Pope Francis on LGBT Issues Is Out of Sync with Amoris Laetitia’s Overall Message, Say Theologians

May 25, 2016
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Francis Clooney

Last week, Bondings 2.0 highlighted young theologians critical of the perceived dismissal of LGBT Catholics by Pope Francis in his latest apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.  These young scholars were also dismayed by liberal commentators who seem intent on preserving the narrative of progress for the pope’s administration. Today, we highlight theologians who have focused on the exhortation’s inconsistencies when it comes to LGBT issues.

Jesuit Fr. Francis Clooney of Harvard Divinity School offered three points in America about Pope Francis’ treatment of same-gender marriages, concluding with an appeal for Pope Francis to rewrite”in his own hand, from his own heart”paragraph 251 which condemns same-gender marriages quite harshly.

Why does Clooney reach that conclusion? First, the priest noted the “rather formal, one might say cold tone” of paragraph 251 especially as it contrasts with paragraph 250’s rejection of anti-LGBT discrimination. Clooney observed that paragraph 251 extensively quotes the 2015 Synod report, which cited heavily a 2003 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that is itself based in the Catechism. The Jesuit priest wrote:

” ‘I think [Francis] would have spoken differently had he spoken in his own voice. . .If the pope had written about gay marriage in his own voice, I don’t think No. 251 would have been the result. If some men and women, struggling for love, stability and family, choose to enter a gay marriage, might this not be a similar, analogous ‘this agonizing and painful decision’ [to procure an abortion] that merits the pope’s compassion, rather than the cold assertion made in No. 251?”

Clooney cited his own experiences which challenge paragraph 251’s assertion that same-gender relationships are not “in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan.”About witnessing same-gender marriages in his life, the priest wrote:

“No relation is perfect, I am sure, but in these marriages I most often observe: honest, open, mature love; commitment, often over many years; fidelity and loyalty to one another, for richer or poorer, in health and in sickness; Christian faith, lived out in a deep human relationship; and, in several cases, great devotion to raising children. I am edified by these relationships, these marriages. . .

“[I]t should be evident to anyone with their eyes open, that gay marriage is in many ways similar to marriage as is esteemed by the church, and that analogies abound, including those I have mentioned. It is hard to see how or why Pope Francis might think that gay marriage could be entirely dissimilar and equivocally unlike heterosexual marriage. It is hard to see why Pope Francis, even if quoting quotes from other documents, would be willing to say that the marriage of a gay couple is entirely outside God’s plan. Is there anything or anyone outside God’s mercy and compassion?”

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Daniel Maguire

In a commentary at Consortium News, theologian Daniel Maguire of Marquette University said the pope “should be embarrassed by the significant failings” of Amoris Laetitia.

Maguire denied the exhortation is “a retreat from rule-centered church teaching,” highlighting instead areas like marriage equality and contraception where Pope Francis’ respect for conscience becomes invalidated by his own words. The pope “waxes rhapsodic on the beauty and personal enrichment offered by marriage,” calling it ideal love, but Maguire also pointed out:

“And now the rub! This magnificent experience is reserved by God and the Catholic hierarchy only for heterosexuals. It’s beyond the reach of gays who love one another. The document should have been called The Joy of Heterosexual Love. . .

“Is it that all LGBT persons are too ‘selfish, calculating and petty?’ Are they so deficient in their humanity as to be incapable of this achievement of human love. Is the Pope suggesting in a new nasty way that all these persons are ‘queer’ and ‘deviant.’ Is that why heterosexuals have seven sacraments but gays only have six since marriage is beyond their reach? That is theologically queer. Do we see here the old brutal prejudice wrapped in the language of love, pastoral concern, and pity?”

This evaluation of LGBT people’s relationships is, in Maguire’s words, “cruel” and abandons the pope’s previous attitude of non-judgement. Divesting LGBT matters from broader appeals to conscience is a tremendous weakness of the pope’s document, Maguire noted, but the theologian remained hopeful, noting in his commentary’s conclusion:

“Catholicism has a splendid, but well hidden, theory of conscience. . .Some 30 years ago, I spoke to a Dignity group of Catholic gays. I explained Probabilism, reading from old Catholic moral theology books, and applied it to same sex unions. In the light of that, I said, ‘your loves are not only good they are holy and full of grace.’

“A number of them were in tears. They loved the Church and did not want their deep love of another to separate them from it.”

Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia has been praised for its compassionate style and reaffirmation of the primacy of conscience. He signaled a new welcome for marginalized Catholics who are divorced and remarried, or who use artificial contraception. But on LGBT matters, the exhortation seems conflicted, at best.  Clooney and Maguire clearly identify sources in experience and in tradition that will enable Catholics to develop LGBT Catholic thought in a manner that is actually consistent with Pope Francis’ calls for mercy and the respect of conscience. Pope Francis should pay attention to these critiques for the next time he writes on LGBT issues.

You can read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of Amoris Laetitia and reactions to it by clicking hereYou can read New Ways Ministry’s response to the document by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Continued Attacks Against Gay Ambassador Necessitate Pope Francis’ Intervention

May 24, 2016
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Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster

Catholic Church leaders’ attacks against gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster continue unabated, and reveal a troubling weak spot that Pope Francis must address in regard to LGBT issues .

Bishop Victor Massalles, the auxiliary bishop of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, told Crux, that Ambassador Brewster was “abusing power” by advocating for LGBT rights in the Caribbean nation.  Such advocacy, however, is not a pet project of Brewster’s, but is entirely consistent with U.S foreign policy.

Citing Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Massalles claimed the U.S. government through its ambassador engages in in “cultural imperialism. . . [and] ideological colonization” by coercing the Dominican Republic to accept social changes which allegedly the country’s populace disavows. Massalles continued his criticism:

” ‘He’s not an ambassador, he’s a gay activist and we’re suffering [from] him as a nation, as a culture, as a country that has its own uses and customs, and its own laws. . .He’s trying to take [away] our right to national self-determination.’ “

Massalles admitted, though, that his claims about U.S. government coercion are “suspicions” rather than facts. He also defended use of an anti-gay slur against Ambassador by Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez in 2013, saying not allowing “an old man to express himself like an old man” would violate the cardinal’s rights.

The bishop’s criticism is but the latest attack from Catholic officials who, since Brewster was appointed in 2013, have issued regular and intense attacks against him. The Dominican Episcopal Conference condemned the ambassador in a March 2016 letter, citing Pope Francis’ concept of ideological colonization. Additionally, a Catholic high school in the capital posted signs this year banning Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, from its campus.

Worst of all have been comments by Cardinal López, the leading prelate in the DR. He said previously that Brewster was “wife to a man” and should stick to housework. In 2013, López used an anti-gay slur, and he said Brewster should “take his gay pride elsewhere.”  The Washington Blade reported that López once described LGBT tourists as “social trash” and “degenerates.” Cardinal López’s remarks made Bondings 2.0’s lists of Worst Catholic LGBT News in both 2013 and 2015.

These Catholic attacks are not just aimed at Brewster and Satawake but all LGBT Dominicans, wrote Executive Director of Diversidad Dominicana Rosanna Marzan. She explained in the Washington Blade:

“Those using hateful rhetoric against the ambassador have specific objectives. Among them, to quash the efforts that we as Dominican LGBT civil society activists have undertaken to defend ourselves against the hateful, violent and stigmatizing discourse orchestrated by hierarchies within the Catholic and Evangelical churches and the conservative individuals who support them. . .

“LGBT Dominicans face the threat of violence and hate crimes as well as discrimination in essential services, including healthcare, employment and housing. Impunity is the norm for violations against LGBT people. . .The attacks on Brewster are also attacks on us.”

What is troubling about Bishop Massalles’ latest remarks and the episcopal conference’s March letter is that both cited Pope Francis to justify attacks on Brewster and his husband. What has happened in the Dominican Republic has not been about disagreements over policies or theologies. It has been an unceasing and vicious attack against a human being by the institutional church, an attack which causes broader harm.

When writing about church officials’ attacks against Ambassador Brewster, Bondings 2.0 has repeatedly said papal intervention by Francis is necessary and appropriate –even as he tries to decentralize the Church. Intervention now seems more necessary since anti-LGBT church leaders now cite the pope specifically to justify their prejudice and desired discrimination. There is no justification for prejudice, especially when it is so publicly displayed and when it contributes to human suffering. It is incumbent on Pope Francis to make that clear. At this point, to not do so will cause LGBT advocates and others to question papal intentions about respecting every person’s dignity.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 


Proudly Blogging Catholics—Sharing the LGBT Good News: A Trans-Atlantic Meetup!

May 23, 2016

The editors of two blogs that cover Catholic LGBT issues will be hosting an opportunity for readers of both sites to gather an share ideas and perspectives.  The event, entitled “Proudly Blogging Catholics—Sharing the LGBT Good News,” will be held in London, England, in June, and all readers and friends of these blogs in that vicinity are invited to attend.

