In Orlando’s Wake, Catholic Ministry Calls on Church Leaders to Condemn Anti-LGBT Violence

June 13, 2016

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, released on June 12, 2016, in response to the mass shooting at a gay and lesbian nightclub in Orlando, Florida, earlier that day.

Words truly cannot express the horror, anguish, anger, and revulsion at the news of the mass murder of at least 50 people at a gay and lesbian nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  Such an action should instill in all people around the globe a commitment to end gun violence and to protect the lives of LGBT people.

Adding to the anguish of this tragedy is the response of most Catholic leaders. The Vatican’s initial statement expressed sorrow and condemnation, and hope “that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence . . .” But the Vatican did not refer to the fact that this violence was directed at the LGBT community.

Similarly, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, made no direct reference to the LGBT community in his statement, noting only that the incident should call people to “ever greater resolve in protecting the life and dignity of every single person.”

While individual bishops have reacted publicly to the violence, the only statement thus far from a Catholic leader which mentions the gay and lesbian community is Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich. In sympathy, Archbishop Cupich stated that “our prayers and hearts are with. . . our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.” Such simple words should not be difficult for Catholic leaders to mention in the face of such vicious horror.  Archbishop Cupich is to be praised for being a light in the darkness.

Clearly the targeting of a gay nightclub shows that, homophobia is a major factor which causes “terrible and absurd violence.”  This attack highlights the fact that around the globe, every day, LGBT people face oppression, intimidation, and violence. Homophobic and transphobic attitudes and behaviors are carried out all-too-commonly in the form of discriminatory practices, verbal abuse, bullying, imprisonment, physical and sexual abuse, torture, and death. In many cases, this brutality is sanctioned by governments and religious leaders who propagate homophobic and transphobic messages.  The Vatican and other church leaders have yet to speak clearly and definitively on these contemporary issues despite the fact that official church teaching would support condemnations of these hate-filled messages, practices, and laws.

As we pray for an end to gun violence and an end to violence directed against LGBT people, we also include in our prayers the hope that Muslim people will not become victims of a backlash against them because of the shooter’s religious background.  Such a response is as vicious and senseless as the violence perpetrated against the nightclub victims.

The Orlando murders should move all Catholic leaders to reflect on how their silence about homophobic and transphobic attitudes and violence contributes to behaviors which treat LGBT people as less than human and deserving of punishment.  This sad moment in our history should become a time when Catholic leaders speak loudly and clearly, with one voice, that attacks on LGBT people must stop.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Tell the U.S. Bishops to Build ‘A Church for Our Daughters’

June 9, 2016

Three national Catholic organizations that advocate for LGBT equality were among the 30 church reform groups which have launched a campaign “A Church for Our Daughters” to promote the full equality of women in the Catholic Church.

Call To Action, DignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry joined with other organizations such as the Women’s Ordination Conference, Future Church, and 8th Day Center for Justice and Peace to circulate a petition on equality which will be delivered to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Huntington Beach, California next week.  Each individual bishop will receive a copy of the petition by email.

 The 15-point petition calls for a church, which, among other things:

“recognizes that all people are created in God’s image and equally endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the common good.

“opens its sacred sacraments to all, as nourishment and ritual without limitations based on gender or sexuality. . .

“celebrates and promotes a spirituality that recognizes an inclusive God, beyond gender, and incorporates language that is inclusive and representative of God’s feminine, masculine, and non-gendered attributes in liturgy, doctrine, and pastoral practice. . . .

“seeks to be fully inclusive and representative of women and to integrate their wisdom and insights in all areas of Church life including governance, decision-making, teaching, theological reflection, and canon law. . . .

“commits to reflect on its own participation in the oppression of women; to repent for unjust acts, systems, and teaching; and to renew structures of leadership to be more inclusive of the People of God at every level.”

You can read the full petition and sign it by clicking here.

