Reconciliation Desperately Needed Between Spanish Cardinal and LGBT Community

June 4, 2016

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares

The latest place where reconciliation between the Catholic hierarchy and the LGBT community is desperately needed is Valencia, Spain, where the two groups are coming to legal loggerheads over negative comments the cardinal of that city made about LGBT people and family.

Crux reports that a group of LGBT and women’s organizations have threatened to file a “hate crime” complaint against Cardinal Antonio Cañizares for remarks he made in a homily at the University of Valencia:

“In his remarks, titled ‘In defense and support of the family,’ Cañizares said ‘the future of society is played out’ in the family, and, because of that, it’s become a target.

” ‘On the one hand, it’s the most valued, at least in the polls and even among young people, social institution, but it’s shaken to its foundations by serious, clear or subtle, threats,’ he said.

” ‘The family is haunted today, in our culture, by an endless threat of serious difficulties, and this is not hidden from anyone,’ Cañizares continued.

” ‘There we have legislation contrary to the family, the action of political and social forces, with added movements and actions of the gay empire, of ideas such as radical feminism, or the most insidious of all, gender theory.’ “

The cardinal’s inflammatory remarks were met with an equally inflammatory response:

“Soon after Cañizares’ remarks, several pro-LGTB and feminist organizations, such as Lambda, the LGBT collective of Valencia, the Collective for the Sexual-Affective Diversity and the Association of Families with Transsexual Minors announced they were going to file an official complaint with the ‘Office of Hate Crimes.’

“Technically, they intend to charge Cañizares with ‘apologia,’ a term in Spanish law for encouraging or defending a criminal act.”

The cardinal went on to defend his words,  summoning memories of censorship under Spain’s dictator Francisco Franco, and using remarks from Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia to support his ideas.

I hope that both sides of this dispute would see this event as an opportunity to dialogue with one another.  While the cardinal uses religious liberty arguments to defend his words, does he not see that his language is, at the very least, pastorally insensitive?  Perhaps the LGBT and feminist organizations needed to threaten legal action to get the cardinal’s attention, but do they not see that such action is only heightening the antagonism, instead of remedying it?  I hope the better angels of the folks on both sides of this dispute would come to see that peaceful dialogue with one another could be an opportunity for opening their horizons.

The Crux news report placed a strong emphasis on the cardinal and his supporters using Pope Francis’ words in his exhortation and in other settings as a justification for the ideas expressed.  Yet, clearly, they have not followed all of Pope Francis’ ideas.   While the pope has in fact supported marriage and family as exclusively heterosexual institutions,  and while he has spoken against new understandings of gender identity, he has also shown that dialogue and encounter are primary ways of being a merciful and accompanying church.  No matter how strongly the Pope has ever defended heterosexual marriage, he has never used phrases like “gay empire.”  Instead, he has met with LGBT folks, sent them letters, called them on the phone, and insisted that bishops be less political in areas of sexuality.

Terminology such as “gay empire” appears to be designed to instill fear, not to offer logical argument.  Like the similar term “gay lobby,” it conjures images of a vast network of powerful people who are manipulating the future.  If any of the advances for LGBT equality in recent decades were manipulated by gay people alone, they surely would have failed.   By the most generous estimates,  gay people are only about 10% of the population.  Hardly an empire.  It was the recognition by larger segments of the population that LGBT people should not suffer discrimination which have brought about the positive changes we have witnessed.

The news report noted that Cañizares used his homily on the feast of Corpus Christi to defend the idea that religious people have a right to speak their opinions in the public square.  He ended with the following statement:

 “[The] culture of the Eucharist promotes a culture of dialogue, which in it finds strength and nourishment.”

