LGBT Pilgrims Reflect on World Meeting of Families; Others Question Meeting’s Impact

November 13, 2015

As a busy fall for Catholic LGBT advocates winds down, its time for reflecting about what happened–and forecasting what might come. This post focuses in on World Meeting of Families (WMF) and Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. as they related to LGBT issues, looking both back at the past and what these actions might mean for the future.

Equally Blessed Pilgrims Reflect on Experiences

Several members of the families with LGBT members who participated in Equally Blessed’s pilgrimage to WMF (and to concurrent “outside the walls” LGBT-related events) have shared their experiences and reflections from the week-long even on video.

The Equally Blessed coalition, which includes, Call to ActionDignityUSA,  Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry, produced a series of videos from the pilgrimage, one of which you can view below and you can find the others here.

Ryan Hoffman of Call to Action wrote in the National Catholic Reporter about the exclusion pilgrims experienced having been “dismissed from giving workshops, rejected from having a presence in the exhibit hall, relegated to a Methodist church across the street, and nearly shut out of the one presentation on ‘same-sex attraction’.”

These acts impeded “authentic dialogue and genuine encounter,” but did not stop such moments. Hoffman observed:

Ryan Hoffman

“Francis has asked Catholics to work on the margins.  Equally Blessed boldly occupies this space, on the periphery and in the field hospital of the Catholic church. Once again, we found ourselves on the front lines of compassion and justice. . .The pilgrims’ prophetic ministry was not in what they were able to say, but in who they were able to be — their whole and holy, complete and healthy selves — amidst a backdrop of hierarchical control tactics and fear.”

LGBT pilgrims and their families prophetically witnessed to their faith, despite Meeting organizers’ best attempts to shut them out. Catholics at the event, overall, noticed the pilgrims and many affirmed them. Indeed, WMF participants overwhelmingly agreed that openness, honesty, and safe spaces for dialogue were desired by WMF attendees, regardless of where their positions on gender or sexuality.

Absent, too, at WMF were discussions about institutional matters in the church. Fired lesbian educator Margie Winters identified a hoped-for conversation that was not included on the agenda.  She told the National Catholic Reporter:

margie winters

Margie Winters

“We ask the church to reflect on its own identity, an identity now associated with the discriminatory treatment of the LGBT community. We are your sisters and brothers in faith.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Winters reiterating this sentiment at an LGBT Family Papal Picnic held in Philadelphia, saying the exclusion of people “impacts the integrity of the church as a whole.”

Equally Blessed partners hosted events where more inclusive and honest conversations could happen. Writing at the Human Rights Campaign’s blog about New Ways Ministry’s workshop on gender identity, Lisbeth Melendez Rivera said:


Lisbeth Melendez Rivera

“Their stories were heartbreaking and hopeful. Contrary to the tone of sanctioned workshops, these messages were ones of inclusion and acceptance. They represented the success of our work.”

Stories shared included those of Nicole Santamaria, an intersex woman from El Salvador, and her mother, Vilma. Nicole noted that rather than condemn intersex people, the Catholic Church is entirely silent on this community, and silence is problem for intersex people in heavily-Catholic nations like hers. An asylum seeker to the U.S. after she suffered multiple physical attacks, Nicole told NewsWorks:

” ‘The point of having the Lord’s love in our life is to create the space for people to be [themselves]. . .If people believe that they have the Lord’s right to attack you, they are going to attack you and they are going to be celebrated.”

You can read more about Nicole’s story in an interview she offered to  The Washington Post.

WMF pilgrims also shared their experiences on an installment of DignityUSA’s “Queer Catholic Faith” webinar series last month, which you can view here.

Lingering Questions About the World Meeting of Families

Those involved with Equally Blessed’s pilgrimage were not the only voices questioning and even critical of the World Meeting of Families.

Jake Kohlhaas, a theologian at Loras College, Dubuque, Iowa, who attended WMF, wrote at Daily Theology about an “exclusivist tone” which marked the Meeting’s programming that “works against even legitimate diversity and complexity within the accepted moral tradition of the church.”

