CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Drag Shows and Rainbow Proms Among Spring Celebrations

April 23, 2015

University of San Diego students at the 2014 drag show

The University of San Diego (USD), a Catholic campus in Southern California, hosted an LGBT-centered social event, which, once again, critics claim undermine the school’s Catholic identity. But, as one theologian notes, it is precisely by offering events which celebrate sexual and gender diversity that the church’s educational mission is fostered.

An event at USD entitled “Celebration of Gender Expression: Supreme Drag Superstar IV” was held last week as part of a seven-day program focused on Sexual Assault Awareness. While intended to be enjoyable, the program’s description points to the educational value as well:

“Transgender & Transsexual? Gender expression & gender identity?  What do these have to do with Sexual Assault Awareness Week?  Statistics show that the Trans Community is at a drastically higher risk for sexual and relationship violence.  Learn more about this important issue.”

This is the drag show’s fourth year and, as usual, it is drawing criticism from some conservatives. USD administrators, however, support the program. Last year, an appeal by these critics to the Vatican was dismissed.

USD is not the only Catholic college hosting LGBT-focused social events. Drag shows have been held at Seattle University and Loyola University Chicago, while other schools hold rainbow proms like Santa Clara University and Gonzaga University. Kristen Grewe of Santa Clara, who coordinates their Rainbow Prom, explained the significance of such events to their campus newspaper:

” ‘The goal is a big celebration of the LGBTQ community…Whether that’s those individuals celebrating themselves, allies celebrating that they exist or just celebrating our efforts to try and make Santa Clara more visibly accepting, we want to give people the opportunity they may not have gotten in high school.’

” ‘We decide with this event what we want to say to the community…We focus on queer empowerment, queer history, the queer movement and what it means to be queer on this campus and in the world.’ “

The stakes for trans* students on Catholic campuses are especially high, enough so that USD theology professor Emily Reimer-Barry reflected on the drag show as a “matter of life and death.” Writing at Catholic Moral Theology, Reimer-Barry discussed the high profile suicides of transgender teens Taylor Alesana and Leelah Alcorn before asking two very relevant questions:

“What responsibility do I have as a cisgender Catholic when I learn of stories like Taylor’s or Leelah’s? How can my faith tradition work to make the world safer and more just for all people, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation? These questions take on new urgency each April as my school prepares to host the drag show, an annual event sponsored by PRIDE.”

Noting critics, Reimer-Barry affirms the drag show at the intersection of quality theology and good pastoral care. She writes, in partial response to Alcorn’s famous request to “fix society”:

“What does it mean to fix society? What can the Catholic community do? At the very minimum, we should name bullying as wrong. Second, our schools should be places where questioning and transitioning teens feel safe to explore their own identities and to dress in the way that feels right to them. We should have support groups and counseling services for students in crisis, and encourage students to recognize the signs of depression and the warning signs for suicide. Often peers are the first to know when someone needs help. Our schools should be places not of shame or microaggressions but of hope, support, and love. And when an adult has the opportunity to discuss sexual behavior with a teen we should encourage self-care and responsibility. We can foster open discussion of sensitive issues and encourage students to keep asking questions. And as people of faith we should help students to see that God loves them, no matter what, and that each person is precious in the eyes of God.”

Furthermore, the drag show and similar events celebrating LGBTQ communities helps the church’s theological reflection. Last year, Reimer-Barry noted that the annual show is a moment for encounter:

“But it must be said that Catholic teachings are part of a dynamic faith tradition that must learn from new data as it is presented. The best theologians of the tradition—including those who shaped the above teachings—did so as people in particular historical-cultural contexts. As a tradition that has developed over time, Catholicism must engage the latest research in sociology, psychology, biology, and the rest of the sciences. And there is still so much we do not understand about our sexuality…So we must be careful not to overstep our claims when we discuss ‘church teaching on gender ideology.'”

Finally, Reimer-Barry offered insights broadly applicable for our church in how questions of sexuality and gender identity are approached:

“I believe that I have a responsibility to listen and learn from people whose life experiences are different than mine…I belong to a pilgrim Church, a Church with the doors open, a Church called to transform the darkness of the world by the light of Christ. I am proud to work in a Catholic university that hosts a drag show as a way to raise awareness about gender diversity. While the drag show will not ‘fix society,’ it represents one small step towards a more inclusive, intellectually rigorous, and joyful approach to the complexity of human experiences of sexuality.”

