SYNOD 2015 NEWS NOTES: Keeping Tabs on All the Talk

October 11, 2015

Bishops gathered in the Synod hall

Keeping up with the numerous news and commentaries tied to the Synod can be challenging.

New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo is reporting from Rome, attending the Vatican’s daily press briefings and tuning his ear to the buzz, but there is also much ink flying elsewhere. Below is a Synod News Notes with links provided for further reading.

Commonweal’s Matthew Sitman titled his piece “Sex and the Synod.” He wrote critically against R.R. Reno, editor of First Things, who claimed the Synod is simply the church figuring out how to respond to the sexual revolution. Sitman asked in response:

“Can we really look back over the last few decades and be unmoved by the (at least partial) redress of the genuine injustices women and LGBT people faced, to take two prominent examples? And can we really disentangle all that from the ‘sexual revolution’?

“If you don’t think the proper response to a gay son or lesbian daughter coming out is reparative therapy, you are living in a decisively post-Stonewall world, and differ drastically from what many Christians believed not long ago. . .

“The task of genuine Christian discernment in these matters is to sift through the gains and losses of the sexual revolution rather than dismiss it in one swoop and reply only with a steadfast no. Christians, and the church, must be able to distinguish between learning from history and experience and simply being fashionable. There really is a difference.”

Sr. Simone Campbell of NETWORK wrote in The Huffington Post that its time to embrace LGBT people in churches rather than continuing to hurt them, closing with a bit of advice that should be required reading for bishops:

“My advice to anyone who has a hard time accepting LGBT people is to get to know them and hear their stories. . .For me, that means we have to listen to people rather than making assumptions about them. Talk to people. Be open and accept the truth of who people are. That’s all we need to do.”

Gerald O’Connell, who covers the Vatican for America, set out the Synod as the latest conversation about a fundamental choice the church is repeatedly faced with at each moment in history:

“Should the church concentrate more on pointing to the gap between the Catholic moral vision and the lived reality of people in the modern world, or should it concentrate more on walking with men and women precisely in their lived reality, accompanying them and pointing to the moments of grace already present in their lives as the foundation for moving toward the Christian ideal?”

On his blog, Vatican journalist John Thavis agreed  that the not only will the church survive a more open discussion on family life, but that finding a renewed path forward is essential:

“Francis believes, correctly I think, that unless the church changes its language and pastoral approach, it will continue to alienate many of the people it is trying to save. . .At the end of the month, I think we’ll see a final document that is largely positive about the many contributions given and sacrifices made by families today, recognizing that in the modern age the church needs to also work with ‘untraditional’ families in ways that are more welcoming than judgmental.’ “

After one week, Michael O’Loughlin of Crux suggested the Synod may punt on controversial issues altogether based on an interview with Louisville’s Archbishop Joseph Kurtz. O’Loughlin wondered:

“Could national bishops’ conferences come up with their own rules about annulments, Communion, and how to minister to gays and lesbians?”

John Allen, also of Crux, said whatever outcome emerges there is a desire for a positive tone that emphasizes families’ goodness and hopes, rather than failures and despair.

The Synod is still being criticized for who is absent beyond a mass of celibate male bishops and some marginal auditors, which may greatly affect any outcome. Theologian Mary Hunt wrote in the National Catholic Reporter that this “stacks the deck” against women.

What about the bishops themselves? You can read DeBernardo’s daily LGBT-related updates from the Synod and what bishops are saying, available here. Below are some other noteworthy insights, which while not directly addressing LGBT issues, are relevant for how the church is moving forward.

Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, England questioned the bishops’ ability to address family life, saying a holistic conversation requires female perspectives and expressing concern that “there is a big area that we don’t actually understand,” reported the National Catholic Reporter.

Bishop Johann Bonny of Antwerp, who called for the church to bless same-sex relationships last December, expressed a desire for more “space and responsibility” so that bishops could “formulate suitable answers to the pastoral questions of that part of the people of God which is entrusted to their pastoral care,” reported the National Catholic Reporter.

Bishop Heiner Koch of Berlin said the church’s teachings “do not silence the questions in the hearts of people” and said denying Communion makes people doubt God. Though speaking about divorced and remarried Catholics, according to the National Catholic Reporter, his words seem readily applicable to LGBT Catholics and their families too.

