NEWS NOTES: April 19, 2014

April 19, 2014

NewsHere are some items that you might find of interest:

1)  The Montana Standard reported that Shaela Evenson, a lesbian teacher who was fired from a Butte, Montana Catholic school because she became pregnant while unmarried, has given birth to a baby boy.  Both the school superintendent and Evenson’s lawyer agree that it was the pregnancy and marital status, not sexual orientation, which was the cause of the firing.  Evenson, who lives with her partner Marilyn Tobin, has filed a discrimination case with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

2) Michael Coren, a columnist for Canada’s The Toronto Sun reported that the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association has decided to march in Toronto’s World Pride parade in June.  The organization 45,000 teachers.

3) The Boston Globe reported that Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley filed a brief against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester in the discrimination suit brought against them by a married gay couple who said the diocese refused to sell them a real estate property because of the couple’s sexual orientation.

4) Insight Newspaper reported that Archbishop Lewis Zeigler of Monrovia, Liberia, has told Catholics in that African nation not to support same-sex marriage.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: April 18, 2014

April 18, 2014

NewsHere are some follow-up news items to previous posts:

1)  The Tablet reported that Conor Burns, a Catholic member of the British Parliament, said he does not feel welcome to receive communion in his diocese because his bishop  had suggested that Catholic Members of Parliament who voted for last year’s marriage equality law should not be allowed to receive communion.  Though Bishop Philip Egan had suggested banning these Catholic politicians from communion, the Catholic Conference of England said they have no plans to follow such a policy, according to Gay Star News.

2)  Following a heated meeting of parents who were upset that a nun with an anti-gay message was allowed to speak at an assembly at Charlotte Catholic High School, North Carolina, Bishop Peter Jugis of the Charlotte Diocese has written a letter “to express my support and encouragement for all the parents, students, staff and faculty at the high school.”   A copy of his letter is available on the WSOC-TV website, which reported this development. 

2)  The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported that Ken Bencomo, who was fired from his teaching position at St. Lucy’s Priory H.S. in Glendora, California, for marrying his husband, is suing the school for ” wrongful termination in violation of public policy, violation of the state Labor Code and breach of contract.”

3) Though publicly-identified LGBT groups were not allowed to march in Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade last month, the central Massachusetts city of Holyoke welcomed Mass Equality, the state’s LGBT rights organization to march in its parade in honor of the Irish saint, reported WGGB-TV.  The Holyoke High School Gay/Straight Alliance, also marched.  Mayor Alex Morse said it was the first time in memory that LGBT groups participated in the parade.

4) TheSpec.com reported that Christopher Karas, a Catholic high school student in Mississauga, Canada, who had been told earlier this year that he could not use a quotation from Harvey Milk on a school poster advertising the students’ gay/straight alliance,  has now filed a complaint with Ontario’s human rights tribunal, accusing the school of systemic homophobia.  His complaint extends beyond the incident with the poster, and includes a history of incidents that Karas said he has experienced at the school.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

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NEWS NOTES: April 17, 2014

April 17, 2014

NewsHere are some items that you might find of interest:

1) The Catholic island nation of Malta passed legislation approving civil unions for same-gender couples, according to Gay Star News.  Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna, a Maltese Catholic bishop, who had at one time spoke favorably about same-gender relationships, was one of the prime spokesperson’s for the local Catholic hierarchy opposing the new law.

2) Catholics in Spain are strongly in support of that nation’s marriage equality law, which was enacted in 2005, according to a new survey.  West-Info.eu  reported on the survey which also noted that in two Catholic nations where same-gender marriage is not legal, the majority of believers oppose such a policy:  in Italy, 66%;  in Poland, 78%.

Mother Teresa

3) Mother Teresa is featured on the website for the United Nations’ Free and Equal program which supports non-discrimination for LGBT people around the globe.  When one clicks on her image on the homepage, one is brought to a photo of Mother Teresa under the headline “Mother Teresa Helps Us to Remember What’s Important.”   Superimposed over her photo is a quote from the universally-revered champion of the poor:  “What can you do to promote world peace?  Go home and love your family.”  The photo with the quotation can be shared on Facebook and other social media platforms.

