Priest Leads Opposition to Queensland’s “Gay Panic” Defense

May 27, 2016
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Fr. Paul Kelly

A Catholic priest in Australia has been leading efforts to eliminate the “gay panic” defense in his state.  The “gay panic” defense, which allows defendants to claim that a victim’s sexual advances motivated a criminal violence, is responsible for letting two men escape murder charges in a 2008 killing.

Fr. Paul Kelly launched an online petition in 2012 to repeal the “gay panic” defense law, which is still allowed in the states of Queensland and South Australia. In that petition, which now has nearly 248,000 signatures, Kelly explained his powerful reason for being involved:

“I’m a Catholic Priest and 8 years ago a man called Wayne Ruks was bashed to death in my Brisbane churchyard. Unbelievably, his killer’s convictions were downgraded to manslaughter, using ‘gay panic’ as a defence. . .

“I’ve made it my mission to see this revolting law abolished – it belongs in the dark ages. I have no words to describe how offensive, harmful and dangerous it is that two of our governments uphold that a person can be panicked enough by gay people to justify murder.”

Wayne Ruks was killed by John Meerdink and Jason Andrew Pearce in July 2008, his body found at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Maryborough. Extensive video evidence revealed the assailants beat Ruks for fifteen minutes, leaving him to die from internal bleeding. They avoided murder charges by claiming Ruks made sexual advances on them.

Father Kelly renewed efforts around the petition because the “leisurely pace” of change had been so slow.  He told News.com.au that eliminating this legal issue is “such a no brainer. . .It should’ve changed with one signature, not [240,000].”

Thanks to the efforts of Fr. Kelly and others, Australian government officials have finally promised to act. Premier of South Australia Jay Weatherill replied to the petition, describing the “gay panic” defense as an “outdated and offensive notion.” He promised legal reforms to remove it. Yvette D’Ath, attorney-general for Queensland whose government promised to eliminate the defense in 2015, said change was forthcoming so that the state’s criminal code would not be perceived to “condone violence against the gay community, or indeed any community.”

Fr. Kelly’s activism show how Catholic thought can help bring about justice for LGBT people.  Unfortunately, not all church leaders in Australia are standing with the LGBT community, though. The nation’s bishops have chosen the occasion of upcoming elections to reiterate their opposition to marriage equality proposals.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 12.43.47 PMThe Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) released a two-page statement in advance of federal elections to be held July 2. The statement included two paragraphs about marriage that imply expanded LGBT rights would victimize marriage and family in the “throwaway culture” criticized by Pope Francis. The bishops wrote that political decisions can end up “undermining marriage” and, alluding to a proposed plebiscite on marriage equality, said future decisions could further undermine marriage:

“Support for marriage and the family does not look a big vote-winner, so that even the most basic human institution, upon which the health of a society depends, can become part of the throwaway culture or at best an optional extra.”

These remarks intensify the Australian bishops’ collective opposition to marriage equality, as political reporter James Massola wrote in the Brisbane Times

“The remarks about same-sex marriage are significantly stronger than in the 2013 statement – which simply stated there ‘must be legal recognition of the unique nature of marriage between a man and a woman’ and 2010, when the issue was not mentioned and underscores concern in the Church.”

Whichever party wins in the July elections, it appears marriage equality is an inevitability for Australia. The nation’s residents overwhelmingly support it, with recent polls showing approval ratings above 60%. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic supportive of LGBT rights, said a plebiscite on the issue first proposed by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a Catholic who opposed marriage equality, would proceed if his Liberal party is re-elected. The opposition Labor party has promised to pass marriage equality in its first hundred days.

In a final related note, a discrimination complaint against the Australian bishops over an anti-marriage equality booklet they published last year has been withdrawn. Transgender advocate and politician Martine Delaney voluntary withdrew her complaint against ACBC and Archbishop Julius Porteous of Hobart after mediation efforts by the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner in Tasmania ended in futility. She explained to 9 News:

” ‘My primary reason [for withdrawing the complaint] is the tribunal process is a very long and drawn out process and during that time the message of this booklet is going to continue to be spread. . .My intention was to force (the church) to understand the gravity of their actions, but they refuse to do so and the damage has been done.’ “

The booklet, titled “Don’t Mess with Marriage,” was released last year to widespread criticism. In the Diocese of Hobart schoolchildren were controversially used as couriers to bring it to their parents. LGBT advocate Michael Bayly even called booklet and its dissemination a “new low” for the Australian bishops.

