Play Starring Transgender Jesus Draws Catholic Protests

November 24, 2015

Jo Clifford as Jesus in the play

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.

The play, titled “The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven,” was most recently performed at Outburst Queer Arts Festival in Belfast just weeks after the nation’s legislature failed to advance marriage equality legislation.

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.

For more information on The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, visit the play’s website here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Cloistered Argentine Carmelite Nun Reaches Out to Trans Women

November 21, 2015

Regular long-time readers of Bondings 2.0  may remember our posts about Sister “Monica,” a U.S. nun who pioneered ministry to transgender people.  We’ve covered her involvement in this groundbreaking work a few times (here and here, for example), and you can read about her ministry and why she chooses to remain anonymous, using only the pseudonym Sister “Monica” when she appears in the media.

Sister Monica, third from right, with her group of trans women in Argentina.

In another part of the world, another Sister Mónica has emerged who is doing similar outreach work with the transgender community.  This Sister Mónica (which is her real name) lives in the Neuquén province of Argentina and is a member of the Discaled Carmelite Order, a contemplative community.  Her ministry has even attracted the attention and support of Pope Francis.

Her story first appeared in OhLaLá, an Argentinian web magazine for women.  Thanks to “Rebel Girl,” the blogging name of a contributor to Iglesia Descalza, a site for progressive Catholic reflection, we have an English translation of the article featuring Sister Mónica Astorga Cremona.

The story recounts how Sister Mónica’s pastoral life has always been with those on the margins of society, and that an encounter with a young transgender woman focused her attention on the needs of this community.  The nun described the story:

” ‘I feel that God wants me to accompany the wounded and that’s why I take responsibility. They often tell me I stand with them; it’s that I feel that from that place I can understand them. Because when we look at them from the other side, it’s impossible. I get in deep,’ the sister adds.

“And because of this kind of attitude, it’s not surprising that in December 2005, when Romina, a trans woman, approached Lourdes parish, the bishop decided this was a job for her.

“Romina went at that time to the church because she wanted to donate a tenth of her wages. ‘When the priest asked her where it came from, she told him from prostitution, and she explained that that was the only work she could get. At that point, the priest called me and told me about the case.’ “

Sister Monica Astorga Cremona

Sister Monica describes the poignancy of many of the simple hopes that some transgender women face, as well as the crushing obstacles to living with dignity:

” ‘The first time I came to see the group of trans women, I asked them to tell me their dreams. One of them, Kathy, told me that hers was to have a clean bed on which to die,’ says Mónica. At that time the nun contacted a priest, told him about the case and got an abandoned house which eventually became the refuge of the girls, as Mónica calls them.

“As she got to know this group of women, she learned how they lived — that they couldn’t hold any job except prostitution because they weren’t accepted in any position, that they often didn’t finish their studies because they were discriminated against in school, and that hospitals threw them out when they were about to die, so that in most cases they died alone and abandoned.”

As with many pastoral ministers who stand in solidarity with the marginalized, Sister Mónica has had her detractors, though she also seems to have the ability to turn those detractors into friends sometimes:

“Mónica admits that within the Church itself there are conflicting opinions as to her work with these people, but says she has the support of Pope Francis and that in her community small advances have already been achieved.

” ‘Once, when Romina had just come to the church, a lady came to find me and told me,”There’s a transvestite.” I replied that she was a trans woman, and then she asked me what she was doing in the church, to which I replied, “What are you doing here?.” At first, she continued questioning me about Romina’s presence, until I asked her what would happen if that were your child,’ she says.

” ‘After a couple of days, she came back and apologized to me, and at the following Mass she went looking for Romina to give her the sign of peace,’ she adds.”

As for the papal support she has received, the nun explains that she has been in email correspondence with Francis:

“. . . [S]he affirms that Pope Francis knows of the work she is carrying out with this group of women and that he supports her. In an email he wrote her: ‘In Jesus’ time, the lepers were rejected like that. They [the trans women] are the lepers of these times. Don’t leave this work on the frontier that is yours.’ “

The nun sees the possibility of a society that is free of oppression of transgender oppression, noting that such oppression is what causes these women to live lives of poverty and addiction:

“The girls make a huge effort against the stream. We have to help them and integrate them. They are capable and intelligent people, but they are abused. We ourselves are the ones who lead them to the streets. If society would open the door to them and give them a chance, we could help them get out of this. . . .

