Case of Fired Transgender Teacher Comes to Unsatisfactory Decision

For nine years, Jan Buterman has been seeking justice in Canadian courts, after he was fired as a substitute teacher in a Catholic school district because he chose to transition from male to female.  A recent court decision seems to indicate that justice will not be served.

The transgender man was fired in 2009 from  the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District, Edmonton, Alberta.   Since that time there has been negotiations with the district’s administration, and several motions in court, but according to CBC-Radio Canada, a recent decision by a judge seems to have brought a close to the case, though no decision on the substance of the situation was reached.

Jan Buterman

The news outlet reported that the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled that Buterman had given up the right to bring his case to the provincial human rights commission because supposedly a few years ago he reached a financial settlement with the school district.  Buterman contends, however, that he did not accept the settlement.  The news report gave a synopsis of events:

“In October 2008, Buterman was removed from the board’s roster of substitute teachers after he notified them he was a transgender person in the process of transitioning from female to male.

” ‘Since you have made a personal choice to change your gender, which is contrary to Catholic teachings, we have had no choice but to remove you from the substitute teaching list,’ the board wrote at the time.

“A year later, Buterman filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

“The next day, the board offered him $78,000 if he’d agree to withdraw his complaint. The board asked him to promise not to make any further complaints to the human rights commission and agree to keep the deal confidential.

“Buterman rejected the offer.

“In Sept. 2010, the board made a different offer to Buterman. That offer was also rejected, but Buterman’s lawyer replied in writing that his client was willing to accept the original offer.

“The same day, the board confirmed the original offer still stood, and the two parties went back and forth about making minor changes to the wording.

“In January 2011, Buterman’s lawyer returned the money and the unsigned settlement documents, noting it had taken longer than expected to consider and discuss the issues with his client. By April 2011, Buterman was without a lawyer, so the board sent the draft documents directly to him.

“Buterman never responded directly to the board. Instead he told the media he had rejected the board’s settlement offer due to the confidentiality clause.

“More than three years passed. Then the school board applied to the human rights commission to determine if it still had jurisdiction to hear Buterman’s complaint. The board argued the parties had entered into a settlement agreement.

“After a three-day hearing on that point, the commission determined it had no remaining jurisdiction over the complaint because a deal had been reached and Buterman ‘had relinquished his human rights complaint in favour of a settlement.’ “

Buterman is disappointed in the decision, especially since none of the substantive issues of the case were discussed, and the court’s ruling hinged on procedural topics.  Buterman stated:

“It is surprising, I think, to many that this has been kind of all on procedural side issues. But those side issues are more than enough to derail the ability to actually interrogate the question of whether or not someone has the right to be fired for being trans.”

He and his lawyers have not decided what their next move is.

Buterman’s case highlights the fact that true justice in cases like his won’t come from law courts but from church officials acting justly.  At the very least, they can act in an informed manner. For instance, there is no church doctrine prohibiting gender surgery, as they claimed when they fired Buterman.

The Sisters of Mercy were able to retain a transitioned transgender teacher (and a full-time one, not a substitute) last year at one of their schools in San Francisco.  Justice was served in that case.  Other church leaders should follow their example.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 6, 2017

 

 

German Bishops Offer Nuanced Response to New Marriage Equality Law

Germany’s bishops have said they are “deeply saddened” by the legalization of equal marriage and adoption rights for same-gender couples in their country, but their response is more nuanced than what is being reported.

gay-pride-berlin
Brandenburg Gate lit up for Pride

Early last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced she was dropping her opposition to marriage equality. Legislators passed the law Friday, including several who are members of the lay-run Central Committee of German Catholics.

