SYMPOSIUM: Bishop Stowe Brings Message of Admiration and Respect

It has been almost a month since New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” took place in Chicago. Things have finally slowed down enough that we are able to report on it to you.  Over the next few days, we will be providing several posts about symposium highlights.

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Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., addresses the symposium while New Ways Ministry co-founder Sr. Jeannine Gramick listens.

Based on the response of the over 300 participants, one of those highlights was the presence and speaking participation of Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., of Lexington, Kentucky.  Stowe provided two scriptural reflections at the meeting, one at the Friday evening opening prayer service (Matthew 12:1-14) and one at the Saturday morning prayer service (Luke 6:37-45).

The National Catholic Reporter’s  Patricia Lefevere interviewed Stowe at the meeting and reported on his talks.  She noted that he expressed his respect for LGBT Catholics and supporters for their steadfastness in remaining in the Church:

“Stowe said he is humbled by those who have pursued ‘a life of faith in a church that has not always welcomed or valued’ them or their worth. As a shepherd, he needs to hear their voices and take seriously their experience, he said, adding that both the presence and persistence of LGBT Catholics inspired him.

“They’ve shown ‘a valuable expression of mercy’ in calling the church ‘to be more inclusive and more Christ-like despite being given so many reasons to walk away,’ he said.”

Stowe also used his reflection time to discuss his approach to moral questions:

“In reflecting on Matthew 12:1-14, the bishop told the LGBT assembly that in his reading of Christian morality, he finds the infinite value of the human person to be ‘the touchstone and foundation for determining the morality of a given act or issue. Christian morality is more concerned with the well-being and dignity of the person than with rules, norms or commandments. Jesus seems to teach this on many occasions,’ Stowe said.”

In his interview with Lefevere,  the bishop also explained another motivation for his participation in the symposium:

” ‘New Ways Ministry made me want to come here,’ the bishop told NCR during a 40-minute interview at the gathering. He has been observing and admiring the group’s outreach to LGBT Catholics over several years, he added.”

Stowe also discussed the fact that when it became public that he would speak at New Ways Ministry’s event, some conservative Catholics in his diocese and elsewhere publicly criticized him:

” ‘The flack has been enormous and continues on the blogosphere’ and from ‘self-righteous strangers online and those who subscribe to these feeds,’ Stowe said, calling some of the posts and e-mails ‘vicious.’ . . .

“Among objectors, Stowe believes there are many who are sincere Catholics and are ‘really struggling’ with all the issues around homosexuality. He said he hopes and prays ‘for a culture of encounter’ to ensue so ‘we can become fully engaged with those who want to live the Catholic life and who love the Catholic Church. … Why would we want to turn our backs on them?’ he asked.”

The bishop also commented on his response to young Catholics who are often much more supportive of LGBT equality than older generations.  He noted that negative actions towards LGBT people risks alienating “a whole generation” of young Catholics.  He explained how he approaches this pastoral issue:

“Stowe said that on his many visits to confirmation classes, teens in his diocese ask: ‘Why can’t gay and lesbian people be themselves? Bishop Stowe, why can’t they love who they want?’

“He said he admires how well young people know that the church believes each person is of value. But they also know that LGBT persons are not always welcomed or treated fairly in the church, he said.

“He tries to acquaint them with church teaching on the dignity of each human being, citing passages in the 1965 Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) and other examples. He indicates how discrimination leads to dehumanization, frequently expressed in bullying, abuse, sometimes violence and even death.

” ‘We have to listen to our young people and pay attention to things like this,’ the bishop insisted.”

In introducing Bishop Stowe to the symposium participants, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo explained that he had heard the Franciscan bishop speak at a conference and was impressed with his message:

” ‘I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,’ DeBernardo said, comparing Stowe’s words to those of Pope Francis and to St. Francis of Assisi. All three men seemed to be saying that ‘it was the church’s job to take the Gospel to the margins,’ DeBernardo said.”

