Catholic Schools in Scotland to Have LGBT Safe Spaces

To better support LGBT students, every secondary Catholic school in Scotland will soon have a safe space available, reported The Herald.

logoBarbara Coupar, who directors the Scottish Catholic Education Service, announced the move after a legislator complained that some existing measures were deficient. The Herald explained:

“[Coupar] added many teachers did not feel equipped to become counsellors for pupils regardless of the problem, so schools were making sure teachers and students know where the pupils can go for help inside and outside the school.

“She said: ‘That’s why we’re going to down this avenue of ensuring that within all of our Catholic secondary schools that they would be able to go to someone, a trusted adult, a safe space within the school, where there would be someone who would have had that opportunity to be trained, for want of a better word, in order to be able to meet the needs of the young people in their care.'”

These remarks come after criticism by Christina McKelvie, a legislator who convenes the Equalities and Human Rights Committee of Scotland’s Parliament. Concerned by input from Catholic school students that some LGBT peers had died by suicide, McKelvie said:

“‘A lot of young people have told me some horrendous stories about how PSE [personal and social education classes] is used, especially going down a moralistic route as well, where a lot of young people feel really backed into a corner where they thought their thoughts and feelings were not being respected.’

“She said she had heard teachers are ‘not equipped’ to deal with LGBTI issues or misogyny ‘because either it’s dealt with as a moralistic issue or it’s something that they don’t believe in’.”

McKelvie acknowledged that Catholic education in Scotland had instances of both “brilliant” and “disturbing” support for LGBT youth. She explained that the government wants to make sure students feel protected:

“‘What we are looking for is if there’s a belief issue there, what we want is for teachers to be able to handle that, and if they can’t, for whatever reason, they’re equipped to signpost those kids to the right places for those kids to get that support. . .to address that without making young people feel as if they are committing a sin.'”

Coupar’s announcement comes several months after the Service promised trainings for teachers to become competent on matters of gender and sexuality. And she affirmed the Scottish church’s commitment to education that is inclusive and support for all students, saying the aim was to “propose the gospel, not impose the gospel.”

With National Catholic Schools Week in the United States beginning this Sunday, the creation of an LGBT safe space and trained educator in every Catholic school would be an attainable and highly effective initiative. Every Catholic school should make a commitment in 2017 similar to the one made by Scottish Catholics.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 26, 2017

Catholic Scouts in Ireland Working on Policy to Welcome Transgender Children

A Catholic scouting organization in Ireland is developing a policy about transgender girls that looks like it will be accepting them.

cgi20logo20hi20resWhile the Catholic Girl Guides of Ireland (CGI) does not currently accept openly transgender children, the group’s leader told the Irish Independent that they are working to develop a policy:

“Linda Peters, chief executive officer of the Irish Girl Guides, said in yesterday’s Irish Independent that ‘our policy is that anyone who lives their life as a female is welcome to join our organisation’.

“However, when asked if she would presently accept a boy identifying himself as a girl, she said: ‘I don’t know. It’s a hypothetical question, so I’m not going to answer it or comment further. We’ll be in a better position to go into more detail when we finalise our guidelines on this topic.’ “

Peters’ words that they would like to welcome “anyone who lives their life as a female” seem to indicate that their new policy will be welcoming.

CGI spokesperson Michelle Finnerty explained that the group would not currently accept a transgender girl but that the organization feels this is “in the best interests of everyone, and especially for that child, until a policy is developed.” CGI, she said, did not want to make trans children’s’ lives “any more difficult.”

The policy in development, which Finnerty said can be expected “very soon,” was sparked by a CGI volunteer who is interested in transgender issues.Finnerty explained:

” ‘One of our members has a special interest in this area and had gathered a lot of useful information on this topic while she was over there [at a recent round-table discussion in Sweden on gender and membership with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts].’

” ‘Putting together a policy on this is going to take a long time, because it will need a lot of consultation. We have to listen to the views of our youth members and parents’ opinions, along with expert advice, too.’ “

The organization is also consulting a CGI volunteer who has a transgender child who is not a member of the group.

Reading this news story, I thought back to a similar response offered last year by a Catholic school in Rhode Island. Administrators at Mount Saint Charles Academy had implemented a ban on transgender students, the reasoning for which is that the school did not provide sufficient resources to support trans youth. Administrators retracted the policy quickly after alumni organized, and the school instead undertook made efforts to expand its supports for LGBT students while concurrently welcoming all applicants.