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo explained the reason that the organization decided to be part of the campaign:

“Through the work of our mission to build bridges of justice,  dialogue, and reconciliation between the LGBT community and the wider Catholic Church, we have encountered the painful and harmful sin of sexism at so many levels in our communities.  LGBT people are now forming families in our country with the full support of our nation’s governmental institutions.  This new reality is promoting healthier and holier lives for parents, children, and all of society.  We want our Catholic Church to also become a place where children grow up without fear and shame about the beautiful way that God created them.  To make this dream a reality, we need a church where our daughters will blossom and flourish.”

National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie Manson observed that the campaign website’s suggestion to “Imagine a Church without women — our daughters, granddaughters, nieces, Goddaughters, neighbors,”  is, unfortunately, not a hyperbolic statement for the the near future.  Manson writes:

“In mid-May, a new Pew Research Center analysis of General Social Survey data found a significant decline in the number of women in the U.S. who attend church weekly.

“The study, which focused on the gender gap in religious service attendance, found that ‘between 1972 and 1974, an average of 36% of women and 26% of men reported attending religious services at least once a week — a 10-percentage-point gap.’ . . .

“A Church for our Daughters was initially inspired by another set of alarming statistics. According to an earlier Pew General Social Survey, Millennial Catholic women are more likely than their male counterparts to report that they never attend Mass. They are also more likely to leave the Catholic church than men in their age group.”

Manson quoted the coordinator of the campaign, who explained that even small steps by the bishop in regard to women’s equality can have an effect:

“Regina Bannan, chair of the action group for A Church for Our Daughters says that the campaign forces the bishops to look towards the future and confront the question, ‘Where are young American women?’

“She believes that many young Catholic women are doing social justice work or praying alone or in small groups. “We can bring them into church as well,” Bannan argues, if the bishops can find a way to support even a few of the elements of the A Church for Our Daughters declaration.

The campaign’s website, AChurchForOurDaughters.org,  includes sections on upcoming Actions and several Resources, including an “Inclusive Language Bible,” originally produced by the Quixote Center.

Next week, there will be two public events in California connected to the “Church for Our Daughters” campaign:

  • Monday, June 13, 2016, 7:00 pm: “A Church for Our Daughters” Evening liturgy,  St. Wilfrid of York Church , 18631 Chapel Ln, Huntington Beach
  • Tuesday, June 14, 2016 at 12:00 noon:  March at U.S. Bishops’ Conference Urging Them to Create a Church for Our Daughters.  Location:  21500 Pacific Coast Hwy, Huntington Beach. Meet at Zach’s Too Beach Stand at the Corner of Pacific Coast Highway  and Beach Blvd.  **Please wear pink**
For more information about these events and to RSVP,  contact ehanna@womensordination.org or https://www.facebook.com/events/1786083971624853/  .
New Ways Ministry encourages all Bondings 2.0 readers and all of our organization’s supporters to sign the petition today!
–Bob Shine and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

LGBT Pilgrimage to Ireland, Land of Rainbows and Wedding Bells–Part 1

April 30, 2016
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Pilgrims gathered among the monastic ruins at Glendalough.

Today’s post is Part One of a two-part series on New Ways Ministry’s pilgrimage to Ireland.

New Ways Ministry’s recent pilgrimage to Ireland brought showers of blessings to the two dozen participants who made the trip.  One of the biggest blessings was the opportunity to learn firsthand about LGBT ministry, welcome, and advocacy in Ireland at this time.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, was the planner and spiritual leader of this journey, entitled “Ireland:  Land of Rainbows and Wedding Bells.”  Ireland was selected not only for its strong Catholic identity, but because in 2015 it became the first nation in the world to enact marriage equality by popular vote.   As the pilgrims learned from their visits and meetings with church leaders and LGBT advocates, the Catholic movement for LGBT equality is strong in the Emerald Isle.

Throughout the trip, the pilgrims received warm Irish welcomes from several communities of religious men and women, while also visiting sites important to the LGBT community.

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Fr. Tony Flannery and Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Esker Monastery, Athenry

The day we arrived, the Redemptorists welcomed us for Mass and a “cuppa” tea, scones, and soup at their Esker Monastery outside the town of Athenry.  Fr. Tony Flannery, a leader in Ireland’s church reform movement, was on hand with his brother Redemptorists to introduce us to the many ways his community is building a more inclusive church.  Fr. Brendan O’Rourke presided at Eucharistic liturgy for the group.