After the law’s passage, Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin released a statement in his role as chair of the German Bishops Conference’s Commission on Marriage and Family. Koch said, in part:

“I regret the fact that the legislature has given up the essential content of the marriage concept in order to make it fit for same-sex partnerships. At the same time, I regret the fact that today’s decision gives up a differentiated perception of different forms of partnership in order to stress the value of same-sex partnerships. Differentiation, however, is not discrimination. A valuation of same-sex cohabitation can also be expressed by another institutional arrangement. It does not have to appear in the opening up of the legal institute of marriage for same-sex partnerships. The fathers of the constitutional law (Grundgesetz) have given marriage such a prominent place in our constitution, because they wanted to protect and strengthen those who as a mother and father want to give their children their lives. If, above all, the protection of relationships and the assumption of shared responsibility as a justification for the opening of the marriage are brought forward, this means a substantial re-balancing of the content and a dilution of the classic marriage concept.”

Koch said that a conversation about “the strengthening and promotion of the diverse communities of responsibility” was necessary, adding:

“As a church, we have respect for those same-sex partnerships in which mutual responsibility and care are taken over for many years.”

In light of marriage equality’s passage, Koch said the bishops would need to “present [their understanding of marriage] invitingly in public” and promote sacramental marriage as a separate entity.

Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg echoed this sentiment, according to PinkNews, saying, “I regret that our understanding of marriage and the state’s understanding are moving yet further apart.”

Before the vote, reported The Tablet, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, president of the German Bishops Conference, called the snap vote “absolutely inappropriate” and said marriage must remain defined as it is in the German constitution.

These statements need to be read in a very important context. German bishops have been some of the most supportive voices in the church for LGBT people. Indeed, both Archbishop Koch and Cardinal Marx attended Catholic Day festivities in Germany last year as LGBT groups were welcomed to participate for the first time.

At the Synod on the Family, Koch said the German contingent sought to advance the conversation on homosexuality as much as possible despite resistance from other regions. The German-speaking group of bishops at the synod stated that the church should apologize to people it has harmed, including lesbian and gay people. Cardinal Marx has also said the church should apologize.

But when lay Catholics in Germany called for the church to bless same-gender partnerships outside of marriage, bishops including Marx rebuked them sharply. Marx himself has both affirmed the love found in such partnerships, and also spoken strongly against understanding them as equal to marriage. Meanwhile, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabruck said such couples should be blessed.

The bishops’ response to Germany’s new marriage law is equally nuanced, yet it should be seen as a positive change in the church. It would be too far at this point to expect they would affirm marriage equality, but their statements reveal three noteworthy advances.

First, they recognize the need to legally protect same-gender couples even if they desire differentiated means of doing so. Second, Koch’s statement acknowledges the lasting “mutual responsibility and care” found in such relationships. Third, they admit the difference between civil and sacramental marriage. Going forward, Koch is clear that the bishops’ role is not to fight the new law, but to invitingly propose their understanding of marriage and hope it attracts people.

I await the day when bishops, recognizing the goodness and love which mark same-gender relationships, celebrate with their fellow Catholics when marriage equality laws are passed. Until then, I hope more bishops will look to Germany and try for less caustic, more nuanced responses.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 5, 2017

Students Protest Catholic School’s Decision to Remove Rainbow Flag

Controversy over LGBT issues in one of Canada’s Catholic school systems has once again made headlines, resulting in unfortunate harm during Pride celebrations.

oscar-romero
Students protesting at Blessed Oscar Romero High School

To mark Pride, students at Blessed Oscar Romero High School in Edmonton, Alberta, hung a rainbow flag in the school with some additional rainbow decorations. The next day, students drew a rainbow flag in chalk at the school’s entrance. CBC reported what happened next:

 

“On Tuesday morning, student president-elect Francis Nievera was called into the principal’s office. He said he was told all the decorations must come down because the chalk was being tracked inside, which he said was understandable. But those weren’t the only reasons.

“‘They said putting up flags was a political statement and it made some people uncomfortable and we need to make everyone feel comfortable,’ said Nievera, an openly transsexual and transgender Grade 10 student. ‘To have it all torn down in less than a day kind of sucked.'”

Lori Nagy of the Edmonton Catholic School Board denied claims the decorations were authorized, and said the school’s principal was willing to support other pride celebrations. Nonetheless, Nievera’s invitation, students protested, according to the CBC: 

“Prior to the protest, a video shows an emotional Nievera, near a handful of supporters including the school mascot, address students from the stage in the school cafeteria.

“‘We have to take down all the decorations today,’ he said, setting off boos from the crowd. ‘But I just want to say because of this I really don’t feel safe.'”

“‘If you guys want to help support pride week, even though all of this will be taken down, feel free to come outside and protest.'”

oscar-romero1
The chalk rainbow flag in dispute at Blessed Oscar Romero High School

Students gathered at the chalk rainbow flag as other students used power washers to remove it. According to the CBC, “More than 30 students refused to return to class.”

Kennedy Harper, who helped organize the school’s Pride celebrations, said administrators threatened protesting students with suspension. She commented further:

“‘It seems like along with the chalk they were just washing away their identity. . .It felt really good for a little while, seeing the school really come together and standing up for the rights of minorities whether they’re part of the LGBTQ community or not.'”

Shortly after all the decorations had been removed , school administrators then said that the flags would be allowed for the remainder of the week.

This is hardly the first time Edmonton’s Catholic school system has been roiled in LGBT-related controversies. A student at the neighboring St. Joseph Catholic High School was also asked to remove a rainbow flag he wore during a school ceremony. The Edmonton Catholic School Board’s actions in 2015 around a transgender policy saw meetings erupt into a “shouting match” as the Board approved a draft policy allowing  “just discrimination” of some youth. Elsewhere in Alberta, a former bishop referred to LGBTQ policies being implemented in Catholic schools “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic.”

The situation at Blessed Oscar Romero adds to this list of avoidable, damaging incidents where LGBTQ students are made to feel less than comfortable and even unsafe in Catholic education. No harm was caused by allowing some minor Pride decorations to be displayed, but much harm was done by power washing them and ripping them away.

Once again, it is young students in Catholic schools who are the ones leading our church to be more just and inclusive for LGBT people. And of these students’ commitment to justice for all people, Monseñor Romero would likely be very proud.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 19, 2017

 

 

Bishop Rejects Prayer Service for Pride, But There May Yet Be Hope

After giving his initial approval, a bishop in the Netherlands has rejected a prayer service that would have coincided with Pride celebrations.

korte
Bishop Gerard de Korte

The Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch’s cathedral was set to welcome Pride celebrants to an ecumenical prayer service on the day of the city’s Pink Saturday events on June 24th.

In a pastoral letter to the local church, Bishop Gerard de Korte explained his decision to welcome people celebrating Pride to come to the cathedral for prayer. But later, in a second letter, de Korte expelled the service from the cathedral because, in his words, “priests and other faithful have protested the prayer service.”

Mark de Vries of the blog In Caelo et In Terra provided English translations of both letters In one text, de Korte described homosexuality as “a sensitive topic in our Church, leading to much emotion.”

The first letter was a response to the diocese’s presbyteral council, which requested that de Korte clarify his position on the prayer service and homosexuality generally. Of the former issue, the bishop said the cathedral’s pastoral team had “primary responsibility” for the service:

“The cathedral administrator ultimately made a positive decision. It is very important that the service is prepared by the administrator and three preachers from ‘s-Hertogenbosch. They trust each other and are aware of the concerns of a part of the faithful. I have full confidence that the service will be serene. . .Those present at the prayer service will hopefully be encouraged and strengthened in their faith that God loves us unconditionally in Christ. The cathedral administrator and the preachers have asked me, as bishop, to conclude the service with a brief word and a blessing.”

De Korte, who was appointed by Pope Francis in 2016, said there will be events on Pink Saturday which do defy church teaching, but that there is no reason to deny people who desire to pray the opportunity and venue to do so.

About homosexuality, the bishop said it was his responsibility to both uphold church teaching on marriage and sexuality, but also “to continue seeking out dialogue, no matter how difficult it often is.” De Korte wrote:

“A great part of our own Church people is influenced by modern secular culture. The result is a deep chasm between the word of the Church and the experience of many outside, but also inside our Church. One thing and another often leads to misunderstanding, anger and regret. . .The Church’s ideal and stubborn reality regularly clash. It is pastoral wisdom to not use the teachings of the Church as a stick to strike with, but as a staff to lean on.”