Australia’s bishops should reconsider how invested they will be in opposing the seemingly inevitable passage of marriage equality when real and pressing issues of justice beckon. They could learn well from Fr. Paul Kelly’s example, and focus instead on how they can help protect the lives and well-being of sexually and gender diverse people.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Posts

August 17, 2012: “Australian Priest Meets with Attorney General to End ‘Gay Panic’ Defense

July 13, 2012: “Australian Catholic Priest Re-Launches Campaign to End ‘Gay Panic’ Defense

January 26, 2012: “News Notes: January 26, 2012

January 2, 2012: “Catholic Priest Speaks Out for Equality in the Law

 

 


Continued Attacks Against Gay Ambassador Necessitate Pope Francis’ Intervention

May 24, 2016
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Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster

Catholic Church leaders’ attacks against gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster continue unabated, and reveal a troubling weak spot that Pope Francis must address in regard to LGBT issues .

Bishop Victor Massalles, the auxiliary bishop of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, told Crux, that Ambassador Brewster was “abusing power” by advocating for LGBT rights in the Caribbean nation.  Such advocacy, however, is not a pet project of Brewster’s, but is entirely consistent with U.S foreign policy.

Citing Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Massalles claimed the U.S. government through its ambassador engages in in “cultural imperialism. . . [and] ideological colonization” by coercing the Dominican Republic to accept social changes which allegedly the country’s populace disavows. Massalles continued his criticism:

” ‘He’s not an ambassador, he’s a gay activist and we’re suffering [from] him as a nation, as a culture, as a country that has its own uses and customs, and its own laws. . .He’s trying to take [away] our right to national self-determination.’ “

Massalles admitted, though, that his claims about U.S. government coercion are “suspicions” rather than facts. He also defended use of an anti-gay slur against Ambassador by Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez in 2013, saying not allowing “an old man to express himself like an old man” would violate the cardinal’s rights.

The bishop’s criticism is but the latest attack from Catholic officials who, since Brewster was appointed in 2013, have issued regular and intense attacks against him. The Dominican Episcopal Conference condemned the ambassador in a March 2016 letter, citing Pope Francis’ concept of ideological colonization. Additionally, a Catholic high school in the capital posted signs this year banning Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, from its campus.

Worst of all have been comments by Cardinal López, the leading prelate in the DR. He said previously that Brewster was “wife to a man” and should stick to housework. In 2013, López used an anti-gay slur, and he said Brewster should “take his gay pride elsewhere.”  The Washington Blade reported that López once described LGBT tourists as “social trash” and “degenerates.” Cardinal López’s remarks made Bondings 2.0’s lists of Worst Catholic LGBT News in both 2013 and 2015.

These Catholic attacks are not just aimed at Brewster and Satawake but all LGBT Dominicans, wrote Executive Director of Diversidad Dominicana Rosanna Marzan. She explained in the Washington Blade:

“Those using hateful rhetoric against the ambassador have specific objectives. Among them, to quash the efforts that we as Dominican LGBT civil society activists have undertaken to defend ourselves against the hateful, violent and stigmatizing discourse orchestrated by hierarchies within the Catholic and Evangelical churches and the conservative individuals who support them. . .

“LGBT Dominicans face the threat of violence and hate crimes as well as discrimination in essential services, including healthcare, employment and housing. Impunity is the norm for violations against LGBT people. . .The attacks on Brewster are also attacks on us.”

What is troubling about Bishop Massalles’ latest remarks and the episcopal conference’s March letter is that both cited Pope Francis to justify attacks on Brewster and his husband. What has happened in the Dominican Republic has not been about disagreements over policies or theologies. It has been an unceasing and vicious attack against a human being by the institutional church, an attack which causes broader harm.