Want Bondings 2.0’s ongoing live reports from Rome related to the Synod and Catholic LGBT issues? Subscribe to the blog (for free) by typing your email address in the “Follow” box in the upper right-hand corner of this page, and then click the “Follow” button.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

More Details Emerge About Gay Priest Dismissed from Vatican After Coming Out

October 5, 2015

Monsignor Krzystof Charamsa

A few more details and commentaries have emerged about the gay priest serving at the Vatican priest who came out this past weekend

Monsignor Krzystof Charamsa announced he was gay and partnered last week just days before the Synod of Bishops kicked off in Rome, reported Crux.  The news report quoted another news story in the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, in which the priest provided some background for his decision:

“[He] was motivated to make his sexual orientation public by hate mail that he received after publicly criticizing a right-wing Polish priest who is strongly anti-gay in the Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny.

The 43-year old priest said he hoped to be “a Christian voice” influencing the Synod on Marriage and Family [which began yesterday] as it discusses LGBT pastoral care among other topics related to family life.

Charamsa, a theologian for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, assistant to the International Theological Commission, and professor at several pontifical universities in Rome, initially came out in interviews published in Italy and Poland. Crux quoted his message to the LGBT community in his coming out announcement


” ‘Do not apologize for what you are,’ he said in comments meant for the LGBT community, ‘because you’re full members of the community, and in the case of the baptized, of the Church. [You’re part of a] civilized community, and the Church doesn’t have the moral right to deny your right to love and get married.’ “

The priest, who has not been laicized although this decision remains in his bishop’s hands, said the decision to come out was “a very personal, difficult, and tough” one because the Catholic Church is homophobic. For this reason, he also said LGBT Catholics should fight for their “dignity and right to happiness” when the Church persecutes them.

Charasma’s announcement led to his immediate dismissal from both the CDF and university faculties.The priest acknowledged these potential sanctions in the Irish Times, but was clear he could not remain silent:

” ‘I am ready to pay the consequences of this but the moment has come for the Church to open its eyes to gay believers and to understand that the solution which it offers to gays, namely total abstinence from a love life, is simply inhuman’ . . .

“Monsignor Charamsa said on Saturday there was a day when ‘something breaks inside you’, adding that God guided him to this decision, ‘which should be the most simple for any homosexual’.

“He said: ‘It seems to me that, in the Church, we don’t know homosexuality because we don’t know homosexuals, yet we have them all over the place. With my story I want to shake the conscience of the Church a bit.’ “

Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi called the priest’s actions “very serious and irresponsible” because they made a “pointed statement” as the Synod was beginning, reported Vatican Radio. Others, however, have welcomed Monsignor Charasma’s integrity and openness precisely because it shakes the church’s conscience while criticizing the Vatican’s expulsion.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told The Independent:

“Charamsa now joins the long list of people fired from jobs in Catholic institutions because of LGBT issues. It is unfortunate that Church leaders did not see this as an opportunity for further dialogue with someone they have known and trusted.”

You can read New Ways Ministry’s full statement applauding Charamsa’s courage and honesty here.

Michael Bayly, who blogs at The Wild Reed, commented on Charamsa’s firing:

“I remind myself that expulsion is often the cost of true discipleship.”

Before Charasma’s announcement theologian Mary Hunt penned an op-ed in The Baltimore Sun noting that a large number of closeted gay men are involved in church decisions which harm LGBT people:

“Finally, it is time to end the gay charade in the Roman Catholic Church. The sea of men in every church and papal meeting during the U.S. visit underscored a homosocial power structure. It is an open secret that a high percentage of clergy and religious leaders are same-sex loving people, whether sexually active or not. For those same men to collude in anti-LGBTIQ efforts, including legislation and theology, is morally repugnant.”

Monsignor Charamsa’s coming out and dismissal come in a charged week for LGBT Catholics news, as reports surfaced about Pope Francis’ encounter with Kim Davis and a same-sex couple. Even with those items swirling, the gay priest’s announcement cut through and made headlines — a testament, I think, to the power that such a revelation has to move people and potentially effect change in the church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Catholic School Suspends Gay Student for Seeking Same-Sex Homecoming Date

September 30, 2015

Lance Sanderson

Lance Sanderson, a senior at Christian Brothers High School (CBHS) in Memphis, who had sought permission to bring a same-sex date to the school’s Homecoming Dance last weekend, not only was excluded from last weekend’s dance, but found himself suspended by school officials when he arrived for classes on Monday.