Interestingly, Alan Matthews, a scouting leader for boys in Dundalk, Ireland, offered some wisdom to the Independent on how he would react to a trans boy seeking membership:

” ‘I don’t see why we wouldn’t let them join. If they want to identify themselves as a boy, fair enough. I suppose it’s their human right and we’re not going to stand against them. I’m sure six- and seven-year-olds wouldn’t notice the difference.'”

Societies tend to discount the agency of children, and in doing so, we too frequently miss the lessons they offer the rest of us. But I think Matthews is correct that answers to questions about gender and Catholic organizations may be found in the wisdom of young children, to which Jesus himself exhorted us to listen. If children are seeing each other as another person first, rather than as a gender, then we should make that our starting point for any policy: always welcome the persons before you, and then figure out how to accompany them.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 26, 2017

Sr. Jeannine Spreads Message of LGBT Equality in Poland

While most people in the United States were enjoying turkey with all the trimmings last Thanksgiving Day, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, was feasting instead on pierogi (dumplings), golabki (stuffed cabbage leaves), kapusta (sauerkraut), and babka (bread). Far from flouting custom, she was honoring tradition and her ancestral roots by spending Thanksgiving Day in Poland.

sr-jeannine-with-sign
In Poland, Sr. Jeannine holds a sign which reads ” I support LGBT people because we are all children of God.”

She was invited for a week-long speaking tour about Catholic LGBT issues, sponsored by the country’s leading LGBT equality organization, “Campaign Against Homophobia,” and its main Christian groups, “Faith and Rainbow” and “Tolerado.” She gave three public presentations, 14 interviews with radio, TV, or print journalists, a retreat for LGBT Christians, and spoke personally with countless individual Poles, including the Secretary General of Poland’s organization for nuns’ communities.

Traveling to Poland’s three leading cities–Warsaw, Krakow, and Gdansk–Sister Jeannine spread the message that she has been spreading for over 45 years: God has unconditional love for LGBT people and it is the church’s job to make that love real by working for justice and equality.

In the homeland of Pope John Paul II, journalists naturally questioned Gramick about her opinions on both the former pope and his current successor. Initially, she said, she had great enthusiasm for John Paul when he was elected. She felt great pride because of her own Polish heritage, but that quickly dissipated. While he called for justice in the secular arena, he was adamantly opposed to any discussion of injustice within the church’s walls. Moreover, she disagreed with John Paul’s views about sexuality, expressed in his talks on the “Theology of the Body,” stating that his notions about gender complementarity made no sense at all to women.

Concerning Pope Francis, she is more optimistic.  In an interview with Queer.pl, she said,

“I think his emphasis is in the right place. He is emphasizing the heart, not the head. He speaks often about dialogue and getting to know LGBT people, even though he maintains that he will not change church teaching (on sexual ethics). I believe that it is most important to first talk with people and thus open people’s hearts. Change (in sexual ethics) will come after there is a change of heart.”

z21076103ihsiostra-jeannine-gramick-fot-agata-kubis
After one of her speaking appearances in Poland, Sr. Jeannine greets members of the audience.

In an interview with Kobieta.wp.pl, Sister Jeannine described what motivated her to become involved in this ministry. She began her work in 1971 when she met a young gay man who had left the Catholic Church. After many discussions with him and his friends, she realized that Catholics needed to be educated about LGBT lives. She explained:

“I wanted to give a voice to those in the Church who could not speak for themselves. I believe LGBT people, just as any of the faithful, should have their rightful place in this institution…

“I’ve always been interested in those who are overlooked by society. If you read the Bible, you know that Jesus came to defend the outcasts. Another issue for me is conscience. Sometimes your conscience guides you to differ with the church hierarchy…the only thing that should concern us is love and helping others.”

When asked by Queer.pl about her impressions of LGBT issues in Poland, Sister Jeannine responded:

“I’m very surprised, in a positive sense, about what I’ve seen and experienced in Poland. There is more talk about LGBT people than I had anticipated. I’ve seen great acceptance among Catholics, even among priests. They are beginning to understand that this is an important issue of human rights.”

z21076110ihsiostra-jeannine-gramick-fot-agata-kubis
During one of her talks, Sr. Jeannine holds up New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBT-friendly parishes in the newsletter “Bondings.”

