Here are some news items that you might find of interest:
1) A U.S. Marine was convicted of killing Jennifer Laude, a trans woman in the Philippines killed in 2014. Joseph Scott Pemberton, received lessened charges due to a successful “trans panic” defense. Laude’s murder drew international attention, in part because of Catholic leaders spoke out strongly against the crime. The local bishop provided Laude a funeral respectful of her gender identity, and top religious leaders publicly advocated for justice in what they acknowledged was an anti-trans hate crime.
2) Archbishop Thomas Gullickson, a conservative U.S. prelate who is now the new Vatican nuncio to Switzerland, has said bishops were “only making themselves unpopular” by opposing marriage equality. While stating that the church could never change its teaching, Gullickson said this reality “doesn’t mean that one hates those who are of a different opinion,” according to the National Catholic Reporter.
3) Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, eulogized David Bowie in The Tablet. Ravasi, who tweeted Bowie lyrics when news of the musician’s death broke, said Bowie, made “the souls of all those with a restless conscience vibrate.”
4) Laurie Goodstein’s New York Times July 2015 story about how LGBT Catholics to Pope Francis was nominated for a GLAAD Award for “Outstanding Newspaper Article.” Her piece featured quotations Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, Deb Word of Fortunate Families, Lui Masuo of Call to Action, and Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA.
5) The St. Vincent de Paul Society in Ireland folded a fund committee in Galway which incited controversy last year after granting €45,000 to Amach! LGBT Galway, a resource center in the city, reported TheIrish Times.
6) Gary Meier, an openly gay Catholic priest, published an open letter on The Huffington Post to gay men in the Catholic priesthood after the question of gay priests rose to prominence via an article last month in The Washington Post. Meier said he lived in the same “culture of silence and shame” that gay priests may currently exist in, but called on them to come out despite the fear and risks. You can read his letter here.
Living True: Lesbian Women Share Stories of Faithis a collection of the faith journeys of 21 lesbian women who identify as Catholic. The collection, gathered between 2008 and 2011, was edited by Sister Margaret O’Gorman, a Franciscan Sister of Mercy and minister to LGBT persons, and Anne Peper Perkins, a married lesbian Catholic woman and retired university professor.
Living True is a book of stories. In O’Gorman’s words, these are
“[n]ot just coming-out stories, although there are a number of them included in the following pages, but stories about spirituality: how lesbian and bisexual women find faith and live it: how God guides our lives; how we find our identity; and how much we contribute as couple, family, neighbors, and members of our parishes. It is about what makes our lives, our faith, and our spirituality flourish. It is about how we nourish our spirituality and how our faith community helps us on our journey.”
In January 2008, O’Gorman gathered a group of lesbian and bisexual women for monthly meetings. Perkins was in the original group. The women all had some association, current or not, with Roman Catholicism. The initial group numbered about 20 women, ranging in age from 30s to 60s. Some women had been Catholic nuns; some were in committed relationships, with or without children (and grandchildren); a few had been in heterosexual marriages previously. A number had been or were currently connected to the same parish in St. Louis.
O’Gorman, along with facilitator Sharon Orlet, led a process by which the women shared and wrote their stories. As Perkins’ described the process:
“Marge and Sharon asked us to begin writing our stories and suggested that we bring our first drafts to the group for encouragement and helpful criticism. We were given a number of questions to use as a starting point, questions like, ‘How is my spirituality flourishing?’ and ‘Who helps me on my journey?’ There was a good deal of laughter – and some tears – and an increasing sense of closeness in the group.”
About half of the essays in the book come from this group, which met for approximately a year. The remaining essays came from women who did not participate in the group process.
The idea for the book developed out of O’Gorman’s desire to give voice to the lived experiences of lesbian women. O’Gorman had participated in a New Ways Ministry (NWM) “Next Steps” workshop in 2008, at which the participants were challenged to develop a mission, goals and objectives for their LGBT ministry. After Living True was published, O’Gorman reported back to NWM that the book is the final product of her mission and goals developed at that workshop.