4) The National Catholic Reporter noted that the Vatican has appointed a bishop to investigate the sexual abuse allegations against Cardinal Keith O’Brien, formerly the primate of Scotland, who resigned last year when he acknowledged sexual liaisons with men who became priests in his diocese.  O’Brien made headlines for speaking out strongly against marriage equality in Scotland.  The bishop who will be leading the investigation is Maltese Bishop Charles Scicluna, mentioned in the first news note above.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Under Pope Francis, Italian Gay Catholics See Signs of Hope — and Resistance

April 9, 2014

Whether a ‘Francis effect’ exists and just what it might be are questions which have dominated media coverage of Pope Francis’ first year. Now, the Washington Post profiles gay Italian Catholics who very much believe  ‘l’effetto Francesco’ or ‘Francis effect’ is positively influencing not just the Church, but their nation as well. The article begins by setting the Italian context:

Giulia Masieri is given Communion during the Mass held by Don Andrea Bigalli in the Church of Sant’Andrea in Florence, Italy. The parish welcomes gay Catholics.

“But for the pope, perhaps no one issue illustrates his divergence from tradition more than early signs of rapprochement between the church and gay Catholics.

“Francis’s shift so far has been one of style over substance; nothing in the church’s teachings on homosexuality has changed, and conservative clerics remain deeply skeptical of any radical move toward broad acceptance. But few places offer a better snapshot of the church’s evolving relationship with its gay flock than here in Italy, the host of Vatican City and where Roman Catholicism wields outsize influence.”

Italy, long influenced by the Catholic Church, is a holdout among European nations on LGBT rights. The nation’s bishops have helped stop even civil union-type legislation and, of the so-called ‘social issues,’ the Post writes that “homosexuality remains the last taboo.” LGBT advocates do not expect legal recognition of same-gender partners any time soon, even as Italian politicians begin to more publicly endorse gay equality. And yet, the Post notes:

“…the influence on the ground of Francis’s words and deeds — including a recent suggestion that the church may look more closely at the issue of civil unions — has begun to create what gay Catholics here describe as a burgeoning spirit of acceptance in pockets of the church’s grass roots.

“In Florence, a local parish council this month permitted a group of gay Catholics to hold their first public prayer session inside a Roman Catholic church. In Rome, a parish run by Jesuit priests announced a special service scheduled for April that, also for the first time in recent memory, is openly reaching out to gay as well as divorced Catholics. A leaflet for the service depicts Francis on the cover and reads: ‘The Church wants to be home. For everybody.’

“Prompted by a new Vatican questionnaire seeking views on family issues including same-sex couples, a representative of the Diocese of Padua held a landmark meeting in December with a gay Catholic group. Luigi Pescina, a spokesman for the group, said members were told that local church officials would now aim to ‘strip ourselves of prejudice and fear’ and ‘open up a relationship of exchange and enrichment’ with local gay Catholics.”

Elsewhere, Catholic priests and politicians who are already LGBT-affirming are pushing the boundaries and citing Pope Francis when doing so. Kairos, an existing gay Catholic group who received a personal response from Pope Francis last fall, may now hold public liturgies and be affiliated with the parish which had been hosting it. The group’s coordinator Innocenzo Pontillo and others said of these steps:

” ‘It may seem small, but for us, this is important…It is like feeling the light on your face. These are things which I feel would have been impossible before Pope Francis.’

“New members of the group, like Anna Maria — a 35-year-old lesbian who was too afraid of being ‘outed’ to give her last name — have come to consider the pope’s comments on homosexuality last July as a personal turning point.

“She said her devoutly Catholic mother called her after hearing the pope’s declaration. The two of them had grown distant since Anna Maria had told her mother years earlier that she was a lesbian. ‘But when she called me, she said, “If the pope is not judging you, then who am I to judge you either?” ‘ “

Yet, LGBT advocates are warning of claiming too much, too soon, as positive as Pope Francis’ first year has been. They point to continued examples of priests condemning gay and lesbian people.  And sustained cultural change will be needed if Pope Francis’ welcoming tone is to have a lasting impact.

There are also those in the Catholic hierarchy working against LGBT inclusion, including Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the head of Italy’s conference of bishops. In a speech, Bagnasco urged parents to oppose an anti-bullying campaign launched by the Italian government to stop violence against and suicides by gay people.

