Just a Few Days Left to Give Pope Francis a Grade on LGBT Issues!

March 16, 2015

Since Friday, March 13th, the second anniversary of Pope Francis’ election to the papacy, Bondings 2.0 has been conducting a poll on what our readers think of his record on LGBT issues.

If you haven’t done so yet, please take a few seconds to assign a grade to Pope Francis’ LGBT record by assigning a grade to him below.

The poll closes at the end of the day on Wednesday, March 18th.

God So Loved the World. What Are We Supposed to Do About It?

March 15, 2015
If you haven’t already done so, please answer our ten-second poll on Pope Francis’ LGBT record by clicking here

On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent are: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Psalm 137:1-6; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21. You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.

I’ve seen it on signs in sports arenas, on billboards near the highway, and even on a restaurant menu.  It’s a statement of belief and an invitation to discipleship.  I think it could even be considered a good one-sentence summary of our Christian faith.  I’m referring to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

John makes an audacious claim, but one that makes our faith worth living – God is intensely and irrevocably in love with us!  To demonstrate this great love, God actually became human to be nearer to us, to share our hardships and joys, and to teach us how to experience the fullness of life.  To use Pope Francis’ words, there is no truer example of the shepherd wanting to smell like the sheep as this Good Shepherd!

To better understand today’s reading from John’s Gospel, I encourage you to read his first epistle, especially chapter four.  John makes many profound observations about the nature of God and of love, but one particularly bold statement stands out:  “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… for whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”  As LGBT Catholics and allies, I think we need to sit with these words for a long time because they have dramatic and far-reaching implications for us.

I believe the Gospel calls us to love not just those in the LGBT community, but also the people who oppose LGBT rights in our church and civil society.  Not to politely ignore them or even just tolerate them, but really love them.  As John notes, if we do not love our anti-gay brothers and sisters, then our claims to love God are false and hollow.  I’m not saying that we should allow bigotry to go unchallenged.  Nor do I suggest that we should expect much love in return.  But I do think that we should strive to regard those who disagree with us as our brothers and sisters, not as our enemies, and treat them as we would our own siblings.  That means offering our compassion, our patience, and a bit of education to them.

But, in practical terms, what does this look like? I think of the scene from the film In Good Conscience where Sr. Jeannine Gramick approaches some anti-gay Catholic protesters on the street.  She smiles, greets them, introduces herself, and after listening to their concerns, shares why she supports LGBT rights.  She shares some of her experiences in ministry with LGBT people.  You can actually see the protesters’ hostility melt away during the conversation.  Perhaps Sr. Jeannine provides us with a model of loving our brothers and sisters through compassionate listening and sharing of stories.

As we continue our Lenten journey, I will keep in mind a quote attributed to Mother Teresa:  “I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.”  May we write in big bold letters that each person is a beloved child of God.  And may we strive to love one another more perfectly each day, just as God loves us.

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry

A Report Card for Pope Francis on LGBT Issues

March 13, 2015

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Is Pope Francis Really as LGBT-Positive as People Originally Thought?

March 13, 2015
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

If you haven’t already done so, please answer our ten-second poll on Pope Francis’ LGBT record by clicking here

Today marks the second anniversary of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s election to the papacy and becoming Pope Francis.  From his first moments of asking the crowd in St. Peter’s Square to bless him before he blessed them, he has shown himself to be a different type of pope.  A few months after that, he changed the tone of the church’s conversation on LGBT issues with his famous question:  “Who am I to judge?”

The heady days of that first year of his papacy seem to be fading, as Pope Francis has let some of the old harsh rhetoric on LGBT issues creep into his public remarks.  We saw this with his remark about “ideological colonization” of marriage, and more recently by comparing gender theory to nuclear arms.

The advance of this kind of rhetoric makes one wonder:  Is Pope Francis really as LGBT-positive as people originally thought?

The simple answer to that is “no.”  Part of the reason for the negative assessment, though, is not due to Pope Francis, but to the overly positive hopes and expectations people had for him because of his initial statements and gestures.

The real answer, though, is a bit more complicated.  I think we need to pull back a little and see Pope Francis’ program through a wider lens. Three commentators have recently offered some helpful perspectives.

Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporterhas evaluated this papacy by noting that Francis is trying to change the culture of the church.  Reese wrote the following about what he sees as Francis’ important change:

“Leadership in the church is about service, not power and prestige.

“Many observers do not recognize how revolutionary is the change in style and culture that Pope Francis is calling for. It is more important than moving around boxes on the organizational chart. The difficulty is that it requires buy-in by bishops and clergy throughout the world. There will be no ‘Francis effect’ unless hearts and attitudes are changed. Too many seminarians and young priests see themselves as correctors of lay laxity and heterodoxy rather than as companions in a pilgrimage to the Lord. . . .

