Vatican Wants to Hear from Youth for 2018 Synod

In 2014, there was great excitement when the Vatican announced that in preparation for the extraordinary synod on the family,  it would be sending out a questionnaire to local bishops to solicit opinions and perspectives from the people in their dioceses.

In the U.S., at least, the excitement soon fizzled when it soon became apparent that many bishops were not distributing the survey broadly, but instead, some handpicked responders.  In 2015, with a similar Vatican questionnaire, there was wider distribution, but still pockets of reluctance on the part of some bishops to really listen to what people were saying about family, marriage, children, sexuality, gender.

Pope Francis poses for a selfie with young people at World Youth Day in 2013.

As the Vatican prepares for the 2018 synod on youth, officials in Rome have decided to bypass the bishops in terms of soliciting the opinions specifically from youth in the Church.  Instead of distributing a survey or questionnaire for bishops to disseminate, the Vatican has set up a website for youth to speak their minds directly to Vatican officials. The website, http://www.sinodogiovani.va, (Translation: “youth synod”) will not be live until March 1, 2017.

Robert Mickens, a longtime Vatican observer, reported in his “Letter from Rome” column posted on the Commonweal website:

“Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, head of the Rome-based secretariat that coordinates the Synod’s activities, told journalists on Friday that his office was launching a website in March that will allow youngsters to honestly raise questions and share their views about life and faith inside the Catholic church.

“He said their input—in addition to a questionnaire sent to bishops and heads of religious orders—would then form a substantial part of the working document (instrumentum laboris) that will frame the discussions when Pope Francis convenes the XV General Assembly of the Synod in October 2018 around the topic, ‘Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.’ “

In a letter addressed to youth, released when the website was announced, Pope Francis encouraged their participation in the electronic forum, stating:

“A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity. Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master. The Church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism. Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls. St. Benedict urged the abbots to consult, even the young, before any important decision, because ‘the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.’ (Rule of St. Benedict, III, 3).”

Why is this development important for LGBT issues?

First, a number of observers had commented that during the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family, the data collection and summarization was potentially and very probably biased toward what local bishops wanted to hear.   Since the questionnaire was distributed by bishops, and then the answers collected and summarized by the same officials, people’s voices were filtered. Such filtering would be the case even from the most open-minded bishops because filtering is inevitable when collating and summarizing responses.

Second, as survey after survey has shown, young Catholics, here in the U.S. and in many nations abroad, take LGBT equality and justice much more seriously than older generations and church officials.  By allowing youth to speak for themselves directly to the Vatican, the likelihood that there will be strong voices for greater acceptance of and advocacy for LGBT people will surely come through loud and clear.   Not to mention that youth have a much different attitude toward sexuality and gender generally than Church leaders typically do.

Mickens notes that the Vatican may be in for an earful, but that this might be exactly what they want.  He commented:

“Giving such a prominent voice to the young people themselves (which the Vatican identifies as between ages sixteen and twenty-nine) could open up a can of worms. In fact, the internet initiative has the potential of soliciting a whole range of opinions and criticism that the church’s pastors may not want or be prepared to hear.

“But, no doubt, that’s what the pope wants. And he may see the younger generation as a resource and ally in bringing change to a church that too often seems stuck in stale formulas from a bygone period that no longer have meaning for contemporary people.”

According to the plans for the synod so far, young people will also participate as auditors, similar to the way married lay people participated at the synods on the family.  Unfortunately, during the family syonds, there were no voices that disagreed with church teaching allowed to speak. At the 2015 synod, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago commented on this absence, stating that he thought church leaders would have gained from hearing differing perspectives.  He explained:

“I know that myself, when I did the consultation in my diocese, I did have those voices as part of my consultation, and put that in my report, and so maybe that’s the way they were represented.  But I do think that we could benefit from the actual voices of people who feel marginalized rather than having them filtered through the voices of other representatives or the bishops.  There is something important about that, I have found personally.”

It looks like the Vatican may be more open to hearing these diverse voices for the 2018 synod.  If they don’t take these voices seriously, at least giving them an open airing, the synod on youth will simply fall flat as an evangelizing moment.  The Vatican has taken steps in the way of openness to young people’s ideas. Let’s hope and pray that they continue in this direction. And let’s hope and pray that Catholic youth will participate robustly in this exciting project.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 21, 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.

