Find Answers to “Controversial” Pope Francis at Upcoming Symposium

Pope Francis

If there is one word that best describes the reactions of LGBT and ally Catholics towards Pope Francis, I think it is “controversial.”  I use this word in its traditional usage meaning that there are two sides to the issue.  For some LGBT Catholics and supporters, he has been a savior and messiah, opening a new era in the church’s approach to issues of sexuality and gender.  For others, Pope Francis is simply, “more of the same,” not changing anything, and, in some cases, because his appearance is “kinder and gentler,” he may actually be making things worse.

And, of course, between these two poles, there are a variety of middle positions.  Some are happy with the pope’s calls for mercy towards LGBT people.  Others want him to also call for justice for LGBT people.

Whatever your take on Pope Francis, if you want to learn more about how he might be advancing LGBT issues positively or negatively, you should consider attending New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis , on the weekend of April 28-30, 2017, in Chicago.

If you are a regular reader (or even a casual one) of Bondings 2.0, then you know that Pope Francis raises more questions than provides answers in regard to LGBT issues.  The symposium will be an event where participants can gain information and perspectives to begin to form some of those answers for themselves.

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Bryan Massingale

Are you interested in how Pope Francis is affecting the Church’s social ethics in regard to LGBT issues?  Come to the symposium to hear Fr. Bryan Massingale,  Fordham University theologian.

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Lisa Fullam

Will Pope Francis make a change to Catholic sexual ethics?  Listen to the ideas of Lisa Fullam, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley theologian.  The question of religious liberty, especially in regard to LGBT employees of Catholic institutions, has a lot of people wondering.

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Leslie Griffin

The question of religious liberty, especially in regard to LGBT employees of Catholic institutions, has a lot of people wondering.  Leslie Griffin, University of Nevada at Las Vega legal scholar, will provide some insight into these dilemmas.

Frank Mugisha of Uganda poses in front of a painting of Robert F. Kennedy, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Frank Mugisha

Why hasn’t Pope Francis spoken out on the terrible scourge of laws which criminalize LGBT people around the globe?  You’ll get a first-hand answer to that from Frank Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, who is at the center of this struggle.

In addition, there will be focus sessions on:

  • Hispanic Catholic Culture and LGBT Issues
  • Gay Men in the Priesthood and Religious Life
  • Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions
  • Transgender and Intersex Identities and the Family
  • LGBT Parish Ministry
  • Lesbian Nuns: A Gift to the Church
  • Challenges of LGBT Church Workers

Prayer Opportunities

The symposium experience is not all about the intellect.  Unique prayer opportunities will also be available:

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    Simone Campbell, SSS

    Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, the “Nun on the Bus,” will lead a pre-symposium retreat day on Friday, April 28th, on the theme of the spirituality of justice and mercy.

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    Bishop John Stowe

    Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv, diocesan bishop of Lexington, Kentucky, will offer scriptural reflections during two of the symposium’s prayer services.

  • Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
    Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

    Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, retired auxiliary bishop of Detroit, will lead a special Saturday afternoon prayer service.

Networking

Perhaps the most valuable experience of the symposium is the opportunity to network with other Catholics who are working for a church and society that are more inclusive of LGBT people.  In addition to meeting people informally, the symposium also provides the opportunity for “Open Space,”  where participants can suggest and plan a gathering time/space for particular topics. Let’s have an Open Space session as a meet-up for Bondings 2.0 readers! For more information, click here.

Who should attend?

Everybody!  Well, as long as you have an interest in Catholic LGBT discussions, you will find the symposium to be a rewarding event.  New Ways Ministry has designed it to be accessible and relevant particularly to pastoral ministers, LGBT persons, leaders of men’s and women’s religious communities,  families and other allies, and others involved in church ministry either as a volunteer or a professional.

newwayssymp-draft_03-01Can I afford it?

Yes!  Though the time for early-bird registration is over,  you can still get the discounted early-bird rate if you put four registrations in one envelope and mail them, with payment, to New Ways Ministry by March 27, 2017.   Additionally, discounted hotel rooms and airfares are available.

What will I gain from the experience?