In these closing words, the goodness and, indeed, necessity of drag shows, rainbow proms, and other social events that open up affirming and inclusive spaces in Catholic education becomes readily apparent. Caring for students in their differences, expanding the perspectives of all in the community, cultivating shared understandings through dialogue, and celebrating the goodness of God’s creative power found in human diversity are all very Christian values. Catholic colleges and universities, rather than weakening their Catholic identity, strengthen it tenfold by building rainbow bridges over their campuses.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Bishop Bars Sr. Jeannine Gramick from North Carolina Family Gathering

April 22, 2015
Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo in St. Peter's Square following the Ash Wednesday audience.

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo in St. Peter’s Square following the Ash Wednesday papal audience.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, has been barred from speaking at a Catholic parish in North Carolina, a move which seems to contradict Pope Francis’ initiatives for a more listening and merciful church.

Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte personally expelled a PFLAG-Charlotte event from St. Peter Catholic Church where it was set to be held, according to QNotes. (PFLAG stands for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.) Diocesan spokesperson David Hains explained that Jugis acted against Sr. Gramick’s presence because of her connection to New Ways Ministry and outspoken support for LGBT rights. Gramick is in Ireland at the moment, encouraging Catholics to vote for marriage equality in that nation’s upcoming referendum.

LGBT advocates are criticizing Jugis’ decision as out of touch, contrasting it with Pope Francis and a new era in the Catholic Church he is helping to usher in. PFLAG-Charlotte President Diane Troy, a Catholic, said:

” ‘Sr. Jeannine’s message is very much in line with Pope Francis’ message of welcoming LGBT people to the Catholic Church. Her message of inclusion and acceptance has been well received by LGBT Catholics, the Catholic Church and its hierarchy for decades…It’s unfortunate that the Bishop, as our spiritual shepherd, has chosen to turn his back on so many.’ “

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, expressed similar sentiments:

” ‘It’s disappointing in the era of Pope Francis, where we see many Catholic leaders taking a more open approach to find out that Bishop Jugis has taken a more old-fashioned approach of silencing rather than [engaging in] dialogue and encounter, which are the words Pope Francis uses.’ “

QNotes’ report recalled the VIP seating at a papal audience that Sr. Gramick and 50 LGBT Catholics were granted this past February, a clear contradiction to Jugis’ rejection of Gramick.

However, this ban is especially unfortunate because the event, entitled “Including LGBTQ People and Their Families in Faith Communities,” takes up the very theme of pastoral care for families that Pope Francis has championed in the last two years. As DeBernardo pointed out, Catholics are engaged in LGBT inclusion precisely because they are Catholic and not in spite of it. This is particularly true when it comes to family life:

“For many Catholics, this particular issue is a matter of family. It is a matter of keeping families together and strengthening families. In the past two decades, more and more people in the U.S., including Catholics, have learned about an LGBT member in their family and that’s changed their hearts and their minds and moved them to work for equality.’ “

Diane Troy spoke to this reality as well:

” ‘My Catholic faith is profoundly important to me, as is the unconditional love and pride I feel for my gay son. Our Catholic school and parish communities should be a spiritual haven where all families receive acceptance and unconditional love.’ “

Despite the ban, the event scheduled for May 16 will go ahead at an alternate site that has yet to be determined.

This is only the latest controversy in the Diocese of Charlotte, which has fired two gay church workers in the past three years. All of this reveals just how much more Bishop Jugis and church leaders in Charlotte need to be attentive to Pope Francis’ example, allowing dialogue around LGBT issues particularly as they relate to pastoral concerns and working to make sure the local church is as inclusive as possible. Hopefully, in the weeks between now and May 16, clarity will come to Charlotte, and this harmful decision will be reversed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Nigerian Bishop Compares Gay People to ‘Drug Addicts, Robbers, and Terrorists’

April 20, 2015

Bishop Emmanuel Badejo

The Vatican’s 2014 Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family left many LGBT advocates unimpressed, yet just the simple fact that this meeting named the realities of family life today has made many in the church’s hierarchy fearful.

Some bishops are using the interlude until next October’s Ordinary Synod to promote traditional agendas, yet, in doing so, they are ignoring the very realities identified last fall that must be addressed, and, if ignored,  can even cause tremendous harm.

In a recent interview, Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of Oyo, Nigeria attacked LGBT rights in harsh and pastorally-damaging language. Badejo, who also heads communications for the African bishops, promised to oppose any openness to gay persons, telling Aleteia:

“[Gay people] have a right to be accepted as human beings. But there is a distinguishing factor between human rights and human behavior. I don’t have to accept homosexual behavior, just like I don’t have to accept drug addition [sic], robbery, and terrorism.”