When writing about church officials’ attacks against Ambassador Brewster, Bondings 2.0 has repeatedly said papal intervention by Francis is necessary and appropriate –even as he tries to decentralize the Church. Intervention now seems more necessary since anti-LGBT church leaders now cite the pope specifically to justify their prejudice and desired discrimination. There is no justification for prejudice, especially when it is so publicly displayed and when it contributes to human suffering. It is incumbent on Pope Francis to make that clear. At this point, to not do so will cause LGBT advocates and others to question papal intentions about respecting every person’s dignity.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 


Despite Vatican Opposition, Italy Passes Civil Unions Bill for Lesbian and Gay Couples

May 13, 2016

In what is being referred to as a rejection of Vatican influence into Italian politics,  the Italian Parliament voted in a civil unions bill this week, becoming the final nation in the 28-member European Union to do so.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had called a confidence vote, as a way to prevent further delays and amendments, and he received a victory of 369-193. A later vote on the actual bill in the lower house of Parliament resulted in a tally of 372-51, with 99 abstentions, paving the way for civil unions to become the law of the land. The Senate had already approved the bill in February.

Rome’s Trevi Fountain was lit up in rainbow colors to celebrate the passage of the civil unions bill.

In their news report of the decisive vote, The New York Times stated:

“It was a historic occasion for a nation that is still dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, which opposed the measure, and where traditional family norms are still strong.”

CNN noted in their reporting:

“Previous attempts to legalize gay unions had been stymied and fiercely contested by conservatives and the Roman Catholic church, which holds significant sway in the nation.”

Despite the historic victory, the bill is not an ideal law, say some Italian LGBT leaders.  One leader spoke to the New York Times, noting the waning of church influence, buy also dissatisfaction with the bill:

” ‘The wall erected mostly by the Vatican against civil rights in this country has fallen, so it is a historically and politically important moment,’ said Franco Grillini, the honorary president of Arcigay, and advocacy group, and a gay rights advocate. At the same time, same-sex couples in Italy wanted marriage equality, a right held by their counterparts in the United States and many Western European countries, and he said that struggle would continue.

“It has been 30 years since lawmakers first proposed giving legal recognition to civil unions in Italy.  The Vatican under Pope Francis, while expressing more liberal positions on some social issues, has kept us steadfast opposition to legal recognitions of same-sex couples, influencing some Italian lawmakers.”

The San Diego Gay & Lesbian News provided a succinct summary of the bill’s negatives and positives:

  • Does not go as far as civil union laws elsewhere in Europe, the US and Canada, critics say
  • Clause that would have enabled gay people to adopt a partner’s biological children was dropped
  • No blanket ban on adoption, but family judges will decide on a case-by-case basis
  • Requirement for gay couples to pledge loyalty was dropped – to make civil union less like marriage
  • Gay couples get right to take each other’s names and receive deceased partner’s pension

Bishop Nunzio Galantino, the head of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, called the Prime Minister’s confidence vote “a loss for everyone,” according to Reuters.  EUobserver reported that after the passage of the bill, Galantino said to Vatican Radio that the law should stress the “importance of the family consisting of father, mother and children.”

The work to defend and expand the law will continue.  Already right-wing Italian politicians, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, are promising to call for a referendum to nullify the law.

In the meantime,  we rejoice with the Italians for preserving family and honoring Catholic principles of human dignity by extending civil union rights to lesbian and gay families.  We pray that they will soon expand those rights to include marriage and adoption so that all Italian families will be respected and protected equally.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Related articles:

Religion News:  “Italy OKs gay civil unions despite strong church opposition”

Slate.com: “At Last, Italy Defies Catholic Church and Legalizes Same-Sex Civil Unions”

 


Australian Students Demand Greater LGBT Respect from Catholic Institutions

May 4, 2016
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Advocates rally in defense of Australia’s Safe Schools Program

College students in Australia are protesting an upcoming lecture by a of a Catholic man who claims “reparative therapy” successfully changed his sexuality, the latest dispute about LGBT issues as they relate to Catholic education  in that nation.

The University of Sydney’s Catholic Society will host James Parker tonight to speak about his experiences with “reparative therapy.” Parker is linked to People Can Change, a UK group which administers gay “conversion” programs, and he authored a 2014 piece about his own experience, reported Buzzfeed.

Georg Tamm, a gay Catholic student, said student objections were not to discussions about divergent views on sexuality, but specifically about the harm reparative therapy has caused. Tamm said:

” ‘I would have been OK with them inviting a priest, discussing why men and women are made for each other according to the Catholic scripture. . .But I don’t see the pertinence of inviting someone who is supposedly a patient of successful ex-gay therapy, when it has no scientific merit and is actually quite dangerous.’ “

Tamm said the Catholic Society’s invitation to Parker did not seem “to care about the welfare of those students” who are LGBT or questioning. Such talks, he added, defeat evangelical efforts “at a time when we need people to take the religion seriously and do good things with it.” The Catholic Society denied claims the event promoted prejudice against LGBT people.

