Pope Francis Forgoes LGBT Human Rights During First Visit to Africa

December 1, 2015

Pope Francis before Mass during his Africa visit.

Pope Francis’ visit to Kenya, Uganda, and the Central African Republic concluded yesterday without explicit remarks supportive of LGBT human rights, for which many had appealed.

Advocates in Kenya and Uganda had hoped the pope would preach words of tolerance in these highly Catholic nations,one which criminalizes (Kenya) homosexuality, an one which is still evaluating such a law (Uganda).

Openly gay Catholics, like Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda, wrote Pope Francis to ask for a meeting. Catholics globally emailed and tweeted the pope through New Ways Ministry’s #PopeSpeakOut campaign.

Some observers had speculated that Pope Francis would address homosexuality while visiting a shrine for 19th century Ugandan martyrs. In certain accounts, reported Crux, these forty-plus Christian men were executed in part for refusing King Mwanga II’s sexual advances. Pope Francis omitted any reference to this contested narrative. What the pope did say was that Christians, inspired by the martyrs’ faith, were called:

“to build a more just society which promotes human dignity, without excluding anyone, defends God’s gift of life, and protects the wonders of nature, his creation, and our common home.”

Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi later clarified that the line “without excluding anyone” (omitted in the Vatican’s English translation of the homily) “would also include people with homosexual tendencies.”

Pope Francis’ phrase “new forms of colonialism” during an address in Kenya has been interpreted by observers, including Crux’s John Allen, as a reference to homosexuality. This phrase, observers claim, specifically references some Catholic leaders’ suggestion that Western aid is tied to LGBT rights including marriage equality. It is worth noting that the U.S. envoy for LGBT human rights sharply criticized such claims in a recent meeting with Vatican officials.

Like Francis’ use of “ideological colonization” during his visit to the Philippines, the phrase “new forms of colonialism” is not quite clear. Connections to homosexuality seem stretched, though in its ambiguity, it will likely be misused by anti-LGBT voices appealing to anti-colonialist sentiments that run deep among many Africans.

One church official did comment to Crux about the church’s involvement in anti-LGBT laws on the occasion of the papal visit. Bishop Giuseppe Franzell of Lira, Uganda, said laws targeting sexual and gender minorities stem from “fundamentalist Christian groups and sects that come from North America. . .[and] individual Catholics, including some bishops.”

At the other extreme, Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Uganda told PinkNews “the aim of [homosexuality] is not to promote life but to act against it” and “those with that tendency are called to abstinence.”

Church teaching is an insufficient appeal in nations where levels of LGBT discrimination and violence remain quite high. Appeals made to Pope Francis by LGBT people were thus quite simple and entirely consistent with current church teachings.

Reuters  interviewed LGBT Ugandans, who would only be identified by first names,  about their hopes for the pope’s visit, as well as about their daily lives. Keith said he wanted the pope to “[t]ell the congregation that being gay is normal and so we deserve our rights, equal rights.” Abdul, raised Catholic, says the church in Uganda and Kenya “says being gay is wrong” which has led to “continuous discrimination” and tremendous suffering. Though not quite a silver lining, trans woman Hector said the papal visit did provide “an opportunity to come out and tell our stories.”

On a positive note, Pope Francis made clear during his in-flight press conference on his way back to Rome that he prioritizes social justice over sexual ethics. Asked whether the church should change its teaching on artificial contraception given that HIV/AIDS continues to spread in Africa and other regions, the pope responded, according to the National Catholic Reporter:

” ‘This question makes me think of what they asked Jesus one time: “Tell me, master, is it licit to work on the Sabbath?” ‘. . .

” ‘Malnutrition, exploitation of persons, slave work, lack of drinking water. . .These are the problems.’

