Former Miss Universe Reconciles Catholic Faith with LGBT Equality

Pia Wurtzbach relinquished her crown as Miss Universe on January 29, 2017, but right before doing so, the model/actress posted a message on a Time magazine website in which she explained that her support for LGBT equality was not in conflict with her Catholic faith.

Wurtzbach, a citizen of the Philippines, who became Miss Universe in 2015, wrote a post for Motto.Time.coma website owned by Time which allows celebrities to state their opinions on whatever subjects they choose.  Wurtzbach began by describing the culture in which she was raised:

“I am Filipino, and like the vast majority of people in my country, I am a proud Catholic. I have a steadfast faith, and my religion is an essential element of who I am. Growing up, my family regularly attended mass, and I studied at a school that taught Christian fundamentals.”

It was exactly those “Christian fundamentals” which shaped Wurtzbach’s inclusive attitude:

“Religious establishments including the Catholic church teach that they are the one true faith, but the values instilled in me as a Christian have encouraged me to respect all beliefs and opinions. Growing up, my family taught me that to receive respect, you must first offer it.”

Wurtzbach is proud that “the Philippines is every day becoming a more tolerant community,” but she also notes that “my liberal opinions on many social issues sometimes conflict with Christianity’s teachings.”  Still, she holds firm to her opinions because they are rooted in her experience and her faith.   Having been raised by a single mother, her childhood was one of struggle. Wurtzbach notes how her experiences shaped her attitudes:

“Perhaps my nontraditional family unit allowed me to accept others’ differences without judgement and has made me proud to advocate for LGBTQ rights as a Christian. In fact, I find the strength to do just that through my faith. Undoubtedly, there will continue to be times when my faith and secular opinions clash, but in those moments, I find comfort in an old saying: ‘Live and let live.’ “

But her views were also shaped by her experience of LGBTQ people:

“I myself owe a lot to the LGBTQ community, many of whom are my closest friends. Without their accepting attitudes toward my own flaws and struggles, I would not be where I am today.”

Wurtzbach has used her celebrity to help those less fortunate.  In December 2016, she met with Manila’s Archbishop Luis Tagle to present the proceeds from a fundraising event she sponsored to be used for Caritas Manila.  Tagle gave her a rosary blessed by Pope Francis.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 12, 2017

 

 

 

 

Catholic College Football Player Finds Strong Support As He Comes Out

In a society which is becoming increasingly accepting of LGBT people, the two arenas where coming out as gay is still a major hurdle are sports and religion. For gay male athletes, the more macho the sport, the more difficult the coming out can be. And for those who are people of faith, the more doctrinaire a religion is, the challenge to be out also gets increasingly harder.

So, when an athlete comes out, especially one who is Catholic and attends a Catholic college, there’s hope that even these two last arenas where the closet is strong may finally be liberated.

Kyle Kurdziolek

Kyle Kurdziolek, a sophomore at St. Francis University, Joliet, Illinois, and a linebacker on the school’s football team,  recently told his personal story to Outsports.com,  a website where other Catholic college athletes have shared their coming out experiences.   He is the first scholarship athlete to come out.

Kurdziolek grew up in rural Illinois, and noted that “It wasn’t very accepting in my area.”  He said that he often heard other parents at football events say that if their son was gay, they’d force him to be straight.  Still, his own Catholic family was headed by parents who taught him to be respectful of a gay neighbor who lived nearby.

One remarkable detail of his story is that Kurdziolek acknowledges that while he was extremely worried about revealing his orientation in high school, he found the Catholic college campus to be a welcoming place to LGBT students. (The school is on New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBT-friendly Catholic colleges and universities.)  Although he enrolled in 2014, he waited until 2016 to reveal his orientation to teammates, friends, and coaches, wanting to prove himself as a football player first.  In his first season of play, he achieved 33 tackles.

Once he felt accepted as a student and an athlete, Kurdziolek felt he could be totally honest, saying:

“Everything in life was going good. It felt like there was one piece missing, and that one piece, personally for me, it was me coming out.”

