Catholic Support for Marriage Equality at U.S. Supreme Court

April 28, 2015

Supreme Court photoNew Ways Ministry’s Matthew Myers, associate director (left), and Francis DeBernardo, executive director (right), joined hundreds of marriage equality supporters today outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC, today.  They were there to show Catholic support for marriage equality while inside the nine justices listened to oral arguments on cases which could potentially make marriage for lesbian and gay couples legal nationwide.  The Court’s decision is expected by the end of June.

For more background on the Court cases, click on these three posts:

April 28, 2015:  “On Marriage Equality, Sweeping Changes Possible But Much Remains the Same for Catholics

April 27, 2015: “What Makes Catholic Justice Kennedy Advocate for Lesbian & Gay Equality?

April 21, 2015: “Supreme Court Marriage Equality Case Will Be Led by Catholic Gay Couple

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Bishop Bars Sr. Jeannine Gramick from North Carolina Family Gathering

April 22, 2015
Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo in St. Peter's Square following the Ash Wednesday audience.

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo in St. Peter’s Square following the Ash Wednesday papal audience.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, has been barred from speaking at a Catholic parish in North Carolina, a move which seems to contradict Pope Francis’ initiatives for a more listening and merciful church.

Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte personally expelled a PFLAG-Charlotte event from St. Peter Catholic Church where it was set to be held, according to QNotes. (PFLAG stands for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.) Diocesan spokesperson David Hains explained that Jugis acted against Sr. Gramick’s presence because of her connection to New Ways Ministry and outspoken support for LGBT rights. Gramick is in Ireland at the moment, encouraging Catholics to vote for marriage equality in that nation’s upcoming referendum.

LGBT advocates are criticizing Jugis’ decision as out of touch, contrasting it with Pope Francis and a new era in the Catholic Church he is helping to usher in. PFLAG-Charlotte President Diane Troy, a Catholic, said:

” ‘Sr. Jeannine’s message is very much in line with Pope Francis’ message of welcoming LGBT people to the Catholic Church. Her message of inclusion and acceptance has been well received by LGBT Catholics, the Catholic Church and its hierarchy for decades…It’s unfortunate that the Bishop, as our spiritual shepherd, has chosen to turn his back on so many.’ “

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, expressed similar sentiments:

” ‘It’s disappointing in the era of Pope Francis, where we see many Catholic leaders taking a more open approach to find out that Bishop Jugis has taken a more old-fashioned approach of silencing rather than [engaging in] dialogue and encounter, which are the words Pope Francis uses.’ “

QNotes’ report recalled the VIP seating at a papal audience that Sr. Gramick and 50 LGBT Catholics were granted this past February, a clear contradiction to Jugis’ rejection of Gramick.

However, this ban is especially unfortunate because the event, entitled “Including LGBTQ People and Their Families in Faith Communities,” takes up the very theme of pastoral care for families that Pope Francis has championed in the last two years. As DeBernardo pointed out, Catholics are engaged in LGBT inclusion precisely because they are Catholic and not in spite of it. This is particularly true when it comes to family life:

“For many Catholics, this particular issue is a matter of family. It is a matter of keeping families together and strengthening families. In the past two decades, more and more people in the U.S., including Catholics, have learned about an LGBT member in their family and that’s changed their hearts and their minds and moved them to work for equality.’ “

Diane Troy spoke to this reality as well:

” ‘My Catholic faith is profoundly important to me, as is the unconditional love and pride I feel for my gay son. Our Catholic school and parish communities should be a spiritual haven where all families receive acceptance and unconditional love.’ “

Despite the ban, the event scheduled for May 16 will go ahead at an alternate site that has yet to be determined.

This is only the latest controversy in the Diocese of Charlotte, which has fired two gay church workers in the past three years. All of this reveals just how much more Bishop Jugis and church leaders in Charlotte need to be attentive to Pope Francis’ example, allowing dialogue around LGBT issues particularly as they relate to pastoral concerns and working to make sure the local church is as inclusive as possible. Hopefully, in the weeks between now and May 16, clarity will come to Charlotte, and this harmful decision will be reversed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Supreme Court Marriage Equality Case Will Be Led by Catholic Gay Couple

April 21, 2015

An important Catholic dimension to the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case which could legalize same-gender marriage across the nation has just emerged in an article on The Huffington Post.

