SYMPOSIUM: Kentucky Bishop Speaks Out Against Church Firings of LGBT People

When Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv, spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” he also gave an interview to  Patricia Lefevere of The National Catholic Reporter.  During that interview, Lefevere asked the bishop from Lexington, Kentucky, about the contentious issue of  LGBT employees being fired from Catholic institutions (which was also the topic of a plenary session and a focus session at the symposium).   His answers to her questions provide the strongest statements yet in support of LGBT employees from a U.S. Catholic bishop.

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Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv.

Lefevere reported that the bishop stressed that the firings of LGBT employees amounted to a form of discrimination which was not appropriate for a Catholic institution to exhibit:

“When Stowe was asked how he felt the church should respond to cases of LGBT employees — many of whom had been fired from long-held church positions when their same-sex marriages were publicized or outed — he stressed that the church must be consistent and non-discriminatory in dealing with all its employees.

” ‘We must preserve our tradition and our integrity as a church,’ he said. ‘We risk contradicting ourselves if we want our employees to live by the church’s teaching and if we ourselves as an institution don’t live by our teaching, which has always opposed discrimination of any sort.’ “

While some bishops contend that firing LGBT employees is protected under the church’s religious liberty protections,  the Franciscan bishop pointed out that a more creative response was needed.  Lefevere reported:

“Stowe thought the church could find a way to ‘defend our religious liberty without violating any one’s human rights.’ “

For Stowe, it seems, the church’s teaching on the dignity of work and workers should be a guiding force when it comes to church employment issues:

“He pointed to its century-long championing of working people, of their rights to a living wage, to humane treatment in the workplace and to collective bargaining. ‘We must be consistent, even though that can be very difficult sometimes.’ “

And the dignity of the human person must be preserved above all,  even above institutional ideals:

“The challenge is to ‘articulate Gospel principles consistently and implement them compassionately,’ he said, noting that Catholic social teaching has always upheld the dignity of each human person. ‘We preach that human flourishing is a primary goal,’ he said, ‘much more important than the protection of our institutions.’ “

Stowe’s comments constitute the most comprehensive positive statement from a U.S. bishop on the employment of LGBT people in Catholic institutions.  To this date, only one other U.S. bishop,  Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap, who in 2014 told Bondings 2.o that the firings “need to be rectified.”

The bishops of Germany have instituted a policy that protects legally married gay and lesbian workers in Catholic institutions. An  America magazine editorial in 2016 called the firings “unjust discrimination.”

For other positive developments in the church worker controversy, click here.  To view New Ways Ministry’s resources on the topic, visit our Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT People page.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 23, 2017

SYMPOSIUM: Bishop Stowe Brings Message of Admiration and Respect

It has been almost a month since New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” took place in Chicago. Things have finally slowed down enough that we are able to report on it to you.  Over the next few days, we will be providing several posts about symposium highlights.

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Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., addresses the symposium while New Ways Ministry co-founder Sr. Jeannine Gramick listens.

Based on the response of the over 300 participants, one of those highlights was the presence and speaking participation of Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., of Lexington, Kentucky.  Stowe provided two scriptural reflections at the meeting, one at the Friday evening opening prayer service (Matthew 12:1-14) and one at the Saturday morning prayer service (Luke 6:37-45).

The National Catholic Reporter’s  Patricia Lefevere interviewed Stowe at the meeting and reported on his talks.  She noted that he expressed his respect for LGBT Catholics and supporters for their steadfastness in remaining in the Church:

“Stowe said he is humbled by those who have pursued ‘a life of faith in a church that has not always welcomed or valued’ them or their worth. As a shepherd, he needs to hear their voices and take seriously their experience, he said, adding that both the presence and persistence of LGBT Catholics inspired him.

“They’ve shown ‘a valuable expression of mercy’ in calling the church ‘to be more inclusive and more Christ-like despite being given so many reasons to walk away,’ he said.”

Stowe also used his reflection time to discuss his approach to moral questions:

“In reflecting on Matthew 12:1-14, the bishop told the LGBT assembly that in his reading of Christian morality, he finds the infinite value of the human person to be ‘the touchstone and foundation for determining the morality of a given act or issue. Christian morality is more concerned with the well-being and dignity of the person than with rules, norms or commandments. Jesus seems to teach this on many occasions,’ Stowe said.”