” ‘I do not like to descend into reflections that are so casuistic when people are dying. . .I would say to not think if it is licit or not licit to work on the Sabbath. I say to humanity: Make justice, and when all can earn a living, when there is not injustice in this world, we can speak of the Sabbath.’ “

Pope Francis’ first apostolic visit to Africa was, in many ways, a profound incarnation of his desired “poor church for the poor.” He led the church to the world’s margins and from there commenced the Year of Mercy. Francis visited an active conflict zone in Central African Republic at personal risk to preach peace, criticized injustice from slums outside Nairobi, and praised Uganda for accepting refugees (though failed to note the 500+ LGBT people who have fled that nation’s harsh conditions).

Pope Francis’ silence on LGBT human rights is notable nonetheless. In a church which mandates a preferential option for those marginalized, allusions that include all people do not suffice. Affirming the dignity of LGBT persons would have strengthened his witness for human rights and social justice while remaining consistent with current articulations of church teaching.

Francis’ silence can aid those like Uganda’s Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo who prayed the pope would not preach tolerance because “[i]t is bad enough that homosexuals are there, but let them not go ahead and expose themselves.”

Francis’ silence can harm all those LGBT people who face discrimination and violence for living openly as God created them, like Jackson Mukasa. Dragged from his home by a mob alongside his partner, Mukasa was brutally beaten before his assailants turned him into police for the ‘crime’ of being gay. Mukasa and his partner were jailed for several months under Uganda’s anti-gay law before being released. They now live in fear, forced to seek asylum abroad and asking:

“Is it that being gay is a crime to God? That’s why all these things are happening?”

Pope Francis didn’t need to endorse marriage equality to preach merciful words to those like Jackson Mukasa and to save LGBTQI lives too frequently under attack. That he chose not to is troubling indeed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

What Will YOU Give on #GivingTuesday?

December 1, 2015

Just a friendly reminder that today is #GivingTuesday, a day set aside each year between Thanksgiving and Christmas to let people focus on their donations to non-profit organizations.

If you are thinking of making charitable donations this season, we hope that you will consider a gift to New Ways Ministry to help support our work for LGBT equality in the Catholic Church and in the wider society.

This year, New Ways Ministry has been busy — raising LGBT issues at Vatican press conferences during the Synod on the Family in Rome, sponsoring a Catholic gender identity workshop during Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S., helping to form the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, speaking out for marriage equality in Ireland, and writing a daily blog that chronicles Catholic LGBT issues, among numerous other educational and pastoral programs.

Can you donate to New Ways Ministry and support our many efforts?

Whether or not you can support us with a financial donation, you can help support our organization by helping us to spread the word about Catholic LGBT issues.  If you know someone who would benefit from reading our blog, Bondings 2.0, simply click here, and add their names and email addresses in the box halfway down the page at which you will arrive. We’ll send them a one-time message inviting them to subscribe. We will not use their email addresses for any other purpose.

Use AmazonSmile for your online shopping to benefit our work.   If you sign up with the Smile program and name New Ways Ministry as your beneficiary, we will receive a small percentage of your purchase price from Amazon.com, at no additional cost to you.

During this gift-giving season, we ask you to partner with us once again on #GivingTuesday to continue our work.  Together we can make meaningful change in the Catholic Church for LGBT people.  Thank you for all that you do and all that you are.  And thank you for your unfailing support for New Ways Ministry!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Australian Bishops Face Discrimination Complaint Over Anti-Marriage Book

November 30, 2015

The cover of the Australian bishops’ document under review

Australia’s bishops are facing a discrimination complaint about an anti-marriage equality publication they published earlier this year, the latest incident in the nation’s debate over equal marriage rights.

Martine Delaney, a politician who is transgender, filed the complaint with the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission in mid-September. She is now seeking conciliation by the Commission rather than a hearing, reported The Catholic Leader.

The Commissioner accepted the complaint initially, affording Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart, and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, an opportunity to respond. There is no word on mediation, but Porteous affirmed his openness to such a process, which may include meeting Delaney. He rejected claims the bishops had offended anyone.

The publication in question, a booklet titled “Don’t Mess with Marriage,” was distributed by Porteous to Catholic school students in sealed envelopes. Copies were also provided for distribution to all Catholic institutions in the diocese, accompanying a nationwide release.

