The Spiritual Harm Caused When LGBT People Are Excluded From Church

February 28, 2015

An Indiana gay Catholic man has revealed that his pastor asked him to give up his social media advocacy for LGBT equality or resign from his volunteer leadership roles in his parish.

Sam Albano

Sam Albano

In an essay posted this week on the National Catholic Reporter website, Sam Albano described the meeting he had with his pastor last August, and the painful decision he felt forced to make:

“During the course of our meeting, my pastor notified me that I could not publicly disagree with official moral teachings and simultaneously hold positions of leadership within the parish. He asked me how I wished to proceed. It quickly become clear that I could not continue in volunteer parish ministry if I held firm to my convictions on the issues facing LGBT Catholics. My choices were quite limited. As a matter of conscience, I made a heartbreaking decision that afternoon. I resigned my position on the parish council. I resigned my position on the young adult board I had helped to found a year earlier. And I resigned my position as sacristan and eucharistic minister.”

Albano, who also serves as secretary of the Young Adult Caucus of DignityUSA, recognizes that this action is part of the disturbing trend of church firings which have been related to LGBT issues over the past few years, but his concern in the essay is less with the structural problems, and, instead, focuses on the spiritual harm these actions cause.  He observes:

“LGBT people who choose to remain in the church are often subject to attacks upon the genuineness of our faith. Our love for God and our loyalty to the Catholic tradition are frequently and cavalierly called into question. This has served to create an environment in which we cannot honestly discuss our concerns, our spiritual lives, or even our relationship with God.

“Most startling of all, we know that far too many of our LGBT brothers and sisters have parted ways with the church and given up on the Gospel of Jesus Christ altogether. We also know that there are young LGBT people sitting in the pews of every parish, waiting for the church to speak hope to them. And because we are widely failing at this endeavor, their departure too is imminent.”

Albano rings the alarm bell on the pastoral harm that is being caused by LGBT exclusion:

“I think it is reasonable to suggest that we have a pastoral emergency before us. More importantly, we have a pressing moral matter. In the harsh treatment of LGBT Catholics, we have done more than injustice. Indeed, we have erected a substantial stumbling block to knowing Jesus Christ, hearing the Gospel, and living a life of Christian discipleship. We have lost too many of our people: God’s people.”

He calls on all in the church to personally to take the responsibility to do outreach to LGBT people, noting that it may include difficulty for some:

“For some, reaching out to LGBT Catholics might mean taking up a cross. Some will surely find themselves subject to questioning, misunderstanding and suffering. Obedience to the Gospel has posed such a risk in every land and generation. Those who seek to build a better church for LGBT people should be assured that there are many Catholic people who already stand with them in this endeavor.”

Albano recognizes, too, that his own life has been changed by this experience–and his spirituality, too, has been strengthened:

“Some months now stand between me and that warm summer afternoon when I resigned my positions in the parish. I have lost the life I once had as an actively engaged parishioner. My relationship with my faith community of 13 years has suddenly changed.

“But the Christian person recognizes that only in losing our life do we ever truly gain it. I take great hope in the new life that lies ahead of me, although I know nothing about it at this time. And I remain steadfast in my pilgrimage as a gay Catholic man, trusting in God and striving to follow the way of the Gospel. I continue to love my parish. I continue to love my pastor. And I persist in my love for the church. My service to God and to the church has clearly changed, but certainly not ended.”

Only strong faith and courage could have provided this young man with the wisdom to reflect so carefully on this terrible experience, while at the same time helping him recognize important positive paths ahead.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Rainbows, Deserts, Wild Beasts, and Angels

February 22, 2015

On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for the First Sunday of Lent are: Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25:4-9; 1 Peter 3: 18-22; Mark 1:12-15.   You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.

I have always liked that the rainbow flag is a strong symbol of LGBT equality and justice. It is such a colorful, happy symbol.  And it is strongly connected to how Christians view the symbolic power of the rainbow. In today’s first reading, God tells Noah that the rainbow will serve as the symbol of God’s never-ending love for us.  God says:

“I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign
of the covenant between me and the earth.
When I bring clouds over the earth,
and the bow appears in the clouds,
I will recall the covenant I have made
between me and you and all living beings,
so that the waters shall never again become a flood
to destroy all mortal beings.”

Rainbows help me to remember that no matter what hardship or tragedy or injustice we experience, God will be with us, loving us, and helping us find new ways to continue in spite of negative forces.