In his interview with Lefevere,  the bishop also explained another motivation for his participation in the symposium:

” ‘New Ways Ministry made me want to come here,’ the bishop told NCR during a 40-minute interview at the gathering. He has been observing and admiring the group’s outreach to LGBT Catholics over several years, he added.”

Stowe also discussed the fact that when it became public that he would speak at New Ways Ministry’s event, some conservative Catholics in his diocese and elsewhere publicly criticized him:

” ‘The flack has been enormous and continues on the blogosphere’ and from ‘self-righteous strangers online and those who subscribe to these feeds,’ Stowe said, calling some of the posts and e-mails ‘vicious.’ . . .

“Among objectors, Stowe believes there are many who are sincere Catholics and are ‘really struggling’ with all the issues around homosexuality. He said he hopes and prays ‘for a culture of encounter’ to ensue so ‘we can become fully engaged with those who want to live the Catholic life and who love the Catholic Church. … Why would we want to turn our backs on them?’ he asked.”

The bishop also commented on his response to young Catholics who are often much more supportive of LGBT equality than older generations.  He noted that negative actions towards LGBT people risks alienating “a whole generation” of young Catholics.  He explained how he approaches this pastoral issue:

“Stowe said that on his many visits to confirmation classes, teens in his diocese ask: ‘Why can’t gay and lesbian people be themselves? Bishop Stowe, why can’t they love who they want?’

“He said he admires how well young people know that the church believes each person is of value. But they also know that LGBT persons are not always welcomed or treated fairly in the church, he said.

“He tries to acquaint them with church teaching on the dignity of each human being, citing passages in the 1965 Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) and other examples. He indicates how discrimination leads to dehumanization, frequently expressed in bullying, abuse, sometimes violence and even death.

” ‘We have to listen to our young people and pay attention to things like this,’ the bishop insisted.”

In introducing Bishop Stowe to the symposium participants, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo explained that he had heard the Franciscan bishop speak at a conference and was impressed with his message:

” ‘I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,’ DeBernardo said, comparing Stowe’s words to those of Pope Francis and to St. Francis of Assisi. All three men seemed to be saying that ‘it was the church’s job to take the Gospel to the margins,’ DeBernardo said.”

For a meeting whose title and theme focused on Pope Francis, it was very appropriate to have a bishop speaking who so aptly echoed many of the pontiff’s affirming messages for LGBT people.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 22, 2017

QUOTE TO NOTE: London Cardinal ‘Rejoices’ in LGBT Acceptance, While Still ‘Obstinate’ on Marriage

London’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols has been one of the global church’s strongest advocates of pastoral outreach to the LGBT community.  At the same time, he has opposed marriage equality though, unlike U.S. bishops, he seems comfortable in making social and ecclesial accommodations for lesbian and gay couples.

The Catholic Herald recently reported on remarks Nichols made at a public lecture.  His remarks show the two sides of his approach to matters of gay sexuality.  The news story stated:

“Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the most senior Catholic cleric in England and Wales, has said the Church will continue to be ‘obstinate’ about gay marriage and other questions of sexual morality.

“Answering questions after a talk at St Ethelburga’s Centre, London, Cardinal Nichols was asked about the Church’s response to homophobia. The cardinal said that society had become more empathetic and compassionate towards gay people, and that he ‘rejoiced’ in the change.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

“However, he went on to say that Catholics ‘still stand for’ a definition of marriage as ‘between a man and a woman’ which is open to new life.

“Cardinal Nichols went on: ‘There has never been a time when Christian sexual morality has been totally accepted in any society.’ But, he said, Christians would ‘persist’ in being ‘awkward’ on such matters.”

No doubt some will criticize Nichols’ opposition to marriage equality and his upholding of traditional church teaching on sexuality.  Nichols is no stranger to criticism, though. For years, conservative Catholics in England have been criticizing the pastoral outreach he began to London’s LGBT community, some of these critics even bringing their complaints to the Vatican. Nichols, however, stood firm, and the pastoral outreach program, LGBT Catholics Westminster, is alive, well, and thriving today.

While Nichols may be correct that Christian sexual morality has never been totally accepted in any society, that doesn’t mean that Christian sexual ethics hasn’t changed as new scientific information and social understandings and customs have evolved.   The fact that ethical principles have changed over the centuries is the best argument that they can change in the future.

