CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Hawaii Bishop Raises $$$ to Oppose Marriage Equality

history-option-1“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Hawaii Bishop Raises Funds Opposing Marriage Equality

One of the earliest U.S. cases to sue for the right of same-sex couples in Hawaii was the Baehr v. Miike case in Hawaii, which was in state courts from 1990-1999.  Perhaps not surprisingly, it was also one of the first instances where a Catholic bishop became involved to prevent a marriage equality outcome.

In 1993, Baehr v. Miike was decided by a split Hawaii Supreme Court decision which sent the case back to a lower court to be retried.  The Supreme Court put the burden on the state to show that it had a compelling interest in the matter of marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples.

Hawaii responded with a legislative commission to study marriage equality, and in 1995 recommended the passage of a law granting marriage rights to lesbian and gay couples.

In response, some legislators proposed a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as being only for heterosexual couples.  The amendment was put on the ballot for a state-wide referendum in 1998.  And that’s where the Catholic bishop of Hawaii stepped in.

bishopportrait
Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo

A June 19, 1998, news story in The National Catholic Reporter revealed:

“In a novel move, Honolulu Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo has appealed to his mainland colleagues to urge wealthy lay Catholics to back a Hawaii lobbying group opposed to same-sex marriage.

“The Hawaii State Supreme Court’s effort to mandate same-sex marriages has to be stopped, DiLorenzo wrote last month in a letter to all U.S. bishops.

In the letter to his brother bishops, DiLorenzo warned that the Hawaii case had “implicates for all the people of the United States.”

The newspaper reported the type of donations he was seeking:

“DiLorenzo wants donations (not in excess of $1,000 per person) to go to a ‘grassroots, nonreligious, nonpartisan, non candidate political action committee, Save Traditional Marriage 98.’  DiLorenzo said at an opening fundraiser that STM needs ‘almost a million dollars.’

The Hawaii campaign against marriage equality was successful in 1998, and the constitutional amendment passed.  In  1999, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that, in light of the new constitutional amendment, their earlier decision was no longer in effect.

Hawaii passed a marriage equality bill in 2013, after the U.S. Supreme Court case United States v. Windsor invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act and similar laws.

Bishop DiLorenzo was appointed as Bishop of Richmond, Virginia, by Pope John Paul II in 2004.   Marriage equality became legal in all 50 states in 2015.

Many millions and millions more dollars were spent by Catholic officials and organizations to oppose marriage equality.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 18, 2017

 

 

CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Dutch Bishops’ Statement Critiques Negative Approach to Lesbians and Gays

History-Option 1“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Dutch Bishops’ Homosexuality Document Released in English by New Ways Ministry

On February 20, 1980, which was Ash Wednesday that year, New Ways Ministry published an English translation of the Dutch bishops’ recently published document, Homosexual People in Society, a groundbreaking text, which strongly critiqued the way Catholic leaders had traditionally approached lesbian and gay issues.

The document, which had been published in the Netherlands in August 1979 by the Catholic Council for Church and Society, an official agency of the Dutch hierarchy comparable to a committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was intended to promote discussions in parishes and Catholic groups in Holland.  New Ways Ministry said that it reprinted the document in English to be “a tool for discussion among grassroots people and hopefully as a spur to larger study” on gay and lesbian issues. The National Catholic Reporter announced the English translation in the pages of its March 7, 1980 issue.

As its title suggests, the document was primarily concerned with the social effects that gay and lesbian people experienced, particularly as a result of Church doctrine and practice.  In its introduction, the Council stated:

“In light of the Church’s traditional views of sexuality, this position of excluding homosexual persons from Church life causes even further discrimination.  Singling people out within the Church community can tend to foster social discrimination.  Consequently, it is not surprising the the Church’s pronouncements about rejecting social discrimination do not always sound very credible.”