Queering The Church editor Terence Weldon and Bondings 2.0 editor Francis DeBernardo will discuss the joys and challenges of covering the world of Catholic LGBT news and opinion, followed by a wide-ranging discussion of issues raised by participants.

This trans-Atlantic meetup will be held:

Monday, June 13, 2016, 6:30-8:30 p.m. 

Parish Hall of the Jesuit Church of the Immaculate Conception (Farm Street Church)

114 Mount Street    London, United Kingdom, W1K 3AH

 

Come to discuss current events, on-going debates, and hopes for the future!

Refreshments will be served.

RSVP: info@NewWaysMinistry.org

Stay tuned for additional blog meetups in the U.S. this summer!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Complicating Catholic Understandings of Sex and Gender

May 23, 2016

SR-Church-Easter-candle-01 (2)Respecting LGBTQI people should be a “fairly simple thing to do,” as Jesuit Fr. James Martin remarked in an interview earlier this week. But understanding the diversity of gender identities can be complex even for committed allies, given how broad and nuanced transgender and intersex issues are. And sometime the consequences of not understanding and respecting can be deeply damaging.

Christians, including Catholics, have spearheaded anti-LGBT efforts like North Carolina’s HB2 law, ignoring the concrete reality that non-discrimination protections definitively improve LGBT people’s well-being. These opponents opt instead for faulty religious arguments to justify their opposition, arguments which theologian Katie Grimes took on at Women in TheologyShe posed a difficult challenge to anti-transgender Christians, asking:

“[W]hat in your life has lead you to believe that love, which God epitomizes perfectly, means wanting anything but happiness, in every sense of the word, for other people?”

Christian opposition to transgender identities is often rooted in literal readings of Genesis. They interpret creation story texts to mean God creates people only in the male/female binary. To such thought, Grimes responded:

“They twist the word of God in the shape of their own preconceptions.  They do not think to ask, ‘how do we know what makes a male a male and a female a female?’  They instead assume that God defines masculinity and femininity in the same way they do.”

Against arguments rooted in biological determinism, Grimes criticized how some Christians “deify the bodies . . we receive at birth.” She wrote:

“Besides turning natural law into a cliché (so babies with cleft palettes or heart defects ought not undergo corrective surgery?), this theory ends up unwittingly celebrating the very queerness it seeks to contain.  If we take this view seriously, then we would have to also say that God naturally creates many human beings (about 1 in 2000) whose bodies do not fulfill our socially constructed definitions of man and woman.”

Ultimately, Grimes concluded that anti-transgender Christians “sell God short” because they “assume that God’s imagination and creativity is no bigger than their own.”

Catholic opponents specifically, including some U.S. bishops, have cited supposed church teaching  in their objections to transgender equality. They claim there is clear and defined church teaching on gender identity that simply needs to be promoted. Melinda Selmys questioned the validity of this claim at her blog Catholic Authenticity, writing:

“Whenever I hear this, I suspect that the person making the comment has had little to no experience actually dealing with the transgender, queer or intersex communities. It’s basically a position that you can arrive at only if you’re taking the problems home, painting them out of their context and looking at them in a theological laboratory where everything is very simple and clear-cut.”

Selmys then listed eight scenarios drawn from her experiences as a Catholic which reveal the many complexities of gender identity, asking after each one what the reader would do. For instance, an intersex person assigned male at birth identifies as a woman upon reaching adolescence and feels called to religious life as a nun. Is this person accepted? Or a woman religious who cares for survivors of human trafficking knows she must minister to the trans survivors according to their gender identity if she is to be successful. How does the sister proceed? Or parents consult a canon lawyer about their intersex child. The canonist recommends corrective surgery while intersex adults criticize such surgeries as painful and violating. What do the parents do? Each of Selmys’ scenarios contains many intricacies that defy simple answers.

Failing to engage gender identity issues in their fullness has negative pastoral, as well as political, consequences. For instance, a Catholic priest in New York said being transgender is the same as considering oneself a chicken because “something has gone wrong in my feelings. . .I need help.” Fr. Andrew Carrozza’s op-ed continued in this vein, attacking transgender people in the name of faith. The priest’s approach is unfortunately similar to other Christian opponents who have refused to listen to transgender people’s experiences, and relied upon the same faulty religious thought critiqued by Grimes and Selmys.