Still, Nichols serves as a model to other prelates that their opposition to same-gender marriage does not mean that they cannot welcome LGBT people into the church community.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 15, 2017

 

Newark’s Cardinal Will Welcome Catholic LGBT Pilgrimage

A pilgrimage of LGBT Catholics will be welcomed by Cardinal Joseph Tobin at the Archdiocese of Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart when they arrive there on Sunday, May 21, 2017.

Sacred Heart Parish, South Plainfield, Church of the Precious Blood, Monmouth Beach are organizing the event, which seems to have had a serendipitous origin.

Rev. Alexander Santora, a Hoboken, N.J. priest, described in an NJ.com essay how the pilgrimage idea grew:

“David Harvie was at a regional meeting in Brooklyn of the Interparish Collaborative [a group of about 15 Catholic parishes in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut region that have LGBT ministries]. . . . He was seated next to Redemptorist Father Francis Gargani and talked about how there are so many beautiful church edifices that deserve to be seen.

” ‘I am a church architecture geek,’ Harvie said, mentioning, for example, the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark.

“Gargani, who resides at the Redemptorist Provincial House in Brooklyn, said he would bring it up to the new Archbishop of Newark, Joseph Cardinal Tobin, also a Redemptorist, who was coming to dinner the next evening.”

And the rest is (or will soon be) history.  Cardinal Tobin, newly appointed by Pope Francis, responded by email to Gargani’s request:

“I am delighted that you and the LGBTQ brothers and sisters plan to visit our beautiful cathedral. You will be very welcome!”

The mass will take place in Our Lady Chapel of the Cathedral, at 3:30 p.m., followed by a tour of the building.

It has been a long time since a bishop has welcomed a group of LGBT people to the local cathedral.  Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen welcomed the DignityUSA convention to the Seattle cathedral in 1983 (though his welcome message was delivered by audio recording because he had been summoned to Rome).  When Rochester, N.Y.’s Bishop Matthew Clark held a mass for the gay and lesbian community in his cathedral in 1997, 1300 people showed up for the space which could hold only 900, so the remaining spilled out onto the sidewalks.   A year later Richmond, Virginia’s Bishop Walter Sullivan followed suit with a similar mass in his diocesan cathedral, telling participants, “You are welcome here. It’s about time someone told you that.”  In 2015, a group of LGBT pilgrims led by New Ways Ministry was given VIP seating at the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on Ash Wednesday.

The organizer of the event reflected on how far the LGBT community and the Catholic Church have come in his lifetime:

Harvie recalled first marching in the annual Gay Rights Parade in Manhattan at a time when a wall of police would separate the marchers from entering St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.

“We could not get anywhere near our Catholic church,” Harvie recalled, contrasting that experience with the gesture of Cardinal Tobin. “No one can believe it.”

Harvie expects an overflow crowd in the chapel, which can only hold 40 to 50 people. But that would be a wonderful problem to have, he said.

Harvie is the facilitator of the LGBT ministry in Sacred Heart parish, South Plainfield, N.J.

It is so good to see that a cardinal is eager to extend a welcome to a group of LGBT Catholics.  Indeed, his example should be emulated by others.  If bishops want to make Pope Francis’ message of welcome tangible to LGBT people, more instances like this need to take place.  God will surely bless this beautiful initiative!

For more information on the pilgrimage, click here or e-mail sacredheartigi@gmail.com. You can contact David Harvie at Church of the Sacred Heart, 200 Randolph Ave., South Plainfield, NJ 07080; phone: 908-822-5895.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 9, 2017

 

Why Must There Be Winners and Losers in Denver Scouting Policy?

When the Archbishop of Denver announced recently that Catholic Scout groups in his archdiocese need to conform to Catholic principles of morality, he referred to the idea of winning and losing.  That kind of attitude reveals a big part of the problem with some Catholic opposition to LGBT issues.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila

Archbishop Samuel Aquila wrote a column for the April 20th edition of The Denver Catholic in which he announced that despite the Boy Scouts of America’s recent decision to allow transgender scouts, based on local troop decisions, the Archdiocese of Denver was not going to disaffiliate from scouting programs altogether.  Instead, the archbishop would allow each sponsoring pastor to decide about sponsoring a scouting program.  Aquila stated:

“Ultimately, the decision for a parish to charter or affiliate with a scouting organization falls under the authority of the pastor, who must weigh the risks this could present to his parish. I ask for all those involved in Catholic scouting to respect the decisions made by their pastors.”