She noted that Catholic lay people in the U.S. and many other nations are much more supportive of LGBT people than the Catholic hierarchy. She felt that the “hierarchy of the Church is responsible for the administration of the community, but they should also feel a responsibility to listen to the people.”

The Campaign Against Homophobia and Faith and Rainbow, two organizations that sponsored Sr. Jeannine’s speaking tour in Poland, launched a nationwide reconciliation campaign last September.  “Let’s Exchange a Sign of Peace” posted billboards all over Poland depicting a handshake in which one hand wore a rosary around the wrist and the other wore a rainbow bracelet. While Polish bishops decried the efforts, the Polish citizenry responded quite positively. Many prominent Catholics and several Catholic publications supported the effort.

Sister Jeannine’s lecture series built on so much of the enormous work already done by these organizations and their supporters—efforts that Sister Jeannine feels will bring about many blessings. When asked about the situation in the U.S. in the future, she responded that the mission may become more difficult to accomplish in the new presidential administration, but like her friends in Poland, she is ready to keep on working. To Weekend.gazeta.pl, she said:

“Good work will go forward because the hearts and minds of people who support the LGBT community have been changed. These hearts and minds were opened and are no longer shut. We will not step back. It will be much harder. But we can handle it. We have to.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 17, 2017

 

 

Australian Catholics Help Start Ecumenical LGBTI Group

Despite Australia’s ongoing debate over marriage equality, there have been several positive developments in Catholic LGBT issues recently in the land “down under.” Today’s post highlights one of those major developments.

ev-logo-1-e1483341716491Australian Christians have founded the interdenominational group Equal Voices to promote reconciliation between LGBTI communities and churches, reported Buzzfeed. The first meeting will occur at the end of this month, with a more formal launch in April.

Equal Voices seeks to be a networking and resource group based on values such as boldly proclaiming Christ’s love for all people, honoring same-gender relationships, and promoting listening and learning.

What is interesting about Equal Voices, according to spokesperson Natalie Cooper, is that those Christians involved are from “fairly conservative church backgrounds” that include Baptists, Pentecostals, Anglicans, and Catholics. Lay people hope to end the false idea that one can either be LGBT or Christian. Cooper added:

“‘For too long gay and lesbian people in the churches have been asked to carry the load by themselves. . .What’s often denied is that there are large numbers of LGBTI people of faith. Some of those people are in church, some of them are out, a lot of them are closeted because they don’t feel safe being out’. . .

“‘Very often, the impression given is that there is just one point of view, just one Christian voice. . .We want to make it clear there are lots of Christian voices, and give everyone a seat at the table.'”

Benjamin Oh

Among the leaders of Equal Voices is Benjamin Oh, a Catholic LGBTI advocate who has worked in human rights and development fields. According to his website bio, Oh “was elected as head of a Catholic international aid & development agency in Australia” and was the “World Youth Day Coordinator and Social Justice Project Manager for the worldwide Dominican Order” in 2008.  He also serves on the Steering Committee of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics.

Equal Voices’ first priority, according to Buzzfeed, is to “facilitate a national apology to LGBTI Christians and the wider community” that will be presented in the nation’s capitol. This Apology is partially inspired by Pope Francis’ own call last year for the church to apologize to LGBTI people.

But the Apology seeks to not only seek forgiveness for past wrongs, but to educate Christians so as to prevent future wrongs. Some Christians may object to apologizing, said Cooper, figuring such an action was not needed. But the Apology explained its own reasons:

“Speaking for myself and as a member of my church, I ask for your forgiveness:

  1. For being too slow to acknowledge that we need to say sorry to you.
  2. For not speaking up against the hurtful, damaging and often violent mistreatment you have been subjected to.
  3. For speaking about you, without first listening to you.
  4. For not creating safe environments within our churches where people can speak openly and honestly about their struggles and understandings.
  5. For perpetuating stereotypes, and for not taking full account of your actual lived experiences.
  6. For talking to you or about you in such a way as to suggest that sexual and/or gender differences are not part of your true identity as creatures made in the image of God, but are simply a result of brokenness or sin.
  7. For perpetuating the mistaken belief that non-heterosexual orientations should be treated, healed or changed, and for not acknowledging the damage such misunderstanding has wrought in peoples’ lives.
  8. For not acknowledging that Christians who are seeking to be faithful to their Lord and to the Scriptures are coming to different conclusions on matters of gender, sexual orientation, and marriage.