Mollie Wilson O’Reilly criticized Carrozza in Commonweal, and her comments are broadly applicable to Catholic opponents of any form of LGBT equality. While affirming a place for the church in conversations about sexuality and gender, Wilson O’Reilly wrote:

“Carrozza is making the gentlest version of the church’s basic claim that we have nothing left to learn about human sexuality. This claim is simply not plausible to a growing number of people, especially young people, and volunteering it with placid confidence in the face of something as complicated as gender identity and public accommodations for transgender people is not doing anything for the church’s credibility.”

She added that ” ‘naive’ [is] the kindest word that comes to mind” for pastoral ministers like Fr. Carrozza who believe “gentle ridicule” is an appropriate response.

The writer H.L. Mencken once said, “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”  Catholics must resist the temptation to reduce transgender and intersex issues, even if such distillation is well-intentioned. And it is worth asking, too, whether the questions raised about gender identities are themselves even complex enough. We have to ask and keep asking the right questions–and answer and keep answering in dynamic ways to avoid simple and wrong answers.

As Katie Grimes made clear, this debate matters beyond correcting the wrongness of simple answers. Simple answers employed in the name of the church are actively harmful in justifying prejudice, discrimination, and, at times, even violence against LGBT people. We must commit ourselves to complicating constantly our understandings of gender and of sexuality to ensure we are always reading the signs of the times in new ways, with new eyes and open hearts.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Can LGBT Issues Be Included at San Diego’s Diocesan Synod?

May 22, 2016
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Bishop Robert McElroy

Following Pope Francis’ lead, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego has called a diocesan synod on marriage. We need to ask: can LGBT issues be included in this synod’s agenda?

Bishop McElroy announced the synod, planned for October 28-29, 2016, in “Embracing the Joy of Love,” his pastoral message responding to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Lay Catholics will be the majority of participants, with each of the diocese’s 100 parishes represented. Discussion groups which include local theologians will meet in the preceding months to further flesh out the agenda in advance

McElroy hopes the two-day synod will hopefully unfold into “a biannual, theme-driven event” to allow for spiritual renewal and lay input in diocesan governance, reported AmericaThe magazine noted this may be “the first such structured diocesan-wide response” to Amoris Laetitia in the world.

According to the National Catholic ReporterMcElroy outlined five challenges for the synod to address, hoping the synod will produce action points for each topic . He identified the following challenges: witnessing to a Catholic vision of marriage; forming a culture of invitation to unmarried couples; nurturing children; ministry to those persons who are divorced; bringing spiritual depth to family life in its various forms.

Though they have not been mentioned in the preparatory material so far, LGBT issues could easily be included in this agenda on marriage and family. For instance, when discussing the need to welcome unmarried couples, Bishop McElroy said the church “should not ignore the love, sacrifice and commitment which is reflected in so many of these relationships which differ from marriage” so as not to alienate people. For those couples who live together or who have entered civil marriages, the church’s pastoral outreach should be one “which reflects love more than judgment, which affirms the beautiful elements of love already present in the lives of such couples” even while upholding a heteronormative understanding of marriage.  Clearly, these areas include lesbian and gay couples, too.

Elsewhere in his message, Bishop McElroy exhorted priests to accompany people in the formation of their consciences rather than dictate decisions, stressed the problem of young adults’ rapid disengagement from the life of the church, and called for parishes to enhance their spiritual nourishment of families. Each of the areas McElroy addressed could easily include LGBT people and their families in the deliberations.

Appointed in 2015, Bishop McElroy represents an emerging generation of “Francis Bishops” whose pastoral sensitivity and emphasis on social justice set them apart from their predecessors. McElroy, who was a parish priest for fifteen years before assuming a position as auxiliary bishop, strongly approved of Pope Francis’ rebuke of U.S. bishops’ partisanship during the papal visit last fall. He called for the U.S. bishops’ document on political engagement to be scrapped last November because it was, in his estimation, “gravely hobbled” by its overemphasis on issues like marriage equality.

Even if LGBT issues do not come up, a synodal approach itself is noteworthy. Such an approach may advance LGBT equality even if such issues are not explicitly discussed. Bishop McElroy’s decision to convene a diocesan synod is quite significant wrote Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter:

“Synodality, as Pope Francis said at the last two synods on the family, is more than a different process, it is a different attitude. It requires listening as well as pontificating. It demands dialogue, not rote recitations of statements arrived at in advance of the kind that characterized synods before Francis. Synodality only works if those participating exhibit a certain humility about their own claims on the truth, a willingness to let the truth capture them rather than the other way round.”