Explaining her objections to the bishops’ document to ABC News, Delaney said:

” ‘It makes several statements which suggest that children being raised in same-sex relationships are not healthy’ . . .

” ‘The church is entitled, as we all are, to freedom of speech but there’s an inherent responsibility with that, that you cannot do it in a manner which is offensive and insulting and humiliating.’ “

Criticisms were widespread when the document was released in June, particularly in dioceses like Hobart where schoolchildren were used as couriers to bring it to their parents. LGBT advocate Michael Bayly went as far as calling it a “new low” for the nation’s bishops.

Marriage equality’s status in Australia remains contested, and this complaint is part of larger political conversations. The federal Senate rejected a statement of support for the bishops, reported The Guardian, but the question of free speech remains prominent.

Concerns have been raised about this case by both anti-equality activists and Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, who is gay and supports marriage equality. Gay News Network quoted Wilson as saying the complaint gave him “chills” for its potential to suppress political speech as Australians prepare for a national referendum on marriage. He said further:

” ‘Understandably, the direction of the Tasmanian case could have a significant impact on the extent of the public debate around marriage for same-sex couples in the lead-up to a plebiscite.’ “

Delaney said her decision to file a complaint was not an attempt to freeze free speech, but rather ensure a balance as there is “an obligation for [bishops] to exercise those rights without causing harm.”

Bishops elsewhere in Australia have criticized the Tasmanian complaint, adding their criticism to their ongoing criticism of marriage equality. Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney called it “astonishing and truly alarming.” Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, who supported more pastoral language on homosexuality at the Synod on the Family, wondered on Twitter if marriage equality is a “new totalitarianism.

While there are speculations as to why Australia has yet to extend civil marriage equality, what is clear is that more and more Australians are on board with it. In September elections, the country replaced former prime minister Tony Abbot, an anti-equality Catholic, with Malcolm Turnbull, a pro-equality Catholic but who nonetheless has sustained Abbot’s proposed national referendum on the question.

Many issues are tied into this discrimination complaint and the larger milieu of marriage equality. Those involved will sort through political and legal considerations, but what needs to be recognized, too, is the pastoral aspect.

A bishop shepherds all the faithful in their diocese, not just the Catholics whose political leanings pair well with the current occupant’s ideology.  Whether or not Australian bishops violated Tasmanian law, their document does not mirror Pope Francis’ call for mercy and inclusion nor does it show a respect for LGBT people.

Hopefully, through mediation, the wrongs incurred by “Don’t Mess with Marriage” can be rectified and Catholics, like all Australians, will be able to debate freely the question of civil marriage equality ahead of the nation’s vote.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry



NEWS NOTES: November 28, 2015

November 28, 2015

News Notes

Here are some news items that you might find of interest:

1) Former Boy Scout leader Greg Bourke will not be allowed to return to his Louisville-based troop, barred by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz despite an appeal from Bourke and his supporters. Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, Patrick Whelan, the parent-leader of a Massachusetts Boy Scout troop said that when Catholic bishops respond negatively to the prospect of gay leaders, their reaction hurts youth rather than protecting them, as the bishops claim.

2) Bishop Vitus Huonder, the conservative head of the Chur diocese, Switzerland, has reinstated Fr. Wendelin Buchli as pastor, after he had originally dismissed the priest for blessing the union of a lesbian couple, according to Le News. The parishioners in the town of Burglen had protested the priest’s dismissal.  His reinstatement is conditional on making a promise never to bless a same-gender union again.

3) A Swedish priest who claimed that homosexuality was a “psychological disorder” capable of being “cured,” apologized after receiving intense criticism, according to TheLocal.se.

4) DignityUSA’s Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke penned a Huffington Post essay criticizing the recent U.S. bishops conference meeting, noting that the bishops revealed that they will continue a course that is negative towards the LGBT community, women, and the poor.