 

Catholic College Football Player Finds Strong Support As He Comes Out

In a society which is becoming increasingly accepting of LGBT people, the two arenas where coming out as gay is still a major hurdle are sports and religion. For gay male athletes, the more macho the sport, the more difficult the coming out can be. And for those who are people of faith, the more doctrinaire a religion is, the challenge to be out also gets increasingly harder.

So, when an athlete comes out, especially one who is Catholic and attends a Catholic college, there’s hope that even these two last arenas where the closet is strong may finally be liberated.

Kyle Kurdziolek

Kyle Kurdziolek, a sophomore at St. Francis University, Joliet, Illinois, and a linebacker on the school’s football team,  recently told his personal story to Outsports.com,  a website where other Catholic college athletes have shared their coming out experiences.   He is the first scholarship athlete to come out.

Kurdziolek grew up in rural Illinois, and noted that “It wasn’t very accepting in my area.”  He said that he often heard other parents at football events say that if their son was gay, they’d force him to be straight.  Still, his own Catholic family was headed by parents who taught him to be respectful of a gay neighbor who lived nearby.

One remarkable detail of his story is that Kurdziolek acknowledges that while he was extremely worried about revealing his orientation in high school, he found the Catholic college campus to be a welcoming place to LGBT students. (The school is on New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBT-friendly Catholic colleges and universities.)  Although he enrolled in 2014, he waited until 2016 to reveal his orientation to teammates, friends, and coaches, wanting to prove himself as a football player first.  In his first season of play, he achieved 33 tackles.

Once he felt accepted as a student and an athlete, Kurdziolek felt he could be totally honest, saying:

“Everything in life was going good. It felt like there was one piece missing, and that one piece, personally for me, it was me coming out.”

He received support from family, friends, and teammates.  Perhaps most interesting is that a fellow Catholic teammate who was not accepting of gay issues still accepted Kurdziolek.  The Outsports article states:

“St. Francis running back Jordon Smith considers Kurdziolek a close friend, but he grew up Catholic and believes those philosophies. ‘I’m going to support my friend no matter what,’ Smith said. ‘I’m not really for the whole gay rights thing, but I’m working on evolving. I’m trying to accept it more.’

Smith’s response proves what many in the Catholic LGBT movement have witnessed for decades: the power of personal relationship in overcoming strongly held negative ideas about LGBT topics.

Kurdziolek rests during a game.

Kurdziolek’s coaches were also strongly supportive, responding in ways that show the best of Catholic educational philosophy. Josh Mander, assistant coach, told Outsports:

” I told him, ‘I love you no matter what. It doesn’t matter. I tried to just be comforting and let him know that he had my support.”

Head coach Joe Curry was similarly strong in support:

“I was happy that he told me. I always tell the guys, ‘We want to build a relationship with you and not just be a coach.’ … I don’t treat Kyle any different. He is part of the program … and I’m extremely happy for him.”

One teammate’s sign of support was particularly important to Kurdziolek:

“Kurdziolek turned 21 on Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving, and to celebrate the milestone, he planned a trip to Chicago’s gay neighborhood, Boystown. Kurdziolek made the trip with a few non-football friends and offensive lineman Tyler James.

” ‘I had a blast,’ said James, who had never been to a gay bar before Kurdziolek’s birthday. ‘I did something that I wouldn’t have done normally because of my friend Kyle, and I got to experience this whole new, cool atmosphere.’

“Because of Thanksgiving, many of Kurdziolek’s teammates were with their families and unable to attend, making James’ attendance meaningful.

” ‘Having him come along, it just made me feel confident about myself and the people I have around me that love me for me,’ Kurdziolek said.”

Coming out stories are wonderful tales of liberation, but, equally important, they serve as guides to others who are struggling with revealing who they are. Kurdziolek noted that the example of Michael Sam, a college athlete who went on to the National Football League, and who came out before he was drafted by a team, was a major exemplar for him.   St. Francis assistant coach Mander also remarked on the power of role-models:

“A gay man playing college football, something that you don’t hear or see ever, it’s one of those taboo things within the football world. You wouldn’t expect a gay player to be here, but … maybe we start something that shows kids that it’s fine. You’re OK to be out and be a member of a football team.”