Today’s gospel reading has a similar message.  It is a short passage, only three verses long, but filled with an important message.  In two sentences, St. Mark packs a profound theological lesson:

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.”

In his book, Following in the Footsteps of Jesus, Year B, José Pagola, one of my favorite Scripture interpreters, provides the following insight into these lines:

“According to the evangelist, ‘the Spirit sent him out into the desert.”  He doesn’t go on his own initiative.  The Spirit sends him out until he finds himself in the desert. Success is not going to come easily to him. Rather, trials, insecurity, and dangers await him. But the desert is at the same time the best place to listen to the voice of God in silence and solitude. . . .

“Jesus is tempted by Satan in the desert. . . . He will appear no more in the whole Gospel of Mark, but Jesus sees him in all those who want to lead him astray from his mission, including Peter.

“The brief account finishes with two strongly contrasting images: Jesus ‘was among wild animals,’ but ‘angels attended to him.’  The wild animals, the most dangerous in all creation, evoke the dangers that will always threaten Jesus and his plan.  Angels, the best beings in creation, evoke the nearness of God who blesses, takes care of, and protects Jesus and his mission.”

If you are an LGBT person or someone who works for LGBT equality, then you are most likely someone who has great familiarity with being in the desert.  Work for justice and equality is often a painful, desolate, discouraging experience, and one where temptations to give up, give in, or just becomes cynical and bitter abound.

I take hope from Pagola’s reading of this passage, however. Like all people, I have experienced “the desert” several times in my life.  I usually think of it as a negative experience, but Pagola’s interpretation reminds me that the desert can be a place not just of isolation, suffering, and temptation, but a place where God speaks to us most intimately.  It’s a place where we can find our deepest, truest selves.  A place where we can experience God’s care even though we may feel that we are being attacked.

I’ve been working in LGBT ministry and advocacy for over 20 years.  While I’ve seen some remarkable advances both in civil society and the church, it can also sometimes feel like the desert as I ask “How long, O God, before justice is made real?”   What I need to do is to turn that experience around.  Instead of focusing on what is not happening, I should instead focus on what God is doing for me in this desert time, how I am growing personally, how I am meeting incredible people, and how God is building something new–usually something so new that I often don’t recognize it.

While LGBT equality is not a reality in the Catholic Church, I am thankful for the desert experiences I’ve had because they have helped me see that God is working in mysterious ways in my life and in the life of the Church.  While we still have much work to do to educate the hierarchy, in the past 40 years, we have seen incredible growth in support from the laity.  More importantly, we have seen that in the desert, the laity have had to become more mature Christians than they might otherwise have been.  Sometimes the exile or desert experience that progressive Catholics have felt over the past few years has forced them to rely on prayer, community, and the development of their individual consciences.  In doing so, they have actually formed the model of the church that they want to see.  Without the desert experience, this would not have happened.

The rainbow is a wonderful sign of God’s love, and it is easy to see how its beauty and diversity of color symbolize divine love.  I think we also have to start to see that the desert can also be a sign of God’s love, if we look at it as an opportunity for listening to God’s word more intimately.

–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


Parishioners Support Swiss Priest Asked to Resign for Blessing Lesbian Couple

February 13, 2015

Although a Swiss bishop has asked a Catholic pastor to resign from his parish, after learning that the priest had blessed a lesbian couple, the parishioners of the community are supporting the cleric.

Reverend Wendelin Bucheli

According to Gay Star News:

“Wendelin Bucheli, a priest in the municipality of Bürglen in the west of Switzerland, gave his blessings to a lesbian couple in October 2014 after discussing it with other members of the clergy.

Bucheli gave careful consideration to the action, and decided that blessing a couple was the right thing to do:

” ‘There was no considerable difference between this blessing and a wedding ceremony,’ the priest told Swiss newspaper Urner Wochenblatt, speaking about the occasion last October.

“Bucheli said he carefully considered his options before discussing the matter with a Jesuit priest.

“His main question was: ‘Can I give this blessing in the name of God and would it be his will?’, to which, so Bucheli, the answer was yes.

” ‘These days people give blessings to animals, cars and even weapons,’ he said, ‘why shouldn’t you give your blessing to a couple deciding to walk through life with God by their side?’ “

Not surprisingly, the local bishop did not approve of the action:

“Vitus Huonder, bishop of the diocese of Chur where Bucheli currently works, did not agree with the priest’s actions.

“He spoke to the priest and the bishop of Bucheli’s home diocese of Lausanne, Huonder said they want the pro-gay religious leader gone by summer at the latest and returned to his former pasture.

“Huonder’s spokesman Guiseppe Gracia told the Urner Wochenblatt: ‘His actions created attention, even across state borders, and angered many believers.’

“He claimed Bucheli’s actions could have ‘clouded the church’s teachings on marriage and family.’ “

But parishioners have come to the priest’s defense, organizing a petition, which, in a few days, has garnered over 3,000 signatures.  TheLocal.ch reported on the community’s response:

“ ‘We stand behind priest Bucheli,’ Peter Vorwerk, vice-president of the parish council is quoted as saying.

“Christianity is based on charity so it is difficult to understand why the church should deny someone the blessing of God, he said.”

Fr. Bucheli has declared his intention not to resign:

“Bucheli defended his blessing of the lesbians and said he would not submit his resignation.

“He said it was his jobs as a ‘shepherd’ to address the weak, the injured and the marginalized, he said in an interview with the Nueue Urner Zeitung published on Wednesday.

“In a joint press release issued by the priest and the parish council, Bucheli reiterated that he wanted to stay in the village.

“ ‘I feel comfortable in Bürglen,’ he said.

“ ‘My work is not finished and I see no reason to leave the community at this time.’ “

Reverend Richard Estrada

In a somewhat related story, a Claretian priest in California, has resigned from the priesthood because he can no longer accept official Catholic teaching on LGBT and women’s issues.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Father Richard Estrada, a longtime immigrants’ rights advocate, has moved to the Episcopal Church, and said he could no longer tolerate the Roman Catholic practices regarding these minorities:

“For decades, Estrada saw the pain of gay and lesbian parishioners who were ashamed of their sexuality, and of women who he felt were treated as second-class citizens. He saw the Catholic Church evolving on those issues, but the changes felt too slow.

” ‘I saw a lot of people who were struggling,’ he said. ‘I just felt like I don’t fit anymore. Maybe I’ve grown, or shrunk or whatever, but I just don’t fit. And I haven’t fit. So let’s be honest.’ “

As we continue to pray for change in the Roman Catholic Church on LGBT issues, let’s remember especially our priests who speak out and act for equality and justice.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


On Pilgrimage to Pray and Learn About Rebuilding the Church

February 12, 2015

St. Peter’s Basilica and Square, Rome

Beginning today, your faithful regular bloggers, Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, will be joining with Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry co-founder, 46 other travelers on a pilgrimage to Italy, under the theme “Rebuild My Church:  Pope Francis and St. Francis of Assisi.”

The group, which will be journeying to Florence, Assisi, and Rome, between February 12th and 21st, is a mixture of LGBT people, family members, pastoral ministers, and friends.  They will be visiting holy and cultural sites during the day, and in the evening reflecting together on the theme of rebuilding the church:  a goal of both Pope Francis and St. Francis.

St. Francis of Assisi

While in Italy, we will also be meeting with two different Italian Christian LGBT groups.  In Florence, we will meet with the members of Kairos, who made headlines over a year ago after they received a personal note from Pope Francis in response to their letter describing themselves and their work.   In Rome, we will meet with the members of Nuova Proposta, a group which was instrumental in preparing last year’s “Ways of Love” international theological conference preceding the synod.

We will also be connecting with a pilgrimage of Catholic LGBT people from London, England, who will be in Rome during the same week that we are.  We look forward to fellowship and prayer with these folks as we journey in the Eternal City.

Michelangelo’s “David” in Florence

As we mentioned in a previous post, we are praying that Pope Francis will respond to Sister Jeannine’s personal request that he meet with our group of pilgrims when we are in Rome.

Please keep that intention in your prayers, as well as praying for our pilgrimage’s spiritual success.

One reason we are letting you know about this event is that the vagaries of travel may occasionally hinder the production of blog posts.  We intend to continue posting everyday, but we can’t guarantee that posts will be available at the same time they always do.  So, if there is a glitch of any kind, please understand that we will be trying our best to get stuff out to you.

Depending on both the news cycle and what we may encounter during our trip, some posts may be about some of the places and ideas that we are experiencing.  Of course, if we do get to meet with Pope Francis, you will hear about it here first!

Pope Francis

Last year, when we made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we had a few posts about some of the events we encountered.  You can view them here and here.   If you would like information about future pilgrimages, please send an email request, containing your postal address to info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

As we travel and pray in Italy on the theme of rebuilding the church, we will be carrying in our hearts and minds all our blog readers and New Ways Ministry supporters–the people who work faithfully every day to rebuild the church!

–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

[Editor’s Note:  A “News Notes” post will follow this afternoon.]


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

 


Will Pope Francis Meet With Sister Jeannine Gramick and LGBT Catholics?

January 26, 2015
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Since becoming pope in March 2013, one of Pope Francis’ most endearing habits has been making phone calls or writing notes to ordinary people, and even sometimes meeting with them in a personal encounter.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

So, is it too much to hope that he might meet with friends of New Ways Ministry when Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder, leads a pilgrimage of LGBT and ally Catholics to Rome in February?

Well,  knowing from first-hand experience that stranger things have definitely happened,  and that God truly does move in mysterious ways, Sister Jeannine has written to Pope Francis asking him if he had some time in his busy papal schedule to meet with these 50 people who are traveling to Italy to visit shrines, churches, and monuments in not only the Eternal City, but Florence, and Assisi, as well.

In her December 23, 2014, letter to the pontiff, Sr. Jeannine wrote, in part:

“I am one of your multi-billion+ fans! On my computer is a round decal with your picture and the words, ‘This Pope gives me hope!’  On my car is a bumper sticker that says, ‘I ♥ Pope Francis.’ . . .

“In February, I will be leading a pilgrimage to Rome, Assisi, and Florence for 50 Catholics, who are lesbian/gay or are parents, family members or friends of lesbian/gay Catholics. They are so very heartened by your words of mercy and welcome. They believe, as you say, that receiving the Body and Blood of Christ is spiritual nourishment that we need to grow in our love-relationship with God, not a prize to be awarded those who are worthy.

“We will be in Rome from February 17 to February 20 and plan to attend your general audience on Ash Wednesday. The pilgrims would like to meet personally with you for a few minutes, either after your general audience, or at another time at your convenience.

“Would it be possible for you to meet personally with these faith-filled Catholics who have felt too long excluded from their Church?”

Back in the 1990s, when on a flight from Rome to Munich to pray at the tomb of her religious congregation’s foundress, Sister Jeannine serendipitously ended up on the same flight as then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), who at the time was directing an investigation of Sister Jeannine’s ministry with lesbian and gay people. The two shared a delightful conversation, and Sister Jeannine has stated that it helped her see the human side of a man whom many considered to be her greatest adversary.  Indeed, on his part, Cardinal Ratzinger acknowledged several times during their talk that this chance meeting had to be the work of Providence.

So, who knows how Pope Francis will respond?  As everyone knows, he has already made several important statements and gestures in regard to greater Catholic openness towards LGBT people, including writing a personal note to Kairos, a Catholic LGBT group in Florence, Italy.

And just yesterday, a Spanish-language news report announced that it seems Pope Francis recently met with a transgender man and his fiancee from Spain in a private audience at the Vatican. The story reports that Diego Neria Lejárraga wrote to the pontiff a month ago describing the ill-treatment he received from fellow parishioners. Bondings 2.0 will provide more details as the story emerges.

The members of Sister Jeannine’s pilgrimage will be meeting with members of Kairos when they visit that beautiful Renaissance city.  Five years ago, she brought another group of pilgrims to Florence and established a friendly relationship with the Kairos leaders and members.

This year, the American group will also be meeting with members of Nuova Proposta, a Catholic LGBT group in Rome, and Sister Jeannine will be giving a talk to the Italian members.

The 10-day pilgrimage coincides with a similar journey being made by LGBT Catholics from Westminister in London, England, under the leadership of longtime pastoral advocate, Martin Pendergast.  The British pilgrims and American pilgrims will meet several times for liturgy and socializing.

Because Sister Jeannine’s pilgrimage group is visiting both Rome and Assisi, and since the present pope has often alluded to St. Francis of Assisi, the pilgrimage is entitled “Rebuild My Church:  St. Francis and Pope Francis.”  In addition to visiting and praying at holy sites and meeting with Catholic LGBT Italians, the pilgrims will also reflect on the ways that they can rebuild the church in their local communities.

Please keep Sister Jeannine and all the pilgrims in your prayers during February.  Bondings 2.0  will update you on any special events that happen during the trip.  And, if Pope Francis does grant the pilgrims a private audience, you will read it here first!  Stay tuned!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


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