For a meeting whose title and theme focused on Pope Francis, it was very appropriate to have a bishop speaking who so aptly echoed many of the pontiff’s affirming messages for LGBT people.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 22, 2017

QUOTE TO NOTE: London Cardinal ‘Rejoices’ in LGBT Acceptance, While Still ‘Obstinate’ on Marriage

London’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols has been one of the global church’s strongest advocates of pastoral outreach to the LGBT community.  At the same time, he has opposed marriage equality though, unlike U.S. bishops, he seems comfortable in making social and ecclesial accommodations for lesbian and gay couples.

The Catholic Herald recently reported on remarks Nichols made at a public lecture.  His remarks show the two sides of his approach to matters of gay sexuality.  The news story stated:

“Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the most senior Catholic cleric in England and Wales, has said the Church will continue to be ‘obstinate’ about gay marriage and other questions of sexual morality.

“Answering questions after a talk at St Ethelburga’s Centre, London, Cardinal Nichols was asked about the Church’s response to homophobia. The cardinal said that society had become more empathetic and compassionate towards gay people, and that he ‘rejoiced’ in the change.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

“However, he went on to say that Catholics ‘still stand for’ a definition of marriage as ‘between a man and a woman’ which is open to new life.

“Cardinal Nichols went on: ‘There has never been a time when Christian sexual morality has been totally accepted in any society.’ But, he said, Christians would ‘persist’ in being ‘awkward’ on such matters.”

No doubt some will criticize Nichols’ opposition to marriage equality and his upholding of traditional church teaching on sexuality.  Nichols is no stranger to criticism, though. For years, conservative Catholics in England have been criticizing the pastoral outreach he began to London’s LGBT community, some of these critics even bringing their complaints to the Vatican. Nichols, however, stood firm, and the pastoral outreach program, LGBT Catholics Westminster, is alive, well, and thriving today.

While Nichols may be correct that Christian sexual morality has never been totally accepted in any society, that doesn’t mean that Christian sexual ethics hasn’t changed as new scientific information and social understandings and customs have evolved.   The fact that ethical principles have changed over the centuries is the best argument that they can change in the future.

Still, Nichols serves as a model to other prelates that their opposition to same-gender marriage does not mean that they cannot welcome LGBT people into the church community.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 15, 2017

 

Fr. James Martin: Some Saints Were “Probably Gay” and Will Greet You in Heaven

There are Catholic saints who were “probably gay,” said Jesuit Fr. James Martin, the well-known author, against online commenters critical of Bishop John Stowe’s attendance at New Ways Ministry’s Symposium two weeks ago.

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 3.34.33 PMMartin posted a news story to his Facebook page about spiritual reflections Stowe gave at the Symposium. The priest, who has more than a half million followers online, commented on the story, “Another sign of welcome and building bridges.”

But some followers were critical of Stowe and Martin. Walter Maczynski said, “Any canonized saints would not be impressed.” That is when Martin offered his powerful reply:

“Some of them were probably gay. A certain percentage of humanity is gay, and so were most likely some of the saints. You may be surprised when you get to heaven to be greeted by LGBT men and women.”

While some commenters joined Maczynski’s criticism, most people affirmed Fr. Martin’s idea and shared their own stories of being an LGBT Catholic or having a loved one who is.  This post was similar to Martin’s 2014 post when he said the sexual orientation of theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who some have theorized was a gay man, should matter in remembering him.

The Advocate noted that Martin was recently appointed by Pope Francis to be a consultor for the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications, and he has also spoken out for LGBT equality:

“Martin has a history of LGBT advocacy within the Catholic Church. Last summer, he released a viral video on Facebook imploring Catholics to “stand with… their LGBT brothers and sisters” in the wake of the Orlando shooting.

“Afterward, he penned a book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. He was honored by New Ways Ministry, a Catholic LGBT group, with its Bridge Building Award for his work.”

He recently challenged another priest to be more supportive of transgender people, an act one journalist described as a “holy mic drop.

The communion of saints is a very powerful aspect of the Catholic imagination, and thus there have been many efforts to celebrate Catholic saints who would today likely identify as LGBT. Catholics remember those holy people in our history who have practiced radical hospitality or lived as their authentic self in defiance of the cultural norms of their times. For example, one artist has created queer depictions of popular saints, and there is a significant devotion to Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, the saint of 9/11, who was gay.

LGBT Catholics and allies can once again thank Fr. Martin for his outspoken advocacy for a church where all people are welcome.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 13, 2017

 

‘Santa Muerte’ Devotion Highlights Chasm Between the Church and Trans Mexicans

The development of a new religious devotion among Mexican transgender persons highlights the growing chasm between LGBT people and the Catholic Church in one of the world’s most Catholic nations, as well as the tragic circumstances among which many transgender people live.

Religion News Service recently reported on the growth among trans Mexicans of the “Santa Muerte” (“Saint Death”) devotion, the practice of honoring and praying to the skeletal figure of “Death.”  The news story explained:

A shrine to Santa Muerte

“The skeleton saint — with her female form and association with death — is particularly appealing to transgender sex workers, who face the persistent threat of violent clients and transphobic hatred.

“Unlike official church figures such as Our Lady of Guadalupe whose images are ethereal, Santa Muerte appeals to those with practical problems and passions living on the country’s margins. Devotees ask her for protection, even when sex work is their only occupation.

” ‘The majority of us believe in Santa Muerte,’ said [Betzy] Ballesteros [a trans sex worker]. ‘She’s a God to us. I ask her to shield me from danger and provide work and clients.’

“The cult of Santa Muerte is an example of religious syncretism, with roots in European Catholicism and Aztec beliefs.”

The Catholic hierarchy has condemned the devotion, just as they have expressed many negative messages about transgender people:

“The Rev. Hugo Valdemar Romero, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, said the church does not abandon or excommunicate transgender people. But he does believe they suffer from pathology.

” ‘Of course it is not acceptable for someone to violate their own biology,’ he said. ‘Nature is very clear. There are men and there are women.’

“As for Santa Muerte, Romero considers it a heretical cult.

“. . . .Despite the church’s condemnation, many Santa Muerte devotees describe themselves as Catholic.”

Though the hierarchy condemns the new devotion, it seems that they don’t recognize their own part in its creation.  Andrew Chesnut, a religious studies scholar from Virginia Commonwealth University who has studied the devotion, explains that the new tradition arose to serve a need that established churches were not meeting:

“Mexican Catholics and evangelicals tend to view transgenderism as a lifestyle choice. But the fact that Santa Muerte is outside the orbit of both evangelical and Catholic Christianity makes her much more appealing. It’s much easier for followers to feel that she’s not going to be judgmental.”

And the lived experience of trans Mexicans testifies not only to violence they face in society but also the rejection they receive from churches:

“The civil rights organization Transgender Europe has documented 247 killings of transgender people in Mexico between January 2008 and April 2016, the second-highest number in the world, after Brazil.

“The life expectancy of transgender women in Latin America is 35, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

” ‘Transgender people are more likely to become involved in substance and alcohol abuse and they are less likely to have strong networks of family and others on whom they can count,’ said Cymene Howe, an anthropologist who has studied the importance of Santa Muerte among transgender sex workers who migrate between Guadalajara and San Francisco.”

And Betzy Ballesteros, the sex worker quoted above, offered testimony of her experience with the church:

“I went with some transgender friends to Mass one time. The priest stopped his sermon and told us to leave the house of God. After that, I decided I wouldn’t ever go back.”

If Catholic Church leaders in Mexico believe that this devotion is harmful to its adherents, they must first recognize that their own harmful actions towards trans people are encouraging the worship of Santa Muerte to flourish.  When people are scorned and rejected, they will find their own path to God.  The surest way for Church leaders to win back trans people to the ecclesial community is for them to end their negative rhetoric which causes both physical and spiritual death.

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

Newark’s Cardinal Will Welcome Catholic LGBT Pilgrimage

A pilgrimage of LGBT Catholics will be welcomed by Cardinal Joseph Tobin at the Archdiocese of Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart when they arrive there on Sunday, May 21, 2017.

Sacred Heart Parish, South Plainfield, Church of the Precious Blood, Monmouth Beach are organizing the event, which seems to have had a serendipitous origin.

Rev. Alexander Santora, a Hoboken, N.J. priest, described in an NJ.com essay how the pilgrimage idea grew:

“David Harvie was at a regional meeting in Brooklyn of the Interparish Collaborative [a group of about 15 Catholic parishes in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut region that have LGBT ministries]. . . . He was seated next to Redemptorist Father Francis Gargani and talked about how there are so many beautiful church edifices that deserve to be seen.

