Apologies Are Good, Actions are Better

July 9, 2016

In an essay for Crux, Passionist Father Edward Beck expressed the sentiment that many LGBT Catholics and supporters felt after hearing of Pope Francis’ call for apologizing to lesbian and gay people two weeks ago:  words are empty unless followed up by actions.  In a separate essay for Religion News Service, John Gehring, Catholic program director for Faith in Public Life, suggested some actions that bishops can take to make the apology more substantial.

Father Edward Beck

In “Saying ‘sorry’ to gays a good step, but change still needed,”Beck, an author and commentator, shows how Vatican documents, and even statements from the pope when he was Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, have time and again offended lesbian and gay people, particularly around the issue of marriage equality.  Beck noted that, despite the pope’s call for an apology, “Church opposition to same-sex unions and marriage remains intact.”

Apologies entail more than words, though, Beck observes:

“Apologies are a good thing.  They imply a realization that we have wronged someone and are sorry for our words or actions that have offended.

“In our Catholic tradition however, forgiveness is also dependent upon a commitment to strive not to offend in the same way again. In the Act of Contrition recited during the Sacrament of Reconciliation the penitent states: ‘I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.’

“Is it evident that the Church (or Pope Francis, for that matter)  has made that kind of commitment with regard to gays?”

Noting that his concluding question is still an open one, Beck, nonetheless, points to the example of Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who almost a week before the pope’s announcement, not only called on the church to apologize, but actually did so.  And Beck showed how Marx backed up his words with action:

“Marx has gone so far as to speak against opposing gay civil partnerships in Germany: ‘We have a moral position and that is clear, but the secular state has to regulate these partnerships and to bring them to a just position, and we as Church cannot be against it.’

“This is an example of the concrete action that many gays are seeking from the Catholic Church.  While they appreciate the overture of asking for forgiveness, they also feel that the real process of reconciliation and healing can only begin when there is a firm commitment not to continue the patterns of discrimination and oppression that have been fostered by insensitive language and a seemingly intractable theological perspective.”

Beck suggests that the Church needs to go further still, if it wants is apology to be credible:

“For many, a truly conciliatory praxis would entail an updating of the Catholic Catechism and a commitment to banish dismissive and patronizing rhetoric from all official Church documents.  It would also mean that legal civil unions are supported as a means of protecting human rights and privileges.”

If the U.S. bishops and pastors are looking for ways to apologize in a way that is substantial, they should take a look at John Gehring’s Religion News Service essay entitled “What Pope Francis can teach US bishops about reaching out to LGBT community.”  Like Beck and others, Gehring notes that “Words are not enough to heal the wounds many LGBT Catholics have suffered in the face of indifference and exclusion,” but he also suggest that Pope Francis’ candor “offers a unique opportunity for Catholic clergy in the United States to hit the reset button.”

John Gehring

Gehring outlines a number of ways that U.S. church leaders can turn themselves around in their attitudes and approaches to LGBT issues.  At the top of his list is dialogue:

“Pastors in the 195 Catholic dioceses across the country could take a first step by hosting listening sessions with gay Catholics and LGBT leaders. There would be disagreement and room for civil debate, but this posture of humility and respect would send a powerful signal that the nation’s largest church wants to learn from the varied experiences of gay, lesbian and transgendered people.”

But standing up for the rights of LGBT people would send an even stronger signal:

‘Catholic leaders could also be doing more to speak out against discrimination on the job and in housing. Gays and lesbians can now marry legally, but in more than half the states it’s legal to discriminate against a gay person in the workplace or in housing. . . .

‘Catholics should be at the forefront of fighting these injustices. When the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan Employee Nondiscrimination Act in 2013, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said that it wanted to ‘work with leaders and all people of good will to end all forms of unjust discrimination’ but then opposed the legislation on the grounds that it undermined marriage and threatened religious liberty.

‘Catholic leaders in the U.S. can and must do better.’

And the U.S. bishops could simply be softer in their messages:

“The U.S. bishops’ conference should lower the rhetorical temperature, and act more like pastors than lawyers. Whether it’s decrying President Obama’s 2014 executive order that prohibited federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity as ‘extreme,’ or blasting the U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the right to a same-sex civil marriage as a ‘tragic error,’ the bishops’ approach has done little to persuade most people to their side and only pours salt on old wounds.”