He received support from family, friends, and teammates.  Perhaps most interesting is that a fellow Catholic teammate who was not accepting of gay issues still accepted Kurdziolek.  The Outsports article states:

“St. Francis running back Jordon Smith considers Kurdziolek a close friend, but he grew up Catholic and believes those philosophies. ‘I’m going to support my friend no matter what,’ Smith said. ‘I’m not really for the whole gay rights thing, but I’m working on evolving. I’m trying to accept it more.’

Smith’s response proves what many in the Catholic LGBT movement have witnessed for decades: the power of personal relationship in overcoming strongly held negative ideas about LGBT topics.

Kurdziolek rests during a game.

Kurdziolek’s coaches were also strongly supportive, responding in ways that show the best of Catholic educational philosophy. Josh Mander, assistant coach, told Outsports:

” I told him, ‘I love you no matter what. It doesn’t matter. I tried to just be comforting and let him know that he had my support.”

Head coach Joe Curry was similarly strong in support:

“I was happy that he told me. I always tell the guys, ‘We want to build a relationship with you and not just be a coach.’ … I don’t treat Kyle any different. He is part of the program … and I’m extremely happy for him.”

One teammate’s sign of support was particularly important to Kurdziolek:

“Kurdziolek turned 21 on Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving, and to celebrate the milestone, he planned a trip to Chicago’s gay neighborhood, Boystown. Kurdziolek made the trip with a few non-football friends and offensive lineman Tyler James.

” ‘I had a blast,’ said James, who had never been to a gay bar before Kurdziolek’s birthday. ‘I did something that I wouldn’t have done normally because of my friend Kyle, and I got to experience this whole new, cool atmosphere.’

“Because of Thanksgiving, many of Kurdziolek’s teammates were with their families and unable to attend, making James’ attendance meaningful.

” ‘Having him come along, it just made me feel confident about myself and the people I have around me that love me for me,’ Kurdziolek said.”

Coming out stories are wonderful tales of liberation, but, equally important, they serve as guides to others who are struggling with revealing who they are. Kurdziolek noted that the example of Michael Sam, a college athlete who went on to the National Football League, and who came out before he was drafted by a team, was a major exemplar for him.   St. Francis assistant coach Mander also remarked on the power of role-models:

“A gay man playing college football, something that you don’t hear or see ever, it’s one of those taboo things within the football world. You wouldn’t expect a gay player to be here, but … maybe we start something that shows kids that it’s fine. You’re OK to be out and be a member of a football team.”

Kyle Kurdziolek is now certainly one of those role models for young football players and Catholics.  And St. Francis University is a role model for Catholic colleges who are looking for ways to support LGBT students.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 11, 2017

 

Will Catholic Boy Scouts Ban Trans Youth? Maybe. Maybe Not.

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) has reacted to the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) policy change to allow transgender boys to participate in local troops.  The NCCS statement, vaguely worded, does not explicitly say they will not honor the new policy, but the import of the message is that they will not.  How local parish troops will respond, however, remains to be seen.

According to a Catholic News Service story posted on The National Catholic Reporter website:

“The [BSA’s] change in policy ‘has no impact on the operation and program delivery of Scouting program(s) in Catholic-chartered units,’ said a Feb. 4 statement issued by the Catholic Scouting committee.

” ‘Scouting serves the Catholic Church through the charter concept, which is similar to a franchise,’ it said. ‘The units chartered to a Catholic institution are owned by that organization. The BSA has stipulated that religious partners will continue to have the right to make decisions for their units based on their religious beliefs.’

“The statement was signed by George S. Sparks, national chairman of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, and Father Kevin M. Smith, a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, who is national chaplain of Catholic Scouting. The statement was approved by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston, South Carolina, who is the episcopal liaison between Catholic Scouting and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

The new BSA policy said that the organization would honor the gender listed on a youth’s application, not the gender listed on a birth certificate.  Since the NCCS statement said the policy change would have no effect on Catholic-chartered Scouting units, it can be presumed that these units will still use birth certificates as evidence of gender.

Just before the new Scouting policy was announced, a New Jersey regional council of the BSA expelled a transgender boy from a local cub scout troop.  The troop was chartered by a local Catholic parish, indicating that the local community saw no problem with accepting a transgender boy.