” ‘I am a church architecture geek,’ Harvie said, mentioning, for example, the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark.

“Gargani, who resides at the Redemptorist Provincial House in Brooklyn, said he would bring it up to the new Archbishop of Newark, Joseph Cardinal Tobin, also a Redemptorist, who was coming to dinner the next evening.”

And the rest is (or will soon be) history.  Cardinal Tobin, newly appointed by Pope Francis, responded by email to Gargani’s request:

“I am delighted that you and the LGBTQ brothers and sisters plan to visit our beautiful cathedral. You will be very welcome!”

The mass will take place in Our Lady Chapel of the Cathedral, at 3:30 p.m., followed by a tour of the building.

It has been a long time since a bishop has welcomed a group of LGBT people to the local cathedral.  Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen welcomed the DignityUSA convention to the Seattle cathedral in 1983 (though his welcome message was delivered by audio recording because he had been summoned to Rome).  When Rochester, N.Y.’s Bishop Matthew Clark held a mass for the gay and lesbian community in his cathedral in 1997, 1300 people showed up for the space which could hold only 900, so the remaining spilled out onto the sidewalks.   A year later Richmond, Virginia’s Bishop Walter Sullivan followed suit with a similar mass in his diocesan cathedral, telling participants, “You are welcome here. It’s about time someone told you that.”  In 2015, a group of LGBT pilgrims led by New Ways Ministry was given VIP seating at the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on Ash Wednesday.

The organizer of the event reflected on how far the LGBT community and the Catholic Church have come in his lifetime:

Harvie recalled first marching in the annual Gay Rights Parade in Manhattan at a time when a wall of police would separate the marchers from entering St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.

“We could not get anywhere near our Catholic church,” Harvie recalled, contrasting that experience with the gesture of Cardinal Tobin. “No one can believe it.”

Harvie expects an overflow crowd in the chapel, which can only hold 40 to 50 people. But that would be a wonderful problem to have, he said.

Harvie is the facilitator of the LGBT ministry in Sacred Heart parish, South Plainfield, N.J.

It is so good to see that a cardinal is eager to extend a welcome to a group of LGBT Catholics.  Indeed, his example should be emulated by others.  If bishops want to make Pope Francis’ message of welcome tangible to LGBT people, more instances like this need to take place.  God will surely bless this beautiful initiative!

For more information on the pilgrimage, click here or e-mail sacredheartigi@gmail.com. You can contact David Harvie at Church of the Sacred Heart, 200 Randolph Ave., South Plainfield, NJ 07080; phone: 908-822-5895.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 9, 2017

 

QUOTE TO NOTE: Longer Communion Lines, When All Are Welcome

Though the Eucharist should be an unmitigated source of unity for Catholics, too often the Communion line becomes a place for exclusion. People deemed “unworthy” do not receive or are even denied Communion, and these “unworthy” people have too often included LGBT Catholics and their families.

computer_key_Quotation_MarksBut after several years of dialogue, and sometimes sharp debate, is Pope Francis’ desire for a more welcoming and merciful church being realized at the Communion line? Perhaps, answered one parish priest writing for Commonweal

The priest, who uses the pseudonym “Fr. Nonomen,” wrote about an encounter he had in the produce section of his local market. A woman shared with him that she was moved greatly when she saw her former pastor, a Fr. Ed who left the priesthood to marry, receive Communion at the Easter Vigil this year. Fr. Nonomen quoted her:

“In that moment, I knew. . .I was suddenly filled with a joyful, peaceful assurance that the church I love would weather the storms and issues that seem sometimes to tear it apart. Seeing Father Ed with his wife showed me how God is always doing something new! As they received Communion, I saw that there is room for all in Christ. And that has helped heal my heart.'”