He also suggested that homosexuality is “capable of being changed” and has “been proven on some levels of science to be pathological.” Badejo criticized Western governments for tying advances in LGBT rights to international aid, citing pressures on Uganda to overturn a proposed law criminalizing and severely punishing people who become known as lesbian or gay.

Elsewhere, Cardinal Raymond Burke told Italy’s La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana that members of the church are conspiring to promote a “gay agenda” at the upcoming Synod.  Crux reported on Burke’s interview, noting that he added that unnamed forces “want to discredit us who are trying to defend the Church’s teaching” and suggested LGBT people’s pastoral needs should not be discussed in a Synod devoted to family life.

In another synod-related case, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,  criticized Cardinal Reinhard Marx, German Bishops’ Conference president, who said the German church would “preach the Gospel in its own original way,” according to the National Catholic Reporter.   In discussing the differences raised at the synod, Marx said he did not want the German church to be seen as “a branch of Rome.”

In more positive remarks, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of London criticized several hundred English priests for publishing an open letter defending a traditionalist interpretation of human sexuality amid alleged confusion caused by the Synod. And Cardinal Walter Kasper, of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, one of the most outspoken advocates of mercy before last fall’s gathering, has called for prayer “because a battle is going on” between those seeking development from a living tradition and those bound to the past.

It appears bishops on all sides of controversial questions such as the recognition of same-sex relationships and LGBT pastoral care are increasingly preparing for heated discussions in October. The language is elevated, even hyperbolic, and the stakes are falsely understood to be a win-lose, as Cardinal Kasper’s words seem to suggest.

Theologian David Cloutier, Mount St. Mary’s University, Emmitsburg, Maryland, reminded readers at Catholic Moral Theology that understanding the Synod as a debate match is deeply problematic:

“The more the form of the discourse is a battle, with our words and ideas as the weapons, the more likely is polarization. The more the form is an attempt to deal with complex difficulties that cut in multiple directions, with our words and ideas as ways of better coming to grips with the full complexity of the matter, the more likely we will keep talking. Seems simple. But we humans do like battle…”

Instead of doing battle, church leaders should open themselves to the fullness of realities concerning family life today, reading these lived experiences through the light of a just and healing Gospel. Bishops should temper their words in coming months, focusing on their roles as pastoral leaders rather than ecclesial partisans and aim to build bridges rather than destroy perceived opposition.

As for those of us who are LGBT advocates, we can aid church leaders by sharing stories, preaching the inclusive Good News of Christ, listening to those who disagree, and fostering dialogue. New solutions rooted in compassion may burst forth through the apparent divisions come October. At the very least, we may curb the dangerous beliefs voiced by Bishop Badejo and Cardinal Burke that do great harm in social contexts where being openly LGBT can lead to great physical harm. We need to hold bishops accountable when they fail to be pastoral leaders for all God’s people.

There are about six months before synod participants reconvene in Rome. Let us hold up the goodness of LGBT people and their relationships and their families as educating lights for our church, especially our bishops. And let us never accept without resistance when these same bishops commit injustices. More than anything, let us pray and act so that between now and the Synod, we as the church will plant seeds for renewal and change that the bishops can harvest.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

National Catholic Reporter: “In family synod document, bishops forget we are all wounded

Sr. Jeannine Gramick Calls on Irish Population to Vote for Marriage Equality

April 19, 2015

A Catholic nun is calling on Irish citizens to vote for marriage equality this May, the latest in a series of voices hoping to legalize same-gender marriages in the country through a nationwide referendum.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister JeannineGramick, SL, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, has been in Ireland this past week for a gathering of Catholic Church reformers. She also has been meeting Catholic LGBT organizations there.  In an interview with The Independent, she commented on the upcoming referendum:

” ‘You can be a Catholic and vote for civil marriage for lesbian and gay people because it is a civil matter – it has nothing to do with your religion.’ “

She added that the bishops were “like little children” with their threats that priests would stop performing civil marriages, adding:

” ‘I think [the bishops] would be punishing heterosexual couples in the sense of making it more difficult for them as they would have to have two ceremonies and it wouldn’t hurt the gay population.’ “

In a radio interview, Gramick also said she imagines a future where priests are married to either men or women. You can listen to an audio file of this interview by clicking here, and scrolling down to the bottom of the text of the interview to find the audio file.

