On Martin Luther King Day: A Parish’s Work for LGBT and Racial Justice

Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the great African-American leader of the civil rights’ movement of the mid-twentieth century.  He would have been 88. In the United States, tomorrow is the legal holiday for this occasion, but today is the actual birth date.

Rev. Martin Lutlher King, Jr.

Therefore, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the connections between the African-American civil rights movement and the LGBT civil rights movement.  Perhaps there is no better place to start than St. Vincent de Paul parish in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. It’s a parish where a painting of the 17th-century St. Vincent hangs alongside a photograph of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In December, The National Catholic Reporter featured the parish’s emphasis on social justice, which covers the gamut of issues.  A partial list of those issues was included in the newspaper’s story:

  • An emergency food pantry;
  • Participation in the “New Sanctuary” movement, assisting immigrants to gain legal status;
  • Welcoming to gay, lesbian and transgendered Catholics;
  • A twinning relationship with a parish in El Salvador;
  • A program focused on racial reconciliation;
  • Assistance to poor parents who send their children to Catholic schools;
  • Shelters for the long-term homeless, those transitioning to work, and for former convicts;
  • A Catholic school whose enrollment has increased from 225 students to 425 over the past four years, drawing parents — many non-Catholics — seeking an alternative to the hard-pressed Philadelphia public schools;
  • Active membership in Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER), an ecumenical organization devoted to social justice concerns, such as minimum wage legislation and racial justice.
At St. Vincent De Paul Church, Philadelphia, pastor Sylvester Peterka (left), exonerated death-row inmate Harold Wilson (center), and other participants in a prayer rally against capital punishment join hands and sing.

This parish that prides itself on being known as “the social justice parish” understands welcoming LGBT people as part of its broader agenda.  Interestingly, this social justice focus seems to be a response to a history that has not always been exemplary.   The article states:

Begun in 1851, it began as an Irish parish, attacked early on by Know-Nothing mobs in anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant actions. In the style of many ethnic-centered Philadelphia parishes, African-Americans and, later, Italians and other later immigrants were discouraged from joining. One parishioner, Joy Wuenschel, was baptized in a nearby parish because her family was told that St. Vincent would not baptize those who were not Irish. Her background is half-Italian.

Working on the issue of racial and ethnic prejudice seems to be at the root of the parish’s justice-oriented focus.  The article described a recent program about racial reconciliation held in the parish:

“African-American parishioners told stories about the historical struggle of being black Catholics in Philadelphia, including accounts of being spat upon by white Catholics going to Mass, as well as recollections of rules that forbade black Catholics from many parishes. There were also the bright spots in Philadelphia Catholic history, such as St. Katharine Drexel, who ministered to both black and white Catholics in early Philadelphia.

” ‘It was one of the most moving experiences,’ said Browning, who noted, ‘We have the resilience of black folks who have endured.’ It’s a lesson, she said, appropriate for those discouraged by this year’s elections.

“The discussion process, which lasted over weeks, provided a safe space for all to share concerns, said Wiley Redding, co-chair of the parish council. ‘When you mention race, the room becomes quiet’ in many places, but not so at St. Vincent.”

A lesson that I take from reading about St. Vincent parish is how important it is to recognize that working against injustice on one issue often paves the way for the ability to see injustice operative in other issues.  In our interconnected, globalized world, we must remember that we need to be aware of justice issues beyond our own personal connections.  If we work on LGBT justice issues, we should also be open to working on justice issues concerning racial minorities, migrants, refugees, the urban and rural poor.

The parishioners and staff of St. Vincent recognize what Martin Luther King, Jr. said decades ago: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

St. Vincent de Paul parish is listed in New Ways Ministry’s catalogue of LGBT-friendly Catholic parishes.  To find a parish near you, click here

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 16, 2017

ALL ARE WELCOME: How to Affirm Lesbian and Gay Couples in Catholic Life

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature on this blog that highlights Catholic parishes and faith communities that support and affirm LGBT people. 

Marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples became the law of the land in June 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court declared freedom to choose who to marry is a constitutional right.  As a result, now all 50 states and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses for civil weddings to same-gender couples.

This new legal and political reality does not apply to churches and other houses of worship.  Each religious faith is still able to decide for itself who is eligible to marry whom, according to their own beliefs and teachings.  So, while Catholic lesbian and gay people may decide to marry civilly, under current church policy, they will not be able to marry in a church ceremony.

As a result of the new civil framework for marriage, more and more such couples, and families headed by such couples, are becoming more visible in local communities, including faith communities and institutions.  Catholic lesbian and gay couples and their children are starting to be a familiar sight in parishes and schools.

Are Catholics prepared to welcome such couples and families into their parishes, schools, and other religiously sponsored programs? The following list of suggestions is intended to help such institutions and individuals offer a welcome, motivated by sincere Christian hospitality, to these couples and families so that they can participate fully in church life.

Welcoming Lesbian and Gay Couples and Families

  1. Make it known that all children will be baptized, not only those of heterosexually married couples.
  2. Include lesbian and gay couples in all aspects of parish life: prayer and liturgy, educational programs, social events, and service opportunities.
  3. Invite gay and lesbian couples to participate in marriage preparation and enhancement programs.
  4. Open bereavement support groups to lesbian and gay people whose spouses have died.
  5. Acknowledge and celebrate the love and commitment of lesbian and gay couples in the same ways that heterosexual couples are affirmed.
  6. Educate one another about sexual orientation and the reality of lesbian and gay people.
  7. Institute a non-discrimination policy for sexual orientation, gender identity, marital and relational status.
  8. Welcome families headed by lesbian and gay couples to all family events that the parish sponsors.
  9. Allow local Scouting programs to accept lesbian and gay mothers and fathers to be Scout leaders.
  10. Make sure that everyone knows that the children of lesbian and gay couples are welcome in educational programs, parish schools, and all appropriate sacramental preparation programs.
  11. Include discussion of lesbian and gay people in all parish programs concerned with diversity, multiculturalism, social justice, sexuality, and faith sharing.
  12. Listen to, converse with, and be present to parishioners or community members who may disagree about welcoming lesbian and gay people and families.

What are your suggestions for how Catholic parishes and other institutions affirm civilly married lesbian and gay couples and their families?  Offer your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 7, 2016

 

 

Transgender Day of Remembrance: Beyond One Day

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Around the world, participants in the Transgender Day of Remembrance are attending vigils to commemorate all the transgender and gender-nonconforming people lost to anti-transgender violence in the past year. These vigils will include reading the 87 names of those know to have died this past year, along with the where, when and how they were killed. To find a vigil near you, click here.

As described in a previous Bondings 2.0 post, the Transgender Awareness Week (November 14th-20th) began with a National Catholic Reporter article by Catholic theologians who described our church’s moral imperative to, “promote wholeness for transgender people.” While today’s vigils bring the Transgender Awareness Week to an end, our work to end anti-transgender violence cannot end. These vigils serve to remind us of that moral imperative.

We can all take small incremental steps throughout the year to educate ourselves on the realities of transgender people. Below is a list of actions that New Ways Ministry suggests parishes, schools, and other Catholic communities take to raise awareness of and to support transgender people.  

Following this list is a list of  links to help you continue learning about transgender issues. Click the link to read the material or view the video.

New Ways Ministry’s Suggestions for Including Transgender People and Families in Your Catholic Parish, School, or Community