We encountered the Redemptorists three more times on our trip.  We celebrated Mass at their parish church in Cherry Orchard, a low-income neighborhood of Dublin.  Fr. Adrian Egan discussed contemporary social problems facing this low-income area before offering a prayer that we “keep in mind anyone who, for any reason, feels on the edges and excluded.”

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Pádraig speaking to pilgrims, Clonard Monaster, Belfast

Redemptorist Father John J. Ó Ríordáin  guided the pilgrims prayerfully through the historic site of Glendalough, the monastery founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century.  As we walked from place to place around the grounds, Fr. Ó Ríordáin offered not only historical background, but also some Celtic prayers and poems appropriate to the various settings.  Our trip there ended with an outdoor Mass by the side of one of Glendalough’s stunning lakes.

In Belfast, we visited the beautiful Clonard Monastery with a sanctuary dominated by an image of Jesus with outstretched arms—a symbol that all are welcome to the parish, Fr. Noel Kehoe, the pastor, told us in greeting.

While at Clonard, which also is the city’s main center for reconciliation between Catholic and Protestant citizens, the pilgrims were educated about these peace efforts by Pádraig Ó Tuama, an openly gay Catholic man. He said the Redemptorist monastery is known well for being a safe space to many, including LGBT people, because here, “You know you didn’t have to lessen your dignity.” Ó Tuama is also the leader of the Corymeela Community, an Irish spirituality center, which includes LGBT people and sponsors a retreat for pastoral ministers involved in LGBT ministry.

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Mercy Associate Susanne Cassidy sharing with her fellow pilgrims at Mother McAuley’s first Convent of Mercy, Baggot Street, Dublin

In Dublin, we visited the home of one of that city’s most well-known Catholic daughters:  Venerable Mother Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy.  At the Mercy International Center on Baggot Street, we were warmly welcomed by Sister Mary Kay Dobrovlny, a U.S. sister who provided us with information and inspiration about Mercy’s origins.  At Mass in the Center’s chapel, one of our pilgrims, Susanne Cassidy, the Catholic mother of two gay sons and a Mercy Associate, shared the impact that Mother McAuley’s witness had on her own life and LGBT ministry. We adjourned, as always, for a comfortable cup of tea afterwards.

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St. Brigid of Kildare, Solas Bhríde, Kildare

In Kildare, the pilgrims visited Solas Bhríde (Light of Brigid), a spirituality center and hermitage opened just last year.  The three Brigidine Sisters–Sr. Mary Minehan, Sr. Phil O’Shea, and Sr. Rita Minehan–who oversee the ecologically-built center said the purpose of their ministry is to “unfold the legacy of St. Brigid and its relevance for our time.” St. Brigid, abbess of a double monastery (one part for men and one part for women) in Kildare, is a great inspiration to the Irish people for taking care of the environment.

At the spirituality center, we visited the garden to see a new statue of St. Brigid by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz. The statue was commissioned by Fr. Dennis O’Neill, a Chicago priest who is pastor of St. Martha parish, Morton Grove, which is an LGBT-friendly parish.

At the Whitefriars Street Church, a Carmelite parish in Dublin, the pilgrims gathered to pray at the shrine of St. Valentine, an altar which holds a small casket containing the relics of this famous saint who is so connected with love and relationships.  Sister Jeannine offered a reflective reading of St. Paul’s famous discourse on love, found in 1 Corinthians 13, while we prayed for all our relationships–past, present, future.

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Pilgrims at a statue of Oscar Wilde, Merrion Square, Dublin

On the same day, we gathered for a photo, not prayer, at the statue of Dublin’s famous author, Oscar Wilde, the beautiful Merrion Square park. Wilde was jailed for being a gay man and for writing of “the love that dare not speak its name,” about which he said during his trial, “It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection.”

Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will share details about two meetings we had with LGBT Irish folks and their families, and the wisdom gleaned from them.  We’ll also discuss our visit to the Archdiocese of Dublin’s monthly Mass for the LGBT community. Tune in!