In Kohlhaas’ estimation, WMF speakers appealed to inclusivity only in instances where it strengthened their position, while jettisoning it for rigid exclusivism when their perspective on church teaching was challenged, such as being faced with U.S. Catholics overwhelming support of marriage equality. He questioned whether the use of dubious social science findings by WMF presenters is analogous to intelligent design theorists’ discussing evolutionary biology:

Jake Kohlhaas

Jake Kohlhaas

“That is, while the approach in general presents itself as receptive to the findings of non-theological disciplines, when the data challenges basic commitments it is glossed over with affirmations of Catholic teaching. . .Selective uses of observed data undermine this commitment by allowing a prevailing hermeneutic of fidelity to church teaching to obstruct legitimately challenging questions.”

More fundamentally, Kohlhaas expressed concern about WMF’s failure to acknowledge the realities of Catholic families in their diversity today, and he concluded with an important question:

“This is not simply a question about the possibility of certain strategic reforms, it is a question about how we balance a commitment to inclusivity with the specific moral teachings of the Church. If simply acknowledging legitimate diversities and challenging realities proves difficult for many Catholic leaders, how are we as Catholics to respond mercifully to the world’s needs?”

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, summarized the approach of WMF organizers and the U.S. bishops in this way, reports KEPRTV:

“They see LGBT issues as a problem to contain rather than to explore. . .The entire Catholic community in the U.S. is having a discussion on this now. Why can’t the World Meeting of Families?”

Papal Visit Generally Praised

Pope Francis’ visit, despite the Kim Davis controversy which erupted shortly afterwards, has generally been praised. Denise Hinds, a self-described “Catholic-nun-turned-lesbian-mom,” wrote in The Huffington Post about seeing the pontiff at the White House. Describing the scene as “electric,” she explained:


Denise Hinds

“[Pope Francis] spoke of family and marriage, and his comments were heard by some LGBT advocates as opposing my family and those like mine. But I heard them differently. In the context of the long hard walk to equality and justice for so many people, this pope chose not to defame me. He chose to honor family and marriage, not limit which families and which marriages. And for this church, in the context of this pope’s choices, that is progress. . .

“I felt happy and overwhelmingly proud of the pope, being Catholic and being gay all at the same time. I think his words and deeds will also give my daughter hope that she can have a place in a church that welcomes, accepts and respects her family.”

Victoria Brownworth, a Catholic lesbian as well, also wrote about the papal visit for The Huffington Post and said:

Victoria Brownworth

Victoria Brownworth

“If I have learned anything from watching Pope Francis up close and personal in Philadelphia over his two days here, it is that my Catholic faith and my lesbian identity are inextricable from each other. I have been reminded that I am uniquely blessed to be a Catholic lesbian and that my lesbianism and my faith are gifts. . .

“And so I come away from Pope Francis’s visit not embittered by his failure to speak to me, a lesbian Catholic, but assured by every action and speech of his that I witnessed, that he is more human than God, more conflicted than sure, more searching than settled.

“That reaffirmed for me what I have always known to be true: That I am no less a member of my Church than anyone else, that being a lesbian requires no imprimatur from the Church, because I am, according to the Church’s own theology, made in God’s image.”

Much has happened since the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ visit: the Kim Davis controversy, news of the pope’s meeting with a gay couple, and the Synod on the Family. Yet the good news shared by Equally Blessed’s pilgrims and the encounters they experienced should not be forgotten in the near future. Indeed, their example of dialogue and witness, accompanied by Pope Francis’ vision for the church, constitute a path forward for U.S. Catholics when it comes to LGBT issues.

To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Equally Blessed pilgrimage, the World Meeting of Families, and/or Pope Francis visit to the U.S., you can click here

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Fr. Fred Daley Helps Church Embrace the Gifts of Gay Priests & Brothers

November 6, 2015

Fr. Fred Daley

Despite Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” remark in 2013, the Catholic Church remains ambiguous in its acceptance of gay priests and religious though by some estimates they may constitute up to 60% of clergy.

While Catholics in the pews are more accepting of gay people, church leaders have not all followed the pope’s lead.  So what is it like to be a gay priest?