The Bourke-DeLeon Family: Michael, Isaiah, Greg, Bella

The news organization reported that the lead plaintiffs in one of the four cases that will have their oral arguments next week, with a decision expected by the end of June, are a Catholic gay couple, who are active parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes parish, Louisville, Kentucky.

Michael DeLeon and Greg Bourke have been together for 33 years, and they have two children: Bella, 16, and Isaiah, 17.  They married in 2004, in Niagara Falls, Canada.  The article says that at the parish they “are just like any other family.”

Indeed, the pastor at O.L. of Lourdes praised their involvement and their acceptance by parishioners:

” ‘I’ve been here almost four years, and there might be a handful of people who are uncomfortable,’ said Father Scott Wimsett, the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes. ‘But [Bourke and DeLeon] are loved and respected and people call them. They’re involved, and you see how they fit in.’

” ‘They’re just good people,’ Wimsett went on. ‘And that’s kind of what it’s all about, isn’t it?’ “

The article described the legal and social dilemma that the couple are in because marriage equality is not yet legal in their home state of Kentucky:

“[T]hat’s the issue bringing them to the Supreme Court: Does the 14th Amendment require a state to recognize same-sex marriages that were lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

“While they wait, they still have to deal with the very real consequences of having a marriage that’s recognized by the federal government but not by their own state. For example, only DeLeon is listed as the legal parent of Bella and Isaiah.

“Their Supreme Court brief argues that if ‘Michael dies, Greg’s lack of a permanent parent/child relationship with the children would threaten the stability of the surviving family.’

“That legal distinction makes itself felt in day-to-day life in unexpected ways. For example, if Bella and Isaiah need passports, DeLeon will be the one to go with them, because in the eyes of the law, he’s their only parent.”

This is not the first time that the couple has been in the spotlight because of gay issues.  In 2012, Bourke was expelled from his position as the leader of a Boy Scout troop by the leadership of the local Scout Council.  The local community, including the parish and the pastor, came to his support during this crisis:

“[T]he community rallied behind Bourke. His troop and Wimsett, his pastor, stood up for him and refused to make him leave.

” ‘The Boy Scouts did the one thing they could do that was left in their arsenal… Our troop charter would have been revoked if I didn’t leave,’ said Bourke. ‘So because I love the troop and I love the boys and I love scouting… I resigned reluctantly.’ “

Ann Russo, a parishioner at O.L of Lourdes who is the leader of the Girl Scout troop offered her reflections on Bourke and DeLeon’s relationship:

” ‘I have a lot of admiration for Greg and Michael,’ said Russo. ‘They’re probably one of the first gay couples that I’ve gotten to know personally. And the fact that they’ve been together for so long just — I mean, they were just meant to be together. It’s been fun watching them post on Facebook — their anniversaries and birthdays and things like that.’

“She said she was proud to be a member of the parish when Wimsett stood behind Bourke and disagreed with the Boy Scouts’ policy.

” ‘I think that any of us, as parents, want to be involved with our kids,’ she said. ‘As a Girl Scout leader, I don’t talk about my sex life with any other leaders, much less children. That would never have come up.’ “

Bourke and DeLeon will not be the only Catholic dimension at the Supreme Court when these cases are heard and ruled upon.  Six of the nine Justices on the Court are Catholic, including Anthony Kennedy, considered the swing vote that brought favorable outcomes in two other cases regarding gay and lesbian equality.

Bourke and DeLeon, like many Catholic gay and lesbian couples, are leading dedicated lives of faith and service in a way that is both remarkable and ordinary.  But it sounds like the support of their pastor and parish are extraordinary in their support for this loving Catholic family.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Catholic H.S. Wrestler Becomes Bridge Builder by Coming Out as Gay

April 13, 2015

Cole Fox, far right, poses with fellow students

Cole Fox is a senior at Don Bosco Catholic High School in Gilbertville, Iowa, where until recently he wrestled successfully for one of the state’s top programs.