One of the important points of the document was its critique of traditional Scripture interpretations which were used to condemn lesbian and gay people.  In some of its strongest language, the Council observed:

“First, a direct biblical basis for judgment on a homosexual orientation as such is absent; the Scripture writers were not aware of a constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation.  This means that any appeal to the Scriptures in order to condemn a homosexual orientation and to transfer that condemnation into social discrimination must be rejected as an abuse of Scripture.

“Secondly, when the Scriptures speak disapprovingly about homosexual acts, the main emphasis appears to be on the condemnation of abuses in which homosexual acts play only a part.  Most often these abuses are mentioned very explicitly: violation of hospitality, blackmail, prostitution, and especially idolatry. . . .

“There seems to be insufficient grounds for justifying discrimination against homosexual persons by appealing to those texts.”

Also, significant for its time, was an openness to critique natural law by appealing to new scientific research.  The Council wanted to examine

“. . . the problem of how an appeal to the natural law can be convincing in those cases where homosexual behavior can not be shown to be an expression of arrested development or perversion of a heterosexual orientation from personal or social pressures, but is understood and experienced as a natural expression of a homosexual orientation. This problem is even more urgent since, even in the sciences, a consensus is growing about the constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation.”

In a certain respect, the Dutch document was promoting similar ideas of non-judgmentalism that we have seen advocated by Pope Francis.  In one section, the document states:

“. . . [F]rom the moral judgment on homosexual behavior one cannot derive automatically a total condemnation of someone who behaves homosexually, let alone relegate him or her to the position of a social outcast or second-class citizen.”

These words are extremely important for Church leaders and pastors to pay heed to before excluding LGBT Catholics from sacraments, volunteer ministries, or employment.

 The document continued in the vein of Pope Francis.  In the following section, we read a forerunner to the pope’s complaint that Church leaders overemphasize sexuality issues. The document condemns “all too one-sided and exaggerated attention to sexual behavior.”  It continued:

“This overemphasis plays a role in another way in the problems of homosexual people in society, since this overemphasis can itself be a source of discrimination.  The Council wants to call attention emphatically to this.  Respect or personal freedom and conscientious striving for a just society exclude a position on sexuality which identifies orientation and behavior too closely together.  This creates a danger of shortsightedness and one-sidedness in judging people.  It can easily lead to an excessive attention to sexual behavior especially in its strict expressions of genital sexuality.”

The document does not challenge the prohibition of sexual activity between persons of the same sex, though it does acknowledge at one point that “the rejection of homosexual behavior embarrasses the Church precisely because some successful homosexual love relationships do exist.”

The more important emphasis in this document, however, is its insistence that Church leaders and pastors should not become condemnatory of lesbian and gay people. The authors were aware that the Church’s prohibition on same-sex activity could be inflated and destructive.  They warned that the prohibition “should certainly not be viewed as any indication of silent support for discrimination,” noting:.

“For that would be a sad caricature of Christianity.  In fact, the destructive results of this caricature are already being felt.  There is evidence of this, for example, in the fact that the self-acceptance of the homosexual person, which is often the result of a difficult struggle, frequently leads to an automatic break with the Church.  This is understandable within the framework of that caricature.  But in our opinion, it is a sad state of affairs both for the Church and the homosexual person.”

For its time, the Dutch document spoke truths that were hard for people to accept.  I think that even today, unfortunately, some Church leaders would be uncomfortable with some of the idea that the document expressed.  But in many quarters of the Church, including in the papacy, we are seeing some of their ideas finally taking root.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 22, 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 LGBT HISTORY: Diocese Supported Maine Gay Rights Bill

History-Option 1“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Dialogue Brings Diocesan Support for Gay Rights Bill

On January 5, 2000, The Bangor Daily News carried a new article with the headline “Catholics Back New Proposal for Gay Rights.”  The story was about the latest group to support a bill in the state legislature  It began:

“Maine’s perennial debate over the enactment of a state gay rights law was reinvigorated Tuesday when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland announced it would support an amended proposal.”

[Note:  The Diocese of Portland encompasses the entire state of Maine.]