Kyle Kurdziolek is now certainly one of those role models for young football players and Catholics.  And St. Francis University is a role model for Catholic colleges who are looking for ways to support LGBT students.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 11, 2017

 

After Trans Student Shot, Catholic School Shifts Course

A British Catholic school is attempting to make itself a safer space after a transgender girl student was shot with a BB gun by another student. Though the school has responded with some positive steps, this horrifying incident is a reminder of the urgency with which Catholic education needs to become safer for LGBT students.

safe-schools_0A transgender girl in Manchester, England, was shot by a classmate after months of severe bullying, and just two days after the girl’s mother met with school officials about a previous bullying incident.

G, a pseudonym for the 11-year-old girl, had endured five months of harrassment and threats, according to her mother, identified as A. Gay Star News reported:

“Last Monday, G’s mother A was called into school following a ‘distressing’ incident [wherein students had written a series of anti-transgender slurs on her notebook, which we have chosen to omit here]. . .

“The previous day, A said she had sent an email to staff about the escalating bullying. While she was bullied a little at primary, it got a lot worse when she joined secondary school. And she believes that email was ignored.

“‘Pupils have thrown water over her, spat at her, and kicked her to the ground. Not a day goes by without her being attacked, insulted or threatened with violence,’ her mother said.”

A said she told school officials that “something bad was going to happen,” and she faulted them for doing little to intervene against the bullying. When G was shot, her mother said the school did not notify A for over an hour. When she arrived at school, A found her daughter “extremely quiet, just shaking and not speaking.”

Though the physical harm was minimal, the emotional wounds of these incidents have left G in pain. She is unable to sleep because of nightmares, and she has vocalized thoughts about suicide. The family is seeking supports for her. A explained that it has been very clear since her daughter’s coming out that they would need to work hard to ensure G does not become one of the many transgender youth who die prematurely from violence or by suicide.

The Catholic school, which has gone unnamed in news reports, is now taking steps to educate students and staff towards creating a safer environment, reported the Manchester Evening News. The headteacher said the student who fired the BB gun has been expelled. In a statement, the headteacher said:

“The victim is a transgender pupil and sadly there have been incidents of bullying before this latest incident. We have worked with our pupils to respect and accept people of different sexual orientation and identities and will continue to do this. We have enlisted the support of a national organisation to help us further with our training of staff and pupils and support for our transgender pupils. We have met with the parents of the pupil to apologise and to see what we can do further as a school.”

These efforts have included inviting Stonewall, an LGBT organization in England, to do trainings for members of the school community. But school officials should not stop there or lessen their commitment to LGBT students. The mother was clear that the intense bullying G experienced is because of her gender, saying, “It is a hate of who she is and it is awful.”

At least one other British Catholic school has worked with Stonewall, the United Kingdom’s leading LGBT equality group, to make schools safer.  As Bondings 2.0 noted when we reported this news in 2013, such a relationship between a religious group and a secular group is a model for how the Church and the LGBT community could work together.

On a related note, a transgender student Mason Catrambone, who was rejected by a Catholic high school in New Jersey last year, recently began classes at a public school that welcomes him.

During National Catholic Schools Week in January, we featured an Australian gay man who thanked his Catholic school for helping him come out and feel affirmed. While this is not the experience of many LGBT Students, and certainly G has suffered greatly at a Catholic school, it is helpful to remember that the church’s education programs can be a source of tremendous good if done in welcoming and affirming ways.

For now, let us pray that G finds healing and can return, as she hopes to do, to her Catholic school — a place where, increasingly, every student is safe, welcomed, and affirmed.

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” will include a focus session on, “Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions,” led by campus minister and researcher Michael Maher.  We will also host a focus session on “Transgender and Intersex Identities and the Family,” featuring Deacon Ray Dever, Lexi Dever, and Nicole Santamaria. The symposium is scheduled for April 28–30, 2017, in Chicago.  For more information, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 9, 2017

Will Catholic Boy Scouts Ban Trans Youth? Maybe. Maybe Not.

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) has reacted to the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) policy change to allow transgender boys to participate in local troops.  The NCCS statement, vaguely worded, does not explicitly say they will not honor the new policy, but the import of the message is that they will not.  How local parish troops will respond, however, remains to be seen.