He is also an openly gay Catholic whose coming out and commitment to building bridges are inspirations for all who seek to advance LGBT justice.

Until last year, Fox had been relatively private about his sexual orientation, although if asked he would acknowledge being gay. He told close friends and his mother, who told Fox she already knew, but avoided telling his father who “always made homophobic comments” and also happened to be the school’s assistant wrestling coach.

This all changed last March when Fox decided to tell his dad in a handwritten note, which said, in part, according to OutSports:

“Any anger, humiliation, sadness, happiness or whatever you’re feeling is completely valid. As far as I know, you have no ties to anyone LGBTQ. I just want you to know that it took me nearly 17 years to accept me. I’m going to give you time and space. You don’t have to talk about it. You can bring it up as much as you wish. You can talk to mom or April. You can completely disregard this letter. I will still love you regardless of what you think or what you do.”

His father, Ray, replied in a text,”You are still a great son and I am proud of you.” His father also expressed sadness that he created a hostile environment for his son, saying he loved him no less than before — and that Fox should do the dishes.

Fox displays the same compassion for the Catholic Church that he expressed for his father in the note. OutSports reports:

“Most important to him is his hope of bringing together his beloved Catholic Church and the LGBT community. While he personally understands the decades of torment the Catholic Church has pushed on gay people, Cole sees hope in Pope Francis and a new direction for the Church. He says more and more Catholics are opening their hearts to LGBT people as a result. For years he bought into the damaging messages of some in the Catholic Church, but it was on a church retreat last July that he found Catholic Social Teaching.

” ‘Catholic Social Teaching is the Church’s teachings of human dignity. We believe that all humans are granted with God-given dignity and there is nothing that can shatter that dignity. It also has a lot to do with where Catholicism stands with social justice and charity in the world. Pope Francis has been very actively demonstrating Catholic Social Teaching and it is awesome.’ “

In a positive step for the church already, Don Bosco High School will recognize Fox for receiving the Matthew Shepard Scholarship to aid his upcoming studies at the University of Northern Iowa, A decade ago the school denied any public acknowledgement to a student who won the same award, according to KWWL 7.

Cole Fox

Fox, who hopes to be a teacher someday, is joining the rapidly growing ranks of high school students taking responsibility for justice at their Catholic institutions. In nearby Des Moines, hundreds of such students rallied and prayed earlier this week to protest a gay man being denied a teaching position. A similar movement exploded in Omaha this week, as well, after a gay teacher’s contract was not renewed.

In Fox’s story, a high school student’s actions reveal yet again the hopeful future for our church when it comes to LGBT justice. His words in The Des Moines Register speak to this as a most fitting conclusion:

” ‘I go to Mass a lot during the week. I never hear anything tormenting LGBT people. I hear fundamentals of love and dignity toward all people. I hear about loving people as Christ loves them…This is my chance to show what the Catholic Church means…

” ‘As Catholics, I know we are split. There are those that think one way and others who think another…But we are the church. Just because we are younger doesn’t mean we aren’t valid…

” ‘I want people to know you don’t have to hide anymore. People need to know they are accepted…You are not alone.’ “

For more information on students’ flourishing actions for LGBT justice in Catholic communities, check out Bondings 2.0‘s “Schools & Youth” and “Campus Chronicles” categories in the right-hand column of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Gay Teacher Case in Omaha Affects Community, Statehouse, and Future

April 11, 2015

Matthew Eledge

In Omaha, the repercussions of Skutt H.S.’s decision not to renew the teaching contract of gay teacher Matthew Eledge are reverberating in the local community, the statehouse, and, perhaps even into the future.

The Catholic school made the employment decision when they learned from the English teacher and speech coach that he plans on marrying his partner, a man.  Immediately, students, parents and alumni organized a petition drive–with over 45,000 signatures in two days–to support Eledge.  But perhaps the most interesting developments are yet to come, as Eledge has stated that, as far as he knows, he is still employed by the school to finish out the academic year.