The faith stories in Living True are organized into sections reflecting five emotional states: “Awakening,” “Healing,” “Trusting,” “Appreciating,” and “Celebrating.” Each section is identified by an image of a female couple and an apt quotation. The sections are framed by O’Gorman’s “Recollections” and “Reflections,” which provide “both the general atmosphere of [the] meetings and the emotional and spiritual content of the stories themselves.”
The book opens with an introduction by O’Gorman and Perkins. Marie Lynette Adalpa offered prayer beseeching the Good Shepherd to send “shepherds here on earth who, like you, know us, feed us, care for us, and invite us to your table.” In an Afterword, O’Gorman reflects on the women who initially responded to the project but “who could not, would not, or did not write.” The book concludes with an Appendix of suggestions about how the reader can support lesbian, bisexual and transgender women.
One person you will meet in this collection is Dorothy, whose foundational experience of God’s presence when she was a young nun sustained her through her decision not to take final vows, her gradual awareness that she is a lesbian, and the painful rejection by her own father. Through her experiences, Dorothy came to believe deeply that she is loved by God and belongs to God. She concluded her essay:
“In this gift of Life, I continually circle back to the beginnings, the promise that no matter what, God is and will be with me, with us all. Jesus told Nicodemus that the Spirit is like the wind – one has no idea where it comes from or where it is going, but one feels it nonetheless. Surely, my life is a work-in-progress carried by the Spirit’s breeze. Surely, the power and intimacy of a thirty-three-year loving relationship continues to reveal the sweetness and mercy of God to me. Surely, tears and joys will continue to be a gifted part of my life, your life. For certain, I have begun to experience the blessing of a sort of freedom that feels like pure grace. Always, a sense of gratitude continues to spread throughout each day. No doubt we belong – our whole Earth family – to a God beyond all names or imagination. How I hope that you, the reader, profoundly experience this beautiful mystery.”
Dorothy’s story and the other stories in Living True are meant to be read reflectively. They can be spiritual nourishment for the reader willing to enter into them. Lesbian readers will find common ground with these women and their experiences. Non-lesbian readers, too, will be enriched by the Christian witness revealed in these stories. I heartily recommend Living True to all our readers. You can order a copy through amazon.com by clicking here.
Even the Vatican has marked singer David Bowie’s passing, praising the artist whose life and career perpetually challenged sexual and gender norms, and who, at varying points in his life, identified as gay and bisexual..
Among the first to honor Bowie was Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi of the Pontifical Council for Culture who tweeted lyrics from the musicians 1969 song “Space Oddity”:
“Ground Control to Major Tom/Commencing countdown, engines on/Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (David Bowie)”
L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, published an obituary complimenting Bowie. The New York Timesreported:
“The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano has eulogized David Bowie as a singular musician, ‘never banal,’ who grew artistically over five decades thanks to his interest in art, film and theater.
“The paper, which frequently weighs in on pop culture, noted the ‘ambiguous image’ Bowie cultivated early on in his career and blamed it on his aim to attract media attention.
“But it said that aside from such ‘excesses,’ Bowie’s legacy ‘is one of a sort of personal sobriety, expressed even in his dry, almost thread-like body.’ “
This is kind, if unexpected, praise from the Vatican for Bowie, who challenged gender norms. Zack Ford of Think Progressexplained:
“This confusion was apparent in his own sexuality, which never seemed to fit neatly into any particular label. First he was gay. Then he was bisexual. Then coming out as bisexual was the ‘biggest mistake I ever made,’ because he didn’t ever feel that he was a ‘real bisexual.’ He admitted to having same-sex sexual interactions, ‘but frankly, it wasn’t enjoyable.’ In terms of sex and relationships, his own description of himself as ‘promiscuous’ may have been the most accurate of them all, but it reflected, as in the other aspects of his life and career, defiance of convention.”
Commenting further on Bowie’s significance for LGBT communities, a columnist with The Daily Beast wrote:
“In his refusal to label himself, there didn’t appear to be a cowardice, but rather an honesty and maturity around how unfixed, at least for him, the notion of sexuality was. That proved to be its own liberation, or at least freeing, moment for so many of every kind of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The Vatican’s praise for David Bowie has generated global headlines, fueled by the dissonance created in bringing together rigid Catholic officials and the unconfined seeker that was David Bowie. That the Vatican’s newspaper was so affirming is a positive sign for LGBT issues in the church, likely another outcome from Pope Francis’ improved engagement with the world and demand for all people to be respected and valued.