However, while allowing local autonomy, the archbishop also outlined some “requirements” which Catholic scouting leaders must follow.  Included among these were:

“Refrain from approving, promoting or engaging in any conduct or lifestyle considered to be in contradiction with Catholic doctrine or morals.

“Promote the dignity of the human person and expressions of human sexuality that accord with the natural law, and therefore with Catholic teaching.”

For the scouts themselves, they must:

“Refrain from conduct or living a lifestyle considered to be in contradiction with Catholic doctrine or morals.”

Although not stated outright, from the tone of the rest of the column, it is easy to presume that the archbishop is referring to LGBT issues and people with this language, though not exclusively. Without stating it directly, the archbishop is forbidding gay or transgender leaders or scouts from participating in Catholic troops.

That, in itself, while disappointing, is not surprising.  Other Catholic leaders had already made similar announcements when the Boy Scouts changed their policies on gay and transgender scouts and leaders.   What caught my eye, however, was the archbishop’s use of the language of winning and losing in regard to scouting policy changes.

In defending his decision not to disaffiliate totally from scouting programs, Aquila stated:

“I believe that disaffiliation, while it makes a strong statement, would make a winner out of the secular culture and its agenda, and losers out of the Boy Scouts and the Church.”

Does he really need to see it as a zero-sum game, where one side wins and one side loses?  That kind of thinking is not the way of reconciliation.  It is not the path of accompaniment and encounter.   Thinking in terms of winning and losing is a strategy that will continue to marginalize the Catholic Church in regard to mainstream society.  This kind of thinking is “culture war” thinking.

What the archbishop misses is that in banning LGBT scouts and leaders from Catholic groups, he is shutting the door on so many more people than he realizes.  The chill from his decision is going to turn people away from the Catholic Church, not lead them toward it.

Denverite.com reported the reaction of Rex Fuller, spokesperson for the GLBT Community Center of Colorado, who saw both good and bad in the archbishop’s decision:

“Obviously, we want to promote all aspects of society to be as accepting and welcoming as possible. It’s positive that they’re saying they’re not going to try to challenge the Boy Scouts over the Boy Scouts’ policies, but it’s unfortunate that they still have very restrictive and not-accepting policies inside the church.

“I think that there are certainly lots of gay and lesbian and transgender Catholics in the world that wish they were more accepting. But progress is slow. I think this is a small step, at least, in the right direction.”

I wish I could be as optimistic.  While I recognize that Aquila wants to maintain the Catholic identity of parish scouting programs, I have to wonder if he is really doing so if he is promoting principles such as exclusion and doctrinal tests.  Why do conformity to teachings on gender and sexuality always have to trump any other Catholic principles in pastoral decision-making?

If Catholic leaders continue to see all encounters with other cultures as problems in which there is a winner and a loser, then ultimately, the Catholic Church will end up as the ultimate loser.  It will lose not only its people but its soul, too.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 4, 2017

U.S. Bishops Back “Inclusion Act,” Which Seeks to Exclude LGBT Adoptive Parents

Attempting to redefine what inclusion means, the U.S. bishops endorsed the U.S. House of Representatives’ “Inclusion Act,” which aims to protect social services agencies who exclude same-gender couples from being foster or adoptive parents. Crux reported:

“Three bishops, in a joint letter to the measure’s sponsor, voiced their support of the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, which would permit social service agencies to refuse on religious grounds to provide adoption or foster services for households headed by same-sex couples.”

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USCCB headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The three church leaders behind the letter–Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida; Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore;  and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska–are the respective chairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Religious Liberty;and the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

Bishops claim the Act, if passed, would advance religious liberty by ending “unjust discrimination” against those providers who deny services to people based on the agency’s religious and moral beliefs. The bishops also claimed:

“‘Women and men who want to place their children for adoption ought to be able to choose from a diversity of adoption agencies, including those that share the parents’ religious beliefs and moral convictions.'”

Controversies about adoption rights have increased in the last decade as more jurisdictions legalize same-gender couples’ rights to marriage or civil unions. In the U.S., Catholic Charities and other church-related agencies have stopped providing adoption services in Massachusetts, Illinois, and the District of Columbia because as government-funded organizations they could not exclude LGBT clients.