KETV reported that Eledge told them

“. . . that he respects the school and the Archdiocese.

“Eledge also said, while he’s scared and nervous, he is also humbled by the outreach from alumni, parents and the community.”

The case had repercussions at the Nebraska statehouse in Lincoln. KETV stated:

“Some state lawmakers sounded off during debate on the Legislature floor. . . .

” ‘No one should be fired or judged on the ridiculous standard of whom they love,’ Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said.”

If you would like to see a copy of the Archdiocese of Omaha’s teacher contract, click here.

The case illustrates the importance of laws outlawing LGBT discrimination, though with the inclusion of religious exemptions, these laws would still not be applicable to Catholic institutions. In an Associated Press article, Steven Willborn, a University of Nebraska employment discrimination law professor said that a 2012 Omaha law and a proposed state law are both not applicable to Eledge’s case because of religious exemptions.

Wilborn was not without hope, though.  The article reported:

“Any reversal would be more likely to come from a public opinion backlash, Willborn said, such as seen recently in Indiana when that state’s lawmakers passed a religious objections law that critics said would sanction discrimination against gays and lesbians.

” ‘Of course, the public opinion that would matter most at Skutt would be what their parents and supporters and donors think,’ Willborn said.”

The inclusion of a financial factor in Willborn’s analysis raises an important question.  Throughout the last few years as we witnessed the over 40 employment disputes over LGBT issues in Catholic institutions, we have seen Catholic people protesting these unjust decisions from a faith perspective.   The most significant feature of these protests has been the outpouring support from young people.

While Catholic school leaders need to question the justice of their actions in regard to dismissing employees over LGBT issues, they also need to think about the practical consequences for the future of these institutions.  Will this next generation of Catholic students consider sending their children to schools which discriminate against LGBT people?  If they don’t, how much longer will Catholic schools survive?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


The Life and Times of the ‘Gayest Catholic Parish’ in the U.S.

April 9, 2015

The National Catholic Reporter’s Tom Fox greatly helped the burgeoning movement of gay-friendly Catholic parishes in the U.S. by publishing a five-part series examining the life of one such parish, Most Holy Redeemer (MHR), San Francisco, which he notes is often referred to as “the gayest Catholic parish in the nation.”

The interior of Most Holy Redeemer parish church.

Fox’s series on this parish should be read by anyone interested in Catholic LGBT ministry.  Links to the individual articles are interspersed throughout this post, as well as listed individually at the end.

What emerges from this in-depth examination, however, is not how extra-ordinary MHR is as a Catholic community, but, instead, more about how much it is similar to every other well-run parish.  It is a center of faith which responds to both the spiritual and practical needs of the people in its neighborhood.

MHR’s welcoming atmosphere is partly a result of the fact that it is located in the Castro neighborhood of SF, probably the largest LGBT communities in the country.  But what is interesting is that not all parishioners are locals.  Fox pointed out that many people travel from all over the Bay Area to attend Mass and programs there.

Young people, a demographic that seems to be disappearing in most Catholic parishes, are one group in particular that have found MHR to be a spiritual home.  Fox explains:

“Younger Catholics come from around the Bay, making up much of the parish. The very diversity that once moved some Catholics to flee MHR now seems to draw others, especially younger ones who feel at home and want to help prepare their children to live in an increasingly diverse world.”

That’s a lesson that many Catholic parishes should learn:  if you want to attract younger people, welcome the LGBT community.

Fox raises an issue which many LGBT-friendly Catholic parishes face:  how to be welcoming when so many LGBT people are suspicious of official Catholicism.  Jim Stockholm, a longtime MHR parishioner, explained the challenge:

“It’s the Catholic faith. It’s got a bad rap in the LGBT community. We have an archbishop who helped fund and led the charge against same-sex marriage. All that translates down to, in some way, our parish. We’re in the Castro, in the community, and so we have the challenge to overcome that, to say we are welcoming.”