I think Cardinal Ravasi and those behind the L’Osservatore Romano article are touching a deeper truth that connects Pope Francis, David Bowie, and all of us in between: the path to holiness is the journey towards authenticity. To paraphrase the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, “To be a saint is to be yourself.”
The world benefited from Bowie’s art, just as Catholics benefits from the many LGBT people who, in their own journeys to authenticity, help break down harmful gender and sexual norms in the church. We are all richer for the carefully tended fruits which then emerge.
David Gibson of Religion News Service headlined a column, “Saint David Bowie?” Perhaps we can just remove the question mark and simply say, “Saint David Bowie.”
Catholics in Northern Ireland protested a play performed this month which portrays Jesus as a transgender woman, but the playwright defended it as an attempt to make audiences “think again” about faith and gender.
Writer and actor Jo Clifford described it as a “very important, very intimate show,” explaining to BBC:
” ‘Obviously being a transgender woman myself it concerns me very greatly that religious people so often use Christianity as a weapon to attack us and justify the prejudices against us. . .
” ‘I wanted to see if we could move away from that and make people think again.’ “
Audience members are quite moved, said Clifford, including Christians. The writer has repeatedly reinterpreted biblical stories to generate new ideas, suggesting the overall message of this play is clear:
” ‘I think it’s very important to get across the message that Jesus of the gospels would not condone or want to promote prejudice and discrimination against anybody and to try to convey a message of compassion and love and understanding of everybody. . .No matter what their belief, no matter what their gender, orientation or sexuality.’
Not all welcome that message as a small Catholic group protested in Belfast, as has at previous performances. Former Glasglow Archbishop Mario Conti once said that it is hard to imagine “a more provocative and offensive abuse of Christian beliefs” than this play.
Clifford, however, said protesters have generally not seen the play and that it seeks neither to offend nor blaspheme because she is a Christian herself. Her point is rather to reflect on Jesus’ ministry through this “work of devotion”:
” ‘I simply want to assert very strongly, as strongly as I can that Jesus of the gospels would not in anyway wish to attack or denigrate people like myself.’ “
Clifford made a similar point in another interview, available on YouTube:
“He was talking to the victims of persecution, to the victims of prejudice and he would speak to them in a very accepting way, as one human being to another.”
In this, Clifford is correct. The Gospels reveal a Jesus who elevated people’s dignity and specifically sought out those who had been marginalized.
Catholic tradition has long embraced the arts as a means for spiritual nourishment and divine revelation, opening up the human person to themselves, to others, and to God. While I have not viewed Clifford’s play, her interviews suggest she is someone committed to creating art with devotional ends. The protesters would have benefited more by attending a show and seeing what came up in their inner life, instead of casting stones from afar.
Famed performer Elton John called Pope Francis a “hero” in a recent interview, but that opinion is not universally held by pop musicians in the British Isles. In the same week, Irish musician Hozier harshly criticized the pope for poor treatment of LGBT issues.
John, who is gay and married, expressed admiration for the pope’s efforts towards LGBT inclusion during a BBC Radio program. Saying he would love to meet Francis, John explained per the Catholic Herald,
“I’m not a Catholic but from the first day he was elected he tried to bring a new message and change the Church and bring it into the 21st century. To be a inclusive Church. He has brought hope and change.”
John mentioned that Pope Francis was “fighting an uphill battle”against conservative bishops, particularly from Africa, who seek to condemn same-gender relationships. Saying Francis is an “ally” to more progressive wings in the church, the performer sent a message to the pope:
“Keep going, keep pushing it. Change is very hard, especially in the Catholic Church, you don’t get things done immediately, you’re not going to persuade people, just keep going and keep going and eventually the wall will fall. I think he’s on our side.”
Meanwhile, Hozier whose hit song “Take Me to Church” challenges institutional homophobia, criticized Pope Francis in an interview on Larry King Now, reported on by Ireland’s TV 3.