Fr. Nonomen reflected on the many other people who helped him see “that the depth and breadth of humanity was in the Communion line. . .drawn to one table, one altar, one Lord.” In them, he saw “a foretaste of what liturgists call ‘the heavenly banquet.'” When everyone who sought Communion received that night, there was not, as church leaders often warn of, “scandal.” There was healing. The priest concluded:

“The more intriguing question, perhaps, is not how but why this happened. I figure it to be a lesson in grace. At a time when elitism and intolerance have crept into so many facets of life, the Lord insists that the Kingdom of God will be otherwise and often surprises us with glimpses of it right here, right now. The people of the Kingdom are a richly diverse people, aware of their need and drawn to the God who welcomes all and lavishes grace on all, even that former priest, even that same-sex couple. . . “

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Vatican II identifies eucharistic liturgy as the source from which and summit to which our Christian lives ebb and flow. There is no greater test for how inclusive the church is in reality than how many people feel comfortable to approach and be welcomed into the Communion line.

In Fr. Nonomen’s lesson of grace, I also see longer lines at Mass as a sign that the tireless efforts of LGBT Catholics and their allies are finally able to bear fruit in the new space Pope Francis has created.

Do you agree? Did you see longer, more inclusive Communion lines at Mass today? How have you witnessed the unity of God’s people being made real in liturgy? 

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 7, 2017

Fired Gay Minister: “Archbishop has done us and all the church a great wrong.”

Barring LGBT Catholics from parish ministries is deeply wrong and personally wounding, wrote one gay man who had been forced from ministry in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

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William di Canzio

Last October, William di Canzio was dismissed as a lector at the Daylesford Abbey parish community in suburban Philadelphia where he has been active for 35 years.  The abbot said the decision was influenced by Archbishop Charles Chaput’s directive not to allow coupled gay men or lesbians to perform liturgical roles.

Di Canzio first broke his story on Bondings 2.0, and you can read the original report here. He has since written in The Philadelphia Inquirer:

“Abbot Richard Antonucci of Daylesford Abbey in Paoli requested a meeting with me, though he declined to tell me his purpose in advance. . .The abbot started our conversation by saying that he’d heard I had married my partner of 12 years, Jim Anderson. ‘I want you to believe this,’ he said: ‘I sincerely wish you both many, many years of happiness together.’

“Then he passed me a copy of a directive from Archbishop Charles Chaput. . .[and] said that, with reluctance, he must enforce the directive.”

Antonucci told di Canzio that, despite the abbey being a community that is formally outside archdiocesan control, the abbott was “unwilling to take the risk” of retaining an LGBT person in liturgical ministry. Di Canzio asked the abbot, “You’re the spiritual leader of the place I’ve been part of for 35 years. . .How do you counsel me?” The abbot’s only response was asking di Canzio to remain at Daylesford Abbey.

Di Canzio said of the Abbey, “I felt welcomed there and at home.” He described in his Inquirer essay the many ministries at the abbey in which he has participated for more than three decades: revising the hymnal and arranging a psalter, writing a three-year cycle of Sunday penitential rites for the Norbertine Order, lectoring, and helping with other aspects of liturgy. Di Canzio concluded:

“Forgive me if this sounds like a resume. Here’s my point: the archbishop knows none of this. The abbot himself, who came to Daylesford in 2000, did not know how very long had been my history there. Nor did he know that the man who is now my spouse decided to be confirmed a Catholic after attending Pentecost mass at Daylesford.”

Di Canzio said the archdiocesan directive itself is “very offensive,” especially its claim that same-gender couples are “a serious counter-witness to Catholic belief, which can only produce moral confusion in the community.” The directive continued to say such couples are “without undermining the faith of the community, most notably the children.” The former lector commented:

“The hypocrisy of the last phrase, concerning children, is so transparent it seems rhetorical suicide, because it calls to mind the sexual abuse of children by priests that has plagued the Catholic Church for decades.

“Here’s the truth: my sexual nature, like that of all human beings, is holy; my marriage is a sacrament where I encounter the love of God every day in the love of my spouse and bestow it likewise on him. The archbishop has done us and all the church a great wrong.”

A great wrong for sure, and Di Canzio’s story is not an isolated incident. More than 60 church workers and volunteers since 2007 have lost their position over an LGBT identity, same-gender marriage, or public support for equality.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of such church workers and volunteers, as well as other information and resources about the topic..

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 5, 2017