Sanderson’s explained his request in a petition which has gained nearly 25,000 signatures:

“I just want to bring a date of my choice to homecoming like the rest of my friends and classmates. I’m not asking for special treatment. I’m just asking for respect, and the chance to make my last homecoming a truly memorable experience.”

A CBHS teacher told him last spring that the school “doesn’t discriminate” and the decision ultimately is the principal’s, Sanderson reported. When school resumed in September:

“One administrator told me that even though some people interpreted Pope Francis’s teachings on the issue as meaning they should support same-sex couples, these people are, ‘not the authority to which Christian Brothers High School is accountable.’ And now my school is making daily announcements across the whole school, saying that students can’t bring same-sex dates from other schools.”

Another administrator mentioned a gay couple he knew, saying Sanderson was “a lot like this one person” but that “the guy’s boyfriend murdered him” in an event the student understates as “a little rough.”

The daily announcement mentioned above is a new policy implemented in response to Sanderson’s request, reported The New Civil Rights Movement. It allows female dates from other schools, but “for logistical reasons” bars male dates.

Sadly, CBHS officials believe that seeking equality warrants a week long suspension for Sanderson. Called to the office when he arrived, Sanderson was told that the administration “had 890 other students to worry about” and did not “appreciate the unwanted publicity,” reported NewNowNext.

CBHS officials are defending their actions in a statement that claims outreach to gay students was a goal for the school year and that the community was “a kinder and gentler school. . .not homophobic.” Several steps, including training for teachers and appointing a gay alum to the board, are listed as evidence.

Having been out at CBHS since he was a freshman, this is not the first time Sanderson has faced harassment or discrimination. One time a classmate “kept referring to one of the main characters [in a movie the class was watching] as a ‘fag’ at least 17 times.”. However, receiving punitive sanctioning from the administration is new. Sanderson, still excluded from receiving his education this week, wrote a letter to school officials that said, in part:

“I am hurt by this exclusion. It goes against the Lasallian value of brotherhood that the school is supposed to stand for. You won’t let me dance with my date and you won’t let me go to class now either. I had hoped that today would be one for positive conversation going forward. Instead, I was sent home.

“I haven’t done anything wrong and haven’t hurt anybody. I want to be welcomed back to the school building today and I want this mean-spirited semi-suspension ended, so that I can do my classwork like anybody else.”

Thankfully, Sanderson is receiving growing support from the outside. Crowds at the Mid-South Pride Festival chanted “Let Lance dance!” over the weekend, including several gay CBHS alumni reported NewNowNext.

One gay alum, Mike Halford, is however defending the school’s actions, reported Fox 13. Halford claims the reasons behind the suspension are unclear and CBHS officials may simply choose to remain silent on these matters, though Halford is optimistic “eventually that part of the policy [on dance dates] will be changed.”

Administrators at Christian Brothers High School owe it to Lance, to the school community, and to Memphis Catholics to end that silence and be transparent about why they have pursued this course of action. There seems little reason other than punishment and intimidation why an otherwise good student like Lance Sanderson receives a week long suspension. Further, barring same-sex dates at Catholic school events is not the only option.

Other institutions, like McQuaid Jesuit High School in New York, have found ways of truly welcoming LGBT students when it comes to homecoming dances and proms. CBHS officials should apologize for the deep harm they have caused, welcome Sanderson back to classes immediately, and when prom comes in the spring, let Lance dance!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

New Ways Ministry Welcomes Pope Francis to Philly with Catholic Gender Identity Workshop

September 27, 2015

Just as Pope Francis began his schedule in Philadelphia, Catholics gathered in a church hall in downtown to explore ideas and personal experiences about gender identity. The New Ways Ministry-sponsored workshop, titled “Transforming Love,” featured four speakers sharing their stories of being trans*, of being intersex, of being an LGBTQI person’s family member–and doing all of this as Catholics.

Julie Chovanes

After an opening communal prayer service, Julie Chovanes, a transexual Catholic woman from Philadelphia, began the morning’s presentations. Steve Ahlquist of reported:

“Chovanes was raised in the Byzantine Catholic tradition. . .Coming out and transitioning has been a challenge, but she feels she has ‘been accepted in the city, I feel that Philadelphia is the best city in the world for [trans persons].”