So, we have an interesting situation here.  The BSA has enacted a new policy.  The NCCS says that its organization does not have to change its policy because the BSA allows local control for religiously-based troops.  Yet, in at least the New Jersey example, a local community’s actions were more in line with the BSA’s new policy.

So, will the NCCS policy ban transgender youth from Catholic sponsored troops?  Perhaps not. It seems likely that according to the NCCS’ own reasoning, local authority, if it is inclusive and welcoming like the NJ parish was, might make their own decisions about what evidence of gender they will use to determine admission.   Outside the U.S., we recently witnessed Ireland’s Catholic Girl Guides, a scouting organization, announce that they are developing a policy and practices to welcome transgender girls.

Make no mistake, though:  it would have been much better if the NCCS statement had simply welcomed the BSA policy change.  Once again, we have an example of a secular group being more welcoming than a religious one, which is a truly sad and shameful situation.  Moreover, we will still have to worry about how the NCCS will respond to Catholic scouting troops which do welcome transgender youth.  Will the NCCS disassociate from these groups?

The NCCS’ vaguely worded statement shows that they are not engaging the transgender issue directly.  Their reticence is not helpful because it does not reveal their full perspective on the matter.  Instead of addressing the substance of the issue–gender identity–they rely on a procedural topic–local control of policies.  Is it possible that they did this to allow the possibility of local Catholic troops to accept transgender youth?  Or are they simply reluctant to express an anti-transgender sentiment explicitly?  Their future actions will reveal their intent.  For now, we hope that the defense of local control will allow many Catholic parishes to show their support of transgender scouts.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 9, 2017

 

 

Catholics Do NOT Support Religious Refusals to Gays and Lesbians

A new survey reveals that a majority of Catholics oppose allowing small businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian people because of a religiously held belief.

The data from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows that 63% of Hispanic Catholics and 61% of White Catholics object to these religiously based refusals.  When compared to the general American population, of which 61% oppose these refusals, the data shows what many pollsters have long observed:  U.S. Catholics poll equivalently with the general population.

The survey examined the opinions of a wide range of religious traditions and found that a majority of almost all traditions opposed religious refusals.  Unitarian/Universalists showed the greatest opposition, with 87% responding negatively to the idea.  Mormons and Hispanic Protestants showed the smallest amount of opposition, with 52% of each responding negatively. The only group not showing a majority of opposition was White Evangelicals, with 42% responding negatively, 50% supporting religious refusals, and 8% undecided.

The same report also showed that a majority of religious Americans support marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.   Catholics showed greater support for marriage equality than the general U.S. population.  While 58% of all Americans support marriage equality, 63% of White Catholics and 62% of Hispanic Catholics do so.

The PRRI report pointed out an interesting political phenomenon when it compared opposition to marriage equality with opposition to religious refusals.  In five traditions surveyed which showed opposition to marriage equality–Black Protestants, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hispanic Protestants,  and Mormons–a majority of each of these groups still opposed allowing religious refusals.  The data suggests that religious people who do not support marriage equality still believe that gay and lesbian people should not face discrimination because of someone’s religious belief.

You can look at all the data by clicking here.

U.S. Catholic bishops have supported a broad campaign for a definition of religious liberty which allows for discrimination against LGBT people.  Perhaps the bishops should pause from this campaign for a while and listen to the voices of the people in the pews on this issue.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 8, 2017

 

Catholics Sign Flawed Document on Religious Freedom

At least 19 people identified as Catholics or employed by Catholic institutions have joined a group of 75 religious leaders in endorsing a “religious freedom” statement issued in December 2016 by The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

Entitled “Preserve Freedom, Reject Coercion,” the seven-paragraph manifesto claims that religious freedom is under attack because of the adoption of SOGI (sexual orientation, gender identity) laws which have adopted these categories as “protected classifications in the law—either legislatively or through executive action.”

While such statements are not uncommon, and while conservative Catholic support for them is certainly not unusual, it is still surprising to find Catholic leaders agreeing to sign this particular document since it is so poorly worded and argued.  For example, at one point, the statement claims:

“Creative professionals, wedding chapels, non-profit organizations, ministries serving the needy, adoption agencies, businesses, schools, religious colleges, and even churches have faced threats and legal action under such laws for declining to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony; for maintaining policies consistent with their guiding principles; and for seeking to protect privacy by ensuring persons of the opposite sex do not share showers, locker rooms, restrooms, and other intimate facilities.”

