Two Jesuits Offer Contrasting Reactions to Repeal of Guidelines Protecting Transgender Youth

U.S. bishops, including Bishop George Murry, S.J., have applauded the Trump administration’s decision to rescind federal guidelines aimed at protecting transgender students. In contrast, Fr. James Martin, S.J. criticized those who oppose transgender rights. But which of these two paths taken by Jesuit priests will Catholics follow should LGBT rights become repealed.

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Archbishop Charles Chaput and President Donald Trump

In a joint letter, Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap.,were of Philadelphia and Bishop George Murry, S.J. of Youngstown, in their respective capacities as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth and Committee on Catholic Education, said they were “grateful” that the Trump administration has revoked a “Dear Colleagues” letter with guidelines for protecting transgender students that was issued during the Obama administration.

Describing the Trump administration’s decision, The New York Times reported that “top civil rights officials from the Justice Department and the Education Department rejected the Obama administration’s position” which had expanded nondiscrimination protections based on sex to include trans youth in public schools. Those protections allowed trans students to use sex-segregated spaces, like bathrooms and locker rooms, consistent with their gender, and to have their name and pronouns respected at school.

When the “Dear Colleagues” letter was issued last May, Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo and Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha released a statement calling it “deeply disturbing.” Elsewhere, Catholic groups sued the Department of Health and Human Services last year to prevent implementation healthcare nondiscrimination protections similar to the education guidelines.

screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-10-48-38-amBut Fr. James Martin, S.J., took a different approach than his Jesuit counterpart, Bishop Murry. In a series of tweets on February 22nd, when the policy change was announced, Martin indirectly criticized the decision by expressing his support for transgender youth. Martin said:

  • #Trans students endure so many indignities already. They should be able to use whatever bathrooms they choose. It’s doesn’t hurt anybody.
  • It saddens me that a #trans student cannot choose what bathrooms to use. A basic need. It’s an affront to their dignity as human beings.
  • And who is harmed by a #trans student using a bathroom? I’ve seen women using men’s rooms when the ladies’ rooms were full. Who is harmed?
  • As usual, the one who is made to suffer indignities is the one on the margins, the one seen as “other,” the one seen as “them.”
  • But for Jesus, there is no “other.” There is no “them.” There is only “us.” So we must be about openness, acceptance and inclusion. #trans

screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-10-50-04-amFr. Martin, who received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge-Building Award last October, also posted messages on Facebook that were similar to his tweets. Last May, when the Obama administration implemented the now-rescinded directive, Martin, in an interview, said respecting trans people was a “fairly simple thing to do.

It is worth noting that another Jesuit priest and theologian, Fr. Gilles Mongeau, SJ, recently defended a transgender rights bill in Canada.

massingale_2The action of Frs. Martin and Mongeau align with theologians exhortations that the church should provide pastoral care to trans people and promote their human wholeness, while not treating trans people with with pity. Fr. Bryan Massingale has written movingly about why the church cannot abandon transgender people. (Note: Fr. Massingale will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” this April. For more information, please visit www.symposium2017.org).

Supporting trans people is consistent with church teaching, and already practiced by many of the faithful, especially outside the U.S. Indeed, historically Catholic nations have led on expanding rights for trans and intersex people: Malta has enacted what is considered the gold standard of gender identity laws in Europe, and the Associated Press reported that Argentina has “the world’s most far-reaching laws” that allow children as young as 6 to have official documents which conform with their gender identity. In India, the bishops’ development agency launched an outreach program for trans people, and Catholics helped open the nation’s first school with supports for trans youth.

Speaking about hope in a recent weekly audience, Pope Francis said that the hope given to us by God “does not separate us from others, nor does it lead us to discredit or marginalize them.” With a U.S. federal government now led by politicians with long records of hostility toward LGBT rights, it is now more urgent than ever for Catholics to reject Bishop Murry’s path of exclusion and discrimination and instead choose Fr. Martin’s path of compassion and inclusion.