The musician said the Catholic Church has “an irrational aversion to homosexuality. . .[that] provides an excuse for homophobia.”
While Pope Francis’ more inclusive tone is positive, Hozier said there is a difference “between lip service towards something and actually making change.” The pontiff’s famous “Who am I to judge?” remark “should have been said 100 years ago.”
This is not the first time Elton John has praised the pope, or that Hozier criticized the church. John called Pope Francis a “hero” a year ago during a benefit concert for his HIV/AIDS foundation and has previously said he is “excited” about the pope’s new approach to church. As for Hozier, his single “Take Me to Church” directly criticizes homophobia. In the song, according to Mother Jones, “Liturgical language is weaved into the lyrics but turns church dogma on its head—it is used to describe a lover” and celebrates sexuality.
Calling Pope Francis a “hero” for LGBT communities may be a stretch, but it seems insufficient to suggest all the pope has done is pay lip service to greater inclusion. The truth is somewhere in between, and the real significance of these stories may be that celebrities keep pontificating on the Catholic papacy at all.
Father Paul F. Morrissey, a Philadelphia-area Augustinian priest who ministers as a prison chaplain and pastoral counselor, has published a novel called The Black Wall of Silence. The plot focuses on the struggle between loyalty and honesty in the Catholic Church, especially in the mishandling of the clerical sex abuse crisis. The powerful and poignant understory is that of a gay priest’s faith journey as he is caught up in this struggle.
Bondings 2.0 recently asked Fr. Morrisey some questions about the book and the issues it covers.
What prompted you to write The Black Wall of Silence, and what do you hope it will accomplish?
I want to offer people a story rather than a newspaper headline to understand the sexual abuse crisis and cover-up in the Catholic Church. If we can enter into these dynamics and discuss them honestly, our Church will heal from this and become stronger. If not, the wound will fester and the mistrust people have in bishops and priests will grow worse.
Why did you write the book as a novel?
To allow readers to identify with the various characters, with their inner feelings and motivations, and to give them a little buffer space from presuming it is simply my story. I believe that in the way it shows the adult conscience dilemma of “honesty versus loyalty,” it is our story.
Are any of the characters or incidents based on real-life people or situations that you have encountered?
As a prison chaplain, I have experience with many of the incidents portrayed in the prison. As a spiritual director, I have worked with both victims and offenders of sexual abuse, as well as gay priests, nuns, divorced women, lesbians and other characters in the book. As a novelist, I made up all of these characters. They are in my consciousness in some way. As I wrote, they even took on lives of their own and said things at times that I would not say myself, but I let them be free.
What does the title and cover image show?
The cover image shows a priest with his Roman collar gagging his mouth. This portrays the dynamic of silencing voices in the Church, especially silencing priests in regard to speaking on sexual issues. Gay priests, such as the lead character, Fr. Zach, unfortunately feel they must stay in the closet if they want to remain in good standing.This dynamic of silencing, even self-silencing, fosters an environment in which the cover-up of sexual abuse is a natural outcome. This silencing of conscience happens in all systems. It even happens inside each one of us when the false self we show the world becomes our identity. This is what I call the Black Wall of Silence.
What have been some of your favorite and least favorite reactions to the book?
My favorite response is from a resigned priest, now married, who feels that all priests and religious should discuss the intimacy issuesthe book raises. He believes that the Church will be crippled as long as its leaders do not wrestle with their own intimacy needs and allow this human need to be incorporated into its sexual teachings. Other key responses are from grateful gay people, nuns, older people and youth who have left the Church because they feel they have no voice in shaping its life.
My least favorite responses are from some who feel that I am only attacking the Church. One called me a “pervert in a collar.” I love the Church and I keep my vows. I pray for these people and ask them to pray for me.
What do you think the church needs to do in regard to the presence of gay men in the priesthood and religious life?
First of all, as Pope Francis has done, bishops need to openly acknowledge the historical presence and faithful service of gay men in the priesthood. Second, stop encouraging seminarians to lie and hide their sexual orientation; rather help them–as with all seminarians–to accept and integrate their sexual orientation as a gift of God, striving to be celibate of course because of their priestly vow. Finally, through retreats and other gatherings, seek ways to encourage gay priests who are comfortable in doing so to make their orientation known. By doing so, our varied sexuality can gradually be seen as a gift to the Church and not a curse. This modeling of giftedness will not only help priests but laymen and women as well.
