Reporting From Rome on Rainbow Catholics Assembly and Synod on the Family

October 2, 2015

St.Peter’s Basilica and Square

Saluti di Roma!  Greetings from Rome!

I am here in the Eternal City to observe the upcoming Synod of Bishops which will be discussing marriage and family issues, including LGBT topics.  In preparation for the Vatican’s synod which begins on Sunday, October 4, 2015, an international group of Catholic LGBT leaders is gathering in Rome this weekend to launch a global organization to lift up concerns of LGBT people in the church.

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) Inaugural Assembly has been organized by a coalition of groups, including New Ways Ministry, under the leadership of the European Forum of Lesbian and Gay Christian Groups. Representatives from over 30 nations will meet for three days to discuss the governance and objectives of this coalition designed to foster international cooperation, as well as to present a strong united voice of LGBT Catholics and allies to Church officials.  The Assembly’s theme is “LGBT Voices to the Synod,” and it will conclude on Sunday with a statement of pastoral concerns to be sent to the Vatican and to all the bishop participants in the synod.

During the weekend, the Assembly participants will attend an international conference on pastoral care of LGBT people which has been organized by the same coalition.  The conference is entitled “Ways of Love: Snapshots of Catholic Encounter with LGBT People and their Families.”  Among the featured speakers will be Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland and the mother of a gay man; Bishop Raul Vera, head of the Diocese of Saltillo, Mexico, and an outspoken supporter of LGBT equality; and Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder and longtime advocate for LGBT issues.

Sister Jeannine and I will represent New Ways Ministry at the GNRC Assembly.  Also attending from the USA will be DignityUSA Board Members Jeff Stone and Leo Egashira, as well as Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, head of the Human Rights Campaign’s Catholic and Latino/a Programs.

logo GNRC 2The four-day Assembly, with a full program of meetings, will work to initiate joint projects, mutual support and exchange of best practices, while seeking dialogue and serene engagement with the whole Catholic community and institutions.

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) is an international network of organisations and people involved in the pastoral care of, and search for justice for, LGBT people and their families. By means of joint projects, support and interchange, the Network strives for the inclusion, dignity and equality of LGBT people, their parents and their families, within the Catholic Church and wider society. Representing, as they do, a great variety of sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds, the members of GNRC are united in a common Catholic Faith which leads them to pray and work so that LGBT people may be guaranteed full and equal inclusion in all sectors of the Catholic Church, and the protection, by both civil and ecclesiastical law, of their human dignity, rights and equality of treatment may be upheld.

Rooted in the tradition of Catholic Social Justice teaching, the GNRC proposes the equal and intrinsic value of all people, independent of sexual orientation, relationship status or gender identity. According to a press release from the group:

“GNRC members long for a Catholic Church in which ALL the people of God – LGBT and heterosexual people – can live, pray and offer their own service together in harmony.”

The group which organized these events consisted of representatives from:  European Forum of LGBT Christian GroupsAssociació Cristiana de Gais i Lesbianes de Catalunya (ACGIL)(Spain), Dette Resources Foundation (Zambia), DignityUSA (USA), Drachma (Drachma LGBTI and Drachma Parents Group) (Malta), Ichthys christian@s lgtbh de Sevilla (Spain), LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council (UK), New Ways Ministry (USA),Nuova Proposta (Italy), Ökumenische Arbeitsgruppe Homosexuelle und Kirche (Germany), Pastoral de la Diversidad Sexual (Chile), Wiara i Tęcza (Poland).

Following this historic weekend gathering, I will be staying on in Rome to observe the synod proceedings, and, hopefully, to meet with some of the bishop delegates.  Please keep Sister Jeannine and me in your prayers during this time, as we can benefit from your support.