You can find more of Bondings 2.0’s coverage of gender identity issues in our “Transgender” category to the right or by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 25, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

NEWS NOTES: Peru, Britain, Poland, Virginia

News NotesHere are some items that might be of interest:

  1. In the heavily Catholic nation of Peru, a recent rise in progressive activism for LGBT equality was recently met with conservative groups organizing a “March for Heterosexual Pride,” according to an article on Towelroad.comSimilarly, in protest to a new sex education and gender equality curriculum, a new group called “Don’t Mess With My Children.”  The group opposes what they call “gender ideology,” a term favored by many Catholic conservative bishops and Pope Francis.

2. The British Medical Association’s new set of staff guidelines encourages employees not to use the term “expectant mothers,” but instead should refer to “pregnant people,” according to The Telegraph. The purpose of the terminology change is to not offend transgender and intersex men who can or have been pregnant.  Bishop Philip Egan, the Roman Catholic bishop of Portsmouth, England, predicted that the new terminology would cause “great confusion and harm.”

3. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said that he did not think the predominantly Catholic nation would accept a change in the Constitution to allow for same-sex marriage, according to TheNews.pl. Duda, a member of the ruling Law and Justice party, which promotes traditional Polish values, family and Catholic traditions, stated in an interview: “I do not think that the political majority today would agree to any amendment to the Constitution in this area, water down this clause and open interpretation that marriage could also include other genders.”  Poland is one of seven nations in the 28-member European Union which bans same-sex marriage, and one of six nations in the federation which does not allow civil unions.

4. The Senate of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the U.S.A., has approved a religious liberty bill that would prevent the government from punishing religious organizations which do not allow for same-sex marriage, according to The Christian Times.  The state’s House of Delegates also approved a similar bill.  Both bills appear to be in response to the executive order issued by Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Catholic, that prohibits state contracts from being given to organizations which do not have an anti-discrimination policy protecting sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Virginia Catholic Conference called the two bills “top priority” legislation.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 19, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

 

QUOTE TO NOTE: Religious Liberty Is Not a Zero-Sum Game

computer_key_Quotation_MarksI read an interesting comment the other day on a blog dedicated to “the pursuit of LGBT equality and gun sanity.”  The blog, uniquely titled The Slowly Boiled Frog, is written by David Cary Hart, a gay man who was the victim of gun violence.

Hart’s post focused on the question of religious liberty.  At the conclusion of the post, Hart comments on a recent essay by Ryan T. Anderson, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.  Anderson regularly writes on marriage, bioethics, religious liberty and political philosophy.  In responding to Anderson’s latest essay, Hart stated:

“Anderson insists that everyone is created heterosexual and cisgender. Anderson has an Ivy League education and a PhD from Notre Dame and I think that he is gay. Yet he finds the need to assert that sexual orientation and gender identity are acquired traits, presumably to suggest that they can be altered. This, in turn, justifies discrimination. Anderson’s only concern in life seems to be LGBT discrimination in one form or another because Anderson lives in a zero-sum universe. Every measure of equality for LGBT people is somehow a deduction from his Catholic religion. In other words, faith conquers intellect and common sense.”

First, a disclaimer: to my knowledge, Anderson has not made any public statement about his sexual orientation, so I don’t think that Hart’s assessment is legitimate in this regard.  However, I find his analysis of Anderson’s argument very insightful.

Hart points out a problem that I think needs to be more fully examined in the religious liberty debate: the zero-sum universe.  So much of the argumentation about religious liberty imagines that one side has to give up something in favor of the other side.  Religious leaders too often see the expansion of equality for LGBT people as the diminishment of their liberty.

Such does not have to be the case, especially for Catholics.  The history of Catholicism is replete with examples where great thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas, and John Courtney Murray reconciled faith with secular thought.  More work needs to be done with finding common ground instead of fighting a turf war.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 18, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Catholics Do NOT Support Religious Refusals to Gays and Lesbians

A new survey reveals that a majority of Catholics oppose allowing small businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian people because of a religiously held belief.