What is your evaluation of how the church hierarchy has dealt with the sexual abuse crisis?
Belatedly, especially in America and a few other countries, the hierarchy has enacted a good, firm policy and protocol for handling sexual abuse accusations in order to show the public that protecting children and minors is our first priority. This has been an enormous challenge and I believe most of our U.S. bishops have acted with courage and deep pastoral care. Now all priests/religious are required to be trained and updated often in what constitutes inappropriate behavior, and what to do if we become aware of a situation that requires intervention. However, this very policy—“Zero Tolerance”–remains quite devastating in two ways: A) if a priest/religious is accused, he or she is removed from ministry until the credibility of charges is clarified. In other words, you are “guilty until proven innocent.” And even if cleared of the charges, your good name is forever tarnished with the original accusation. This is terrible and needs to be addressed. B) Even if the charge is proven and involves a single inappropriate action from thirty or forty years ago, the person is judged unfit for ministry and unable to ever repent and be reinstated. In other words, there is no forgiveness for sexual abuse by a minister in the Church.
Is it too late for forgiveness–not without the victims’/survivors’ involvement of course–for some Truth and Reconciliation process to be conducted? This could happen for the bishops first because they have only begun to be investigated. It could even yet be applied to priests and religious.
Since the book is about the sex abuse crisis and includes gay priests as characters, is it meant to indicate that gay priests are responsible for the crisis?
There are two levels of the crisis: 1) the sexual abuse itself ; and 2) the mismanagement/cover-up of it. In regard to the first level, gay priests, (and gay people for that matter) are no more responsible for the sexual abuse crisis than heterosexual priests/people. Psychologists tell us that pedophilia (the sexual abuse of children) in particular, is a psychological diagnosis (illness) that has nothing to do with sexual orientation as such. For instance, most sexual abuse happens in families–and not by gay people in these families.
The Black Wall of Silence deals more specifically with the second level, the cover-up of the sexual abuse. This is where the silencing comes in. If a gay priest is self-accepting, perhaps even known as gay by some friends, family members and fellow priests, this knowledge may cause prejudice in some of these people, possibly with some presuming the priest must be sexually active or untrustworthy. If a gay priest is sexually active,perhaps in a relationship as some heterosexual priests are, this leaves him particularly vulnerable to the need to be silent, even when it comes to blowing a whistle on someone who may be abusing a minor. If a gay priest is not self-accepting, he may fear his parishioners, fellow priests or superiors might be suspicious, gossip about him, or hinder his job advancement, even if his orientation is never mentioned. In other words, all of these situations create a climate where honesty is stifled, including the honesty to bring to light others’ actual sexual violations, even when minors and vulnerable adults are at risk.
Where do you see good things happening in the church regarding LGBT people?
If we open our eyes, LGBT people can now be seen in the Church as flesh and blood people. Along with the rest of society, the Church can no longer speak of LGBT people as concepts and caricatures that are used to scare people. Now, a gay/lesbian person may be offering you the Blood of Christ in the communion line, proclaiming the Word of God from the lectern, leading the liturgy in singing “Amazing Grace,” teaching your children in Religious Education courses that God’s love embraces all people, serving alongside you in a soup kitchen that your parish runs. This “We Are All The Church” experience means all the difference in the world. It is what Pope Francis is trying to show us as the core meaning of the Gospel of Jesus.
What still sadly remains in many parts of the Church, is the firing of some devoted LGBT people because it is assumed that they are not following all of the Church teachings. As the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Encourager continues to move in us, and we follow Pope Francis’ call for inclusiveness of the marginalized, we can hope that this will change in time. There is hope, and LGBT people are symbols of this.
Pope Francis is once again making headlines for a message which mayhave contained a positive comment on families headed by lesbian and gay couples.