Diocesan spokesperson Marc Mutty explained the diocese’s change of position from opposition to support:

“We believe [the amended bill] represents a reasonable and thoughtful resolution to the legitimate concerns that been raised by persons of good faith with respect to past proposals.”

By the year 2000, it was not unheard of for Catholic dioceses to support bills which protected basic rights of lesbian and gay people.  What was more noteworthy in this case, though, was the process that the diocese engaged in to arrive at this position of support.  The news article explained:

“Members of the Maine Lesbian Gay Political Alliance and legislative supporters worked with the Diocese to find common ground to back the proposal.”

While not unheard of, it was still a very rare occurrence for a diocese to dialogue with a gay equality organization to negotiate a solution.

Not everyone, not even all people of faith were happy with the diocese’s decision.  Michael Heath, the executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, opposed the bill (and an earlier gay rights law which they overturned through a referendum) commented on the Catholics’ announcement:

“This is a sad day for Maine and it is a sadder day for the church.”

Joining Mutty at the press conference announcing the diocesan position was Father Michael Henchal, former diocesan chancellor.  Henchal supported the idea of not having another referendum if the bill passed. He praised the process the diocese had taken with the gay rights group:

“Maybe people sitting down and talking together can actually do a much better job in resolving a question than can be done through a citizens’ initiative or referendum.”

Gay rights activists were similarly pleased with the dialogue that took place with church officials.  David Garrity, president of the Maine Lesbian Gay Political Alliance, stated:

“We have always believed that the Roman Catholic Church would be a natural ally in this fight against discrimination.”

I’m sure that many regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will agree that it does seem natural for the Catholic Church to be an ally, not an opponent, of LGBT equality.  And, as Fr. Henchal noted, that talking together is a very effective way for disparate parties to find agreement.  These are lessons that church leaders in 2017 would do well to remember.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 28, 2017

 

 

When the U.S. Bishops Rejected the Language of “Objective Disorder”

History-Option 1“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions ofBondings 2.0’s predecessor:  Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

November 1990: When the U.S. Bishops Rejected the Language of “Objective Disorder”

In mid-November 1990, the U.S. bishops issued a 185-page document entitled “Human Sexuality:  A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning,” designed to set the course for Catholic education on sexual topics.

Davenport, Iowa’s Catholic Messenger newspaper carried an article on the document with the headline “Bishop asks: Are we credible on sex?”   The article explained:

“Passage came only after debate which highlighted underlying questions about the Church’s credibility on artificial contraception, the proper pastoral approach to homosexual persons and long-standing controversies between educators and some Catholic parents over sex education in schools.”

On the topic of homosexuality, the debate centered around the use of the language “objective disorder,” a term which had only been recently coined in 1986 in the Vatican’s “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.”

The news article reported:

Cardinal John O’Connor

“. . .[A] spirited discussion on homosexuality was set off by an amendment proposed by Cardinal John O’Connor of New York and Bishop Raymond Lessard of Savannah, Ga.  They asked for the addition of language from a 196 statement by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to state that a homosexual orientation is ‘objectively disordered.’ “

Not all bishops agreed with this proposed addition.  The newspaper continued:

“Auxiliary Bishop Peter Rosazza of Hartford, Conn., objected, saying that phrase in the doctrinal congregation document ‘has caused untold damage in the homosexual community.’

Archbishop John Quinn

“Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco agreed but said the problem arises because ‘the statement is misunderstood.’

” ‘It is a philosophical statement; about tendencies and their objects, not a statement about persons, he said.  ‘Every individual has disordered tendencies–to anger, to greed, the seven capital sins.’

“But because the Vatican statement ‘is read’ as meaning that the person with the tendency is disordered, it has presented a pastoral problem that ‘is difficult to overcome,’ he said.”

The newspaper account said that several other bishops joined in the discussion on both sides of the debate, but that ultimately they rejected the O’Connor-Lessard amendment to include “objective disorder” in the document.