Concerned students have appealed to the Student Union to prohibit, or at least refuse to fund, future events promoting reparative therapy. University of Sydney administrators are inquiring into whether restrictions can be placed on campus speakers, too.

Such LGBT controversies in Australian education are increasingly frequent. Last month, St. Francis Xavier College in Melbourne censored a sexual health workbook by requiring students to rip out a page about homosexuality and premarital sex. The Age reported:

“[Y]ear 9 students were called into the hall and told they could not leave until they had thrown a page of the textbook in the bin. . .

“[The [page] included a photo of two men hugging and smiling, and listed different sexual preferences including heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality.”

The workbook asked students age-appropriate questions about sexuality and relationships, but Principal Vincent Feeney explained such questions should be addressed in religious education classes rather than health classes. He defended St. Francis Xavier College further by saying it was inclusive of LGBT students and even allowed same-gender couples to attend formal dances. Students remained critical, however, with one calling the ripping of pages a “medieval weak response.” Others refused to tear the page out.

In another story, the Safe Schools Program in Australia, which educates against bullying, has come under fire after four successful years. Conservative politicians have attacked the Program, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic, has conceded to their demands. Following a government review, Safe Schools Programs, will be limited to high schools and have their content curtailed. A coalition under the name Save Safe Schools has organized rallies and campaigning to ensure funding is sustained and the Program keeps expanding.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a Catholic, described the Program as “social engineering” in his call for its defunding, reported Buzzfeed. Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, herself a lesbian Catholic, said such comments were “negative and unconstructive” because you cannot engineer a person’s lived reality.

Just two Catholic schools participate in the Safe Schools Program: St. Joseph’s College, a Christian Brothers school; and St. Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre, both in Victoria. St. Joseph’s College Head Paul Tobias said the Safe Schools debate “put people like me in a particularly difficult position” because of conservative attacks then lodged against the schools. Those pressures do not mean he or the school would be less supportive, however. He told The Age:

” ‘But I don’t believe there is anything in the Catholic faith that should stop us from promoting inclusiveness, diversity, and tolerance. . .

” ‘Every student who attends this school, irrespective of their sexuality, is entitled to be part of a safe environment. We need to accept that there are some kids who are heterosexual and there are some that are LGBTI.’ “

St. Joseph’s College under Tobias’ leadership established a homophobia task force as early as 1997 in response to an alum’s letter about anti-gay bullying. Tobias wrote to federal and state officials supporting the program, but he questioned whether the focused had shifted from promoting diversity and acceptance to focusing on the minutiae of gender and sexuality issues, which he felt would be detrimental to the Safe Schools Program’s mission.

Elsewhere in Australia, students in Catholic schools have challenged their institutions to participate. A gay student at St. Joseph’s College in Queensland asked Principal Michael Carroll for support, but the student’s testimony of intense bullying, but was met with a curt “no.” The student felt betrayed by administrators and teachers whom he admired, reported The Brisbane Times, and he added:

” ‘I hope that it is not the will of the Catholic Church that this group of young Australians, which are 14 times more likely to end their own lives, are not protected. . .All I can do is hope that they do not want to see me being abused, being made to feel uncomfortable and being separated from society, made to feel like a second-rate citizen.’ “

There is nothing in Catholic teaching which endorses marginalization of or discrimination towards LGBT people, particularly youth who are vulnerable and entrusted to the church for their education. Each of these controversies is rooted in flawed Catholic understandings of gender and of sexuality. These understandings refuse to prioritize social justice teachings about LGBT people’s rights and dignity, instead relying upon pseudo-science to validate outdated, but ideologically convenient ideas. As Australian Catholics reckon with how to protect LGBT people and expand their rights, including the question of marriage equality, a dose of honesty and an attentiviness to reality would be most healthy.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Priest Comes Out, Only to Be Barred from Celebrating LGBT Welcome Mass

May 2, 2016

Two Sundays ago, Bondings 2.0 reported on a homily given at a London-area Mass to welcome the LGBT community during the Year of Mercy.  Since that posting, some new information has been brought to our attention concerning another aspect of that Mass.