“. . . I think who is that person to judge like that and bury another live.”

The witness of Sister Mónica should challenge all of us to take one more step along the journey of advocating and standing in solidarity with trans people.  It is people like her who are building God’s reign of justice and peace in the world and in our Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Hong Kong’s Cardinal Attacks Non-Discrimination Bill; Suggests Equality “Worse Than Climate Change”

November 7, 2015

Cardinal John Tong

Hong Kong’s Cardinal John Tong released a pastoral letter decrying a proposed sexual orientation non-discrimination ordinance in which he instructed Catholics to beware of candidates who support equality. An earlier letter said marriage equality was worse than climate change.

Writing to pastoral ministers and church leaders, Tong struck out against the proposed Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance (SODO) and marriage equality. He wrote, in part:

“. . .[T]he ‘Sex Liberation Movement’ and the ‘Gay Movement’, under the guise of equality and the fight against discrimination, have all along been advocating the enactment of a Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance and the recognition of same-sex marriages.  Thereby, the core values and key concepts of marriage and of the family are continually being challenged and misinterpreted, so that the very foundation of society is being undermined.”

The cardinal also stated that “the stance of each candidate and that of the political party he/she might belong to with regard to the core values of marriage and the family,” specifically their view on SODO, should be considered. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2015 decision to legalize marriage equality, as well as noting a local university’s sex education workshop, Tong warned that LGBT rights “would force our society into undergoing a change that would turn it upside-down.”

Church officials were instructed to “urgently” disseminate this message, including sharing on Facebook and having it read aloud at Sunday Masses.

This is not Cardinal Tong’s first time attacking LGBT rights. He released another letter in late September against equal marriage rights. Writing extensively against the Obergefell decision and tying his remarks to Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato Si, the cardinal put forward the patently ridiculous line:

“The resulting ‘climate change’ in moral attitudes and conduct towards sex and marriage, if not properly addressed, can be as bad as and even worse than climate change in the physical environment.”

Tong was also extremely strident against same-gender couples in his 2012 Christmas message, though this softened in 2013, likely due to Pope Francis’ influence.

Tong’s rhetoric is harsh and, at times, even bizarre, which led gay lawmaker Ray Chan Chi-chuen to call this most recent letter a “big international joke” and suggested Pope Francis would never write such judgmental words, reported Hong Kong Free Press.

Chan joined Shum Tsz-kit of Rainbow Action, an LGBT rights group, in questioning why the cardinal was prioritizing his anti-LGBT crusade instead of elevating real issues, like the destruction of Christian churches in China, and real values for Hong Kong, like democracy and fairness.

The letter comes the same week as Hong King’s Pride celebrations today, and only days after Houston, Texas, voters rejected a similar non-discrimination ordinance in last Tuesday’s elections. Catholics with DignityUSA’s Trans Support Caucus criticized Texas voters’ failure to approve the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) which would have expanded LGBT protections. Lui Francesco Matsuo, a transgender man with the Caucus, said in a statement:

” ‘It is sad and scary to live in a society where people vote against what they are ignorant about based on unfounded discriminatory feelings, rather than educating themselves and deciding logically with facts.”

I think Matsuo is on point in suggesting that, rather than giving in to ignorance and prejudice, people need to educate themselves first. Cardinal Tong’s letters are completely devoid of any compassion for LGBT people as people, marginalizing their experiences and desires for equality.

There is no mercy or respect in his words, the very traits Pope Francis repeatedly calls for from church leaders. More than that, Tong;s words perpetuate discrimination and such misguided attitudes often breed violence. The cardinal should retract both letters and choose instead to encounter LGBT people, especially those within the local church he oversees, so he can come to know and to love them. Until then, his letters fall on deaf ears.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Transgender Education Policies Face Catholic Opposition in Canada, U.S.