5) The prime minister of the small and predominantly Catholic European nation of Luxembourg will be legally marrying his partner, one year after marriage equality became legal there, according to EurActiv Xavier Bettel will marry Gauthier Destenay, a Belgian architect, becoming the first leader of a European Union nation to have a same-gender marriage, a sign, which some say, is indicative of the growing acceptance of the institution in European society.

6) The Catholic Theological Society of America honored theologian Patricia Beattie Jung during its annual conference this summer, according to the National Catholic Reporter. She received the Ann O’Hara Graff Memorial Award for her groundbreaking work on sexuality and heterosexism.  Jung was a plenary session speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, in Baltimore, March 2012.

7) Representatives from 22 international Catholic Church reform organizations have sent Pope Francis an open letter on parish life, calling for more inclusive pastoral practices and diversity of leaders in parish decision-making, according to Windy City Times. In their letter, the group told the pope about the wonderful diversity already present in some parishes:  “There are women and men, married couples, divorced and remarried, homosexual and heterosexual partners, young and old, those in the center and those who have been pushed to the side…By their personal dedication, by the strength of their baptismal calling, they assist in relieving the priests of their increasing responsibilities in order to continue offering vital services to the people.”   New Ways Ministry is a signer of the letter.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

What to Give for a Four-Year Old’s Birthday?

November 28, 2015

Today, Bondings 2.0 reached another milestone:  we are four years old!

Little did I imagine four years ago today when I typed “how to start a blog” into my Google search box that this forum would attract such a wonderfully diverse and energized readership.  The blog is read literally around the globe by Catholics, LGBT people, scholars, journalists, church leaders, parents, educators, activists, and so many others, too!

Each year on Bondings 2.0’s birthday, we ask our readers to consider supporting this otherwise free resource with a contribution.  And this year, you can, of course do that, by clicking here, filling out the online donation form, and writing “blog” in the form’s “Comments” box.  You will receive our deep gratitude.

However, an even better birthday present this year would be if you would help us to promote the blog among your friends and social media followers.

Blog followers receive an initial email asking them how frequently they want to hear about blog updates. Many folks enjoy receiving a daily reminder, while others want to hear from us less frequently. The choice is theirs. Following the blog is the best way to insure that you don’t miss any important news or insights.

If you know someone who would benefit from Bondings 2.0, simply add their names and email addresses in the box below. We’ll send them a one-time message inviting them to subscribe. We will not use their email addresses for any other purpose.

Many of you already help in this regard by forwarding links to some of our posts to your electronic contacts, and we greatly appreciate this kind of support.  It builds up the blog’s greatest resource:  our readers.

So, thank you all for FOUR wonderful years.  We look forward to our continued conversations in the years to come, just as we look forward to the day when the Catholic Church and our greater world are places of full equality for LGBT people.

We are glad and proud to partner with all of you as we continue that journey towards full equality!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Pope Francis and Uganda’s Bishops Should Link Catholic Principles to LGBT Issues

November 27, 2015

Pope Francis’ arrival in Nairobi, Kenya.

New Ways Ministry and its supporters, through our #PopeSpeakOut campaign has called upon Pope Francis to use the occasion of his visit to Africa to make clear that Catholic Church teaching does not support the criminalization of sexual orientation/gender identity and that discrimination and violence against LGBT people is morally wrong and should be opposed vigorously.  The Pope’s voice is needed because African bishops have been mostly silent when it comes to these particular issues.

In two separate gatherings yesterday–an ecumenical meeting in Kenya and at a Mass at the University of Nairobi, the pope made general reference to protecting human dignity and opposing prejudice, though he did not make specific reference to LGBT people. At the first meeting, he said:

“In this light, and in an increasingly interdependent world, we see ever more clearly the need for interreligious understanding, friendship and collaboration in defending the God-given dignity of individuals and peoples, and their right to live in freedom and happiness. By upholding respect for that dignity and those rights, the religions play an essential role in forming consciences, instilling in the young the profound spiritual values of our respective traditions, and training good citizens, capable of infusing civil society with honesty, integrity and a world view which values the human person over power and material gain.”