To view more photos from the pilgrimage, visit New Ways Ministry’s page on Facebook by clicking here. If you would like information about future pilgrimages, please send an email to: info@NewWaysMinistry.org or phone 301-277-5674.

–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: Commentary and Announcement

January 22, 2016

Jamie Manson is certainly one of the best journalistic observers of LGBT issues in the Catholic Church. Her award-winning column in The National Catholic Reporter, in which she comments on a variety of church issues, often carries insightful perceptions on LGBT matters that elude other commenters’ grasps.

Manson has been a somewhat lone voice in the wilderness, suggesting to Catholics and others that Pope Francis’ gestures and statements are not as hope-filled as most headlines proclaim. In her latest column, “LGBTQ people need justice, not mercy, from Pope Francis,” Manson asserts that the pope should be acting for justice concerning LGBTQ people, not simply offering mercy, which to her ears sounds like the pope is implying that LGBTQ people are sinners.

Manson’s column is worth reading in its entirety, and you can find it by clicking here. Particularly strong is her conclusion:

“We need an institutional church that has the courage to admit that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, relationship status, or gender identity, have the same potential for goodness, wholeness and a sacramental life. Until that day comes, we will not achieve true dignity and full equality in our church.”

Regular readers of this blog will know that we, like Manson, have often pointed out that Pope Francis needs to be clearer about what he means when he discusses outreach, encounter, and accompaniment of LGBT people. We’ve suggested, as she does, that justice needs to be added into the equation of outreach. Simple friendly gestures do not suffice.

Where I differ slightly from Manson is in regard to the need for mercy. Mercy is a key ingredient in renewing the Church’s approach to LGBT issues. Unlike Manson, I don’t view Pope Francis’ call to mercy as primarily a call to forgive people who are perceived as sinners. Instead, I understand mercy as an attitude of humility to which all people are called in their encounters with others–especially those who are different or marginalized.  Being merciful means walking humbly.

Such humility can help to change the Church’s attitude about sexuality and LGBT issues by helping people realize that the persons they have perceived primarily as sinners are in fact full human beings endowed with dignity and equality.

The discussion of the need for both justice and mercy are so important that New Ways Ministry has adopted these two virtues as the title and theme of our Eighth National Symposium on LGBT Issues and Catholicism, which we are announcing today.

Every five years, New Ways Ministry sponsors a national gathering of Catholic leaders, ministers, and other interested people to discuss the state of LGBT issues in the Catholic Church. Since our last meeting in Baltimore in 2012, much has changed in the Catholic discussion–primarily due to the exit of Pope Benedict XVI and the arrival of Pope Francis’ new (though somewhat still ambiguous) approach to LGBT issues.

So, on the weekend of April 28-30, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois, New Ways Ministry will host its Eighth National Symposium entitled, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Era of Pope Francis.” Symposium speakers and participants will be exploring how these two powerful concepts interact, and how they are both needed for further progress in the Church on LGBT issues.  (Please note the date:  the symposium is NOT happening in 2016.)

Please mark your calendars now for this important event. We already have some top-notch speakers lined up, and we are in the process of finalizing the schedule.

We will be updating blog readers about the Symposium in the months to come. The best way not to miss any details is to provide us with contact information for updates. If you would like to receive information about the Symposium once materials are ready, please send a request, along with your contact information, to: info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

For Bondings 2.0 readers, during the Symposium, we will be having a small informal gathering of blog readers, commenters, and contributors.  If you attend, you’ll have the opportunity to meet in person some of the people with whom you’ve been conversing electronically!

I hope that many of you can attend.  Stay tuned for more details in the coming months!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Sr. Jeannine Gramick Celebrated Good News in 2015

January 2, 2016
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Sr. Jeannine Gramick, left, with Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, has worked more than four decades to bring LGBT equality to the Catholic Church. Few years have been as positive for this ministry as 2015 despite remaining challenges in the church.  The following is a re-cap of some of the highlights of her year’s activities, including many which this blog had not yet covered.