Fr. Fred Daley, an openly gay priest from New York State, spoke to Al Jazeera America during the Synod on the Family about his experiences. Daley came out in 2004, his response to the “scapegoating” of gay priests for the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

Before that, Daley had journeyed for a decade to know and affirm his sexual identity. Several years after being ordained, he explained:

” ‘I became in touch with a sort of ache within me that was really my sexuality sort of bubbling forth, and I began to be in touch with sexual attractions, and I was horrified. I thought this was terrible and I’m going to go to hell’ . . .

“[A Jesuit director] put me on a journey of recognizing my orientation, accepting it and ultimately rejoicing in who God created me to be. . .I was freely able to choose celibacy, because I really continued to feel the strong call to ordained ministry. But I discovered that I had the capacity for intimacy.’ “

Unfortunately, too many priests lack a “contemporary understanding” of sexuality and, in Daley’s estimation, are “mouthing what they learned 30 or 40 years ago, which is a real problem.”

Though Daley’s coming out was greeted with a standing ovation by his parishioners, not all congregations have welcomed an openly gay priest. The Advocate reported that Daley was barred from a 2006 mission to Africa regarding HIV awareness because of his sexual orientation. Daley said the ‘Francis effect’ is slowly changing this type of ostracization, affecting gay people “as well as everyone else” with the pope’s reorganized priorities.  Daley stated:

“Doctrine is important, but it’s not No. 1. Mercy, compassion, understanding come before doctrine. And he also makes it clear that, ultimately, we have to follow our consciences.”

Gay priests and religious are some of the church’s most vibrant ministers of mercy and understanding. To further help the church embrace their gifts, Fr. Daley is the main speaker at a retreat entitled, “Fan into Flame the Gift of God: Embracing the Gifts of Gay Priests and Brothers,” sponsored by New Ways Ministry.

The retreat, scheduled for April 28-May 1, 2016, near Philadelphia, is open to gay priests and brothers, but also to all diocesan clergy personnel, as well as leaders and formation personnel of men’s religious communities.  The program is designed to foster communication and understanding between gay clergy and religious and the leaders responsible for their development.

As Fr. Daley’s sharing reveals, even though gay priests and religious contribute much to our church and our world, they remain undervalued and suffer unjust ecclesial pressures simply because of their sexual orientation.  The retreat hopes to start conversations to help reverse these trends.

If you are interested in attending the retreat or know someone who might be interested, please contact New Ways Ministry at or call (301) 277-5674.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

LGBT Advocates, Vatican Observers React to Synod on the Family’s Final Report

October 27, 2015

Now that the Synod on the Family is concluded, much is already being written about an event The New York Times called the “most momentous, and contentious, meeting of bishops” since Vatican II.

Below, Bondings 2.0 provides some early commentaries and reactions related to LGBT topics. (For a good general overview of what the Synod’s final document contains, see Joshua McElwee’s article in the National Catholic Reporter.)

In a statement released on Facebook, the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC), launched just before the Synod with representatives from more than 30 nations, predicted : “A new era for inclusive pastoral care of LGBT people is going to start after the Synod.” This is due to a door opened on LGBT inclusion through the synodal process that cannot now be closed. The Network said further:

“However, we see clearly in the Synod’s Final Report (Paragraph 76) the beginning of a new era of inclusive pastoral care for and with LGBT people, and their families, which will hopefully be enacted by Dioceses across the world. Since it is explicitly mentioned that ‘specific attention should be paid to families that have a member with homosexual tendencies’, there is, therefore, no longer any reason not to include same-sex couples themselves, as well as children with same-sex parents in such a pastoral focus.”

GNRC criticized elements of the report, including the “baseless accusation that financial aid to poor countries is conditional on the introduction of laws that institute marriage between same-sex people” and the bishops’ failure to publicly object to anti-LGBT criminalization and violence.

Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, viewed the Synod as a start as well, telling The Washington Blade:

” ‘The synod’s final report focused its discussion of LGBT issues solely on families with lesbian and gay members in them. . .This is a step in the right direction, but it must not be the last step.’ ” [For New Ways Ministry’s full statement on the synod, click here.]