  1. Have a specific meeting to watch videos and read some of the resources listed below.
  2. If you have a book club, include some of the books on transgender experiences.
  3. Speak about needs, concerns, joys of transgender people in homilies, prayers, group sharing, talks, bulletins.
  4. Be visibly supportive of transgender people in work, prayer, and social environments.
  5. Develop a transgender-friendly resource library; subscribe to transgender-friendly periodicals.
  6. Recognize and/or participate in public transgender events.
  7. Invite support groups for transgender people to use church/community space.
  8. Hold an inclusive Mass celebrating all forms of diversity.
  9. Sponsor a retreat or day of recollection for transgender people and their families.
  10. Include transgender topics in adult religious education and youth ministry programs.
  11. Put an ad in the local LGBTQ paper inviting transgender people to your parish events and liturgies.
  12. Sponsor a panel inviting transgender people to speak about their faith.
  13. Form support groups for transgender people and for their parents, families, and friends
  14. Become involved and/or educate parish around pro/anti-transgender initiatives in legislation.
  15. Work with neighboring parishes to sponsor education days on transgender topics.
  16. Include transgender organizations in potential parish stewardship opportunities as both donors and recipients.
  17. Have your faith community host New Ways Ministry’s “TransForming Love” workshop, which introduces transgender issues from scientific, social, and religious perspectives. Email info@newwaysministry.org for more information.
  18. Provide an all-gender restroom.
  19. Respect a person’s pronoun preference.
  20. Email info@newwaysministry.org for more information on transgender issues.

Online Resources 

What Does the T in LGBT Really Mean?

The Genderbread Person

Trans Teens Tell Their Stories

Trans Identity and Mental Illness

Challenges and Prejudices Faced by the Trans Community

The Human Rights Campaign’s post on Addressing Anti-transgender Violence: Exploring Realities, Challenges, and Solutions For Policymakers and Community Advocates

Learn about six notable “Transgender Heroes.”

Becoming Who God Created Me To Be, by Jes Stevens—Queer Catholic (from Believe Out Loud’s 10 Transgender Christians Share Their Journey Stories)

How To Be A Trans* Ally

CatholicTrans blog

What Does the Bible Say About Gender Identity?

Videos

Transgender & Catholic

DignityUSA’s A message for Roman Catholic bishops from a Transgender Catholic

Is Your Youth Group Trans Friendly?

What Are God’s Pronouns?

How You Can Be an Ally to Trans People and Others

What Is the Gender Binary?

Gender is Complicated: Growing Up Intersex

Laverne Cox on Issues facing the Transgender Community

Jazz Jennings’ 10 Things You Need To Know About Transgender People

A few TED talks on Transgender stories

Beyond the Gender Binary | Dr. Margaret Nichols | TEDxJerseyCity

Books

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves

The Gender Book

 

For Students, Parents, and Schools:

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS A Guide for Trans and Gender Nonconforming Students

How to Be An Ally To Trans and Gender-Nonconforming Students

Connect with Transgender Student Rights (TSR), a community of youth dedicated to creating safe spaces for transgender and gender nonconforming students

Watch the Educators! Support Trans and GNC Students! webinar.

Watch the Gender Identity and Expression in the Classroom: The Experiences of Gender Nonconforming and Transgender Students in School webinar.

Bondings 2.0 Posts on Catholic Transgender Resources

A Catholic Introduction to Transgender Issues

How the Gender Binary Affects So Much of Catholic Thinking

DignityUSA Highlights Transgender Spirituality in Essay Series

Transgender Awareness Week: Promote Wholeness for All in Our Church

(For all previous Bondings 2.0 posts on transgender issues, go to “Transgender” in the “Categories” section of the right-hand column of this blog or click here.)

–Glen Bradley, New Ways Ministry, November 20, 2016

Parish Welcomes Lesbian Couple Back to Music Ministry with Inclusive Mass

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St. Michael’s Church, Athy

Catholics in Ireland welcomed a lesbian couple back to their parish after a right-wing parishioner pressured the couple to leave last year.

Jacinta O’Donnell and Geraldine Flanagan had resigned as choir leaders for St. Michael’s Church in Athy, County Kildare. Last week, they returned to the parish and resumed their roles with overwhelming support from the local community. The couple was interviewed by radio station KFM and said they received public support that “overwhelmed and humbled” them. O’Donnell told The Journal:

“We will never be able to sufficiently thank you, the people of our congregation, the people of our town Athy, for your love, your support and your prayers. Buoyed by all of this support, we as a choir will be returning to sing at 6pm Mass in Athy tomorrow evening. . .It is our wish that the focus should now turn to the love of God and his mercy.”