The data from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows that 63% of Hispanic Catholics and 61% of White Catholics object to these religiously based refusals.  When compared to the general American population, of which 61% oppose these refusals, the data shows what many pollsters have long observed:  U.S. Catholics poll equivalently with the general population.

The survey examined the opinions of a wide range of religious traditions and found that a majority of almost all traditions opposed religious refusals.  Unitarian/Universalists showed the greatest opposition, with 87% responding negatively to the idea.  Mormons and Hispanic Protestants showed the smallest amount of opposition, with 52% of each responding negatively. The only group not showing a majority of opposition was White Evangelicals, with 42% responding negatively, 50% supporting religious refusals, and 8% undecided.

The same report also showed that a majority of religious Americans support marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.   Catholics showed greater support for marriage equality than the general U.S. population.  While 58% of all Americans support marriage equality, 63% of White Catholics and 62% of Hispanic Catholics do so.

The PRRI report pointed out an interesting political phenomenon when it compared opposition to marriage equality with opposition to religious refusals.  In five traditions surveyed which showed opposition to marriage equality–Black Protestants, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hispanic Protestants,  and Mormons–a majority of each of these groups still opposed allowing religious refusals.  The data suggests that religious people who do not support marriage equality still believe that gay and lesbian people should not face discrimination because of someone’s religious belief.

You can look at all the data by clicking here.

U.S. Catholic bishops have supported a broad campaign for a definition of religious liberty which allows for discrimination against LGBT people.  Perhaps the bishops should pause from this campaign for a while and listen to the voices of the people in the pews on this issue.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 8, 2017

 

Under Trump, Will Transgender Lives Matter for Catholic Hospitals?

With the Affordable Care Act (ACA) under siege by the new U.S. president, many people in the U.S. are worried about changes in their healthcare, especially LGBT communities for whom access to competent and affordable healthcare can sometimes be more problematic than for most people.

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Jionni Conforti

Of concern to Catholics is the unclear position that church leaders and church-affiliated providers will take towards LGBT people in this unfolding situation. A closer look into one transgender man’s experience with a Catholic hospital reveals just what is at stake in the coming months.

Bondings 2.0 reported last month about the lawsuit filed by Jionni Conforti against St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in New Jersey. You can read an initial report by clicking here. The suit alleges that the hospital refused to perform a hysterectomy which was a “medically necessary as part of [Conforti’s] gender transition.” Conforti’s lawyer, Omar Gonzalez-Pagan of Lambda Legal, told the progressive media outlet Rewire:

“‘For them to say, in writing, we’re not going to do this service, or provide the ability to have these facilities available for this service, because it has to do with your gender identity, and it has to do with the medical treatment for your gender dysphoria, really is discrimination at its core. . .And for them to use religion as an excuse for this discrimination, I think, is something that cannot be accepted.'”

Conforti said the alleged discrimination has been especially painful because St. Joseph’s was his “neighborhood hospital,” where family members have been treated and “where I feel comfortable.” For this reason, though he underwent the hysterectomy elsewhere, Conforti remains troubled:

“[He said,]’My main concern right now is that I still live in Totowa and I’ve lived here my entire life, so in the event of an emergency, the only place that an ambulance would take me is to St. Joseph’s. . .And, you know, I worry that, God forbid something happened, what would I do, how would I be treated? So it’s a constant fear.’

“In October 2016, that fear partly came true. Conforti was in a car accident in Wayne, New Jersey, and suffered minor injuries. The emergency service technicians recommended he get emergency care, but said they could only take him to the two St. Joseph’s locations nearby. If he wanted to go elsewhere, he would have to hire a private ambulance. Afraid to seek care from St. Joseph’s, Conforti instead asked his wife to drive him about 25 minutes away, to another hospital in Montclair, New Jersey.”

Sadly, Conforti’s circumstances are not unique. Many trans people cannot access competent and affordable healthcare, or may even avoid healthcare fearful of discrimination. Rewire cited data from the National Center for Transgender Equality that reveals “23 percent of trans people avoided going to the doctor because they feared discrimination; one-third of respondents had at least one negative experience with their provider, including having to educate the provider on trans people in order to receive appropriate care.”