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke

DignityUSA’s evaluation of the final report commented that it “offers little that is positive” for LGBT people and that the synod was a “tragic missed opportunity.” Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke said in a statement:

” ‘The final report from the Synod is essentially an endorsement of the status quo. . .It is deeply disappointing to anyone who hoped that new ground would be broken in how the Church deals with a whole range of family issues. . .Our dignity and safety will not be guaranteed. Our relationships will continue to be treated as inferior. Our ability to parent is called into question. I expect we will continue to be seen as ‘threats to the family,’ rather than recognized as already fully integrated into families.”

Nicholas Coppola

Nicholas Coppola

Nicholas Coppola, a gay Catholic from New York forced out of parish ministries after marrying his husband in 2012, told The New York Times there was “no hope in this document, none whatsoever.” But he also noted “that they will work with divorced, heterosexual couples proves that they do vote on things and they do change what they call God’s law,” suggesting that the same could happen for LGBT people.

Journalists and columnists have varied their opinions on the Synod, too.

Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese admitted in the National Catholic Reporter that his prediction of the synod’s failure was too pessimistic. Comparing this synod to Vatican II, he said it “achieved consensus through ambiguity” which frees Pope Francis to act as he chooses in the future. Reese listed the losers as those seeking to “emphasize the law over mercy” who opposed all change, while suggesting that “Catholic families of all types” were among the winners (along with the drafting committee and Pope Francis).

Reuters correspondent at the Vatican, Philip Pullella, told PBS that homosexuality “has been sidestepped completely” at the synod, most plausibly because of how contentious it was at the 2014 synod. Vatican observer Maro Politi went as far as suggesting to The Washington Post that this synod fully revealed two churches:

” Francis’s church of forgiveness, mercy and being close to people where they suffer, and the church of the doctors of the law, that in this synod came across as the majority.”

David Gibson

David Gibson

Religion News Service’s David Gibson offered five points for interpreting the synod, including that “silence on gays is preferable to harsh words.” He wrote:

“The absence of any breakthrough language on gays was a tactical retreat by progressives who saw that they did not have the support in the synod to get close to a two-thirds threshold. . .

“Conservatives, on the other hand, painted themselves into a corner at the synod by arguing that the only satisfactory outcome was for the synod to reiterate current church teachings and practices and bar any future flexibility. That didn’t happen, and they are left trying to explain.”

James Martin, SJ

James Martin, SJ

Jesuit Fr. James Martin said  the final report is a “very subtle document, and it’s also just the first step,” since we still can expect that Pope Francis will write his own recommendations based on the synod report.  He told The New York Times:

” ‘The overall message is a message of welcome and a desire to help people in those situations be reconciled to the church, which is fantastic. . .[On ministry to families with LGBT members, the report] might not sound like a lot to American Catholics. . .but it may sound like a lot to, for example, Catholics in sub-Saharan Africa.’ “

There is certain to be more written about this synod as days and weeks progress and Bondings 2.0 will provide further updates on LGBT-related reactions as they emerge. We hope to find more commentaries from women and LGBT people, so if you read any, please send a link to

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Synod on the Family from Rome, check out the “Synod 2015” category to the right or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Synod Final Report: Not Much Is Said, But A Lot Has Changed

October 24, 2015

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, on the final report of the Vatican’s Synod on Marriage and the Family:


Bishops and cardinals in the synod hall. (Francis DeBernardo Photograph)

While the final report of the Vatican’s Synod on the Family has not said much in regard to LGBT issues, in fact, a great deal has changed in regard to the discussion on these topics at the highest levels of the Church.

In paragraph 76, the synod’s final report focused its discussion of homosexuality solely on families with lesbian and gay members in them.  This is a step in the right direction, but it must not be the last step.  The other remarks–disapproving of same-gender marriages, and connecting international financial aid to marriage equality laws–have been stated before and are not surprising in this context, however, it is disappointing to see them repeated.

Most disappointing are the references in paragraph 8 to “gender ideology.”  The remarks show that the bishops do not understand the transgender experience or how people experience their gender identity, which is often received as a spiritual, life-giving revelation. More education in this area is needed in the church, particularly for our bishops.