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin

Instead, an alternative was proposed by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago and Archbishops Quinn and Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile, AL.  The article explained the new, accepted language:

“The approved amendment said that a homosexual ‘orientation in itself, because not freely chosen, is not sinful.’ It added a footnote quoting the doctrinal congregations’ reference to such a tendency as ‘objectively disordered’ and an explanation, drafted by Archbishop Quinn, of the meaning of that phrase in the Vatican document.”

The headline of the story, “Bishop asks: Are we credible on sex?” referred to another debate about the document’s language on contraception.  Bishop Kenneth Untener of Saginaw, Michigan, questioned a passage which said that the logic on contraception teaching is “compelling.”  He questioned the use of that term “knowing in fact that the logic is not compelling–not compelling to people in general, not compelling to many bishops.” He continued:

“When we speak that way, some would compare us to a dysfunctional family, unable to talk openly about a problem that everyone knows is there.”

Bishop Kenneth Untener

Untener made a case for the sensus fildelium–the Church doctrine that says that the sense of the faithful about a particular teaching must be taken into account by the magistgerium. He reported that he asked his 23-person diocesan pastoral council to give their anonymous opinions on how the  “Human Sexuality” document treated the topic of artificial contraception.  The vote was 22 to 1 against the document’s content. Untener explained to the bishops:

“You must understand these are not dissidents. They are farmers and city people, men and women, middle-aged and older.

“I don’t know what would happen if you did the same with your pastoral council . . .  your presbyterate (priests).  I don’t know what would happen if we did it with each other right here.  . . . “

Though speaking on artificial contraception, the same logic could easily apply to LGBT issues. Two years later,  Bishop Untener would apply similar thinking to the issue of homosexuality when he was a speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium on Lesbian/Gay Issues, in Chicago.

At the 2014 and 2015 Vatican synods on family life, we saw that bishops from around the world were publicly questioning the use of the language of “objective disorder.”  It’s worth remembering that the U.S. bishops had for a long time been reluctant to use that language in their own documents.  They did not use it in their 1997 pastoral letter “Always Our Children” addressed to parents of lesbian/gay people, until the Vatican directed them to add the language in footnotes for a revised version one year later.

More importantly, it’s important to remember that bishops meeting can, have, and should be opportunities for debate and discussion.  We have seen some of that spirit already some some the bishops appointed by Pope Francis, who have raised challenging questions at bishops’ meetings. Bishop Untener’s example also shows that the opinions of lay people, especially those affected by a church teaching, should also be part of the discussion.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 22, 2016

Catholic LGBT History: 30th Anniversary of the “Ratzinger Letter”

History-Option 1“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions ofBondings 2.0’s predecessor:  Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Thirty years ago today,  the Vatican released a document entitle “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” This document is probably the most influential piece of church teaching on the topic of homosexuality, and debates about it still continue among theologians, lay people, pastoral ministers, and bishops.  It set the tone for most of the very harsh messages about gay and lesbian people that emerged from Catholic leaders over the past three decades.

Because the news of this letter made headlines on the following day, October 31st, (and probably also because of the harsh content of the document) it is sometimes referred to as the “Halloween letter.”  (In fact, the Letter was actually promulgated on October 1st, but not made public until the 30th.)

Because the document was authored by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (which was the Vatican office which released it), it is also sometimes referred to as the “Ratzinger letter” or “CDF letter.”

It’s official Latin title is perhaps the most telling about the document’s contents.  Latin titles of church documents are always the first two or three words of the document itself.  In this case, the Latin title is “Homosexualitatis probelma” or “the problem of homosexuality.” From the very first words of the document, the author understood the issue in negative terms, as a problem.  The introductory paragraphs explain that the letter was written in response to a growing acceptance of homosexuality, not only in society, but in the church too:

“The issue of homosexuality and the moral evaluation of homosexual acts have increasingly become a matter of public debate, even in Catholic circles.”  (section 1)

Reading between the lines, and remembering the historical context of this document, it’s important to point out that this Letter was, in fact, a reaction to many positive developments concerning lesbian and gay persons that were occurring in Catholicism.  The 1970s and early 1980s were a rich time for discussion and initiatives in the Church around lesbian and gay issues. This Letter was designed to shut down those projects, as we shall see later in this post.