He used that sentiment to justify the idea that religious people should be part of the public dialogue.  However, it equally applies to the cardinal himself when he finds himself discussing LGBT issues.  “A culture of dialogue” is the culture of respect and mutual exchange, not a culture of name-calling and fear-mongering.  If the cardinal wants to live the Eucharistic culture of dialogue, he should open his doors to leaders of LGBT and women’s organizations to respectfully express his thoughts, and, more importantly, to hear their concerns.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Church “a Source of Consolation,” Says Philippines’ First Transgender Politician

June 2, 2016
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Geraldine Roman

Geraldine Roman, the Philippines’ first elected transgender representative to that nation’s congress, spoke revealingly about her Catholic faith in a recent interview with CNN.

Asked how her identity as a trans woman has affected her work as a Filipino congresswoman, Roman answered in the interview:

“What really hurt me the most was when they judged my relationship with God, because my entire life, I have tried my best to maintain a relationship with God and to be a good person. And for people who do not know me, who do not know my heart, to judge me, especially in public, it was painful.”

Roman said that she did not mind the questions and even criticism she faced for her gender identity and decision to undergo gender-confirming surgery. By doing her work and doing it well, Roman hopes to convince critics that “we’re just ordinary people and we deserve respect.”

Roman noted that she “[had] not heard any kind of condemnation from the Church,” whose bishops retain influence in the Philippines and frequently weigh in on political affairs. Indeed, the congresswoman cited the church as a “source of consolation” as she came to know and embrace herself:

“One is born a transgender person, so he or she has no choice. And when you have no choice about something, I don’t know why there should be moral judgment attached to that condition. Even before undergoing my sex realignment surgery, I’ve been a practicing Catholic, so just to be sure, I had to consult the Jesuits at Ateneo de Manila University, where I was educated. And they told me this: ‘Geraldine, the body is just a shell. If you think by modifying the outside, you can become a more loving, more generous, and happier person, go ahead, because what is important is the heart, and God looks at the heart and not what you have in between your legs.’

“So for me, the Church I belong to has not treated me with rejection. In fact it has been a source of consolation for me, even during my growing years, when the internal struggle was very intense and I would often get depressed. The incidence of depression among transgender people is very high, until they have that definitive moment when finally, their body is aligned with their psyche, with their mind, with their heart. So the Church was a source of consolation for me.”

In a separate interview with PhilStar, she cited two other incidents of church ministers offering support. At her 10th high school reunion in 1994, the current principal introduced Roman to teachers as “the first alumna” of their all-male high school.  In addition,  Jesuits at Fordham University prayed for and ministered to her when Roman underwent gender-confirming surgery in New York.

Roman shared, too, about being raised in a “very Catholic” family which frequently discussed the meaning of their lives and God’s will for them. She credited her parents, both politicians themselves, with heavily influencing her involvement in politics. Her father taught her that every person has dignity as a child of God with “a special purpose in life.”

Roman concluded the interview with the hope she would not merely be “the transgender politician,” but Geraldine Roman the good legislator who helped people. Still, she remains committed to legislation that helps LGBT people because she understands firsthand the discrimination and difficulties such communities face. She identified civil unions as a goal, saying that while it is not marriage it is a starting point to ensure same-gender couples can access equal rights.

Roman’s words reveal how seamlessly one’s Catholic faith and desire to serve others pair with LGBT advocacy for the benefit of all, a revolutionary message for a very Catholic nation.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Major German Catholic Gathering Offers Historic Welcome to LGBT Catholics

May 29, 2016
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Catholic Day attendees view a video message from Pope Francis

LGBT organizations were welcomed for the first time to a major Catholic gathering in Germany, an historic step by which Catholics are living into the church’s more inclusive and justice-oriented future.