Mary McAleese, the former president of Ireland who has been an outspoken advocate for church reform, added her support for a “Yes” vote. Invoking the 1916 Easter Proclamation (which established the Republic of Ireland), she framed the referendum as a matter of good for children, telling The Irish Times

” ‘[My husband and I] believed it to be about Ireland’s gay children…We owe those children a huge debt as adults who have opportunities to make choices that impact their lives, to make the right choices, choices that will allow their lives grow organically and to give them the joy of being full citizens in their own country…We want, in the words of the proclamation, the children of the nation to be cherished equally.’ “

Challenging the language of “intrinsically disordered,” McAleese added:

” ‘The danger of calling it intrinsically disordered and at the same time calling for the love, Christian love for those who live the homosexual life meant people have been forced into the shadow, have been forced into self doubt, deeply conflicted.

” ‘[It] is a terrible thing for a young person who has grown up, for example in the church, and have been told they are loved absolutely to discover at 15,16 or 17 that all the language they have heard – particularly the homophobic language that they may have heard, the locker room language – applies to a person like them and applies to them.’ “

However, the Association of Catholic Priests, founded by Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, has refrained from taking an official position on the marriage referendum due to a variety of opinions in the organization.

The referendum, scheduled for May 22, could be the first time globally that marriage equality is affirmed in a popular referendum and, according to The Boston Globe, both sides say the “Yes” side is likely to win. One anti-LGBT leader has admitted that marriage equality could “win by a landslide,” but this has not stopped the Catholic bishops from mounting a campaign against the measure.

Regardless of the outcome, Tánaiste [Deputy Prime Ministr] Joan Burton of Ireland’s Labour party has already made clear that there will be no “right to discriminate” clauses written into Irish law that would allow businesses to deny service to LGBT people. This is a direct response, reports The Independent, to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s request for such clauses if marriage equality passes.

Finally, much of the debate in Ireland is playing upon Catholic values so ingrained in this historically Catholic nation. The ad below from “Yes” campaigners is a prime example, asking voters to “bring your family with you” on May 22:

Elsewhere campaigners talk of justice and faith, such as this video from two Catholic parents making their own appeal for equality.

It seems that in Ireland, as all over the world, Catholics are once again voting for marriage equality because of their faith and not in spite of it.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

100+ Catholics Appeal to Pope Francis for San Francisco Archbishop’s Removal

April 17, 2015

Ad, as it appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle

Calling for Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone to be replaced, more than 100 San Francisco area Catholics released an open letter to Pope Francis expressing their discontent with the archbishop’s leadership. Their concerns were primarily related to his negative focus on LGBT issues.

In a full page ad published in The San Francisco Chronicle, the signatories criticize an archbishop with a “single issue agenda” who “has fostered an atmosphere of division and intolerance.” Foremost among the ad’s criticisms is Cordileone’s introduction of morality clauses, focusing on sexual issues in teacher contracts. The signatories write further:

“The absolute mean-spiritedness of his required language for the Archdiocesan high school faculty handbook sets a pastoral tone that is closer to persecution than evangelization. Students, families and teachers have been deeply wounded by this language, yet the Archbishop refuses to withdraw his demands…

“Instead of your famous words “Who am I to Judge,” Archbishop Cordileone repeatedly labels the behavior of our fellow brothers and sister (and their children) as ‘gravely evil’…The Archbishop has isolated himself from our community…The City of Saint Francis deserves an Archbishop true to our values and to your teachings.”

Those undersigned represent a diverse and influential group of Catholics. Dan Morris-Young of the National Catholic Reporter described the signatories:

“Referring to themselves as ‘committed Catholics inspired by Vatican II,’ signers include well-known philanthropists in the archdiocese, members of school and university boards, the former director of Catholic Charities CYO, high-profile attorneys and physicians, major figures in the business and corporate world, and officials of trusts, foundations and charitable organizations.”

