Indonesian Catholics Defend LGBT Students’ Rights Against Education Minister

January 27, 2016

Minister Muhammad Nasir

Catholics in Indonesia have rejected a government official’s call to ban counseling services to LGBT students in higher education.

According to Asian CorrespondentMuhammad Nasir, who serves as Minister of Research, Technology, and Higher Education, decried such programs at the University of Indonesia, stating:

” ‘The LGBT culture is not in accordance with the values and morals of Indonesia. I will not allow it.’ “

The Minister added that, as moral guardians, colleges and universities had a duty to exclude LGBT groups on campus and said sexuality is a choice by individuals.

Nasir attempted to walk back his comments yesterday, saying that while LGBT people should not be discriminated against by laws, this does not mean “the state legitimizes the LGBT culture.” He specified further that he was not against people, but their activity and wanted to disallow “members of the LGBT community openly displaying their sexuality on campus.” He admitted to lacking the power to enact such changes.

Nasir’s critics claim he is essentially trying to ban LGBT students from higher education, despite his clarifications. Alongside LGBT advocates, civil rights activists, and a petition, Nasir’s critics include officials in Catholic higher education, reported

” ‘The minister distinguished between a psychosexual condition and sexual praxis as something against moral values,’ Franciscan Father Peter C. Aman, a professor of moral theology at the Jakarta-based , told on Jan. 25.

“For the psychosexual condition, he said, the community cannot be regarded as violators of the moral values. ‘It’s like heterosexual condition. It doesn’t come out by itself even though it has potential to violate moral values.’

“Catholic universities had a moral obligation to oppose the minister’s remarks: ‘The church must defend the community (in this case),’ he said.”

It is unclear whether Nasir was actually making such a distinction or if Fr. Aman is projecting a distinction, but his assertion that the church “must defend” LGBT people is noteworthy.

Matheus Beny Mite, charged with Catholic education at Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia, said that if the minister’s goals “are against human rights,” they would be rejected by the University.

While it is problematic that these two Catholic officials felt the need to condemn sexual activity, their rejection of Nasir’s uninformed remarks is a positive development. Furthermore, Fr. Aman affirmed that the church has an obligation to be in solidarity with LGBT communities facing discrimination,and Professor Mite rightly categorized this issue under human rights, not sexual ethics. Though Catholics constitute less than 4% of Indonesia’s population, these two Catholics by their acts of solidarity provide an outsized witness for the church — and advance LGBT justice.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right hand corner of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Malawi Bishops’ Comments Fail to Defend Marginalized LGBT People

January 26, 2016

President Peter Mutharika, left, with Archbishop Thomas Msusa

As Malawi debates whether to repeal its laws which criminalize homosexuality, the nation’s Catholic bishops are lobbying heavily for the keeping such laws on the books.

Most recently, the Catholic bishops conference of the nation, called the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), sought an audience with U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People, Randy Berry, who visited the country this month. ECM Chair Archbishop Thomas Msusa of Blantyre explained why the bishops wanted such a meeting, as reported by Nyasa Times:

“Any discussion affecting the social and moral fibre of Malawi should at its best be as inclusive and accommodative as possible. Our teaching and a majority of our faithful have spoken clearly against the bullying of our international partners on issues of constitutional change to accommodate homosexuality in our laws.”

But, while Berry met with government offices and civic organizations, he did not meet religious leaders who wanted to defend homosexuality’s criminalization or believed international aid was tied to LGBT laws. Berry said assertions that U.S. aid is conditioned upon LGBT rights are “completely false,” but that these human rights could not be separated from broader concerns about governance in Malawi, reported Nysasa Times.

Five ECM bishops also brought up the idea of alleged international pressures about homosexuality in their mid-January meeting with President Peter Mutharika. They told him to “resist pressure” on LGBT human rights because these are “alien to most Malawians” and are “being championed by foreigners,” said Archbishop Msusa. He continued, according to All Africa:

” ‘As the Catholic Church, we say “no” to supporting these gay activities and we will follow strictly our church doctrine.’ “

President Mutharika recently said LGBTI people’s rights “should be protected,” but believes ultimately the populace should decide on whether to repeal Malawi’s anti-homosexuality law.