The Apology ended with five commitments to LGBTI people that signatories make, including supporting LGBTI “in every way possible,” being open to correction and guidance, holding others accountable for “careless, hurtful or misleading talk,” resisting efforts to exclude LGBTI people from churches, and engaging “in genuine and open dialogue to gain better understanding of other perspectives.”

Australian Catholics’ support for Equal Voices is consistent with many positive actions which have happened in the country. Last December, Fr. Paul Kelly’s eight-year effort to outlaw “gay panic” defense in Queensland led the state’s Attorney General to introduce a parliamentary bill doing just that. In response to Pope Francis, an Australian parish held a Liturgy of Apology to LGBT People which participants said opened new possibilities for healing. And when bishops have publicly opposed marriage equality, Catholics have pushed back, including Fr. Frank Brennan, S.J.’s, warning that a plebiscite on marriage equality could be “very nasty.”

Whether or not Australia’s Parliament will indeed pass a marriage equality law is still an open question despite overwhelming support by legislators and the public. But it is good to know Catholics, and Christians generally, are not waiting to advance the cause of LGBT equality in many spheres.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 12, 2017

 

Catholics in India Help Found New School for Transgender Students

Catholic ministers in India recently formed a group to offer pastoral care for transgender people, reported ucanews.com, and they are already making an impact by helping to found a new school for trans students.

transgender-school1
Attendees, including Catholic religious, at the opening ceremony for Sahaj International School

Clergy, religious, and lay people in the Indian state of Kerala have joined together to establish “one of the few outreach programs for the transgender community by the institutional church in India.”

According to Fr. Paul Madassey, head of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council’s Pro-Life Support ministry, under which the transgender initiative is carried out, transgender people in the state are particularly vulnerable. Sex traffickers in northern India prey on trans people who are discriminated against and economically disadvantaged.

Fr. Madassey explained that the transgender initiative had been inspired by Pope Francis’ call to accompany the LGBT community and that “the whole church has a big role to play” in providing such pastoral support.

One project by the group has been helping found a new school inclusive of trans people called Sahaj International School. It opened last week with ten students seeking their high school certificate. Catch News explained further:

“Led by six [transgender people] from TransIndia Foundation with activist Vijayaraja Mallika at the helm, the school promises to provide residential facilities for a short period, free textbooks, gender neutral toilets, a meal for those in need, and tuition to pass Class X and XII. . .

“Mallika says that zir [a gender-neutral possessive pronoun] efforts are focused on introducing inclusive education. . .[Mallika said] ‘We are providing them a safe space for security and sustainable education.'”

The need for such a school is immense. Of the estimated 25,000 trans people in the state of Kerala, 57% did not complete a high school education, according to Mallika. There are also issues of social discrimination, family rejection, and derogatory language.

Mallika, who previously worked on transgender pastoral care with the Archdiocese of Bombay, said the church has been “very supportive” and that “[r]eligion plays an important role in social and behavioral change at the grass-roots level.” The church’s role in the school was instrumental, according to ucanews.com:

“In mid-December, Sisters of the Congregation of Mother Carmel offered their buildings to form an exclusive school for dropouts among transgender people, considered the first of its kind in the country.

“The nuns offered their venue after at least 50 building owners declined to let out their buildings, indicating the discrimination prevalent in the society, says Father Madassey.”

This work in Kerala comes quickly after Caritas India, the official development agency of the nation’s bishops, announced it would be initiating more transgender-inclusive policies and outreach programs. Though Caritas India’s approach is not perfect, the announcement of the program is a key moment for the global church.

The Catholic Church in India is widely respected for charitable efforts, despite Catholics being less than two percent of the nation’s population. The church has been a positive voice for LGBT communities, too, as when Bombay’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias twice spoke against the criminalization of gay people. In an exclusive interview with Bondings 2.0, Gracias said that the church embraces, wants, and needs LGBT people. Virginia Saldanha, an Indian lay woman who formerly led the Office of Laity for the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, said the 2015 Synod on the Family needed to bring LGBT “in from the cold.