“The pope has called for a new style of being church, a style that is pastoral and open. He has set out a new set of priorities that are rooted in the Gospel.”

Pat Perriello, another National Catholic Reporter writer, offered the following cautionary categorization of the pope:

“Francis is not a liberal reformer. He is not invested in some of the same issues that many liberals are, such as advocating for a married and female clergy. Instead, Francis is a radical gospel reformer. The reform of Francis goes deeper than a few specifics. He is saying the present structure interferes with the mission of Jesus’ church. Radical change in the way we do things is necessary if we expect to be true, authentic followers of Jesus. Each of us as individuals but especially church leaders must quit being staunch defenders of some restrictive notion of orthodoxy and embrace Jesus’ mission of love and service to all. What this means for the nuts and bolts of church structure and practice may be in question. But before visible, observable change can really occur something else has to happen.”

And John Allen, Jr., who writes for Cruxoffered the following observations about the pope to explain Francis’ inconsistencies:

“1. Francis is a Latin American.
He thus is a figure for whom the usual Western dichotomies such as left/right don’t weigh as heavily. Indeed, at times it seems he almost delights in tweaking those categories.

“2. Francis is a pastor.
He’s not an academic, meaning he’s less interested in abstract consistency than in concrete situations, trusting that there’s always a way to smooth out the intellectual rough edges.”

These three analyses show that Pope Francis and his reform program is more complicated than what meets the eye. So where does that leave those of us who have hopes for equality and justice for LGBT people in the Church?

I think that the enthusiasm that many LGBT Catholics have had for Pope Francis is understandable (I have been one of them).  But I think that our enthusiasm has to be tempered with reality of what he is actually doing, is able to do, and is not doing.

As I’ve said before, Pope Francis will not be the pope who makes the important changes that LGBT Catholics long for.  But that doesn’t mean that he is not doing something to pave the way for the future for which we pray.

I think that change in the church happens in a four-step process:

1) initial discussion of an issue

2) testing out some ideas in pastoral practice

3) theological reflection on the practice

4) change in magisterial teaching.

Part of the problem is that while many in the church have already been heavily involved in the first three steps for a long time now, the hierarchy has not.   I think that Pope Francis’ greatest contribution to LGBT issues in the church may be that he initiated the dialogue on these topics among the hierarchy who for too long have either been silent or have  repeated ill-informed statements which do not reflect current human reality.  It’s sad to say, but a good deal of the hierarchy has a lot of work to do to get themselves out of the homophobic corner into which they’ve painted themselves.  That will take time.

Fr. Reese concluded his commentary on Pope Francis’ papacy so far with a thought that I think we should all remember:

But the church is not the pope. Unless bishops, priests and laity follow his example and embrace his priorities, there will not be permanent change in the church. The temptations to clericalism and self-centeredness are too strong. We have to stop admiring the pope and start imitating him.

I’ve often said to Catholic audiences that if we want to see a more democratic church, then we have to rely less on the hierarchy for making changes, and, instead, we need to live those changes and speak out for them.  We can’t be a democratic church if we keep expecting only the hierarchy to do the leading.

A pope alone will not change the church.  It will take all of us to do that.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Archbishops Correct Irish Bishop’s Insensitive Remarks About Lesbian & Gay People

March 12, 2015

The two leading bishops of Ireland have refused to support the recent statements by another Irish bishop in which he said that gay people are not parents and that homosexuality was comparable to Down’s Syndrome and spina bifida.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Archbishop Eamon Martin speak with the press about Bishop Kevin Doran’s comments.

The Irish Times reported that Armagh’s Archbishop Eamon Martin and Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin held a press conference during the national bishops’ meeting to correct the statements by Bishop Kevin Doran, of Elphin, which he made during a recent radio interview focusing on the Irish hierarchy’s opposition to the upcoming national referendum on marriage equality.  [For a transcript of selected portions of the interview, click here.]

Both Eamon Martin and Diarmuid Martin are, respectively, president and vice president of Ireland’s national conference of bishops.  The Dublin archbishop made headlines last year when he said:

“God never created anybody that he doesn’t love.…

“Anybody who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic if they do that – they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people.”

The Irish Times report carried a good deal of the two archbishops’ statements concerning Doran’s interview:

“Asked whether Bishop Doran had his confidence following a Newstalk interview he gave on Monday, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin replied: ‘I won’t go into that.’

“He continued ‘I believe certain types of language are inappropriate.’

“He described as ‘an unfortunate phrase,’ a comment by Bishop Doran in the interview that ‘people who have children are not necessarily parents.’