Katholikentag, or Catholic Day, is a high-profile, biennial conference organized by the lay-led and LGBT-supportive Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK). Catholic Day, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, was attended by 30,000 people and featured more than 1,000 exhibitors and events, according to Terence Weldon of Queering the Church. He reported:

“Prominently in attendance, present by direct and explicit invitation to promote [LGBT] inclusion in church, are three countrywide LGBT advocacy groups: Netzwerk katholischer Lesben (the Catholic Lesbian Network), Arbeitsgruppe Homosexuelle und Kirche (HuK)(Workgroup Homosexuals and Church), and Initiative Kirche von unten [Initiative for Church from Below], a progressive grass-roots organization that actively advocates for LGBT inclusion.”

The Catholic Lesbian Network’s Manuela Sabozin said this welcome is more than toleration because they have been “able to push our themes to the fore.”

Those themes became programming events, including a forum on marriage equality, a workshop called “Cross and Queer” on gay communities in the church, and spirituality events. The organizations worked from a Rainbow Center hosted at a Protestant church. Other LGBT events included concerts by Leipzig’s gay choir and an LGBT Christian musical group called “Queerubim.” Church reform organizations that advocate for other progressive issues exhibited at the meeting as well.

Catholic Day’s influence and that of ZdK generally are evident in the number of church and political officials who participate, including an official message from Pope Francis. Notable ecclesial attendees included Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising who also is the President of the German Catholic Bishops Conference, and Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin. Public officials included German President Joachim Gauch, who offered a keynote address, and openly gay legislator Stefan Kaufmann who spoke about marriage equality.

Weldon observed that inviting LGBT organizations to Catholic Day is “of major importance” because of the central role ZdK plays in the German church despite its formal independence from ecclesial structures. Weldon quoted a conservative news outlet which said this year’s Catholic Day gives “witness to the revolutionary power of the Central Committee of German Catholics.” Deutsche Welle also commented on the significance of welcoming LGBT groups:

“In fact, the presence of Kaufmann with three of the most important gay and lesbian Catholic advocacy groups in the country shows that the ZdK is willing to take an openly progressive position, and controversial in equal measure, with regards to the type of church it wants to promote.”

It is important to note that the three organizations invited by ZdK were not simply pastoral ministries seeking greater welcome. These organizations are truly radical on LGBT inclusion and demand the fullness of justice from the church. ZdK itself took the bold step last year of calling on the Catholic Church to bless same-gender unions in church. Issues concerning LGBT people and their families were openly and freely discussed at Catholic Day.

Deutsche Welle concluded its coverage of this year’s Catholic Day by noting a strong progressive movement among the laity:

“. . . [I]t is possible to make out the sketch of the church that German Catholics envision. . .[one that is] already diverse, complex and lively.”

That vision of a church which seeks justice in the world while practicing justice itself was readily apparent at Catholic Day. The Rainbow Center, symbolizing justice in the church, integrated seamlessly with the 21-foot refugee boat used as an altar by Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, symbolizing Catholics’ pursuit of justice outside the church.

Catholic Day’s theme this year was, “People First: What should we want and do for people of today to live together in the future?” This marvelous question is one the church universal should reflect upon.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Priest Leads Opposition to Queensland’s “Gay Panic” Defense

May 27, 2016
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Fr. Paul Kelly

A Catholic priest in Australia has been leading efforts to eliminate the “gay panic” defense in his state.  The “gay panic” defense, which allows defendants to claim that a victim’s sexual advances motivated a criminal violence, is responsible for letting two men escape murder charges in a 2008 killing.

Fr. Paul Kelly launched an online petition in 2012 to repeal the “gay panic” defense law, which is still allowed in the states of Queensland and South Australia. In that petition, which now has nearly 248,000 signatures, Kelly explained his powerful reason for being involved:

“I’m a Catholic Priest and 8 years ago a man called Wayne Ruks was bashed to death in my Brisbane churchyard. Unbelievably, his killer’s convictions were downgraded to manslaughter, using ‘gay panic’ as a defence. . .

“I’ve made it my mission to see this revolting law abolished – it belongs in the dark ages. I have no words to describe how offensive, harmful and dangerous it is that two of our governments uphold that a person can be panicked enough by gay people to justify murder.”

