Catholic Officials Condemn LGBT Murders in Bangladesh, Call for Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Bishop Seeks Release from Performing Civil Marriages in Norway

April 28, 2016

The debate about whether Catholic clergy should serve as agents of the state to perform civil marriages has arisen again, this time because of a bishop in Norway has asked the Vatican to release his diocese from such an obligation.

Premier reported:

“Bishop Bernt Eidsvig of Oslo (below), one of the country’s top Catholic clerics, said the Church would ask the Vatican for permission to stop performing state weddings to avoid confusion and opposition against it in the future.

“It’s after the Lutheran Church in Norway voted overwhelmingly to recognise and begin performing same-sex marriages earlier this month. It rejected a similar proposal in 2014.”

Bishop Bernt Eidsvig

Eidsvig explained his request:

“It’s clear we must distinguish our own Church marriages from others.

“This is a matter of liturgy, so it doesn’t necessarily reflect broader change in our society’s moral values.

“But politicians may now get aggressive toward churches who resist these weddings, so the best option is for us to stop conducting marriages on the state’s behalf.”

Same-gender marriage has been legal in Norway since 2009.  Catholics make up less than 3% of the heavily Lutheran nation of Norway.  The Catholic Herald reported that Pope Francis will visit there on October 31, 2016, to take part in an ecumenical celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, though “Bishop Eidsvig said it was unlikely the same-sex marriage controversy would be mentioned during the one-day event. . . ”

It is curious that the bishop says he is afraid that “politicians may now get aggressive toward churches” who won’t perform same-gender marriages.  The 2009 law which made the nation’s marriage laws gender-neutral does not require that any religious group perform same-gender marriages, so it appears that Catholic marriages will not be affected.  So one wonders what sort of “aggressive” tactics he fears.

Yet, the bishop’s desire to separate church marriage from civil marriage is one that has come up before, and seems to have proponents on both ends of the progressive-conservative spectrum in the Catholic Church.  Back in 2013, Bondings 2.0 carried two consecutive posts in which a progressive priest-advocate and a conservative priest-advocate both argued that it was time for church and state to separate their marriage ceremonies.

Fr. Frank Brennan, SJ, an Australian law professor, argued a progressive position that separating civil and sacramental marriages would be a way to make room for lesbian and gay couples to marry legally.   He stated:

“It is high time to draw a distinction between a marriage recognised by civil law and a sacramental marriage. In deciding whether to expand civil marriage to the union of two persons of the same gender, legislators should have regard not just for the well-being of same sex couples and the children already part of their family units, but also for the well-being of all future children who may be affected, as well as the common good of society in setting appropriate contours for legally recognised relationships. . . .

“It would be just and a service to the common good for the State to give some recognition and support to committed, faithful, long-term relationships between gay couples deserving dignity, being able to love and support each other in sickness and in health, until death they do part.”

Msgr. Charles Pope, a pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, argued the conservative position that civil and sacramental marriage have grown so far apart that they no longer belong in the same category:

“It is a simple fact that word ‘marriage’ as we have traditionally known it is being redefined in our times. To many in the secular world the word no longer means what it once did and when the Church uses the word marriage we clearly do not mean what the increasing number of states mean. . . .

“The secular world excluded every aspect of what the Church means by marriage. Is it time for us to accept this and start using a different word? Perhaps it is, and I would like to propose what I did back in March of 2010, that we return to an older term and hear what you think.”

By 2014, the idea began to gather up more proponents from various ecclesial perspectives.  First Things, a conservative Catholic journal; Bryan Cones, then a columnist for the moderately progressive U.S. Catholic magazine; Bishop Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal prelate, and Len Wooley, a Mormon essayist.  Their opinions can be found in a previous Bondings 2.0 posting by clicking here.

Before marriage equality was legalized across the U.S., in some states clergy members who supported marriage equality took a pledge that they would not sign marriage licenses for the heterosexual couples they married, until the state extended marriage to lesbian and gay couples, too.  In effect, these clergy members (mostly Protestant and Jewish, and no Catholics) were doing exactly what the Norwegian bishop is recommending, though for exactly the opposite reason.