Thanks to Martin Pendergast, a UK Catholic advocate for LGBT people, we’ve learned that on the morning of the Mass, a Franciscan priest who had been scheduled to concelebrate at the liturgy came out publicly as a gay man on BBC radio during a segment about the special liturgy.  After his announcement, Fr. Kieran Fitzsimons, OFM, was told by the dean of the Brentwood Cathedral, the host of the liturgy, that he would not be able to concelebrate the Mass.

Fr. Kieran Fitzsimons, OFM

The Tablet (March 17, 2016) reported on the incident (though the story about it is behind a paywall, so we cannot link to it).  The news article explained the decision of the dean:

“Fr Martin Boland, said he asked Fr Fitzsimons not to concelebrate ‘because of the nature of him coming out on radio that day’ and because he didn’t want him to detract focus from the Mass. ‘He was playing a very public role and the whole focus would be very much on him and that’s not what these Year of Mercy Masses are about.’ The Dean said he ‘could not imagine’ Fr Fitzsimons not being invited back to celebrate Mass, but ‘he needs to speak to Bishop Alan [Williams] and his Superior.’ “

Fitzsimons response to the decision expressed disappointment at the decision, but also affirmation of the Cathedral’s outreach:

“When word leaked out somehow, I was asked by the cathedral administrator not to concelebrate. I’d routinely concelebrated at two previous Masses as part of the Year of Mercy. I challenged him, but I was obliged to accept the situation. I was not surprised, but I was disappointed. It gives a mixed message.

“However I want to endorse what the diocese and cathedral administrator have done with this Mass. They are good people at the cathedral and I applaud what they are doing.”

Boland’s worry that Fitzsimons’ presence would have made the Mass a media circus seems a bit unwarranted.  The evidence is that Fitzsimons’ announcement of his sexuality did not make headlines in other publications.   It is good to hear that Boland would invite the Franciscan back to the Cathedral to celebrate Mass, but it is curious that he said approval from the local bishop and community superior would be needed.  Why would a priest in good standing, who had previously been welcome to celebrate Mass at the Cathedral, now need special permission because he announced that he is gay?  That is another very mixed message Boland is sending.

Boland’s judgment error may have been caused by the time pressure he faced and the uniqueness of the situation.  Yet, he can correct that error by inviting Fr. Fitzsimons to return to the Cathedral to be the main celebrant at another Mass for LGBT people.  How inspiring and welcoming it would be for the LGBT Mass participants to see one of their own serving openly at the altar!

In the BBC interview, Fitzsimons commented on the fear that many gay priests–as well as many lesbian nuns and LGBT lay workers in the Church–face:

“In recent history there was a fear of being identified in society, workplaces and communities and there were negative repercussions, and I think the same sadly has applied to the church and there is a fear of what may or may not happen.”

At the Queering the Church blog, Terence Weldon commented on Fr. Fitzsimons’ dedication to ministry with LGBT people.  He offered the following memory about him, which also indicates that the local bishop may indeed be supportive of the Franciscan:

“[Fr. Fitzsimons]accompanied the first Quest [Catholic LGBT pastoral care organization in UK] pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, in 2014.  At that time, the director of the shrine was Fr Alan Williams SM. Reports I had from those attending the pilgrimage, were that Fr Williams had been extremely supportive of this group of LGBT pilgrims. Since then, Fr Williams has been appointed Bishop of Brentwod – and so, is now Fr Kieran’s diocesan bishop.”

It seems like the stage is set for a wonderful moment of reconciliation and welcome for Fr. Fitzsimons and the LGBT community in the Brentwood diocese.  With a supportive bishop, and a cathedral which has already offered a welcoming gesture, it seems like welcoming Fr. Fitzsimons to celebrate another Mass for the LGBT community is a logical and pastoral next step.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


LGBT Pilgrimage to Ireland, Land of Rainbows and Wedding Bells–Part 1

April 30, 2016
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Pilgrims gathered among the monastic ruins at Glendalough.

Today’s post is Part One of a two-part series on New Ways Ministry’s pilgrimage to Ireland.

New Ways Ministry’s recent pilgrimage to Ireland brought showers of blessings to the two dozen participants who made the trip.  One of the biggest blessings was the opportunity to learn firsthand about LGBT ministry, welcome, and advocacy in Ireland at this time.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, was the planner and spiritual leader of this journey, entitled “Ireland:  Land of Rainbows and Wedding Bells.”  Ireland was selected not only for its strong Catholic identity, but because in 2015 it became the first nation in the world to enact marriage equality by popular vote.   As the pilgrims learned from their visits and meetings with church leaders and LGBT advocates, the Catholic movement for LGBT equality is strong in the Emerald Isle.