Wayne Ruks was killed by John Meerdink and Jason Andrew Pearce in July 2008, his body found at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Maryborough. Extensive video evidence revealed the assailants beat Ruks for fifteen minutes, leaving him to die from internal bleeding. They avoided murder charges by claiming Ruks made sexual advances on them.

Father Kelly renewed efforts around the petition because the “leisurely pace” of change had been so slow.  He told News.com.au that eliminating this legal issue is “such a no brainer. . .It should’ve changed with one signature, not [240,000].”

Thanks to the efforts of Fr. Kelly and others, Australian government officials have finally promised to act. Premier of South Australia Jay Weatherill replied to the petition, describing the “gay panic” defense as an “outdated and offensive notion.” He promised legal reforms to remove it. Yvette D’Ath, attorney-general for Queensland whose government promised to eliminate the defense in 2015, said change was forthcoming so that the state’s criminal code would not be perceived to “condone violence against the gay community, or indeed any community.”

Fr. Kelly’s activism show how Catholic thought can help bring about justice for LGBT people.  Unfortunately, not all church leaders in Australia are standing with the LGBT community, though. The nation’s bishops have chosen the occasion of upcoming elections to reiterate their opposition to marriage equality proposals.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 12.43.47 PMThe Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) released a two-page statement in advance of federal elections to be held July 2. The statement included two paragraphs about marriage that imply expanded LGBT rights would victimize marriage and family in the “throwaway culture” criticized by Pope Francis. The bishops wrote that political decisions can end up “undermining marriage” and, alluding to a proposed plebiscite on marriage equality, said future decisions could further undermine marriage:

“Support for marriage and the family does not look a big vote-winner, so that even the most basic human institution, upon which the health of a society depends, can become part of the throwaway culture or at best an optional extra.”

These remarks intensify the Australian bishops’ collective opposition to marriage equality, as political reporter James Massola wrote in the Brisbane Times

“The remarks about same-sex marriage are significantly stronger than in the 2013 statement – which simply stated there ‘must be legal recognition of the unique nature of marriage between a man and a woman’ and 2010, when the issue was not mentioned and underscores concern in the Church.”

Whichever party wins in the July elections, it appears marriage equality is an inevitability for Australia. The nation’s residents overwhelmingly support it, with recent polls showing approval ratings above 60%. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic supportive of LGBT rights, said a plebiscite on the issue first proposed by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a Catholic who opposed marriage equality, would proceed if his Liberal party is re-elected. The opposition Labor party has promised to pass marriage equality in its first hundred days.

In a final related note, a discrimination complaint against the Australian bishops over an anti-marriage equality booklet they published last year has been withdrawn. Transgender advocate and politician Martine Delaney voluntary withdrew her complaint against ACBC and Archbishop Julius Porteous of Hobart after mediation efforts by the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner in Tasmania ended in futility. She explained to 9 News:

” ‘My primary reason [for withdrawing the complaint] is the tribunal process is a very long and drawn out process and during that time the message of this booklet is going to continue to be spread. . .My intention was to force (the church) to understand the gravity of their actions, but they refuse to do so and the damage has been done.’ “

The booklet, titled “Don’t Mess with Marriage,” was released last year to widespread criticism. In the Diocese of Hobart schoolchildren were controversially used as couriers to bring it to their parents. LGBT advocate Michael Bayly even called booklet and its dissemination a “new low” for the Australian bishops.

