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


Standing Erect in the Face of Catastrophes—Cosmic and Otherwise

November 29, 2015

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by New Ways Ministry’s Associate Director, Matthew Myers.  The liturgical readings for the First Sunday of Advent are Jeremiah 33:1416; Psalm 25:4-5,8-10,14; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

Today’s Gospel sets a pretty bleak scene.  Cosmic catastrophe.  War on earth.  Oceans in turmoil.  People dying of fright.  It sounds like a disaster flick worthy of Hollywood.  

To be honest, most interpretations of this Gospel reading are lost on me.  I harbor polite but thoroughly disinterested feelings toward the Second Coming of Jesus and the need for apocalyptic vigilance; these things do not offer much direction or inspiration for my daily life.  But the kernel of this reading with profound meaning for me is the seemingly innocuous exhortation for Christians to “stand erect and raise [their] heads” in spite of awful circumstances.  

What type of person can stand tall during terrible adversity, even when others shrink away?  A person with integrity. Such a person knows what they are for and what they are against — and has the courage to consistently speak and act in accordance with these values.  You can trust a person with integrity because they do what they believe and believe what they do.  In other words, what you see is what you get.  That type of wholeness — indeed, of holiness — gives a person strength and courage, even in the dire straits of today’s Gospel reading, when others readily die of fright.  

What does a person with integrity look like in real life?  Frank Mugisha is a Catholic LGBT rights activist who in 2014 said, “I am a gay man. I am also Ugandan. There is nothing un-African about me.”  Mugisha risks life and limb to speak the truth about his sexual orientation in a hostile culture.  He could have made innumerable (and understandable) excuses to remain in the closet and preserve both his privacy and his safety.  But as a person of integrity, Mugisha chooses to advocate for his own rights and the rights of all LGBT Africans; he has the courage to stand tall, be seen, and speak his truth to church and state because to do otherwise would be a violation of himself and his values.  I think Frank Mugisha hears and is responding prophetically to the Gospel writer’s call to “stand erect and raise your heads.”

In perhaps less dramatic circumstances than Mugisha, what does this call to integrity mean to us?   Most LGBT people have struggled intensely to define their identity (e.g. Am I gay? What is my gender?) and their values (e.g. Should I come out to my loved ones? Should I publicly transition my gender?) in a less than welcoming church and society.  Fortunately, many  of these same LGBT people have chosen to stand tall, be seen, and speak their truth publicly.  We must continue their work by choosing to be people of integrity, by sharing our stories, and by remaining faithful to our values.  In this way,  I believe LGBT people can cultivate the gifts of honesty and wholeness in our Catholic faith communities — by bringing what is hidden into the light, by encouraging each person to grapple with the hard questions of life.  

As we begin this Advent season, each of us receives a call to stand tall and be seen for who we are.  May we persevere in our efforts and, as the Psalmist writes today, “increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”

Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry


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

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

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


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