November 4, 2015

Edmonton Catholic School Board meeting in September

Policies designed to protect transgender students are facing Catholic opposition in regions of Canada and the U.S. Though some school leaders have failed to prioritize students’ well-being, important progress is being made nevertheless.

Below, Bondings 2.0 offers stories revealing Catholics’ differing responses when it comes to transgender youth inclusion in schools.

Edmonton’s Catholic Schools

The Edmonton Catholic School Board in Alberta, Canada, passed a first reading of a policy which would allow students to self-identify their genders and therefore use corresponding bathrooms and/or participate on athletic teams according to their self-identification.

Consideration of such a change emerged after a 7-year-old girl sought to use the girls’ bathroom at her Catholic primary school but was forced to use a gender-neutral one instead. A September meeting regarding the proposed policy erupted into shouting and tears, and no vote was called as a result.

The Edmonton Catholic School Board’s ongoing failure to prioritize students’ interests or even maintain decorum has cast doubt on its abilities in the eyes of many, including the province’s Education Minister David Eggen. [Because Catholic schools in Canada are funded by local provinces, their governing boards are answerable to provincial officials.]

Eggen expressed his lack of confidence in the Catholic school leaders to Metro News. He hired facilitator David Cummings to, in the minister’s words, help members to “collectively and individually to improve their governance skills.” The minister also reminded all involved that he had power to dissolve the Board, which would be “a step that I must take seriously and I hope Edmonton Catholic takes seriously.”

Beyond the Board’s general dysfunction, critics have highlighted remarks by Trustee Larry Kowalczyk as especially harmful. The sole vote against the drafted policy, Kowalczyk has also claimed that trans people have a “mental disorder” and erroneously argued that transitioning contradicts church teaching, reported the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Kowalczyk further called LGBT advocates “God-hating activists,” according to the Edmonton Sunwhich quoted Minister Eggen’s response:

” ‘We all saw some of the individual comments that still spoke to a lack of education around transgender issues and equality in general and certainly we know, and Mr. Cummings saw it in living colour, just how quickly things break down into animosity with this specific board. . .It’s very important that people respect each others opinions but also don’t overstep and start to just simply misrepresent both science and the letter of the law.’ “

Directly contradicting Kowalczyk’s assertion that the Board should be loyal to Archbishop Richard Smith rather than the provincial government, Eggen said there was “a misrepresentation between who carries the law here in the province of Alberta.”

LGBT advocates and parents are also concerned that the Edmonton Catholic School Board will not be able to protect students sufficiently. Transgender parent Marni Panas told CBC:

” ‘I don’t think there are people that are on this board that are even capable, practically not even willing, to create safe environments for these students. . .Clearly the minister has to step in and take some responsibility for this.

” ‘Every day that we’re waiting without a policy, a child is getting hurt, a child is hurting. . .This doesn’t really help that child feel any better.’ “

Kris Wells, a faculty member with the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies, questioned whether the proposed policy around which such controversy has erupted is even progress. Telling CBC it receives a “C” grade at most, he continued:
 ” ‘It really meets a minimal standard, it’s not inspiring, it’s not comprehensive. . .It’s really a disappointment and a letdown for a board that actually promised to do the work.”
Wells cited the policy’s failure to grant students a right to gay-straight alliances, a lack of protections for LGBTQ staff, and no accountability measures for the Board. Noting the significant discrimination and harm trans youth face, Wells wrote in the Edmonton Journal that each day the proposed policy is delayed, LGBTQ students are at risk. He said, in part:
 “Clearly, many school boards across Alberta have actively resisted and failed in their duties to protect LGBTQ students and teachers from irreparable harm. . .Every day we are without provincial policies and guidelines is another day LGBTQ students and teachers remain at risk. I hope it will not take a tragedy for our government to end all forms of discrimination in our schools. This is no longer a matter of opinion, but an expectation of law, and a moral imperative of our new government.”
Wells also claimed the district’s superintendent, Joan Carr, threatened his job by writing to Wells’ then-supervisor about “relentless” tweets and “disparaging comments.” This email was an effort, in Well’s view, “to silence me and have me dismissed from my job.”  Wells had initially offered suggestions as the policy was drafted, but was barred formally though he continued commenting publicly as an academic according to Metro News.
A second reading of the policy is scheduled for November 24 after a public review period, at which time this policy will hopefully be approved. For a Q & A about relevant Edmonton school policies, check out a primer from the Edmonton Journal by clicking here.
Saskatchewan Catholic Schools
Unlike Edmonton where Catholic leadership is resisting inclusive policies, church schools in Saskatchewan are advancing supports for LGBT students. Progress, particularly when it comes to gay-straight alliances and transgender protections, even comes with the bishop’s blessing and expands existing efforts. These efforts include teacher trainings and non-binding directives about gay and lesbian students from the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association.