When opposite sides of a debate end up supporting the same position, though for different reasons, it seems like we should stop, take notice, and perhaps delve further into the idea. The issue of whether we should separate civil from sacramental marriage certainly deserves wider discussion and examination.  No U.S. bishop that I know of has yet to propose a solution such as the Norway bishop did, yet their opposition to the current definition of marriage in the nation differs greatly from their own view.

What do you think?  Would separating the civil marriage ceremony from the religious marriage ceremony be a benefit for the Church?  for LGBT people? for the state?  Offer your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Queering The Church:  “Gay Marriage, in Church:  Norway”

Religion Dispatches:  “Norwegian Catholic Church May Stop Civil Marriages”

Pink News: “Catholic Church in Norway to stop performing civil weddings to make a point against ‘sorrow’ of gay marriage”


Reforming Doctrinal Investigations Could Help Church Grow on LGBT Issues

April 25, 2016

An international group of theologians, bishops, priests, and pastoral ministers who had been investigated by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) are urging Pope Francis to reform the Church’s doctrinal investigation process.  If the proposed reforms are instituted, they could signal not only a re-vamping of CDF investigations, but they could help re-shape the entire Church into the more merciful community which Pope Francis envisioned in his recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. 

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith office building, just outside of St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

In a letter addressed to the pope and to CDF prefect Cardinal Gerhard Müller, eight reforms were urged by the 15 signers, some of whom were investigated because of  LGBT issues or spoken out to support LGBT people.  These include: New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder Sister Jeannine Gramick, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a U.S. activist for peace and women’s rights in the Church, Rev. Charles Curran, a U.S. moral theologian, Rev. Tony Flannery, CSsR., a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, Ireland, and Sister Teresa Forcades, OSB, a social activist and speaker in Spain. (You can read the entire letter and see the full list of signatories by clicking here.)

In the letter’s introduction, the authors outline the problems with the CDF’s current processes and procedures, noting that these are:

“. . . contrary to natural justice and in need of reform. They represent the legal principles, processes and attitudes of the absolutism of sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe. They don’t reflect the gospel values of justice, truth, integrity and mercy that the church professes to uphold. They are out of keeping with contemporary concepts of human rights, accountability and transparency that the world expects from the Christian community and which the Catholic Church demands from secular organizations.”

Among the procedures that the letter proposes the CDF dispense with include:

  • allowing accusers and consultor to remain anonymous
  • dealing with accused persons indirectly through religious superiors, instead of direct personal communication
  • permitting the same people to act as investigators, prosecutors, and judge
  • enforcing secrecy of the investigation and isolation of the accused.

The letter proposes that the CDF should institute a new set of processes and procedures that

“. . . involve a just and equitable process, accountability on the part of the CDF and Bishops’ Conferences, the presumption of sincerity, innocence, and loyalty to the church on the part of the person being investigated, as well as transparency and the wider involvement of the local Catholic community and the Synod of Bishops representing the universal church.”

In addition to correcting the procedural problems enumerated, the letter also suggests some broader reforms, including:

“The wider community of theologians, the faithful people of God and the sensus fidelium are involved in the discernment of the faith and belief of the church. No longer should the CDF and its Rome-based advisers be the sole arbiters of correct doctrine and belief” . . . .

“The process should be tempered by the mercy and forgiveness of God, and by the open dialogue that should characterize the community of Jesus. It integrates something of the contemporary emphasis on human rights and the need for free speech, pluralism, transparency and accountability within the church community.”

Fr. Tony Flannery, one of the signers, commented in a media release about why such reforms are needed and how they can create a Church which follows its own principles more faithfully:

“Under the last two popes, as the Church became increasingly centralised, the Magisterium was understood as the Vatican, or, more specifically, the Curia, and in particular the pre-eminent body within the Curia, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But an older understanding, which was central to the Second Vatican Council, has a more complex, wider view of what constitutes the Magisterium. According to this perspective, it consists of the Vatican, the bishops of the universal Church, the body of theologians, and, most significantly of all, the sensus fidelium, the good sense of the ordinary Catholic faithful. The Council goes so far as to say that unless a teaching is accepted by the consensus of the faithful it cannot be considered a defined teaching. This is the kind of theology we are trying to get through to the CDF.”