The couple married in July 2015, after which the editor of a right-wing Catholic newspaper publicly criticized them and contacted them through a “very personal text.” Facing pressure, they resigned from the music ministry, as well as from leadership positions with Lay Dominicans Ireland.

O’Donnell said their whole purpose in serving in the music ministry was to “enhance the Eucharist,” but, during the dust-up last year they felt that perpetuating the controversy fueled by this right wing editor “would be really futile and would negate anything we’re trying to do.” So, they made the “very difficult decision” to resign, despite being supported by the pastor, Fr. Frank McEvoy, and fellow parishioners.

The Mass welcoming O’Donnell and Flanagan back was quite the liturgical celebration, reported The Irish Times. Parishioner Sandy O’Rourke-Glynn posted a video on Facebook, which you can view below.  O’Rourke-Glynn commentedd, “I have never enjoyed a mass as much – 5 priests, 8 altar servers, a full choir and a packed church.”

The Mass is a positive ending for an ugly incident. This is not the first time right wing members of the church have targeted LGBT people, and it is likely not the last. Recent examples include the forced resignations of Catholic News Service editor Tony Spence and Catholic Relief Services’ Rick Estridge, as well as denial of communion to Barbara Johnson, at her mother’s funeral. But the community in Athy has exhibited Irish hospitality, especially the Catholics at St. Michael’s Church who lived their faith by standing up for inclusion and justice against right-wing attacks. And by loving one another and remaining faithful to God, Jacinta O’Donnell and Geraldine Flanagan certainly enhanced the Eucharist last Saturday. Thankfully, they can now do so at many Masses to come.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

In Orlando’s Wake, Catholic Ministry Calls on Church Leaders to Condemn Anti-LGBT Violence

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, released on June 12, 2016, in response to the mass shooting at a gay and lesbian nightclub in Orlando, Florida, earlier that day.

Words truly cannot express the horror, anguish, anger, and revulsion at the news of the mass murder of at least 50 people at a gay and lesbian nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  Such an action should instill in all people around the globe a commitment to end gun violence and to protect the lives of LGBT people.

Adding to the anguish of this tragedy is the response of most Catholic leaders. The Vatican’s initial statement expressed sorrow and condemnation, and hope “that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence . . .” But the Vatican did not refer to the fact that this violence was directed at the LGBT community.

Similarly, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, made no direct reference to the LGBT community in his statement, noting only that the incident should call people to “ever greater resolve in protecting the life and dignity of every single person.”

While individual bishops have reacted publicly to the violence, the only statement thus far from a Catholic leader which mentions the gay and lesbian community is Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich. In sympathy, Archbishop Cupich stated that “our prayers and hearts are with. . . our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.” Such simple words should not be difficult for Catholic leaders to mention in the face of such vicious horror.  Archbishop Cupich is to be praised for being a light in the darkness.

Clearly the targeting of a gay nightclub shows that, homophobia is a major factor which causes “terrible and absurd violence.”  This attack highlights the fact that around the globe, every day, LGBT people face oppression, intimidation, and violence. Homophobic and transphobic attitudes and behaviors are carried out all-too-commonly in the form of discriminatory practices, verbal abuse, bullying, imprisonment, physical and sexual abuse, torture, and death. In many cases, this brutality is sanctioned by governments and religious leaders who propagate homophobic and transphobic messages.  The Vatican and other church leaders have yet to speak clearly and definitively on these contemporary issues despite the fact that official church teaching would support condemnations of these hate-filled messages, practices, and laws.

As we pray for an end to gun violence and an end to violence directed against LGBT people, we also include in our prayers the hope that Muslim people will not become victims of a backlash against them because of the shooter’s religious background.  Such a response is as vicious and senseless as the violence perpetrated against the nightclub victims.