Though local politics have stalled passage of laws similar to those in Ontario and Alberta which mandate gay-straight alliances if requested by students or parents, Brett Salkeld of the Archdiocese of Regina admitted to The Star Phoenix:

” ‘We know it’s coming. We know we’re going to get requests in our schools. Our people have been working on this well in advance. . .We don’t want to be at the centre of a public controversy.’ “

Bishop Don Bolen of Saskatoon said church leaders sought to respond to students’ needs by offering guidelines that will detail how to handle student requests for LGBT groups and answer questions gender identity. He explained further:

” ‘Life is messy. Neither the church’s teaching or GSAs in isolation are going to avoid that messiness of life.’ “

Education Minister Don Morgan is pleased with church leaders’ attitudes, suggesting that legislation is unnecessary as long as all schools comply with existing policies to ensure LGBT students are supported.


Further south in Nebraska, the state’s Catholic Conference, in conjunction with other conservative groups, has asked the Nebraska School Activities Association to draft a policy on transgender students in athletics. The desired policy, reported Crux, would deny students’ gender identity and mandate participation according to assigned sex at birth. A policy may emerge as early as this month.

Progress is Needed

Returning to the Edmonton debate, Dr. Lorne Warneke of the University of Alberta advocated powerfully about the need to protect transgender students everywhere. As a psychiatrist specializing in gender, she wrote in the Edmonton Journal about the damaging impact that stigmatizing gender identities can have:

“Not allowing a child to express their true gender identity dampens a child’s spirit. This leads to internalized shame and guilt for being who they are, and to poor self-esteem and a negative self-concept. By adolescence, if forced to lead a life of a lie, this can lead to drug/alcohol abuse, isolation, school dropout, self-injury and suicide attempts. This is unforgivable, particularly if it happens in the context of religious dogma.”

Alternatively, supporting a student in expressing their authentic gender identity leads to better happiness, self-confidence, and school performance and more broadly promotes diversity which, Warneke said, strengthens society. Albertans should “be proud” that their province is generally supportive of LGBT communities, but the psychiatrist continued:

“Everyone has the right to their own religious beliefs of course, but such beliefs should not be imposed on others against their will. . .In in the same vein, Edmonton’s Catholic board is publicly funded to provide education to students, not to act as a church. . .It is sad that organizations where greater understanding and acceptance should be expected instead take the stance of being stigmatizing and rejecting.”


In September, when the Edmonton debate began, I commented on the situation, noting that Catholic leaders must discern and enact policies which meet every student’s needs, welcome all into safe spaces where education can occur, and cherish each young person as a child of God.  The same is true in these current debates.

Making harsh statements, challenging governmental authority, and spreading transphobic misinformation do the opposite. It should not take government intervention for church leaders to act with basic dignity and respect towards any student. Their response should come from being Christians, rooted in the Gospel, called to seek the common good of all people.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Priest Says Same-Sex Marriage Improves Society, As Catholic Nations Commence Weddings

October 28, 2015

Fr. Peter Daly

A Maryland Catholic priest said the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling which legalized marriage equality nationwide in June “may, in fact, make things better, not only for LGBT couples, but also for our society.”

Fr. Peter Daly wrote these words in the National Catholic Reporter, where he also endorsed civil marriage equality and suggested separating civil and sacramental marriages. He asked whether same-gender couples “really need the protections offered by civil marriage,” answering in the affirmative though admitting he has not always believed so.