Australia’s bishops should reconsider how invested they will be in opposing the seemingly inevitable passage of marriage equality when real and pressing issues of justice beckon. They could learn well from Fr. Paul Kelly’s example, and focus instead on how they can help protect the lives and well-being of sexually and gender diverse people.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Posts

August 17, 2012: “Australian Priest Meets with Attorney General to End ‘Gay Panic’ Defense

July 13, 2012: “Australian Catholic Priest Re-Launches Campaign to End ‘Gay Panic’ Defense

January 26, 2012: “News Notes: January 26, 2012

January 2, 2012: “Catholic Priest Speaks Out for Equality in the Law

 

 


Continued Attacks Against Gay Ambassador Necessitate Pope Francis’ Intervention

May 24, 2016
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Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster

Catholic Church leaders’ attacks against gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster continue unabated, and reveal a troubling weak spot that Pope Francis must address in regard to LGBT issues .

Bishop Victor Massalles, the auxiliary bishop of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, told Crux, that Ambassador Brewster was “abusing power” by advocating for LGBT rights in the Caribbean nation.  Such advocacy, however, is not a pet project of Brewster’s, but is entirely consistent with U.S foreign policy.

Citing Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Massalles claimed the U.S. government through its ambassador engages in in “cultural imperialism. . . [and] ideological colonization” by coercing the Dominican Republic to accept social changes which allegedly the country’s populace disavows. Massalles continued his criticism:

” ‘He’s not an ambassador, he’s a gay activist and we’re suffering [from] him as a nation, as a culture, as a country that has its own uses and customs, and its own laws. . .He’s trying to take [away] our right to national self-determination.’ “

Massalles admitted, though, that his claims about U.S. government coercion are “suspicions” rather than facts. He also defended use of an anti-gay slur against Ambassador by Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez in 2013, saying not allowing “an old man to express himself like an old man” would violate the cardinal’s rights.

The bishop’s criticism is but the latest attack from Catholic officials who, since Brewster was appointed in 2013, have issued regular and intense attacks against him. The Dominican Episcopal Conference condemned the ambassador in a March 2016 letter, citing Pope Francis’ concept of ideological colonization. Additionally, a Catholic high school in the capital posted signs this year banning Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, from its campus.

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

These Catholic attacks are not just aimed at Brewster and Satawake but all LGBT Dominicans, wrote Executive Director of Diversidad Dominicana Rosanna Marzan. She explained in the Washington Blade:

“Those using hateful rhetoric against the ambassador have specific objectives. Among them, to quash the efforts that we as Dominican LGBT civil society activists have undertaken to defend ourselves against the hateful, violent and stigmatizing discourse orchestrated by hierarchies within the Catholic and Evangelical churches and the conservative individuals who support them. . .

“LGBT Dominicans face the threat of violence and hate crimes as well as discrimination in essential services, including healthcare, employment and housing. Impunity is the norm for violations against LGBT people. . .The attacks on Brewster are also attacks on us.”

What is troubling about Bishop Massalles’ latest remarks and the episcopal conference’s March letter is that both cited Pope Francis to justify attacks on Brewster and his husband. What has happened in the Dominican Republic has not been about disagreements over policies or theologies. It has been an unceasing and vicious attack against a human being by the institutional church, an attack which causes broader harm.

When writing about church officials’ attacks against Ambassador Brewster, Bondings 2.0 has repeatedly said papal intervention by Francis is necessary and appropriate –even as he tries to decentralize the Church. Intervention now seems more necessary since anti-LGBT church leaders now cite the pope specifically to justify their prejudice and desired discrimination. There is no justification for prejudice, especially when it is so publicly displayed and when it contributes to human suffering. It is incumbent on Pope Francis to make that clear. At this point, to not do so will cause LGBT advocates and others to question papal intentions about respecting every person’s dignity.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 


Despite Vatican Opposition, Italy Passes Civil Unions Bill for Lesbian and Gay Couples

May 13, 2016

In what is being referred to as a rejection of Vatican influence into Italian politics,  the Italian Parliament voted in a civil unions bill this week, becoming the final nation in the 28-member European Union to do so.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had called a confidence vote, as a way to prevent further delays and amendments, and he received a victory of 369-193. A later vote on the actual bill in the lower house of Parliament resulted in a tally of 372-51, with 99 abstentions, paving the way for civil unions to become the law of the land. The Senate had already approved the bill in February.