The Orlando murders should move all Catholic leaders to reflect on how their silence about homophobic and transphobic attitudes and violence contributes to behaviors which treat LGBT people as less than human and deserving of punishment.  This sad moment in our history should become a time when Catholic leaders speak loudly and clearly, with one voice, that attacks on LGBT people must stop.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

“The Lost Flock” Film Profiles LGBT Ministry in Baltimore

The good work done by the LEAD Ministry of St. Matthew’s Church in Baltimore has been profiled before on this blog, but a new video series gives even greater insight into the ways this ministry serves the people of God. Filmmaker Eric Kruszewski produced “The Lost Flock,” the seven-part series on LEAD, which stands for LGBT Education and Affirming Diversity.  He told Out Magazine:

“I was raised Catholic, but have not practiced my faith in years. And before this project, I had never heard of Saint Matthew Catholic Church. . . It was clear that there was something special within this congregation.”

Though not an LGBT Catholic himself, Kruszewski hoped the documentary could “accurately capture their thoughts, feelings and experiences” and advance the discussion about acceptance of sexual and gender diversity in the church.

The series covers diverse perspectives when it comes to LGBT identities in the church. One part documents the baptism of a same-gender couple’s daughter, with one of the dads saying that St. Matthew’s is a place which honors their relationship and which supported them during the adoption process.

In another, a lesbian woman named Gigi describes first being disowned by her adoptive parents but then coming to see God through her partner, Ashley, and through the church community which quickly welcomed her.

In a third part, Henry, who comes from Kenya where homosexuality is criminalized, explains why he participates with the LEAD Ministry. He says the LGBT communities need support like anyone else, and further:

” ‘I always ask myself: What would I do if one of my daughters or one of my sons came out? Do LGBT people need to be accepted? To be heard? Yes. We have got to find a way to give them everything they need.’ . . .Gay or straight. We are together.”

But “The Lost Flock” is not simply positive stories. It also explores the harsher realities of LGBT Catholics’ experiences. In a segment about Rachel and Vania Christian dos Passo, the film highlights that their marriage cannot be recognized in the church and for this reason, Vania explains:

“We made a serious decision to leave the church. We want to have a family where our children don’t feel pointed out because we are gay. . .W still go to LEAD because its family for us. But unfortunately we have to live this exile until one day, maybe in another lifetime, gay people will be equally recognized in the church.”

Then there is Carolyn’s story, the Catholic mother of two gay children, Renee and David. Though there were no difficulties with Renee’s coming out, her husband was unable to accept David’s sexual orientation and kicked their son out of their home. Carolyn now says she wants the same opportunities for my gay and straight children in the Catholic Church.” She says further that it was this idea that “was the foundation for LEAD” and expresses her own growth since joining LEAD as a Catholic led by her conscience.

Those profiled have helped foster the safe and affirming space that is LEAD.  Supporting the ministry is Fr. Joe Muth, the pastor, who, in his own video segment explains why, as a Catholic priest, he supports this LGBT work, saying:

“I don’t think the institutional church realizes how hurtful they are to homosexual people when they come across so harshly on that issue. The institutional church says, in a sense, you can be a part only so far.”

Muth acknowledges that LEAD struggles with being an LGBT support and outreach group, while at the same time worrying about being closed down by higher church officials. Despite that threat, these Catholics have managed to build up a more and more affirming community. They host parish events and have even participated in Baltimore’s Pride celebrations the last few years. As Bondings 2.0 has written previously, LEAD is a model for the Catholic Church when it comes to LGBT pastoral care.

To learn more and view all seven videos that compose “The Lost Flock,” click here. To read Bondings 2.0‘s previous coverage of the LEAD Ministry, click here.

To learn more about some of the hundreds of parishes across the U.S. which offer a welcome to LGBT people, click here.