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 helped to improve healthcare for trans communities, especiallly since Section 1557 established non-discrimination protections based on sex, a class that was interpreted by the Obama administration to include gender identity. It is unclear whether such protections would still hold if the ACA is repealed and replaced by an as yet uknown program devised by Republican legislators.  Even if the ACA is not repealed, it is uncertain whether the Trump administration will interpret the non-discrimination protections in the same way as the Obama administration did.

Even if the ACA and its non-discrimination protections remain in place, will religiously-affiliated providers be allowed to discriminate under existing or even expanded exemptions? St. Joseph’s cited the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” to justify its refusal to provide care for Conforti, guidelines which dictate care for “one in six hospital beds nationwide,” according to Rewire.

Just two weeks after Inauguration Day, efforts to repeal the ACA are well underway. There are more questions than answers about what comes next. But church leaders and Catholic providers do not have to wait and see what happens nationally. They can decide right now to provide high-quality, lifesaving care for LGBT patients.

Catholic hospitals and health systems can choose freely to adopt non-discrimination protections inclusive of gender and sexual minorities. They can train providers to be informed about the unique health needs of LGBT patients, and to provide additional services and programs that may be required. The complexities of law, ethics, and institutional bureaucracies are real, but there is wisdom, too, in Conforti’s statement:

“If there is a procedure that is medically necessary, there should be no question whether or not they will do it. . .No one should be rejected or denied care, especially just for being who you are.'”

Nothing in church teaching restricts more inclusive policies and practices from being enacted in church-affiliated healthcare. Indeed, the Catholic identity so often cited to deny care to patients like Jionni Conforti is the very mandate for why such actions must be now taken. With LGBT communities under attack, this is a moment in history for Catholic hospitals to state decisively that transgender lives, and the lives of all LGBT people matter immensely.

And if inspiration is needed, Catholics can look to St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City which, in 1973, adopted a non-discrimination policy inclusive of sexual orientation.

To get started on an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy at your Catholic parish, school, hospital, or social service agency, contact New Ways Ministry at info@newwaysministry.org or (301) 277-5674. You can also find more information on making this change here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 6, 2017

 

Catholics Sign Flawed Document on Religious Freedom

At least 19 people identified as Catholics or employed by Catholic institutions have joined a group of 75 religious leaders in endorsing a “religious freedom” statement issued in December 2016 by The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

Entitled “Preserve Freedom, Reject Coercion,” the seven-paragraph manifesto claims that religious freedom is under attack because of the adoption of SOGI (sexual orientation, gender identity) laws which have adopted these categories as “protected classifications in the law—either legislatively or through executive action.”

While such statements are not uncommon, and while conservative Catholic support for them is certainly not unusual, it is still surprising to find Catholic leaders agreeing to sign this particular document since it is so poorly worded and argued.  For example, at one point, the statement claims:

“Creative professionals, wedding chapels, non-profit organizations, ministries serving the needy, adoption agencies, businesses, schools, religious colleges, and even churches have faced threats and legal action under such laws for declining to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony; for maintaining policies consistent with their guiding principles; and for seeking to protect privacy by ensuring persons of the opposite sex do not share showers, locker rooms, restrooms, and other intimate facilities.”

I have followed marriage equality laws carefully, and I do not know of any law in the U.S.  (or elsewhere, for that matter) which compel religious people or institutions to participate in same-sex ceremonies.  I also do not know of any case where a religious institution has been penalized for not providing facilities for transgender people to use that are consistent with their gender identity.  In fact, there have been cases where Catholic educational institutions have voluntarily provided such facilities for students because they see that as part of their religious mission.

Additionally, the statement makes a sweeping generalization which condemns religious exemptions as weak and ineffective:

We therefore believe that proposed SOGI laws, including those narrowly crafted, threaten fundamental freedoms, and any ostensible protections for religious liberty appended to such laws are inherently inadequate and unstable.

What is most surprising about this statement is that religious exemptions that  have been incorporated into these laws have been done so not only at the request of religious leaders, but often with their active participation in crafting such exemptions.  Are they now saying that the input of themselves and their colleagues was inadequate?