Rome’s Trevi Fountain was lit up in rainbow colors to celebrate the passage of the civil unions bill.

In their news report of the decisive vote, The New York Times stated:

“It was a historic occasion for a nation that is still dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, which opposed the measure, and where traditional family norms are still strong.”

CNN noted in their reporting:

“Previous attempts to legalize gay unions had been stymied and fiercely contested by conservatives and the Roman Catholic church, which holds significant sway in the nation.”

Despite the historic victory, the bill is not an ideal law, say some Italian LGBT leaders.  One leader spoke to the New York Times, noting the waning of church influence, buy also dissatisfaction with the bill:

” ‘The wall erected mostly by the Vatican against civil rights in this country has fallen, so it is a historically and politically important moment,’ said Franco Grillini, the honorary president of Arcigay, and advocacy group, and a gay rights advocate. At the same time, same-sex couples in Italy wanted marriage equality, a right held by their counterparts in the United States and many Western European countries, and he said that struggle would continue.

“It has been 30 years since lawmakers first proposed giving legal recognition to civil unions in Italy.  The Vatican under Pope Francis, while expressing more liberal positions on some social issues, has kept us steadfast opposition to legal recognitions of same-sex couples, influencing some Italian lawmakers.”

The San Diego Gay & Lesbian News provided a succinct summary of the bill’s negatives and positives:

  • Does not go as far as civil union laws elsewhere in Europe, the US and Canada, critics say
  • Clause that would have enabled gay people to adopt a partner’s biological children was dropped
  • No blanket ban on adoption, but family judges will decide on a case-by-case basis
  • Requirement for gay couples to pledge loyalty was dropped – to make civil union less like marriage
  • Gay couples get right to take each other’s names and receive deceased partner’s pension

Bishop Nunzio Galantino, the head of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, called the Prime Minister’s confidence vote “a loss for everyone,” according to Reuters.  EUobserver reported that after the passage of the bill, Galantino said to Vatican Radio that the law should stress the “importance of the family consisting of father, mother and children.”

The work to defend and expand the law will continue.  Already right-wing Italian politicians, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, are promising to call for a referendum to nullify the law.

In the meantime,  we rejoice with the Italians for preserving family and honoring Catholic principles of human dignity by extending civil union rights to lesbian and gay families.  We pray that they will soon expand those rights to include marriage and adoption so that all Italian families will be respected and protected equally.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Related articles:

Religion News:  “Italy OKs gay civil unions despite strong church opposition”

Slate.com: “At Last, Italy Defies Catholic Church and Legalizes Same-Sex Civil Unions”

 


Australian Students Demand Greater LGBT Respect from Catholic Institutions

May 4, 2016
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Advocates rally in defense of Australia’s Safe Schools Program

College students in Australia are protesting an upcoming lecture by a of a Catholic man who claims “reparative therapy” successfully changed his sexuality, the latest dispute about LGBT issues as they relate to Catholic education  in that nation.

The University of Sydney’s Catholic Society will host James Parker tonight to speak about his experiences with “reparative therapy.” Parker is linked to People Can Change, a UK group which administers gay “conversion” programs, and he authored a 2014 piece about his own experience, reported Buzzfeed.

Georg Tamm, a gay Catholic student, said student objections were not to discussions about divergent views on sexuality, but specifically about the harm reparative therapy has caused. Tamm said:

” ‘I would have been OK with them inviting a priest, discussing why men and women are made for each other according to the Catholic scripture. . .But I don’t see the pertinence of inviting someone who is supposedly a patient of successful ex-gay therapy, when it has no scientific merit and is actually quite dangerous.’ “

Tamm said the Catholic Society’s invitation to Parker did not seem “to care about the welfare of those students” who are LGBT or questioning. Such talks, he added, defeat evangelical efforts “at a time when we need people to take the religion seriously and do good things with it.” The Catholic Society denied claims the event promoted prejudice against LGBT people.