In February, Gramick accompanied 50 LGBT and Ally Catholic pilgrims to a papal audience in Rome where the New Ways Ministry group was given VIP seating. In September, she attended the White House’s welcoming reception for Pope Francis alongside other prominent LGBT advocates. In between, there were many positive Catholic LGBT developments around the world including Ireland’s marriage referendum, for which she campaigned when she visited the Emerald Isle.  (And she’ll be returning to Ireland in April 2016 with another group of LGBT and Ally pilgrims.  It’s not too late to sign up!  You can read more information and find a registration form by clicking here.)

In Good Conscience, the 2005 documentary about Gramick’s life, with particular emphasis on her relationship with the Vatican, celebrated its 10th anniversary. Producer Barbara Rick released an updated version and spoke with Global Sisters Reporter about the film and the sister behind it, saying of Gramick:

“This is a woman who is doing something revolutionary by refusing to be silenced by the patriarchal hierarchy of the Vatican. That just resonated very deeply with me: a woman standing up without fear (or in spite of fear) and saying, ‘I refuse to collaborate on my own oppression.’ That just hit such a deep chord in me. . .

“I think she was a part of this transformation that has happened in the treatment of gay and lesbian Catholics and gay and lesbian people throughout the world. She is part of the realization that all people are deserving of love, rights, respect and marriage.”

A recent Buzzfeed profile of Sister Jeannine details in greater depth her journey of being faithful to an inclusive Gospel.  It’s a good read for those who want to learn more of her life and how she became involved with LGBT ministry and advocacy.  In the interview, she expressed hope in Pope Francis’ leadership, saying:

“[Attending the papal audience] was a great feeling of vindication, almost a euphoria that this is how the church should be. . .Doctrine doesn’t inform ministry. I think the opposite: Ministry informs the doctrine. In fact, I’m more in line with Pope Francis: I don’t think we need to worry or think about or be concerned about doctrine.”

Not all welcomed Gramick in 2015, however.  When she visited the Czech Republic this past summer, Prague’s archbishop expelled the program at which she was scheduled to speak from a local parish. Cardinal Dominik Duka rejected events to be held at the church during Prague Pride festivities over the summer. Sister Jeannine spoke elsewhere, reported the Prague Post, but remained disappointed by the cardinal’s decision.

As 2016 approaches, Sr. Jeannine’s ministry will keep pressing for equal justice for LGBT people in the church and in society. Her message from her earliest years still rings true for Catholics today: “This is your church — don’t let other people screen you out.” To hear more of Sr. Jeannine Gramick’s story and learn about her message of love, you can watch a TED Talk she gave at Penn State University earlier this year, entitled “Walk in Your God Shoes“:

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


The Catholic LGBT Stories You Found Most Interesting in 2015

December 21, 2015

As I look back on the year that is closing, I thought it might be instructive to look at what Bondings 2.0’s readers thought were the most interesting stories of the past 12 months.  I looked for the stories posted this year which received the highest number of views.

The top ten stories follow, with the first one being the one with the most views, and decreasing in descending order. Each headline links back to the original post.  Below each entry, I offer a brief commentary.

[Editor’s note:  On December 26th, we will provide our annual poll for readers to determine what were the best and worst Catholic LGBT stories this past year.  Results will be posted on December 30th and 31st.]

1.  New Ways Ministry and U.S. Catholics Rejoice at Supreme Court Marriage Equality Decision

The post in the number one spot is not surprising.  The Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision will likely be considered one of the top stories of the year in the general press.  I recall that in announcing the news of this decision, The New York Times had the largest headline I have seen in the paper since the day after September 11, 2001.

2. Pope Francis’ Former Student Speaks About Meeting During U.S. Papal Visit

I was at first surprised by the post in the number two spot, but on further reflection, it seems like a natural.  Pope Francis’ positive gestures and statements regarding LGBT issues touch hearts deeply.  Additionally, this story is related to the another major news event of the year: the pontiff’s visit to the U.S.

3. LGBTQ Children in Catholic Families: A Deacon’s View of Holy Family Sunday

Technically this post appeared in 2014, but it was posted on December 28th, so close enough to the beginning of 2015 that I decided to include it in this list.  I think this piece was so popular because it blended a personal story with commentary on church teaching and practice–all told from the perspective of a married Catholic deacon active in church ministry.  The fact that it had already received thousands of views before 2015 began, yet still emerged as the third most popular story of the year, indicates how powerfully it touched hearts and minds.

4. Vatican Family Official Thanks TV’s “Modern Family” for Revealing Reality

This post represents a positive growing trend in the Catholic Church lately:  high-ranking church officials acknowledging and praising the presence of loving gay and lesbian couples in society.  Because this post was tweeted by “Modern Family” star Eric Stonestreet (who plays Cameron) and was shown on a HuffPost Live interview with him, it also reached a much wider audience of readers.

5. Cardinal Gracias to LGBT People: ‘Church Embraces You, Wants You, Needs You’

Having received press credentials from the Vatican to cover the synod on the family for Bondings 2.0, I was able to raise up LGBT issues with several cardinals and bishops at this historic meeting.  This personal interview with the president of India’s bishops conference who is also one of Pope Francis’ closest advisors included an important message of acceptance which I think our readers and their friends were excited to hear.

6. Archbishop Discusses African Bishops’ Silence on Criminalization of LGBT People

Another story from the synod, this one featured a direct question about the hierarchy’s deafening silence on criminalization laws.  I was able to ask this question to a high-ranking African archbishop at a synod press conference, and his answer was reported widely in other news outlets beyond this blog.

7. Father Martin’s Viral Facebook Post on ‘So Much Hatred From So Many Catholics’

I think the popularity of this post shows how polarized our church is when it comes to discussion LGBT issues.  After Fr. James Martin, SJ, posted New Ways Ministry’s response to the Supreme Court marriage decision on his Facebook page, he was deluged by negative responses from Catholics who opposed the decision.  The response was so strong that his response to them was covered by Religion News Service,

8. Another Gay Person Is Denied Communion at a Parent’s Funeral

Bad news, unfortunately, is always popular.  I think the reason that communion denial stories attract so much attention is deeper than that they are simply negative.   They strike at the heart of Catholic identity: the Eucharist.  I think they also strike people as intensely personal.  The fact that this particular denial took place at a parent’s funeral made it all the more painful.

9. Illinois Priest Sends Entire Town Anti-Gay Letter, Calls it a “Public Service”

Sadly, it is not an uncommon story to hear a Catholic Church official make negative comments about LGBT people.  In some ways, it is not even news-worthy.  The level of vitriol in this case, however, as well as the hubris exhibited by the pastor, made this particular story rise above the ordinary version of negative comments.

10. Pope Francis’ Meeting With Kim Davis Raises a Red Flag

I’m not surprised that this story made it into the top ten.  When it first broke at the end of September, so many people were so disheartened by what seemed like Pope Francis rejecting his advice to bishops to not be so politically identified.  Of course,  the story had a happy ending when it was revealed that the Vatican had not arranged this encounter with Davis (which turned out to be little more than a handshake), but that the pope himself had arranged a meeting in the U.S. with a former student of his who is gay.

Between now and the end of the year, we will be publishing a few other posts concerning the year that was.  Feel free, as always, to make your own year-end summaries in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


ALL ARE WELCOME: Baltimore Parish’s LEAD Ministry a Model for the Church

December 2, 2015

602308_131686610305044_1264130716_n.jpgThe ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature on this blog that highlights Catholic parishes and faith communities that support and affirm LGBT people. 

Conversations about LGBT inclusion in the church often focus on bishops’ words and actions, particularly those of Pope Francis. But most church reform happens elsewhere, fostered by local communities. Today’s post lifts up one parish where faithful Catholics are building a church that is “home for all.”

The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) recently featured St. Matthew Church in Baltimore as part of their series “The Field Hospital,” focusing on the parish’s LGBT ministry.