Earlier this week, I suggested that findings from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey were a helpful pastoral examination for all Catholics about our awareness of and advocacy for trans equality in the church. These efforts in India are helpful models, too, for how the church can and should be responding to the urgent pastoral needs of trans communities — and how we can become more receptive of the gifts and contributions which trans Catholics are making to our church’s mission.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 5, 2017

 

LGBT Christmas in Ireland: “We Are All the Same in God”

At Dublin, Ireland’s 18th Annual LGBT Christmas Carol Service , the guest speaker was Ursula Halligan, Political Editor with TV3. Ms. Halligan, a Catholic,  came out publicly as a lesbian a few days before Ireland’s successful marriage equality referendum last year.  In the op-ed essay where she came out, she made the following observation about voting for marriage equality:

“As a person of faith and a Catholic, I believe a Yes vote is the most Christian thing to do. I believe the glory of God is the human being fully alive and that this includes people who are gay.”

ursula-brian
Ursula Halligan and Brian Glennon before the Advent Service

Halligan further spoke about her life, faith and sexuality on Ireland’s Anton Savage radio program.

The LGBT Christmas Carol Service is sponsored by a coalition of  Irish LGBT equality and church reform groups: BeLonGChanging Attitude Ireland; Dublin Gay Men’s Chorus; LGBT Helpline; LOOKGay & Lesbian Equality Network;  All Are Welcome Catholic MassOWLSUnitarian Church, DublinWe Are Church Ireland.  

The service was held at Unitarian Church, Stephen’s Green, Dublin, on December 10, 2016.  The prayers were led by Brian Glennon, who originated the Carol service for the LGBT community 18 years ago.

The following is the text of Ms. Hallgian’s reflection at the prayer service:

Thank you Brian. My goodness you are in fine voice tonight!  Now, I know it’s Christmas. And what do we do at Christmas?
We go home.
And that’s why I’m here with you tonight. I wanted to be at home with my family at Christmas time. I wanted to say a big thank you to the LGBT community for the love and support you’ve showered on me since I wrote my piece in the Irish Times.

Up until May 2015 I never knew I had such a wonderful family. (I certainly never knew they had such beautiful singing voices!) And for you and me, it’s all been about voice; hasn’t it?
You and me; we’ve shared a common journey.
We had to find our voice.
We had to find our inner truth.
We had to find the courage to speak it.
To throw away the masks.
To be real.
To be true to our selves.

img_3734
Ursula Halligan

It took me a long time to find my voice but I am so glad I did.
Because as Martin Luther King said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”  We shrivel up as human beings if we don’t speak our truth; if we don’t
speak from our conscience. And for me, as a person of faith, conscience is the voice of God that echoes in the depths of each one of us.  Our truth comes from the God within us; not from any institution. 

And if God doesn’t have a problem with us, why should anyone else?

Last year the people of Ireland threw their arms around us and set us free to be equal citizens with everyone else.  It was a magnificent act of love. 
And it is all about love.
We come from love. We are love. We go back to love.
God is love.

It was love that first prompted me to speak up because I believed our love is as good as anyone else’s love. Love is love.  There is no inequality in love. And that’s why it saddens me that the church I belong to and love has yet to accept us the way the Irish people have.

It is important for our flourishing as human beings that we have a vibrant faith community that welcomes and loves us; a place where we can be ourselves without fear or constraint. A place where we are affirmed; where we’re told we’re ok. We need to hear the good news of the Gospel in a place that totally respects us for who we are, exactly as we are. We need to look after one another.

Over the years, thanks to the Unitarian Church here on Stephens Green; to you Reverend Spain and to wonderful Catholics such as Brian Glennon and others, the LGBT community has been trying to grow its own faith community to meet that need. You have kept the candle burning in the darkness.

But I have a dream that one day all the churches will fling open their doors to their LGBT brothers and sisters. That a blaze of warmth and love will welcome us home. That we will be granted equality in marriage and treated the same in every respect with others in the church. That we will be accepted and loved in our wholeness as human beings. That anything that divides the people of God, even labels like “Gay” and “Straight” will be replaced by brother and sister.

Because we are all one.
Just like our love.
We are all the same in God.

 

Malta Bans Conversion Therapy for LGBT People; Catholic Church Should Do Likewise

The heavily Catholic island nation of Malta has become the first European country to outlaw conversion therapy designed to attempt to alter a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This news reminds us that it is about time that the Vatican should also issue a statement opposing these practices which cause untold pain to people and which disrespect God’s creation.