Gehring points out that all these measures could be accomplished by U.S. church leaders without changing anything about church teaching.  In fact, they would be a way of highlighting an often neglected part of church teaching:

“In his headline-grabbing comments, Francis quoted the catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches that gays and lesbians ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity,’ and that ‘every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’ Those are unambiguous words. But they are only words on a page unless the church puts them into practice.”

Gehring offers great suggestions for backing up the words of apology with substantial actions.  If the U.S. bishops are still looking for more ideas on how to reach out to the LGBT community, they can just call up New Ways Ministry.  We got a million of them.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Religion News Service: “What does the pope mean when he says ‘apologize’?”

Archbishop Chaput’s Pastoral Restrictions Are a Losing Strategy

July 7, 2016

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, released on July 6, 2016, in response to Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput’s new pastoral directives.

In a move which seems diametrically opposite to Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation on marriage and family life, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput has instructed pastoral ministers in his archdiocese not to distribute communion to divorced/remarried and cohabitating couples, and not to allow individuals involved in same-sex relationships to occupy leadership or ministerial roles in parish life.  Chaput’s instruction came in a six-page document which he called “Pastoral Guidelines for Implementing Amoris Laetitia,” the apostolic exhortation that Pope Francis released in April. (For more information about the document, click here.)

Sacramental denials and restricting parish involvement are not effective pastoral strategies for the Church to be following.  Pope Francis’ emphasis has been to move away from such measures, and instead, offer an open and welcoming hand to all–even, and perhaps especially, to those whose lives do not always conform to all of the church’s official teachings.  Denials and restrictions will only cause more people to leave the Church, thus contributing to its demise, rather than towards building it up.  Chaput has offered a losing pastoral strategy.

Though this instruction will anger and frustrate many Catholics, whose hearts are much wider in accepting people regardless of their state in life, it is not a strategy that will pass the test of time.  It is just one more attempt to hold on to a model of church which has long been rendered obsolete.

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Chaput’s directives are distinctly at odds with the tone and recommendations of Amoris Laetitia which stressed church leaders should provide pastoral accompaniment and encounter, as well as encouragement, instead of discipline.  In many places, Chaput’s instruction reads schizophrenically, by emphasizing the need for such accompaniment, but then each time concluding with a recommendation that is a harsh restriction.

Chaput’s instructions should be, and most likely will be, ignored by pastoral ministers in his archdiocese.  They will most likely use their own pastoral judgement about administering sacraments and appointing people to ministerial and leadership roles.   Such is what happened last year when Newark’s Archbishop John Myers sent out similar instructions to pastoral staff in his archdiocese.  On the whole, the directives were ignored.

This issue becomes worrisome, though, because it is also very possible that self-appointed conservative “watchdogs” will take it upon themselves to report violations to the archdiocese.  Should this be what happens, then Chaput would have opened a Pandora’s box or problems for himself and the church of Philadelphia when dismissals and communion rejections become public, along with the guaranteed protests by Catholics who support those dismissed and rejected.

Because of these possibilities, in one sense Chaput’s instructions may end up being the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  With such an outpouring of protest, his leadership, already widely ignored, will become more irrelevant, paving the way for new leadership and directions for this archdiocese which has already had more than its share of tragedies caused by rigidly conservative leaders.

Also troubling is the fact that Chaput was recently named chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee to implement Amoris Laetitia nationally.  This archdiocesan document does not bode well for the direction this committee may take.  Since Chaput represents the most conservative wing of the U.S. church, it is unlikely that any recommendations which emerge will be useful to most bishops, who will likely take a more compassionate approach to implementing the apostolic exhortation than the narrow one that Chaput has offered.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry






Two Priests Offer Spiritual and Social Responses to the Orlando Shooting

July 5, 2016

The Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub has prompted many, many statements and gestures of solidarity with the LGBT community.  In the Catholic press, two priests have penned essays worth reading which address Catholic dimensions to this tragedy.  Jesuit Father James Martin offers spiritual advice to LGBT people, as a response to the message of hate that the shooting sent out.  Claretian Father Paul Keller gives advice to the institutional problems in the Catholic Church that this incident has highlighted.