The cardinal used harsh language, saying schools were becoming “indoctrination and re-education camps” in a “totalitarian dictatorship” and attacked what he termed “gender ideology.” According to The New Civil Rights Movement, outcry from Catholic bishops has now caused the government to postpone rolling out the anti-bullying program.

Italy’s situation is a reminder for the universal Church that while Pope Francis is opening doors to LGBT people, lasting change will only come as a result of cultural transformation and we have much to do. Still, the ‘Francis effect’ seems helpful along this path to a more just Church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Lesbian Couple’s Child Baptized with Argentine Archbishop’s Blessing

April 7, 2014

The child of a lesbian couple in Argentina was baptized with the open support of their local archbishop, perhaps owing to Pope Francis’ more pastoral tone on LGBT issues.

Father Carlos Varras baptizes Umma Azul, as parents Karina Villarroel and Soledad Ortiz look on.

Marriage equality was made law in 2010 in Argentina, but the April 5th baptism of Umma Azul is believed to be a first for a child with same-gender parents. Karina Villarroel and Soledad Ortiz, the mothers, were raised Catholic and reached out to the archbishop of Cordoba about the baptism. Gay Star News reports:

” ‘We had a hearing with Archbishop [Carlos] Ñáñez and he told us there was no problem with our daughter being baptized in the Cathedral.’

“Archbishop Ñáñez reportedly gave ‘special instructions’ regarding the selection of godparents to Father Carlos Varras, who will be presiding over the baptism.”

Villarroeal said that though the couple does not attend church currently, they wanted their daughter baptized so she could decide for herself about whether to be Catholic. They also asked Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to be Umma’s godmother, who agreed though did not attend the baptism.

Archbishop Ñáñez’s welcome of the couple and their daughter has been attributed to Pope Francis’ leadership by some. While still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, the pope had once sternly mandated that priests baptize children from non-traditional family structures after hearing that priests were turning away single mothers requesting the sacrament. A rough translation of La Stampa reports:

“When he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the current pontiff has struggled to not exclude any child from the first sacrament, without taking into account the situation of the parents. This request is the result of a profound theological reflection, the priest Javier Klajner, head of youth ministry at the time and a close associate of Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, told Vatican Insider.

” ‘If a person comes to ask for baptism, is there no prompting of the Spirit? That ‘s what we call actual grace in theology to have moved the heart. As the Ethiopian, in the Acts of the Apostles, when he walked, and said, “Here is water. Why not baptize me?” ‘ …

” ‘If a parent asks for his son’s baptism, as we do? Do not give it to him? Francis says that we are ministers, not bureaucratic administrators in the sense of the term. In my parish, we can baptize any day, in any setting. It would be crazy not to. Then no one can come to criticize and say that people are not being baptized, because this is a contradiction,’ he said.”

Since being elected, Pope Francis has continued insisting that pastoral concerns are of the highest order. There is no way to know what impact Pope Francis has had exactly, but this baptism is a clear example that parish priests can and should minister to families led by same-gender parents, as they would to anyone else.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Why Has Pope Francis Been Silent on Anti-Gay Laws?

April 3, 2014

Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ response, or, more accurately, his lack of response to the passage of anti-gay laws and policies in places like Uganda, Nigeria, India, Russia, has been one of the more puzzling questions of the past few months for those interested in Catholic LGBT issues.  This pope, who has expressed a greater openness toward LGBT human rights than any of his predecessors, and who has not shown any timidity on speaking out on controversial social issues has remained strangely silent on this vicious trend toward more repressive anti-gay laws.

Two recent essays analyze the papal silence. Both are worth reading in full, and contemplating seriously.  I will summarize both, but recommend that you follow the links to read the entire articles.

Michael O’Loughlin, a Catholic free-lance journalist who writes about LGBT issues, has tackled the question of the pope’s silence in a Foreign Policy essay entitled, “Francis’s Papal Bull: Why is a progressive pope allowing anti-gay bishops to preach hate?”      Jamie Manson, a National Catholic Reporter columnist struck a similar note in her recent essay, “In Uganda, an opportunity for Pope Francis to act on his words.”