Among these leaders, The Chronicle notes, is Brian Cahill, former executive director of San Francisco’s Catholic Charities, who has previously written in favor of LGBT rights by saying Cordileone’s positions would turn the church into a “shrinking cult.” In a more recent piece, Cahill suggested that the contract struggle is all about the meaning of Catholic identity. Other signers echoed similar sentiments, with business owner and major donor Larry Nibbi saying:

” ‘The crux of our worry is that the faithful are going to become very disenchanted and stop going to church because they don’t like the message, and the message is not the way they lead their lives.’ “

Those involved with the ad had first attempted dialogue, reaching out to national and curial officials for relief, but when no action was taken they decided to release the ad, reports The Chronicle

Publishing the ad is the latest in a string of 2015 actions by Bay Area Catholics, which have included hundreds demonstrating at the cathedral and hundreds more participating in a town hall hosted by the University of San Francisco,a Jesuit school. The National Catholic Reporter quoted Cahill telling attendees at the forum:

” ‘Cordileone, who with his imported crew of orthodox, smugly ideological and intentionally provocative zealots, is trying to shove his sex-obsessed version of Catholic identity down the throats of Catholic high school students and teachers.’ “

Elsewhere, students, parents, alumni, and church workers are organizing around #TeachAcceptance, which includes a Facebook group and website. Parents have written letters of support to students and one parent, Dennis Herrera, wrote recently about how Cordileone’s activities reveal just how essential Pope Francis’ leadership and the Synod of Bishops focused on family life could be to this situation.

In a statement responding to the ad, the Archdiocese said it was a “misrepresentation” of Catholic teaching, the teacher contracts, the archbishop, and San Francisco Catholics.

I see the actions of Bay Area Catholics as fitting examples of what living the Gospel means today. The thousands who have turned out to protest, dialogue, and register their support for church workers are true representations of what it means to be Christian.

Pope Francis should listen to the voices of the people in this local church and respond to their call. Yet, even if Archbishop Cordileone remains, I take solace in this emerging reality that reveals just how alive and formative the Holy Spirit is in San Francisco’s Catholics.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

National Catholic Reporter: “Under San Francisco’s new handbook language, could gay marriage lead to a dismissal?

Think Progress: “How San Francisco Catholics are Pushing Pope Francis

Priest Blesses Same-Gender Couple’s Engagement in Malta; Archbishop Remains Calm

April 15, 2015

Fr, Montebello, left, with the couple, Nicholas John Vella and Edward Borg Bonaci, after the ceremony.

A priest in Malta will not be reprimanded for blessing rings at a commitment ceremony between two men. Those involved in this incident are revealing what the intensified mercy called for by Pope Francis earlier this week might look like when it comes to LGBT issues.

Dominican Fr. Mark Montebello attended the engagement ceremony of Nicholas John Vella and Edward Borg Bonaci last week, and while present blessed their rings. Photos of the event, including Montebello’s presence, appeared on Facebook and this moment was soon reported on by The Malta Independent. A Facebook group emerged almost immediately in support of the priest and has gained nearly 1,500 supporters.

However, once news of the event broke, Montebello was summoned, along with his Dominican provincial, by Malta’s Archbishop Charles Scicluna. They met for an hour on Tuesday, the outcome of which was reported by The Malta Independent with the following excerpt from the archdiocesan statement:

” ‘During the cordial meeting, the Archbishop encouraged Fr Mark to continue his outreach to gay people, and requested that he continue to follow Church practice and discipline in his ministry, especially in the celebration of sacred rites and Church rituals.

” ‘Fr Mark thanked the Archbishop and the Vicar General for their support and agreed that in his pastoral ministry to gay people he would continue to follow Church practices and discipline.’ “

What lessons can we gain from this incident?

First,  set against the potential punishments other bishops might have imposed upon Montebello, the archdiocesan statement has a strong positive side. It is valuable in that it respects the priest in question, even affirming his ministry to the LGBT population and encouraging him to keep going. No punishment besides a request from the bishop is meted out.

Second, while there is no validation of Montebello’s actions in blessing a same-gender relationship, it is interesting to note the statement restricts its request to “Church practice and discipline” rather than making a doctrinal appeal, about the nature of marriage or homosexuality. In Archbishop Scicluna’s estimation, it seems this is clearly a very low-level issue, and its impact is limited. He is not obsessed with stopong LGBT rights at all costs, behavior for which Pope Francis has criticized other bishops.

Third, the identities involved matter because they are a priest and prelate already open to mercy when it comes to sexual and gender-diverse people. In a country that is officially Catholic, with more than 90% of citizens belonging to the church, such figures are tremendously powerful in advancing LGBT justice. Montebello and Scicluna were both nominated for awards last year by the Malta Gay Rights Movement, and though they declined, they are helping this cause more than not.

Fr. Montebello is clearly a committed advocate for LGBT rights, declaring his support for marriage equality and civil unions as early as 2005, when he said “there needs to be a change in vision” and promised to bless same-gender relationships if asked. This recent incident is merely the fulfillment of that commitment.