In an essay for America, entitled “Reflections on Pride,” Martin offers five bits of advice to those who have been negatively impacted by the Orlando shooting.  First, he reminds LGBT people, particularly youth:

Fr. James Martin

Fr. James Martin

“. . . [R]emember that you were created by God. Psalm 139 says about God, ‘For it was you who formed my inward parts. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works.’

“. . .You are God’s gift to the world. You are, as the psalmist says, “wonderfully made.”

To those who feel excluded by the church, he offers this message:

“[R]emember that you have as much place in the church as the pope does, or your local bishop does—or I do. How do I know this? Because you were baptized. With the sacrament of baptism, you were welcomed into the church. At First Communion, you were welcomed around the table of the Lord, and at Confirmation you were sealed with the Holy Spirit.”

Pope Francis is a sign of hope for LGBT Catholics, he suggests.  He noted the pope’s new approach to pastoral ministry:

” ‘You may feel that the church hasn’t always welcomed you but things are changing. Pope Francis is fond of using the word ‘accompaniment.’ People in the church are more and more being encouraged to accompany you. So have hope in your church.”

Martin suggests that LGBT Catholics find a welcoming Catholic parish, noting that sometimes they might find such a community at a Catholic ministry on a college campus.  We suggest that you consult New Ways Ministry’s list of welcoming parishes and Catholic colleges if you are looking for such a place.  If you know of such a place, please let others know about it in the “Comments” section of this post.

Finally, Martin offers the poignant blessing:

“[R]emember that Jesus loves you. Often LGBT people feel on the margins in the church. But in the Gospels, we see how Jesus consistently goes out to people on the margins, welcoming in them into the community. Jesus always sought out those people who felt excluded and made them feel included.”

Fr. Paul Keller

In a column for U.S. Catholic, entitled “Catholicism and LGBT Discrimination,” Keller notes that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has historically made statements against discrimination and violence against LGBT people, but he notes that the statements in response to Orlando from Florida’s Bishop Robert Lynch and Chicago’s  Archbishop Blase Cupich add much more substance to the CDF’s vague generalizations:

“The recent statements of the bishops responding to the tragedy in Orlando seem to go beyond the very mediocre, minimalist understanding of discrimination offered by the CDF. In a very Pope Francis-like move, these bishops directly or indirectly address some very challenging questions to the church itself. What does it mean for us to consider LGBT people ‘our brothers and sisters’? In what ways do Catholics breed contempt for LGBT people? Where can we find and how can we combat the anti-gay prejudice that exists in the Catholic community?”

Keller is explicit about what is needed:

“We need our bishops to give us guidance concerning the anti-LGBT prejudice and contempt that exists within the Catholic Church. A continuing silence is not morally courageous or pastorally responsible.”

And he offers some concrete suggestions:

“No normal human being should have any problem condemning acts of violence directed toward someone because of his or her sexual orientation. However, as a Catholic community, we need to do much more than just condemn violence. For example, it is legal in many states to fire someone for being gay, lesbian, or transgender. If we believe that this represents unjust discrimination, then how is it that our church is not on the front line working to end it? Surely we can’t congratulate ourselves because we explicitly condemn violence against LGBT people. Who doesn’t? Can’t we as a church do better than that? Shouldn’t we be actively doing something to end other forms of unjust discrimination?”

Most interesting is the fact that it appears that Keller does not approve of marriage equality or same-gender relationships.  In his column he states:

“If the Catholic Church is to have any moral credibility when we address issues like same-sex marriage or the natural moral ends of sexual intimacy, then we as Catholics must be willing to spend time and money fighting against injustices suffered by our LGBT brothers and sisters.”

But his push for a stronger stand against discrimination does seem to be motivated by more than just the possibility of gaining a political advantage.  His conclusion points to the idea that the Church should stand up for LGBT people because it is the right thing to do, even if the hierarchy does not totally agree with all LGBT issues:

“For some, the only experience they might have of the Catholic Church is being told that they or their favorite uncle, kindest teacher, or most generous neighbor is “gravely disordered,” “intrinsically evil,” or an “abomination.” In the face of having their dignity or that of the people they love diminished and insulted, these people, without an understanding of the technical vocabulary of moral theology, may conclude that it is the church itself that is “gravely disordered” or “intrinsically evil.” In order to persuade them that this is not the case, the Catholic Church should be much more willing to work in solidarity with and on behalf of communities that are suffering unjustly, even when we do not agree with all the beliefs of that community.”

