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 info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

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:

IMG_3817

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.
 
Love, 
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 RIFuture.org 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 RIFuture.org:

” ‘[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 RIFuture.org:

“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


Detroit Archbishop Softens Stance on Communion Denial to Pro-Equality Catholics

August 11, 2015

Pope Francis greeting Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit

Detroit’s Archbishop Allen Vigneron may finally be experiencing the ‘Francis Effect,’ as it seems he has softened his stance on Communion for pro-marriage equality Catholics. The new statement comes just as a Catholic organization with negative attitudes toward lesbian and gay relationships is meeting in his archdiocese.

In a statement to the Detroit Free Press, Vigneron reversed his 2013 claim that Catholics supportive of civil marriage equality should refrain from Communion. He urged Catholics with questions about communion reception to consult their pastor about making a decision. Since each person or family’s situation is unique, each may come to different responses.  He stated:

“The Church and her pastors are there to help harmonize these priorities — of being faithful to and open about the truth, and of being loving and compassionate to fellow Catholics in their personal and family lives. Given the variety of circumstances which go into a person’s particular situation, the best way forward for one person may not be best for another.

“In every situation the best solution is the one that assists Catholics to express their love for a family member in accordance with the conviction they solemnly affirm in receiving Holy Communion, that is, their commitment to think and act in communion with Christ and his Church. Whenever it comes to Communion, the objective is never to steer a person away.”

These remarks starkly contrast with those made by Vigneron in 2013 in which he suggested that Catholics who support marriage equality should deny themselves CommunionCatholic parents and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton strongly criticized that statement, encouraging all to keep receiving Communion.

Vigneron is now responding to marriage equality’s expansion across the United States following the Supreme Court’s June ruling, which will mean more same-gender weddings involving Catholics. His greater openness is being lauded by LGBT advocates, like New Ways Ministry’s director Francis DeBernardo who told the Free Press Vigneron’s new statement is signficant:

“It recognizes that people, in their consciences, have to weigh the church’s teachings in their own lives and relationships. That is authentic Catholic teaching. He’s not watering down anything. He’s proclaiming the church’s teaching more accurately than he did back then.”

Linda Karle-Nelson and Tom Nelson, parents of gay children and leaders of Fortunate Families, also focused on the conscience dimension of the statement, saying it was “an invitation” and a “Jesus response” of welcoming all to Communion.

Vigneron’s  statement comes at the same time that a conference co-sponsored by Courage International, a Catholic organization with a negative assessment of homosexual orientation, convenes near Detroit. The archbishop will celebrate the conference’s closing Mass later this week. His softened message seems more in line with Pope Francis’ tone of mercy and inclusion, and is in contrast with some conference speakers such as Janet Smith.

Smith, a Catholic academic, has defined the “gay lifestyle” as being marked by “promiscuity, anonymous sex, heartbreak, sexually transmitted diseases” and suggested marriage equality will lead to the legalization of incest. She also discouraged parents from attending their child’s same-gender wedding, a claim from which even Courage’s director Fr. Paul Check distanced himself.

DeBernardo critiqued views like Smith’s as ignoring current reality, noting that those with such views need to face new facts:

“They have to live and work with the fact that gay and lesbian people are going to get married, and those are people who work in their employment, their communities and their parishes. The people who work with them are going to be their family members and friends. . . They can’t pretend it’s not there. And it seems that’s what they’re trying to do.”


Letter Asks Pope Francis to Encounter LGBT Catholics During U.S. Visit

July 31, 2015

A coalition of Catholic, LGBT, and Hispanic groups have invited Pope Francis to meet with LGBT Catholics during his U.S. visit in September, contrasting with the more cautionary policies of Archbishop Charles Chaput and the 2015 World Meeting of Families. The New York Times reports:

“In a formal letter sent to Pope Francis at the Vatican, groups representing gay and transgender people, Catholics, and Hispanics said the church in America was in the midst of a ‘pastoral crisis’ over gay issues and asked to meet with him while he was in the United States. While some American conservatives are eager to see Pope Francis make use of his popularity on this trip to advance the fight against abortion and same-sex marriage, gay Catholics want him to acknowledge their rejection by the church, and to welcome them as full members with equal access to sacraments like baptism and marriage.”

Signatories included church reform groups (including Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry), gender justice projects, academic figures, LGBT advocates, national Hispanic organizations, and Catholic parents of LGBT children. Their call is for Francis to listen to LGBT Catholics’ stories, too often marked by intolerance and injustice. DignityUSA’s Marianne Duddy-Burke told the Times reporter:

“We see so many people we love abandoning the church because of the kinds of indignities and pain that they’re subjected to…whether it’s being denied a kid’s baptism or hearing a priest make horrible comments during a homily. Everybody’s got stories of pain and alienation, and those things do real harm to people. And it needs to end.”

