In what is a strong display of Catholic advocacy for the human rights of gay people, the members of LGBT Catholics Westminster have rallied around a gay Ugandan who worships with them to prevent him from being deported to his native land where homosexuality is criminalized.
London’s Tablet reported that the man “faces a very high risk of being killed if he is forced to return to the place of his birth.” LGBT Catholics Westminster is the official diocesan pastoral ministry in London, approved by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the head of the Westminster Diocese.
The Tablet provided background about the man at the center of this situation:
“Godfrey Kawalya, a gay Ugandan refugee, LGBT campaigner and a member of LGBT Catholics Westminster, has been living in Britain since 2002. In Uganda, where same sex acts are illegal and punishable by life imprisonment, he says he was expelled from secondary school, sacked from his job and rejected by his family for being gay. He was also an active member of the political opposition to the current president, Yoweri Museveni.
“After he fled from Kampala to rebel-held territories in Northern Uganda, Kawalya said he was attacked and robbed, and a friend who sheltered him was killed. He escaped to Kenya with the help of some nuns and eventually made his way to England.
“In August 2015 the Home Office refused his claim for asylum on the grounds that they did not believe he was gay and because he didn’t disclose his sexuality when he first arrived. ‘I was fearful, it wasn’t easy. I don’t know why they don’t believe me’, Mr Kawalya told The Tablet.
“Several appeals have failed and Mr Kawalya has one final chance to appeal by supplying new evidence to support his case by 17 May.”
LGBT Catholics Westminster has organized a petition for UK citizens to sign, asking the British government to grant Kawalya asylum. Several Catholic leaders have already signed the petition, including Vincent Manning, chair of Catholics for AIDS Prevention and Support, Ged Clapson, Jesuit Communications Officer in Britain, and Fr. Tony Nye, a pastor at Farm Street Jesuit Church in Mayfair, London, which hosts the LGBT Catholics Westminster organization.
Martin Pendergast, a leader in the LGBT Catholics group said of Kawalya’s case that “even if he were not (gay), the law takes the view that refugees who are in danger of death or persecution because they are perceived to be gay in their home country must be granted asylum.”
For more information about LGBT Catholics Westminster or to learn how to sign the petition if you are a UK citizen, visit www.lgbtcatholicswestminster.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When people speak about appropriate Catholic pastoral ministry for LGBT people, I can think of no better example than this story of Catholics using church teaching condemning discrimination against LGBT people to help save a person’s life.
In less than two weeks, Frank Mugisha, the head of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the leading LGBT advocacy organization in that country, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 19, 2017
Luxembourg’s openly gay prime minister and his husband were welcomed at the Vatican recently, a potentially hopeful sign that church officials will increasingly respect people in same-gender civil marriages.
Archbishop Georg Gänswein greeted Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and his husband, Gauthier Destenay, as they arrived to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the European Union. Pink News reported:
“The gay couple joined other heads of government from across Europe for the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome [which founded what would become the European Union]. . .Pope Francis then held a meeting with the leaders, including Prime Minister Bettel, in the Vatican, marking the anniversary.
“Despite the unusual circumstances – Mr. Bettel is the only openly gay leader in the world – Vatican bosses opted for the usual protocol around heads of government and their spouses.”
That it was Gänswein who welcomed them is also notable as he was given a Vatican position by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whom he still serves as the former pope’s personal secretary.
Luxembourg legalized marriage equality in 2014, a move Bettel oversaw in a country where 67% of the population remains Catholic. In 2015, the couple married shortly after the new law went into effect. About their treatment at the Vatican, Prime Minister Bettel tweeted:
“It was a great pleasure and honour for me and Gauthier to be welcomed by the leader of the Catholic church. XB”
Welcoming an openly gay politician is another chapter in the confusing story of whether and how the Vatican and other Catholic institutions will treat LGBT people, including those people in same-gender marriages.
In 2015, a pilgrimage of LGBT Catholics and their families led by New Ways Ministry was given VIP seating at an audience with Pope Francis. It was reported that Archbishop Gänswein had a role in securing the tickets, and pilgrims expressed their feelings that it was moment of welcome they would never forget.
But that same year, the Holy See rejected France’s ambassador, Laurent Stéfanini, who is openly gay and married. Few answers about the rejection were offered by either the French government or the Holy See. After six months of simply waiting, France withdrew Stéfanini’s application for diplomatic credentials without an official reason given by either party.
This institutional confusion is, in part, due to Pope Francis’ own mixed record on LGBT issues. The pope of “Who am I to judge?” is also the pope of “there is a world war to destroy marriage.” In just over two weeks, Catholics will gather in Chicago to discuss just what to make of LGBT issues in the age of Pope Francis during New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium. There is still time to register, which you can do by clicking here.
While magisterial teaching prohibits same-gender sacramental marriage, civil law is not synonymous with church teaching. One thing Pope Francis is clear about through his many acts is that church leaders should be prioritizing radical hospitality over exclusion. Welcoming Bettel and Destenay is a good step, but to really make such inclusion palpable, it must be modeled at churches worldwide.
Today is the International Transgender Day of Visibility, a day to raise awareness about trans people’s accomplishments and fight back against transphobia. But amid celebrations is the sad reality that hate crime-related killings against transgender people in El Salvador are on the rise. Disturbingly, LGBT activists have claimed the Catholic Church in that country, and elsewhere in Latin America, contributes to this tragedy. But the people of God in that country can choose another path.
In February, Reutersreported, three trans people were murdered in just the town of San Juan Talpa, bringing the total number of trans people murdered in 2017 up to seven. Of one murder, the news service reported:
“The town’s latest victim was Elizabeth Castillo, a transgender woman, who police say was kidnapped in February after attending the funeral of two transgender women. Her body, showing signs of torture, was then found dumped on the roadside.”
Another 40 trans people, said Karla Avelar, director of group Communicating and Training Transwomen, “have been forced to migrate to other countries to safeguard their own lives.” Teresa, a trans woman in San Juan Talpa, has considered fleeing because of her fears, saying:
“‘I think that someone is coming to kill me. . .I live in constant fear. . .With a doubt, I’ve thought about being far away from this country because staying here the gangs find you.”
“The gangs don’t accept lesbians, gay boys or transgender people. Diversity doesn’t fit into their rules.”
Anti-LGBT violence is closely affiliated with the gang violence ravaging the country, which Reuters described as “one of the world’s deadliest countries outside a war zone.” Gangs maintain control of many communities through extortion, violence, and rape. But social stigma is also contributing greatly to the suffering now endured by LGBT people in El Salvador, and activists claim the Catholic Church is complicit in this regard. Humanosphere reported:
“Advocates say LGBT people face a double threat from such violence. They say anti-LBGT rhetoric from religious figures and politicians perpetuates already entrenched social prejudices, and that the influential Roman Catholic Church furthers anti-LGBT sentiment by publicly condemning gay marriage and sex.”
LGBT-negative stigmas are widespread in El Salvador. Reuters said a “2013 survey by the U.S.-based Pew Research Centre found nearly two-thirds of Salvadorans believed society should not accept homosexuality.” Reparative therapy is also commonplace; another survey found two in five LGBT people had experienced it. Given the church’s considerable, and at one time dominant, influence in El Salvador, these stigmas are derived, at least in part, from LGBT-negative statements and actions of Catholics. Avelar, herself the survivor of two attempted killings, summarized the situation:
“‘They are criminalizing us. . .They use the word of God and the Bible to judge us. It’s destroying us.'”
“Destroying” is not hyperbolic. Twenty-five LGBT people were murdered last year in a nation with a population equivalent to that of the U.S. state of Massachusetts. After the first quarter of 2017, El Salvador is on pace to exceed that number.
But the Catholic Church in El Salvador has another option: a liberationist tradition already being taken up by some Catholics in regard to LGBT people. The Universidad Centroamericana, where six Jesuits were martyred in 1989, hosted El Salvador’s first LGBT rights conference in 2013 (to read a reflection on this event from Bondings 2.0’s editor Francis DeBernardo, click here).
This liberationist tradition is rooted in the nation’s martyrs, including Blessed Oscar Romero who was not beatified, due to conservative opposition, until Pope Francis. Shortly before his assassination, Romero told a reporter:
“If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. If the threats come to be fulfilled, from this moment I offer my blood to God for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador. Let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be reality.”
Trans Salvadorans murdered are themselves martyrs; they were killed for walking the path of holiness, for living openly as their authentic selves. In their blood, new seeds of freedom and hope take root to flourish. These children of God should have never faced violent deaths in the first place, but their murders now compel Catholics to be a leading voice for LGBT human rights and as a defender of crucified LGBT communities.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 31, 2017
Nicole Santamaria, an intersex woman and LGBT rights activist from El Salvador, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium,Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. She will join an international focus session panel of transgender and intersex advocates. Frank Mugisha, a Catholic who heads Sexual Minorities Uganda, will be a plenary speak on “The Catholic Church, Criminalization Laws, and the LGBT Experience in Uganda.” For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
In January, Bondings 2.0 reported about Indian Catholics’ involvement in starting the country’s first school inclusive of trans youth. This week, The Atlantic posted a more in-depth look at the women religious who helped make the school a reality, and who have remained involved as key allies.