“I don’t consider myself a man or a girl. . .I am a trans. My brain and my soul are a woman’s, but my body is a man’s. . .My life is a testament to God’s glory.’ “

Later in the workshop, having claimed “I am very proud of who I am,” Chovanes highlighted her privileged experience compared to many other trans persons. She is a successful lawyer whose marriage and family remained intact while she transitioned. Chovanes lifted up trans people of color who suffer most in the U.S. due to economic hardships and physical and emotional violence.

delfin bautista, who identifies as trans* and specifically two-spirit or genderqueer, spoke next. [delfin does not use male or female singular personal pronouns for self-reference.  Instead delfin prefers the non-gendered plural “they, them, their” pronoun set for self-identification.  Also, delfin’s name is correctly spelled with lower-case initial letters.]   delfin began listing their many personal identities that “sometimes clash and sometimes coexist.” These include being Catholic and being the LGBT Center director at Ohio University.

delfin bautista

bautista detailed their Latino/a Catholic upbringing as they came to know themselves more authentically in an ongoing journey to know “what means to be both/and rather than either/or.” RIFuture quoted bautista:

“Being different is not an option. . .I wore dresses and played princess. I prayed every night to wake up in a new body, but was greeted with silence.’

” ‘When I came out I came out as gay because that’s all I knew, but even then I knew it didn’t fit me. . .My mom wanted to help me and sent me to therapy to be cured. I don’t hate my mother, she was trying to help me.’ “

bautista gently explained the concept of transitioning, saying it was not a matter of changing one’s identity but rather of affirming one’s identity and sharing it with others. The journey is a communal one, involving a person’s partner, friends, and family members.

Responding to participants’ questions, the speakers zeroed in on trans* oppression by the lesbian and gay communities. Chovanes alluded to the historic Stonewall riots in 1969, reminding those at the worksthop that it was trans* people who kicked off the LGBT movement.

bautista said, “We’ve been coming out. We’ve been here for centuries.” They added that sexism and misogyny still silence trans feminine voices even within LGBT circles, bautista’s expanded this critique to the Black Lives Matter movement which has prioritized black men who are killed even though trans women of color face the highest rates of violence.

Both turned to Scripture to further their points, Chovanes highlighting the Apostle Philip’s merciful treatment of the Ethiopian eunuch (see Acts of the Apostles 8) who is as he is not because of sin but “for the greater glory of God” and noting that from Genesis to Galatians, gender is presented as a spectrum.

Vilma Santamaria

The workshop’s second panel featured two speakers from El Salvador. Nicole Santamaria is an intersex Catholic woman and activist, now residing in the U.S.  She was joined by Vilma Santamaria, her mother and a teacher involved with feminist advocacy.

Assigned male at birth, Nicole identified as a girl by the age of three and thought of running away as early as age five. When she finally came out to her mother, Vilma responded, “I love you, whoever you are. I will always have you in my heart.” Vilma had known her daughter was different from a young age. Less understanding was Nicole’s father at whose hands she suffered greatly in adolescence, which she described for

” ‘[I was told,] don’t talk like that, don’t move your hands like that! Oh my God, don’t breathe like that! . . .My father mentally and physically tortured me. He’d heat up coins and burn my nipples.”

Nicole Santamaria

Her father’s damage destroyed her natural breasts and early medical help was equally problematic, but eventually through reconstructive surgery Nicole is now able to present as she identifies. Though she is “passing” [meaning: being visibly recognized as a woman], a term she said she only recently learned in the U.S., Nicole refuses to remain silent and rest in that privilege. As she stated:

“God gave me the opportunity to survive. I’m going to continue to speak out for those who didn’t.”

Citing that faith for the “strength to continue,” she told

“I came here to the World Meeting of Families with Pope Francis, to speak for the voices that were silenced by those who will torture them, by those who will kill them. And the voices that were silenced already by people who feel they have permission and they have the obligation to murder us, to exterminate us, to persecute us, because their religion told them that it is okay to kill a person that is different. When every religious leader spoke out against sexual diversity, or even against abortion, a transgender woman is killed. Every time those kind of things are heard, that means death. Whenever this is reported in the media, you can read the comments from the people, and the comments are, They deserve it, they are abominations, God doesn’t love them, it is okay.”