“The Archbishop continued: ‘I hope that people were not offended by it. We have used the term parenthood…we talk about adoptive parents, we talk about lone parents. There are very many, many definitions. I think that we should look on that variety of situations in a way that is more positive. We shouldn’t use phrases that may offend people.’ . . .

“Archbishop Eamon Martin said ‘I believe there are many different kinds of parenthood and indeed there are many gay people who are parents.’ ”

Archbishop Eamon Martin also commented on another important error in Bishop Doran’s interview:

“On Bishop Doran’s claim that ‘the jury is out’ on whether people were born gay or became gay Archbishop Eamon Martin said ‘I believe people are born the way they are born and I believe that God creates us as we are.’ “

While Bondings 2.0 reported on Doran’s comments on Down’s Syndrome and spina bifida, we were not, at the time, aware of his comments on parenting.  What follows is the transcript of that portion of the interview with host Chris Donoghue:

Doran: “Yeah, but you obviously haven’t heard what I’m saying. There’s an essential relationship between marriage and the giving of life to, and caring for, children.”

O’Donoghue: “What I’m saying is…”

Doran: “Ad so when you change the meaning of marriage, you change the relationships of parents because if children are now, to have say, two parents who are of the same sex, that…”

O’Donoghue: “But children do, Bishop. As in lesbian people, lesbians, gay men they are already parents..”

Doran: “They’re not parents. You see the point about it is…”

O’Donoghue: “But they are, all over Ireland. They have children.”

Doran: “They may have children but that’s the difference, you see that’s the point, people who have children are not necessarily parents. ‘

Both archbishops did not back down on their opposition to marriage equality becoming the law of the land in Ireland.  They restated their arguments, including noting that Pope Francis is opposed to marriage equality laws.

Significant still, however, is that these two leaders would make such a public denouncement of one of their brother bishops.   In fact, they noted that Doran does not speak for the conference:

“When it was put to him that Bishop Doran had been fronting the Catholic bishops stance on the marriage equality referendum, the Archbishop of Dublin said the position was being fronted ‘by the President and Vice President of the Conference. That is why we are here today.’

Archbishop Eamon Martin said that Doran apologized for any hurt that his words had caused.

In a separate incident earlier this month, Doran made headlines by stating that gay people could already legally marry–jut not each other.  Thes public relations fiascos are a lesson in how bishops need further education on LGBT issues, and this could best be accomplished by greater dialogue with LGBT people.  Let’s hope that Bishop Doran, who will likely not be speaking further on the marriage referendum, will use his time to educate himself by open and honest conversations with Catholic LGBT people in his diocese.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

New Video Focuses on LGBT Catholics “Owning Our Faith”

March 11, 2015

A new video about sexuality and spirituality, aimed ultimately at Pope Francis as its audience, has been released on the web by a group of LGBT Catholics in New York City.

A still shot from the video “Owning Our Faith”

“Owning Our Faith” is a 14-minute film in which a diversity of LGBT Catholics, family members, and pastoral ministers speak candidly about the intersection of their faith with their acceptance of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The film was the brainchild of Michael Tomae, and a press release described the film’s genesis:

“[Michael] was inspired to act after his volunteer work with Covenant House, a homeless shelter for youth. Many of these young adults were disowned by their Christian families because of their sexuality or gender identity. Tomae was inspired to start a larger conversation, with the primary focus being that one’s faith is not fully wrapped up in one’s sexuality. Tomae reached out to members of the vibrant LGBT community at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, a Catholic Church in Manhattan, and together they brought the project to life.”

The press release also explained that the film is being released in hopes that Pope Francis and bishops will be better prepared for the upcoming synod on family life:

“The film also addresses Pope Francis’ calling for bishops to seek input from Catholics about how the Church should respond to difficult questions on modern family life. The Ordinary Synod of bishops is set to discuss “family” in the context of contemporary life in October 2015. The video focuses on three themes (1) sexuality & faith (2) LGBT people are gifts to the Catholic Church and (3) the idea that “All Are Welcome” and loved by God.

“We want our stories to be a part of the discussion because LGBT people have unique gifts to contribute to the life of the Church.
We hope the Church recognizes that God is working through our life stories. We want to inspire change that will strengthen families, encourage acceptance of LGBT people, foster an inclusive community, and promote an open and accepting dialogue among Catholics across the world. Most of all, we want everyone to know they are loved and not alone.”

The film covers a variety of family and individual situations, with interviews of about 20 people, including:  Hilary and Celestine Howes, a married Catholic couple whose marriage has continued after Hilary’s transition;  Eve Tushnet, a Catholic lesbian convert;  Mike Roper, a 74-year old Catholic gay man; Mateo Williamson, a young transgender man who discusses the spiritual journey of transition; gay couple Rick and Matt Vidal; Xorje Olivares, a Latino gay man who struggles with discussing his sexuality with some family members; Francis and Cheryl Putorti, parents who discuss how they support their gay son, in spite of negative messages they received from the church.