Transgender educator Vijayaraja Mallika had a dream was to start a school for trans people and to give it the name “Sahaj,” which in Hindi means “natural.” But Mallika lacked a proper space for the school until Carmelite sisters, having become aware of the activist’s efforts, invited her for tea. The article continued:
“Splitting themselves between an auto-rickshaw and a public bus, the sisters and the activist rode past palm trees, tech offices, and paddy fields to the spot they had in mind: an unused building that the CMC convent had once intended to turn into a dormitory.
“Mallika looked at the size of the structure, the roomy kitchen and sunny terrace. She was so overwhelmed that she burst into tears. The building was not only a concrete way to get her school started, it was also indicative of an entirely new support system. The Carmelites, she realized, could become unlikely allies for transgender activists pushing for education and acceptance in [the state of] Kerala.”
The Carmelites spent $8,000 to help outfit the school, and there are now two sisters living on the property. Sr. Pavithra, who helped connect the order with Mallika, said there is potential for more support, too. The sisters have “conceived of a new initiative to help trans youth by educating children in Carmelite-run schools about what it means to be transgender.” Through this awareness-raising program and through financial support for trans youth, the Carmelites goal for the students is “to ensure that they never drop out of school to begin with” and will not have to enter the sex trade. Sr. Pavithra said:
“We are 6,000 sisters. We have so many institutions. We are known to the society. Unless and until we take them up, how will [trans people] come up?”
Yet, establishing Sahaj itself has been a struggle. The initial excitement of establishing the school has ceded to frustrations. At present, there are “no teachers, no accreditation, and no students.” The building, instead, is functioning as a shelter. But despite administrative challenges, Sr. Pavithra and the Carmelites remain hopeful:
“‘Any new beginning has got its own problems. It takes time, even for a normal school. A transgender school? We have miles to go ahead. . .Of course it can happen in Kerala. . .These are all the initial struggles to take up a new responsibility. I said, “Mallika, you are the first generation. Us sisters, we may be part of it, and maybe [by] the third generation, we will see the fruits. It will take.”‘”
The sisters’ commitment is important because the needs of trans people in Kerala are great. Approximately 25,000 trans people live there, and their outcomes are impaired by the high levels of discrimination, harassment, and violence that they and other trans communities in the world face. The Atlantic compared education outcomes:
“Kerala boasts a higher literacy rate for both men and women than any of India’s other 28 states. But 58 percent of transgender students in the state drop out before completing 10th grade and 24 percent drop out before ninth grade.”
Kerala’s 2015 Transgender Policy and the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to legalize a third gender option have done little to mitigate these oppressions, said Mallika. Indeed, a trans advocate named Faisal said Kerala is a worse place to be trans than other states. Hijras, who are “transgender, intersex, and transsexual people who live within a strict hierarchical community” found elsewhere in India, are less present there. And Kerala has fewer Hindus and far more Christians than the overall demographics of India, with Christianity being far less accepting of non-binary genders than Hinduism.
Thankfully, the Carmelite sisters are paying attention to voices on the peripheries, and have been quite accepting of trans people in their state. The partnership began when Sr. Pavithra encountered Mallika at a social work gathering:
“There, Mallika spoke about how she had looked at almost 700 properties to no avail; some were too small, while others closed their doors when the owners learned what would be done with the space. Sister Pavithra took up the issue with her convent’s administrative council and advocated that they retrofit one of their vacant buildings into a school. . .The six council members approved the lease, with the blessing of the local bishop.”
The partnership is not, however, without its own problems. In an effort to protect trans people with whom they are working, the sisters have, at times, enforced strict curfews to keep people staying with them from going into sex work. They also “occasionally try to persuade trans people to wear clothing associated with the gender they were assigned at birth,” though one sister said this is so trans persons will “blend in, gain acceptance, and avoid ridicule” in society. She explicitly rejected that there have been any attempts at “conversion therapy.”
And there are intra-church hiccups, too, with some Catholics critical of the sisters’ work and of trans outreach generally. To them, Sr. Pavithra simply said, “If we consider everybody’s opinion, nothing will take place in the world.”
Church officials have had a leading and largely positive role when it comes to LGBT people in India. Last fall, the bishops’ official development agency, Caritas India, announced trans-specific outreach programs (though, it must be noted, the director’s approach to gender identity has been criticized). Virginia Saldanha, a leading lay person who was once executive secretary of the Office of Laity for the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, said the church must bring LGBT people “in from the cold.”
A particularly bright light is Bombay’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias who, in a message to LGBT people conveyed through a personal interview with Bondings 2.0’s Francis DeBernardo, said the “church embraces you, wants you, needs you.” Gracias has said repeatedly that homosexuality should not be criminalized.In fact, he was the only religious leader in India to criticize the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate criminalization in 2013.
The witness of these Carmelite sisters and other Indian church officials to the dignity and worth of LGBT people can be an inspiration and model for the church universal.
To learn more about Catholics involvement in international LGBT human rights, attend New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium,Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Frank Mugisha, a Catholic who heads Sexual Minorities Uganda, will speak on “The Catholic Church, Criminalization Laws, and the LGBT Experience in Uganda.” An international panel of transgender and intersex advocates will speak during a focus session. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
A bus decorated with physically explicit anti-transgender messaging has been impoundedin Madrid, per a judge’s ruling. Hazte Oir (translation: Hear Yourself), a Catholic group, owns the bus which was set to tour Spain with slogans like, “Boys have penises, girls have vulvas. Do not be fooled.” But until the offending messages are removed for violating a civil code against public advertising, the bus will remain in police custody.
Marriage Equality Sought in the Philippines
Due to its strong Catholic culture, the Philippines is the only nation besides the Holy See to ban divorce. This prohibition, coupled with difficulty attaining annulments, has led many Filipinos into long-term partnerships, including bearing children, that are not recognized by the state. Against this situation, LGBT activists have joined causes with persons seeking legalized divorces to attain reforms in marriage law.
Ariel Guban, a gay Catholic man in a relationship, said he believes in the sanctity of marriage, but as “as a union defined by common respect, acceptance and love—all of which are what gay people desire and are capable of giving.” Beyond legal protections and financial stability, allowing same-gender marriages Guban said:
“‘I will [probably] be able to better understand the concept of marriage and die knowing that I have been married, loved and enjoyed life without the undying threat of discrimination. Marriage is for everybody. It is not and should not be limited by gender preference.'”
Despite Catholic Opposition, U.S. LGBT Envoy Kept On
President Donald Trump will retain the U.S. special envoy for LGBTI rights, Randy Berry. Retaining Berry’s office was opposed by right-wing Christian groups, including some Catholics, who hoped the Trump administration would vacate former President Obama’s efforts towards global LGBT equality.
Catholic Prime Minister Attends “Big Gay Out”
New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English, a Catholic attended the nation’s largest pride celebration last month. English had been opposed laws proposing civil unions and marriage equality until changing his position in 2013. The pride celebration, known as the “Big Gay Out,” is now a mainstay on political calendars. English’s appearance comes after he softened his views on LGBT rights, and apologized for anti-equality votes. His National Party has moved to support equality in recent years as New Zealand voters became more supportive.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 11, 2017
New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader: Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
Catholic LGBT issues have been making headlines in Canada. Here are three updates that may be of interest:
Archbishop Campaigns Against Franklin Graham
Vancouver’s Archbishop Michael Miller joined other religious figures in opposing evangelical leader Franklin Graham’s attendance at a Christian gathering that happened in early March, reported The Washington Post. In an open letter, the leaders shared their concerns about anti-Muslim and anti-gay views held by the son of preacher Billy Graham, writing:
“Regrettably, Franklin Graham’s public comments appear to compromise Jesus’s mission of love and justice for all. He has made disparaging and uncharitable remarks about Muslims and the LGBTQ+ community, while portraying the election, administration and policies of US President Donald Trump as intrinsically aligned with the Christian Church.”
The letter cited, in particular, Graham’s comment that, because “the Enemy [Satan] wants to devour our homes,” LGBT people should be barred from churches and homes. Archbishop Miller and other leaders committed themselves to promoting the Christian faith as one that welcomes all people and seeks social justice.
Calgary Bishop to Retain Predecessor’s LGBT-Negative Approach to School Issues
Bishop William McGrattan, the new leader of the Catholic church in Calgary, Alberta, said he will maintain many of the policies from his predecessor, Fred Henry. Asked about LGBT issues, he told the Calgary Herald:
“With regard to gay-straight alliance, even that very terminology creates a sense of what I would say not an agenda but is promoting a certain lifestyle. In Ontario, we call that respecting differences so that we allow young people to know there are differences and that we need to respect those without labelling them with those particular terms.”
Some Albertans had hoped McGrattan’s arrival would be an opportunity for church leaders and LGBT communities to reset tense relations. But the new bishop said he “may not be as direct but I’ll be as firm” as Henry, who once described education policies that protect LGBT students as “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic.”
Indeed, McGrattan told the Calgary Sun that proposed guidelines for transgender students in the province are based in gender theory which “is not truth,” and said gender transitioning “does not change the biological fact and truth of the individual.”
Officials in Catholic Education Claim Discrimination
Officials from several Catholic education systems in Alberta are complaining about a regional scholar’s criticisms of how church-affiliated schools are handling LGBTQ students. The Edmonton Sun reported:
“Two Catholic school district superintendents and two groups representing Catholic school boards and superintendents wrote to the university’s chancellor and president last fall to complain about comments made by educational policy studies professor Kristopher Wells regarding school board policies meant to protect LGBTQ students.”
Wells spoke out repeatedly during disputes in the last two years over LGBTQ guidelines being implemented in the province’s schools. In 2016, Wells released a “report card” evaluating four Catholic systems for their LGBTQ supports, all of which received either low or failing grades
Scholars, including the president of the University of Alberta where Wells is based, criticized Catholic education officials’ letters for trying to suppress academic freedom. The letters were disconcerting, Wells said, but would not silence him because “the issues at stake are far too important.”
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 14, 2017
New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader: Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS. For more information and to register, visitwww.Symposium2017.org.
I read a commentary this past weekend about the Anglican Church and marriage equality, and one of the points made has me thinking about why the Roman Catholic hierarchy has been so negative on LGBT issues.
An essay by Alf McCreary in Northern Ireland’s Belfast Telegraph responded to the Church of England General Synod’s recent rejection of a bishops’ report re-affirming marriage is only between a man and a woman. McCreary’s evaluation of the decision is:
“. . . [T]he Church is in a no-win situation. The latest developments in the Church of England , following a three-year process that had attempted to solve this most divisive issue, merely showed how difficult it is, if not impossible, to satisfy both sides.”
McCreary steps back a bit from the Anglican debate to look, somewhat wistfully it seems, at the Roman Catholic situation in regard to marriage equality:
“This [marriage equality] is one of the most difficult issues facing mainstream churches the world over. With the exception of the Roman Catholic Church – it is still firmly against same-sex marriage and gay ordination, despite the fact that many of its clergy and laity are gay and lesbian.
“The Catholic Church’s attitude is the easier to live with. Its overwhelming opposition to LGBT issues stifles open debate, and it presents on the surface at least a united opposition to change.”
I admit that I chuckled a bit when I read these lines, thinking to myself, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” But then I wondered if maybe McCreary might be onto something. Is the Roman Catholic hierarchy just afraid that if they open the discussion on this issue that major confusion will break out in the Church?
I have to admit that I often assume that the reason Catholic leaders won’t discuss LGBT issues is because they believe that they know all there is to know and that they are right in their position. McCreary’s essay has me wondering if perhaps another motivation might also exist: they don’t want division in the Church, which is what is happening in many other Christian denominations, including the Anglicans, who have had the courage to open a discussion.
The synods on the family in 2014 and 2015 are examples where open discussion was finally allowed in the Church, and bishops spoke their minds. The world did not end.
Granted, LGBT issues received short shrift at the synods, but other contentious issues like divorce/remarriage did get more comprehensive discussions. And disagreement was enormous, but the Church, as an institution, stayed strong. No schism happened. In fact, the unity of the Catholic Church probably was strengthened by the discussion.
If Roman Catholic bishops and Vatican leaders think that they will contain the debate on LGBT issues by not providing it an official forum, they are sadly mistaken. The discussion is happening in all areas and levels of the Church. It has been going on for decades, even under the previous two popes who actively tried to silence the debate. Stifling or ignoring the discussion are the things that endanger the unity of the Church, not participating in free and robust discussion.
The universal Christian Church, born on Pentecost, was born amid a diversity of languages, not a single, authoritative one. The power of the Catholic Church, which claims to a universal one which embraces all cultures and languages, is in its diversity, not its uniformity.
The Catholic discussion of LGBT issues is blossoming and growing. The Spirit will not be silenced. If bishops choose not to be a part of it, they will be the ones who are diminished by their absence.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 20, 2017
New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader: Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.