The reforms suggested could open up the Church to become a more honest and just institution, and they could facilitate greater debate on issues such as LGBT topics.  Moreover, a new set of procedures at the CDF would not only be more humane and Christian, but it would alleviate the suffering caused not only to the accused, but to the people that the abused minister with.  Investigations often harm do great spiritual harm to the many people who identify with the theologians, pastoral ministers, or bishops under scrutiny.

A reform of CDF procedures would be a great way for Pope Francis to celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and a great way for him to enact the more communal views on doctrine and dialogue which he outlined in Amoris Laetitia.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The National Catholic Reporter:  “In letter to CDF, theologians and bishops call for reform of Vatican doctrinal investigations”

 


Top Gay Rights Campaigner in UK Speaks Movingly About Her Catholic Faith

April 20, 2016
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Ruth Hunt

In an interview with The Scottish Catholic Observer, a leading gay rights advocate in the United Kingdom spoke movingly about her faith, while at the same time she appealed again for more common ground between LGBT and religious communities.

Ruth Hunt, head of the LGBT rights organization Stonewall, and a Catholic lesbian woman, gave the interview to coincide with LGBT month in Scotland, which this year celebrates the theme “faith, religion and philosophy.” In the interview, Hunt spoke about being raised Catholic, and she said of the faith which she still practices:

” ‘I was brought up Catholic, I believe in one Holy Roman Catholic Church. . .I believe it is where Christ is most accurately reflected. I feel at home there, I maintain a good relationship with the Church, I am pleased to be part of it. . .

” ‘I never felt the need break away. . .In the past, when I didn’t go I found I missed it, it provides community and creates a space that is very profound and spiritual for me.’ “

Hunt later said she “never felt excluded from the Church I attended. . .never felt I wasn’t welcome.” Like many Catholics, though, Hunt has questioned the church, yet remaining Catholic was a “very important thing” in her teenage years and was reaffirmed during her college studies of medieval English.

Hunt acknowledged that some sharp divisions and deep hurt exist between LGBT and religious communities, which can create further difficulties for LGBT people of faith. She explained:

” ‘I do meet people who have had different, difficult experiences though who’ve been damaged by being told to deny their sexuality, who felt rejected by God. . .That’s saddens me, and at Stonewall we often talk about the need for “kind eyes,” when we listen to people.'”

But too often these divisions are “something artificially constructed,” particularly the “over inflated” conflict between religious freedom and LGBT rights that some propose. Hunt noted:

” ‘There are many LGBT people of faith and many LGBT people have lots of friends and family in faith communities. To think in terms of binaries and opposites is not helpful. . .It does concern me the way some opposition is expressed. I don’t think it is Christian to be harmfully offensive. I think there’s always room to disagree with compassion.’ “

Working towards more inclusion in religious communities and more common ground between LGBT and religious communities remain an important task, according to Hunt, because “legal rights only go so far.” She offered advice on how LGBT advocates could proceed as they seek greater justice and equality:

“Hearing the truth of people’s testament is very important. . . A lot can be achieved if you start on basis of love but it’s difficult when people are utterly determined not to hear each other. . .

“We need to reach deeper into communities, to help people be accepted as they live, work, socialise and pray. . .

“The rights of LGBT people don’t get in the way of people of faith who practice that faith.”

This interview is not Hunt’s first time speaking about the need to overcome divisions between LGBT and religious communities. When she was appointed Stonewall’s director in 2014, Hunt recognized that despite legal advances, there was still much work to do to bring about religious and cultural acceptance of LGBT people and their relationships. Last year, Hunt reaffirmed to The Tablet that changing attitudes rather than legislation was her priority. She welcomed Archbishop Vincent Nichol’s support of monthly LGBT outreach Masses near London as an effort to overcome the deep chasm that may exist between faithful Catholics and their church institutions.

Her wisdom is again insightful in this interview with the Observer, and LGBT advocates, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, would do well to read it. Hunt, who recommends listening to the truth of people’s lives, witnesses powerfully by living her own truth as a lesbian Catholic woman refusing to compromise on either her faith or her sexual orientation.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Sydney Archdiocese In Marriage Equality Brouhaha Concerning Supportive Businesses

April 15, 2016
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Archbishop Anthony Fisher, O.P.