Violence against LGBTQI people in El Salvador is extensive and often involves sexual violence and torture as well as physical assault. Nicole is currently seeking asylum in the U.S. because, as she told her mother, “I left my country because I won’t let you recognize my body in pieces.”  She left El Salvador after several physical attacks and more than several authentic death threats.

The speakers’ words showed the power and grace present at the workshop yesterday morning.  Their words were filled in by many smaller interpersonal conversations by participants who shared their faith, their identities, and their hopes as well as pains. You can get a glimpse of the atmosphere in this video from Religion News Service.

It is worth noting, finally, that this workshop almost did not happen after Archbishop Charles Chaput ejected it and other LGBT-related events coinciding with last week’s World Meeting of Families from a local Catholic parish. Thankfully, a Arch Street United Methodist Church, a nearby congregation at opened its doors and its arms to the New Ways Ministry program, as well as to Equally Blessed’s World Meeting of Families pilgrims, thus allowing LGBT and Ally Catholics to witness to the power of faith, hope, and love, in their lives, relationships, and families.

To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Equally Blessed pilgrimage, the World Meeting of Families, and/or Pope Francis visit to the U.S., you can click here

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Openly Gay Comedian Mo Rocca Reads at Papal Mass; Francis Remains Unclear on LGBT Front

September 26, 2015

Pope Francis preaching during Mass at Madison Square Garden

Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 surveyed Pope Francis treatment of LGBT issues during his visit to Washington, D.C. Today, as the pope begins his schedule in Philadelphia, here are some LGBT Catholic takeaways from New York City.

Address to the United Nations

Pope Francis’ address to the UN General Assembly, the fifth such occasion for a pope, avoided any direct condemnation of LGBT rights even though the UN is increasingly active in defending all sexual and gender identities.

His most direct statement was a resurfacing of the “ideological colonization” term spoken about during his visit to the Philippines earlier this year:

“Without the recognition of certain incontestable natural ethical limits and without the immediate implementation of those pillars of integral human development. . .[social progress] risks becoming an unattainable illusion, or, even worse, idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption, or for carrying out an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.”

At least one critic, writing in The Advocate, has questioned whether those “anomalous models and lifestyles” are a reference to homosexuality. At one point, Pope Francis criticized the still undefined term “gender theory: during his appeal for natural law reasoning, saying “natural difference between man and woman” must be respected.

More positively, Francis’ repeatedly attacked exclusion as the bedfellow of degrading creation and said “social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment.” Again, though not directly citing LGBT people, his words are readily applicable to those sexual and gender diverse minorities globally who suffer profound social exclusion.

Mo Rocca reading at Mass

Mass at Madison Square Garden

Rather than Pope Francis’ words or acts, it was comedian and journalist Mo Rocca’s scriptural reading during Mass at Madison Square Garden which is most striking for LGBT advocates.

Rocca is not only Catholic, but is openly gay after coming out publicly in 2011. He said on Twitter that he was “deeply grateful and humbled to have delivered a reading at a Mass” celebrated by Pope Francis.

Many people on the social media channel quickly noted Rocca’s sexual orientation, reported NBC News. It is indeed significant that in a time when LGBT Catholics find themselves unwelcome in many U.S. parishes and more than fifty church workers have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since 2008.

Pope Francis’ homily may explain, in part, the welcome Rocca received. The pontiff heartily affirmed diversity and said cities contain the “hidden riches” of “cultures, traditions, historical experiences. . .all the different ways which we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life.” He repeated his condemnation of social exclusion.

Vespers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Finally, though out of order in the chronological style of this post, Pope Francis’ spiritual reflection during Vespers in New York is worth briefly highlighting. He said nothing about LGBT issues, but the pope praised U.S. women religious when he asked: “What would the Church be without you?”

His gratitude for the sisters comes just months after the Vatican’s investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) concluded. Pope Francis continued praising the sisters for being on “the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel. . .the front lines in meeting the challenges of adapting to an evolving pastoral landscape,” seemingly the very reasons LCWR was investigated in the first place–which included their support of LGBT issues, generally, and New Ways Ministry, specifically.