In blog posts in the coming week,  I’ll be reporting from Rome about the GNRC Assembly, the international conference, and, of course, the synod of bishops.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Transgender Policy in Jeopardy After Delayed Vote By Catholic School Board

September 19, 2015

Catholic school leaders in Canada failed to approve a policy which would allow students to self-identify their gender, frustrating hopes of positive change and earning stern criticism from the Education Minister. The Edmonton Journal reported:

“Edmonton Catholic Schools trustees moved during the Tuesday night meeting to delay voting on the motion about the transgender policy until its next meeting in October, after several raised questions about its purpose and development.

“The majority of the board’s first meeting of the year was devoted to arguing over the policy, which could give students access to the washrooms, change rooms and sports teams that match their gender identities.”

That meeting devolved into a “shouting match” and then a delayed vote, which the policy’s sponsor, Patricia Grell, has called “very unfortunate.” She expressed concern for the well being of a female elementary student whose inability to use a bathroom consistent with her identity prompted the draft policy.

Three trustees worked with parents, trans advocates, and mental health professionals to craft the proposal. While Edmonton’s Catholic schools promise to provide an “inclusive, welcoming, caring, respectful, safe, and Catholic environment that promotes the well-being of all,” those involved say this new policy is quite necessary.  Because Canada’s Catholic schools are funded by the government, political officials become involved in decisions made by local governing school boards.

Its necessity is also endorsed by a high ranking government official. Education Minister David Eggen chastised the board for its failure to pass a transgender inclusive policy, and threatened action against them:

“What is a sensitive, important issue in regards to human rights broke and dissolved into acrimony, and I don’t expect that I will see that again. If it does so, there will be consequences. . .This has to be dealt with as soon as possible.”

This acrimony arose from the trustees who opposed to the policy, including Larry Kowalczyk who mistakenly said that Catholic teaching treats transgender identities as mental illness.  Kowalczyk previously voted against child protection efforts in April. The behavior of these trustees prompts doubts about their leadership, like those of Marni Panas, a transgender Catholic and mother of children in Edmonton Catholic schools, who told the Edmonton Sun:

“You expect a certain level of professionalism and decorum from your elected officials, and what I saw that night, I’d never seen anything like that. . .I think that shocked everybody, including myself. I question this trustee’s ability to provide a safe place for students.”

Pressure is mounting on the board to take action in the best interests of transgender students and, in the meantime, it seems school communities will continue growing in their acceptance. Former Education Minister Thomas A. Lukaszuk wrote of these themes for the Edmonton Sun:

“I don’t doubt that the Board may have the best intentions, but appears to be lacking in resolve to conclude this matter. . .In the mean time, our little girl, like many others, can’t innocently focus on her studies and recess play, as she knows that tomorrow may be the day when someone questions her identity or forces her go to a segregated washroom.

“Sadly, it’s likely to be an adult, as other kids love her for who she is.”

While adults opposed to LGBT inclusion cause “shouting match”-style government proceedings, younger children and young adults in the Catholic Church have thankfully become more accepting and affirming of LGBT people with each passing day. The board’s meeting in October will likely vote on the policy and even if it rejects the drafted policy, it seems the Ministry of Education’s intervention is a real possibility to ensure equal education. But it would be better for Catholic leaders to willingly enact policies which welcome all, meet every student’s needs, and cherish each young person as a child of God.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Gay Priest Calls Philippines Bishops’ Marriage Letter a “Far Cry from the Gospel”

September 17, 2015

Philippines bishops

Facing a push from LGBT advocates for marriage equality, Catholic bishops in the Philippines strongly stated their opposition to the initiative in a pastoral letter. The bishops’  harsh rhetorical style triggered a beautiful response from a gay priest in that country, Fr. RJ.

The August letter from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines attacked same-gender unions, saying they are “not and can never be a marriage as properly understood and so-called” and is not “similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage,” reported The Bangkok Post.

The bishops also claimed homosexuality is “objectively disordered” and that Catholic lawmakers should oppose marriage equality “in a particularly vigorous way.” None of this language is novel, but its repetition causes harm.