Throughout the trip, the pilgrims received warm Irish welcomes from several communities of religious men and women, while also visiting sites important to the LGBT community.

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Fr. Tony Flannery and Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Esker Monastery, Athenry

The day we arrived, the Redemptorists welcomed us for Mass and a “cuppa” tea, scones, and soup at their Esker Monastery outside the town of Athenry.  Fr. Tony Flannery, a leader in Ireland’s church reform movement, was on hand with his brother Redemptorists to introduce us to the many ways his community is building a more inclusive church.  Fr. Brendan O’Rourke presided at Eucharistic liturgy for the group.

We encountered the Redemptorists three more times on our trip.  We celebrated Mass at their parish church in Cherry Orchard, a low-income neighborhood of Dublin.  Fr. Adrian Egan discussed contemporary social problems facing this low-income area before offering a prayer that we “keep in mind anyone who, for any reason, feels on the edges and excluded.”

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Pádraig speaking to pilgrims, Clonard Monaster, Belfast

Redemptorist Father John J. Ó Ríordáin  guided the pilgrims prayerfully through the historic site of Glendalough, the monastery founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century.  As we walked from place to place around the grounds, Fr. Ó Ríordáin offered not only historical background, but also some Celtic prayers and poems appropriate to the various settings.  Our trip there ended with an outdoor Mass by the side of one of Glendalough’s stunning lakes.

In Belfast, we visited the beautiful Clonard Monastery with a sanctuary dominated by an image of Jesus with outstretched arms—a symbol that all are welcome to the parish, Fr. Noel Kehoe, the pastor, told us in greeting.

While at Clonard, which also is the city’s main center for reconciliation between Catholic and Protestant citizens, the pilgrims were educated about these peace efforts by Pádraig Ó Tuama, an openly gay Catholic man. He said the Redemptorist monastery is known well for being a safe space to many, including LGBT people, because here, “You know you didn’t have to lessen your dignity.” Ó Tuama is also the leader of the Corymeela Community, an Irish spirituality center, which includes LGBT people and sponsors a retreat for pastoral ministers involved in LGBT ministry.

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Mercy Associate Susanne Cassidy sharing with her fellow pilgrims at Mother McAuley’s first Convent of Mercy, Baggot Street, Dublin

In Dublin, we visited the home of one of that city’s most well-known Catholic daughters:  Venerable Mother Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy.  At the Mercy International Center on Baggot Street, we were warmly welcomed by Sister Mary Kay Dobrovlny, a U.S. sister who provided us with information and inspiration about Mercy’s origins.  At Mass in the Center’s chapel, one of our pilgrims, Susanne Cassidy, the Catholic mother of two gay sons and a Mercy Associate, shared the impact that Mother McAuley’s witness had on her own life and LGBT ministry. We adjourned, as always, for a comfortable cup of tea afterwards.

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St. Brigid of Kildare, Solas Bhríde, Kildare

In Kildare, the pilgrims visited Solas Bhríde (Light of Brigid), a spirituality center and hermitage opened just last year.  The three Brigidine Sisters–Sr. Mary Minehan, Sr. Phil O’Shea, and Sr. Rita Minehan–who oversee the ecologically-built center said the purpose of their ministry is to “unfold the legacy of St. Brigid and its relevance for our time.” St. Brigid, abbess of a double monastery (one part for men and one part for women) in Kildare, is a great inspiration to the Irish people for taking care of the environment.

At the spirituality center, we visited the garden to see a new statue of St. Brigid by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz. The statue was commissioned by Fr. Dennis O’Neill, a Chicago priest who is pastor of St. Martha parish, Morton Grove, which is an LGBT-friendly parish.

At the Whitefriars Street Church, a Carmelite parish in Dublin, the pilgrims gathered to pray at the shrine of St. Valentine, an altar which holds a small casket containing the relics of this famous saint who is so connected with love and relationships.  Sister Jeannine offered a reflective reading of St. Paul’s famous discourse on love, found in 1 Corinthians 13, while we prayed for all our relationships–past, present, future.