The Times of Malta reported:

“The Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression Bill imposes fines and jail terms for anyone advertising, offering, performing or referring an individual to another person which performs any form of conversion practice.

“In addition, the Bill affirms that no sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression constitutes a disorder, disease or shortcoming of any sort.”

Archbishop Charles Scicluna

Initially, Malta’s Catholic Church leadership opposed the bill, issuing an 8-page position paper against the proposal. The paper claimed that the bill would privilege homosexuality and linked homosexual orientation to pedophilia.  But Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the head of Malta’s hierarchy, acknowledged that the paper was mistaken, stating in an interview:

“I want to reassure [the gay community] that we are dead set against conversion therapy because we believe, as they do, as government does, that it goes against human dignity.

“We do not subscribe to beliefs that describe gay people as sick.

“These are labels that demean them. And certainly we are not going to associate gay people with paedophilia.”

Scicluna is the only Catholic leader that I know who has spoken so forcefully and officially against conversion therapy.  Yet, most mental health professionals and many pastoral leaders recognize that such therapy is dangerous and misleading.  In 1997, the U.S. bishops gave faint disapproval to conversion therapy in their pastoral letter, Always Our Childrennoting that people should respect:

“. . . a person’s freedom to choose or refuse therapy directed toward changing a homosexual orientation. Given the present state of medical and psychological knowledge, there is no guarantee that such therapy will succeed. Thus, there may be no obligation to undertake it, though some may find it helpful.”

Not an endorsement, but not a strong enough condemnation, either.

Key to the opposition of the hierarchy’s initial position were the groups Drachma and Drachma Parents, which are, respectively, Malta’s associations of LGBT Catholics and   Catholic parents of LGBT people.  In a statement at the time, they said, in part:

“We expected this group of experts commissioned to write this Paper to include LGBTIQ people who are living this reality. It would have been appropriate for the Church to dialogue with us about this delicate subject. . . .

“We expected that the Church would sympathise with all LGBTIQ persons who had to go through conversion therapies and ask for forgiveness in the name of members within the Institution, amongst which priests, who recommended or practised conversion therapy. At no point was there any indication of concern towards the pain of such people or of their families. . . .

“We expected the Paper to clearly state that no sexual orientation is a disorder or an illness, and hence, does not require the person to seek any form of healing. . . .

“It is sad to see that this Position Paper did not seek to build bridges with LGBTIQ persons and with their families in Malta. On the contrary, the Church tended to erect walls.”

Evidence that they had an effect on Scicluna’s retraction of the paper’s position can be found in his echoing much of the language that Drachma used in their statement, as well as his affirmation of the group.  Scicluna stated:

“I feel I have to build bridges with the gay community who felt our language was too technical, too cold and too distant. . . .

“It would have helped immensely to include people from Drachma in the preparation of the position paper because they have contributed in other papers and their contribution has been precious.”

The Huffington Post report about the bill’s passage noted that “Catholicism is the official religion of Malta and the religion plays a major role in the passage of the country’s laws. For instance, the country didn’t legalize divorce until 2011.”  Yet, Malta passed marriage equality and adoption laws which recognize lesbian and gay couples, as well as laws which allow transgender people to have the description of their gender changed on official documents.

In a news report on Slate.comMark Joseph Stern came to an insightful conclusion:

“Malta, of course, retains its proud Catholic heritage and continues to celebrate church traditions that help to define the country’s identity. A majority of its citizens (and legislators) have simply decided that the government has no business enforcing discriminatory beliefs using the heavy hand of the law. In that sense, the country is really an inspiration, simultaneously a haven for LGBTQ rights and a nation of deep Catholic faith. Liberal Western values may be on the decline elsewhere in Europe. But Malta today is proving that a country can adhere to key traditional values, promote its own religious heritage, andrecognize the dignity of every citizen—all at the same time.”

Stern is right, of course, but he doesn’t go far enough.  The Catholic hierarchy should follow Malta’s example by issuing a similar statement opposing conversion therapy,  a practice which is damaging and ineffective.   Pope Francis has called time and again for pastoral ministers to “accompany” LGBT people on their faith journey.  He can make this recommendation much clearer by stating that “conversion therapy” should never be part of that accompaniment.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 15, 2016