Michael O'Loughlin

Michael O’Loughlin

O’Loughlin begins by noting that Pope Francis recently met with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who signed the anti-gay bill.  Yet, other than a vague statement about protecting human rights, the pope made no reference to the new law.  O’Loughlin also describes local Catholic support and complicity for the new repressive measures in Africa:

Catholic bishops in Nigeria, in a letter to Jonathan, heralded the new law as “courageous” and “a clear indication of the ability of our great country to stand shoulders high in the protection of our Nigerian and African most valued cultures of the institution of marriage.” They weren’t the only religious leaders happy with a stepping-up of repression against gay Africans. In February, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill that threatens openly gay Ugandans with lifetime prison sentences. While Catholic leaders rejected the 2009 version of the bill, which contained an infamous death penalty provision, some bishops — as well as Anglican and Orthodox leaders – have been vocal in their support of the most recent measure. (Africa is the Roman Catholic Church’s fastest-growing region, in terms of membership.)

After examining the many ways that Francis has opened up the conversation about LGBT people in the Church over the past year,  O’Loughlin speculates as to what might be the pope’s reason for silence:

“The disconnect between the pope’s words and actions stems partly from the fact that Pope Francis appears hesitant to become involved with what the Vatican considers local issues, which includes national laws punishing gay people for their sexual orientation. And although counterintuitive, this hesitance actually reflects a certain liberalism about the internal dynamics of the church: Catholic progressives, used to the rigid, authoritarian rule of Rome over the past few decades, have long wanted to see the devolution of power away from the Vatican. This was the only way, they believed, that lay people — with more access to bishops than to Rome’s highest echelons — could gain some input in the church’s decision-making processes.”

But, such a reason is not enough to justify his silence, O’Loughlin suggests. He calls on the pope to become a more vocal advocate for justice for LGBT people, if his initial gestures and statements are to have any real meaning:

“Yet if he truly wants to move forward, he will have to build on his initial outreach and ask, publicly, that Catholic bishops and other leaders keep up. If the pope truly wants the Catholic Church to chart a course for social justice around the world, his leadership on this issue must demonstrate that his powerful institution is a genuine voice for the oppressed.”

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Pope Francis’ leadership in regard to these repressive laws is needed since local bishops have been so quick to support the anti-gay measures.  Nigerian bishops were explicit in their support of the new law in their nation.  Ugandan bishops, at first, were silent about their country’s law, but, as Jamie Manson points out in her column:

“That was until Monday, when, at a ‘thanksgiving’ celebration for the new law held in Kampala, their actions spoke louder than words.

“International media outlets reported that the thanksgiving rally and ceremony was organized by a nonspecific ‘coalition of religious leaders.’ But a photo in one of Uganda’s major newspapers revealed that Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga of Kampala not only attended the thanksgiving celebration, he was part of a contingent of five clergymen (including a Muslim sheikh, a Pentecostal bishop and an Anglican bishop) who gave Museveni an engraved plaque to congratulate him for signing the bill.

A YouTube video also shows Lwanga offering prayers at the ceremony for those ‘led astray in this vice of homosexuality.’ “

Manson notes why Catholic opinion is so important in Uganda:

“An estimated 44 percent of Uganda is Catholic, which suggests that the Roman Catholic hierarchy holds significant influence over the beliefs of the people and the development of public policy. By offering public praise of Museveni’s signing of this law, Lwanga has given his blessing to legislation that violates the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches that homosexual orientation is not a choice and that gays and lesbians should not be subjected to violence or social discrimination.”

She concludes with a call to the pope to exercise his leadership by putting substance behind his words:

“These repressive laws offer an opportunity for the pope’s now-legendary ‘Who am I to judge?’ comment to actually translate into action. No one is asking Pope Francis to change doctrine or create a revolution. We are only asking him to honor the catechism’s teaching that gays and lesbians should be ‘accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.’

“The global crisis of anti-homosexuality laws calls Pope Francis not only to uphold church doctrine, but to act on his own pastoral words — words that have inspired many to believe that the Catholic church has entered a new era of justice and dignity for the LGBT community worldwide.”