Over the years, we’ve learned that everyone’s symposium experience is unique.  For some, it is a starting point on a new direction in ministry or advocacy.  For others, it is an opportunity to affirm their sexuality and gender identity in a Catholic context.  Many people have developed lifelong friendships at symposiums.  Many others have experienced the event as a further step on their spiritual and intellectual journeys.

What if I don’t know anyone else who will be going?

No worries!  Symposiums are friendly, communal events.  Those who have taken part in past symposiums are quick to welcome “first-timers” and those who are attending on their own.  You will not be alone at the symposium!

Where can I get more information like rates, deadlines, schedule?  How can I register?

The symposium website, www.Symposium2017.org, has all the information that you will need. You can even register there online, as well as click through to reserve a hotel room and make a plane reservation.  If you have any further questions,  feel free to call New Ways Ministry, phone:201-277-5674, or email us, info@NewWays Ministry.org.

How can I help spread the word about the symposium?

Share the website link with your friends on email and social network sites!  Or share the link to this blog post with them! Contact New Ways Ministry if you would like to receive paper copies or a PDF copy of the symposium brochure.

See you in April at the Symposium!  You won’t want to miss it!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 15, 2017

 

 

 

 

Malta’s Rapid Shift on LGBT Rights Is Case Study for Other Catholic Nations

Malta has elected the nation’s first transgender politician, a sign of just how far on LGBT rights a country where Roman Catholicism remains the state religion has come. A closer analysis of this shift could help Catholics in other regions in their own journeys towards equality.

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Crowds in Malta celebrating Pride Week

Alex Mangion became Malta’s first transgender politician when he won a local election as the Partit Nazzjonalista (Nationalist Party) candidate, reported The Independent. But support for LGBT rights in the conservative party that had controlled Malta’s government since the late 1990s is a recent development, and came only after its 2013 defeat to the Partit Laburista (Labor Party) who had made LGBT rights a major platform item.

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Alex Mangion

Though the Nationalist Party had abstained from a successful vote on civil unions in 2014, Mangion said that presently “having a transgender person in the party made people realize it’s not conservative.” And by 2015, the Nationalist Party had joined the Labor Party in passing a groundbreaking transgender rights law. (It is worth noting that, under that very law, Mangion became “the first person in this tiny nation to be able to update the gender on his official documents without undergoing surgery or hormone treatment.”)

The Independent noted that this shift in a political party is “a microcosm of the evolution underway in Malta,” a traditional Catholic country which outlawed divorce as late as 2011. But where LGBT people once hid, rejected by church leaders and stigmatizing social norms, a married same-gender couple, Steve and Manuel Aquilina, now hosts and produces a leading cooking show. A colleague of theirs, Victor Anastasi, said:

“‘They’re accepted like everyone else. . .We’re a Catholic country. But eventually the church has to come to terms [with society changing].”

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Joseanne Peregin

Joseanne Peregin, the Catholic mother of a gay son, recalled a bishop once saying, “If you’re gay, excommunicate yourself. Go, there is no place for you in the church.” But then in 2011, she said, the Catholic Church’s control over Maltese politics was undercut sharply when divorce was legalized through a popular referendum.

Now it must be acknowledged,, said Fr. Rene Camilleri, that Catholics in Malta “are not taking a package deal.” Camilleri, who is Episcopal Vicar for Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Malta and a lecturer at the University of Malta, has previously described church teaching on homosexuality as “nonsensical.” He also said Catholic ministers “cannot deprive [same-gender couples] of the blessing for which they ask.”

Today, other nations seek to learn from and even copy Malta’s LGBT laws. Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs, and Civil Liberties Helena Dalli said that “what we have done here is serving as a model to other countries, and, in a good way, because more people are leading better lives.” And The Independent continued:

“Kyle Knight, a New York-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that what’s particularly admirable about Malta’s LGBT rights laws is ‘not just the result as much as the process’ that led to their creation.

“Members of the LGBT community, other advocates and a local human rights group served on a council set up in 2013 to advise the government. Legislation was accompanied by directives that covered how LGBT people in prison should be treated and how schools should deal with bullying of transgender or gay students.