Concerned students have appealed to the Student Union to prohibit, or at least refuse to fund, future events promoting reparative therapy. University of Sydney administrators are inquiring into whether restrictions can be placed on campus speakers, too.

Such LGBT controversies in Australian education are increasingly frequent. Last month, St. Francis Xavier College in Melbourne censored a sexual health workbook by requiring students to rip out a page about homosexuality and premarital sex. The Age reported:

“[Y]ear 9 students were called into the hall and told they could not leave until they had thrown a page of the textbook in the bin. . .

“[The [page] included a photo of two men hugging and smiling, and listed different sexual preferences including heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality.”

The workbook asked students age-appropriate questions about sexuality and relationships, but Principal Vincent Feeney explained such questions should be addressed in religious education classes rather than health classes. He defended St. Francis Xavier College further by saying it was inclusive of LGBT students and even allowed same-gender couples to attend formal dances. Students remained critical, however, with one calling the ripping of pages a “medieval weak response.” Others refused to tear the page out.

In another story, the Safe Schools Program in Australia, which educates against bullying, has come under fire after four successful years. Conservative politicians have attacked the Program, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic, has conceded to their demands. Following a government review, Safe Schools Programs, will be limited to high schools and have their content curtailed. A coalition under the name Save Safe Schools has organized rallies and campaigning to ensure funding is sustained and the Program keeps expanding.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a Catholic, described the Program as “social engineering” in his call for its defunding, reported Buzzfeed. Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, herself a lesbian Catholic, said such comments were “negative and unconstructive” because you cannot engineer a person’s lived reality.

Just two Catholic schools participate in the Safe Schools Program: St. Joseph’s College, a Christian Brothers school; and St. Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre, both in Victoria. St. Joseph’s College Head Paul Tobias said the Safe Schools debate “put people like me in a particularly difficult position” because of conservative attacks then lodged against the schools. Those pressures do not mean he or the school would be less supportive, however. He told The Age:

” ‘But I don’t believe there is anything in the Catholic faith that should stop us from promoting inclusiveness, diversity, and tolerance. . .

” ‘Every student who attends this school, irrespective of their sexuality, is entitled to be part of a safe environment. We need to accept that there are some kids who are heterosexual and there are some that are LGBTI.’ “

St. Joseph’s College under Tobias’ leadership established a homophobia task force as early as 1997 in response to an alum’s letter about anti-gay bullying. Tobias wrote to federal and state officials supporting the program, but he questioned whether the focused had shifted from promoting diversity and acceptance to focusing on the minutiae of gender and sexuality issues, which he felt would be detrimental to the Safe Schools Program’s mission.

Elsewhere in Australia, students in Catholic schools have challenged their institutions to participate. A gay student at St. Joseph’s College in Queensland asked Principal Michael Carroll for support, but the student’s testimony of intense bullying, but was met with a curt “no.” The student felt betrayed by administrators and teachers whom he admired, reported The Brisbane Times, and he added:

” ‘I hope that it is not the will of the Catholic Church that this group of young Australians, which are 14 times more likely to end their own lives, are not protected. . .All I can do is hope that they do not want to see me being abused, being made to feel uncomfortable and being separated from society, made to feel like a second-rate citizen.’ “

There is nothing in Catholic teaching which endorses marginalization of or discrimination towards LGBT people, particularly youth who are vulnerable and entrusted to the church for their education. Each of these controversies is rooted in flawed Catholic understandings of gender and of sexuality. These understandings refuse to prioritize social justice teachings about LGBT people’s rights and dignity, instead relying upon pseudo-science to validate outdated, but ideologically convenient ideas. As Australian Catholics reckon with how to protect LGBT people and expand their rights, including the question of marriage equality, a dose of honesty and an attentiviness to reality would be most healthy.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


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