult to talk about religious liberty, sexuality, women’s issues. But we don’t live in a Catholic bubble. We’re a country of 320 million people.”

Spence observed that the USCCB’s agenda would often creep into the editing of Catholic News Service pieces, which traditionally had editorial independence from the bishops.  Spence said:

“When you reported on positions that politicians took on health care or issues of sexuality even neutrality was seen as an implied endorsement. We really had to be careful about the language we used and how we wrote things. Eventually you start to do that so much you look up and you’re self-censoring and you almost don’t realize how you got there. There was never any direction from the leadership of the conference not to report on something. We had editorial freedom, but there were a lot of battles fought over it.”

Through research for his book The Francis Effect, Gehring interviewed a number of high-ranking conference staff members who gave him a picture of what he calls “the larger, systemic changes at the USCCB in recent years.”  Moreover, many of those interviewed “lamented the all-consuming focus on religious liberty fights, and expressed concern that a hunkered-down approach is limiting the bishops’ effectiveness.”  Not surprisingly, LGBT issues are often at the center of these battles:

“Whether it’s decrying as “extreme” President Obama’s 2014 executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, comparing American disputes over religious liberty to the persecution of Christian martyrs, or publicly opposing the bipartisan reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act for including LGBT protections, the conference often seems determined to box itself into a corner.”

Citing Cathleen Kaveny, a legal scholar, Gehring notes that the U.S. bishops agenda is in opposition to the new agenda which Pope Francis is trying to set for the church, described as “a clear desire to recalibrate the Catholic public voice in a way that doesn’t reduce those moral teachings to a short list of hot-button sexual issues.”

John Gehring

One of those interviewed was Dolores Leckey, the first head of the Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women and Youth.  Leckey told Gehring:

“There is now a kind of unspoken test, and if anyone has a perceived taint of not being on target with every single element of Catholic doctrine, it just doesn’t fly. The church gets cut out of all kinds of effective partnerships. It’s crimping our ability to make a difference.”

Gehring also examines the handful of conservative Catholic websites who have had undue influence on the USCCB, including prompting the ouster of Spence.  Among those mentioned is “Church Militant,” anchored by Michael Voris, who has been notoriously anti-gay in many of his commentaries.  Gehring points out an interesting development about Voris’ personal life:

“. . . [Voris] last week acknowledged for the first time that in the past he had been in sexual relationships with men. He accused the Archdiocese of New York of preparing documents to publicly discredit him, a claim the archdiocese denies.”

Spence acknowledged that these conservative groups often have an immense amount of influence at the USCCB and on individual bishops.  He told Gehring:

“What blows my mind is these groups are given so much credibility and have influence. They are destructive. We’re only talking about a few hundred people in a very big church, but church leadership sometimes doesn’t have confidence in its own voice and these shrill challenges make them jump for cover.”

Gehring’s article is well worth reading in its entirety, and you can do so by clicking here.  He offers many more examples of the culture war mentality at the USCCB.  The stories show that it will take much work and prayer for Pope Francis’ proposed reforms to take root in this institution.

Still, of all the chilling examples he offers, for me the idea that I find the most dangerous is the one that Spence himself warned against:  “self-censorship.” In days gone by, silencing by the Church was accomplished by imprisoning people, exiling them, and, in the worst cases, execution.  Today, silencing is achieved by instilling an atmosphere of fear in church officials, lay leaders, and people in the pews.  The best way to prevent such self-censorship is through overcoming the fear that motivates it.  The best way to overcome fear is through contemplative prayer.

In order to change the culture of the USCCB, we need to keep speaking out truthfully and courageously, and we need to continue to pray to overcome our own fear and to ask that others are able to overcome theirs, too.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Priest Comes Out, Only to Be Barred from Celebrating LGBT Welcome Mass

May 2, 2016

Two Sundays ago, Bondings 2.0 reported on a homily given at a London-area Mass to welcome the LGBT community during the Year of Mercy.  Since that posting, some new information has been brought to our attention concerning another aspect of that Mass.