In response posted at Outrage Magazine, Fr. RJ described the bishops’ letter as “wrong and hurtful and a far cry from the Gospel” . He wrote:

“This pastoral letter not only violates the teaching of the catechism about accepting and respecting LGBTs, it further violates Pope Francis’ teaching against judging and marginalizing LGBTs. . .The Gospel is about human rights, and equality, and about love. Instead of opposing equal rights for LGBTs, Holy Mother Church should be at the forefront of defending and protecting LGBTs persons, LGBT couples, and LGBT families.”

Specifically on the question of marriage equality, so harshly criticized by the bishops, Fr. RJ said:

“Jesus was always on the side of the marginalized. Jesus was always on the side of human rights and human dignity. . .

“I challenge any bishop to look an LGBT couple in the eye and prove to them that their marriage perverts and undermines the common good. The reality is that the legalization of same-sex marriage enhances human rights and social justice.”

In UCA NewsArchbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, the Philippines Bishops Conference president, clarified that gay people should be respected, that pastoral workers cannot inquire into a person’s sexuality, and that families must welcome gay members.

However, Fr. RJ rejects these statements as false compassion, noting that the bishops quote the Catechism on homosexuality except for the part about respect, compassion and sensitivity. He continued:

“The Church herself is a family. This pastoral letter ostracizes the Church’s LGBT sons and daughters. This pastoral letter does not preach mercy. Instead, this pastoral letter preaches discrimination and injustice.”

Fr. RJ ended his essay hopefully, however, with a call for the church to repent and be converted from the “sin of homophobia” it currently enacts and move towards valuing LGBT people as God does:

“As human civilization advances and as our understanding of human rights progresses, it is time to let go of past errors. . .The good news is that we can also learn from our mistakes and correct our past errors. Homophobia and discrimination against LGBTs is one area where we have gravely misunderstood God’s plan. The truth is that God created LGBTs and God has a beautiful place for LGBT persons and LGBT families in His loving plan.”

All of this debate comes as LGBT advocates in the heavily Catholic nation are applying for marriage licenses.  They want to set up a constitutional legal case that may bring about marriage equality if successful. For more information on the legal strategy, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Progressive Catholic Ousts Anti-Equality Catholic in Australian Leadership Vote

September 15, 2015

Malcolm Turnbull

Australians have a new prime minister after a leadership vote ousted the heavily criticized conservative Tony Abbot, a Catholic, in favor of a more progressive Catholic who supports marriage equality, an issue that is being hotly debated in that nation.

Liberal Party members elected Malcolm Turnbull, who is a convert to Catholicism, to be the country’s prime minister until elections next year, reported the Sydney Morning Herald.

I will leave the political commentary to Australia’s pundits, but for Catholics concerned with LGBT issues, this is a change worth noting. Australian Michael Bernard Kelly explained, as reported at (another Australian native) Michael Bayly’s blog The Wild Reed:

“Interestingly, a hard right-wing, Opus Dei leaning, anti-marriage equality, climate change denying Catholic PM has been replaced by a progressive Catholic who is passionate about action on climate change, dedicated to marriage equality, and committed to making Australia a constitutional republic. Interesting times ahead for us – but now we have a PM with some real vision. That is something to celebrate.”

Indeed, Turnbull’s views are closer to Pope Francis’ views than they are to the views of Cardinal George Pell, the former hardline archbishop of Sydney. Australia’s new prime minister diverges from the pope in his support for equal marriage rights.  Turnbull’s support for same-gender couples’ rights dates back to 2012, though he drew criticism at the time for endorsing civil unions as a compromise.

Turnbull affirmed his support for marriage equality last month, writing in a blog post that he would vote for it if then-Prime Minister Tony Abbot allowed a conscience vote and that he would prefer the issue be settled before 2016 elections.

After being elected to Labor leadership, Turnbull has confirmed he will move forward with Abbot’s planned plebiscite on the question of marriage, allowing Australians to decide the matter directly. This is in keeping with his previous remark that:

“The best approach to this in my view therefore is to consult the people openly and honestly, to set out the proposition before them and ask them to approve it or not.”

Reports suggest Australians are quite ready for marriage equality’s legalization, support for which polls at 72%. Tony Abbot’s obstinance on this issue may be a main reason his leadership crumbled, particularly after an August decision to deny members of Parliament a conscience vote on the Equal Marriage Bill that would have likely passed.

Australia’s Catholic bishops were quite supportive of Abbot’s tactics, which enhanced their own efforts to prevent LGBT rights, including using children in Catholic schools as messengers of an anti-gay pamphlet. In addition, Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher struck at pro-equality Catholics in remarks deemed pastorally insensitive.

The bishops’ approach contrasts with local Catholic communities, like St. Joseph’s Parish in Newtown, which are accepting places for LGBT people.  It is a debated question why Australia, with a laid back and even progressive reputation, has not adopted marriage equality

In an interesting final note, this is not the first time marriage equality was central to an Australian leadership change in recent years. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, himself a Catholic, lost to Tony Abbot in 2013 and many speculated at the time it was Rudd’s last minute and firm defense of marriage equality that influenced his political downfall.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Listening to Catholic LGBT Voices from Africa

September 9, 2015

Here in the United States, there have been many requests and petitions for Catholic LGBT voices to be heard at October 2015’s Synod of Bishops on the Family, to be held in Rome.  The need is great for such a dialogue to occur because the bishops will be discussing pastoral care to families with LGBT members, and because for far too long, upper Church leadership has ignored these individuals.

The European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups has recently released a report on the experiences of group of Catholic LGBT people who have probably been even more ignored by Church leaders:  the LGBT Catholics who live in Africa. The interviews were conducted by Davis Mac-Iyalla in four African nations during March 2015.  The Washington Blade published this report which tells moving stories about the oppression these Catholics experience, but also about their courage in speaking out.

Bondings 2.0 has covered stories over the years about African Catholic leaders’ support of laws which criminalize LGBT people. Until now, we have had few opportunities to share with you some of the stories of Catholic LGBT individuals, their life experiences and their faith journeys.   Here are some excerpts from the report published in The Washington Blade:


Mac-Iyalla described the legal situation in Ghana:

“Under Ghanaian criminal law, same-sex sexual activity among males is illegal and can result in long prison sentences. The situation with lesbians is less clearly defined, but still highly problematic.

His interview with a lesbian advocate describes how people there work against such laws in their daily lives:

“Rosebud, a Christian, lesbian and midwife who works for the government hospital, leads an informal group of Catholic lesbians. It started among fellow lesbians at her church, but women from other churches are discovering her group. She currently has members from the Anglican, Presbyterian as well Pentecostal churches. Although the group is based in Accra, it is growing to be Ghana wide. They have not given the group a name, but come together once a month to pray and listen to each other’s stories. With little support from their churches on the issues that their sexuality raises in society, the group has become their only means of support as they discuss and help each other on LGBT issues. They organize parties and social events, but have to be very discrete, so as not to incur the wrath of the authorities.

“Rosebud thinks that in a homophobic society, ‘the churches should be the first places to welcome LGBT people, not persecute them.’ “


In Togo, Mac-Iyalla spoke with Sheba, a lesbian Christian law student, who told him about some of the legal and human rights abuses LGBT people experience:

“. . . [T]here has been an increase in reports of men raping underage boys. These men are labelled gay, and the LGBT community become scapegoats for these crimes. Accusations of rape accompanied by blackmail are a common means of extorting money from rich locals and foreign tourists.

“Most LGBT people in Togo live in fear because they don’t want to be disowned by their family, so they go underground. In Togo, LGBT people are called by the abusive term ‘adowe.’ ”

“Sadly, the biggest threat to the Togo LGBT community is the church and religious leaders. The Catholic Church is very powerful there, strongly influencing moral, political and other issues. Specifically the Catholic Church and its bishops are highly regarded by people of the country. She reflects that bishops and religious leaders in Togo frequently come on air to blame any mishap or natural disaster that happens in the country on homosexuals. Therefore, she would appreciate support and work with the LGBT community in the area of lobbying at the wider international/church level.

“This anti-LGBT stance drives Catholics away from the Church. Edenedi, a bisexual woman who was baptized and brought up Catholic, is now worshiping in the charismatic faith. She feels she can no longer go to church on Sunday, sit down and listen to unchristian preaching about LGBT people. Despite this she still identifies herself as Catholic.”

Mac-Iyalla also profiled a Catholic gay man:

“Aziable is a well-known, prominent gay Catholic activist from Atapkame. Until recently, he was a knight of the church. Knighthood is an honour and invested upon those that the Bishop feels are actively contributing to the life of the diocese. Knights are charged by the church to utilize their potential for mission and evangelism. However, Aziable was dismissed from his knighthood once his sexuality became known. ‘I will never leave the church because doing so is giving victory to my oppressors,’ he emotionally states. He feels that church leaders need help and education to understand properly the gospel that they are claiming to represent.”


Mac-Iyalla reported on several of the interviews in Benin, one in which he interviewed three transsexual people as a group, at their request:

“The three explained that the Catholic Church, which is the dominant faith in the country and holds great power, influences social attitudes and fuels homophobic prejudice. The thing, which saddened me the most, was to hear that if a known homosexual dies, he or she is buried in a different cemetery from everyone else, a place where outcasts are buried. Marginalized and hated in life, marginalized and hated in death. The three interviewees wept as they spoke. One of them named Abib asked me to be honest in my reply and to tell them that if they died would they go to hell or heaven? ‘Priests say that transsexuals are demons in the kingdom of the devil.’ This was very shocking for me to hear. In my years living in Nigeria and Togo I have heard much homophobia, and know well the negative attitudes of church and society towards gay people, but this priest’s words still shocked me. At this point I stopped interviewing them and spent the rest of our time together teaching and reassuring them of the unconditional love of Christ, and telling them that all baptized members of the church regardless of their sexuality, sex or gender identity are welcomed into the Kingdom of God.”

He also interviewed the mother of a gay man:

“Mary is a parent of a 21-year-old gay man living in Porto Novo. She is a practicing Catholic and told me that she knew that her son was different right from the age of 12. . . . She once was told by a fellow parishioner that her son’s female behavior was because of a lack of a father figure in his life. This was so offensive to Mary that she reported it to her priest, but nothing happened as the priest agreed with what the parishioner had said. She feels angry about the attitudes of the church towards homosexuals and single parents. ‘I love my church and my country, but I love my child more and I will do everything to protect him.’ “


Mac-Iyalla then traveled to Nigeria.  He described the repressive atmosphere there:

“In Nigeria, the church and the government both persecute LGBT people. On the 7th of January 2014 the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act into law. This act imposes lengthy prison sentences of up to 14 years on any person who attempts to enter into a same-sex marriage or civil union; who participates in a gay club, society or organization; or who makes a public display of affection with a person of the same sex.”

In Nigeria, he interviewed Rashidi, a young scientist and strong human rights defender:

“As a young man, he was scared he was going to be consumed by fire whenever he stepped up to the altar. He feared that his homosexuality would be revealed to the church and he would become an object of mockery amongst his peers. He remarked, ‘Many homosexuals within the church in Nigeria still have those same feelings and are scared about people finding the truth of who they are.’

“Rashidi expressed his anger over the Same Sex Marriage Act. Many LGBT Catholics in Nigeria were very disappointed to read in the press that The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria made statements in support of the bill saying that the law was a ‘step in the right direction for the protection of the dignity of the human person.’ Rashidi angrily commented, ‘I cannot understand how the church could support the persecutions of LGBT Nigerians and still call itself Christian.’ There had been an increase in violent attacks against Nigerian LGBT people since the bill was signed into law. Painful for him is the lack of pastoral care and support from the Nigerian Catholic Church towards its LGBT members. While the bishop pays ‘lip-service’ to human rights and equality, the Catholic Church does not seem to put these ideals into practice.”

“Rashidi followed the Catholic Family Synod through the international media. ‘Why the Catholic Church can’t be more like Christ to give everyone a place, I do not know,’ he muses.”


In the conclusion to his report, Mac-Iyalla made the following observation:

“The anti-gay laws in these countries prevent constructive dialogue between the state, church and LGBTs. These laws are used as ammunition to justify persecution and the refusal of pastoral care and support by religious and community leaders. This isolates LGBTs and propagates fear, hatred and even violence against the LGBT community.

“The Catholic Church in West Africa has not initiated the family debate in their churches and parishes. Church leaders are disconnected from reality about their LGBT members. In turn the LGBT members are ignorant of what is going on at the higher level of the Catholic Church both in their own countries and internationally.

“Despite all of this, Catholic LGBT’s do not want to walk away from the Catholic Church. They want to be accepted, to be welcomed by the church, to have dialogue, and education. . . .They want to participate in the Family Synod discussions. They want to have a voice, to tell their stories, to relate their situations and to let the world know of their plight and their fight.”

You can read the entire report by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Vatican Intervention Causes Bishop to (Again) Reject Trans* Man as Godparent

September 3, 2015

Alex Salinas

The Vatican has intervened to prevent a transgender man in Spain from being a godparent, causing the local bishop to again reverse his decision in the case, just as plans for the baptism were moving forward.

Initially rejected for being transgender, a decision which Alex Salinas said felt like a “kick in the stomach,” the young Spanish trans* won an appeal to Bishop Rafael Zornoza of the Diocese of Cadiz and Ceuta. The bishop approved Salinas’ request to be his nephew’s godparent in August. Bondings 2.0 highlighted the bishop’s decisions as one of several positive trans* Catholic developments at the time.

Zornoza is now saying “no” again. Salinas confirmed the second rejection to RTVE, saying the bishop called him on the very day they were going to the parish to confirm the baptism date and time. The bishop told Salinas, without providing any reason, that he could not be the godparent .

The reason is apparent now that Bishop Zornoza has admitted that he consulted the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).  The Vatican office said “publicly and definitely” in a statement that transsexual Catholics are ineligible. The following is part of the CDF’s response, as cited by the bishop and translated into English:

“About this particular matter [i.e., a transsexual person being a godparnet], I communicate to you the impossibility that it is admitted. The same transexual behavior reveals, in a public manner, an attitude opposed to the moral demand of resolving the problem of one’s own sexual identity according to the truth of one’s own sex. Therefore, the result is evident that this person does not possess the requisite of leading a life conformed to the faith and to the position of godfather (CIC, can 874 §1,3), therefore is not able to be admitted to the position of godmother nor godfather. One should not see this as discrimination, but only the recognition of an objective absence of the requisites that by their nature are necessary to assume the ecclesial responsibility of being a godparent.”

According to Zornoza, the CDF consultation was necessary because of “confusion” by the faithful about his own words and the media attention surrounding Salinas’ case.

The bishop also cited Popes Francis and Benedict XVI to justify his rejection, claiming Francis believes “this behavior is contrary to human nature” because of several sentences in the pope’s recent encyclical on care for creation, Laudato Si. Zornoza explained:

“Acceptance of one’s body as a gift of God is necessary to receive and accept the world as a gift of the Father and our common home, while a logic of domination over the body itself becomes a sometimes subtle logic of dominion over creation. Learning to receive the body itself, to care for and respect its meanings is essential for a true human ecology. Also assessing the body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary to recognize an encounter with the different. This makes it possible to joyfully accept the specific gift of the other , the work of God the Creator, and enrich one another. Therefore, it is not a healthy attitude that seeks to ‘cancel the sexual difference that no longer knows confront the same’ ( Laudato Si, n.155) .”

I quoted these explanations from the CDF and Zornoza at length because the incoherence of these statements and their underlying logic becomes readily apparent to trans* people and their allies. Those who live openly as their understood gender identities are not living in opposition to resolving their sexual identity nor are they failing to accept their bodies as gifts from God.

Instead the trans* Catholics I know are people who have come to accept their bodies as gifts from God in the deepest way. They have, frequently through intense struggle and suffering, learned to receive their bodies, to care for them, to respect them, and to develop a healthy human ecology in their relationships. The dark reality is that religious condemnation, like the CDF’s or Zornoza’s, is what can create disintegration of one’s identity and dissociation with one’s body. This is true for trans* and cisgender people alike.

The CDF can claim that not including trans* Catholics as godparents is not discrimination, but that doesn’t make it that statement true.  Their statement is marked by an exclusion that is at odds with Jesus’ welcome to all. Bishop Zornoza’s claim that the church welcomes all and accompanies all with mercy ring hollow in light of his latest decision.

This incident also reveals a church in deep tension in the church during this era of Pope Francis who has repeatedly reached out to trans* Catholics. But what is still most painful in this incident is the personal dimension: the harm done to Alex Salinas and his family.

A faithful trans* Catholic, Salinas has experienced the violence of exclusion, and he says, understandably, that he is “disgusted” and “feels cheated by the parish priest, the bishop of Rome” because he was rejected, then approved, and now rejected again. Salinas’ family now says they will not baptize his nephew in the Catholic Church but will raise the child elsewhere in the Christian faith. Is the CDF’s restrictive version of Canon Law worth these costs? One more reversal from Zornoza seems the only right way to proceed.

For more updates on trans Catholic issues, check out our “Transgender” category in the column to the right.

For those attending the World Meeting of Families, or anyone who wants to come to Philadelphia at the end of September, consider attending New Ways Ministry’s half-day workshop on gender diverse families entitled TransForming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholics Perspectives, on Saturday, September 26, 2015, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at Arch Street United Methodist Church, 55 North Broad Street, Philadelphia.  For more information, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Swiss Bishops Offer Supportive Comments After Another Bishop’s Error

September 1, 2015

Bishop Markus Büchel, center, at an ordination

A Swiss bishop who was criticized for remarks deemed by some as advocating the death penalty for lesbian and gay people has apologized. His remorse has stopped neither public criticism from fellow prelates, who released pastoral appeals in the wake of this controversy, nor the filing of criminal charges.

Bishop Vitus Huonder of Chur quoted Leviticus in a July address at a conference of German-speaking traditionalist Catholics. Though he technically never suggested gay people should be executed, Bondings 2.0 noted at the time, his irresponsible language makes that interpretation extremely easy. After facing criticism, he apologized, reported The

“In a three-page letter sent to 800 of his colleagues, including priests and employees, on Wednesday night, Huonder apologized ‘to everyone who felt injured by my speech, in particular those of homosexual persuasion,’ reported Swiss news agency ATS on Thursday.

“The 73-year-old said it was a ‘mistake’ to write his speech purely ‘on a theological and academic level’. . .He also regretted writing it during the summer holidays when there was no one around to read it over for him.”

In response, at least two bishops criticized Huonder’s comments indirectly by offering pastoral appeals. Bishop Markus Büchel of St. Gallen, who is also head of the Swiss Bishops Conference, wrote a letter to pastoral workers after many expressed concerns about Huonder’s comments. reported that he said that it was important in a sexual relationship was how a person responsibly uses sexuality, not whether that person is heterosexual or homosexual.  He encouraged Catholics to rely on their individual consciences.

Later he noted: ‘We are look forward to every relationship in which the partners accept each other as equal, valuable, beloved children of God and respect the dignity of others!’ ”

As for the church’s place when it comes to homosexuality:

“Büchel sees it as a task of the Church to accompany people on their way,’on which they can integrate their sexuality as a gift of God in their lives and their relations.” The Church must deal with the historical burdens of homosexuality and consciously develop ‘a new, human, and proper language.”

Büchel also spoke about Scriptural interpretation and contemporary understandings of homosexuality, affirming that “current knowledge about homosexuality as a constitutent part of personality, and not freely chosen, was not known at the time of the Bible.” The full letter, in German, is available here and Bondings 2.0 would welcome a more thorough translation of it from any of our German-speaking readers.

Abbot Urban Federer

A second episcopal response came from Abbot Urban Federer of Ensiedeln, who said church leaders should be for something, not against something. His first response to an email inquiry about “Why the Catholic Church condemns homosexuals?” was to simply quote the Catechism’s language about “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

Yet Federer felt that quoting the Catechism was not a sufficient response for this situation, so he reinterpreted the Leviticus passage more affirmingly on the abbey’s website, which you can find here in German, with a simple translation following:

“Although the passages condemn sexual intercourse among people of the same sex, they are not against homosexuality, which was not yet known in this ancient time. Therefore such passages can hardly be used to assess current issues!

He continued by saying that homosexuality “will occupy the church for a long time,” and he noted the Swiss bishops’ 2002 decision to support same-sex unions so that lesbian and gay people could be protected from discrimination. But Federer noted the church needs to do more,  citing a public letter to Huonder by the rapper Gimma to ask:

“Can the Church really and so loudly put a minus in front of homosexuality?. . .Gimma’s reaction is a provocative question for the Church: Should the Church not be used for people, for the dignity of gays and lesbians, rather than take action against certain people? The frank words of Gimma make me pensive and call me to more modesty.”

Finally, Federer turned to Pope Francis’ views on homosexuality:

“The Church may rejoice about homosexuals as children loved by God! Did not Pope Francis already show the Church how to deal with homosexuals in the right manner? In his first press conference as the head of Roman Catholic Church, he promoted the idea not to discriminate against male and female homosexuals. Verbatim, the Pope asked: ‘When a person is homosexual and seeks God and is of good will, who am I to judge?’ “

Bishop Huonder’s apology was also roundly criticized by LGBT groups. Pink Cross, an umbrella organization for several Swiss LGBT groups, filed a criminal complaint against Huonder in August for “inciting people to crime or violence” according to Newsweek. Bastian Baumann, director of Pink Cross, explained the bishop crossed a “red line” given his authority and exhortation to literal interpretation of Scripture:

“We believe in freedom of expression, and taking quotes from the bible is fine. . .But then he said the words should be applied to real life, which is the equivalent of calling for the death penalty for gay people. We were worried about that. He is the leader of a big church, and he was calling for people to follow his words, and we thought this could be dangerous.”

Baumann further rejected Huonder’s apology because “there was no misunderstanding” his remarks. If found guilty in this complaint, the bishop could face a prison sentence of up to three years.

What to make of all this?

My first reaction is that this is simply a reminder that God draws good out of bad situations. For as strikingly painful as Bishop Huonder’s citation of Leviticus was, the critical and pastoral responses from his colleagues are doubly positive. How simply refreshing to hear a bishop say, “The Church may rejoice about homosexuals as children loved by God!”

Second, it is good to see bishops who are willing to criticize a colleague whose behavior or statements were not in keeping with the office of bishop and Christian ideas. Both Büchel and Federer’s responses are polite, avoiding direct criticism of Huonder, but they make clear that his way of interpreting Scripture and discussing sexuality are irresponsible, outdated, and not in keeping with the best practices of Catholic theology today.

Third, and finally, Bishop Büchel’s letter is noteworthy as he shifts the conversation on homosexuality from genital acts to people. His exhortation for the “responsible use of sexuality” and emphasis on conscience are similar to how many theologians and ministers have reframed the conversation around homosexuality.

While I certainly doubt acceptance of same-sex relationships can be read into Büchel or Federer’s letters, the church’s leaders’ understanding of lesbian and gay people foremost as people is an important, though much belated, step. That they do this publicly and in criticism of a local peer who is  missing the mark is great!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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