Onward to Philadelphia

As I noted yesterday, Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. has been quite ambiguous when it comes to LGBT topics, a sharp contrast to many American bishops’ culture war mentalities. Foremost among such bishops is Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, where Pope Francis now concludes his visit over the weekend.

Will Francis will speak more clearly and at length about marriage and family life in the city where the World Meeting of Families has just concluded. Already, the pope is drawing criticism from LGBT advocates but I am sticking to a “wait and see” approach.

Check back in the coming days for Bondings 2.0‘s ongoing coverage from Philadelphia and analysis about LGBT Catholic outcomes, reactions, and next steps after Pope Francis’ U.S. visit concludes on Sunday.

To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S., click here

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

At Philly’s World Meeting of Families: Not Much Time Given to Homosexuality, But LGBT Catholics Keep Conversation Going

September 26, 2015

Ron Belgau and his mother, Beverly Belgau, at the World Meeting of Families.

The World Meeting of Families’ (WMF) only session on homosexuality was held Thursday afternoon, drawing more than 750 people to the talk featuring a Catholic celibate gay man, Ron Belgau, and his mother, Beverley.

Their aim, according to an interview in Slate, was to “help Catholic families to be better at loving LGBT people.” In the session, the Belgaus shared their personal stories, this being the first time since WMF began two decades ago that an openly gay person has spoken. Beverley Belgau called Ron’s coming out “the worst day of my life.” They also reiterated current teachings on homosexuality which mandates celibacy, though they admitted church leaders’ response to LGB Catholics could be improved.

The Belgaus’ session was standing room only, due in part to a last minute room change that left hundreds of would-be attendees standing outside, reported Religion News Service. World Meeting of Families officials did not comment on why a session concerning homosexuality was shifted from a plenary hall capable of holding 10,000 to a much smaller room with the capacity for only 1,000. Call To Action’s Ryan Hoffman commented:

” ‘We are just trying to understand and give [World Meeting of Families officials] the benefit of the doubt. . .This just speaks to the fact that people want to talk about LGBT Catholics and their relationship with the Catholic Church.”

Following the lecture, a question and answer period lasted two hours, at which point those still present were asked to leave the room, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer. Some questions were concrete, like whether a Catholic could attend a family member’s same-sex marriage to which Beverley Belgau suggested that whatever the questioner decides to “do it with love.” Others challenged Ron Belgau’s underlying assertions, like Fortunate Families board member Ed Buechel’s criticism of mandatory celibacy:

” ‘That’s fine for somebody who has been given the gift from God of chastity and celibacy. . .I’m the father of a gay son. . .He’s 34 years old. He loves his church and he loves his God. But because of the conflict between the teachings of the church and his wanting to stay a good Catholic, he had a nervous breakdown 12 years ago.’ “

Titled “Always Consider the Person: Homosexuality in the Family,” critics claim it failed to consider the person and focused primarily on enforcing rigid understandings of sexuality. Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA wrote on Facebook:

“[T]he problems started for me when they spoke of Ron as having ‘same-sex attraction.’ This immediately takes it/us to a place of disorder, illness, defect. That leads to dehumanization, a sense of moral inferiority, and assumption of sinfulness. From there we get to discrimination, exclusion and violence. That whole chain was never addressed. There was no sense of identity as intrinsic to personhood, or of our sexual orientation as blessed gift. The view of ‘Church’ presented was also disempowered and hierarchical.”

delfín bautista, another Equally Blessed pilgrim, said in the session that LGBT Catholics are not struggling with who they are, but “with the rejection and marginalization that exists within society and also within the church.”

The lack of LGBT Catholic perspectives, except for Ron Belgau’s celibate life, was striking. Ronnie Polaneczky, columnist for the Daily News, called it a “wasted opportunity,” writing further:

“Really? This is the best that the church has for LGBT Catholics – the expectation that they be celibate? At this extraordinary meeting of Catholics from around the globe, why is this celibate gay man the only representation of the church’s LGBT members?”

Equally Blessed pilgrims and others debrief about the World Meeting of Families on Friday afternoon.

LGBT Catholics Respond

The opportunity was not entirely wasted because LGBT Catholics and their families associated with the Equally Blessed pilgrimage kept the conversation going during a Thursday evening panel.

Featuring Claire Dente, John Freml of Equally Blessed, and Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA, the conversation became an honest and at times heated dialogue on not only Ron Belgau’s talk but broader questions in the Catholic LGBT movement.