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature on this blog that highlights Catholic parishes and faith communities that support and affirm LGBT people. 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Faithful Gay Couple Experiences Warm Welcome from Detroit Parish

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Tom Molina-Duarte, left, and Bryan Victor

News headlines tend to focus on what bishops say and how they act regarding LGBT issues in the church, but focusing only on the hierarchy can distort the reality of the Catholic faith as it is lived locally. A recent piece in the Detroit Free Press helps correct this distortion, sharing the story of a same-sex couple and their experience of being warmly welcomed in the church.

Bryan Victor and Thomas Molina-Duarte are faithful Catholics and, since moving to Detroit in 2012, they’ve been parishioners of St. Charles Borromeo Church. Described as an “integrated and active” place, this parish  welcomes all “the real-lived experience of people,” said Victor including him and his husband.

Both expressed that being Catholic is central to their lives, though relating to the church has not been without challenges. Victor and Molina-Duarte each said they stepped back from the church for a time, but they began attending Mass together after meeting each other in 2010.

Now, Victor explained, they “remain in the church rather than leaving” and are open about their sexual identities and marriage. Molina-Duarte, who said the challenges are now an “afterthought,” expressed why the couple remains but refuses to be closeted:

” ‘You’re called to be in community and seek justice and how can you do that in a closet?’ “

Victor, a social worker, said further that faith both guides him and provides community:

” ‘I carry that Gospel message out to the secular world, and my work is reflective of the church. . .I am sustained and nourished by the church. I’m sharing my gifts and talents within the church.’ “

On the question of Communion, about which Detroit has experienced controversy because of Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s previous suggestion that marriage equality supporters should refrain, Victor added:

” ‘We examine our consciences and we know that our love for each other does not take us out of a relationship with God. . .It takes us into a closer relationship with God.  And for that reason,we feel comfortable presenting ourselves for Communion.’ “

It is worth noting that this informed conscience decision is precisely what Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich called for the church to respect in a recent interview.

Victor and Molina-Duarte married earlier this fall, saying they were “driven to our marriage by our faith” and not simply marriage equality’s legalization. Though their ceremony was held at a nearby Protestant church, the couple is welcomed together by their Catholic parish. The Free Press reported a recent example of this welcome. Capuchin Fr. Ray Stadmeyer, the pastor, calls forward those who had birthdays and anniversaries for a blessing at the end of Mass each week. When Molina-Duarte came to the front on his birthday, Stadmeyer said the following:

” ‘Bless our brother Thomas. Bless him in his relationship. . .We thank him and Bryan for all the goodness they bring to us. May they know God’s tender graces.’ “

Molina-Duarte and Victor are warmly accepted by another priest, Fr. Ronald Victor, who is the latter partner’s uncle. Of the couple, Fr. Victor said:

“They are two very holy guys. . .I do see their union as being sacred and sacramental, in the sense that it reflects God’s love.

“While [their relationship is] not necessarily life-giving in a biological way. . .it’s life-giving in other ways.”

Victor said his perspective changed when his nephew, with whom he was quite close, came out. The priest is now public about his willingness to bless same-sex unions and added that, at the couples’ wedding, he was “a little angry and a little disappointed that we couldn’t do it in a church where I could have officiated.” Fr. Victor suggested many priests believe as he does but remain quiet out of fear.

Their wider families have been quite supportive, too. Only one person refused to attend their wedding. Victor’s dad, Lennie, summing up the families’ response:

” ‘If the church makes you choose between your family and your faith. . .I guess we voted for family.’ “

In a related note, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who is a former auxiliary in Detroit, recently offered a day of reflection with Fortunate Families. He, too, was changed by a family member’s coming out when his brother announced he was gay. Gumbleton told those gathered:

” ‘It’s clear the movement is there. . .but it takes a long time for the teaching to permeate the whole church, and people will fight it.’ “

Pope Francis is creating space for LGBT Catholics, their families, allies, and pastoral ministers to move the church closer to a church that is “home for all.” When church leaders make exclusionary and even homophobic or transphobic remarks, it can be helpful to remember local stories like this Detroit gay couple and their parish. Truly, it is in these spaces within the Church where that movement Bishop Gumbleton identified is happening, and it is in this movement that we must place our hope.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry