The Misconceptions Behind Pope’s Comment on Gender and Nuclear Arms

March 2, 2015

Pope Francis

As New Ways Ministry’s pilgrims to Italy were flying across the Atlantic a few weeks ago, a story broke about Pope Francis and gender theory which, due to our being on the road (or, more accurately, in the air), did not quite get our attention.  The substance of the story was that the pope, in an interview published in a a new Italian book, likened gender theory to nuclear arms.  In The National Catholic ReporterJoshua McElwee reported:

“Gender theory is a broad term for an academic school of thought that considers how people learn to identify themselves sexually and how they may become typed into certain roles based on societal expectations.

“Asked in the book about how important it is for Christians to recover a sense of safeguarding of creation and sustainable growth, the pope first speaks of the duty of all people to respect and care for the environment.

But he then says that every historical period has ‘Herods’ that ‘destroy, that plot designs of death, that disfigure the face of man and woman, destroying creation.’

” ‘Let’s think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings,’ he continues. ‘Let’s think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation.’

” ‘With this attitude, man commits a new sin, that against God the Creator,’ the pope says. ‘The true custody of creation does not have anything to do with the ideologies that consider man like an accident, like a problem to eliminate.’ “

Lisa Fullam.Photo.5

Lisa Fullam

Part of the reason that this story slipped our attention was that there was very little commentary in the Catholic press about this interview.  One great exception has been Professor Lisa Fullam, of the Jesuit School of Theology, California, who examined the pope’s misconceptions about gender in a a blog post she wrote for DotCommonweal

Fullam’s post is a great introduction to the contemporary understanding of gender from both scientific and social scientific perspectives.  She begins by offering comparative definitions of some key words, which are sometimes wrongly used interchangeably:  sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, transgender, and queer.

She then examines some of Pope Francis’ (and Benedict’s and John Paul II’s, too) misconceptions about these terms.  For instance, she notes the lack of historicity in their definitions of masculine and feminine:

“That the definition of what counts as appropriate to women varies between and within cultures and across time is not accounted for in this view. Oddly, John Paul cites fierce transvestite warrior Joan of Arc (who was killed as a relapsed heretic for wearing men’s clothing, and can certainly, if anachronistically, be thought of as queer,) as a model of the feminine genius, thus calling into question the descriptive (and certainly the normative) value of many, if not most, of the ‘feminine’ traits he inferred.”

Fullam examines the social construction of gender, and also helps to dispel some myths which have formed the basis of some of our culture’s most foundational ideas about gender:

“Isn’t human nature fundamentally a duality of male and female? This can only be upheld by ignoring the existence of millions of human beings whose sex and/or gender identity do not fit the ‘rule’ of male AND masculine (according to which illusory single set of standards for masculinity?) or female AND feminine, (according to other illusory standards of such.) The spectrum of gender can be seen every time a woman relishes some more ‘masculine’ endeavor–like, say leading a French army against the British, like Joan of Arc. It can also be seen when men embrace more ‘feminine’ aspects of their character, yet remain ‘masculine’ in their gender identity. Anyone paying attention to the numerous ways people describe and express their masculinty and feminity would have to recognize that to assert a strict duality would be a facile caricature of humankind. I can only hope that Francis’ meeting with a trans man late last month will lead him to change his mind and heart. “

She concludes with a call for Christians to be more open-minded about gender:

Recognizing the degree to which social conventions define and delimit gender expression, I’d suggest that we leave a lot of room for people to speak to what it means to them to be men or women, or other, and not to force a lovely array of human be-ing into a false duality which fails to adequately reflect biology, much less the richer experience of human life in its totality. That has to do with gender roles, but also gender identity. And aren’t Christians especially called to uphold the human dignity of all children of God, male and female, masculine and feminine, transgender and cisgender alike? That attitude doesn’t ‘destroy’ nature, as Pope Francis fears, but rather recognizes the beautiful panoply of humankind that God has created.”

I’ve only given a brief taste of Fullam’s arguments.  If you are at all interested in the topic of gender, I recommend that you read her post in its entirety by clicking here.    If you like Fullam’s work, you may want to read an article that she wrote last year on “Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation.” 

Pope Francis’ comments on gender reveal that, while he has shown a refreshing openness to LGBT issues, he–and most likely, many others in the Catholic hierarchy–need a better education on the questions of gender which the rest of the world has been engaged in for decades now.  Perhaps such an education would not only help his approach to LGBT issues, but, equally important, on issues concerning women, for which he has a famous and dangerous blind spot.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


How Can the Church Improve Its Welcome to Trans* People?

February 20, 2015

Jennifer Mertens

As the church’s acceptance of gay and lesbian people improves, more Catholics are wondering about a similar welcome by the church for the trans* community. This pastoral question is critical, given the high rate of self-harm and suicide among transgender youth, a reality highlighted by suicide of teenager Leelah Alcorn at the beginning of this year.

Moved by Alcorn’s final words of her suicide note to “Fix society. Please,” National Catholic Reporter columnist Jennifer Mertens takes up this matter of whether or not the Catholic Church can welcome trans* people. She writes:

“In particular, Leelah’s story poses significant pastoral, theological and moral challenges for the Christian community. The suicide note from Leelah, who was raised in a fundamentalist Christian household, recounts an experience of Christianity in which gender variance was communicated as being ‘selfish and wrong.’ This stance exacerbated a social isolation and despair from which she concluded: ‘The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living.’ “

These challenges include “a linguistic framework suddenly experienced as inadequate” when it comes to gendered language and pronouns, as well as faith’s role in how family and friends respond to a transgender loved one. Gender identity is a new concept for many people and, for some, difficult to understand. Mertens is clear, however, that the pastoral needs demand Catholics become invested in learning about this new reality:

“Catholics must engage these questions with a courageous and receptive heart. Such engagement demands a commitment to dialogue, one that springs from God’s own dialogue with humanity as modeled in the Incarnation…

“As the Catholic church builds a relationship of dialogue with transgender people, it is important to remember that perfect love rests in God alone. As we seek to imitate this love in our dialogue with one another, may we humbly begin with asking: ‘Teach me, friend, how to love you.’ “

Mertens suggests “reaching out, listening, and seeking to understand transgender people.” Scientific evidence from the medical community and the lived experiences of families are also sources of information and increased understanding for the church.

Mertens concludes by urging Catholics to engage in practical and public solidarity with trans* people,especially youth, who suffer higher rates of discrimination and violence. She writes:

“A constructive first step can be taken insofar as the church stands in public solidarity with the suffering of transgender people. This solidarity embodies an authentic Gospel witness that reaches out to the marginalized members of our human community. An initial openness to affirming this solidarity has been signaled by the local archdiocese in Leelah’s city [of Cincinnati].”

The Archdiocese released a statement on Alcorn’s death that prayed for all, while remaining neutral about the teen’s gender identity. Mertens also reports that Dan Andriacco, an archdiocesan spokesperson, said the Catholic Schools Office would review “transgender” for inclusion in its discrimination and bullying policies.

Cincinnati’s response is atypical, and it is worth noting this is the same archdiocese which implemented enhanced morality clauses in teaching contracts last year, barring church workers from publicly supporting LGBT rights. Pope Francis is ambiguous too, warmly welcoming a transgender man from Spain to the Vatican recently, but also harshly critiquing the amorphous concept of ‘gender theory’, which may or may not include gender identity.

What is clear is that society’s intolerance of the trans* community causes a tremendous amount of suffering and violence, and Catholics must find new ways to welcome them into the church with, as Mertens writes, “a courageous and receptive heart.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Lessons to Be Learned from Pope’s Meeting With Transgender Man

February 11, 2015

Diego Neria Lejárraga

The story of Pope Francis meeting with a transgender man and his fiancee at the Vatican a few weeks ago made headlines around the globe. Because the Vatican would neither confirm nor deny the meeting, and since most of the information about the event was based on a single interview that the Spanish regional newspaper Hoy conducted with Diego Neria Lejárraga, only sketchy details emerged.

Additional information from a Crux article provides more insight into the life of this man and his struggle to accept his gender identity.  An additional analysis of the meeting by a U.K. transgender Catholic woman also adds some valuable thoughts about the transgender religious experience.

In the Crux article, Lejárraga explains his journey:

“My jail was my own body. Because it absolutely didn’t correspond with what my soul felt. I didn’t know one happy summer when I could go to the pool with my friends.”

And while he longed to transition, he refrained from doing so to honor his mother’s wishes:

‘He also said he waited until age 40 to undergo the surgery because his mother, ‘the soul of my life,’ asked him to wait until after she had died — ‘And for her, I’d wait one and a thousand lives.’ ”

“He said his mother wasn’t rejecting him, but rather, she was afraid that those in their small city of Plasencia, in Spain, would reject him.”
And his mother was correct, as he ended up receiving mistreatment and ostracization from his local parish, with even a priest calling him “the devil’s daughter.”
But, not all local church officials mistreated him.  The news story explains that a local bishop supported him, and even aided him with getting his letter to Pope Francis:
“He sent the letter through his local bishop, Monsignor Amadeo Rodríguez Magro, in whom Lejárraga has found ‘encouragement, comfort, and support.’ Magro personally delivered the letter to the Vatican.”

Jane Fae

Jane Fae, a U.K. journalist who is a Catholic transgender woman, was very moved by the pope’s gesture, though disappointed that the Vatican would not confirm the meeting.   Writing in The Catholic Heraldshe sees this dichotomy of welcome vs. denial as a dangerous way for the Church to operate:

“Heart and head. Cautious traditionalism versus celebration of life. Even, perhaps, careless idealism versus responsible conservatism. Many, it seems, are already defining this papacy in terms of easy dichotomy. My sense is that the real issues are more complicated, and it is far from clear who is really using their head: which ‘side’ has thought through the implications of what it means to be a world religion in an increasingly secular 21st century. For me, the Church was always thus.”
Fae describes the struggle of transition:
“There is often an assumption that the defining moment is the point at which you go under the surgeon’s knife. Not so. Apart from the perfectly rational fear associated with any major operation, there was not a shred of doubt in my mind that that step was right for me. Real difficulty arrived in daily living: the discovery that, however ordinary my life pre-transition, I was now extraordinary in every sense: both as a public property and a target. I was on the receiving end of more threats of violence in the first year of transition than in the 20 years that preceded.”
And the experience also brought fear, but also joy:
“It was a truly scary time, even when among friends – and one of the absolute scariest moments for me was my very first Sunday in church en femme. I shook in fear as I entered. I was in tears, albeit of joy, when I left. What got me through was the love, support and acceptance of others in the congregation – especially from the ‘mums’ brigade,’ several of whom quite literally held my hand the first time I approached the altar.”
Which brings Fae back to the importance of Pope Francis’ welcoming gesture:
“As to the Pope’s simple act of hugging a transgender man, it may look like an action that springs from the heart – as, indeed, I firmly believe it did. But in the longer term, the road now being travelled by Francis is the only rational one: because if we cannot win people’s hearts through joy and through love, we certainly won’t argue them into submission.”
These are words that all church leaders and laity should take to heart.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Giant Step for Transgender Welcome, But Not As Far for Gay & Lesbian People

February 4, 2015

In a wide-ranging interview with Vermont Public Radio, Bishop Christopher Coyne, installed as the tenth bishop of the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, last week,  stated: “I see no reason why transgender people would not be welcome in church.”

Bishop Christopher Coyne at his installation Mass.

While this statement, probably the most direct and open welcome to transgender people by a Catholic leader, seems to indicate a new approach to LGBT issues, his message about lesbian and gay people was somewhat more ambiguous. [No written transcript of the interview is yet available, but you can listen to the audio by clicking here.  The segment on LGBT issues begins around the 10:45 minute mark.]

On the Vermont Edition show, interviewer Jane Lindholm asked the bishop a question sent by a listener: “You say you’re going to reach out to Catholics who no longer attend Mass.  Is there any plan to reach out to transgender persons who no longer feel welcomed at church?”

Coyne’s response was:

“Well, I’m sorry that’s happened.  I see no reason why transgender people would not be welcome in church. There is more and more evidence coming forward that a lot of this is biological, that it’s not just something that a person just makes as a kind of fashionable choice or cultural choice, but that these transgender people are really struggling with the idea of gender identity and that they’ve struggled with it for years, and that’s through no fault of their own.  So there’s no fault to be made, actually. This is who they are . .  . everyone is God’s creatures, and I would invite anyone to come to the table. And I would hope that none of my priests, most especially myself, would ever say anything that would be hurtful or harmful to transgender folk.”

There’s a lot that is good in that answer:

  • a direct welcome to transgender people;
  • an acknowledgement of scientific research;
  • a statement of the moral neutrality of transgender people;
  • a directive to priests not to make harmful statements about transgender people.

But when Coyne also added some comments which make it clear that he is not affirming of gay and lesbian relationships.  When asked to confirm if he would welcome transgender people, he answered:

“Absolutely. In the same way that I would welcome people who identify as gay, lesbian, bi, but also all folks, to come to the church to try to grown in their love for the Lord God and Jesus Christ.  You know it’s not easy being a Catholic.  Our faith is a very demanding faith. The starting point must be that relationship with Jesus, and once you begin to get that into place, you begin to work on the other parts of your life that need a little order, that need a little change.”

The interviewer asked him to expand upon what he meant by people who need more order in their life, specifically asking if the bishop meant “people who are gay and who have what often the church calls ‘a gay lifestyle.’ ”  Coyne’s answer was yes, but that he also intended it to mean people such as divorced/remarried people, and those who live in excessive wealth with no concern for the poor.

Coyne’s pastoral advice for such people who are not living in accordance with official church teaching was to recommend first developing faith in Jesus, and then seeking how to align one’s life with the church’s teachings.  He explained what this meant in the context of the church’s sexual teaching:

“Our church believes that the perfection of the expression of human sexuality is between a man and a woman in a committed, fruitful relationship open to children.  That’s the paradigm.  Most of us struggle with getting there.  Even those who are married may say there are times when I’m not all that committed to because I’m human.  But the paradigm is still there.

“In any kind of expression that doesn’t match that, that doesn’t necessarily mean that what I’m striving at is wrong. . . . but am I a bad person or a bad Catholic? No, I’m someone who’s on the road who’s trying to find my way to live in this world to live in this life and in this world even if I don’t quite match up to what the church is calling me to do.”

These recommendations may be the most complete illustration of the undefined pastoral approach to gay and lesbian people that Pope Francis has been hinting it.   What is good about it is that it reduces the stigma associated with lesbian and gay people.  No longer are they to be summarily ostracized from the church community.  It does not put adherence to church teaching as a litmus test for being part of the parish community.

The negative side of this approach, however, is that it still considers gay and lesbian relationships “less than.”  Moreover, the welcome this approach offers, while not conditional from the outset, still has the expectation that once welcomed, gay and lesbian people will work towards renouncing responsible sexual expressions of their love and commitment.  Although this expectation is not stated outright, it seems to be the logical extension of such an approach.  There is no recognition of the authority of conscience that may be directing a gay and lesbian couple to live together and to seek a life of faith in community.

Pope Francis has been vague about his outline for pastoral care for lesbian and gay people.  Bishop Coyne’s statements, though, echo much that was said at the 2014 synod in regards to LGBT pastoral care.  While it may be a step forward, it also highlights how far we yet to have to go as a church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Pope Francis Reportedly Meets with Transgender Man Rejected by Parish

January 28, 2015

Diego Neria Lejárraga

According to a Spanish newspaper report, Pope Francis recently held a private meeting at the Vatican with a transgender man and his fiancee.

Diego Neria Lejárraga had written to the pope about being rejected by his faith community after undergoing gender confirming surgery.  Neria explained: “After hearing him on many occasions, I felt that he would listen to me.”

Neria told the newspaper Hoy, from the Extremadura region of Spain, that Pope Francis had initially responded to his letter with  a phone call, and the pontiff told Neria that the letter “touched his soul.”

According to The Huffington Post, the private meeting last week was a result of this December exchange on the phone. A spokesperson from the Vatican, Fr. Manuel Dorantes, would not confirm the meeting, however.

In the Huffington Post article, Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, questioned the Vatican’s silence but said he would not be surprised if the meeting had happened. He said the meeting did not necessarily indicate a stance of papal “acceptance,” but it was definitely a very positive indication of the way that Francis wants the church to respond:

” ‘The Vatican’s reluctance to verify the meeting is another indication of why I don’t think their attitude can yet be called ‘acceptance’…

“This pope, through his many gestures of meeting with those who society and the church treat as outcasts, has made it his mission to lead by example, and to send a strong message of welcome and hospitality to all people, regardless of their state in life. . . .

” ‘Pope Francis is an intellectual who values discussion…I think that his meeting with the transgender man was a gesture not only of pastoral care, but of genuine interest in learning about the transgender experience from a firsthand source.’ “

Speaking to the Washington Blade, Marianne Duddy Burke, executive of DignityUSA, called the meeting”a very significant event” and continued:

“For the pope to meet with a transgender man about to be married, and for that meeting to result in this man feeling more hopeful about his place in the Church, shows a concern for those at the very margins of our church…I hope the pope listened carefully to this man’s experience, and will speak about what he heard.”

Lisbeth Meléndez Rivera, director of Latino and Catholic Initiatives for the Human Rights Campaign, affirmed this view, saying the meeting was an “extraordinary event.”

Pope Francis has communicated with LGBT communities before, including a letter to the Florence-based Catholic group Kairos. This outreach was one of the things that inspired Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, to ask the pope if he would meet with a group of LGBT Catholic pilgrims next month in Rome.

Neria told the Spanish daily Hoy that he had long struggled because of his identity, saying “My jail was my own body…Because it absolutely didn’t correspond with what my soul felt.” Transitioning at 40, the man said rejection and condemnation led by the church still left him trapped. Priest mades comments to him such as, “How do you dare to come here with your condition” and “You are the devil’s daughter.”

Neria’s encounter with the pope was entirely transformative and set the man at peace, reports The Washington Post

“Neria told Hoy when he got before the pope, he asked whether, after his transition, whether there a ‘corner in the house of God’ for someone like him. And he said Francis then embraced him.”

Indeed, it has been these personal moments during Francis’ papacy which most clearly reveal his desires for the church and direction for ministry to LGBT people. DeBernardo tells People magazine:

“A pope’s influence is more from his personal example than from any doctrinal edicts…That’s why this meeting is very powerful and can really help to bring about a lot of good.”

If the Vatican confirms the meeting with Neria, the impact of Pope Francis’ witness that being a disciple of Christ means welcoming all would be that much more powerful. Hopefully, the pope will continue encountering many more LGBT people before next fall’s Synod on Family Life, and these meetings could inspire him to permit LGBT people to speak of their experiences of faith, relationship, and identity to the synod bishops.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Psychological and Spiritual Explorations of the Transgender Experience

January 21, 2015

Transgender people and issues are still new and unknown to many people in the LGBT and ally community.  While decades of information and experience have taught our church and world so much about sexual orientation, we are only just recently breaking the ice on the question of gender identity.  Many people are just beginning to ask questions about this more forgotten sector and are learning about the gifts that transgender people bring to our faith and civil communities.

Two articles written by Catholics recently looked at transgender issues from two different perspectives: the psychological and the pastoral.  Both, of course, include a faith dimension to their discussions.

Sydney Callahan

The psychological article was written by Sydney Callahan as a blog post for America magazine.  Callahan is a respected Catholic psychologist and writer who has long advocated for new understandings of the role of sexuality in our lives.  As far as I know, this is her first examination of transgender issues.

Reflecting on a New York Times op-ed essay by transgender activist Jennifer Finney Boylan, and also on the tragic recent death of teen Leelah Alcorn, Callahan suggests that its important for all of us to compose our own “gender autobiography”–an account of how we have all come to learn and accept our gender.  She states:

“. . . [W]hen we reflect on our own developmental history we can better see the various complexities involved. So much happens beneath and before conscious awareness. Gender identity emerges, I now conclude, from an interrelated interplay of genes, biochemical influences in the womb, infant and child personal experiences and social pressure. The brain seems hardwired early, perhaps in different degrees. But undoubtedly, random chance events determine individual developmental outcomes. While God does not make mistakes, God works through secondary causes such as evolution’s random mutations and variations.”

In reflecting on our own journeys, we will be able to see how various influences and lessons shaped our own gender identity.  Callahan takes note of the personal evolution that everyone goes through:

“Autobiographical reflections confront us with the mysterious question, ‘How does the self-conscious “I am” relate to the “me” of my body changing through time?’ ”

Regardless of the origin of gender identity, Christians are called to show respect for all  people:

“Fortunately, Christians do not have to wait for scientific consensus to understand and affirm religious truths. We know that God commands us to treat each human life with justice and love. In particular we must protect the vulnerable and relieve suffering. Moreover, the embodied person’s whole identity, deeds and character are more important than gender identity.”

Callahan ends by pointing to a new direction that Catholic theology needs to take:

“I thank God that Christians value and protect every stage and condition of embodied life. We value embryo, fetus, infant, child, adult, aged, disabled and the dying. And we’ve been promised the gift of transitioning to resurrected life as members of Christ’s body. Can we hope now for an expanded theology of the body and person, to better understand gender and transgendered persons?”

Sister Monica (center) with two transgender friends. (Photo by William Widmer)

It is on this spiritual and theological note that the second article I read takes off.  Written by “Sr. Monica,”  a pseudonym for a Catholic nun who has been in pastoral ministry with transgender people since 1999, the Huffington Post  essay looks back on the pastoral lessons that she has learned from this community.   (She chose to remain anonymous in her publicity so as not to attract the attention of the Catholic hierarchy.)

She describes her ministry as, at first, a learning experience for herself, since she had not previously known any transgender people.  But the actual ministerial principles and actions were the same as other forms of accompaniment ministry:

“I believe that when we are trying to live our lives honestly and with integrity we are moving toward God and not away from God. Whether in a formal retreat setting or in the many informal ways I companion them, I remind them that they are precious and loved by God.”

An added dimension of her outreach included being an advocate and a “bridge” for transgender people wherever she could be:

” . . . [I]t is my great privilege to bring my transgender friends out from the darkness of the margins of society into the light where they can be seen as who they are — gifted, struggling human beings as we all are. I’ve mediated with families when asked by them. I’ve coordinated many Trans Awareness Evenings to provide an opportunity for people with open minds and hearts to meet and talk with my trans friends.”

Like Callahan, Sr. Monica sees that the transgender journey of self-acceptance is primarily a spiritual one:

“In the past 16 years I have come to know well over two hundred transgender people. From the beginning I had a passion to be a supportive companion to them in the deeply spiritual journey of claiming and living in their truth. My mantra has always been ‘What gives glory to God is for us to be the person God made us to be. When we are trying to live as honestly as we can our lives gives praise to God.’ “

Sr. Monica reflects on what transgender ministry has given to herself:

“I am 71 years old and have had the privilege and joy of being present among the transgender community since 1999. I could never have imagined the extent to which my own life would be shaped by them. They have taught me so much about courage, about the value and the cost of being honest with oneself, with others, and with God.”

Gender has often been a restricting influence on all people.  Gender roles rarely match the individual complexity of any one person’s life, and they can inhibit personal development.  I am beginning to learn that transgender people have the special gift of helping all people to overcome gender expectations and constrictions which harm or deaden an individual.  They help us all to become the people that God made out of love.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


The Pope, the Archbishop, & the Lesbian: Hopes for the Philippines Encounter

January 14, 2015

As he journeys to the Philippines this week, Pope Francis will be met there by an archbishop who, like the pontiff, is opening the door to greater openness to the LGBT community. He can also listen to advice from a Filipina lesbian woman in the U.S. about what he needs to teach the Church in her native land.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, who is also president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, gave an affirmative and categorical statement to a question about whether the pope condemned the LGBT community.  Villegas stated:

“Being a homosexual is not a sin. It is a state of a person.”

The archbishop’s remarks came during an interview on a television show hosted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper.  The show was aired in anticipation of the pontiff’s visit to that nation between January 15th-19th. You can view the video by clicking here.

Inquirer.net reported on the interview, in which Villegas elaborated on that basic statement:

“ ‘The Pope says “The Lord came to die for all, homosexuals and lesbians included.” There is no one excluded from the saving plan of God,’ Villegas said in the forum held at the Thomas Aquinas Research Center of the University of Santo Tomas.

“The archbishop said the Church was calling on gay and lesbian believers to embrace holiness.

“ ‘God died for them also. God invites gays and the lesbians to go beyond their present situation and love Jesus,’ he added.”

Shakira Sison

In a blog post on Rappler.com,  Shakira Sison, a Filipina-American lesbian woman penned an open-letter to Pope Francis as he prepares for his visit to her native country.  In it, she offered advice on what messages he should give:

“I hope you’ll teach the Catholic leaders of the Philippines that faith is personal, it is salvation for those who need it. It does not judge, and it does not hate.

“Most of all, please teach our people that your version of faith does not condemn gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children from their homes or keep them from worshiping their God.

“I would like you to teach your people that the Catholic God’s love and acceptance does not pick and choose. . . .

“You said it yourself that gays must be integrated into society. I’ve lived enough and am secure enough with my life to know that my spirituality will be fine whether or not you accept me. However, there are many others like me who need for you to tell the majority of Catholics that God loves and accepts every single one of us, so they may start accepting my LGBT brothers and sisters as well.”

The Philippines is a heavily Catholic nation.  According to Gay Star News, it is “the country with third largest number of Catholics with an estimated 75.5 million believers, or roughly 80% of the population.”  Although bishops there have been outspoken against marriage equality, there are other signs that greater openness to LGBT people is emerging in the church.

For example, a Catholic parish recently conducted the funeral of a transgender woman, murdered allegedly by a U.S. military man.  The parish used the woman’s preferred pronouns during the Mass and ritual. Furthermore, following the murder, the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (the heads of religious communities of men and women) issued a statement condemning anti-LGBT violence and called for a full inquiry into murder, especially important because political pressure might come into play because international military personnel are involved.

Archbishop Villegas’ statement is important because it very likely shows the “Francis effect.” In this case, the “effect” is a member of the hierarchy being more willing to speak out affirmatively about LGBT people.

It must be admitted that Villegas’ statement is not really a “cutting edge” statement which pushes the envelope on church teaching.  It is safely within the parameters of very orthodox church discourse.

Yet, it must be remembered that though the teaching of the moral neutrality of a homosexual orientation has been official for four decades, very few bishops in the last two decades have shown any willingness to speak out about this most basic principle for fear of being considered too positive towards LGBT people.

If Pope Francis has done nothing else than given permission to bishops to speak out on even the tamest parts of church teaching on homosexuality, that, in itself, is a major step forward.  If he wants to take the next step, he should follow the advice of Shakira Sison, given above.

Let’s hope and pray that Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines will inspire greater courage on the part of the hierarchy there to open their doors and their minds to the lives of LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


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