Though I disagree with Keller’s approach to relationships, his reasoning about defending LGBT dignity and equality is an important development for those also don’t support same-gender couples.  From his traditional approach, he reminds Catholics that even if they agree with his stand on relationships, they still have an obligation to condemn violence and discrimination.  The social justice tradition of the Church is much more important to defend and support than the sexual ethics tradition.  If Catholics don’t support social justice when it comes to LGBT people, they are ignoring, to their own detriment, an important facet of their tradition’s faith.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Is There an Alternative to the Rigid Orthodoxies of the Religious Liberty Debate?

July 4, 2016

The United States of America celebrates its Independence Day today, so it seems an appropriate time to turn attention to the thorny question of religious liberty.  The argument for religious liberty is often used by ecclesial institutions to request exemptions from laws which regulate civil rights, access to health care, and labor regulations, among other things.  In the arena of LGBT issues, these exemptions include not being required to marry a lesbian or gay couple in a church, not providing access to gender transition procedures in religious hospitals, and allowing church institutions to fire a lesbian or gay teacher who decides to marry someone of the same gender.

Religious liberty controversies are often framed with church leaders on one side of the issue, defending faith and freedom, and progressive activists on the other side, calling for freedom of conscience and strict government regulation to guarantee individual freedom, on the other.  John Gehring, the Catholic program director for Faith in Public Life, a national advocacy group, recently penned an essay for Commonweal entitled “False Choices & Religious Liberty” which examines another alternative to this deadening dichotomy.

Gehring first notes that the debate about religious liberty has become too hunkered down in opposing camps who won’t acknowledge the legitimate points of one another.  According to Gehring, part of the problem is that the bishops have too often exaggerated the claims of having their religious liberty violated. Similarly, progressives won’t admit that religious leaders may have reason to worry.  Gehring writes:

“Even many faithful Catholicswho should be most sympathetic to the church’s arguments have grown weary of the divisiveness and worry that the all-consuming quality of the religious-liberty battle now seems to define American Catholicism. At the same time, the perversion of religious liberty into a bludgeon against women’s health, workers’ rights, and LGBT equality has caused some progressives to forget that religious freedom is a fundamentally liberal value. Finding a better approach that rescues religious liberty from the culture wars is challenging, essential work.”

Gehring thinks Catholicism, which too often has misused religious liberty issues, can lead the way to a better approach to this national question.  He proposes:

“The nation’s largest church needs to lower the temperature and elevate the conversation. In his visit to the White House last September, Pope Francis affirmed that religious liberty is “one of America’s most precious possessions.” American Catholics, he added, are equally “committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination.” To state what should be painfully obvious, Catholics are not living in an era of despotism or facing tyrannical assaults, as some church leaders have claimed. . . .

“If conservatives need to do some soul searching about how they often set back the important cause of religious liberty, progressives also need a better approach that fosters dialogue and common ground instead of division.”

For LGBT issues, the stakes are high around the religious liberty question.  Gehring points out:

“Along with battles over contraception coverage that are both technically complicated and politically fraught, there’s been a flurry of state legislation suggesting that religious freedom can be used to justify the withholding of civil rights from LGBT people. The Indiana legislature proposed a bill last year that would have allowed any for-profit business to assert a free exercise of religion argument to deny services. We’ve seen this before; religious claims were once used to deny African Americans basic rights. A restaurant owner should not be able to refuse breakfast to a gay couple on religious grounds. The misuse of religion was wrong in the 1960s, and it is wrong today. After swift backlash erupted from corporate, civic, and faith leaders, the bill was revised to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. However, similar legislation has been proposed in Georgia, North Carolina, and Mississippi. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam even signed legislation that allows mental-health counselors and therapists to refuse to treat patients based on religious objections or personal beliefs.”

In Georgia, at least, Catholic bishops were on the side of limiting religious freedom in favor of protecting against LGBT discrimination. Gehring quotes the Georgia’s Catholic bishops’ statement against the strong religious liberty legislation:

“While we and the other Catholic bishops in the United States support the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, we do not support any implementation of RFRA in a way that will discriminate against any individual.”

