Challenges of Reporting from the Synod: Homophobic Statements, Leaked Documents, the Rumor Mill, and How to Keep Up With It All

October 16, 2015

Below is the next installment of Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.

We’ve passed the midway point here at the synod in Rome, and I have to say that trying to navigate through all the information coming out of it has been like trying to drive in a hurricane!  So much happens here everyday, followed by so much analysis, that it is barely possible to report even a small slice of it.

While I am trying to write about LGBT and related issues, I must acknowledge that these are not the big news items, at the synod–at least not so far. The exception this week was the intervention made by Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea. His speech to the synod, by any standard, bordered on the extreme.  Religion News Service reported:

“. . . [I]n one particularly eye-opening speech to the assembly last week, a leading African cardinal blasted the ‘idolatry of Western freedom’ as equivalent to ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and compared both to ‘apocalyptic beasts.’

“Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, a top official in the Roman Curia, also said that divorce, abortion and same-sex marriage in the West, and Islamic fundamentalism in Africa and elsewhere, both had a ‘demonic origin’ that the synod had to combat.

” ‘What Nazi-fascism and communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic fanaticism are today,’ Sarah said.”

Cardinal Robert Sarah

I mean, how does one rationally respond to such statements?  I fear that even reporting it gives it a a modicum of respectability which it clearly doesn’t deserve.   His statement is an example of how homophobia distorts a person’s thinking.  Fortunately, I have not heard that anyone else in the synod has voiced agreement with him, so I doubt his words have had much influence.  Having spoken them, though, Sarah provided ammunition (and, yes, the weaponry metaphor is correct here) to other homophobic people to physically and psychologically harm LGBT people.  His statements are irresponsible and un-Christian.

The much bigger news this week, though, was the leaked letter to Pope Francis organized by Australia’s Cardinal George Pell, and signed by about eight bishops (hard to say for sure because the original number of signatories was 13 but now four have disavowed signing it).  The letter criticized the new process of the synod which Pope Francis has instituted.  While Pell said it was not meant to be a public letter, it somehow found its way to an Italian daily newspaper.  If you are interested, more information can be found by clicking here.

And then there was the mysterious apology offered by Pope Francis at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square this week.   Pope Francis began his talk by saying, “I would like to ask forgiveness in the name of the church for the scandals that have happened in this last period both in Rome and at the Vatican. I ask forgiveness.” The Vatican Press Office declined to identify or speculate about what the pope’s reference was to.   Click here for more information on this topic.

Many guesses were made about what Pope Francis meant.  My guess, and it is one that I have not seen elsewhere, is that Francis may have been apologizing for Sarah’s speech, which was made in the synod last week, and which were made public two days before Francis’ audience.

The biggest part of my reluctance in posting information about these stories sooner is that it is hard for me to gauge how important these items are to the rest of the world outside of Rome.  Since I live in Washington, D.C., I am very aware that what is big news “inside the Beltway” is not always big news to the rest of the world.  When both of these stories broke this week, they both had the feel of being  “inside St. Peter’s Square” stories, but after the searching the web, I realized that they were being circulated more broadly than I originally perceived.


Cardinal Vincent Nichols

So I am learning a lesson here that is also germane to one of the main discussion topics of the synod.   At Wednesday’s press briefing, London’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols was discussing the proposed idea of whether to allow bishops more local decision-making in pastoral outreach on issues related to marriage and family.  Nichols offered the following analogy of how a broader perspective can help correct myopic vision.  The following is from The National Catholic Reporter’story on the briefing.

“Nichols also praised the universality of the church in his remarks, saying that the local church has to ‘strive for is a kind of critical distance from its local setting, its particular culture.’

” ‘The church has to have a critical distance, a bit like an arc light,’ he said. ‘If there’s going to be some light, then the two elements have to be at a critical distance. The universality of the church holds the local church to a critical distance, otherwise it gets too close to the prevailing culture and the light disappears.'”

I totally agree.  But only if we also recognize that sometimes the universal Church can also learn something from the particular cultures in which it is embedded.  The checks and balances should go both ways.

Another part of the challenge of keeping up with everything is that there are so many channels of information dispersing news and documents, and it seems that new ones emerge every day.   For instance, while neither journalists nor the public have access to the synod hall to hear the discussions,  many bishops have made their presentations and other thoughts public in a variety of different ways.

Here are a few sources that I have found helpful. I offer these to those of you whose appetite for synod news just can’t seem to be sated.  Just click on the links below to get to the named source.

Vatican Sources

The Vatican Press Office is maintaining a blog about the synod, which includes links to press briefings’ summaries and interviews with bishops.  You can read it in any one of six languages, including English.

Vatican Radio publishes a report on the press briefings daily, as well as other stories about the synod.  Additionally, the video of the daily press briefings are available each day on the Vatican’s YouTube channel.

You can read the Vatican’s Daily Bulletin (available in five languages;  click “EN” in the upper right-hand corner of the Bulletin page for English), which contains links to all press releases of the particular day, some are synod-related and some are not.

Individual Bishops’ Sources

Washington, D.C’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl made his synod intervention available on his blog.

New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan also posted his synod intervention on his archdiocesan blog.

Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge is maintaining a blog about his synod experiences and reflections.

Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich is offering video reflections about the synod on the archdiocese’s YouTube channel.

Crux posted a news story on various ways that bishops are using the web and social media to get their messages directly to people.

Other sources

I’ve found the following news sources to be invaluable in interpreting the sometimes Byzantine language of the Vatican:

National Catholic Reporter‘s Joshua McElwee and Father Thomas Reese, SJ are providing news, interviews, and analysis

Religion News Service‘s David Gibson and Rosie Scammell are offering succinct and incisive news coverage of the synod.

Crux‘s Michael O’Loughlin, John Allen, and Ines San Martin have been reporting news, analysis, and background information.

Salt and Light TV, a Canadian Catholic outfit, is offering expanded synod coverage on their website and also on their blog.

Grant GallichoCommonweal’s associate editor, has been providing illuminating commentary on the magazine’s blog. 

Dispatches, a blog of America magazine, has synod reports from Gerald O’Connell

Robert Mickens, a seasoned Vatican observer, offers synod commentary in his “Letter from Rome” column on Global Pulse magazine.

For a British take on the synod, check out the blog reports by Christopher Lamb on The Tablet’s website.

Terence Weldon’s posts at Queering The Church always offer intelligent commentary on Catholic LGBT issues, and his posts about the synod are no exception.

I’ve previously mentioned, and it’s definitely worth repeating, that FutureChurch’s Debra Rose-Milavec has been blogging at SynodWatch, providing great reports and commentaries. Though other travel obligations have caused to be absent from Rome this week, she will be returning by the time the third and final week of the synod opens on October 18th.

So, while being here does have some advantages in terms of covering the news of the synod, I have to acknowledge that even if you are not present here,  the Internet has provided many ways to keep in touch with information that is being made public.

Have you found other internet sources of information about the synod that you find useful?  If so, please share your sources with other Bondings 2.0 readers by providing the web addresses for the sites you found in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Allowing Local Strategies Sounds Like a Good Idea–Except If You’re in Newark

October 14, 2015

Below is the next installment of Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.

Today, I would like to look at a creative strategy being discussed here at the synod in Rome that may bode well for LGBT people. An idea that has been proposed by several bishops in several different ways is to allow for more local decision-making on pastoral approaches to some of the family issues considered more controversial such as divorce/remarriage and LGBT issues.

Bishop Johan Bonny

One of the first bishops to raise this question was Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, who made headlines at the end of 2014 when he became the first Catholic bishop to call on the Church to bless same-sex couples.  In Caelo blog carried an English translation of the text (original can be found here) of Bonny’s synod intervention on October 5th.  Here’s the relevant passage:

“In their local Churches bishops encounter a great variety of questions and needs, to which they must provide a pastoral answer today. Across the world, faithful and pastors have made use of the Synod and the questionnaire to present their pressing questions to the bishops and the Pope. Those questions clearly differ between countries and continents. There is however a common theme in those questions, namely the desire that the Church will stand in “the great river of mercy” (IL 68, 106). It is important that the Synod give space and responsibility to the local bishops to formulate suitable answers to the pastoral questions of that part of the people of God which is entrusted to their pastoral care. The individual bishops’ conferences have a special role in this. The Synod not only deals with ‘the family as Church,’ but also with ‘the Church as family.’ Every family knows what it means to work on unity in diversity, with patience and creativity.”

Michael O’Loughlin of Crux wrote a good article on the subject of local pastoral decision-making in which he connected the idea to changes that have come about since Pope Francis entered the scene:

“For decades, some bishops and theologians have complained of what they see as an excessive concentration of power in Rome, and the need to empower bishops’ conferences and local churches to handle more matters on their own.

“What has changed under Francis is the sense that movement in the direction of greater ‘collegiality,’ meaning shared authority, is possible.”

O’Loughlin also quoted another synod proponent of local decision-making:

“Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila said cultural differences might precipitate the need for various solutions, but always with unity in mind.

” ‘There is unity of the faith, one Church, one doctrine, but the situations differ,’ he said. ‘There was a serious proposal to see what space could be given to the bishops’ conferences to address issues somehow peculiar to them, but always in the light of the common faith.’ “

Abbot Jeremias Schroder, OSB

At today’s press briefing, Abbot Jeremias Schroder, OSB, arch-abbot of the Benedictine Congregation of St. Odile, Germany, said that many proposals for decentralizing pastoral strategies have been raised many times during the synod discussions, especially around dealing with cohabitation and pastoral outreach to homosexual people.  He said that the German Catholic public are very concerned with the issue of outreach to divorced/remarried people, and “that seems to be an area where regional pastoral solutions could be envisaged.”

He then went on:

“I also have the impression that the understanding of homosexuality, the social acceptance of homosexuality, is culturally very diverse and that seems to me very obviously to also be an area where bishops conferences should be allowed to formulate pastoral responses that are in tune with what can be preached and announced and lived in a given context.”

[You can view a video interview with Schroder in which he discusses the idea of local decision making by clicking here.  His discussion of this topic begins at about 1:05.)

I have to say that I have been very intrigued by this idea, and I left the synod press briefing feeling excited by this possibility.  But by the time I got back to my guesthouse room and re-connected my computer, I saw a story that made me wonder if local decision-making is really a good idea.

David Gibson of Religion News Service had posted a story with the headline:  “NJ archbishop sets rules for barring Catholics from Communion.”   Here’s the gist of it:

“Even as Pope Francis and Catholic leaders from around the world debate ways to make the Catholic Church more inclusive, Newark Archbishop John Myers has given his priests strict guidelines on refusing Communion to Catholics who, for example, support gay marriage or whose own marriage is not valid in the eyes of the church.

“In the two-page memo, Myers also orders parishes and Catholic institutions not to host people or organizations that disagree with church teachings.

“He says Catholics, ‘especially ministers and others who represent the Church, should not participate in or be present at religious events or events intended to endorse or support those who reject or ignore Church teaching and Canon Law.’ “

Myers’ local decision-making shows the downside of a decentralized approach.  It allows local bishops to be exclusionary in their pastoral ministry.   I mentioned this problems somewhat the other day in my post about criminalization laws for LGBT people.  In some cases in the world, bishops give tacit approval or even strongly support such laws, which are obviously opposed to Catholic teaching.  In these cases, it is good for the universal Church to have some oversight to fraternally correct bishops whose policies, pastoral or political, are not in line with Gospel values.

But, as I’m learning here at the synod by hearing so many different cultural perspectives of our universal Catholic Church, solutions don’t have to be binary:  Plan A or Plan Z.  In fact, there seem to be a great variety of ways to approach a problem, more than my puny mind has ever imagined, that’s for sure.  We just need to both trust and facilitate the Holy Spirit by letting all the voices and all the perspectives speak their truths so that we can arrive at good solutions for all.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry




Synod Fathers on Gay Issues Couldn’t Be Any Further Apart Than They Already Are

October 12, 2015

Below is the next installment of Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.

As God rested on the Sabbath, so too do the synod participants.  As a result, there was no discussion on Sunday, and no press briefing.  This pause gives me a little time to report on some of the interviews that journalists have done with synod fathers.

Of course, my interest is in what the bishops in these interviews say about LGBT issues.  It is amazing how far apart some of them are.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, of Munich, was interviewed by German television last week, and The National Catholic Reporter offered highlights.  Of LGBT issues, Marx said:

Pope Francis had met with an opponent of same-sex marriage but had also embraced homosexual partners on his U.S. visit, which many Catholics found most confusing, his interviewer remarked. Views on same-sex partnerships and same-sex marriage differed greatly from country to country, Marx said.

” ‘We must make it clear that we do not only judge people according to their sexual orientation,’ said Marx. ‘If a same-sex couple are faithful, care for one another and intend to stay together for life God won’t say “All that doesn’t interest me, I’m only interested in your sexual orientation.” That is impossible and it is an issue we must discuss — but it won’t be a main subject at this synod. As I have pointed out, the main subject will be the importance of marriage and the family and how to protect them in today’s world.’ “

On the other side, Kenyan Cardinal John Njue, of Nairobi, spoke with Crux, and offered strong words of opposition to any development on LGBT issues that might happen at the synod:

” ‘It is there in the Bible,’ he says, referring to the Church’s teaching against homosexuality. ‘It is clear.’

” ‘I think there is not much option,’ Njue said. ‘There are facts, such as the fact that God created humanity as Adam and Eve. Whenever someone starts running away from their identity, whatever they do will certainly not be the right thing.’

Cardinal John Njue

” ‘If we come to the point of saying that can be changed, there is no logic behind it, with all due respect,’ he said. . . .

“Even while rejecting the idea of criminalizing homosexuality, Njue still insisted on the right of the Church to flag gay relationships as flawed.

” ‘Where there is a mistake, a way must be found to help people who have made the mistake to understand that they have done something wrong and need to turn around,’ he said. . . .

“Africa’s Catholic bishops have sometimes been accused of either ambivalence or silence with regard to such measures, but Njue rejected those charges.

” ‘It’s not a question of criminalizing or condemning, but we have every right to help the person understand that the way you are living is not how you’re supposed to be,’ Njue said.”

I cannot think of two more opposite opinions about gay and lesbian people and their relationships.  My growing sense, though, is that Marx may be right in that homosexuality will not be the major issue of this year’s synod.  My hunch–and it is only a hunch–is that the participants realize that there is little room for negotiation in this area because people’s positions are so strongly held.  If the difference of opinion is obvious to an outside observer like myself, I can only imagine that it is even more plainly obvious to those involved in the private synod discussions.

Marx’s first point, though, is also right:  though homosexuality may not be a major focus like it was last year, it certainly will be discussed.  Last week, an Italian Cardinal insisted that the discussion of gay and lesbian issues is relevant to the family synod agenda.  Crux reported:

Cardinal Edoardo Menichelli

“One of the hot button issues being discussed by bishops is how the Church ministers — or doesn’t — to gay and lesbian Catholics, a topic one cardinal defended.

“Italian Cardinal Edoardo Menichelli of Ancona-Osimo scoffed at the notion that synod delegates should stick only to finding ways to promote orthodox teaching about families.

“When asked by a reporter why bishops were discussing issues related to gays and lesbians, he said, ‘This is part and parcel of the family reality for many reasons.’ “

Wise words from Menichelli.  Though the discussion of families with LGBT members, both as parents and as children, will be a tough one, it is not one that the bishops can easily shirk if they want their synod report to have any relevance to the modern world.  And I’m not even suggesting here that doctrinal change be debated, since obviously that is a non-starter at this point.  But there are so many pastoral challenges that bishops can address related to LGBT people, and they are challenges for which bishops, priests, and other church leaders need guidance.

I outlined some of these challenges in an interview this week with Crux’s Michael O’Loughlin, and so I will simply provide some excerpts from that report to detail what I think the Church needs:

” ‘A change in language and a change in pastoral practice are needed because justice demands it,’ [Francis DeBernardo] says. ‘Justice and Christian charity demand it.’

‘ ‘We have people being excluded from Communion, being excluded from being godparents, being fired from jobs because they marry, being denied leadership roles in parish communities, being excluded at funerals of their relatives,’ he said. ‘Any positive step on issues like that would be wonderful.’

” ‘A success would be a statement of unconditional welcome to LGBT people. That’s needed right now [because] while there is welcome in some areas, there are so many places where officially they are not welcome,’ he said. ‘A statement of unconditional welcome is so needed, and if that’s all we get from the synod, that will still be a success.’

” ‘When I say unconditional, I don’t mean, “We welcome people who follow the teaching of the Church,” or ‘We welcome people but we don’t accept their lifestyle,” ‘ he said. . . .

“But he said the larger issue is ministering to the increasing number of Catholic families who accept their gay and lesbian relatives.

” ‘The Church is faced with a pastoral problem of not just reaching out to gay and lesbian people, but reaching out to people who support and love them,’ he said. ‘That’s particularly true with the younger generation. They are going to lose the entire younger generation if they keep having the harsh and divisive rhetoric of homophobia, regardless of their orientation.’ “

I couldn’t have said it better myself!  Wait a minute. . .    :)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



In Advance of the Synod, Global Network of Rainbow Catholics Launches In Rome

October 8, 2015

This post is the third in Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome.  New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here and here

Some of the participants in the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics Assembly in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick can be found in the blue blouse , second from right in the second row from the bottom. Francis DeBernardo can be found in the green shirt, fourth from the right in the top row.

My time in Rome began last week, before the synod, as I participated in the weekend-long launch of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics.  Close to 100 Catholic LGBT leaders from six continents and over 30 nations gathered here for meetings to discuss the substance and structure of what this newly formed international association of Catholic LGBT and ally organizations should look like.

The planning began two years ago, done mostly through Skype meetings and emails.  I was privileged to be part of this planning process, so seeing the diverse group of representatives gather together for prayer, discussion, and planning was a personally thrilling experience as well as an important step forward in the movement for LGBT equality in church and society.

One thing I learned from participating is how different Catholicism is around the globe and how different the LGBT experience is.  It helped me to see that in the United States, Catholic lay people have many opportunities to participate in the life of the church–even though we are still denied participation in many decision-making processes.  I also realized how privileged the U.S. LGBT community is.  Again, we still have work to do in terms of full equality in employment and other areas, but the level of repression, violence, and state oppression against LGBT people is much greater in many places around the globe.

Gathered under the theme of “LGBT Voices to the Synod,” the Assembly accomplished three main tasks: the establishment of an interim governing structure, the hosting of an international conference on pastoral care with LGBT people, and the development of a letter to the synod on LGBT issues.

Mary McAleese

The international conference, entitled  “Ways of Love:  Snapshots of Catholic Encounter with LGBT People and Their Families,” was keynoted by Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland and the mother of a gay son.  She strongly critiqued the church’s teaching on lesbian and gay relationships, reported The Guardian:

“Church teaching currently defines same-sex relationships as ‘intrinsically disordered’ and demands gay people live a life of chastity, but opponents argue this fails to address the reality in which the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics are living.

“Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland, which earlier this year legalised same-sex marriage, said on Saturday it was the church’s teaching itself which was intrinsically disordered.

” ‘The gravitational pull of tradition is used as a vehicle for refusing to face the growing reality, accepted by many people in this world, that the church’s teaching on homosexuality is simply wrong,’ she said to rapturous applause at a meeting of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics in Rome.”

Bishop Raul Vera

The conference’s closing talk was given by Bishop Raul Vera, of Saltillo, Mexico, who has been a long time advocate for LGBT people.  Vera told a Crux reporter:

“. . . [T]he Church needs a ‘change in language’ when referring to the LGBT community because as it is, it ‘brings people to define a homosexual as a sinner, degenerate and promiscuous. I think we have to temper our language.’

“Asked if he was in favor of same-sex marriage, he said that’s something for the Church to decide.

“He has little faith regarding serious changes in the Church’s approach to the LGBT community as a direct result of the synod, but believes that in time, things could change.

“ ‘Francis is talking about existential peripheries, going out to meet the people who are being persecuted and damaged,’ the bishop said.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick was one of the featured speakers at the conference.  She spoke about the development of LGBT-friendly parishes in the U.S., using  Baltimore’s St. Matthew’s parish is a case study. In an interview with Crux, Gramick spoke about the Vatican’s synod on the family, saying that her

” ‘highest expectations would be that gay and lesbian people would be included totally into the Church, and that would include welcome to all the sacraments, including marriage.

“She believes that even though the Catholic Church does teach about the dignity of the person, the message is sometimes muddled because of what the ‘official Church” says about sexual activity and the ethics of sexual activities.

“She wants the Church to not look at the ethics of a sexual relationship from a point of view of the acts, but of that of the person: ‘love, commitment, care; that’s what makes a relationship an ethical one.’ “

Martin Pendergast

Martin Pendergast from LGBT Catholics Westminster spoke about the history of the London Catholic diocese’s outreach to the sexual and gender minority community in that city.  The Guardian noted his opinions, stated in an interview, about how Monsignor Charasma’s coming out as gay, which occurred on the same day as (but unrelated to) the conference, may help the synod process:

“Pendergast, a British campaigner on LGBT faith issues, said he hoped Charamsa’s coming out in particular would pave the way for a more open debate at the synod. ‘It may encourage others, particularly bishops who might have been nervous about talking too radically about divorce, remarriage and same-sex relationships, to speak more openly and more honestly,’ he said at the Rainbow Catholics event.”

London’s Catholic Herald printed an excerpt from the letter that the Assembly participants sent to each member of the synod:

” ‘We come from over thirty countries, both as individuals and as representatives of groups, who have been involved with the flourishing of people like ourselves in the lives of our local churches, (as well as with many other tasks),’ the letter said.

” ‘The last years have not been an easy ride! Many in our Church thought that they were serving God by hating us, and some still do, especially among the hierarchy; but we can tell you with joy, that we have kept alive our Confession of the Catholic faith! We have kept the faith under persecution, and are ready to join with you in the joyful announcement of the Gospel to which Pope Francis has called us.’

“It added: ‘Because God is wonderful, we have found that through this life as dregs among the people of God, the Holy Spirit has given us a surprising (at least to us) capacity to stand up and be counted, not to be frightened of those who fear us, not to be resentful of the incapacity for approval, and the bureaucratic meanness of spirit and dishonesty to which we have regularly been subjected. We have learned that it is not what the Church can do for us, but what we can do for the Church that matters.’ “

As the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics grows and develops, Bondings 2.0 will keep you informed of its activities.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

The Washington Blade:  “LGBT Catholic groups meet in Rome”

Agence-France Presse:  “First global Catholic LGBT network hopes to build bridges”

Pink News: “Rainbow Catholic network launches as Pope condemns same-sex marriage”

Gay Star News: “Read the defiant message from gay Catholics to the Pope and his bishops”

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


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