Towards the beginning of the film, Father Patrick Conroy, chaplain to the U.S. House of Representatives, explains sexuality’s purposes:

“Human beings procreate, male/female. But human sexuality isn’t just about that. It’s about so much more, which is self-evident.”

Later he talks about the shape that LGBT ministry can take:

“How might we be more welcoming and minister better to the presence of gay and lesbian Catholics in our communities in such a way that they feel  that they have a church where they can be nourished, where they can be fed.  What is God doing with this community who longs to be fully participating in the sacramental life of our church?. . . .As a church, for the first time, we are being encouraged to pick up a different glass to look through.  Instead of ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ [we are now asking] ‘what’s great about this picture?’  I think this is an extraordinary time and a time of great hope.”

In addition to releasing the film, the “Owning Our Faith” project has a full website with two important resources:  1) an invitation for other individuals to share their faith/sexuality/gender stories on video for posting on YouTube; 2) a resource for individuals to find LGBT-welcoming Catholic parishes and faith communities near their homes; 3) a list of discussion questions for parishes or other faith groups who view the film together.

For many years, New Ways Ministry, and many other Catholic LGBT-positive groups, have been encouraging people to start a dialogue with church leaders about sexuality and gender issues.  This has become particularly important during this unique time surrounding the synods on marriage and family. This group of young adult filmmakers have found a unique and moving way to get that dialogue started by sharing stories on video.  The film is not only inspiring and insightful, but it is disarming and welcoming, accessible to a wide variety of people who may share divergent views on LGBT issues.  This documentary is sure to build bridges to many and varied people, both inside and outside the Catholic Church.

[You can view the documentary by clicking here.]

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Minstry


Bishop’s Insensible Remarks Reveal the Great Need for LGBT Dialogue

March 10, 2015

The greatest evidence that bishops need to have more dialogues with LGBT people is in the insensible remarks these prelates make regarding sexuality.

Last week, we pointed out how Ireland’s Bishop Kevin Doran made an uneducated remark about how gay people can already get married–just not to each other.   This week, Bishop Doran, of the Elphin Diocese, made an equally uninformed statement when he compared homosexuality to Down’s Syndrome or spina bifida.

Doran was a guest on Ireland’s NewsTalk Breakfast radio program discussing the nation’s upcoming referendum on marriage equality. RawStory.com captured part of the dialogue:

“The radio host asked the bishop people being born gay was ‘as God intended.’

“ ‘That would be to suggest that some people are born with Down’s syndrome or spina bifida, that that was what God intended,’ Doran opined. ‘The thing about it is, I can’t see it in the mind of God.’

“ ‘The things you mentioned are disabilities,’ the host pointed out. ‘Your sexual orientation is not a disability.’

“ ‘Well, I’m not entering into that,’ Doran replied. ‘I’m just saying it would be wrong to suggest that everything that happens, happens because God intended it. If that were the case, we’d be talking about a very different kind of God.’ “

[You can listen to the interview by clicking here.]

It is somewhat embarrassing for Catholics to have to have a radio interviewer point out to a bishop that his analogy is incorrect. Moreover, Doran’s remark seems predicated on the premise that people with Down’s Syndrome or spina bifida are somehow “less than” other people.  I don’t know people with spina bifida, or their friends and family members, react to this.  As someone who has a Down’s Syndrome relative, I know that he was sent to us by God.

Furthermore, the bishop fails to see that the magisterium’s approach to homosexuality codes it as a moral category, not simply a biological one.  That is not something it does with other biological manifestations. If homosexuality and Down’s Syndrome or spina bifida were truly comparable, then why doesn’t the magisterium remove the moral shadow it places over people’s attractions to those of their gender.

Most egregious in Doran’s comments, though, is the implication that he is somehow able to understand what God intends for a person.  I think that understanding God’s intentions for the life of a person is something that borders on mystery. Or, at the very least,  it is something which can be understood only by the person, through prayer and discernment, not by an outsider.

That is where dialogue comes into play.  Open, honest, candid conversations between bishops and LGBT people would help bishops better appreciate what many LGBT people understand so intimately: that they have been wonderfully made by God; that they experience their sexuality as a way of drawing into more intimate relationship with another human being and with the Source of Life and Love; that their gender identity allows them to see the world, other people, and God in new and life-giving ways.

Bishops will not learn about such realities from a book.  They will only learn about it from faith-filled discussions with real people.

Bishop Doran should start such conversations before he says another word about marriage equality or LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



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