Church institutions elsewhere have followed a similar pattern despite more supportive stances held by Catholics in the pews. The Missionary Sisters of Charity, the community which Mother Teresa founded, stopped facilitating adoptions in 2015 because they feared single gay people would become parents. Scotland’s St. Margaret’s Children and Family Care Society successfully attained the right to discriminate against LGBT clients. And, according to an unconfirmed report from one of Malta’s bishops, Pope Francis was “shocked” in 2014 to find out that same-gender couples could be granted adoption rights in the island nation.

[Editor’s note: a follow-up post on Bondings 2.0 later this week will dig deeper into the intricacies in these issues by exploring a story from Australia about Catholic parents, LGBT rights, and adoption.]

Given the U.S. political environment, including Judge Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court, it is uncertain whether the so-called Inclusion Act will succeed. But even if the legislation fails, there is a larger issue for Catholics at play. We must not allow the rich concept of inclusion, a defining value of Jesus’ ministry, to be hijacked by church officials for their LGBT-negative agenda.

Real inclusion, in the law and in the church, would recognize that the greater good is for children to be in loving homes, and for families to be strengthened by the protections and assistance which the State can offer. Those ideals are deeply rooted in the Catholic social tradition. It is from these places from which we should be the basis of Catholic adoption policy.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 18, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

Openly Gay Prime Minister and His Husband Welcomed at Vatican

Luxembourg’s openly gay prime minister and his husband were welcomed at the Vatican recently, a potentially hopeful sign that church officials will increasingly respect people in same-gender civil marriages.

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Prime Minister Bettel, center, with his husband, Destenay, and Archbishop Gänswein.

Archbishop Georg  Gänswein greeted Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and his husband, Gauthier Destenay, as they arrived to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the European Union. Pink News reported:

“The gay couple joined other heads of government from across Europe for the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome [which founded what would become the European Union]. . .Pope Francis then held a meeting with the leaders, including Prime Minister Bettel, in the Vatican, marking the anniversary.

“Despite the unusual circumstances – Mr. Bettel is the only openly gay leader in the world – Vatican bosses opted for the usual protocol around heads of government and their spouses.”

That it was Gänswein who welcomed them is also notable as he was given a Vatican position by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whom he still serves as the former pope’s personal secretary.

Luxembourg legalized marriage equality in 2014, a move Bettel oversaw in a country where 67% of the population remains Catholic.  In 2015, the couple married shortly after the new law went into effect. About their treatment at the Vatican, Prime Minister Bettel tweeted:

“It was a great pleasure and honour for me and Gauthier to be welcomed by the leader of the Catholic church. XB”

Welcoming an openly gay politician is another chapter in the confusing story of  whether and how the Vatican and other Catholic institutions will treat LGBT people, including those people in same-gender marriages.

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Pilgrims in Rome shortly after the audience

In 2015, a pilgrimage of LGBT Catholics and their families led by New Ways Ministry was given VIP seating at an audience with Pope Francis. It was reported that Archbishop Gänswein had a role in securing the tickets, and pilgrims expressed their feelings that it was moment of welcome they would never forget.

But that same year, the Holy See rejected France’s ambassador, Laurent Stéfanini, who is openly gay and married. Few answers about the rejection were offered by either the French government or the Holy See. After six months of simply waiting, France withdrew Stéfanini’s application for diplomatic credentials without an official reason given by either party.

Elsewhere, since 2008, more than 60 church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT-related issues; for many, their firing was caused by a decision to marry their same-gender partner.

This institutional confusion is, in part, due to Pope Francis’ own mixed record on LGBT issues. The pope of “Who am I to judge?” is also the pope of “there is a world war to destroy marriage.” In just over two weeks, Catholics will gather in Chicago to discuss just what to make of LGBT issues in the age of Pope Francis during New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium. There is still time to register, which you can do by clicking here.

While magisterial teaching prohibits same-gender sacramental marriage, civil law is not synonymous with church teaching. One thing Pope Francis is clear about through his many acts is that church leaders should be prioritizing radical hospitality over exclusion. Welcoming Bettel and Destenay is a good step, but to really make such inclusion palpable, it must be modeled at churches worldwide.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 11, 2017