I have followed marriage equality laws carefully, and I do not know of any law in the U.S.  (or elsewhere, for that matter) which compel religious people or institutions to participate in same-sex ceremonies.  I also do not know of any case where a religious institution has been penalized for not providing facilities for transgender people to use that are consistent with their gender identity.  In fact, there have been cases where Catholic educational institutions have voluntarily provided such facilities for students because they see that as part of their religious mission.

Additionally, the statement makes a sweeping generalization which condemns religious exemptions as weak and ineffective:

We therefore believe that proposed SOGI laws, including those narrowly crafted, threaten fundamental freedoms, and any ostensible protections for religious liberty appended to such laws are inherently inadequate and unstable.

What is most surprising about this statement is that religious exemptions that  have been incorporated into these laws have been done so not only at the request of religious leaders, but often with their active participation in crafting such exemptions.  Are they now saying that the input of themselves and their colleagues was inadequate?

Overgeneralizing is also evident in one of the documents concluding passages:

“SOGI laws in all these forms, at the federal, state, and local levels, should be rejected. We join together in signing this letter because of the serious threat that SOGI laws pose to fundamental freedoms guaranteed to every person.”

Really?  What about SOGI laws which protect victims of hate crimes or which punish what the Catholic Church has determined is “unjust discrimination” against LGBT people?  How do the Catholic leaders who signed this document justify this statement in light of what the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in its 1986 Letter on pastoral care with lesbian and gay people:

“It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.”

Among the Catholics who added their names to this document are:  Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, Chairman, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; William Fahey,President, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts; Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, President, Aquinas College; Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Chairman, USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishops George V. Murry, S.J. of Youngstown, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Catholic Education; Rev. Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, President, Franciscan University of Steubenville; H. James Towey, President, Ave Maria University; George Weigel, William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, Ethics and Public Policy Center.

The Colson Center website states that the organization “seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending the Christian worldview.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 5, 2017

 

 

New Ways Ministry Responds to Trump and U.S. Bishops on Employment Action

On January 31, 2017,  the White House posted the following statement on its website:

“The executive order signed in 2014, which protects employees from anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination while working for federal contractors, will remain intact at the direction of President Donald J. Trump. “

President Donald Trump

That executive order was issued by President Barck Obama, and a number of religious leaders including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, opposed the measure.  Two leaders of U.S. bishops’ committee expressed disappointment in Trump’s decision to maintain Obama’s executive order.  Archbishop Charles Chaput, Chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Archbishop William Lori, Chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, issued a joint statement which said, in part:

“The new administration’s decision not to rescind Executive Order 13672 is troubling and disappointing.”

In response to Trump’s decision and the bishops’ reaction to it, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, Francis DeBernardo, issued the following statement:

“I am surprised that President Trump has decided to enforce President Obama’s executive order protecting LGBT people working for federal contractors. Trump has included in his administration many people with long records of anti-LGBTQ policies and attitudes—including Vice President Pence. Trump’s electoral campaign and the first two weeks of his administration have shown a stunning lack of sensitivity to diversity issues. He should apply his instincts in this decision to other civil rights issues, including immigration, health care, and labor law.

“Protecting the vulnerable and those in need are solid American values.
It is disappointing, but not surprising, that Archbishop Charles Chaput, Chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Archbishop William Lori, Chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, responded negatively to Trump’s decision. The U.S. bishops fail to see that employment protections to LGBT people are no threat to religious liberty. On the contrary, protecting LGBT people in the workplace is just putting the Catholic Church’s worker justice teaching into practice The majority of U.S. Catholics see this, as poll after poll has shown. sSupporting LGBT equality and justice is a solid Catholic value.”

Interestingly, a Washington Post news article reported that Trump’s decision was not a foregone conclusion. Even up to this past weekend, the decision may have gone in the opposite direction:

“A draft of a potential executive order that began circulating in Washington over the weekend called for overturning then President Obama’s directive barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the federal workforce and by federal contractors.