Both O’Loughlin and Manson mentioned New Ways Ministry’s #PopeSpeakOut Twitter campaign, now entering its third month.  We, and other Catholic and LGBT groups have been asking people to send a tweet to the pope, asking him to speak out against this trend toward more repressive anti-LGBT laws.  You can read more about the campaign here.  And if you want to send a tweet or email to the pope, those tasks will be made easier for you if you check out our helpful resource by clicking here.

It is important for the pope to speak out.  It is equally important for Catholics around the globe to speak out to the pope to let him know that our lived Catholic faith has taught us that anti-LGBT laws are not acceptable at all.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Uganda’s Bishops Remain Quiet on Anti-Gay Law; Pope Francis Will Not Visit There

March 26, 2014

Pope Francis

More than a month after Uganda’s president signed an infamous anti-gay law, that nation’s bishops still remain silent on the controversial legislation which has received international condemnation. In this same period, it was announced that Pope Francis will not visit Uganda next fall, as had been discussed, causing speculation about whether this cancellation is related to the anti-gay law.

Initially, the Ugandan [Catholic] Episcopal Conference’s head announced the bishops would study the new law before commenting. America magazine now reports any public remarks, especially a condemnation, seems unlikely. The magazine cites two priests with knowledge of the situation:

“An informed Ugandan priest, meanwhile, suggested the bishops had opted to keep ‘safe’ and silent over the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act.

” ‘I am not aware that there has been an official statement … nor that there should be,’ said Msgr. John Wynand Katende, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Kampala, Uganda’s capital…

“The same day, a Catholic priest based in Uganda told CNS that, to his knowledge, the bishops would not officially be commenting on the contentious new law.

” ‘The bishops, to my knowledge, opted to keep safe off the issue, saying that they were not given the original text. But now … they have said that the law should not be politicized,’ the priest said on condition of anonymity.”

However, the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, stated that Catholic bishops have privately expressed their support for the law and there is a well-document record of religious leaders supporting the anti-gay law.

Hundreds have urged the pope to condemn such laws through the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, and Catholics outside Uganda have been vocal in their defense of LGBT people’s lives. However, Pope Francis has remained quiet while Uganda and other nations have passed laws criminalizing homosexuality and creating stiff penalties for LGBT people. It is now confirmed the pope will not travel to Uganda in October for celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the Ugandan Martyr’s canonizations, according to the Ugandan newspaper Daily MonitorPope Francis’ global popularity resounds in Africa as well, with one Kenyan columnist urging Africans to “vote with the Pope” on gay rights:

“The revolutionary bishop from Argentina took a sledgehammer to homophobes when he asked – ‘who am I to judge?’ Those simple, if venerable five words, demolished millennia of official hatred for homosexuals in the Church that Saint Peter built…

“To the Jesuit Pope, gays should be welcomed, loved, and accepted. That’s why Pope Francis is a godsend. I’ve watched with dismay – and utter disbelief – as some states in Africa descend into an orgy of homophobia…Rogue politicians and bigoted clergymen whip up hapless followers with anti-gay propaganda…

“Pope Francis wasn’t only criticising longstanding Church doctrine. The Pope’s message was a sharp rebuke to unprincipled politicians and leaders like Mr Museveni. It’s leaders like Mr Museveni who use ‘wedge’ hot-button issues like sexuality, mini-skirts, abortion, or fake attacks on cultural imperialism to cling to power…Why all the vitriol and anger against gays who’ve never done a thing to you? I end where I started…Let’s vote with the Pope on gays – and embrace them.”

It is unclear whether Pope Francis cancelled this trip or declined the invitation in the first place. What is clear is this provided an opportunity for Pope Francis to condemn clearly laws which violate the dignity and well-being of LGBT people and call upon bishops around the world to raise their voices as well.  However, perhaps he declined to visit the country because he did not want to seem to be approving of the new law.  He is already seen as a gay-positive influence in the Church and in the world. It is time for Pope Francis to speak out clearly and forcefully against Uganda’s law, and other similar anti-gay laws around the globe.  He can save lives.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Rainbows Are Appearing Over Ireland

March 14, 2014

In the very, very Catholic nation of Ireland, LGBT equality has been growing by leaps and bounds among the populace. Yet, the negative approach that many Catholic institutions and leaders still take to LGBT issues still exerts an out-sized influence over practices and policies.  Over the past month, several news items have emerged from Ireland, and in this post, we will try to provide a survey of the major developments.