At the second meeting, he said:

“Let the great values of Africa’s traditions, the wisdom and truth of God’s word, and the generous idealism of your youth guide you in working to shape a society which is ever more just, inclusive and respectful of human dignity. May you always be concerned for the needs of the poor, and reject everything that leads to prejudice and discrimination, for these things, we know, are not of God.”

It is easy to see how these references could be applied to LGBT people.

In a similarly general way, Ugandan Catholics have not been without some guidance from their bishops in moral and political decision-making.  In August 2015, the Uganda Episcopal Conference issued a pastoral letter that unequivocally calls for respect, tolerance and love towards all Ugandans, though it does not mention sexual or gender minorities specifically.

The document, Free and Fair Elections: Our Common Mission to Consolidating Democratic Gains in Uganda was written in anticipation of Uganda’s national elections in 2016.  In it, the bishops concerned themselves with “how citizens and various institutions concerned with [the election] process should conduct themselves during this period.”

Free and Fair Elections focuses on the electoral process itself, noting that “elections guarantee peace, stability and prosperity as they offer avenues for alternative ideas and approaches for the development of society.”

The bishops first identified what they see as the critical issues.  While noting a variety of topics, they confined themselves to speaking about “more contextual and pressing” issues” that “requir[e] urgent action if peace and harmony is to prevail before, during and after the 2016 general elections.” The specific issues the bishops addressed were conflict within political parties, the commercialization of elections, voter apathy, intolerance in politics and the role of Ugandan police and seeming legitimization of para-military groups.

Next, the bishops presented a set of guiding principles for the election process.  These guiding principles are reverence and humility in leaders, active citizenship, unity in diversity, love and respect, and justice and fairness.  It is in this section where a clear message of respect, tolerance and love for all Ugandans can be found.

The bishops first called for servant leaders, that is, men and women with a demonstrated passion for leading the crusade for “the dignity of every human person . . . commitment to the common good as the purpose and guiding criterion for political life.”  Servant leaders exhibit humility, love and respect.

Viewing renewal of the temporal order as part of Christ’s redemptive work, the bishops next called for Catholic Christians to be active citizens and to be led by their conscience.  The bishops state that Christians are “bound by” their conscience “to elect people who demonstrate commitment to our common aspirations, namely, restoring our country to the divine path and a life of respect and dignity.”

Cognizant of “divergent political ideologies and agenda” that exist in the country, the bishops called all Ugandans to “one mission, to make our country a place befitting all its citizens.”  In order to succeed, “we will need to appreciate this diversity and focus more on our common mission than the agenda of our individual parties and candidates.  We will be required, in the spirit of the Scriptures . . . to cultivate a spirit of unity, tolerance and coexistence in order that every Ugandan will have an opportunity to express himself or herself without fear of reprisal.”

For the Ugandan bishops, being patriotic is tantamount to loving “our country and our fellow citizens.”  The bishops offered 1 Cor. 13:4-6, St. Paul’s famous definition of love, as explicit guidance:

“Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceitedness or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable. Love does not keep a record of wrongs. Love is not happy with evil but is happy with the truth”

It is clear that nothing in these principles would exclude support of LGBT people’s human rights and personal safety.  If Ugandan bishops would follow their own advice, they would be speaking out more boldly in support of sexual and gender minorities in their country.

While the focus of the pastoral letter is the electoral process itself, the principles expressed by the bishops can guide individual as well as political conduct.  Ugandan Catholics should be heartened by “Free and Fair Elections,” and its call to respect, tolerate and love their fellow citizens, including LGBT Ugandans.

–Cynthia Nordone, New Ways Ministry





For What Are YOU Thankful This Year?

November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving to all Bondings 2.0 readers!   We hope that you have much to be thankful for this year.