On this point, Daly called the documentary Bridegroom a “mind changer.” Daly says all relationships “could only hope for a gentle, respectful, joyful, loving relationship like the one” the couple featured possesses. One partner died in a tragic accident, while the other was denied benefits and even access to the funeral, leading Fr. Daly to conclude:

“The movie is heart breaking. We can see the injustice of the situation and the need for a legal structure to protect people. If same-sex marriage could encourage relationships like Tom and Shane’s, it would be an unalloyed good for everyone in society, including our church. . .

“The whole society benefits from more stable and committed relationships. Everyone benefits when people have clearer legal rights and responsibilities. Same-sex marriage does not erode the meaning of sacramental marriage. In fact, it is a tip of the hat in respect for it because it seeks a parallel institution.”

[The film is available for viewing on YouTube.]

Fr. Daly’s column reveals a deep compassion for LGBT people, though he acknowledges that the Supreme Court decision may bring some bumps in the road.  He would have preferred that marriage equality had been enacted by legislative or electoral means.  He acknowledges that religious liberty questions may arise, but is confident that they can be resolved for the good of all.  He criticizes the idea that court clerks who disagree with the same-sex marriages should be allowed to withhold marriage licenses for lesbian and gay couples.

Fr. Daly also offered practical contributions to the Catholic Church’s emerging response to marriage equality. Calling a Catholic priest’s dual roles as minister and magistrate when signing marriage licenses “odd,” he wonders if “priests should stop signing state-issued marriage licenses.” He wrote further:

“On the practical level, how will parishes respond to same-sex marriage? . . .Pope Francis gave us example during his visit to the United States. He met with a gay couple. He warmly welcomed them to the Nunciature. He treated them with affection and respect.”

Daly noted that his parish would not be able to perform weddings for lesbian and gay couples or celebrate anniversaries, but he listed what he insists they will be doing:

“As long as I am pastor here we will welcome and register everyone who shares our Catholic faith, including same-sex couples. After all, we register divorced and remarried people. We will educate their children in our religious education programs, and we welcome them as sponsors at baptism and confirmation. We open our ministries to them. We will allow them to teach religious education so long as they are respectful of the church teaching. (That we require of everyone.) We will encourage them to participate fully in the life of the church, including the Eucharist. We will treat everyone with respect and dignity. We will allow them the right of their own conscience.”

Towards the end, Fr. Daly speculated about the church will “adjust its language and teaching” on homosexuality and said Catholics would be “embarrassed” by what has been said and done to LGBT people, including the use of the term “intrinsically disordered.”

While the embarrassment may be a true feeling, historically Catholic nations have refused to wait before advancing LGBT rights. News broke last week that Irish legislators approved the laws needed for marriage equality to be implemented and weddings may begin within two weeks, reported The Irish Examiner

In Chile, among Latin America’s most conservative nations, civil unions have begun according to The Guardian. Though short of full marriage rights, LGBT activists are hailing this as a victory in a country where there is only 25% popular support for marriage equality and divorce was legalized in 2004.

Marriage equality in Slovenia is threatened, however, after that nation’s Constitutional Court approved a popular referendum seeking to withdraw legislation passed last March guaranteeing equal marriage rights. The Catholic Church has backed the anti-equality referendum, reported NDTV.

All proving, once again, that Catholics do support marriage equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Cardinal Gracias to LGBT People: ‘Church Embraces You, Wants You, Needs You’

October 19, 2015

Below is the next installment of Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias is Archbishop of Bombay, the head of India’s National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and a member of Pope Francis’ Council of nine cardinal advisors from around the globe.  In the last few years, he has emerged as one of the leading international advocates for better pastoral and civil care of LGBT people.   He was the only religious leader in India who opposed an initiative to recriminalize LGBT people, has urged his priests to be more sensitive in their language about LGBT people, spoke out for better pastoral care during last year’s extraordinary synod, and met with the Chair of Quest, the United Kingdom’s Catholic LGBT group.

He is here in Rome for the synod, and I had the pleasure of sitting down with him, one-on-one, for a brief interview on Sunday night to talk about the pastoral outreach to LGBT people, criminalization laws, church doctrine and language, and his own personal journey.