On a pastoral note, de Korte reached out to lesbian and gay people, and their families. The church’s pastoral care for them should be one of “kindness and friendship” and about “the acceptance of every person as God’s creature.” In his conclusion, de Korte said that in both doctrinal and pastoral concerns conscience is “the final and ultimate authority”:

“Faithful are called to relate to the norms of the Church and form their conscience. . .A tension may possibly continue to exist between the truth of the Church and the conscience of every individual faithful. When parents find that one of their children is homosexual, they are called to surround that child with all care and love. The same is, I am convinced, true for the Church as mother.”

Unfortunately, de Korte undercut the goodness of his letter by reversing the decision to allow a Pride-related prayer service at the cathedral. A second letter released a week after his initial approval explained the reversal.

The bishop said some Catholics’ concerns about the prayer service meant unity in the diocese could be threatened, and he therefore had to cancel the event, even if it is “a disappointment to more than a few.” But de Korte also said not allowing the prayer service at the cathedral would not stop him from “looking for a proper form of dialogue, both internally and externally, no matter how difficult and thankless that may often be.” He concluded:

“People, of any orientation, should find, in our Catholic community at least, kindness, security and friendship. Every person is welcome in our faith community. . .When I was installed as bishop in the cathedral, on Saturday 14 May 2016, I spoke about the importance of mutual trust and unity. I strife [sic] for a clear but also hospitable and friendly Church. I hope and pray that every faithful in our diocese wants to contribute to that, especially at this moment. Especially now, we are called to hold on to each other as a community around the living Lord.”

The ecumenical prayer service will now be held at a Protestant church with Catholics being represented by the cathedral administrator. I offer two thoughts here about this incident.

First, de Korte is a bishop who knows the church needs to reach out in a way that is grounded in reality. His concern for lesbian/gay people and their families seems genuine, and this one incident will not stop his desire for dialogue among the faithful. De Korte may be stuck behind some doctrinal language about secular culture, just as Pope Francis sometimes is, but his heart is in the realm of the pastoral.

Second, his decision to disallow the prayer service may mean he is a bishop unwilling to take risks in the face of controversy. But it could also mean he is humble enough to make decisions in collaboration with his priests and be concerned for the entire church walking together on hard issues. Such attributes are lacking by so many bishops appointed by Pope Francis’ predecessors; thankfully, they are appearing more and more in the current pope’s new bishops.

The bishop’s reversal is problematic and a loss where there could have been a courageous step forward. Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s welcome of LGBT pilgrims to his archdiocese’s cathedral was recently described as a “miracle” by some. Similar good could have come by Bishop de Korte and other Catholic leaders welcoming Pride celebraters into the church. But these two letters reveal dynamics at work which go beyond a singular incident, and which leave me ultimately hopeful that LGBT issues in the church are moving forward bit by bit. The proof will be in how well de Korte fulfills his promise to dialogue with the LGBT community in the future.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 17, 2017 

 

Displacement, Solidarity, Home: Reflections from the Symposium

Today’s post is from Alfred Pang, a doctoral candidate in Theology and Education at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, who offers a reflection based on his experiences at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium this past April.

solidarity20hands201000x560“What has been your experience growing up as an LGBT person?” This question was posed to participants at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium during the “Youth, Young Adult Ministry and LGBT Questions focus session led by Dr. Michael Maher. The purpose of his question was to draw out generational differences in perception around being an LGBT person in the U.S.

Being Singaporean Chinese, I was naturally confounded by such a question premised on a cultural and political history which I did not share growing up. The following thoughts fleeted through my mind: What should I share? Where do I find my place at this conversation table? How will my voice be received?

alfred-pang
Alfred Pang

I was also wrestling with a deeper question: When and where did my personal history as a Catholic gay man begin? On the one hand, in coming out more publicly in Boston, I experienced a rebirth of myself. On the other hand, within this space of liberal American Catholicism that has been instrumental in helping me integrate my faith and sexuality, I found myself confronted by a felt-sense of displacement both ethnically and nationally.