Malawi’s church leaders have spoken publicly against homosexuality from the pulpit, too. Bishop Mathews Mtumbuka of Karonga told a Catholic women’s gathering that gay people are “sinners who need to repent.” Bishop Montfort Sitima of Mangochi applauded a Catholic musician for cancelling his concert when questionable reports surfaced about two men kissing in the audience.

Being gay in Malawi is illegal, and a conviction could lead to up to fourteen years hard labor for men and up to five years imprisonment for women.  The government dropped charges in December against two men, Cuthert Kulemeka and Kelvin Gonani, after their arrests for being gay drew widespread criticism.

Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu has issued a moratorium on enforcement of the anti-gay law,until further notice, though anti-LGBT politicians are challenging the legality of this moratorium. Homophobia is still quite prevalent in the nation’s politics. A spokesperson for minority party, People’s Part, said earlier this month that lesbian and gay people should be killed rather than jailed

Malawi’s bishops are promoting misinformation when they claim first that homosexuality is “alien” to Malawians and second that foreign aid is being used to pressure donor nations to adopt LGBT rights. Misinformation is problematic, but doubly so when used to endorse, implicitly as well as explicitly, anti-LGBT prejudices that have and can lead to discrimination, imprisonment, and violence.

Though Catholics are only 20% of the population, Malawi’s bishops possess tremendous authority in the country due to their critical role in the nation’s transition to democracy in the early 1990’s. Their voices weigh heavily in this debate about repealing the criminalization laws which, it should be noted, are not supported by church teaching.

The bishops should be defending the human rights of all people, even if disagreements about sexual ethics exist, instead of providing cover for those politicians and public figures whose homophobia and transphobia has and will have dangerous consequences. But as it stands, the bishops in political and ecclesial arenas alike are failing to defend and may even be causing harm to marginalized LGBT communities in Malawi.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Alberta Bishops Unified in Opposition to Transgender School Policies

January 25, 2016

Education Minister David Eggen announcing new guidelines

Disputes about proposed transgender policies for Alberta’s Catholic schools have again escalated, as church officials, educators, and equality advocates all weigh in on new LGBTQ guidelines. The bishops are unified in their opposition to these guidelines, but many lay Catholic officials disagree.

Alberta’s Bishops Oppose Trans-Inclusive Policy

Three Canadian bishops joined Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary’s opposition to LGBTQ policy guidelines released by Alberta’s Ministry of Education, reported CBC.

Edmonton’s Archbishop Richard Smith, who is in India currently, released a media statement about his opposition that criticized members of the Edmonton Catholic School Board, too. The archbishop wrote, as reported by CBC and Metro News, that some Board trustees “have caused harm and hostility” and “betrayed the trust placed in them by Catholic electors” by their actions and alleged failure to defend Catholic education.

It is unclear from his statement which trustees and which actions he criticized or if the criticism is for the trustees as a whole who have been incapable of working together. Smith did admit that certain LGBTQ guidelines were “constructive, thoughtful and reasonable suggestions” and, in certain cases, were already being implemented in the province’s Catholic schools.

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan and Bishop Paul Terrio of St. Paul also spoke out, releasing separate pastoral letters on the issue. Both claimed church teaching disallows what they describe as self-identification for one’s gender, citing recent comments against gender theory by Pope Francis and the Synod on the Family. Allowing students to identify their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression “repudiates the goodness of Creation,” according to Terrio.

Bishop Henry previously said the guidelines were “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic,” and criticized gay-straight alliances for opposing homophobia and heterosexism. The bishops will meet with provincial Education Minister David Eggen next month.

The Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association weighed in against the guidelines as well, saying the schools were already “very safe and caring.”