The reference in paragraph 65 that adopted children should be raised by a mother and a father is also disappointing.  This statement denigrates the many heroic sacrifices made by lesbian and gay couples raising children unwanted by others, as well as the many single parent households raising children, often under very stressful economic and social conditions.

Helping to heal family divisions that exist because of lack of understanding of homosexuality or ignorance of Catholic teaching respecting the human dignity of lesbian and gay people is an important and needed ministry, especially in countries where awareness levels are low. In the United States, ministry with families such as these has been a great, shining hope for LGBT equality, as parents and family members advocate for including their loved ones in the Church.

Last year’s synod opened the door for greater discussion of LGBT issues in the Church.  While the discussion was not as explicit this year, we saw a variety of interesting specific proposals that could eventually have a positive effect on the Church’s pastoral ministry with LGBT people:  a transformation of Church language which has been offensive, harmful, and inaccurate; the need for local bishops to be allowed to respond more pastorally given the unique attitudes and practices of their communities;  the desire for the Church to be more of a listening presence and accompanying friend instead of a disciplinarian rule giver.

We heard bishops willing to speak up for lesbian and gay people, including an apology from the German speaking bishops for the harm that Church.  We heard bishops say that pastoral ministry must go forward regardless of whether a person’s opinions and life conform to the Church’s teaching.  We heard bishops say that the road has been paved for a better discussion of these issues in the future.

Even though this synod did not achieve a stronger statement of LGBT acceptance, the movement for a more inclusive and equal Church for LGBT members can take hope from this meeting because the discussion has moved forward and we’ve heard that a large number of bishops see the need for this discussion to continue into the future.

We are heartened by the proposal coming from one of the English speaking groups, and also Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny, for a totally separate synod in the future on LGBT issues.  Such an endeavor would not only give the time and focus needed to look at the myriad questions involved–including questions of gender identity, absent entirely from this synod– but also to hear, first-hand, from LGBT people themselves, their families, and pastoral ministers.

The bishops at this synod said they want a church that is a listening church.  In 1997, the U.S. bishops, in their pastoral letter Always Our Children, on families with lesbian and gay members, advised pastoral ministers: “Strive first to listen.”  If bishops, pastoral ministers, and all Catholics will follow this sound, pastoral advice, they can transform the church into a welcoming and inclusive community for all, including our LGBT brothers and sisters.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Live from the Vatican! A Request from Sister Jeannine Gramick

October 13, 2015
Dear Bondings 2.0 Readers,
As many of you have been reading , New Ways Ministry’s executive director, Francis DeBernardo is live from the Vatican’s Synod on the Family this month. Frank is doing ground-breaking work in Rome, trying to be a voice of LGBT equality at the synod’s public press briefings every day.  (Click here or scroll down to read today’s report.) We want him to stay there until the end of the synod, but the cost of doing so presents a problem.
Frank and Jeannine rome

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo in St. Peter’s Square, Rome.

Would you be able to help keep Frank in Rome until the synod ends on October 25th, so that he can keep asking questions and make sure that our message of LGBT equality is heard in Rome?  If so, click here, fill out the form, and write “Keep Frank at the Synod” in the “Comments” box.

Last week, at the Vatican press briefing, he asked an archbishop from Ghana whether African bishops would support a synod statement on the criminalization of lesbian and gay people.  The archbishop’s response was a breakthrough in the silence or complicity that church leaders have had concerning these repressive laws. You can find his full answer and see a video on this blog by clicking here.
If you would like to read all his past reports so far, please click here.  If you would like to follow his reports via email, just add your email address in the “Follow” box at the top of the column on the right-hand side of this page, and click the “Follow” button.
The synod is a vitally important opportunity to move LGBT equality forward in our Church. Would you be able to send a donation today? If so, click here, fill out the form, and write “Keep Frank at the Synod” in the “Comments” box. 
Whether or not you can donate, we also ask that you keep Frank and the synod of bishops in your prayers. Your prayers are our most precious gift. We keep you in our prayers, with gratitude, every day.
Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL
Co-Founder, New Ways Ministry


New Ways Ministry Welcomes Pope Francis to Philly with Catholic Gender Identity Workshop

September 27, 2015

Just as Pope Francis began his schedule in Philadelphia, Catholics gathered in a church hall in downtown to explore ideas and personal experiences about gender identity. The New Ways Ministry-sponsored workshop, titled “Transforming Love,” featured four speakers sharing their stories of being trans*, of being intersex, of being an LGBTQI person’s family member–and doing all of this as Catholics.

Julie Chovanes

After an opening communal prayer service, Julie Chovanes, a transexual Catholic woman from Philadelphia, began the morning’s presentations. Steve Ahlquist of reported:

“Chovanes was raised in the Byzantine Catholic tradition. . .Coming out and transitioning has been a challenge, but she feels she has ‘been accepted in the city, I feel that Philadelphia is the best city in the world for [trans persons].”

“I don’t consider myself a man or a girl. . .I am a trans. My brain and my soul are a woman’s, but my body is a man’s. . .My life is a testament to God’s glory.’ “

Later in the workshop, having claimed “I am very proud of who I am,” Chovanes highlighted her privileged experience compared to many other trans persons. She is a successful lawyer whose marriage and family remained intact while she transitioned. Chovanes lifted up trans people of color who suffer most in the U.S. due to economic hardships and physical and emotional violence.

delfin bautista, who identifies as trans* and specifically two-spirit or genderqueer, spoke next. [delfin does not use male or female singular personal pronouns for self-reference.  Instead delfin prefers the non-gendered plural “they, them, their” pronoun set for self-identification.  Also, delfin’s name is correctly spelled with lower-case initial letters.]   delfin began listing their many personal identities that “sometimes clash and sometimes coexist.” These include being Catholic and being the LGBT Center director at Ohio University.

delfin bautista

bautista detailed their Latino/a Catholic upbringing as they came to know themselves more authentically in an ongoing journey to know “what means to be both/and rather than either/or.” RIFuture quoted bautista:

“Being different is not an option. . .I wore dresses and played princess. I prayed every night to wake up in a new body, but was greeted with silence.’

” ‘When I came out I came out as gay because that’s all I knew, but even then I knew it didn’t fit me. . .My mom wanted to help me and sent me to therapy to be cured. I don’t hate my mother, she was trying to help me.’ “

bautista gently explained the concept of transitioning, saying it was not a matter of changing one’s identity but rather of affirming one’s identity and sharing it with others. The journey is a communal one, involving a person’s partner, friends, and family members.

Responding to participants’ questions, the speakers zeroed in on trans* oppression by the lesbian and gay communities. Chovanes alluded to the historic Stonewall riots in 1969, reminding those at the worksthop that it was trans* people who kicked off the LGBT movement.

bautista said, “We’ve been coming out. We’ve been here for centuries.” They added that sexism and misogyny still silence trans feminine voices even within LGBT circles, bautista’s expanded this critique to the Black Lives Matter movement which has prioritized black men who are killed even though trans women of color face the highest rates of violence.

Both turned to Scripture to further their points, Chovanes highlighting the Apostle Philip’s merciful treatment of the Ethiopian eunuch (see Acts of the Apostles 8) who is as he is not because of sin but “for the greater glory of God” and noting that from Genesis to Galatians, gender is presented as a spectrum.

Vilma Santamaria

The workshop’s second panel featured two speakers from El Salvador. Nicole Santamaria is an intersex Catholic woman and activist, now residing in the U.S.  She was joined by Vilma Santamaria, her mother and a teacher involved with feminist advocacy.

Assigned male at birth, Nicole identified as a girl by the age of three and thought of running away as early as age five. When she finally came out to her mother, Vilma responded, “I love you, whoever you are. I will always have you in my heart.” Vilma had known her daughter was different from a young age. Less understanding was Nicole’s father at whose hands she suffered greatly in adolescence, which she described for

” ‘[I was told,] don’t talk like that, don’t move your hands like that! Oh my God, don’t breathe like that! . . .My father mentally and physically tortured me. He’d heat up coins and burn my nipples.”