According to a Catholic News Service story posted on The National Catholic Reporter website:

“The [BSA’s] change in policy ‘has no impact on the operation and program delivery of Scouting program(s) in Catholic-chartered units,’ said a Feb. 4 statement issued by the Catholic Scouting committee.

” ‘Scouting serves the Catholic Church through the charter concept, which is similar to a franchise,’ it said. ‘The units chartered to a Catholic institution are owned by that organization. The BSA has stipulated that religious partners will continue to have the right to make decisions for their units based on their religious beliefs.’

“The statement was signed by George S. Sparks, national chairman of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, and Father Kevin M. Smith, a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, who is national chaplain of Catholic Scouting. The statement was approved by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston, South Carolina, who is the episcopal liaison between Catholic Scouting and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

The new BSA policy said that the organization would honor the gender listed on a youth’s application, not the gender listed on a birth certificate.  Since the NCCS statement said the policy change would have no effect on Catholic-chartered Scouting units, it can be presumed that these units will still use birth certificates as evidence of gender.

Just before the new Scouting policy was announced, a New Jersey regional council of the BSA expelled a transgender boy from a local cub scout troop.  The troop was chartered by a local Catholic parish, indicating that the local community saw no problem with accepting a transgender boy.

So, we have an interesting situation here.  The BSA has enacted a new policy.  The NCCS says that its organization does not have to change its policy because the BSA allows local control for religiously-based troops.  Yet, in at least the New Jersey example, a local community’s actions were more in line with the BSA’s new policy.

So, will the NCCS policy ban transgender youth from Catholic sponsored troops?  Perhaps not. It seems likely that according to the NCCS’ own reasoning, local authority, if it is inclusive and welcoming like the NJ parish was, might make their own decisions about what evidence of gender they will use to determine admission.   Outside the U.S., we recently witnessed Ireland’s Catholic Girl Guides, a scouting organization, announce that they are developing a policy and practices to welcome transgender girls.

Make no mistake, though:  it would have been much better if the NCCS statement had simply welcomed the BSA policy change.  Once again, we have an example of a secular group being more welcoming than a religious one, which is a truly sad and shameful situation.  Moreover, we will still have to worry about how the NCCS will respond to Catholic scouting troops which do welcome transgender youth.  Will the NCCS disassociate from these groups?

The NCCS’ vaguely worded statement shows that they are not engaging the transgender issue directly.  Their reticence is not helpful because it does not reveal their full perspective on the matter.  Instead of addressing the substance of the issue–gender identity–they rely on a procedural topic–local control of policies.  Is it possible that they did this to allow the possibility of local Catholic troops to accept transgender youth?  Or are they simply reluctant to express an anti-transgender sentiment explicitly?  Their future actions will reveal their intent.  For now, we hope that the defense of local control will allow many Catholic parishes to show their support of transgender scouts.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 9, 2017

 

 

LGBT Issues Prominent at Conference on U.S. Catholic Higher Education

LGBT inclusion was a central theme at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities‘ (ACCU) annual meeting this year. Entitled “Inclusion on Campus: Exploring Diversity as an Expression of God’s Grandeur,” the meeting explored several issues, including race, immigration status, and gender.

cukqoshwyaqbqfvDr. Julie Hanlon Rubio, an ethicist at St. Louis University, led a workshop on “Serving the LGBTQ Community.” According to the National Catholic Reporter, Hanlon is concerned that Catholic higher education did not offer appropriate support following last year’s massacre at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando in which 49 people were killed.

Rubio said, “[W]e can’t quite find the words. . .We have to find the theological resources that give us the ground to stand on so that we can appropriately claim the ground that is out there.” NCR reported further:

“Rubio advocated for calling students and others by the names that they wish to be called. Educators ought to be, she said, ‘less worried about the trouble we might get in by inclusion and more worried about the suffering they are experiencing.’. . .

“Rubio walked participants through a timeline of Catholic thinking on topics like what it means to be made in the image of God while offering theological tools for discussing gender and offering hospitality in the context of diversity and inclusion. Urging her listeners to be sensitive to the experiences of their LGBTQ students, Rubio stressed the importance of listening.