Thanks to Martin Pendergast, a UK Catholic advocate for LGBT people, we’ve learned that on the morning of the Mass, a Franciscan priest who had been scheduled to concelebrate at the liturgy came out publicly as a gay man on BBC radio during a segment about the special liturgy.  After his announcement, Fr. Kieran Fitzsimons, OFM, was told by the dean of the Brentwood Cathedral, the host of the liturgy, that he would not be able to concelebrate the Mass.

Fr. Kieran Fitzsimons, OFM

The Tablet (March 17, 2016) reported on the incident (though the story about it is behind a paywall, so we cannot link to it).  The news article explained the decision of the dean:

“Fr Martin Boland, said he asked Fr Fitzsimons not to concelebrate ‘because of the nature of him coming out on radio that day’ and because he didn’t want him to detract focus from the Mass. ‘He was playing a very public role and the whole focus would be very much on him and that’s not what these Year of Mercy Masses are about.’ The Dean said he ‘could not imagine’ Fr Fitzsimons not being invited back to celebrate Mass, but ‘he needs to speak to Bishop Alan [Williams] and his Superior.’ “

Fitzsimons response to the decision expressed disappointment at the decision, but also affirmation of the Cathedral’s outreach:

“When word leaked out somehow, I was asked by the cathedral administrator not to concelebrate. I’d routinely concelebrated at two previous Masses as part of the Year of Mercy. I challenged him, but I was obliged to accept the situation. I was not surprised, but I was disappointed. It gives a mixed message.

“However I want to endorse what the diocese and cathedral administrator have done with this Mass. They are good people at the cathedral and I applaud what they are doing.”

Boland’s worry that Fitzsimons’ presence would have made the Mass a media circus seems a bit unwarranted.  The evidence is that Fitzsimons’ announcement of his sexuality did not make headlines in other publications.   It is good to hear that Boland would invite the Franciscan back to the Cathedral to celebrate Mass, but it is curious that he said approval from the local bishop and community superior would be needed.  Why would a priest in good standing, who had previously been welcome to celebrate Mass at the Cathedral, now need special permission because he announced that he is gay?  That is another very mixed message Boland is sending.

Boland’s judgment error may have been caused by the time pressure he faced and the uniqueness of the situation.  Yet, he can correct that error by inviting Fr. Fitzsimons to return to the Cathedral to be the main celebrant at another Mass for LGBT people.  How inspiring and welcoming it would be for the LGBT Mass participants to see one of their own serving openly at the altar!

In the BBC interview, Fitzsimons commented on the fear that many gay priests–as well as many lesbian nuns and LGBT lay workers in the Church–face:

“In recent history there was a fear of being identified in society, workplaces and communities and there were negative repercussions, and I think the same sadly has applied to the church and there is a fear of what may or may not happen.”

At the Queering the Church blog, Terence Weldon commented on Fr. Fitzsimons’ dedication to ministry with LGBT people.  He offered the following memory about him, which also indicates that the local bishop may indeed be supportive of the Franciscan:

“[Fr. Fitzsimons]accompanied the first Quest [Catholic LGBT pastoral care organization in UK] pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, in 2014.  At that time, the director of the shrine was Fr Alan Williams SM. Reports I had from those attending the pilgrimage, were that Fr Williams had been extremely supportive of this group of LGBT pilgrims. Since then, Fr Williams has been appointed Bishop of Brentwod – and so, is now Fr Kieran’s diocesan bishop.”

It seems like the stage is set for a wonderful moment of reconciliation and welcome for Fr. Fitzsimons and the LGBT community in the Brentwood diocese.  With a supportive bishop, and a cathedral which has already offered a welcoming gesture, it seems like welcoming Fr. Fitzsimons to celebrate another Mass for the LGBT community is a logical and pastoral next step.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


LGBT Pilgrimage to Ireland, Land of Rainbows and Wedding Bells–Part 2

May 1, 2016
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Monastic ruins at Clonmacnoise

Today’s post is Part Two of a two-part series on New Ways Ministry’s pilgrimage to Ireland.  You can read Part One by clicking here.