Catholic Officials Reject Bishops’ Stance

Grassroots Catholics have reacted strongly against these episcopal assertions. Parents were displeased by Bishop Henry’s letter and a decision by the Edmonton Catholic School Board (ECSB) to distribute that letter widely. Michelle Comeau, who has two children in ECSB schools and is Catholic, told CBC that the letter was “awful” and “embarrassing.” She added:

” ‘From what I can see with my kids and their friends, there’s no issue with them. It’s with the older people.’ “

Additionally, the mother (who asked not to be identified) of a trans girl whose human rights complaint prompted these school policy discussions, criticized the letter and its distribution, too. She told The Edmonton Sun:

” ‘This has nothing to do with the Catholic teachings. This has nothing to do with the Catholic faith. This is a scared man who is clearly anti-gay, anti-transgender, and anti-LGBTQ all together who doesn’t want processes changed. . .

” ‘He hasn’t been around a transgender person, obviously, and he hasn’t been around a transgender youth…you tell me that it’s as easy as pretending to be a bird when you have your seven-year-old child asking you to end her life.’ “

Marilyn Bergstra, who chairs ECSB, apologized to parents and others harmed by the Board’s circulation of that letter, according to The Edmonton Journal. She tweeted that it “never should have happened.” Trustee Patricia Grell voted against distributing Henry’s letter, telling The Edmonton Journal:

” ‘We have to follow the law. . .The law doesn’t care if it goes against our religion. Human rights will always trump religious rights and honestly, for me as a Catholic, trying to find a place for our transgender kids, our LGBTQ kids in general in our schools is very keeping with the gospel of Christ.’ “

An Edmonton priest, Fr. Stefano Penna, attacked Grell and others supportive of LGBTQ policies by comparing them to Nazis.

Jennifer Woo of the Calgary Catholic School District rejected Bishop Henry’s letter, saying the District’s schools would “continue to do what we’ve already been doing, and that is to build up communities where all of our students feel welcomed and respected” because Catholic teaching mandates love for all people and respect for their dignity. Other administrators in Calgary’s Catholic schools expressed similar sentiments, reported the Calgary Herald.

Educators and LGBT Advocates React

Alberta’s Education Minister David Eggen weighed in, saying ECSB trustees should “sort themselves out and make sure they are doing the job that they are elected and paid to do,” according to the Winnipeg Free Press. Eggen said LGBTQ policies currently being considered by Alberta’s 61 school districts should reflect the spirit of the guidelines, as well as lining up with “the letter of the law.”

Calls for Eggen to dissolve the Edmonton Catholic School Board are mounting from parents, community members, and transgender advocates. The Education Minister said he is considering the move because he is “very concerned” about the well-being of the “many tens of thousands of children” the ECSB trustees oversee, according to Winnipeg Free Press. Commenting about the standoff with bishops,  Eggen said school officials are “moving down a path here that is very unfortunate and it has very serious implications.”

Mark Ramsankar, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said this debate itself is harming school communities. Citing Bishop Henry’s comments specifically, Ramsankar said such “extreme rhetoric. . .would be laughable if they were not so hurtful.” Teachers seek to ensure classrooms are “safe and care places of learning for every student.” He also defended Catholic education in the province, saying it “served communities since before the province was created,” reported 660 News.

A new study of Canadian teachers out of the University of Winnipeg revealed 62% of educators in Catholic schools believe inclusive policies would be “very helpful” to students. But what is troubling in these findings by the “Every Teacher Project” is that, despite 99% of teachers saying it is important for students to have faculty with whom they can discuss LGBTQ issues, only 57% of educators in Catholic schools are comfortable being such a resource, reported Metro News.

An editorial in Medicine Hat News expressed sorrow about Bishop Henry’s letter and church leaders’ opposition to LGBTQ policies:

“It’s sad that such a declaration puts staff in the position where they might have to wrestle between what we know will definitely help students, and the words of higher church authorities.

“It’s sad, because the letter reinforces what many think Catholicism is — stagnant, close-minded, never willing to change for the better. It’s sad, because it reinforces the spiritual alienation many Catholics feel from the church they love and want to be a part of.

“The Bishop can talk about dignity and respecting each child — but it all rings hollow when he’d rather dig in his heels over the constitutional rights for Catholic education mixed with hyperbole over totalitarianism — instead of stepping over to the right side of history and to help vulnerable children not just survive, but thrive.”

The editorial said any solution will require creativity, compassion, and love which are not lacking in the Catholic community, even if church leaders fail to display such qualities. While its important to remember that the People of God support inclusivity, a Metro News column asked a sobering question about the bishops’ campaign:

“But in the battle between civil rights and religious freedoms how many LGBTQ children will be collateral damage?”

The bishops’ hyperbolic rhetoric does not prioritize students. It does not foster a preferential option for marginalized LGBTQ youth. While there are many complex legal, ecclesial, moral, pedagogical aspects involved in this controversy, the heart of this matter  should be protecting students and promoting the best learning environments possible.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


International Court to Hear Case of Fired Lesbian Teacher

January 20, 2016

Sandra Pavez

A former teacher’s discrimination lawsuit against the Chilean government will be heard by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR), a potentially historic development which could alter the country’s law and finally grant justice in this near-decade long case.

Sandra Pavez, who is also a former nun, taught religion in Chile’s public schools for more than 20 years until 2007. That year, Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez Errazuriz of San Bernardo forced her out of her job because Pavez is a partnered lesbian woman. She explained to WRadio:

“He told me that he had heard I was a lesbian and demanded that I leave my partner and seek the care of a psychiatrist of the Catholic Church. I refused and have never been able to enter a classroom since. . .

“I thought the Chilean Catholic Church was more humane and accepted people as they were. I was greatly disappointed.”

Under a 1984 law passed under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, Catholic leaders control decision making about religion teachers in the public school system. Rolando Jimenez of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (MOVILH) called this dynamic “unacceptable” and a “conspiracy

A July finding by the IACHR said that in Pavez’s case evidence existed that the Chilean government had violated the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, specifically in regard to the right to privacy and due process. Previous appeals for justice in this case had failed, including a domestic lawsuit which ended unsuccessfully at the country’s Supreme Court. LGBT advocates are hopeful, however, that this latest legal development from IACHR will lead to justice and to the law’s repeal.

Jimenez said victory would be a “symbolic and political” act for not only Chile, but for all Latin America in breaking up collaboration between nations and the Catholic Church. He said, in part, that a ruling for Pavez would “disarm conspiracy and violations which make accomplices of the Chilean State and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.” Pavez explained the specific LGBT implications, saying:

“It shouldn’t be that someone can silence a person who wants to speak of God but has a different sexual orientation. I will fight to the end to set a precedent in history.”

There are two possible outcomes at this point because of IACHR’s July determination that equality-related violations had occurred. While the Commission’s findings are non-binding under international law, the Chilean government could agree to a settlement in which it apologizes and awards damages to Pavez, along with repealing the 1984 law. If that doesn’t happen, Pavez’s lawsuit, aided by MOVILH, would proceed to the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, whose rulings are binding on the Chilean government.

Chile is not the only nation where Catholic leaders have control over state employees; a similar firing happened in Spain’s Canary Islands a few years ago. Many nations retain laws and cultures which are deferential to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Beyond the LGBT justice issues here, MOVILH’s Rolando Jimenez pointed out that this case also challenges an oppressive system by which Church and State leaders have retained power with unjust consequences.

God can transform injustice into grace and Latin America’s troubled recent history offers many signs of this transformation. Perhaps God will use Sandra Pavez’s case to bring justice not just to LGBT communities, but as a seed which then blossom into liberation for all people.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Dignity Members Act on Employment Non-Discrimination Issues

January 19, 2016


Jeffrey Higgins, right, with supporters

Employment non-discrimination protections for LGBT people are among the final obstacles to full legal equality in the United States. Such legislation is hotly disputed locally, while federal action has stalemated until at least after the 2016 elections.

Below are three recent news stories about Catholic involvement in LGBT nondiscrimination issues. Two of these stories highlight the good work being done by Dignity communities.

DC Catholics Protest Church Worker Firing

Catholics stood in solidarity with fired gay cantor Jeffrey Higgins outside the church which expelled him, Mother Seton Parish in Germantown, Maryland. Organized by Dignity/Washington in partnership with DignityUSA, the action coincided with Sunday Masses. Higgins, who was joined by his husband, Robert, and mother, Maria, explained to The Washington Blade:

” ‘We’re standing here to make sure that people in the parish know what happened, that I was fired from my job for being gay and married.’ “

Maria Higgins expressed profound sadness about the firing, but she felt “very proud of Jeffrey and Robert” and was “very proud to stand here.” Despite LGBT non-discrimination protections in Maryland, the Archdiocese of Washington has defended this discriminatory firing under the “ministerial exemption” which allows religious institutions to disregard employment laws when it comes to the hiring and firing of church ministers.