“In a question-and-answer period following the session, conference members discussed how to minister effectively when students may want advocacy, the status of conversations with bishops about LGBTQ concerns, and even the potential need for a  ‘safe space’ for theologians who grapple with these topics.”

Beyond gender and sexuality, the meeting dealt with other areas in Catholic higher education where diversity and inclusion could improve. These issues have taken on a new urgency given the first two weeks of the new U.S. presidential administration.

Fr. Bryan Massingale, a theologian at Fordham University, New York, said this was a “moment of stark clarity” calling on Catholic colleges and universities to offer a “powerful, robust vision” that understands “the urgency in which your students are feeling this moment in history.” He said further, “We need to both respond to and interrogate in light of our commitment to God” this new reality.

executive-order-statementIndeed, just as ACCU members gathered for the meeting, the president was issuing an executive banning citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the U.S. ACCU’s statement in strong opposition to this ban affirmed, “The commitment of our institutions to creating inclusive, welcoming campus environments that embrace people of all faiths and cultures.”

It is heartening to see thtat this commitment to inclusion and diversity is focusing on matters of gender and sexual identities, which are so present in students’ lives and about which institutions can offer key supports. As last Wednesday’s post for National Catholic Schools Week highlighted and New Ways Ministry’s LGBT-Friendly Colleges listing makes clear, many Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. are already offering LGBTQ supports and even coursework.

Hopefully, with ACCU’s forward-looking leadership, the meeting this year will encourage schools to either step up or start altogether their inclusion of LGBTQ people on campuses. To read the organization’s list of “Ten Ways to Be More Inclusive,” click here.

bryan
Rev. Bryan Massingale

Fr. Bryan Massingale will address “Pope Francis, Social Ethics, and LGBT People” in the opening plenary session of  New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” The symposium begins on the evening of April 28th and runs until the afternoon of April 30th.  All events are in Chicago.  For more information, click here.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 4, 2017

Boy Scouts Announce Inclusive Policy, While One Catholic Troop Was Already Doing So

The Boy Scouts of America have announced a new policy welcoming transgender members, a policy about which Catholic leaders have largely been quiet and which one parish appears to have already been practicing.

gettyimages-478981082-960x640The Scouts announced the new policy this week, reported The New York TimesThe policy says that determining a person’s gender by assigned sex at birth on one’s birth certificate “is no longer sufficient as communities and state laws are interpreting gender identity differently, and these laws vary widely from state to state.” It continued:

“The Boy Scouts of America is committed to identifying program options that will help us truly serve the whole family, and this is an area that we will continue to thoughtfully evaluate to bring the benefits of Scouting to the greatest number of youth possible – all while remaining true to our core values, outlined in the Scout Oath and Law.”

So far, the only response from Catholic leaders has come from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which said in a statement that it was “deeply saddened and disturbed” and that the policy would allow “girls struggling with gender dysphoria into their troops.” The Scouts, the statement concluded, “are becoming increasingly incompatible with our Catholic values.” So far, neither the National Catholic Committee on Scouting nor the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has commented.

This response is not St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson’s first time attacking scouting. Last year, the archbishop encouraged Catholics to disaffiliate from the Girl Scouts based, in part, on their inclusion of LGBT members. Carlson’s responses seem to come without an effort to educate and to understand the experiences of transgender youth. He might try listening to the story of Joe Maldonado, the eight-year-old youth rejected by a regional scout council, though the local troop, housed in a Catholic parish, welcomed him.

ctm-1228-joe-maldonado-cub-scouts-transgender
Joe Maldonado

Joe Maldonado was a Cub Scout for just a month before an official, Eric Chamberlin, informed his mother that, because Joe was assigned female at birth, he could no longer participate. NorthJersey.com reported:

“Kristie Maldonado said she was stunned because. . .his transgender status had not been a secret. But some parents complained, an official from the Northern New Jersey Council of Boy Scouts told her — even though her son had been living as a boy for more than a year and was accepted as a boy at school, she said.”