One theme panelists picked up on was the need to positively appraise and present diverse sexual and gender identities.

Freml said homosexuality is “not a disorder, a curse, a birth defect. It’s a gift. It’s cause to celebrate.” Duddy-Burke spoke about coming out as a Resurrection experience, adding LGBT folks need to be more outspoken in celebrating their fabulousness. Dente pointed out that though God’s voice is speaking through same-gender relationships, when LGBT people are excluded from the table that part of God’s voice is stifled.

Those in attendance added to the conversation for more than an hour, respectfully, though honestly, dialoguing about sensitive topics. These included the need to diversify the LGBT movement, incorporating global perspectives as well as centering communities of color in the U.S.  Greater solidarity by LGBT communities with those movements for racial, economic, or migration justice was requested by several attendees.

Others highlighted the pain Catholics feel when their priests and religious remain silent in the face of injustice. Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, spoke movingly about the fear that keeps many from taking prophetic action and emphasized the need to educate church leaders.

Having attended this response period, I witnessed in the church hall an embodiment of precisely the loving dialogue called for repeatedly by Pope Francis during his U.S. visit.  As they have for a long time, LGBT Catholics and their families are fostering encounters in the church–a very hope-filled witness. I was also aware of the deep pain all too present for LGBT Catholics and their family members–a pain church leaders are not only inattentive to, but too often inflict. It cannot be forgotten even for those of us who find hope in what has happened this week.

Mustard Seeds Planted

The Eighth World Meeting of Families with all its LGBT-related controversies and failure to welcome all families has concluded at last. Equally Blessed pilgrims generally reported respect from WMF participants in the many one-on-one conversations held, but there were also moments of hostility. Fortunate Families board member Tony Garascia told NBC 10 that some at the WMF asked why Catholic parents of LGBT children even bothered attending and claimed gay children were perverted.

Still, from my perspective, we must focus on the seeds of love and faith planted all over the Philadelphia by Equally Blessed’s pilgrims. Their deep sharing in conversation, challenging questions, and rainbow witness are the mustard seeds by which God’s inclusive grace will expand narrow-minded areas of our church increasingly into a Catholic Church that is, to quote Pope Francis, “home for all.”

To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of and from the World Meeting of Families, click the appropriate category to the right or you can find it here

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Pope Francis’ Visit Is Ambiguous on LGBT Issues Thus Far–And It’s Not Over Yet

September 25, 2015
Pope Francis greeting crowds in D.C.

Pope Francis greeting crowds in D.C.

Pope Francis’ visit to the United States is well underway, as he finished up in Washington, D.C. and headed to the United Nations in New York City. Before he addresses the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia this weekend, Bondings 2.0 is taking stock of what he has said thus far as it relates to LGBT issues.

Welcomed at the White House

Francis began with remarks at the White House, affirming in the first paragraph of his public statements that this visit was to be “days of encounter and dialogue” but also nodding to the fact that his visit revolves around the Eighth World Meeting of Families, which has been meeting in Philadelphia all week. However, the comment drawing many observers’ attention was the pope’s use of the phrase “unjust discrimination” in his address to President Obama and the crowd at the executive mansion:

“American Catholics are 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.”

This term, found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in its section on homosexuality, has a dubious history. Buzzfeed contacted Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Way Ministry, who commented:

” ‘We haven’t heard that term in a long time — in the three years since Francis has been in — and it is disturbing to hear him resurrect it. I think the record shows that sometimes he speaks out of both sides of his mouth’ . . .

” ‘I would be fearful that right now the U.S. bishops think that just discrimination would be being able to discriminate against gay and lesbian people who choose to marry.’ “

In the same article, Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA said the phrase has “dangerous ramifications for LGBT people” and “sets off warning bells” because:

” ‘. . .it is support for a position many U.S. Catholic bishops have taken — which is against same-sex marriage, the right to fire married gay employees or transgender employees, the right to exclude LGBT people from adoption, and to deny LGBT people foster-care services.’ “

Pope Francis’ statements are, at times, famously unclear,  DeBernardo noted. He said the White House remark could either mean that “the pope rejects unjustifiable discrimination against LGBT people, or he rejects unjustifiable discrimination against religious people who oppose LGBT rights.”