“When Knight was recently asked in Japan how schools should handle anti-LGBT bullying, ‘We copied and pasted these (Maltese) guidance documents and we said, “Look, this is how you do it,”‘ he recalled.”

While marriage equality is not legal yet in Malta, same-gender couples are recognized through civil unions, there are extensive non-discrimination protections, so-called “conversion therapy” is banned with harsh penalties in place, and a 2015 law on transgender and intersex persons is considered the gold standard in Europe.

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The island nation of Malta

How does a country where Roman Catholicism is named in the constitution as the state’s religion and where 95% of its citizens identify as Catholic become so progressive in a short time? Some observers might consider Malta a paradox, understanding LGBT equality and the Catholic Church to be opposites. Yet, there is a very plausible explanation for what has happened.

First, it is an oft-repeated but worth reiterating truism: Catholics support LGBT equality because of, not in spite of their faith. Key tenets like social justice, human dignity, and non-discrimination have informed the faithful’s engagement in civic matters, and this includes working for the rights of sexual and gender minorities. It makes sense the citizens of Malta who practice, or even are simply informed by, Catholic faith would vote for equality.

Second, it has to be admitted that there are non-ecclesial matters influencing this shift. In Western contexts, homosexuality has been largely de-stigmatized and neighboring countries in Europe have been moving forward on LGBT rights. Some have credited Malta joining the European Union as an impetus for catching up to their neighbors, and now taking the lead. As in other Western contexts, Mass attendance and the moral authority of bishops have declined in recent years. Some people leave, or are pushed out of, the church, and there is a certain amount of secularizing that happens. These factors and more, as in other regions, contribute to the rapid pace of the shift.

2b5de-drachmabloglogoBut third, many Maltese remain practicing Catholics and this has made the biggest difference. A few weeks ago, I highlighted the positive outreach of the country’s bishops to LGBT communities . In fact, Malta’s leading gay rights group gave the bishops an award in 2014. Here are other important examples of positive Catholic moments on LGBT issues:

  • Drachma and Drachma Parents are both Catholic organizations engaging LGBT issues in the church, and they have made an impact. They helped consult on the civil unions law, pushing back against a bishop’s criticism, They hosted Sr. Jeannine Gramick in 2011 to educate about LGBT equality in the church. They also hosted theologians Sr. Margaret Farley, RSM, and James Alison.) They were credited by Bishop Mario Grech as helping him to understand the need and urgency for new pastoral care of LGBT people;
  • A priest who blessed a same-gender couple’s rings was not punished by the bishop; indeed, Archbishop Charles Scicluna affirmed the priest’s outreach efforts to LGBT people;
  • After releasing a harsh position paper opposing the government’s efforts to ban “conversion therapy,” a paper in which homosexuality was compared to pedophilia, Archbishop Charles Scicluna listened to Catholics’ criticism and then apologizedsaying the church was “dead set” against such programs.

Though I have never experienced the Church of Malta firsthand, I sense a serious Christian community of mature and critically engaged Catholics. Lay Catholics, and clergy like Fr. Camilleri, have grappled with not only church teaching, but the realities of their context.And, quite notably, the country’s bishops have been willing to affirm LGBT people as beloved by God and to listen to their people. They have even been willing to acknowledge where the hierarchy had it wrong, and to apologize to those whom they have harmed.

In under a decade, Malta went from being socially conservative to a world leader on LGBT rights. Maltese Catholics are a shining example of what can happen when the faithful really listen to the Gospel and live their faith in public life. Let us hope more and more historically-Catholic regions follow this path, especially in areas like Latin America and Africa where the church is rapidly growing and yet LGBT rights remain limited.

If you would like to read reflections from members of Drachma Parents, you can find Louise Laferia’s reflection on the call of being a parent to an LGBT person here and Joseanne and Joseph Peregin’s reflection on what makes a family holy here. For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of LGBT Catholic issues in Malta, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 13, 2017

 

Jesuit Priest Speaks Out for Canadian Transgender Equality Bill

A Jesuit priest in Toronto, Canada, has emerged as an important voice in support of a national bill for transgender equality.