Reports have surfaced that the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia, may have threatened to withdraw from businesses supportive of marriage equality, which is not yet legalized in that nation.  Actions by both Telstra, a telecommunications company, and the archdiocese seem to point toward some sort of agreement between the two entities regarding the upcoming marriage equality plebiscite. Mashable reported:

“According to The Australian, Archdiocese of Sydney business manager Michael Digges approached a number of companies who had given permission for their logo to be used in a newspaper advertisement in support of marriage equality in May 2015. . .He suggested the church could withdraw business from participating companies, including Telstra , which reportedly serves Catholic schools around Australia.”

Digges’ letter said corporations were “overstepping their purpose” in speaking publicly on this issue, and such acts should be “strongly resisted.” A further report from Business Insider claims former Telstra Chairwoman Catherine Livingstone met with Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher in October. Reporter Harry Tucker stated:

“The pair, who have both known each other for years, eventually came to a compromise. As part of that, Telstra would keep its logo on the Australian Marriage Equality page, but it would stop publicly campaigning around the issue.”

Telstra said there would be not further corporate involvement in the pro-equality campaign, other than their being listed as a supporter of the group Australian Marriage Equality.  Whether this decisiono is due to the Archdiocese’s letter is unconfirmed. For their part, Digges and the Archdiocese have denied any pressure was implied in the letter to businesses with whom the church partners.

LGBT advocates have been questioning church leaders’ precise role, if any, in Telstra’s backing away from seeking LGBT equality. The company’s customers, and Australians generally, have reacted quite negatively to this move. Shelley Argent, a mother and spokesperson for PFLAG, said the company was wrong, and the church “should be ashamed they’re even asking this,” reported the Herald Sun. Other customers said they may cancel their Telstra contacts over the matter.

Marriage equality is stalled in Australia’s Parliament despite 70% approval nationally and the support of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition leader Bill Shorten, who are both Catholic. Turnbull is holding fast to a plebiscite proposed by his predecessor Tony Abbot, another Catholic. Shorten recently called on Turnbull to hold the vote during the recalled parliament that begins this week.

Australians have criticized the plebiscite, promised by year’s end, as unnecessary since the overwhelming majority of Australians support marriage equality. Those critics include Fr. Frank Brennan, S.J., a law professor, who released on Facebook a letter he wrote to Prime Minister Turnbull. Brennan, writing against the plebiscite, explained some of the legal and political procedural complications:

“When the plebiscite vote is carried in favour of same sex marriage, as I am confident it will be, there will still be a need for our Parliament to legislate complex provisions protecting religious freedom and expanding the freedom to marry. It’s only a parliament, not a plebiscite, which can legislate the complex details of equality and the protection of all rights, including the right to religious freedom.”

Brennan also said the plebiscite would be “a waste of time” and “unleash torrents of hate on the gay and lesbian community.” Fr. Brennan’s projections seem likely given the Australian bishops’ heavily-criticized approach to opposing marriage equality, which has included using schoolchildren as messengers for an anti-equality pamphlet and using hyperbolic language about same-gender marriages.  Given Archbishop Fisher’s own negative record on LGBT issues and this recent incident between the Archdiocese and Telstra, it seems more than likely that any vote would negatively impact LGBT people.  Beyond the financial and political costs, it is time for church leaders to think foremost of the pastoral costs in mounting a hopeless campaign which aims only at causing further harm and division in an already wounded church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Irish Synod Approves Outreach Proposal to LGBT People, Others Hurt by Church

April 11, 2016
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Synod delegates listen to a speaker

Today, Catholic LGBT and ally pilgrims from the U.S. are bound for Ireland, sponsored by New Ways Ministry.   Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, will be the spiritual leader of this pilgrimage group traveling to the “land of rainbows and wedding bells.” Once there, we will celebrate Ireland’s successful referendum last year that legalized marriage equality, as well as meeting with two Irish Catholic LGBT groups along the way.

We will arrive to good news out of Limerick, where Catholics just concluded a diocesan synod last night after 18 months of listening and of dialogue. Last weekend, 400 delegates gathered for the synod, which was described by Bishop Brendan Leahy as the “distilling of the wisdom of the listening that has gone on across the 60 parishes of our diocese of Limerick.”

Delegates considered 100 proposals about church teaching and practice that emerged from a listening process, which included meetings with 1,500 people and other input from more than 5,000 people. The Irish Times reported on one proposal related to LGBT Catholics:

“A proposal to reach out to those hurt by the church including women who have had abortions, members of the LGBT community and people who have spent time in church institutions was overwhelmingly supported on the first day of the synod.