While on a Catholic LGBT pilgrimage to Ireland sponsored by New Ways Ministry and led by Co-Founder Sister Jeannine Gramick, 24 U.S. travelers learned not only about Irish history and culture, but about the living faith that is working for justice and equality for LGBT people.

Today’s post describes meetings with two groups who advocate for and minister with the Catholic LGBT community in the Emerald Isle. The conversations with these groups naturally delved heavily into their experiences during the successful national campaign for marriage equality in Ireland during the first part of 2015. (Yesterday’s post described the warm welcome the pilgrims received from religious communities of priests and nuns in Ireland.)

Gay Catholic Voice Ireland

One evening, six members of Gay Catholic Voice Ireland (GCVI) joined the U.S. pilgrims for a conversation about the reality of being an LGBT Catholic in Ireland.  GCVI is a group convened “to ensure that the voice of LGBT Catholics is heard in the debate on homosexuality both inside and outside the Catholic Church.” It had high visibility in the debate preceding Ireland’s 2015 referendum on marriage equality, about which members spoke extensively during the meeting with pilgrims.

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Bob Shine and Sr. Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry, Dave Donnellan and Sarah Barry of GCVI, Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, and Brian Glennon of GCVI

GCVI members each told their personal stories of coming to terms with their sexual orientations. While some were “out” to all people, others experienced the need to be more self-protective.

Beyond achieving marriage equality’s passage, the referendum provoked a national conversation on LGBT equality, said GCVI members. Discussing the referendum gave voice to positive attitudes that had been unspoken for years in Ireland.  The referendum brought to light that a social transformation had already taken place in the country. Explaining what the campaign was like, one GCVI member said:

“[I asked people,] Please will you vote to make me equal? It felt completely crazy because why should we have to ask. But you shouldn’t underestimate the transformational effect it had. Suddenly, lots and lots and lots of conversations were being had.”

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Sr. Jeannine Gramick speaking with Brian Glennon, a GCVI member, Dublin.

Families could finally be open about LGBT members, and parents could acknowledge gay children when congratulating them on the referendum’s success. One GCVI member said, in this way, “marriages are prophetic happenings facilitating conversations.” This was true for even the oldest sectors of the church, too. Another GCVI member said:

“When I think of church, I think of my 93-year-old dad, a daily communicant, who called my 24-year-old nephew prehistoric because the young lad opposed marriage equality.”

GCVI members said the referendum also highlighted the power of personal storytelling. All spoke about knocking on their neighbors’ doors and making phone calls, telling their stories and listening to stories from their friends.  There was even one national campaign which asked youth to call their grandparents and urge them to vote “yes.”  Appeals were made to Ireland’s radically egalitarian sentiments, a product of the 1916 Rising and Republican movement for national independence, which was quite inclusive for its time, as the Republic of Ireland came to be.

All unanimously agreed that one of the most touching parts of the referendum was learning about the masses of Irish emigres returning to their home just to vote for marriage equality. In the end, 62% of Irish voters approved marriage equality, with all but a single county being supportive (and the difference in that county was less than 1,000 votes).

All Are Welcome

On the last day of their pilgrimage, the U.S. travelers joined the All Are Welcome Mass community at the Carmelite Priory in Dublin. This monthly Mass and social provides a particular welcome to LGBT people, family members, and friends.  It was established and is still supported by the city’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.  While Martin opposed marriage equality in last year’s referendum, his conciliatory manner during the debate and afterwards, as well as his frequent affirmations of LGBT people, helped maintain a relationship with the LGBT community.