Higgins is counted among the more than 60 church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes since 2008. DignityUSA Board Member Allen Rose, who helped organize the rally outside Mother Seton, said of this situation:

” ‘They seem to have picked people who are gay and who get married as the dividing line. It’s unfortunate.’ “

Florida Bishop Opposes Inclusive City Ordinance

Episcopal attacks on LGBT employment rights are lodged not only within the church, but in civil society, as well. In the latest example, Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida, wrote to Jacksonville, Florida’s city leaders to oppose an amendment which would include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in the city’s non-discrimination laws.

Estevez’s letter to Mayor Lenny Curry and the City Council, reported by The St. Augustine Record, sought widespread “conscience exemptions.” He sought not only that religious institutions, but unaffiliated nonprofits and private businesses, as well, be able to discriminate against LGBT people. He added further that no entity, exempt or not, should be forced into “acceptance of homosexual expression or activity in the areas covered by the proposed legislation.”

Claiming Catholic teaching which does not exist, the bishop said the church does not “condone or cooperate in any aspect of the alteration of a person’s birth gender.” On these grounds, Estevez opposed entirely any inclusion of gender identity and/or expression as protected categories.

Dignity Members in Indiana Back Non-discrimination Bill

Dignity/Indianapolis members released a statement supportive of full LGBT non-discrimination protections in Indiana. State legislators are seeking to correct last year’s deeply criticized religious freedom bill which drew national headlines. The Dignity statement reads, in part:

“It is a terrible reality that discrimination in housing, education, and employment continue to expose LGBTQ Hoosiers to injustice and inequality in our state.

“Inspired by our Catholic faith, we recognize the equal dignity of all persons. We embrace our church’s teaching that shelter, education, and employment are universal and inviolable rights to be afforded to all. And we believe that LGBTQ persons should in all circumstances be treated with respect, never subject to discrimination.”

The statement specifically targeted any proposal that would advance LGB protections without similar provisions for trans communities. In the end, Dignity/Indianapolis invited all Catholics, people of faith, and people of goodwill to join their advocacy for civil rights.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

While it is important to keep tabs on what our bishops are doing, the real story here is the goodness that is happening. Catholics’ action for LGBT justice, especially in regards to church worker firings, is ever increasing in the U.S.  Each time a firing happens, there is a greater likelihood that local communities will stand beside the church worker and say “not in our name.”

Catholics have taken to heart Pope Francis’ early exhortation to “make a mess” in our local dioceses for the cause of truth and justice. To that I say, Amen!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Martin Luther King’s Words Call LGBT Catholics and Allies to Action

January 18, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 4.38.03 PMRev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is honored today in the U.S. for his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. His many stirring words and ideas provide a lens through which to reflect on how we set Catholic LGBT issues in a broader context while re-committing ourselves to LGBT justice in our church.

Bondings 2.0 covers news on Catholic LGBT issues, but in preparing posts I often come across the tensions over sexuality and gender experienced in other Christian denominations and faith traditions.

For instance, headlines last week suggested that the Episcopal Church here in the U.S. had been suspended from the Anglican Communion by the denomination’s Primates Meeting, the body of senior bishops from the Communion’s member churches. While talk of suspension is overblown (see this post from gay Episcopal priest Mike Angell for an in-depth explanation), the Primates’ statement remains painful because it was sparked by U.S. Episcopalians’ affirmation of LGBT people and same-gender relationships.

In another case, after the government of Greece approved allowing civil unions for lesbian and gay couples, Metropolitan Ambrosios of Kalavryta in the Greek Orthodox church called for Greeks to “spit on” and “beat” gay people, and saying “they are not human.” Metropolitan Chrysostomos Savvatos of Messinia responded by saying LGB people, “like all humans are a creation of God and they deserve the same respect and honor, and not violence and rejection.”