Perhaps the biggest news is that a recent survey by RTÉ, Ireland’s public television company, finds that an overwhelming majority of citizens support the country’s proposed measures to institute marriage equality.  The Guardian reported:

“A new opinion poll shows that only just under 20% of voters will oppose introducing same sex marriage into the Irish constitution.

“More than three-quarters of voters say they support marriage equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in a proposed referendum by the Fine Gael-Labour coalition.

“The survey by the Red C opinion poll firm for Irish public broadcaster RTÉ and The Sunday Business Post found that 76% would be in favour of allowing LGBT couples to legally marry in the Irish Republic. Around 5% of voters were undecided and 19% opposed the law reform.”

Ben Kelly

For Irish musician Ben Kelly, who is gay and Catholic, the news of support rang true to his personal experience growing up in Ireland.  In an essay titled, “To Be Young, Gay, and Catholic” on the website IrishCatholic.ie, Kelly explains that acceptance has been growing for years, and that is a natural progression for many Irish citizens:

“I feel a huge shift in opinion has happened over the past few decades in Ireland, and the country now has many evolved Catholics who are happily rejecting the more damaging rules on how we live and love. After the cultural traumas of the abuse scandal, the ghosts of the Magdalene laundries and other scars inflicted by Church teachings which are increasingly at odds with the lifestyles of the general congregation, Catholic Ireland is accepting gay people. It’s hardly surprising that people who have felt so much hurt are happy to accept a little love.

“Former President Mary McAleese was right: being gay is no longer seen as ‘evil’ or ‘intrinsically disordered’. I was relieved when my parents didn’t have a problem with me being gay, and surprised further when my grandparents didn’t either. But, come to think of it, they belong to generations who quietly disregarded the Church’s teachings on divorce, contraception, and sex before marriage – all of which were condemned from the pulpit, but ignored by many outside the church gates. Homosexuality is just another thing that the Church must realise is being accepted and incorporated into the lives of Irish Catholics.”

Jerry Buttimer

Such an outpouring of support probably did not come as a surprise to Jerry Buttimer, a gay member of the Irish parliament,  who said he sees a lot of progress in the Catholic Church on LGBT issues.  Speaking at a debate at Dublin’s Trinity College on the topic “The Catholic Church can be salvaged,” Buttimer was quoted by The Irish Times

 

“He said Christian understanding was exhibited far better in Catholic communities than in the hierarchy, and there was now a need for a third Vatican council dealing with the issues of morality and sexuality, as the current model of morality was from a different society.

“He praised Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for sending a ‘message of conciliation, of tolerance and respect’ to the gay community, in remarks made on RTÉ Radio One last week.

“Pope Francis had indicated a similar message recently when he spoke to the world’s media. ‘You have to have the hope that the man at the top can lead that change,’ he told students. ‘We now need a church that reflects the values we now have of love, of peace and of justice.’ “

Also speaking at the debate in support of a positive future for the church was Redemptorist Father Tony Flannery, who was relieved of priestly ministry because of his support for progressive reform topics, including LGBT equality.

The experience of lesbian and gay teachers in Ireland was also in the news recently, as The Journal, a national publication, published personal stories of lesbian and gay educators about their professional experiences.  (All accounts were written anonymously because of the fear of being fired.) The Journal notes the extensive role that the Catholic Church plays in Irish education and their exemption from an important anti-discrimination policy:

“In Ireland, schools run by the Catholic Church (which is the vast majority) are allowed exempt from certain aspects of equality law because of their religion’s ethos and teachings. They were given an exemption to the European Equality Directive back in 2000 which allows for this ethos to be upheld during recruitment.”

The stories recount being passed over for promotion, being ignored at staff meetings, having the principal drop in unannounced on lessons and parent meetings, and suffering verbal and sometimes physical abuse, to name a few experiences.  One teacher’s description is particularly disturbing:

“I have witnessed homophobia and what can only be considered gay bashing in both the classroom and the staff room, unfortunately. I was targeted by two separate students on two separate occasions in two different schools and, both times when I complained, the reaction of school managers was more lenient that I had expected or than I wanted.