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All Are Welcome community and U.S. pilgrims, Carmelite Priory, Dublin

After a joyful Mass celebrated by a Jesuit priest, at an altar decorated with a rainbow flag, the pilgrims met with the Mass regulars for tea and conversation. We heard from four Irish parents who have gay or lesbian children. Each movingly told the story of their child’s coming out and spoke about their relationship to the Catholic Church.

One parent said Ireland’s church has undergone a paradigmatic cultural shift away from its authoritarian past. He said that forty years ago, if you asked an Irish Catholic what they thought about an issue, they would likely begin, “The Church says. . .” and that was the end of the discussion. This ecclesial influence is no longer the case.

Members of All Are Welcome also spoke about their experiences of working for the passage of the marriage referendum. Parents were moved by how supportive their family members and Catholics generally turned out to be.  One ally in the group spoke about campaigning with a “Catholics for Marriage Equality” button on his lapel, and the simple power that simple slogan had in shaping conversations.  He explained that he received those buttons from Sr. Jeannine Gramick, who last year gave them the remaining buttons which were left over from the U.S. state campaigns for marriage equality.

One member said that when an anti-marriage equality letter was read at Masses, his 92-year-old father refuted the position by saying, “We know which way we’re voting.” The man’s grandchildren, after having same-gender marriage explained to them, were completely nonchalant about it.

Amid this conversation, representatives from the reform group We Are Church Ireland presented Sr. Jeannine Gramick with a painting of an inclusive Last Supper to honor her efforts seeking LGBT equality in the church.

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Glendalough National Park

But the work for equality and inclusion in Ireland is far from over, the speakers agreed.  While the referendum campaign brought about great advances, cultural homophobia in society, and especially in certain church institutions, lingers.

With the U.S. and Ireland achieving national marriage equality within just about one month of each other, the pilgrims and the Irish hosts agreed that our communities have much in common. Sharing struggles and victories helped to strengthen those common bonds across our great geographical distance.

To view more photos from the pilgrimage, visit New Ways Ministry’s page on Facebook by clicking here.  If you would like information about future pilgrimages, please send an email to: info@NewWaysMinistry.org or phone 301-277-5674.

–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Pilgrimage to Ireland, Land of Rainbows and Wedding Bells–Part 1

April 30, 2016
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Pilgrims gathered among the monastic ruins at Glendalough.

Today’s post is Part One of a two-part series on New Ways Ministry’s pilgrimage to Ireland.

New Ways Ministry’s recent pilgrimage to Ireland brought showers of blessings to the two dozen participants who made the trip.  One of the biggest blessings was the opportunity to learn firsthand about LGBT ministry, welcome, and advocacy in Ireland at this time.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, was the planner and spiritual leader of this journey, entitled “Ireland:  Land of Rainbows and Wedding Bells.”  Ireland was selected not only for its strong Catholic identity, but because in 2015 it became the first nation in the world to enact marriage equality by popular vote.   As the pilgrims learned from their visits and meetings with church leaders and LGBT advocates, the Catholic movement for LGBT equality is strong in the Emerald Isle.

Throughout the trip, the pilgrims received warm Irish welcomes from several communities of religious men and women, while also visiting sites important to the LGBT community.

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Fr. Tony Flannery and Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Esker Monastery, Athenry

The day we arrived, the Redemptorists welcomed us for Mass and a “cuppa” tea, scones, and soup at their Esker Monastery outside the town of Athenry.  Fr. Tony Flannery, a leader in Ireland’s church reform movement, was on hand with his brother Redemptorists to introduce us to the many ways his community is building a more inclusive church.  Fr. Brendan O’Rourke presided at Eucharistic liturgy for the group.

We encountered the Redemptorists three more times on our trip.  We celebrated Mass at their parish church in Cherry Orchard, a low-income neighborhood of Dublin.  Fr. Adrian Egan discussed contemporary social problems facing this low-income area before offering a prayer that we “keep in mind anyone who, for any reason, feels on the edges and excluded.”