Remaining with the weight of my intersectional identities, I finally spoke, “I come from Singapore, and my earliest image of a gay man while I was growing up had been a Caucasian white man. I grew up in a culture of silence around my sexuality as a way to preserve family harmony, which is a value for me. I do not identify fully with the particular history of sexual minorities in the U.S.,  but I also find myself not knowing a lot about the collective experience of LGBT persons in my country, Singapore.”

It was this sense of being an international/cultural ‘other’ that led me to my next symposium focus session, this one led by Dr. Elsie Miranda on “Hispanic Catholic Culture and LGBT Issues.” Dr. Miranda made a point which resonated immediately with me: coming out to our gender and sexual identities is a privilege. I understand this to mean that the conditions allowing for the public visibility of LGBT people are not possible for all in all cultural contexts. This is due to the complexity of gender and sexuality intersecting with race, culture, class, religion, and nationality , all of which can oppress and privilege at the same time.

This complexity was attested to in Dr. Frank Mugisha’s keynote address on the final day of the symposium. Carrying a gentle presence, Dr. Mugisha, a Ugandan gay Catholic and an LGBT rights advocate, spoke firmly and plainly against the anti-gay laws in his country. He criticized, too, the complicity of some African Catholic bishops in criminalizing homosexuality.  Mugisha had highlighted the cultural differences of gay people in the U.S. and Uganda when he wrote in a The New York Times  op-ed essay“The right to marry whom we love is far from our minds. Across Africa, the ‘gay rights’ we are fighting for are more stark — the right to life itself.”

Dr. Mugisha has consistently criticized the extreme religious rhetoric around sexuality American Evangelical Christians export to Africa. Mugisha noted that homophobia, not homosexuality, is the Western import in Africa, and that this fear is realized in violent preaching against same-gender relations.

Dr. Mugisha’s testimony illustrated the intricacy of intersectionality in the struggle for LGBT rights as human rights. Yet, our ability to transform situations for justice is not hampered by these complexities. Listening to Dr. Mugisha reminded me of what education theorist Paulo Freire once wrote: “We are transformative beings and not beings for accommodation.”[1]

Dr. Mugisha’s story connected me back to the situation in Singapore, where sex between consenting adult men is still criminalized under Section 377A of the Penal Code. Although this law is not strictly enforced, it stands as a sign of conditional tolerance for LGBT persons. The threat of imprisonment is real, which in turn feeds their invisibility as a community. Listening to the daunting and risky work of Dr. Mugisha has made me recognize the privilege of being ‘out’ here publicly and freely in Boston. Such privilege is not owed to me, but built on the backs of people who, across time and place, have put their lives on the line to speak the truth of our sexual lives as integral to the one humanity created in God’s loving image and likeness.

Where does this leave me as a gay Catholic Singaporean living in the U.S.? Standing in the borderland of the local and global, I wrestle to find a sense of home. Yet, perhaps this sense of homelessness is part of witnessing to global solidarity.  As Richard Giannone writes in his memoir Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire, “Home – come to think of it – is never stationary. Home gathers together breathing spaces and temporary havens on the horizon for me to tiptoe toward or lunge beyond to the peaceful Zion of the heart.”[2]

“What has been your experience growing up as an LGBT person?” This question lingers on, and the witness of Dr. Mugisha has helped me make sense of the displacement with which I wrestled throughout the symposium. I hear in this question now the challenge of standing in global solidarity with my LGBT siblings-in-Christ. It seems to me that in my felt-sense of dislocation both ethnically and nationally, I am also invited to remain at the periphery of the local and global, at the cross-cultural borderland of intersectional identities.

Ultimately, I have been challenged to let go of the “border controls” around my heart that make it difficult for me to be at home with myself and others in the world.