The LEAD Ministry, an acronym for LGBT Educating & Affirming Diversity, has grown tremendously since its origins in 2009. Its mission statement explains:

“St. Matthew LGBT Ministry (LEAD) commits to modeling a community of faith and spirit that works toward openness and understanding; LEAD strives to offer justice, healing, and wholeness of life for all God’s people. We believe that the unique diversity of the Community of St. Matthew will continue to grow and demonstrate a unity of faith that transcends our differences and celebrates the gifts we are from God, our Creator.”

Led by Fr. Joe Muth, pastor for 25 years, St. Matthew’s “prides itself on inclusion”with parishioners from more than 45 nations. While the LEAD Ministry contributes to that overall vibrancy, it also provides a safe space for LGBT Catholics who’ve felt excluded by church. NCR noted that many share how they were unwelcome at parishes and rejected by family:

“Those finding a safe nest with LEAD continue to come forth with their stories: a woman who was disowned by her family after coming out as a lesbian. Another unable to talk for decades about sexual orientation with her lesbian sister. Another participant talked about her niece, who came out to her when she was 12, and who committed suicide when she turned 58. Such stories, say participants, can make support groups like LEAD a matter of literal life-or-death.”

Vania and Rachel Christian dos Passos, a married couple, are LEAD members living in the church’s tension around same-gender relationships. Vania said LGBT Catholics want to participate fully in the church, not just accept “crumbs from the table.” For now, the married couple attend a United Church of Christ congregation while being involved at St. Matthew. Rachel explained:

“LEAD is a safe space for us to be our authentic selves. . . [until] LGBT couples can be equal to straight couples in the eyes of the Catholic church.”

There is an evangelical component to the LEAD Ministry, too. Members not only support Catholics and welcome non-practicing Catholics home, they welcome other Christians and spiritual seekers. Gweyn Brown, who has a lesbian daughter, said LEAD meetings “could be a light for people outside the Catholic faith.”

The Ministry hosts monthly meetings and wider parish events, which have included a conversation on how families are impacted when a member comes out,  and also a screening of “Saint of 9/11” about Fr. Mychal Judge.  NCR‘s report continued:

“Committed to what participants call a safe place to gather, LEAD has been public in its witness. Its participation in this year’s Baltimore Gay Pride Parade elicited comments from onlookers surprised to see formal Catholic participation in an archdiocese led by Archbishop William Lori. . .”

Although there have been some discussions with the Archdiocese of Baltimore, a cordial relationship exists between the ministry and the local hierarchy. Bishop Denis Madden, an auxiliary, has met three times with members and leaders even met once with Archbishop William Lori once. Madden told NCR he was “impressed by…good people” who enact locally Pope Francis’ more welcoming style.

The LEAD Ministry emerged following a presentation about Maryland’s marriage equality law. Carolyn Scheide, who has two gay children, asked how the parish could respond. From there, parishioners worked with Fr. Muth, parish leaders, and New Ways Ministry’s Next Steps program to develop the LGBT ministry that bears tremendous fruit today. You can more about the ministry’s history here.

You can also view journalist Eric Kruszewski’s video series on the LEAD Ministry, titled “The Lost Flock,” by clicking here. His videos feature interviews with several members and Fr. Muth.

There is a clear lesson evident in the LEAD Ministry’s good work, which I have witnessed firsthand, and that lesson is this: the Catholic Church is renewed and reformed most fully when the faithful own their faith and act upon it.

Put another way, Pope Francis’ call for mercy and inclusion will be meaningless without groups like the LEAD Ministry. The pope’s greatest contributions will likely be his episcopal appointments and the space which he is creating to go to the margins of our own church for ministry.

Reading about St. Matthew is an occasion to ask ourselves anew: What am I doing to build up a Catholic Church that is inclusive and just and a home for all?

Do you want to do something to help further LGBT equality in society and the Catholic church but are not sure what you should do or could do?  If so, then you are a candidate for New Ways Ministry’s Next Steps program.

Next Steps is a weekend program designed to help people plot out a course of practical, feasible actions to further LGBT equality and justice that they can perform in their home communities.  For more information, contact New Ways Ministry at info@newwaysministry.org, call (301) 277-5674, or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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