“On both occasions, the students chose to make the comments in a very public forum – in front of large groups of people. The intention of which was to publicly humiliate me as the teacher.

“What can one say about these types of experiences other than when you consider that I actively choose to keep my private life separate to my public life because I believe my private life has no place in my career, only to be targeted by teenagers who’s intention is public humiliation is pretty depressing?”

You can read all of the accounts of these teachers here.

Panti Bliss

In a story that made headlines around the globe, a drag queen named Panti Bliss, made a speech at Dublin’s famed Abbey Theatre about homophobia, as a response to criticism she had made on public television about critics of LGBT equality.  Bliss (who is also known as Rory O’Neill) made reference to a Catholic notion about homosexuality in her speech. The following excerpt is from The Billerico Project:

“Have any of you ever come home in the evening and turned on the television, and there is a panel of people — nice people, respectable people, smart people… and they’re all sitting around, and they are having a ‘reasoned’ debate on the television: a reasoned debate about you?”

“About what kind of person you are, about whether or not you’re capable of being a good parent, about whether you want to destroy marriage, about whether or not you’re safe around children, about whether or not God herself thinks you’re an abomination, about whether in fact maybe you are intrinsically disordered. And even the nice TV presenter lady… even she thinks it’s perfectly okay that they’re all having this ‘reasoned’ debate about you and about who you are and about what rights you deserve or don’t deserve.”

You can watch the 11-minute video of her speech here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


In Trinidad, a Catholic Priest Speaks Out Boldly for LGBT Equality

March 11, 2014

LGBT issues in the Caribbean continue to be somewhat of a roller coaster, especially when it comes to Catholic involvement with those issues.  Recently, we’ve seen a story with positive and negative sides emerging from this region, giving hope and also reminding us of how far we have to go.

Fr. Stephen Geofroy

In Trinidad, a Catholic priest has publicly come out in support of civil rights for gay and lesbian people, as the country there debates reforming their constitution.  While the draft of the constitution notes the oppression that gay and lesbian people experience, it fell short of addressing that problem by not providing them constitutional protection.  Instead, the draft calls for further national discussion and education on these issues.  You can read about the political debate by clicking here.

At a forum where citizens were able to express their opinions on the constitution draft, a Catholic priest, Fr. Stephen Geofroy, spoke out in favor of lesbian and gay rights.   The Trinidad Express reported:

“Geofroy said the matter should not be debated further and instead Government should be embracing of all its people.

“ ‘Now on the issue of sexual orientation being subject to further national discussion…discussion about what? Aren’t LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender), aren’t they not humans still, yes or no?’ said Geofroy.
‘Yes? Then they should have rights as other people have,’ he continued as he received loud applause from the packed hall.

“Geofroy said there was no debate on whether gays are people or not as they have expressed themselves clearly that they are part and parcel of this country’s culture.

“ ‘We’ve come over a long history of slavery and indentureship and now it is time to break the many things that denigrate the person,’ said Geofroy.

“’This is certainly one of the things we have to do and we have to be very decisive of it.”

” ‘Geofroy said there has been discrimination on the basis of race, colour and class in this country.

“ ‘…I don’t see the difference with sexual orientation. We are citizens of a country and people have the right to love who they want irrespective,’ said Geofroy .

“He said to continue discussing the issue at a national level without taking a decision was to go the way of other countries such as Nigeria and Uganda as part of a political agenda.

“ ‘I think we should avoid that like the plague,’ he said.”

Geofroy’s statements were met with thunderous applause. In the same article, Colin Robinson, executive director of the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), praised Geofroy’s words, called him a “real Catholic,” and explained that there were a handful of Catholic and Anglican clergy who were ministering to the island nation’s gay community.

Archbishop Joseph Harris, to whose diocese Geofroy belongs, attempted to correct the priest’s comments, but at the same time, spoke out for civil rights for lesbian and gay people by noting that the Church has always  “held there should be no discrimination based on sexual ori­en­ta­tion.”  A follow-up article in The Trinidad Express reported:

“Harris said: ‘It is unfortunate; he used an unfortunate turn of phrase when he said people should be free to love whom they want to love. I hope, therefore, when he was speaking about people being free to love, he was talking about love in the platonic (brotherhood). Love is platonic.’ “

Harris mentioned that he was concerned that Geofroy’s comments would be construed to support same-sex marriage.