For far too long, many church leaders have refused to listen to or dialogue with LGBT Catholics and their families. Their approach lacked humility, instead employing a harshness against those Catholics who disagreed with the hierarchy’s teachings on sexuality and gender.

Bishop McElroy is charting a divergent course, one exhibiting greater humility and compassion than many of his peers. Given his record and willingness to listen in the upcoming synod process, McElroy would likely welcome the inclusion of LGBT issues in this or another synod perhaps. Coupled with the Holy Spirit’s movements, a more synodal church could break down barriers to and build bridges for LGBT equality.

Catholics in San Diego are encouraged to write to the bishop and request meetings to share their stories and their convictions around LGBT issues. In the five months before San Diego’s synod convenes, there will be multiple opportunities in the discussion groups and other listening mechanisms to raise LGBT concerns. Local Catholics should ask themselves “What is God asking of our church now?” which is the question the bishop posed about discernment.  If they listen to the ways God speaks through people’s lives, they will surely find that LGBT pastoral care and inclusion are important concerns for the church in San Diego and that they should be addressed either in this synod or at another similar meeting in the very near future.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Archdiocese Denies Same-Gender Catholic Couple the ‘Freedom to Bury’

May 20, 2016
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Michael De Leon, front left, and Greg Bourke, back right, with their two children outside the U.S. Supreme Court

A Catholic cemetery refused a same-gender couple’s headstone design because officials say its symbols conflict with Catholic teaching.

Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon, a married couple, had purchased a joint burial plot at St. Michael Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. Last October, they also submitted a headstone design after consulting an Archdiocese of Louisville employee, reported The Courier-Journal.

The design includes the U.S. Supreme Court building, signifying Bourke’s and De Leon’s roles as plaintiffs in the historic Obergefell v. Hodges decision which legalized marriage equality in the U.S..  It also includes interlocked wedding rings. The couple thought nothing of their burial plans after this because, Bourke explained, they considered the matter innocuous “like picking out countertops.”

On March 30 the couple received an unexpected letter from the executive director of Catholic Cemeteries for the Archdiocese of Louisville, Javier Fajardo saying that their design had been reviewed by the “proper Church authority.” The letter said the  Archdiocese “cannot approve the depiction of the Supreme Court building and the use of wedding rings” because they allegedly conflict with church teaching. The letter did make clear the couple could retain the remaining design and affirmed their ability to be buried together under a shared headstone.

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Proposed headstone design

Speaking at a press conference this week, Bourke said the couple believe they have been “dealt with unfairly” because their design is quite modest in comparison to existing headstone engravings. Commenting on an engraving featuring the spires of Churchill Downs, Bourke said according to The Huffington Post:

” ‘In my mind, it’s outrageous that the church would think it’s OK to have an icon on a memorial of this palace for gambling, and yet they would find an image of the Supreme Court — which is an icon of American democracy — is somehow inconsistent with church teachings.’ “

Bourke suggested the Archdiocese’s action was “deliberate retaliation against my family,” inconsistent with Pope Francis’ desires for the church, and asked: “Is that what Jesus would do?”

Catholics for Fairness, which campaigns for LGBT equality in Kentucky from a faith perspectie, joined Bourke and De Leon at the press conference. Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, Kentucky’s LGBT civil rights organization, who also attended, said the couple “might have a more receptive audience with the Vatican than with the Archdiocese.” He said further, as reported by 89.3 WFPL:

“They’re simply looking for the same dignity that everyone else has in death; to have their final wishes honored and the Catholic Church, specifically the Archdiocese of Louisville and Archbishop Kurtz, are denying them that yet again. . .They’ve faced repeated indignities here in the Archdiocese, and it’s really time [the Archdiocese] listened up and stopped.”

Lisbeth Melendez Rivera of the Human Rights Campaign called headstones “sacred and personal statements about our lives, faith, accomplishments” and continued:

“There is so much room in Pope Francis’ call for mercy and acceptance and in a diverse Catholic community that values its LGBTQ brothers and sisters grace and generosity – instead of the narrow and hurtful decision by the Archdiocese. These two good men of faith deserve better.”

Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon, chosen as the 2015 Persons of the Year by the National Catholic Reporter, deserve much better. Beyond seeking marriage rights, the couple remain involved in both LGBT advocacy and in the life of their parish of 28 years. Earlier this year, Bourke and De Leon helped organize the fifth annual Pilgrimage of Mercy which called upon Catholics to support LGBT non-discrimination protections.