A more proximate cause of the Letter’s origin was the fact that in 1975, in the Vatican’s “Declaration on Sexual Ethics,” homosexual orientation was recognized as not a sinful state, though homosexual activity or relationships were still considered immoral.  So, in this new document, the CDF set out to clear things up:

“In the discussion which followed the publication of the Declaration, however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” (section 3)

Those last two words, “objective disorder,” were the ones which launched the major battles of the next thirty years.  Although theologians explained that it was not intended to refer to a medical or psychological disorder, but instead was a philosophical term to describe heterosexuality as part of the natural moral order,  the term has caused great pain and harm to people.  Only a few understand the philosophical nuances of it, and many who proclaim it are likely intending people to accept its very negative connotations.

In addition to the theological content of the letter, a significant feature of it was how it tried to close down any positive discussion of  lesbian and gay issues in the church.  The letter contains many references to Catholics who question or challenge the church’s teaching on homosexuality.  Some examples from the Letter:

“Nevertheless, increasing numbers of people today, even within the Church, are bringing enormous pressure to bear on the Church to accept the homosexual condition as though it were not disordered and to condone homosexual activity. Those within the Church who argue in this fashion often have close ties with those with similar views outside it. . . . The Church’s ministers must ensure that homosexual persons in their care will not be misled by this point of view, so profoundly opposed to the teaching of the Church. But the risk is great and there are many who seek to create confusion regarding the Church’s position, and then to use that confusion to their own advantage.”(section 8)

“The movement within the Church, which takes the form of pressure groups of various names and sizes, attempts to give the impression that it represents all homosexual persons who are Catholics. As a matter of fact, its membership is by and large restricted to those who either ignore the teaching of the Church or seek somehow to undermine it.” (section 9)

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

“. . . [T]his Congregation wishes to ask the Bishops to be especially cautious of any programmes which may seek to pressure the Church to change her teaching, even while claiming not to do so. A careful examination of their public statements and the activities they promote reveals a studied ambiguity by which they attempt to mislead the pastors and the faithful. For example, they may present the teaching of the Magisterium, but only as if it were an optional source for the formation of one’s conscience.” (section 14)

“The Bishops are asked to exercise special care in the selection of pastoral ministers so that by their own high degree of spiritual and personal maturity and by their fidelity to the Magisterium, they may be of real service to homosexual persons, promoting their health and well-being in the fullest sense. Such ministers will reject theological opinions which dissent from the teaching of the Church and which, therefore, cannot be used as guidelines for pastoral care.” (section 17)

“All support should be withdrawn from any organizations which seek to undermine the teaching of the Church, which are ambiguous about it, or which neglect it entirely. Such support, or even the semblance of such support, can be gravely misinterpreted. Special attention should be given to the practice of scheduling religious services and to the use of Church buildings by these groups, including the facilities of Catholic schools and colleges. To some, such permission to use Church property may seem only just and charitable; but in reality it is contradictory to the purpose for which these institutions were founded, it is misleading and often scandalous.” (section 17)

So, far from being a document which was theological in nature, the Letter had a strong emphasis on trying to repress discussion of homosexuality and in the church and to silence any and all forms of openness towards lesbian and gay people and their concerns.

The Letter had some seemingly positive statements, but these statements were always undercut by other messages in the text.  Section 10 of the Letter is a classic case of this phenomenon:

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

Yet the next paragraph undercuts any positive message from the one above:

“But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.”

In terms of pastoral care, the Letter offered similarly mixed messages. For example, in section 17 the Letter stated:

“. . . [W]e would ask the Bishops to support, with the means at their disposal, the development of appropriate forms of pastoral care for homosexual persons. These would include the assistance of the psychological, sociological and medical sciences, in full accord with the teaching of the Church.”