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Pilgrims at a statue of Oscar Wilde, Merrion Square, Dublin

On the same day, we gathered for a photo, not prayer, at the statue of Dublin’s famous author, Oscar Wilde, the beautiful Merrion Square park. Wilde was jailed for being a gay man and for writing of “the love that dare not speak its name,” about which he said during his trial, “It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection.”

Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will share details about two meetings we had with LGBT Irish folks and their families, and the wisdom gleaned from them.  We’ll also discuss our visit to the Archdiocese of Dublin’s monthly Mass for the LGBT community. Tune in!

To view more photos from the pilgrimage, visit New Ways Ministry’s page on Facebook by clicking here. If you would like information about future pilgrimages, please send an email to: info@NewWaysMinistry.org or phone 301-277-5674.

–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Officials Condemn LGBT Murders in Bangladesh, Call for Justice

April 29, 2016
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Xulhaz Mannan, left, and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy

Catholic officials in Bangladesh have condemned the brutal murders of two LGBT advocates, criticizing too the discrimination that sexual and gender diverse communities face in a nation which still criminalizes homosexuality.

Four days ago, Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were killed by militants affiliated with Ansar Al Islam. Mannan founded and edited Roopbaan, the nation’s first and only LGBT magazine, and worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Tonoy was an actor who advocated for gay rights.  Both were hacked to death by machete

Mannan and Tonoy’s murders add to a spree of targeted killings by militants against liberal figures and intellectuals. Al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates are seeking to grow in the majority Muslim nation, and their campaign includes targeting LGBT advocates.

The brutality of these murders by machete, coupled with the victims’ gay identities, has propelled the story into the international spotlight. Two Catholic officials in Bangladesh have reacted forcefully against the murders.

Fr. Albert Thomas Rozario, head of the Archdiocese of Dhaka’s Justice and Peace Commission and a Supreme Court lawyer, told UCA News that justice must be ensured for the two gay men murdered:

” ‘The church always supports the demands of LGBT people for equal rights and opportunities as ordinary citizens. . .We call on the authorities to ensure justice is meted out for the killings, and also to take steps to end discrimination against this community.’ “

Rosaline Costa, a Catholic who is Executive Director of Hotline Human Rights Trust Bangladesh, said the government must do more than just investigate these killings:

” ‘God has given us freedom of choice and nobody is allowed to persecute people for their sexual orientation because of so-called traditional values based on conservative religious norms. A truly democratic society can’t accept abuse in the name of religion. . .

” ‘A proper probe and justice for the killings won’t do much protect the community. The government must ensure that the discrimination of LGBT people ends in this country even though the so-called protectors of Islam might not like it.’ “

The situation for LGBT people in Bangladesh is highly oppressive. Being gay is criminalized with sanctions including life imprisonment. While the law criminalizing homosexuality is a leftover from British penal laws, strong current prejudices lead to cultural disapproval and discrimination. Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim nation, is highly religious, though there are only about 300,000 Catholics or 0.2% of the population. An anonymous advocate with the gay rights group Boys of Bangladesh told UCA News that being LGBT “can result in the denial of every opportunity and rights” and that they are considered “dreadful sinners.”

The deep tragedy of these murders is shining light on the suffering of Bangladesh’s LGBT communities, both in country and abroad. Fr. Rozario and Rosaline Costa countered the idea that religious belief entails LGBT condemnation, and they rejected violence in the name of religion. They acted because of their Catholic faith, not in spite of it, to not only seek justice for Mannan and Tonoy but to demand government action against anti-LGBT discrimination and violence. In this way, where fundamentalist religion and anti-LGBT hate had culminated in the brutality of these murders, Catholics found a way to mediate God’s love and cry out for God’s justice.

But the church’s response must move beyond reactive calls for justice when LGBT people are attack to a proactive solidarity which seeks protections before tragedy occurs. Words from Pope Francis condemning LGBT criminalization would go a long way towards this goal, but he has remained silent. Thankfully, clergy like Fr,. Rozario and lay people like Rosaline Costa are not waiting, but immediately standing with marginalized communities to demand justice and fair treatment.

If Pope Francis would condemn criminalization against LGBTQI people, he would clarify a sometimes ambivalent Catholic stance regarding violence against sexual and gender minorities. Catholics across the world have asked Francis to send a clear message through the #PopeSpeakOut campaign – and you can add your voice by clicking here and learning about a variety of ways that you can contact the pontiff!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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