What is the relevance of these stories and other faith communities’ experiences for Catholic LGBT people and their loved ones and advocates? I offer three points, guided by Rev. King’s words (in italics).

“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”

First, these two stories set Catholic LGBT issues in an ecumenical and global context. We understand that religious leaders of all types can be prone to promote anti-LGBT sentiments in their words and in their deeds, just as others in their denominations promote equality. Homophobia and transphobia are rooted in human prejudices common to all people rather than being specific to any religious tradition. The divide about homosexuality that exists between Western and African Catholic bishops is present in the Anglican Communion, too. Disputes between individual bishops about civil unions trouble the Greek Orthodox church, too. Yet, people of faith worldwide also are prophetically witnessing for communities to respect and affirm LGBT people–and, at times, prophetically suffering for that witness. Liberation’s path is a universal journey, playing out locally, meaning there are many commonalities despite the differences.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Second, because the quest for LGBT equality is a universal journey, we must keep a broad perspective in mind for our local work. Rev. King’s exhortation for an ecumenical and global perspective can be easily lost if we don’t intentionally cultivate it. Whether we are Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican, our deeper belonging is to the Church of Christ which extends beyond any particular church’s parameters. This greater Church, rather than our own denominational churches, is what we must ultimately make fully affirming and inclusive of all sexual and gender identities. Injustices against LGBT people in any faith community hurt all faith communities.

Parallels also exist with LGBT advocacy being done in Jewish, Islamic, Sikh, Hindu, and other faith communities. The movement for civil rights which King helped lead united those of all faiths and no faith behind a common cause. There are parallels, too, with other justice movements like Black Lives Matter or fighting injustices facing immigrants and refugees. King’s desire for racial justice meant he opposed the Vietnam War and also sought economic justice. It is poignant to remember that he was assassinated organizing the Poor People’s Campaign, a racially-unified call to action on behalf of all who are poor.

When our Episcopal siblings hurt because they face exclusion, we must reach out with prayer and companionship. When a religious leader promotes prejudice, we must stand in solidarity against such messages. When police violence brutally afflicts black communities, LGBT people must stand against these crimes. When undocumented trans women are housed in unsafe detention facilities, LGBT and Latina/o advocates must act united. Intersectionality demands collaborative responses oriented towards global justice for all. Solidarity actions are a constitutive part of our LGBT Catholic advocacy.

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

Third, this call to an ecumenical and global perspective is concurrently a call to recommit ourselves to the existing local work we are doing in the Catholic Church–and to make our Catholic work fundamentally about reconciliation as the means of creating just conditions. Catholicism remains conflicted when it comes to LGBT issues. Splits exist between the hierarchy and laity, between different geographical regions, between generations, and between ecclesial camps. While these divisions remain in the church, there can never be true LGBT justice. Therefore, our work must balance positive outreach and necessary challenge, always with an eye to reconciling people. Expanding parish LGBT ministries, meeting with church leaders, protesting church worker firings, deepening LGBT-affirming theologies in Catholic circles are the day-to-day ways by which we contribute to healing and to universal liberation–and we must do them all with love.

As we remember the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. today by reading his words and recalling his witness, it is a moment to look at our own lives and our current efforts. We must ask if we live up to Rev. King’s call for a universal perspective in our local work.  If we fall short, we need to ask where we can build and grow towards that goal. Today is a day of remembrance, but equally for advocates of justice it is a time of re-commitment for the coming year.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Vatican Gay Lobby? Really?

January 17, 2016

Towards the end of last week, a story kept popping up on the internet, mostly on conservative Catholics’ sites, that the existence of a “gay lobby” in the Vatican had been confirmed by Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, who is the coordinator of Pope Francis’ council of nine cardinal advisors.

Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga

The cardinal made his remark during an interview with a Honduran newspaper. If you can read Spanish, you can read the entire story by clicking here.  Basically, the cardinal “confirmed,” without offering any evidence, the existence of such a lobby in the Vatican.  What is interesting, however, is that he “confirmed” this idea based on 2013 remarks made by Pope Francis, which were, at best, ambiguous about such a lobby, and, at face value, the pontiff mostly made fun of such an idea.