Yet, earlier in the Letter, they warned against scientific understandings:

“The Church is thus in a position to learn from scientific discovery but also to transcend the horizons of science and to be confident that her more global vision does greater justice to the rich reality of the human person in his spiritual and physical dimensions, created by God and heir, by grace, to eternal life.” (section 2)

And earlier on , the Letter described what an appropriate pastoral program would look like, and it was one which assumed that gay and lesbian people were always tempted towards sexual activity:

“No authentic pastoral programme will include organizations in which homosexual persons associate with each other without clearly stating that homosexual activity is immoral. A truly pastoral approach will appreciate the need for homosexual persons to avoid the near occasions of sin.” (section 15)

We are still living with the effects of the 1986 Letter, but there may be signs that some leaders in the church are moving away from it’s negative message.  During the 2015 synod, we heard many bishops state that the language of “objective disorder” and “intrinsic moral evil” needed to be scrapped.  We also see that some bishops are willing to open discussions about homosexuality, and to listen to voices which disagree with the Church’s teaching.  We see  gay-friendly parishes and diocesan programs which do not see avoidance of sexual activity as their prime focuses.

The 1986 Letter did an enormous among of pastoral harm and damage to lesbian and gay people.  Many people,  straight and gay, left the Church because of its message, and many more continue to do so when they hear its message proclaimed.

But perhaps, 30 years later, we are starting to see that the criticisms that theologians and lay people have leveled against this document are starting to reach the highest levels of the Church.

Whenever I read the Letter, I always end up having an idea that the author imagined the Church being besieged from inside and outside by people who had a positive view of lesbian and gay people.  I always imagine that the authors imagined that this Letter was building a fortress wall around the Church.  Perhaps, thirty years later, we are seeing that wall begin to crumble at least a bit.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 30, 2016

Catholic LGBT History: Archdiocese of Baltimore Establishes a Ministry to Gays and Lesbians

By Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 9, 2016

History-Option 1“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions ofBondings 2.0’s predecessor:  Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Archdiocese of Baltimore Establishes Lesbian and Gay Ministry

An article in the October 16, 1981 edition of the Baltimore Archdiocese’s newspaper, The Catholic Review, carried the headline:  “Fr. Hughes heads new team ministry to lesbians, gays.” The article reported the appointment of Fr. Joseph B. Hughes, a priest with experience in counseling, being named the coordinator of the newly-formed ministry to lesbians and gays. The article explained:

“The appointment of Father Hughes follows several months of discussions between archdiocesan officials and members of the lesbian and gay communities in Baltimore.  The homosexual communities had requested the establishment of a special ministry which would work with them and serve their needs as Catholics.

“A task force created by Archbishop Borders, consisting of local clergy and religious studied the issues involved recommended that he appoint a coordinator for a team ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics.  Father Hughes is expected to establish such a team in coming weeks.”

The article explained that Hughes had been working with gay and lesbian Catholics in the archdiocese for eight years by that point.

To establish this ministry, the Archdiocese of Baltimore issued a pastoral plan for ministry to lesbian and gay Catholics.  Entitled “A Ministry to Lesbian and Gay Catholic Persons:  Rationale for Ministry,” and dated October 5, 1981, the document explained:

“…[T]he Church finds it necessary at times to formalize and make public its ministry to certain groups within society.  Whenever a particular group of people are denied their basic human rights and suffer violence to their human dignity because of prejudice or misunderstanding, there is injustice.  IN the face of that injustice, the Church cannot remain silent and still be true to its mission…Such is the situation of people in our society known as ‘homosexual.’ …

“Because of prejudice and misunderstanding, men and women with a homosexual orientation (more properly spoken of as gays and lesbians) have suffered public ridicule, social exclusion and economic hardship, thereby denigrating their human dignity by denying them respect, equality and full participation in society.  Therefore, the Roman Catholic Church of Baltimore is setting up a formal and public ministry to gay and lesbian people to bear witness to its opposition to the injustice they have suffered and are suffering. “

While sympathetic to social pressures gay and lesbian people experienced, the document acknowledged the archdiocese’s support of the magisterial disapproval of sexual expression, stating:

“…[T]he homosexual orientation is in no way held to be a sinful condition.  Like heterosexuality, it represents the situation in which one finds oneself, and so the starting point for one’s response to Christ’s call to perfection.  Responding to this call does not mean that one must change this orientation.  Rather it entails living out the demands of chastity with that orientation.”