The reason that the above sentence contains mayis because, as has happened before, the pope’s comment is somewhat cryptic and open to interpretation, not to mention that the Vatican is downplaying any gay-positive intent.
Through a message by one of his staff members at the Vatican Secretariat of State, Msgr. Peter B. Wells, the pope sent a message of encouragement to an Italian author, Francesca Pardi, who recently penned a children’s book about families which has been controversial in Italy because some of its characters are gay penguins and lesbian rabbits youngsters. Pardi sent the book, along with other books with gay and lesbian themes, to the Pontiff in June.
According to a news report in The Guardian, the significant part of the letter from the Vatican stated:
“His holiness is grateful for the thoughtful gesture and for the feelings which it evoked, hoping for an always more fruitful activity in the service of young generations and the spread of genuine human and Christian values.”
While this may not seem to be a ringing endorsement of the book, entitled Piccolo Uovo (translation: Little Egg), it is certainly a strong affirmation of Pardi and her work, which has been the center of a literary-political storm in Italy. The Guardian story notes:
“The book. . .was met with disapproval by Venice’s new mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, who in June banned Piccolo Uovo and about 50 other titles from schools. The decision led more than 250 Italian authors to demand their own books be removed from the city’s shelves, a move one writer described as a ‘protest against an appalling gesture of censorship and ignorance.’ “
In fact, when Pardi sent the book to the pope, she included a letter describing the negative criticism that she received. Catholics are a large part of the “We Defend the Family Committee,” a nationwide group against lesbian and gay families, which has been one of the leaders of the campaign against Pardi’s book. In part, she told the pope:
“Many parishes across the country are in this period sullying our name and telling falsehoods about our work which deeply offends us.We have respect for Catholics … A lot of Catholics give back the same respect, why can’t we have the whole hierarchy of the church behind us?”
So, while the pope did not make a direct statement about the lesbian and gay content of the book, he did take the position of affirming the book which has been embroiled in a public controversy, and one which involves Catholics.
The Guardian also reported that a Vatican official offered an explanation for the pope’s comment which indicates that it was not meant to be affirming of families headed by lesbian or gay parents:
“The Vatican said the closing blessing of the private letter was addressed to Pardi and not in support of teachings which went against church doctrine on ‘gender theory.’ “
Hmmmmm. Sounds like a bit of hair-splitting to me.
Pardi, herself has interpreted the message very positively, while also very realistically. The Guardian reported:
“Pardi said she had not expected a reply and was surprised to receive the letter at her Milan home. ‘It’s not that I think that he’s for gay families, because there’s the Catholic doctrine, but we mustn’t think that we don’t have rights,’ she said.”
” ‘I was very touched by it,’ Pardi told IBTimes UK. She explained that the letter was not supportive of gay rights but nevertheless marked an important change in the Church attitude towards homosexuals. ‘Obviously he [Francis] doesn’t agree with homosexuality and if he ever was to make such an opening he would never do so in a private letter to me!’ she said. ‘However, only to consider me as an interlocutor worth respect is a tremendous step forward. I read it as an opening towards people and dialogue, a message of tolerance.’ “
Because Italy does not have marriage equality or protections for lesbian parents with children, Pardi married her wife in Spain, and the couple had their four children in the Netherlands, according to Jezebel.com.
So how do we interpret this latest cryptic message from Francis? While I try to be cautious of over-interpreting his statements in a positive light, I can’t help but think that he, and his staff, have to know what they are doing and how the public will react to their comments. He has had too many ambiguously positive LGBT statements over the past few years for this to be merely accidental.
At the same time, let’s not rush to assume that Pope Francis is supporting marriage equality. His clear negative statements about legalizing marriage for lesbian and gay couples are a clear indication that he opposes such initiatives.
I think that Pope Francis is showing Catholics that they can interact politely with people with whom they disagree. He is not presenting content to the debate, but modeling how the debate can take place. As I’ve said before, that, in itself is a step forward. I believe that once the debate about LGBT issues can occur civilly in the Church, then we are on our way to taking steps towards greater justice and equality.
As I’ve also said before, though, we have to recognize this phase as a first step, and not relax into complacency. There is still much work to be done to achieve full equality of LGBT people in the Catholic Church.