Fr. Gilles Mongeau, SJ

Fr. Gilles Mongeau, SJ, associate professor of systematic theology at Regis College, Toronto, has spoken out in favor of bill C-16 which would include gender identity and expressions as protected categories in Canada’s  Human Rights Act.  According to an article in America magazine, Fr. Mongeau stated:

“To the extent that it seeks to protect the quest of trans people to be themselves in a safe environment, Bill C-16 is something to be applauded by Christians.”

Mongeau has worked with Our Lady of Lourdes parish, situated in the gay neighborhood of Toronto.  The parish hosts a program called “All Inclusive Ministries,” which hosts a weekly Mass for the LGBT community, among other programs.

The Jesuit priest acknowledges that biological sex and gender may be more complex phenomena than simple physical characteristics.  He follows his brother Jesuit, Pope Francis, in describing church outreach to transgender people, saying:

“We must begin from the fact that the church, at this time, has no official teaching about gender identity or trans persons.”

“[Mongeau] underlines the need to, as Pope Francis suggests, accompany real people in real situations. For his part, though the Holy Father has been critical of ‘gender theory,’ he has been sensitive to preferred pronouns in the context of real encounter. That is reflected in his comments about a letter he received from a transgender man: ‘He who was a she, but is a he,’ the pope said.”

The question about pronoun usage reveals a more important question about our understanding of transgender people as human beings, Mongeau noted:

“The question of pronouns cannot be separated from the real lives of people. Asking these questions in the abstract is part of the problem we are facing because it makes it possible to evoke the image or idea that trans people somehow serve an agenda of attacking the moral fiber of society or serve an anti-Christian agenda. Trans people, in my experience, are trying to live healthy, productive and (sometimes) spiritually fruitful lives.”

In the America article, the need for equal civil protections for transgender people was expressed by Janice Towndrow, a Christian transgender woman from Toronto:

“I used to wish I had cancer because when you have cancer all the family rallies around you. But when you’re trans, you don’t have family, they kick you out.

‘It is very difficult,’ she says, even ‘comparable to biblical times,’ when lepers were shunned by the community. ‘You’re distanced; you’re pulled from your family; you’re cast out of the community. So you don’t see your children anymore. If you had a job, you probably don’t have it anymore.’ “

Janice Towndrow

And she noted how important it is for Christian churches to support transgender people and Bill c-16:

“Christian support for Bill C-16 would make a huge difference for transgender people looking to lead healthy spiritual lives, who are often alienated by communities of faith. As Ms. Towndrow explains, ‘I think somewhere along the line, everyone [in the transgender community] turns their back on the church because the church has turned its back on them.”

The bill passed Canada’s House of Commons in December, by a vote of 248-40, and is now being sent to the Senate.

While opponents of the bill continue to make their voices heard, we can thank God for courageous Catholic leaders like Fr. Mongeau and for communities like Our Lady of Lourdes parish for showing their public support for transgender equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 31, 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.”

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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

‘Nun on the Bus’ Speaks on Justice, Spirituality, and Equality for Women and LGBT People

As millions gather at “Women’s Marches” in cities across the U.S. and the globe to protest the new presidential administration in Washington, DC, it might be instructive for us to learn from a Catholic nun who has been an outspoken advocate for justice for decades: Sister Simone Campbell, SSS.  In fact, she will be a speaker at the main Women’s March in Washington, DC today.

Sister Simone Cambell, SSS

Sr. Simone, the “nun on the bus,” has been speaking passionately for many years now about issues of social justice such as poverty, health care, and military spending. Less well-known about her, though, is that she has also added her voice to discussions on LGBT equality.  In 2010,  she addressed a U.S. Congressional briefing about Catholic support for LGBT civil rights, including marriage equality.  In 2015, she was a speaker at DignityUSA’s biennial convention for LGBT Catholics.   And on April 28, 2017, she will be the leader of a retreat day focusing on social justice, spirituality, and LGBT issues, as a prelude to New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.”

Sr. Simone was featured recently in a U.S. Catholic profile as part of their “Unexpected Women” series.  Interestingly for today’s events, the writer of the profile, Jean P. Kelly, notes that she turned to Sr. Simone’s words for inspiration after being “paralyzed” when Kelly’s campaigning work “failed to result in the outcome I prayed for in the most recent presidential election.”  Kelly listened to a podcast Sr. Simone had made which called for political action combined with deep contemplation.  The podcast contained this advice:

“Faith [is] …groping in the dark and…listening for the nudges and paying attention….Religious life is about deep listening to the needs around us.”

Controversy is not a stranger to Sr. Simone, whose work, first as a lawyer, and then as the Executive Director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby founded by nuns.  She rose to become almost a household name when she started the annual campaign “Nuns on the Bus,” in which religious women travel the nation to hold rallies and prayer services for social justice across the U.S.

Kelly gives a bit of the nun’s biography, explaining how social action and religious life melded for her:

“In her autobiography, A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community (HarperOne), Campbell explains how her coming of age in the 1960s played a role in her decision to join a small community of religious founded in 1923 [Sisters of Social Service] with a ‘mission to be active in the world, a force for justice.’

” ‘That got them into trouble,’ Campbell says, ‘But I liked that. Jesus for me has always been about justice.’ “

Social action is only half of the equation, though, for Sr. Simone.  Kelly explains:

“Though her role at NETWORK requires very public faith in action, it was surprising for me to learn that Sister Simone sees her vocation primarily as a contemplative. “It is the most sacred piece of who I am,” she says. Her community’s practice of meditation inspired her interest in Zen meditation, which she has says teaches her how to ‘live on the edge of awareness and insight, about myself and about the world.’ “

And as happens frequently with prophetic people, her stands have sometimes found her embroiled in controversies with the church hierarchy.  But her stands are not based in opposition, as much as they are based in relationship. In her memoir, Sr. Simone states:

“No sister I know thinks she has the responsibility for the institution of the Church. Rather we walk with people in everyday life and try to live the Gospel in that context. This living reality gives us hearts of compassion for the struggle of our world….It appears that people find this attractive and describe it as spiritual leadership. The bishops, on the other hand, take their roles as chiefly one of protecting the institution. They live by rules and regulations that many people experience as judgmental and off-putting. It seems to me that some bishops are angry that the sisters are given a respect that the bishops think they alone deserve.”

Kelly notes that Sr. Simone offers great advice at times of discouragement.  It seems that with the new presidential administration, we may be experiencing discouragement on LGBT topics, but also on more broader topics of health care, immigration, gender equality, and ethnic, racial, and religious diversity.   During those times, it would be good to keep Sr. Simone’s advice in mind:

“The guilt—or the curse—of the progressive, the liberal, the whatever, is that we think we have to do it all. And then we get overwhelmed and don’t do anything. But that’s the mistake. Community is about just doing my part. Just do one thing.”

If you would like to experience more of Sr. Simone’s wisdom, consider attending the retreat day about social justice, spirituality, and LGBT issues she will be giving in advance of New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.”  The retreat day is Friday, April 28, 2017.  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.

For more on developing a sense of hope in a dark time, read yesterday’s blog post by Robert Shine, in which he reflects on this topic.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 21, 2017

 

Finding Rainbows of Hope in Dark Times

For U.S. LGBT advocates, and for so many others around the globe, the incoming U.S. President has turned the usually celebratory Inauguration ceremonies in Washington, D.C. today into a time of mourning. In previous posts (here, here, and here), I have provided analyses of how LGBT Catholic issues may be affected by the political transition underway. Today, I offer a more personal reflection on sustaining hope and keeping focused on equality work for the long months ahead.

4a232b332546447c397e19d4da6044aeAlready, the impending harm to LGBT rights is becoming clearer. Many nominees for the presidential Cabinet are radically opposed to equal rights. Ben Carson, nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, has questioned the settled science about homosexual orientation,  and he said LGBT people should not be afforded “extra rights.

Nearly all the opposition to equality comes from professed Christians, including some Catholics. Steve Bannon, senior counselor and chief strategist at the White House, was raised Catholic, and he once managed a white supremacist publication which published many viciously anti-gay stories. Catholic campaign advisors for the incoming President included: former Senator Rick Santorum, who in 2003 compared being gay to bestiality,  and who has long opposed LGBT equality issues; Joseph Cella, organizer of the right-wing National Catholic Prayer Breakfast where, last year, Vatican official Cardinal Robert Sarah said the push for transgender rights was “demonic.” It is clear, too, that the 2016 election has emboldened many national politicians and local officials who would curtail the rights of LGBT people and other vulnerable communities.

I am frightened by what this new presidential administration and its ripple effects will mean for people in this country, and I am frightened by what will happen globally when the U.S. government is no longer including LGBT equality as part of its work for human rights internationally. I am frightened, but I am hopeful. And I think hope must be our response if we are to find the resistance required of us now.

I began nurturing this hope while reading Pope Francis’ address to Vatican diplomats earlier this month. He did not speak directly to issues of gender and sexuality, but I find his words are readily applicable to our work:

“Sadly, we are conscious that even today, religious experience, rather than fostering openness to others, can be used at times as a pretext for rejection, marginalization and violence. . .Hence I appeal to all religious authorities to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name.”

Pope Francis also enjoined religious and civil leaders to work together towards peace, saying that civil leaders are “charged with guaranteeing in the public forum the right to religious freedom, while acknowledging religion’s positive and constructive contribution to the building of a civil society.” He continued by highlighting, in the light of faith, the many issues present in our world like the plight of refugees, the arms trade and nuclear weapons, and ecological devastation.

I wish Pope Francis would offer an explicit and firm condemnation of unjust situations where LGBT people are criminalized and threatened. We have to ensure Catholics do not use his troubling silence to justify support for anti-LGBT initiatives. We have to apply the pope’s broader message of mercy and justice to our struggle for LGBT equality.

Today, I find myself like the prophet Habbukuk, crying, “How long, O God, must I. . .cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ and you do not intervene?” Have we labored and sacrificed for so many days and at such great cost only to see our achievements ripped away? Days like today can cause us to doubt whether our efforts are worth it, and even question our faith and firmest commitments.

To respond to this dark foeboding, we must find within ourselves the hope that comes from intimately knowing Jesus, the Incarnate Word who pitched a tent in our midst so that God could share in our human experience. We have a responsibility to stop those who, in Pope Francis’ words, use our religious traditions “as a pretext for rejection, marginalization and violence.” We must ensure, in the United States and globally, that our Christian faith is never invoked by those who harm LGBT people.

I close with words from Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a prophetic witness for both peace and LGBT justice, who said in his homily last week:

“When all of us really come to understand that this is our call [to love as fully and as far as we can], like that servant in Isaiah, we will be carrying the message of God’s love to the very ends of the earth. As we do this faithfully, then God’s will for our world will be fulfilled. We will transform our world into the reign of God where there will be peace and fullness of life for every person.

“During this Ordinary Time of the year, every Sunday now, we will be listening to ways of how to follow Jesus to bring his message, that important message of love into our life and into our world. If we’re faithful to our call, God’s reign will be breaking forth in our midst and we will be able to rid our world of the violence and the hatred that seems to be so much a part of it. I hope we hear this call and are faithful to it, and each week during this year listen deeply to God’s Word and try to follow that message of Jesus.”

While our liturgical readings may be for Ordinary Time, we begin today an extraordinary time which demands even greater faithfulness. May we find the hope we need today and every day to help the rainbows that signify God’s love break forth and pierce the darkening skies before us.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 20, 2017

 

Warren Hall Explains Why He Won’t Seek Reinstatement to Priesthood

Ever since it was announced that Cardinal Joseph Tobin would replace Archbishop John Myers as the leader of the Church in Newark, New Jersey,  many people have asked me if I thought that meant that Fr. Warren Hall would be reinstated as a priest there.

Some of you may recall that Hall was suspended from priestly ministry by Myers at the end of last summer.  The Archdiocese of Newark said that the suspension was because of Hall’s support of LGBT organizations, though Hall saw his outreach to LGBT people and groups as part of his ministry.   The archdiocese’s disagreements with Hall began in 2015 when they removed him as chaplain at Seton Hall University because of his support of the “NOH8” campaign and re-assigned him to the Hoboken parish of Sts. Peter and Paul.  Soon after that re-assignment, Fr. Hall came out as gay in a journalistic interview.

Warren Hall

Since Hall’s suspension of priestly faculties came well after Myers had submitted his resignation, many people, including me, thought that a new archbishop might reinstate him.

However, Hall, in an op-ed he penned for Religion News Service, recently announced that the possibility of reinstatement is not something that he would like to pursue.  Hall explains how he came to the decision, first tracing the history of how things have transpired:

It has now been a year and a half since this whole saga began, when Archbishop Myers removed me from my job as chaplain at Seton Hall University in May 2015. He did this due to suspicions that a “NOH8” posting I made on Facebook standing against attacks on the LGBT community, plus my subsequent coming out as a gay man, reflected a “hidden agenda” that he claimed undermined Catholic teaching.

It has also been five months since Myers suspended me from all priestly ministry for my “disobedience” in continuing to be involved with that same work against LGBT discrimination.

Hall said he has spent the intervening months discerning whether he should request reinstatement, something that his family, friends, and parishioners were encouraging him to do.  But then another incident happened which decided his position:

“. . . [A]s I was contemplating it all the decision was effectively made for me, on Dec. 7. That’s when the Vatican issued a document reaffirming a 2005 instruction that gay men should not be admitted to the priesthood. Apparently, Pope Francis approved of the policy.

How he could assert this is as confusing as his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment when asked about gay men in the priesthood.

In describing his ministry to LGBT people, Hall emphasizes a point that all who minister with LGBT people encounter:  engaging in ministry means encountering people who do not always agree with church doctrine:

The activity for which I was suspended last August was related to my speaking publicly to LGBT Catholics and encouraging them to stay in the Catholic Church. Yes, I said stay IN the church!

And yes, I met with groups that do not necessarily agree with our teaching. But those are the places Jesus went. I believe that today is comparable to many other times in the church’s history when the tenets of its teachings came face to face with developments in society, and things became “messy.”

Hall acknowledges that the church’s language of “objectively disordered” and “intrinsically evil” are offensive, but he believes that in the future these terms will change.   Unfortunately, though the current language prevents him from seeking reinstatement:

I can’t [seek reinstatement], simply because I could not in good conscience take the Oath of Fidelity that all priests take upon ordination and when assuming a pastorate, namely, that I “accept and hold everything that is proposed by the hierarchy” and that I “adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings.”

He recognizes that the teaching on sexuality is not the most important one, and he wishes church leadership would focus on more primary concerns:

I think the average Catholic wants the church to get back to the basics: feeding the hungry; clothing the naked; proclaiming the message of love, forgiveness and inclusion that Jesus taught his followers.

It’s a message the people are not hearing enough, and because of that their church is failing them and because of that many are abandoning their church, in droves!

Hall also asserts another important idea that seems to have played a role in his decision:

I don’t think the church knows yet how to deal with openly gay men in active ministry, even those of us who observe our vows of chastity. I don’t think the church knows how to minister to its LGBT brothers and sisters, and it’s not yet trying to learn.

I’ve excerpted what I consider the highlights of Hall’s essay,  If you are interested in LGBT pastoral ministry or the issue of gay priests, I recommend that you read the entire essay by clicking here.

The Catholic Church is diminished by the loss of Warren Hall from the priesthood.  Having met him personally, I know that he is a faith-filled person who responds to others with love, compassion, and justice.  Obviously, the decision not to seek reinstatement was a difficult one for him, but he has done so with integrity.  I was happy to read at the end of his essay that he plans to continue his ministry as a Catholic lay person:

I will work now in the secular world with that same sense of mission that was mine since I was a youth group teen and which I committed myself to on the day of my ordination.

In doing so, I’ll continue to live by the final command of the liturgy that we all celebrate: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”

Hall will be leading a focus session on “Gay Men in the Priesthood and Religious Life” at New Ways Ministry’s upcoming Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” We had invited him before his suspension, and now we think his words will be even more prescient. For more information about the symposium, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, click here.