The archbishop went on to explain his policy on gay priests, as well as his opinion of Geofroy:

“Asked about the Church’s policy on gay priests, Harris said: ‘There are priests whose sexual orientation is towards their own sex. All priests are called to celibacy. But as long as a priest is not acting out his orientation, he is okay’

“Harris said Fr Geofroy was ‘a priest in good standing.’ “

Geofroy’s decision to speak out for human rights makes him not only a priest of good standing, but a priest of courage, integrity, and compassion.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Catholics Must Act Against Anti-Gay Laws in Nigeria & Elsewhere

March 7, 2014

Today is the Global Day of Action for Nigeria, as LGBT advocates worldwide demonstrate to get that nation’s leaders to retract a recent law imposing harsh penalties on gay people and even those supportive of equal rights. The rise of anti-LGBT legislation has prompted an unusual split among Catholic bishops around the world, and Pope Francis remains quiet as Uganda became the latest nation to pass harsh discrimination laws last week.

U.S. Catholic published a piece highlighting the fissure among the world’s bishops in how they have responded to anti-gay legislation. David Gibson writes:

“The issue is especially pressing in Africa, where Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, recently adopted a harsh law that imposes a 14-year prison term for anyone entering into a same-sex relationship, as well as a 10-year sentence for anyone found to support gay clubs or meetings. Even public displays of affection by gays and lesbians is considered a crime…

“In Nigeria the leader of the hierarchy fully supported that country’s new law, which prompted a wave of violence against gays when it passed.

“In a January letter on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy of Nigeria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos praised Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan for his ‘courageous and wise decision’ in signing the legislation. Kaigama said it would protect Nigeria ‘against the conspiracy of the developed world to make our country and continent, the dumping ground for the promotion of all immoral practices.’ “

This letter from Nigeria’s bishops prompted an unusually robust editorial from The Southern Cross, a Catholic weekly associated with southern African bishops. Gibson notes the divided reaction by the hierarchy elsewhere. Whereas Poland’s bishops have launched a war on “the ideology of gender”, India’s leading prelate, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, condemned his nation’s criminalization of homosexuality in January. Gibson also notes the much celebrated comments by Irish archbishop Diarmuid Martin in the graphic to the right.

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Gibson believes this division of bishops may be an extreme backlash against advances made by LGBT advocates on issues the bishops do oppose, like marriage equality. He cites Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, who sees cultural differences and regional politics in Asia and Africa as additional reasons for the split.

Regardless of the reasons, the failure of Catholic bishops to condemn laws targeting gay people for discrimination has angered many Catholics in the pews — and even more so when bishops supported such laws, as in Nigeria. People of faith worldwide have used the#PopeSpeakOut campaign to urge Pope Francis to condemn Nigeria’s law, as well as other efforts around the globe to discriminate against LGBT people.

One sign of hope in all this is the fact that bishops are divided and criticizing one another, which led Pat Perriello, a National Catholic Reporter columnist, to write:

“There appears to be a new willingness among members of the church hierarchy to openly disagree with one another. Nowhere does this seem more pronounced than on the issue of the treatment of gays. Viewpoints veer from unabashed support of criminalization of any kind of gay activity to references in the Catholic catechism calling for respect and acceptance of gay individuals in our midst…

“[H]ow refreshing it is to see and hear once again a bit of ferment in the church. It is reminiscent of vital theological discussions that took place following the Second Vatican Council. This is how the spirit works best. This is how all of us grow and learn more about what God seeks to tell us.”

In the wake of the emerging human rights disaster surrounding LGBT people, these divisions may not be enough. Uganda’s bishops have remained silent on their nation’s law, in fact, they only recently began reviewing it, weeks after its enactment. The Nigerian hierarchy has done worse damage with its vocal support of their nation’s law. It is time for Pope Francis to lead the Church in strongly condemning any law or policy which specifically discriminates against LGBT people.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

NPR, “Ugandan Gay Activist: President Will Have No Problem Putting Me In Jail

Spiritual Friendship: “LGBT Rights and the UN: What the Church Does Not Teach


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