Archbishop Scicluna has a more complicated record, repeatedly denying that same-gender couples can marry and opposing a civil unions law in Malta that ultimately passed. He has also said that Pope Francis was “shocked” at the idea of gay couples adopting, though this comment was never confirmed. Yet, Scicluna also apologized to lesbian and gay people for harm done by the church and publicly criticized a lay man’s harsh letter against same-sex relationships. He even participated in the International Day Against Homophobia last year.

Between the two, a divide over the goodness of same-gender relationships remains. Fr. Montebello seems to understand Archbishop’s Scicluna’s words that “Love is never a sin. God is love” better than the archbishop himself. It is refreshing, however that Scicluna is allowing a priest the flexibility and trust so essential to do ministry on the margins and, when there is disagreement, always ensuring that mercy is foremost.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Catholic H.S. Wrestler Becomes Bridge Builder by Coming Out as Gay

April 13, 2015

Cole Fox, far right, poses with fellow students

Cole Fox is a senior at Don Bosco Catholic High School in Gilbertville, Iowa, where until recently he wrestled successfully for one of the state’s top programs.

He is also an openly gay Catholic whose coming out and commitment to building bridges are inspirations for all who seek to advance LGBT justice.

Until last year, Fox had been relatively private about his sexual orientation, although if asked he would acknowledge being gay. He told close friends and his mother, who told Fox she already knew, but avoided telling his father who “always made homophobic comments” and also happened to be the school’s assistant wrestling coach.

This all changed last March when Fox decided to tell his dad in a handwritten note, which said, in part, according to OutSports:

“Any anger, humiliation, sadness, happiness or whatever you’re feeling is completely valid. As far as I know, you have no ties to anyone LGBTQ. I just want you to know that it took me nearly 17 years to accept me. I’m going to give you time and space. You don’t have to talk about it. You can bring it up as much as you wish. You can talk to mom or April. You can completely disregard this letter. I will still love you regardless of what you think or what you do.”

His father, Ray, replied in a text,”You are still a great son and I am proud of you.” His father also expressed sadness that he created a hostile environment for his son, saying he loved him no less than before — and that Fox should do the dishes.

Fox displays the same compassion for the Catholic Church that he expressed for his father in the note. OutSports reports:

“Most important to him is his hope of bringing together his beloved Catholic Church and the LGBT community. While he personally understands the decades of torment the Catholic Church has pushed on gay people, Cole sees hope in Pope Francis and a new direction for the Church. He says more and more Catholics are opening their hearts to LGBT people as a result. For years he bought into the damaging messages of some in the Catholic Church, but it was on a church retreat last July that he found Catholic Social Teaching.

” ‘Catholic Social Teaching is the Church’s teachings of human dignity. We believe that all humans are granted with God-given dignity and there is nothing that can shatter that dignity. It also has a lot to do with where Catholicism stands with social justice and charity in the world. Pope Francis has been very actively demonstrating Catholic Social Teaching and it is awesome.’ “

In a positive step for the church already, Don Bosco High School will recognize Fox for receiving the Matthew Shepard Scholarship to aid his upcoming studies at the University of Northern Iowa, A decade ago the school denied any public acknowledgement to a student who won the same award, according to KWWL 7.

Cole Fox

Fox, who hopes to be a teacher someday, is joining the rapidly growing ranks of high school students taking responsibility for justice at their Catholic institutions. In nearby Des Moines, hundreds of such students rallied and prayed earlier this week to protest a gay man being denied a teaching position. A similar movement exploded in Omaha this week, as well, after a gay teacher’s contract was not renewed.

In Fox’s story, a high school student’s actions reveal yet again the hopeful future for our church when it comes to LGBT justice. His words in The Des Moines Register speak to this as a most fitting conclusion:

” ‘I go to Mass a lot during the week. I never hear anything tormenting LGBT people. I hear fundamentals of love and dignity toward all people. I hear about loving people as Christ loves them…This is my chance to show what the Catholic Church means…

” ‘As Catholics, I know we are split. There are those that think one way and others who think another…But we are the church. Just because we are younger doesn’t mean we aren’t valid…

” ‘I want people to know you don’t have to hide anymore. People need to know they are accepted…You are not alone.’ “

For more information on students’ flourishing actions for LGBT justice in Catholic communities, check out Bondings 2.0‘s “Schools & Youth” and “Campus Chronicles” categories in the right-hand column of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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