The symposium, whose title included the phrase “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss” reminded me that this kiss happens when I embrace God’s unconditional love, widening the geography of my heart, stretching its contours to keep receiving and walking with my LGBT siblings-in-Christ as a pilgrim church. Justice and mercy shall meet in our global advocacy for LGBT rights, in the perseverance to seek that most fundamentally human right to life. Where justice and mercy shall meet is in the hope that recognizes the fierce grasp of God’s love that never lets us go, a sheltering presence in which we find a home.

Alfred Pang, June 10, 2017

[1] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Heart, trans. Donaldo Macedo and Alexandre Olivera (New York: Continuum, 1998), 36.

[2] Richard Giannone, Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012), 168.

Helping LGBTI Students ‘Live Life to the Full’

A few weeks agoBondings 2.0 reported on a set of guidelines to prevent bullying on LGBT students which was issued by the Catholic Education Service of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales.  That effort is now joined by a similar set of guidelines, entitled “Live Life to the Full,” for a group of Catholic schools in Australia.

The Age newspaper reported:

“Edmund Rice Education Australia has distributed resources to its 52 schools and will soon run training to help teachers create a safer and more inclusive environment for gay and transgender students and LGBTI families.”

Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA) is a network of schools run by the Irish Christian Brothers.   The group’s executive director, Wayne Tinsey, commented that the church and Catholic schools have been too “silent” for too long on the issue of LGBTI students being bullied.  He explained to the newspaper:

“We are not trying to be provocative and we are not trying to create divisions. Our core belief is that of inclusion – bullying, harassment and discrimination totally contravenes that and has no place in our schools.”

The EREA issued a “Safe and Inclusive Learning Communities Statement,” as well as a set of “Resources for School Principals, Leaders & Teachers,”  both of which can be found by clicking their titles.  Additionally a “Report on Safe and Inclusive Learning Communities” was produced, and which can be requested by writing to info@erea.edu.au.  Information about all three documents can be found by clicking here.

In the “Statement,” EREA provided both scriptural and papal justifications for providing such guidelines:

“Our sacred scripture reminds us (Genesis 1) that each and every
person is made in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, each
person has their own inherent dignity and is intended by God to grow
to fullness. For EREA, this means supporting each young person to
achieve growth and liberation through pastoral as well as academic
and co-curricular support.

“Jesus, the great includer, challenges us with a radical vision of love
and inclusion. Pope Francis takes up this challenge: ‘We would like
before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual
orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated
with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be
carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.’
Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia: The Joy of Love, 19 March 2016.

While the EREA report offers 21 recommendations for schools to follow, the report’s summary singles out the following four as “first tasks that ought to be considered”:

6.2 “It is recommended that a ‘whole school approach’ be adopted by each Catholic secondary school that clearly reflects an awareness of the presence of same sex attracted individuals in its student community.
6.4 It is recommended that each Catholic secondary school includes in its discrimination and harassment policies, guidelines and procedures that address homophobia, along with sexism, racism and other forms of violence.
6.5 It is recommended that Catholic secondary schools review their existing policies, procedures, guidelines, programs and practices to ensure that they are inclusive of the needs of same sex attracted students.
6.8 It is recommended that each Catholic secondary school should seek to create an inclusive and supportive environment in which staff and students feel confident to explore issues of identity, difference and similarity.”

In the “Resources” document, the EREA addresses the concern that discussing LGBTI issues in a Catholic school may not be religiously appropriate.  Their response:

“The largest misconception that prevents faith-based schools (and educators) from addressing issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity is the conflation of sexuality and sexual practice as synonymous terms of identity expression. Because a student is an LGBTI person does not automatically mean that they are or will be sexually active. Fundamentally, when schools address the concerns and issues of LGBTI students, they should do so within the context of student health, safety and human rights. Sexual orientation and gender identity concerns can be addressed respectfully within all faith-based contexts.”

The “Resources” also discuss how to respond to a variety of other objections from faculty and parents.