“The draft order included multiple provisions, such as possible exemptions that would allow adoption agencies and groups receiving federal funds to deny services to LGBT Americans based on their beliefs. The White House statement did not address those possible changes.”

The Washington Post article also carried a reaction statement from a U.S. LGBT political organization:

“Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Tuesday he and other activists remained concerned that the new administration could still undermine other legal protections based on sexual orientation or gender identify.

” ‘Claiming ally status for not overturning the progress of your predecessor is a rather low bar. LGBTQ refugees, immigrants, Muslims and women are scared today, and with good reason. Donald Trump has done nothing but undermine equality since he set foot in the White House,’ Griffin said. ‘Donald Trump has left the key question unanswered — will he commit to opposing any executive actions that allow government employees, taxpayer-funded organizations or even companies to discriminate?’ “

Bondings 2.0 will try to provide more Catholic perspectives on Trump’s decision, as they become available.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 2, 1017

 

 

Jesuit Priest Speaks Out for Canadian Transgender Equality Bill

A Jesuit priest in Toronto, Canada, has emerged as an important voice in support of a national bill for transgender equality.

Fr. Gilles Mongeau, SJ

Fr. Gilles Mongeau, SJ, associate professor of systematic theology at Regis College, Toronto, has spoken out in favor of bill C-16 which would include gender identity and expressions as protected categories in Canada’s  Human Rights Act.  According to an article in America magazine, Fr. Mongeau stated:

“To the extent that it seeks to protect the quest of trans people to be themselves in a safe environment, Bill C-16 is something to be applauded by Christians.”

Mongeau has worked with Our Lady of Lourdes parish, situated in the gay neighborhood of Toronto.  The parish hosts a program called “All Inclusive Ministries,” which hosts a weekly Mass for the LGBT community, among other programs.

The Jesuit priest acknowledges that biological sex and gender may be more complex phenomena than simple physical characteristics.  He follows his brother Jesuit, Pope Francis, in describing church outreach to transgender people, saying:

“We must begin from the fact that the church, at this time, has no official teaching about gender identity or trans persons.”

“[Mongeau] underlines the need to, as Pope Francis suggests, accompany real people in real situations. For his part, though the Holy Father has been critical of ‘gender theory,’ he has been sensitive to preferred pronouns in the context of real encounter. That is reflected in his comments about a letter he received from a transgender man: ‘He who was a she, but is a he,’ the pope said.”

The question about pronoun usage reveals a more important question about our understanding of transgender people as human beings, Mongeau noted:

“The question of pronouns cannot be separated from the real lives of people. Asking these questions in the abstract is part of the problem we are facing because it makes it possible to evoke the image or idea that trans people somehow serve an agenda of attacking the moral fiber of society or serve an anti-Christian agenda. Trans people, in my experience, are trying to live healthy, productive and (sometimes) spiritually fruitful lives.”

In the America article, the need for equal civil protections for transgender people was expressed by Janice Towndrow, a Christian transgender woman from Toronto:

“I used to wish I had cancer because when you have cancer all the family rallies around you. But when you’re trans, you don’t have family, they kick you out.

‘It is very difficult,’ she says, even ‘comparable to biblical times,’ when lepers were shunned by the community. ‘You’re distanced; you’re pulled from your family; you’re cast out of the community. So you don’t see your children anymore. If you had a job, you probably don’t have it anymore.’ “

Janice Towndrow

And she noted how important it is for Christian churches to support transgender people and Bill c-16:

“Christian support for Bill C-16 would make a huge difference for transgender people looking to lead healthy spiritual lives, who are often alienated by communities of faith. As Ms. Towndrow explains, ‘I think somewhere along the line, everyone [in the transgender community] turns their back on the church because the church has turned its back on them.”

The bill passed Canada’s House of Commons in December, by a vote of 248-40, and is now being sent to the Senate.

While opponents of the bill continue to make their voices heard, we can thank God for courageous Catholic leaders like Fr. Mongeau and for communities like Our Lady of Lourdes parish for showing their public support for transgender equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 31, 2017