The official called Maldonado to say “only boys are allowed” in the Scouts and that some parents had complained, according to the New York Daily News. But Maldonado told the official that “my child is a boy – that’s his identity,” but the official “seemed like he didn’t want to hear it. He seemed very arrogant and cocky. It seemed like it was a joke to him.” And the call surprised Maldonado, who said Joe has not faced problems being accepted in other spaces, including at school and on a boys basketball team. About the ejection, Joe told NorthJersey.com:

“‘It made me mad. . .I had a sad face, but I wasn’t crying. I’m way more angry than sad. My identity is a boy. If I was them, I would let every person in the world go in. It’s right to do. . .How dare they judge me?. . .I don’t have to explain it. It’s the way I’m born.'”

Though Pack 87 is hosted by Immaculate Conception Church in Seacaucus, the church was thankfully not involved in the decision to expel Joe:

“A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark said it had nothing to do with the Boy Scouts’ decision, and the pastor of the church just recently learned of it. He declined further comment.”

Maldonado’s expulsion is thought to have informed the Boy Scouts somewhat surprising decision to welcome transgender youth. Under the new policy, this painful incident may hopefully be the last. Catholic leaders would be wise to continue refraining from comment, avoiding the damage their harsh language did when the Boy Scouts announced a policy on sexual orientation last year. Even better, Catholic parishes which host scouting troops should welcome transgender youth with open arms and clear support.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 1, 2017

Gay Alum Thanks Catholic School for Being “A Haven” for Him

National Catholic Schools Week begins today in the United States, a celebration of the church’s educational programs. In past years during this week, I have written about the need for Catholic schools to increase their supports of LGBTQ youth. You can read those commentaries here, here, and here. But this year, I want to highlight an Australian writer’s story about the good an inclusive Catholic school can do for LGBTQ students.

13-1420csw_logo_circle_cmykIn The Sydney Morning Herald, Joel Meares wrote about a new movement in Australia, Equal Voices, in which Christians are apologizing for the harm done by churches to LGBT people.of his gratitude for the Catholic school he attended, a place he called “a haven.” He elaborated on this topic by describing his childhood experiences with the people of faith:

“And yet the apology comes as no surprise to me. The Christians in my life – those in the pews who don’t make, nor seek, headlines – have been some of the most supportive people I’ve known. Of course they want to say sorry: it’s the Christian thing to do. . .As some of them get ready to say sorry this March, I’d like to take a moment to say thank you.”

Meares shared about his time at the Catholic school, a place he landed because his parents did not want to send their children to public schools but could not afford more elite private schools. While the family was not religious, Meares said, “from Monday to Friday I was an evangelistic little Tracy Flick, biro in hand and halo on head.” He continued:

“I was also very gay. I didn’t realise this at the time – I was quite late to my own coming-out party – but I already ticked all of the cliche boxes. . .If my teachers had eyes and ears, they knew I was different. And these same teachers – not members of the clergy, but many of them laypeople of deep faith – were profoundly nurturing of that difference. . .And I was always protected.”

th_meares
Joel Maeres

No longer a practicing Catholic, except for “when I have to get up for the Eucharist at a wedding,” Meares remains grateful for the way he was educated by the church. He wrote:

“But I’ve always liked core Christian values, particularly the simple ‘golden rule’ I was taught back in [kindergarten]: ‘Treat others the way you like to be treated.’

“I know it’s not everyone’s story – and I know others whose time at religious schools was far less rosy – but I was able to grow up different and safe and proud because the people around me also subscribed to that idea.

“I don’t see much of that sentiment when I scan the statements of church leadership when it comes to LGBTQI issues today. But the Equal Voices apology is a reminder of the kinds of Christians who helped shape me growing up. These people put into quiet practice so much of what is beautiful about the religion, and did very little preaching as they went.”

These last words mirror a statement made recently by the head of Scotland’s Catholic school system, who said the church’s educational programs were to “propose the gospel, not impose the gospel.” Sadly, for too many LGBTQ students, faith-affiliated schools are places where they experience the Gospels being preached more than practiced. Either through direct harm or not providing adequate supports, Catholic schools have too often failed to be safe places.

This year’s theme for National Catholic Schools Week is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.” Joel Meares’ positive story gives educators a source of inspiration for what can be achieved when Catholic education is done well and inclusively, inviting students to faith, educating them well, and instilling in them Christian values.

Ultimately, the goal should be for every LGBT student who passes through the Catholic education system to be able to offer a story of gratitude similar to Joel Meares’ experiences.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 29, 2017