These materials were produced because the EREA leadership felt that materials from the Australian government’s “Safe Schools Initiative” were inappropriate for their schools.  They are based on research done by Jesuit Peter Norden in 2007 who examined how Catholic schools can be more supportive of LGBTI students.

While such a document will help students and families in schools, it’s important to also note that it will do so primaily by ending the stultifying and deadening “silence” which Tinsey described above.  The Age article quoted one administrator who made this point:

“Gerald Bain-King, principal of one Edmund Rice school, the Christian Brothers’ College in St Kilda, said the initiative would allow Catholic schools to have more effective conversations with young people who may be coming to terms with their sexuality.”

And, as the “Statement” explains, all students will benefit from such a program:

“Homophobia diminishes the dignity of all. The existence and acceptance of homophobic attitudes in a school can perpetuate narrow gender stereotypes.”

The publication of this resource adds to the growing list of ways that Catholic schools can become more welcoming and inclusive places.  Next week, Bondings 2.0 will report on a new, inclusive policy for Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, in the U.S.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 3, 2017

Italian Gay Catholic: “Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I’m an atheist”

The Vatican City State is surrounded by the nation of Italy, and so the Catholic Church has a great influence on Italian politics and social life, especially in regard to LGBT issues.  But Italian Catholic LGBT people have been organizing and working to spread a more positive message about LGBT issues than most church leaders offer.  Many of the major Italian cities have religious LGBT organizations, often heavily populated by Catholics, and a national federation of Christian LGBT groups, Cammini di Esperanza, recently formed.

Iacopo Ialenti

Vice magazine recently had a short interview with Iacopo Ialenti, a young gay Catholic man in Florence, Italy,  who is a member of Kairos, that city’s Christian LGBT organization.  Kairos made headlines in 2013, when early in the pontificate of Pope Francis they wrote an introduction letter to him and received an affirming, handwritten response.

Ialenti’s story gives some insight into the struggle of LGBT people in this country heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, but it also shows the power of how personal witness and faith can overcome even the most challenging situations.  For example, Ialenti described his parents’ reactions to his coming out as gay:

“My parents didn’t take it that well; my father told me that he’d rather have a disabled son. . . .One day, my mother came to visit, and I took her to a lectio divina (divine reading) with Kairos members. When we got back home, I told her, ‘Mum, they were all gay.’ She almost fainted. My parents have changed since then. Now my father is looking for a husband for me.”

Being a gay person of faith has its challenges, but Ialenti shows that he is working at overcoming them.  He describes  what is probably the biggest challenge:

“. . . [T]he toughest part is coming out to yourself—as a Christian, you have to face an internal homophobia, which makes you your worst judge. And then there’s the law of God; when you are told you are unnatural, it’s oppressive.”

He explained, though, that he has decided to remain a Catholic, despite challenges not only from the Church, but from the gay community itself:

“When you came out, did you consider walking away from the church?
Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I’m an atheist. And I feel sorry for those who deny their sexuality in the name of religion.

“Have you ever felt excluded from the gay community because of your faith?
My whole life is discrimination! You have no idea how many guys dumped me after discovering I was a Catholic.”

Ialenti also described an important action that Kairos took a few years ago, and some of his hope for the future of the Catholic Church:

“During the 2015 synod of bishops, we asked the church to stop considering homosexuality a tendency and start to consider it an affection. But the power of the church is based on the people’s perception, and until the believers change their point of view, Rome won’t change. I still hope that a kamikaze pope comes along and writes an encyclical letter saying that homosexuals are the same as straight people, in God’s grace.”

While he acknowledges that it may take “centuries” before such a pope is elected, he does see change happening in small ways.  Last year, Kairos helped organize Florence’s first gay pride celebration, which Ialenti notes brought many disparate groups together.  One small detail stuck out for him, though, as a sign of things to come in the Church:

“There was even Sister Fabrizia, who hosted us in her convent. So let’s hope they all start to open their eyes.”

To read the entire interview with Ialenti, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 31, 2017