Crux provided context for the cardinal’s remarks:

“Rodriguez Maradiaga discussed the state of things in the Vatican in his local Honduran newspaper ‘El Heraldo,’ confirming that in his view there is a ‘gay lobby’ inside the Roman Curia.

“By ‘gay lobby,’ Vatican insiders and the Italian press generally mean an informal network of gay clergy in the Vatican who support one another, and who have a vested interest in keeping one another’s secrets and helping one another move up the ladder.

“(For the record, when Francis was asked back in 2013 if he had found a gay support network in the Vatican, his response was, ‘I have yet to find someone who can give me a Vatican ID card with “gay” [written on it] … they say they are there.’ Earlier, during an informal session with Latin American leaders of religious orders, the pontiff reportedly said he would ‘see what we can do’ about the network.)”

If a gay lobby exists, why doesn’t anyone speak of the evidence of such a network?  Where are the facts?  While all of this can make for sensational headlines, the main problem is that there is really nothing to back it up.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Like most people, I assume that there are gay men working at the Vatican.  If the cardinal knows about them, why isn’t he, or any church leader, willing to talk about them? Why mention them only through vague allusions?

There’s also a problem when a leading cardinal identifies a supposed “gay lobby,” but doesn’t acknowledge that special interest groups based on other ideas would also exist in the Vatican–or any other organization.  Why single out a “gay lobby”?

The cardinal’s lack of evidence about the presence and activities of gay men in the Vatican seems to indicate an unwillingness to speak about gay issues in a realistic manner—a quality exhibited, unfortunately, by many senior church officials.  The real problem this story illustrates is not that there are gay men working in the Vatican, but that church officials aren’t able to speak about their presence in an open, healthy, and mature fashion.

Another of the problem with this story comes from the double use of the word “lobby.”  It can be used, as Crux described above, to describe a secret network of gay clerics, who support one another. (In another Crux article, John Allen analyzes this use of the term.)  But then, in American English, it also has the connotations of a group that is promoting an agenda.

In terms of the first use of the word—to describe a network—I would have to say that if such a network does exist, it is created by the institutional homophobia which church structures and policies promote.  So much of the church’s leadership exhibits an immense inability to acknowledge and discuss the fact that a good number of the members of the hierarchy and the clergy are themselves gay.  This silence and secrecy harms individuals, as well as the whole community.  It provides a fertile ground for informal networks of protection to grow.   In  other words, if the Church hierarchy wants to purge any supposed gay lobby, they should purge silence, secrecy, and homophobia from the Church.

In the second sense of the word “lobby”—as a group promoting an agenda—the best evidence against the existence of a lobby is that if it did exist, it is doing a very bad job of promoting its agenda.  If there were really a powerful gay lobby, how come we still have so many homophobic remarks coming from church leaders?  Why isn’t there a more robust agenda for moving LGBT issues forward in the Vatican?  Where was this lobby when Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa, a Vatican official, came out of the closet? Why no statement from the Vatican against LGBT criminalization laws?  Where are the results of the gay lobby?

It always amazes me that some people think that LGBT people are more powerful than the evidence shows.

This shady way of arguing exhibits classic conspiracy theory tactics:  invent an enemy, which is invisible, which is infiltrating from the inside, but which can’t be proved or disproved.  The suggestion creates fear and suspicion, but worse, it characterizes the selected group as evil, manipulative, and duplicitous.

Conspiracy theories pop up when one side of a discussion (in this case, Catholics who do not want change) feels as if they are losing the argument.  It is simply a way to discredit the other side and to try to offer an alternative explanation of why the argument is being lost–instead of just relying on logic and rational discourse.  It is a tactic used from ancient times to contemporary politics.  It is laughable, except for the fact that it can cause harm because some people will believe. it.

Our church needs so many improvements in regard to LGBT ministry and justice.  Discussing this red herring takes away from having a real conversation on the real issues. Let’s hope and pray that, instead, church leaders will start an open and healthy discussion on LGBT issues with all in their church, including and especially, their brothers in the clergy.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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