“Some 52 per cent of the delegates ‘strongly supported’ the proposal with 38 per cent expressing more general support.”

Fr. Eamon Fitzgibbon, synod director, commented afterwards about the importance of recognizing the harm church leaders have caused LGBT people:

” ‘We are all too well aware of people who have been hurt by the church in the past. I suppose even most recently with the marriage equality referendum, a lot of people voiced hurt and concern, for example with how the LGBT community might have felt alienated.’ “

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Bishop Leahy, center, speaking with delegates

Before the synod met, Bishop Leahy acknowledged that the church must admit its wrongs in order to do “our part to repair and remedy.” He told The Irish Catholic:

“We need to acknowledge the failure and disappointment we see in our own wounds, those at the heart of the Church, in all that has not been right in the Church, in the complex situations of the world around us.”

Leahy told the Limerick Post that the synod was an opportunity to apologize to those hurt by the church and to reach out out them “as much as we can.” You can read more of the bishop’s worthwhile thoughts about why he called this synod and what impact it could have by clicking here.

This gathering was the first diocesan synod in Limerick in 80 years and the first in Ireland in 50 years. Beyond the six themes around which delegates conversed (Community & Sense of Belonging; Faith Formation; Pastoral Care of the Family; New Models of Leadership; Liturgy and Life; Young People), “universal issues” were considered such as LGBT issues and even the ordination of women.

Most delegates were lay Catholics, including a significant number of women, with clergy and religious numbering about 100. Bishop Charles John Brown, papal nuncio to Ireland, who bore an Apostolic Blessing for the event from Pope Francis, also attended. Synod Director, Fr. Fitzgibbons, noted that besides parish delegates, representatives from “education, healthcare, communities within the city, inter-faith delegates – Polish community, immigrant delegates” were included. Bishop Leahy described the process to the Limerick Leader:

“It was launched in 2014, and then opened up a whole journey of contacting and building bridges with all kinds of people, to discuss the future directions of our Diocese. That was step one. We now actually have the event itself, which will be for three very full days of deliberations, discussions, and that will be a very, very important moment.

“After that comes the actual making up of all that policy as it were; once the decisions are taken and recommendations are given to me, then I have the task of producing a programme for government – somebody used that image and there is an element of that about it – I have the task to make that policy and implement it basically.”

Bishop Leahy seems to respect Catholics’ voices, as he called this synodal process a “people-led journey” because the “the people decided what would be on the agenda and the people voted.”

The people of God in Limerick, led by Bishop Leahy, have offered a living witness for dioceses worldwide about how to listen to victims of the church’s violence, how to learn from the wisdom of Catholics’ lived realities, how to dialogue about sharp differences, and how to move forward in faith as one Body in Christ. More synods should begin this lengthy, but meaningful process by calling diocesan and national synods and enacting the localized governance called for by Pope Francis.

As Frank DeBernardo and I, your faithful bloggers, join other pilgrims in our journey across Ireland, celebrating equality and praising God in prayer, we will give thanks for the people of God in Ireland who have expanded LGBT rights in society and sought justice in the church. In a special way, we carry in our hearts and our minds all of you, our blog readers and New Ways Ministry supporters, who faithfully work each day for LGBT equality!

If you would like information about future pilgrimages, please send an email request, containing your postal address to info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Gay Ambassador Faces Harsh Letter from Bishops and Ban from Catholic School

March 30, 2016
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Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster

Religious leaders’ opposition to gay U.S. Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster is again intensifying in the Dominican Republic (DR), spearheaded by the actions of Catholic officials in the Caribbean nation.

In a mid-March statement, the Dominican Episcopal Conference (the organization of Catholic bishops in DR) condemned Ambassador Brewster, and they urged the nation’s government to complain formally about his appointment by the U.S. government. The bishops criticized “abuses” by Brewster since he arrived in 2013, saying the “sovereignty of the nation and its traditional values” is at stake.

The alleged violations of law and of protocol include visits to schools and youth events by the ambassador and his husband, Bob Satawake. Such visits are offensive to the bishops because the couple has “a family model that is incompatible” with the Dominican Constitution and the couple allegedly attempts to “confuse our youth.”