But the document did not end there.  Immediately following that section is an amazing description of the role and dynamics of conscience, one of the best I have ever read:

Archbishop William Borders

“In setting before gays and lesbians Christ’s call to perfection the Church also reminds them that they are to respond personally to this call, that central to this response is conscience:  i.e., a properly formed conscience.  Such a response involves more than merely the learning or internalization of moral rules.  Proper formation of conscience requires that an individual make an integral part of himself or herself the ‘Christian principles inherent in the truths that Christ revealed,’ Archbishop [William] Borders [the then archbishop of Baltimore] wrote. As such, they are part of who one is and what one stands for when an individual confronts a concrete situation within which a moral decision must be made.  In making such a decision, ‘the role of the conscience is that of a judge, not a teacher,…conscience does not teach what is good or evil, nor does it create good or evil.  It weighs accumulated data, makes a judgement in very concrete, not theoretical, situations, the concrete situations’ one one’s life, Archbishop Borders continued.

“The ministry of the Roman Catholic Church to gays and lesbians which finds expression in the call to perfection and in the challenge to respond out of a properly formed conscience is always a pastoral ministry.  It is a ministry which is not content merely to repeat the challenge Christ sets before each generation:  it seeks to work with each individual, taking into account that person’s particular strengths and weaknesses, and helping that person make the fullest response possible at this moment in his or her life.”

I’d like to offer a few reflections on these passages.  First,  while I recognize the sympathy and understanding about the social pressures that gay and lesbian people experienced back then, I’ve noticed that such an approach, 35 years later, now seems condescending.  While no doubt gay and lesbian people still experience oppression and marginalization, their consciousness also recognizes and values the gifts they have to offer.  The do not need to be the objects of pity.

Second, I think it is remarkable that an archdiocese was promoting such a realistic view of conscience as an important element of pastoral ministry.  It is a theme that I see emerging in some of the ways that Pope Francis is now talking about pastoral ministry, most recently last week when he encouraged pastoral ministers working with LGBT people to take each situation on a case by case basis.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore’s document went on to suggest additional approaches to gay and lesbian ministry:  treating gay and lesbian people “in a way that communicates a respect for and a valuing of them as persons;”

  • treating gay and lesbian people “in a way that communicates a respect for and a valuing of them as persons;”
  • establishing structures  “to which the families of gays and lesbians can turn for support and counsel, and which the families of children struggling with their sexual identity can contact for information and guidance.
  • establishing “regular lines of communication by which gays and lesbians can make their voice heard by the Chruch at large.”
  • “…[T]he Church must listen to gays and lesbians to learn what they have to teach about the saving presence of Christ among us….God not only takes the side of the poor and the oppressed, he makes Himself known through them.  Thus, as a people who hunger for the Word of God, we must open our ears to His every message.”

While it is sad to see that during the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, approaches such as the ones that the Archdiocese of Baltimore proposed were quashed and silenced, it is hopeful that perhaps we are seeing a resurrection of these values in some of the methods of pastoral ministry which Pope Francis is proposing for all ministries, not just those to LGBT people.

It’s refreshing to know that, 35 years later, parishes in the Archdiocese of Baltimore are still carrying out the vision of this 1981 document.  Your can find some of these parishes on New Ways Ministry’s “Gay-Friendly Parish List.”

 

 

 

 

The Murder of Paul Broussard: A Catholic Bishop Speaks Out

History-Option 1

“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s new feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions ofBondings 2.0’s predecessor:  Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

1991: “The Murder of Paul Broussard”

In 1991, the gay-bashing death of a young Houston banker sparked a strong reaction from the local Catholic bishop in which he stated that to hate homosexuals “is to offend God.”