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Pádraig speaking to pilgrims, Clonard Monaster, Belfast

Redemptorist Father John J. Ó Ríordáin  guided the pilgrims prayerfully through the historic site of Glendalough, the monastery founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century.  As we walked from place to place around the grounds, Fr. Ó Ríordáin offered not only historical background, but also some Celtic prayers and poems appropriate to the various settings.  Our trip there ended with an outdoor Mass by the side of one of Glendalough’s stunning lakes.

In Belfast, we visited the beautiful Clonard Monastery with a sanctuary dominated by an image of Jesus with outstretched arms—a symbol that all are welcome to the parish, Fr. Noel Kehoe, the pastor, told us in greeting.

While at Clonard, which also is the city’s main center for reconciliation between Catholic and Protestant citizens, the pilgrims were educated about these peace efforts by Pádraig Ó Tuama, an openly gay Catholic man. He said the Redemptorist monastery is known well for being a safe space to many, including LGBT people, because here, “You know you didn’t have to lessen your dignity.” Ó Tuama is also the leader of the Corymeela Community, an Irish spirituality center, which includes LGBT people and sponsors a retreat for pastoral ministers involved in LGBT ministry.

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Mercy Associate Susanne Cassidy sharing with her fellow pilgrims at Mother McAuley’s first Convent of Mercy, Baggot Street, Dublin

In Dublin, we visited the home of one of that city’s most well-known Catholic daughters:  Venerable Mother Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy.  At the Mercy International Center on Baggot Street, we were warmly welcomed by Sister Mary Kay Dobrovlny, a U.S. sister who provided us with information and inspiration about Mercy’s origins.  At Mass in the Center’s chapel, one of our pilgrims, Susanne Cassidy, the Catholic mother of two gay sons and a Mercy Associate, shared the impact that Mother McAuley’s witness had on her own life and LGBT ministry. We adjourned, as always, for a comfortable cup of tea afterwards.

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St. Brigid of Kildare, Solas Bhríde, Kildare

In Kildare, the pilgrims visited Solas Bhríde (Light of Brigid), a spirituality center and hermitage opened just last year.  The three Brigidine Sisters–Sr. Mary Minehan, Sr. Phil O’Shea, and Sr. Rita Minehan–who oversee the ecologically-built center said the purpose of their ministry is to “unfold the legacy of St. Brigid and its relevance for our time.” St. Brigid, abbess of a double monastery (one part for men and one part for women) in Kildare, is a great inspiration to the Irish people for taking care of the environment.

At the spirituality center, we visited the garden to see a new statue of St. Brigid by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz. The statue was commissioned by Fr. Dennis O’Neill, a Chicago priest who is pastor of St. Martha parish, Morton Grove, which is an LGBT-friendly parish.

At the Whitefriars Street Church, a Carmelite parish in Dublin, the pilgrims gathered to pray at the shrine of St. Valentine, an altar which holds a small casket containing the relics of this famous saint who is so connected with love and relationships.  Sister Jeannine offered a reflective reading of St. Paul’s famous discourse on love, found in 1 Corinthians 13, while we prayed for all our relationships–past, present, future.

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Pilgrims at a statue of Oscar Wilde, Merrion Square, Dublin

On the same day, we gathered for a photo, not prayer, at the statue of Dublin’s famous author, Oscar Wilde, the beautiful Merrion Square park. Wilde was jailed for being a gay man and for writing of “the love that dare not speak its name,” about which he said during his trial, “It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection.”

Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will share details about two meetings we had with LGBT Irish folks and their families, and the wisdom gleaned from them.  We’ll also discuss our visit to the Archdiocese of Dublin’s monthly Mass for the LGBT community. Tune in!

To view more photos from the pilgrimage, visit New Ways Ministry’s page on Facebook by clicking here. If you would like information about future pilgrimages, please send an email to: info@NewWaysMinistry.org or phone 301-277-5674.

–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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