While certainly unique because its parishioners are predominantly members of the LGBT community, the parish operates very similarly to other parishes of its size. In the third part of the series, Fox examined an important question for MHR and for many LGBT-friendly parishes:  Are they the “gay parish” or are they a Catholic parish that welcomes gays?  Parishioners seemed to be definite that MHR was the latter, and not the former.  One member, Bob Barcewski said:

“We don’t see ourselves as a gay community, but rather as a community that’s open to gays.There’s nothing in this church — no functions — that are gay here. There’s nothing gay about what we do here. It’s an acceptance and a realization that people feel OK to be who they are that makes this place different. It’s also a history of knowing that this was one of the few places anywhere, where people who were catching a mysterious disease and dying like flies, stepped up and responded.”

Most Holy Redeemer parishioners march in San Francisco’s gay pride parade.

Indeed, when the AIDS epidemic hit the Bay Area in the mid-1980s, it was at the same time that the parish had begun to open their doors to the LGBT community.  Ministering to people with HIV and AIDS became a focus of the parish’s ministry.  The fourth part of the series examines this critical time in the parish’s life, and it notes that MHR’s outreach is recognized by many others in San Francisco as being pioneering.

Their solidarity with those who suffer now extends to the homeless community, with weekly suppers, which, as one parishioner pointed out, are more accurately described as “banquets.”

In the fifth and final installment, Fox summarized his experience of researching this series.  His comments serve as a reminder of the importance of LGBT ministry in the Catholic Church:

“In dozens of interviews over several weeks with MHR parishioners, I found both pain and an eagerness to celebrate. I found a desire to be better understood by the wider church community. I found a willingness to forgive. I found much openness and universal abhorrence of judgment.

“I found hope, sometimes fledgling, that [Pope] Francis, given enough time, can change the course of the church, especially in how the institution affects the lives of LGBT Catholics. I found an extraordinary eagerness to come together as people of faith to help each other in ways big and small. I found, in words often suggested by Most Holy Redeemer parishioners, community in the Castro.”

Accompanying this five-part series are two side-bar articles which allow the voices of LGBT Catholics to be amplified:  1) a profile of Robert Pickering, a gay Catholic man from Denver who, like many other out-of-town LGBT Catholics, visited MHR when he was in San Francisco one Sunday; 2) snippets of conversations from the dozens of interviews that Fox conducted with MHR parishioners.

The series certainly does justice to the immense amount of faith-filled outreach that this community of and for LGBT people has accomplished.  The work done here is a perfect example of the hundreds of Catholic parishes across the nation who have welcoming LGBT ministries.  You can find a list of many of them by clicking here.

To read all previous posts on LGBT-friendly Catholic parishes and pastoral work, go the the category “All Are Welcome”  or click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

      Links to Tom Fox’s National Catholic Reporter series             on Most Holy Redeemer parish, San Francisco:

1)  ‘Gayest’ US Catholic parish strives to maintain openness, accepting

2)  Though welcoming, inclusive parish can be a tough sell to LGBT community

3)  ‘There’s nothing gay about what we do here’

4)  LGBT-friendly parish has long history of ministry to homeless, sick

5)  Finding community in the Castro

Side-bar articles

1)  One gay Catholic’s journey

2)  ‘Most Holy Redeemer is our home’

 

 

 

 

 

 


Easter Sunday: Roll Away the Stone!

April 5, 2015

“Roll Away the Stone” by Gary Rowell

This fecund earth has lain covered long enough.
It wants to throw off its asphalt blankets,
Stretch and yawn and send forth
Ten thousand blades of grass.
Behind their dams, rivers dream of the sea.
They yearn to burst their bonds and run wild,
To feel the caress of the banks and beyond,
To sing their ancient songs of joy and abandon.
Something has been calling to you
For longer than you can remember.
Calling you to step out into the light, into your life.
It doesn’t matter whether you think you’re ready or not.
The time has come.
Roll away the stone!
Roll away the stone!
–Larry Robinson, “Roll Away the Stone”

Easter Blessings to you and your loved ones from New Ways Ministry


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