At New Ways Ministry, we are particularly grateful for all our blog readers and commenters who continue to make this social media outlet a wonderful discussion site for Catholic LGBT issues.

Some of New Ways Ministry’s staff members, board members, and volunteers have each offered their top three gratitude items below.

What are you thankful for this year, especially items that may pertain to Catholic LGBT issues?  We invite you to share your items in the “Comments” section of this post.

Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director:

  1.  I am grateful to New Ways Ministry’s supporters and volunteers whose generosity of time, talent, treasure, prayer, and encouragement are the lifeblood of our ability to continue our work.
  2. This past year, I had the privilege of receiving press credentials to cover the synod on the family at the Vatican.  I am grateful to God for this opportunity, to the Vatican officials who allowed me this experience, and to New Ways Ministry supporters whose contributions made it possible for me to travel to Rome.
  3. I’m grateful for having the opportunity to meet so many courageous, compassionate, and loving people because of being involved with LGBT ministry.  The Catholic Church–rightly understood as the People of God–is blessed with so many wonderful souls.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder:

This year I am thankful for a “triple crown” of success for marriage equality:

  1. On May 22, 62% of Irish voters earned Ireland the distinction of being the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. [Editor’s note:  If you are interested in joining Sister Jeannine on an 8-day pilgrimage to Ireland in 2016, click here for more information.]
  2. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 26 that same-sex couples can marry in all states and that every state must recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state.
  3. The German Bishops’ Conference decided on May 6th that lay employees who form same-sex civil unions should no longer automatically lose their jobs in Catholic schools, hospitals, or social service agencies.

In my more than 40 years of LGBT ministry, I never imagined I would see these changes. Thanks be to God!

Brother Brian McLaughlin, SVD, Project Volunteer:

This year, I am thankful for:

  1. A community of persistent advocates who tirelessly work for change in church and society.
  2. LGBT Catholics who refuse to live in fear and still proclaim their rightful place at God’s Table.
  3. Laudato Si and the care of ALL of God’s creation.

Matt Myers, Associate Director:

I am thankful for courageous Catholic activists in Africa, like Frank Mugisha, who regularly face extraordinary dangers during their work to secure basic rights for LGBT people in church and society.

Claire Pluecker, Board Member:

I am thankful for the sisters, priests, and bishops  here in the United States that are supportive of our ministry to the the LGBTQ. May they be a shining light to the remaining.

Bob Shine,  Social Media Coordinator:

  1. Trans* Visibility: The T in LGBT is finally approaching parity in the broader movement for equality. Catholics in the pews are leading their leaders when it comes to justice for and inclusion of trans* communities in the church.
  2. St. Mary’s Academy, Portland, Oregon:  After first firing lesbian counselor Lauren Brown, school administrators quickly reversed their decision and implemented an inclusive nondiscrimination policy in a prophetic witness for the church institutions which are still expelling LGBT and Ally church workers.
  3. ‘Francis Bishops’: Those like Archbishop Blase Cupich, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, or Bishop Johann Bonny who prioritize a church of mercy which accompanies people in the realities of their lives. They have been willing to listen closely, smell of the sheep, and, increasingly, imagine publicly new ways of being church.

Vern Smith,  Weekly Volunteer:

  1. I am thankful for the quiet, respectful people who manage Catholic schools and churches across the country who did not fire an lgbt person for coming out or marrying their partner.  May we appreciate those unsung people who we may never know about, because they followed their consciences and quietly ignored social and hierarchical pressures to act unjustly.
  2. I am thankful for Pope Francis’ imperfect means of handling LGBT related issues.  We need his pastoral fallibility. We cannot engage in genuine discussion with one who is “always right,” or presents oneself as infallible.
  3. And I am thankful for my partner of over 21 years whose love is always there regardless of the political winds that blow in the Church. Standing together for so long, even when stormy winds prevail, has become more like dancing in the rain.

For what are YOU thankful, this year?  Share your gratitudes with other readers by posting them in the “Comments” section!  Happy Thanksgiving!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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