Cardinal Oswald Gracias

In the last couple of years, you’ve made some very positive gestures in regard to LGBT people.  In what ways has your understanding of LGBT people evolved over the years and how did that happen?

Initially it began with involvement in civil law with banning homosexuality.  I felt that was not right–indiscriminately putting everybody in same category.  Therefore,  I spoke, saying the Church was not in favor of this.  This was a bit of a surprise to many people because of what they think the Church teaches.  You must make a distinction with an individual, who is absolutely part of the Church, who we must care for, and who might have a [homosexual] orientation.  You can’t put them in chains, or say we have no responsibility whatsoever.  The law was struck down, but now it’s back again.

Subsequently, I met a few people also. I realized their goodness, that many people do not realize.  They are often painted one way and the images are bad.  My own view is that the Church has to be all-embracing, inclusive. and take care of everybody. Our moral principles are clear.  I would be too worried that we are breaking our moral code or that the Church’s principles are shattered because we say that we are pastoral. The Catechism has said also that they must be cared for. Some people say you are going too far.

In one way, it’s very Catholic position to welcome.  To not be welcoming is wrong.

To not be welcoming would not be a Catholic attitude. It would not be Christ’s attitude, certainly. We have to be very compassionate, understanding, and open to people.

When I read about your stand on the civil law, I read that you were the only religious leader in India to oppose re-criminalization. How did you find the courage to be the only one?

I was convinced. I think gradually others will come to see what I am saying.  It’s so clear in my mind.  This is what the Church would want.  I’m convince that eventually it will be de-criminalized.  It’s a question of time.

Did you receive a backlash or criticism for your stand?

Not much.  There were a few.  There were some theologians who said they disagreed with me. But that was an intellectual discussion, and I was happy about that because it allowed me to sharpen my thoughts on the matter.  But there was no campaign against what I said.

In the U.S. we have many parishes who have set up ministries of welcome to LGBT people.  What advice would you give to those parishes and pastors working with LGBT people?

I honestly would think that they would know more than me. From experience, you always learn how to do things pastorally. Homosexuality is not fully out of the closet in India.  The atmosphere is not so open in the civil society to be able to have people openly come and declare themselves.  As a matter of fact a gay association asked me if I would say Mass for them.  I said, “Absolutely. No difficulty whatsoever.  I said to them they should keep in mind that they would suddenly be coming out into the open. For me, it’s not a problem.

Do you see any gifts that lesbian and gay people bring to the Church?

I haven’t met enough to make a generalization. But the people I have met have impressed me very much by their sincerity , wanting to help the Church, generosity, Is this specific to them or just because they happen to be who they are?  So, I can’t generalize.  But all I have met have been good people, wanting to dedicate themselves to work for the Church.  When I say “for the Church, ” I mean “for people, through the Church’s charities.”

Let’s talk about the synod.  Do you think there is going to be any progress made on lesbian and gay issues this year?

I can see there is a great hesitation from the synod fathers to really touch this topic.  Therefore, I can see that the synod will probably say that we must receive them in pastoral care. Full stop.  Something very gentle and limited. I don’t expect us to be able to say very  much more specific on this.

Do you think it would be possible for the synod to make a statement about criminalization since that is happening around the globe?

I feel clear about it and strongly about it.  One of the criticisms of the synod is that it is too Euro-centric, and we are carefully looking into that.  It’s difficult at this stage to start shifting the whole focus. I’m saying this because I know that Africa is very sensitive about this topic.  There’s very clearly a North American-European stance on this topic.  How we as a Church, as the universal Church, can take something on board, is something that we have to consider. That is really key.

How about language?  There’s been reports that some bishops are proposing getting rid of words like “disorder” and “evil” in relation to LGBT people?

It should be done gently. I’m glad you brought this up. I think there would be an acceptance of saying “Let’s use gentler language, not judgemental language.”   The response to this view is “Are you condoning it?” I personally feel that it would help us to have a more clear, objective view of this matter.

Would it have been helpful to the bishops for lesbian and gay people, couples, to speak to the synod the way married couples have spoken?

Personally, I would have thought it would have been an enrichment. I would have been happy to hear them, and I think that it would help all the synod fathers to understand. I think most have never had direct contact or discussion.  I have a feeling about that.  For them, it’s just a theoretical opinion, but you really don’t come down to the person.  When you really see a person,you speak to a person, and understand the anxiety. I often think about what Our Lord’s approach be in that circumstances: sympathetic,  understanding.

The whole thing about the origin of sexual orientation has not been studied in-depth.  Some say that it’s a choice.  I see that it is not a choice for many people, so it’s not fair to say it is.  In that sense, we are not open enough.

In my ministry with LGBT people, I meet a lot of LGBT people who are thinking of leaving the Church or finding it difficult to stay in the Church.  What would you say to them?

I would say the Church embraces you, wants you, and the Church needs you.  You are not someone who is a burden to the Church.  The Church needs you. You are part of us. We’d like to help you, we’d like to see you more clearly.  We are struggling to see how to help you more with pastoral care 

I’d also say, “Don’t get discouraged.”  At the last synod there was just one official intervention on this topic; in group discussions it would come out much more. This time there were a few more. So, I would say to[LGBT people],  “Hold on.  It is certainly not the end. We are still in the process, and we will find a way. 

What advice would you give other bishops who may be opposed to any changes on LGBT people?

I would say to the bishops to meet with people.  That’s important. Meet with people. That would help us–and me also– to see flesh and blood–that this is not an academic problem but a real problem.  It’s not an academic case where you say “A equals B, and B equals C.”  There are so many ramifications. 

I would say to them that the Church is an all-embracing mother.  The Church is mother and teacher.  The mother does not send her children away, no matter what.

You gave me a chill when you said that last sentence. It was beautiful.  In the. U.S. Church one of the biggest groups that pushes for the rights of LGBT people are the mothers and the fathers.  We say they are a bridge because they are very dedicated to the Church and very dedicated to their children. 

The parents suffer a lot, but they understand their children.  So we can’t be legalistic.  We cannot change church teaching or doctrine.   I’m not sure we have the final word.  We have to continuously study ourselves:  Scripture, morality, canon law to see what we could do. 

Thank you for your time.  I’m sure you are very busy.

When we first started, I said “Why are we having a synod for three weeks?”  Now, I’m saying, “Three weeks is not enough!”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Mother Teresa’s Order End Adoptions over Fears Gay People Might Provide Loving Homes for Children

October 16, 2015

Mother Teresa, foundress of the Missionaries of Charity

Missionaries of Charity Sisters in India, the order founded by Mother Teresa, are withdrawing from adoption work over fears that single gay and lesbian folks might welcome a child into their homes.

Appealing to India’s Central Adoption Resource Authority, the Missionaries have “sought de-recognition” of 13 of their 16 orphanages in the country, reported The Huffington Post.

New guidelines from the Ministry of Women and Child Development which permit individuals to adopt caused “ideological differences,” explained by Sister Amala, who runs an orphanage in North Delhi. She explained:

” ‘The new guidelines hurt our conscience. They are certainly not for religious people like us. … What if the single parent who we give our baby [to] turns out to be gay or lesbian? What security or moral upbringing will these children get? Our rules only allow married couples to adopt.’ “

In an interview with  The Independent , Sister Amala said that children “may not receive real love” if they are not placed with a heterosexual couple. The Times of India reported two incidents where Missionaries rejected single parents already, though whether it was due to their sexual orientations is unclear.

The new guidelines, aimed at increasing transparency, do eliminate the Missionaries ability to discriminate at will against LGBT people and others seeking to provide a loving home for children. The sisters also object to the fact prospective adoptive parents will be able to choose from one of six children, rather than being assigned by the Missionaries themselves. While adoptions by the Missionaries of Charity have ceased, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi is hopeful that because “they are good people,” the sisters can be persuaded to reverse their decision, reported National Public Radio.

In the meantime, other organizations already strapped for resources, including Catholic ones, are forced to fill gaps left by the Missionaries’ decision. The Washington Post reported:

“In New Delhi, [the Missionaries of Charity] has transferred six unadopted children to Holy Cross Social Services, a Catholic organization. . .

” ‘We are seeing a sudden rise in children coming to our adoption home. It could be because the Missionaries of Charity is not accepting any more,’ said Lorraine Campos, assistant director of Palna, one of the oldest adoption homes in the capital.”

Veerendra Mishra, secretary of the Central Adoption Resource Authority, is clear in her comment to Hindustan Times that for any progress, the Missionaries of Charity will “have to abide” by the new rule. She continued:

” ‘We told them there is a no reason to refuse a single parent who is eligible and fulfills all conditions in the guidelines. Why deny a good home to a child where there are such a large number of children in orphanages waiting to be adopted.’ “

Missionaries of Charity orphanage in India

The question is a good one given that India has an estimated 30 million children who have been orphaned or abandoned, according to The Washington Post. This is the highest number in the world and india’s adoption system is woefully inadequate at the moment with only 0.4% of such children being adopted.

It is an admittedly broken process to which the Missionaries of Charity should be positively contributing rather than withdrawing from over ideological purity. As The New Civil Rights Movement editorialized:

“Thirty million children in need of loving parents? Perhaps someone could explain to the nuns of the Missionaries of Charity that when Jesus said ‘Suffer the little children…’ this was not what he meant.”

Denying adoption to parents in nontraditional situations goes back to Mother Teresa herself, according to one Hindustan Times columnist, who suggested the foundress “had very definite ideas on who could be a parent and who could not.” Lalita Panicker suggested that Mother Teresa and her order have “narrowed down the definition of humanity to exclude certain categories of people.” Panicker wrote:

“This is a retrogressive and harmful mindset, given the fact that many potential parents who wish to adopt children may not be able to fit the rigorous moral conditions of the Missionaries. And why on earth would a person’s sexual orientation be tantamount to a risk to the child? It is no one’s case that strict background checks not be conducted on prospective parents. . .

“The central principle of adoption is to give the child a happy upbringing in a secure and safe environment. The only consideration should be that the prospective parent/parents can provide this. . .If the Missionaries were to impose their conditions on adoption, chances are that we will have a lot more babies waiting for a very long time to get a home.”

The Missionaries of Charity’s decision seems particularly punitive given the state of sexual rights in India, which not only still bans adoption by lesbian and gay people but also re-criminalized homosexuality in 2013, a decision that was actually criticized by Catholic leaders.

The order’s decision primarily affects the 30 million orphaned and abandoned children, but also harms LGBT people whose very lives are at risk in India. This is highlighted by Vikram Johri at BoomLive, who characterized the Missionaries’ act as “a generalised, insensitive statement on the morals and values of the LGBT crowd.” Johri wrote:

“For gay people wanting to raise children, MoC’s argument can be exploited by right-wing groups looking to strip LGBT persons of their (already negligible) rights. The organisation has sought to frame its argument as a necessity for the protection of to-be-adopted children, and has thus played into vicious stereotypes that portray gays as incapable of being responsible adults, or worse, pedophiles. . .

“With poor adoption rates, the government should do everything in its power to ensure that more interested parents are able to adopt. LGBT couples make a natural choice in this regard.”

Indeed, if 30 million children lack loving homes and LGBT people are willing to provide them loving homes, it is eminently reasonable for these adoptions to be facilitated by the Indian government and Catholic organizations alike. Not facilitating these adoptions may adhere to the letter of the law of Mother Teresa’s ministry, but deviate from the spirit of her work. Though she was negative about lesbian and gay people, preferring to call them “friends of Jesus” rather than acknowledging their sexual orientation, the Missionaries under her leadership have set up AIDS hospices.

To not participate in Indian adoptions is not only discrimination and a deep injustice against LGBT, single, and divorced people, but is the act which actually denies children the security, moral upbringing, and real love the Missionaries profess. The Missionaries of Charity should look beyond a harmful legalism and dated prejudices to embrace instead Christ’s expansive love and accompany all those on the margins whom God loves most. That would be a real act of charity.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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