The Vatican, via spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi, is refusing to clarify what “unjust discrimination” would constitute or what the pope was referencing. Interestingly, an editorial from L’Osservatore Romano quoted Pope Francis as using the phrase “every form of discrimination,” not “unjust discrimination, which is included in the official text of his speech and how many major news organizations reported it.

Meeting with U.S. Bishops

Later on Wednesday, Pope Francis addressed a gathering of U.S. bishops at Washington’s Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle and gave, as is becoming customary when he holds episcopal meetings, a rather lengthy reflection. While not directly addressing LGBT issues, several statements challenged the often caustic and condemnatory tone used by U.S. bishops when addressing “culture war” issues.

Pope Francis spoke “as a brother among brothers,” emphasizing that bishops are foremost pastors concerned with caring for people. Noting bishops’ tendencies to be defensive, the pope said:

” ‘And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. . .Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wears of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16)’. . .

” ‘The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. . .

” ‘Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.’ “

Whether intentional or not, Pope Francis’ suggestion to use pastoral dialogue instead of harsh language could rebut the manner in which many U.S. church officials have dealt with LGBT issues. Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter called the speech a “masterpiece” and wrote:

“The man [Francis] just radiates the joy that comes from trust in the Lord. . .I did not hear him blame secularism or anything else for what ails the Church. Quite the contrary. . .How many culture warriors in the U.S. can say the same? The pope challenged the culture warrior model today, and it did it with extraordinary gentleness, reminding me of the biblical injunction that we shall reap what we have sown.”

Further analysis from the National Catholic Reporter‘s Joshua McElwee is available here.

Address to U.S. Congress

Yesterday, Pope Francis addressed a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in a historic first for a pontiff.  It was one of the most anticipated events of his visit. His speech is winning broad praise across the political spectrum. He touched only briefly on marriage and family issues towards the end of his talk:

“How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.”

The pope then pivoted to speak about the struggles young people face, described as “the most vulnerable” of all people,  and he acknowledged the competing pressures they face today.

Were Francis’ remarks on threats to the family an allusion to marriage equality?  It’s hard to say.  Families do, in fact, face enormous pressures today from many quarters:  economic, psychological, cultural, and political.  Is his language choice a way of not wanting to be offensive, or is it a way to use coded language to get his message across?

Also worth noting is Pope Francis’ citation of two U.S. Catholics who faced criticism, even censure, for their views: Dorothy Day tried to integrate socialist and anarchist ideas into a church which was fiercely anti-leftist; Thomas Merton was silenced by religious superiors for his prophetic writings on peace and eastern spirituality. Both figures are now being rehabilitated in the church, and McElwee wrote in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) that “both citations are certainly extraordinary.”  NCR Publisher Thomas Fox provided brief profiles on these saintly models, which you can find here.

Going Forward?

Lest I seem naive, I acknowledge Pope Francis still holds to views which fail to acknowledge the goodness of LGBT people and their relationships. He is opposed to marriage equality and we cannot obfuscate these realities even when his words about dialogue and encounter are good and true. LGBT people and their families still face exclusion and spiritual and psychological violence inflicted by church officials in many parts of the world.

Pope Francis also glaringly avoids paying any attention specifically to women, whose oppression within the church is tied to similar views on gender and sexuality so often employed against LGBT people. New York Magazine rightly wrote, “Pope Francis’ Revolution Has Left Out Women.”

I also know that Pope Francis’ new way of being church will be tenuous at first and, in some places, won’t take root. Also noteworthy is that, despite repeated requests, Francis has chosen so far to not intentionally encounter LGBT Catholics during his U.S. visit.

What remains an open question is how Pope Francis will approach LGBT issues when he directly speaks about marriage and family life this weekend at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. If only he would actually act on his reported desire to meet with gay and lesbian people, perhaps his insights would be more grounded in reality. If Francis’ remarks at the World Meeting of Families are negative about LGBT people, that would be a major challenge to his reputation as a more merciful and inclusive pontiff.

Stay tuned to Bondings 2.0 through the weekend (and in the weeks to come for the Synod on the Family) for ongoing Catholic LGBT news and analysis. To receive regular updates, subscribe to the blog (for free) by typing your email address in the “Follow” box in the upper right-hand corner of this page, and then click the “Follow” button.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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