The Times coverage includes the story of Lui Akira Francesco Matsuo, a transgender Catholic who was rejected from his Detroit parish a few years ago. Matsuo, who is originally from Japan, says Pope Francis “lost my trust” when the pontiff compared gender theory to nuclear weapons, but has hopes for the upcoming visit:

“I want him to extend his hand openly, especially to the transgender community…I am a practicing Catholic. I just don’t have a parish I can call home.”

Nicole Santamaría, an intersex woman from El Salvador, shared her own desires for Pope Francis’ visit:

“To families who are different, let him speak out and say that we are beloved human beings, that we are beloved of God…I don’t want another teenaged boy or girl to take his or her life because they thought that not even God loves them.”

Santamaría and her mother are among fourteen LGBT Catholic families participating in Equally Blessed’s pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families. These families will share their stories and represent the religious experience of Catholic families with LGBT members from around the world. You can lend your support to this effort with a donation here.

Deb Word, the Catholic mother of a gay man who did not come out until he was 23 for fear of going to hell, said she would tell Pope Francis:

“We don’t need to put this kind of trauma on a child’s soul.”

Word works closely with Catholic parents through Fortunate Families, as well as having provided a home for more than 17 LGBT youth experiencing homelessness over the years. The letter calls particular attention to to the plight of LGBT youth who experience elevated levels of bullying, discrimination, self-harm, suicide attempts, substance abuse, homelessness, and family rejection. The letter stated:

“This is a crisis that the church can help to address through effective pastoral care and programs that provides love and support for these youth.”

Initially considered as a speaker at the World Meeting of Families, Word was rejected after acknowledging the harm church teaching has caused LGBT people. Fortunate Families’ application to exhibit was rejected in addition and the only LGBT session at the Meeting will be by a celibate gay man and his mother.

Pope Francis, who has stressed “encounter” as an important part of ministry, should listen to these faith-filled yet pained stories Outreach to LGBT Catholics by the pontiff will be doubly meaningful in Philadelphia, where Archbishop Charles Chaput has helped lead the American bishops’ crusade against many LGBT equality measures. He recently expressed gratitude that a lesbian teacher was fired and said the school exhibited “character and common sense” in being discriminatory.

The archbishop’s actions have prompted Joel Mathis, a Philly-area columnist, to ponder whether Chaput is intentionally opposing Francis’ more merciful and welcoming style, writing in Philadelphia Magazine:

“Chaput seems to have a specific mission in mind — to lay down a marker for what the church’s teachings on gay relationships and should be — and he doesn’t have time to wait until after the pope’s visit to begin making his case. . .The difference between the two men, then, might be one of tone more than substance — but it’s such a difference of tone that it has substance.”

Mark Segal, in a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer , also suggested Chaput should with LGBT Catholics and their families to hear their stories because “Your Archbishop is not a popular man in your Church or the city.”

Even with negative responses from Archbishop Chaput and the World Meeting of Families thus far, those involved with the letter believe Pope Francis has charted a different course on LGBT issues that could allow progress. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told the Times the pontiff was “at least willing to have conversation and interaction” and LGBT issues are no longer a “litmus test” for ecclesial exclusion. He added:

“I don’t think he’s going to be the pope that makes the changes we want…But he’s already taken a number of important steps that will, I think, pave the way for future changes.”

HalltoFrancis_FinalThis record includes meeting with an LGBT advocate during his recent trip to Paraguay, his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment, inviting LGBT pilgrims to VIP seating during an audience in Rome, and welcoming a transgender man rejected by his Spanish parish to the Vatican for a meeting. Francis’ record has prompted other letters and calls for meetings with the U.S. LGBT community, including a recent letter by fired gay priest Fr. Warren Hall.

Whether Pope Francis meets with LGBT Catholics during his U.S. visit, they and their loved ones will be visible and participating in the World Meeting of Families and other events. The pilgrimage is not the only way that LGBT issues will be present in Philadelphia during the WMF. Groups are sponsoring events and programs “outside the walls” of the WMF, but nearby in Philly.

All are welcome to hear and to be heard, an invitation hopefully Pope Francis will take up and be transformed by his encounters with faithful Catholics who love their church while knowing LGBT people are sacred and equal in God’s eyes.

For the latest news regarding the 2015 World Meeting of Families, visit the appropriate category on the right hand side of this page or click here for all the Bondings 2.0 posts covering the preparations for this event.

During the World Meeting of Families, New Ways Ministry will host a half-day workshop on gender diverse families entitled TransForming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholics Perspectives, on Saturday, September 26, 2015, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at St. John the Evangelist Parish Center, 1212 Ludlow Street, Philadelphia.  For more information, click here.

For more information about New Ways Ministry events at WMF, please send inquiry emails to: info@NewWaysMinistry.org. For more information about the Equally Blessed Coalition’s pilgrims to WMF, please click here.   You can donate financially to support these pilgrims’ work by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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