Nicole Santamaria

Her father’s damage destroyed her natural breasts and early medical help was equally problematic, but eventually through reconstructive surgery Nicole is now able to present as she identifies. Though she is “passing” [meaning: being visibly recognized as a woman], a term she said she only recently learned in the U.S., Nicole refuses to remain silent and rest in that privilege. As she stated:

“God gave me the opportunity to survive. I’m going to continue to speak out for those who didn’t.”

Citing that faith for the “strength to continue,” she told

“I came here to the World Meeting of Families with Pope Francis, to speak for the voices that were silenced by those who will torture them, by those who will kill them. And the voices that were silenced already by people who feel they have permission and they have the obligation to murder us, to exterminate us, to persecute us, because their religion told them that it is okay to kill a person that is different. When every religious leader spoke out against sexual diversity, or even against abortion, a transgender woman is killed. Every time those kind of things are heard, that means death. Whenever this is reported in the media, you can read the comments from the people, and the comments are, They deserve it, they are abominations, God doesn’t love them, it is okay.”

Violence against LGBTQI people in El Salvador is extensive and often involves sexual violence and torture as well as physical assault. Nicole is currently seeking asylum in the U.S. because, as she told her mother, “I left my country because I won’t let you recognize my body in pieces.”  She left El Salvador after several physical attacks and more than several authentic death threats.

The speakers’ words showed the power and grace present at the workshop yesterday morning.  Their words were filled in by many smaller interpersonal conversations by participants who shared their faith, their identities, and their hopes as well as pains. You can get a glimpse of the atmosphere in this video from Religion News Service.

It is worth noting, finally, that this workshop almost did not happen after Archbishop Charles Chaput ejected it and other LGBT-related events coinciding with last week’s World Meeting of Families from a local Catholic parish. Thankfully, a Arch Street United Methodist Church, a nearby congregation at opened its doors and its arms to the New Ways Ministry program, as well as to Equally Blessed’s World Meeting of Families pilgrims, thus allowing LGBT and Ally Catholics to witness to the power of faith, hope, and love, in their lives, relationships, and families.

To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Equally Blessed pilgrimage, the World Meeting of Families, and/or Pope Francis visit to the U.S., you can click here

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

At Philly’s World Meeting of Families: Not Much Time Given to Homosexuality, But LGBT Catholics Keep Conversation Going

September 26, 2015

Ron Belgau and his mother, Beverly Belgau, at the World Meeting of Families.

The World Meeting of Families’ (WMF) only session on homosexuality was held Thursday afternoon, drawing more than 750 people to the talk featuring a Catholic celibate gay man, Ron Belgau, and his mother, Beverley.

Their aim, according to an interview in Slate, was to “help Catholic families to be better at loving LGBT people.” In the session, the Belgaus shared their personal stories, this being the first time since WMF began two decades ago that an openly gay person has spoken. Beverley Belgau called Ron’s coming out “the worst day of my life.” They also reiterated current teachings on homosexuality which mandates celibacy, though they admitted church leaders’ response to LGB Catholics could be improved.

The Belgaus’ session was standing room only, due in part to a last minute room change that left hundreds of would-be attendees standing outside, reported Religion News Service. World Meeting of Families officials did not comment on why a session concerning homosexuality was shifted from a plenary hall capable of holding 10,000 to a much smaller room with the capacity for only 1,000. Call To Action’s Ryan Hoffman commented:

” ‘We are just trying to understand and give [World Meeting of Families officials] the benefit of the doubt. . .This just speaks to the fact that people want to talk about LGBT Catholics and their relationship with the Catholic Church.”

Following the lecture, a question and answer period lasted two hours, at which point those still present were asked to leave the room, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer. Some questions were concrete, like whether a Catholic could attend a family member’s same-sex marriage to which Beverley Belgau suggested that whatever the questioner decides to “do it with love.” Others challenged Ron Belgau’s underlying assertions, like Fortunate Families board member Ed Buechel’s criticism of mandatory celibacy:

” ‘That’s fine for somebody who has been given the gift from God of chastity and celibacy. . .I’m the father of a gay son. . .He’s 34 years old. He loves his church and he loves his God. But because of the conflict between the teachings of the church and his wanting to stay a good Catholic, he had a nervous breakdown 12 years ago.’ “

Titled “Always Consider the Person: Homosexuality in the Family,” critics claim it failed to consider the person and focused primarily on enforcing rigid understandings of sexuality. Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA wrote on Facebook:

“[T]he problems started for me when they spoke of Ron as having ‘same-sex attraction.’ This immediately takes it/us to a place of disorder, illness, defect. That leads to dehumanization, a sense of moral inferiority, and assumption of sinfulness. From there we get to discrimination, exclusion and violence. That whole chain was never addressed. There was no sense of identity as intrinsic to personhood, or of our sexual orientation as blessed gift. The view of ‘Church’ presented was also disempowered and hierarchical.”

delfín bautista, another Equally Blessed pilgrim, said in the session that LGBT Catholics are not struggling with who they are, but “with the rejection and marginalization that exists within society and also within the church.”

The lack of LGBT Catholic perspectives, except for Ron Belgau’s celibate life, was striking. Ronnie Polaneczky, columnist for the Daily News, called it a “wasted opportunity,” writing further:

“Really? This is the best that the church has for LGBT Catholics – the expectation that they be celibate? At this extraordinary meeting of Catholics from around the globe, why is this celibate gay man the only representation of the church’s LGBT members?”

Equally Blessed pilgrims and others debrief about the World Meeting of Families on Friday afternoon.

LGBT Catholics Respond

The opportunity was not entirely wasted because LGBT Catholics and their families associated with the Equally Blessed pilgrimage kept the conversation going during a Thursday evening panel.

Featuring Claire Dente, John Freml of Equally Blessed, and Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA, the conversation became an honest and at times heated dialogue on not only Ron Belgau’s talk but broader questions in the Catholic LGBT movement.

One theme panelists picked up on was the need to positively appraise and present diverse sexual and gender identities.

Freml said homosexuality is “not a disorder, a curse, a birth defect. It’s a gift. It’s cause to celebrate.” Duddy-Burke spoke about coming out as a Resurrection experience, adding LGBT folks need to be more outspoken in celebrating their fabulousness. Dente pointed out that though God’s voice is speaking through same-gender relationships, when LGBT people are excluded from the table that part of God’s voice is stifled.

Those in attendance added to the conversation for more than an hour, respectfully, though honestly, dialoguing about sensitive topics. These included the need to diversify the LGBT movement, incorporating global perspectives as well as centering communities of color in the U.S.  Greater solidarity by LGBT communities with those movements for racial, economic, or migration justice was requested by several attendees.

Others highlighted the pain Catholics feel when their priests and religious remain silent in the face of injustice. Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, spoke movingly about the fear that keeps many from taking prophetic action and emphasized the need to educate church leaders.

Having attended this response period, I witnessed in the church hall an embodiment of precisely the loving dialogue called for repeatedly by Pope Francis during his U.S. visit.  As they have for a long time, LGBT Catholics and their families are fostering encounters in the church–a very hope-filled witness. I was also aware of the deep pain all too present for LGBT Catholics and their family members–a pain church leaders are not only inattentive to, but too often inflict. It cannot be forgotten even for those of us who find hope in what has happened this week.

Mustard Seeds Planted

The Eighth World Meeting of Families with all its LGBT-related controversies and failure to welcome all families has concluded at last. Equally Blessed pilgrims generally reported respect from WMF participants in the many one-on-one conversations held, but there were also moments of hostility. Fortunate Families board member Tony Garascia told NBC 10 that some at the WMF asked why Catholic parents of LGBT children even bothered attending and claimed gay children were perverted.

Still, from my perspective, we must focus on the seeds of love and faith planted all over the Philadelphia by Equally Blessed’s pilgrims. Their deep sharing in conversation, challenging questions, and rainbow witness are the mustard seeds by which God’s inclusive grace will expand narrow-minded areas of our church increasingly into a Catholic Church that is, to quote Pope Francis, “home for all.”

To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of and from the World Meeting of Families, click the appropriate category to the right or you can find it here

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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