Overgeneralizing is also evident in one of the documents concluding passages:

“SOGI laws in all these forms, at the federal, state, and local levels, should be rejected. We join together in signing this letter because of the serious threat that SOGI laws pose to fundamental freedoms guaranteed to every person.”

Really?  What about SOGI laws which protect victims of hate crimes or which punish what the Catholic Church has determined is “unjust discrimination” against LGBT people?  How do the Catholic leaders who signed this document justify this statement in light of what the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in its 1986 Letter on pastoral care with lesbian and gay people:

“It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.”

Among the Catholics who added their names to this document are:  Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, Chairman, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; William Fahey,President, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts; Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, President, Aquinas College; Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Chairman, USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishops George V. Murry, S.J. of Youngstown, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Catholic Education; Rev. Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, President, Franciscan University of Steubenville; H. James Towey, President, Ave Maria University; George Weigel, William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, Ethics and Public Policy Center.

The Colson Center website states that the organization “seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending the Christian worldview.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 5, 2017

 

 

New Ways Ministry Responds to Trump and U.S. Bishops on Employment Action

On January 31, 2017,  the White House posted the following statement on its website:

“The executive order signed in 2014, which protects employees from anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination while working for federal contractors, will remain intact at the direction of President Donald J. Trump. “

President Donald Trump

That executive order was issued by President Barck Obama, and a number of religious leaders including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, opposed the measure.  Two leaders of U.S. bishops’ committee expressed disappointment in Trump’s decision to maintain Obama’s executive order.  Archbishop Charles Chaput, Chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Archbishop William Lori, Chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, issued a joint statement which said, in part:

“The new administration’s decision not to rescind Executive Order 13672 is troubling and disappointing.”

In response to Trump’s decision and the bishops’ reaction to it, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, Francis DeBernardo, issued the following statement:

“I am surprised that President Trump has decided to enforce President Obama’s executive order protecting LGBT people working for federal contractors. Trump has included in his administration many people with long records of anti-LGBTQ policies and attitudes—including Vice President Pence. Trump’s electoral campaign and the first two weeks of his administration have shown a stunning lack of sensitivity to diversity issues. He should apply his instincts in this decision to other civil rights issues, including immigration, health care, and labor law.

“Protecting the vulnerable and those in need are solid American values.
It is disappointing, but not surprising, that Archbishop Charles Chaput, Chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Archbishop William Lori, Chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, responded negatively to Trump’s decision. The U.S. bishops fail to see that employment protections to LGBT people are no threat to religious liberty. On the contrary, protecting LGBT people in the workplace is just putting the Catholic Church’s worker justice teaching into practice The majority of U.S. Catholics see this, as poll after poll has shown. sSupporting LGBT equality and justice is a solid Catholic value.”

Interestingly, a Washington Post news article reported that Trump’s decision was not a foregone conclusion. Even up to this past weekend, the decision may have gone in the opposite direction:

“A draft of a potential executive order that began circulating in Washington over the weekend called for overturning then President Obama’s directive barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the federal workforce and by federal contractors.

“The draft order included multiple provisions, such as possible exemptions that would allow adoption agencies and groups receiving federal funds to deny services to LGBT Americans based on their beliefs. The White House statement did not address those possible changes.”

The Washington Post article also carried a reaction statement from a U.S. LGBT political organization:

“Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Tuesday he and other activists remained concerned that the new administration could still undermine other legal protections based on sexual orientation or gender identify.

” ‘Claiming ally status for not overturning the progress of your predecessor is a rather low bar. LGBTQ refugees, immigrants, Muslims and women are scared today, and with good reason. Donald Trump has done nothing but undermine equality since he set foot in the White House,’ Griffin said. ‘Donald Trump has left the key question unanswered — will he commit to opposing any executive actions that allow government employees, taxpayer-funded organizations or even companies to discriminate?’ “

Bondings 2.0 will try to provide more Catholic perspectives on Trump’s decision, as they become available.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 2, 1017