The bishops cited Pope Francis’ condemnations of “ideological colonization” to defend their criticism of Brewster, and Victor Grimaldi, the Dominican Republic’s Ambassador to the Holy See, sent the Conference’s statement to Pope Francis, according to Dominican Today. There is no comment thus far from either Pope Francis or the Holy See about this devolving situation in the Dominican Republic. Responding to the bishops’ statement, Brewster said in a radio interview reported by Buzzfeed:

“We’re promoting equality around the world. . .That’s not why we went to the school, but we’re not going to have people continue to condemn and try to keep Bob and I or anyone else in the closet because [sic] that’s not who we are — and we’re proud of who we are, and we’re proud of representing the values of making sure that people aren’t marginalized.”

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Signs outside San Juan Bautista

In a second incident, San Juan Bautista School in Santiago banned Brewster from its property. Officials posted at least three signs outside the school which read, “The entrance of the US Ambassador of the United States is not permitted in this institute.” They have since been defaced by LGBT activists and were then removed for Holy Week. The school’s director, Fr. Manuel Ruiz, defended the signs,reported Dominican TodayRuiz told a radio interviewer he had the right to put up signs on private property and that “[Brewster’s] presence and of his partner in a school isn’t innocent.”

Finally, a petition launched by the Dominican Council of Evangelical Unity, a Protestant coalition, which asks President Barack Obama to remove Ambassador Brewster has gained 32,000 signatures.

In response to the criticism of the ambassador, public figures and organizations in the U.S. and the in the Dominican Republic have come to Brewster’s defense against these religious attacks. The Human Rights Campaign released a statement supporting Brewster, and one of their board members said it was “deeply concerned” by the religious leaders’ actions. HRC President Chad Griffin invoked the pope when he reiterated that support in the Blade, saying:

” ‘It’s time Pope Francis spoke out against this campaign of hate being perpetrated by Catholic Church leaders.’ “

Rosanna Marzan, director of Diversidad Dominican, an LGBT equality group, said the issues referenced by the ambassador’s critics are “a smokescreen to cover up other issues.” Her remarks were backed by Cristian King of Trans Siempre Amigos, another Dominican LGBT organization.

In the last few months, the White House and the State Department have been clear that they fully support Ambassador Brewster. Last week, 61 congresspeople signed a letter to the Dominican Republic’s president, Danilo Medina, affirming their support for Brewster and his work to “advance universal human rights,” reported the Washington BladeThese politicians and others are using the hashtag #ImWithWally to express their support. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, a Catholic, previously wrote to Pope Francis asking  him to intervene in attacks against Brewster, who is Durbin’s friend.

Brewster himself has been diplomatic but firm in rebutting Catholic leaders’ criticism and promoting LGBT human rights. In an interview with Michael Lavers of the Washington Blade, he commented on Cardinal López’s repeated homophobic comments:

“The disappointing thing for me is that I don’t see that as something that you’re hearing from the leader of the Catholic Church in Rome. . .I would hope that the Vatican — as we would not do that with their officials — would understand and condemn those types of words to any official with any government. . .”

Brewster said, too, that the attacks against him and his husband have prompted many Dominican citizens to express their support for marginalized LGBT communities:

“It’s a great social conversation that needed to happen and I think its happening now. . .It’s rising the level of those who bully and perpetuate prejudices in areas for all marginalized groups and it’s allowing them to be seen for who they are.”

While these incidents may indeed be increasing visibility of and support for LGBT justice in the Dominican Republic, Catholic officials’ participation in the homophobic attacks must cease immediately. What is happening in the Dominican Republic against Ambassador James Brewster and his husband demands ecclesial action.

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

Cardinal López’s anti-gay leadership has harmed the Dominican hierarchy and other clergy.  Pope Francis should immediately accept his letter of resignation submitted four years ago on López’s 75th birthday. As Bondings 2.o previously argued, Pope Francis’ direct involvement in the local church would not undermine his efforts towards decentralized power in the Catholic Church. It would be a necessary action to cull some Catholic leaders’ overt prejudice. Dominican Catholics should use the Year of Mercy to promote greater respect for and inclusion of LGBT communities, as a way to undo some of the damages recently inflicted.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


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