As a result of their past efforts, their burial plans are not the couple’s first conflict with Archbishop Joseph Kurtz and the Louisville archdiocese. In 2012, Bourke was forced to resign as a Boy Scout leader because of his sexual identity, and even after the Boy Scouts of America reversed their ban on LGBT leaders, Archbishop Kurtz barred Bourke from the Scouts permanently.

Archbishop Kurtz told the National Catholic Reporter that Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia would affect “every aspect of church ministry.” This incident is a prime opportunity to re-imagine what this ministry of burying the dead, a corporal work of mercy, means for the church today. Will church ministers afford LGBT people equal burial plans? Will church officials respect LGBT people’s consciences and the relationships to which they may have committed themselves in life? Will the violence of Communion denials at a parent’s or partner’s funeral be replaced with enhanced grief care that is intentionally inclusive for families with LGBT members?

 These broader questions should be considered by theologians, by pastoral ministers, and by the entire faithful so we can shift Catholic grief care and burial practices to be more just and inclusive. But in the meantime, a first step could be taken if the Archdiocese of Louisville would simply reverse its discriminatory decision and give Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon the freedom to bury.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Fr. James Martin: Respecting Transgender People “Fairly Simple Thing to Do”

May 19, 2016
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Jesuit Fr. James Martin again affirmed LGBT inclusion, saying transgender people using restrooms according to their gender identity “seems a fairly simple thing to do.” Meanwhile, U.S. bishops intensified their criticism of expanding transgender equality.

In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Martin was asked about the federal government’s new directive mandating transgender students be allowed to use gender-segregated facilities, like restrooms and locker rooms, according to their gender identity. Martin responded:

“I don’t know a whole lot about that issue, but I would say that I don’t understand the problem with letting transgender people use bathrooms that they feel comfortable in. Personally, I think it’s overblown and that people’s responses are really strange. I don’t know that much about transgender people but that’s all the more reason for us to try and treat them with dignity.

“I thought the comment from Attorney General Lynch was beautiful, that we are with you, we’re going to try to help you. Just as the church needs to treat gay and lesbians with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,’ which is in the catechism, it should be the same with transgender people. And letting them use the bathroom seems a fairly simple thing to do.”

Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo and Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committees on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and on Catholic Education, called the federal directive “deeply disturbing” in a statement. They said the directive failed to balance “legitimate concerns about privacy and security” and “short-circuits” ongoing conversations about gender. Malone and Lucas quoted Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia which says youth must “accept their own body as it was created.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, pushed back against the bishops’ statement and their use of Pope Francis to justify discrimination:

“We believe, as do many Catholics, that our transgender kin reflect the immensity and diversity of God’s creativity. They challenge us to humbly re-examine traditional beliefs about sex, gender, identity, and human relationships, and to acknowledge the limitations of our current understanding in these areas. We urge the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to engage in dialogue with transgender youth and adults, as well as their families, so they can better understand the pastoral and practical needs of these communities.”

Fr. Martin also commented on Pope Francis’ impact on LGBT issues  generally. Martin said it is “hard to overstate the impact” that Francis’ papacy has had in welcoming LGBT people. But the Jesuit priest criticized the institutional church for not providing more outreach to LGBT people, and offered three points to enhance pastoral care and improve ecclesial inclusion:

“First, by listening to their experience. Usually LGBT people are preached at instead of listened to. Second, by going out [of] their way to make them feel welcome. Third, by including them in leadership positions as anybody else would be, as Eucharistic ministers and lectors and things like that. But the first thing is listening to them. What is their experience?”

What is readily apparent from these Catholic responses to the federal directive protecting transgender students in public schools is who has listened to and come to know LGBT people–and who has not. Too many bishops have not asked themselves nor informed their ministry with the question proposed by Martin, “What are the experiences of LGBT people?” Pope Francis’ own deficiencies on matters of gender and sexuality, readily apparent in Amoris Laetitia, seem to stem from a failure to ask this question more publicly and proactively.

LGBT non-discrimination protections, for students and for everyone else, can be readily defended using Catholic teaching. But personal stories and relationships are perhaps more powerful sources for our theology and our advocacy today. So before another top Vatican official condemns trans identities as “demonic” or more U.S. bishops keep opposing LGBT civil rights, perhaps a pause for listening and for dialogue would be an appropriate next step. After that, respecting LGBT people should easily become a “fairly simple thing to do.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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