Gehring proposes that both sides of the debate listen to one another’s concerns, and come up with new solutions, instead of continuing to push forward their own agendas:

“It’s wrong to pit religion against equality for all Americans. False choices box us into suffocating corners. Saving religious liberty from the quicksand of reckless rhetoric and political posturing won’t be easy. Progressives and conservatives squaring off in public debates have a choice. We can continue to exchange dueling press releases and self-righteous tweets—or sit down, humble ourselves, and search for common ground. ‘Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord,’ the prophet Isaiah tells us. The comfortable and convenient path is well worn. Taking a harder road is worth the struggle if it leads to principled conversations and respect for the complexity of conscience.”

Dialogue and discussion are always good alternatives, especially when sides have become entrenched.  True religious freedom, which respects institutions and individuals, is a reachable goal for our nation and our church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Celebrating Pride In the Shadow of Orlando: A Catholic Reflection

July 3, 2016

Today’s post was written by guest blogger Alfred Pang is a PhD student in Theology and Education at Boston College.

This was my first year attending the Pride Parade in Boston, where I go to graduate school. Partly because of my reserved personality, I’ve often struggled to immerse myself in the spirit of Pride. The extravagance of the celebration overwhelmed me. More significantly, as an international student, I do not share in the history of Pride in the U.S., so I’ve often felt detached. As I watched the parade, I felt I was a foreigner wishing to see a familiar face of a friend, a stranger longing to be home with family.

My first Pride Parade wasn’t magical. The only point of connection I had was with the Pride Festival exhibit booth for three welcoming Catholic parishes organized under the name Greater Boston Rainbow Catholics. Their banner, which people were invited to sign, read, “I am a proud LGBTQ Catholic and I pray the church would love me more.” I wrote on the banner, “I came out as gay because I’m Catholic and not in spite of it.” I was proud to be part of this tradition and identity. When it comes to pride, history and community matters.

On the day after Pride, news broke about the tragic shooting in Pulse, an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, where 49 were gunned down during Latin Night. As an Asian gay man and a foreigner in this country, the horrific violence inflicted on LGBT persons of color hit too close to home. In my shock and grief, however, I was lifted up by the show of solidarity witnessed at vigils in Boston, from around the U.S., and around the globe, including Singapore, my home country. In light of this worldwide solidarity against fear, I’ve been awakened to a deeper significance of pride.

Pride is not arrogance, as many would typically understand it. For someone who identifies with the LGBT community, pride means to be fiercely unashamed that love is love. As gay and Catholic, pride is to dance with conviction that God’s love liberates us from the shame that diminishes our life as God’s beloved community. It is to “boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31) whose radical commitment to God’s mercy and justice led this Son of God to be in solidarity with the outcast and marginalized, even to the point of death on a cross.

Pride means to be amazed at the wild creativity of the Spirit of Christ who lives within and breathes among us, beckoning us toward newness in life as a beloved community in the here and now. Jesus’s injunction to us not to be afraid is a call to stand without shame as living witnesses of God’s unconditional love for all. There is no place that God will not go, and it is precisely this widening outreach and radical inclusivity of God’s love that the gospel challenges us to embrace with pride – unashamed.

Yet, in the wake of the Orlando tragedy, the Catholic hierarchy fell short in its witnessing to God’s far-reaching inclusive love. With a few exceptions, bishops, while condemning the violence, have largely been reticent, if not silent, about the gender and sexual identities of the victims. In doing so, an opportunity was missed to lift up the Church’s official teaching that explicitly opposes any form of violence and discrimination against LGBT persons.


Alfred Pang

More critically, such reticence once again pushes the suffering of the LGBT community into invisibility and furthers their systemic marginalization. Equally problematic is the tendency for church leaders to speak around the victims’ particular identities and conveniently snug them under ‘children of God’ as a blanket phrase. How can LGBT persons be properly regarded as God’s beloved children when church leaders are embarrassed to acknowledge their particular sexualities, even in the face of a tragedy?

My insistence in giving due attention to the gendered and sexual bodies of the victims at Orlando is not to remain mired in identity politics that can become exclusivist. Rather, what is at stake is how we regard the humanity of each other, with all the complexity of gender and sexuality intersecting with race, culture, class, and religion. The shooting at Orlando is symptomatic of a deeper tragic cycle of how we as human beings are actually capable of betraying one another.

Yet, the gospel provokes us to hope against all hopes that love wins because in and through Christ, death has lost its sting (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:55). We as church must allow ourselves to be haunted by this hope to recognize and repent from our complicity in social structures that feed this tragic cycle of dehumanization. I am grateful for the courage of Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, who, in his statement on Orlando, wrote:

“… [S]adly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence. Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that. Without yet knowing who perpetrated the PULSE mass murders, when I saw the Imam come forward at a press conference yesterday morning, I knew that somewhere in the story there would be a search to find religious roots. While deranged people do senseless things, all of us observe, judge and act from some kind of religious background. Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop also.”

Unfortunately, not every bishop shares Bishop Lynch’s sentiments, and herein lies the cause for real lament: that we as church (and the hierarchy, in particular) cannot be unified in at least acknowledging our complicity in the complexities of structural violence, especially that inflicted on LGBT communities. My disappointment is not simply over the dread of sexuality that hovers in the Catholic Church, or the humility lacking in some of our church leaders. Rather, my frustration is in our lack of pride in the gospel that celebrates the radical inclusivity of God’s embracing love for all. Are we that ashamed of the scandalous death of Jesus Christ on the cross that is the cost of God’s unreserved compassion for all and unwavering commitment to justice for the vulnerable at the margins?

If this year’s celebration of Pride in the midst of the pain at Orlando has any influence on the Church, I hope it will be the disruption of the Church’s dominant tendency to domesticate the gospel. Pride invites us to reclaim our identity as God’s beloved children, but in all our particularities and peculiarities that God takes delight in. More profoundly, God’s love must agitate us to be proud of the gospel, to take our encounter with Christ in the gospel onto the streets as ambassadors of reconciliation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20). Taking pride in ourselves as children of God obliges us to be peacemakers (cf. Matthew 5:9). As Blessed Oscar Romero put it:

“Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous,
tranquil contribution of all
to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism.
Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.”

As a church, we must find ways to come out with pride and not cower in shame (and disbelief) over God’s scandalous love for all.  We must continually be more open to the inclusivity of Christ’s love in the gospel and be moved by the creativity of the Spirit to walk the way of peace with those different from us.  We must be fearless and unashamed.  We must have pride.

–Alfred Pang


One Person’s “Lobby” Is Another Person’s “Ministry”

July 2, 2016

Pope Benedict XVI

The idea that a “gay lobby” inside the Vatican was working as a pressure group on papal decisions has once again surfaced, this time coming from Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.  In a new book to be published in September, the former pope said he was aware of a “gay lobby” but that he effectively stopped them.

Crux reports:

“During the days following his historic resignation, many observers speculated that an alleged ‘gay lobby’ within the Vatican had pressured Benedict XVI to step down. In a new interview-book, the emeritus pope admits to the existence of such a lobby, but says it had only ‘four or five members’ and that he’d managed to dismantle it.

Benedict XVI, Final Conversations is the title of the book to be released worldwide on September 9.

“This is the first time a pope, or a pope emeritus, has acknowledged on the record that the Vatican either has or had a ‘gay lobby’. . . “

Since there had been so much speculation about the existence of such a group since 2013 when Benedict resigned, it was easy to believe that such a group was just a product of the rumor mill.  Yet, while it seems that Benedict’s confirmation of the group points to the veracity of its existence, I am still not so sure.

First of all, from the news reports about the book, it doesn’t seem that Benedict has produced any evidence of such a group’s existence. He doesn’t seem to have named names or given any details about how they worked or what policies they tried to influence.

While I don’t doubt the sincerity of Pope Benedict, I do question his perspective.  From the time he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,  and up through his eight-year papacy, Benedict was staunchly opposed to any overtures or reconciliation with the LGBT community.  His public statements and official documents depicted LGBT people and issues in strongly negative terms.  He was the creator of the term “objectively disorder” to describe homosexual orientation and “intrinsically evil” to describe same-gender sexual activity.

Given his history and perspective, it is no wonder that Benedict might think of any person or group of people who might be asking for reforms of church teaching, policy, or pastoral practice on LGBT issues as a “lobby.”  “Lobby” is not just a neutral word.  It has strongly negative connotations of manipulation and undeserved influence.  Given his negative view of LGBT topics, I would not be surprised if Benedict were to say that Pope Francis is a member of a “gay lobby” because he called for the Church to apologize to lesbian and gay people.

In other words,  one person’s “lobby” is another person’s “ministry.”

I’ve worked full-time in LGBT ministry for over 20 years.  During that time, I have been called a “lobbyist” for LGBT rights many times by people who oppose the work I do.  Conservative Catholic groups have often referred to New Ways Ministry as a “gay lobby.” But neither of those depictions objectively describe the work that I or my organization do.  “Lobby” and “lobbyist” are often used pejoratively by opponents.

Another problem with the term “gay lobby” is knowing exactly what it means.  Were these supposed gay lobby members gay themselves, or were they individuals who advocated for change in the area of gay issues?  It’s hard to tell whether the term refers to the composition of the group or the topics which they tried to influence.

And if a gay lobby did exist, why is that so wrong?  Are there no other “lobby” groups in the Vatican?  Is no one else trying to get their points of view to be officially accepted?  Wouldn’t it be accurate to say that there is a very large and effective “male priesthood only” lobby in the Vatican?

Finally, from most of the public evidence, it would seem that if a gay lobby existed in Benedict’s Vatican, they really did a pretty poor job.  If they were really a manipulative, influential group, where is the evidence that anything changed positively on LGBT issues under Benedict’s reign?  From the evidence, it seems that there was a much larger, more powerful, and more effective anti-gay lobby working behind the scenes.  About the only thing that may be empirically verifiable from Benedict’s revelation about a gay lobby is his claim that he dismantled it.  And given their apparent ineffectiveness, it seems that dismantling such a group was probably a very easy task.

Of course, one way to solve the need for any sort of gay lobby is if the Vatican would be more transparent in its decision-making, more consultative in its process, and more open to public discussion about LGBT issues.  Then, the Church could forget all this silliness and focus on performing the works of mercy for a world in so much need.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related stories:

National Catholic Reporter: “Report: Benedict XVI’s memoirs say ‘gay lobby’ tried to wield power”

La Stampa: “Ratzinger: I managed to break up the “gay lobby” in the Vatican”

Bondings 2.0:Vatican Gay Lobby? Really?


Cardinal Cleared of Hate Crime Charges; Time for Healing to Begin

July 1, 2016

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares

The controversy that erupted when a Spanish cardinal said the “gay empire” was harming the family has come to an end as a court in Valencia dismissed the hate crime accusations brought by an LGBT organization and other progressive groups.

Crux reported:

“The criminal proceedings against Cardinal Antonio Cañizares of Valencia were dismissed without further investigation because the magistrate saw no ‘criminal intent’ nor an appeal to ‘hatred and violence’ in the homily delivered by the prelate on May 13.”

Separate charges of perpetrating hate crimes wer brought against Cañizares, Crux reported, and all were dismissed:

“The criminal complaint dismissed on Thursday had been filed by The Spanish Network of Help to Refugees, that also accused Cañizares of xenophobia for questioning if all the immigrants arriving to Spain were ‘clean wheat.’

“A second process, started by the Valencian LGBT association Lambda together with 55 other organizations, has also been dismissed.”

The “war of words” that this controversy set off went several rounds, with the rhetoric of both sides escalating with each exchange.  At one point, a progressive organization posted a graphic on Facebook showing two traditional Spanish Madonnas engaged in a a kiss.  The cardinal launched a campaign of protest against this illustration.

Not all LGBT groups supported the use of such an image, though, reported Crux:

“Among those criticizing the depiction was Lambda, that released a statement saying that ‘to be respected, you have to show respect.’ “

And Cañizares offered a somewhat positive response to the fact that not all LGBT people supported the use of the image:

“Although he didn’t mention anyone by name, Cañizares did thank those who ‘giving voice to their diversity, condemned this offence because it doesn’t represent them.’ “

This moment seems like an opportune one for reconciliation between these two groups.  They found a moment of common ground.  It would be wonderful if they reached out to one another for a dialogue so that another battle of press statements doesn’t occur.

I think the words of the Lambda organization are key:  “to be respected, you have to show respect.”  That is such an important lesson for both sides of this debate to take to heart.  A meeting with one another would be the first example of respect for one another.  Pope Francis has been urging church leaders to “encounter” those on the margins, to go out beyond their comfort zones and reach out to people that they normally would not speak with.

Cardinal Cañizares could effect a great deal of healing for so many if he would reach out to Lambda for a dialogue.  Lambda would also do well to accept such an offer, or, indeed, make an invitation, too.  Untold graces could flow from such a respectful encounter.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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