Paul Broussard was brutally beaten by ten youths–nine of whom were high school students–when he and his friends were leaving a nightclub in the Montrose section of Houston, known as a gay neighborhood, in the early morning hours of July 4, 1991.  Broussard was just blocks away from his home.  He was fatally stabbed twice during the attack.

First responders were slow to arrive at the scene, which was seen as a common practice for incidents in the Montrose neighborhood at that time because of fear of the AIDS virus.  The medical examiner indicated that “delay in treatment” was a cause of Broussard’s death.  In the days that followed, the city’s police chief declared that he had no intention of solving the crime, sparking days of protest marches at the mayor’s home by the gay community.  The protests went on to become the largest gay rights demonstration in Houston’s history.  Eventually, the attackers were apprehended and plea bargained to receive prison time.

Paul Broussard

On August 9th of that year, in the midst of all this turmoil, Houston’s Bishop Joseph Fiorenza took the unprecedented step of speaking out to condemn the brutality of this attack.  No bishop had ever spoken up against a gay bashing in such a public way. In a column in The Texas Catholic Herald entitled “The Death of Paul Broussard,” Fiorenza stated:

“To hate homosexuals is to offend God whose creative love gives life to every person and it is a violation of the Church’s teaching that every human being has immeasurable value and dignity which is to be respected by others. “

Fiorenza provided a theological basis for this claim:

“. . . [I]t is a religious truth that every person, regardless of lifestyle, is a child of God , formed in His image.  The ‘image of God’ in every person, whether a homosexual, a bisexual, or a heterosexual, is what gives dignity and worth to each individual, and is the reason that every person is th subject of human and civil rights.”

The bishop also got more specific in his instructions about how to eradicate the homophobia which caused such cruel acts:

“Any hatred of homosexuals or jokes about gay bashings or calling homosexuals by common epithets is clearly a violation of our responsibility to love as Christ loves every human person.  To hate or to violate another person, no matter whoo he or she is, continues the cyle of violence that can lead to other Paul Broussards’ being brutally killed just because they were thought to be homosexuals.  Please God, this will never again happen in our community. “

Bishop Fiorenza

Fiorenza also explained some recent experiences which brought the Broussard murder into a clearer focus for him:

“Shortly after Paul’s murder, I visited Central Europe and Berlin where I saw evidence of neo-Nazi anti-semitism   We must not forget that the demonic evil of Nazism also targeted homosexuals for the gas chambers.  Hitler wanted them eliminated.  God forbid that the Nazi hatred for homosexual would ever infiltrate into our community.  It is possible, however, if we are not alert to its dangers, and if we fail to teach the God-given dignity and worth of every human person.”

In an interesting move, the bishop also acknowledged that the failure to proclaim this teaching was part of the problem which caused gay bashing:

“. . . [O]ur tradtional mediating institutions [religious congregations, schools and homes] have failed society if anyone thinks ‘gay bashing’ is an acceptable form of diversion. Or what is worse, if any member of our religious congregations and schools has developed a hatred for homosexuals.”

He stressed that  the church’s teaching about human dignity needed to be proclaimed more strongly:

“The Church has always made an important anc clear distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual genital activity.  The Church has not and does not condemn those with a homosexual orientation.  Furthermore, every religious faith teaches that homosexuals are to be respected and loved as brothers and sisters in the human family and any attack upon them is a violation of religious principles.

“In view of the tragic death of Paul Broussard, it is timely for all faiths to recall this teaching to that it will be clearly understood and hopefully prevent a repeat of deaths resulting from ‘gay bashing.’ “

Bishop Firorenza’s example stands as a witness which should motivate Catholic bishops around the world to speak out against violence inflicted on the LGBT community.  This lesson is particularly important for the bishops who continue to support laws which criminalize and severely penalize LGBT people.  The teaching on human dignity is clear and unambiguous.  Application of this teaching to these situations should be similarly clear and unambiguous.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry