Is the Church Complicit When Bias Incidents Occur on Catholic Campuses?

While Catholic higher education often leads the church’s efforts to be more inclusive of LGBT people, as Saturday’s post about gay college athlete Chase Boyle explored, several incidents this fall reveal that campuses are not without LGBT-related problems. And the institutional church may be complicit.

Fordham University Heals After LGBT Harassment

A sign near gathered Fordham University students

In September, students at Fordham University rallied at the “Speak-Out Against Homophobia,” a response to anti-LGBT comments written on the dorm room door of three LGBTQ students.

According to campus newspaper The Fordham Ram, the speak-out allowed students to not only show solidarity but share their negative experiences on campus. Junior Gina Foley addressed the impact that the University’s Catholic identity has had on her:

” ‘It feels like Fordham doesn’t want us here. . .I know that I belong in the LGBTQ community and at Fordham. I know that I belong in the Catholic community, but they don’t want me here. I see this all the time, and it hurts.’ “

Sarah Lundell, a senior with Progressive Students for Justice: Women’s Empowerment, said the student body largely “has remained apathetic,” and this has contributed to policies that harmful to LGBTQ students remaining in place. Lundell said that “although Fordham claims to be a welcoming Jesuit university, it fails to uphold cura personalis [sic] for LGBTQ students and other marginalized identities.”

While progress can be made, a recent piece on Fordham’s Rainbow Alliance displays some of the positive work and community building already underway. You can read more in campus newspaper The Fordham Observer.

Students Push for GSA at Newman University

After a proposed gay-straight alliance (GSA) was rejected by Newman University administrators two years ago, students are again seeking its establishment on at the Wichita, Kansas, school. Student Lauren Spencer wrote in campus newspaper The Vantage that such a group was needed because homophobia is present on campus:

“Last year I was told by a friend that as they were passing through the Student Center they heard a classmate say something along the lines of, ‘Now they’re letting gay people get married. What’s next? Are they gonna let people marry animals?’ “

Spencer said uninformed statements like these prove that a GSA is needed not only to support LGBTQ students, but to educate other students on issues of sexuality and gender and, she concluded, “what is more Catholic than putting an end to the hating of thy neighbour?”

Outside Groups Protest at Marquette’s Campus

Problematic actions have come not only from within campus communities, but from outside groups intent on disrupting policies supportive of LGBTQ people. Ten people from the ultra-right-wing organization American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property protested at Marquette University about the school’s support for transgender students.

Enrique Tejada III, a student who coordinates the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, organized a counter protest because, he told The Marquette Wire:

” ‘We align with Christ-like ideals of respect, support and compassion and we hope we can be a light for the community. We are charged to be the difference and we want to be that everyday for faculty, staff and students.’ “

Administrators, including Provost Dan Myers and Dr. William Welburn, who directs the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, lent their support. Welburn said the protestors should read Marquette’s values and “respect our position on human dignity and what we teach our students.”

Pride Week Starts at Stonehill College

Finally, a bit of positive news from Stonehill College, Massachusetts, which celebrated its first ever PRIDE Week in mid-October, hosting events that recognized and affirmed LGBTQ+ persons in the community and provided a space for allies to show solidarity.


These stories from Catholic campuses across the United States are reminders that despite the positive steps of establishing resource centers and allowing LGBT student groups, colleges and universities affiliated with the church still face some of the same challenges any institution faces when it comes to prejudices and fears. But it is worth reflecting, too, on the ways which LGBT-negative church teaching and a less affirming ecclesial culture impair Catholic higher education from offering a more robust and unequivocal embrace of LGBT community members.

Catholic education should aid all students in coming to know God’s love by living into their authentic self, so the question worth asking is whether schools doing enough to curtail ignorance and hate so this flourishing becomes possible for every student?

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.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 22, 2016

Santa Clara University Responds to Anti-LGBT Slurs, Swastikas

Santa Clara University experienced multiple hate crimes last month, including messages against LGBT people, incidents which have energized members of the campus community to express their solidarity and demand change.

Student vandalizing a poster at SCU

Vandals struck the California Jesuit school twice this past October, reported campus newspaper The Santa Clara:

“Over the weekend in Casa Italiana Residence Hall, a swastika was drawn in blood in an elevator and derogatory messages aimed at the LGBTQ community were written on a fourth floor hallway bulletin board. These acts came just two weeks after the 43 Students Memorial was defaced.”

The anti-LGBT messages appeared days before National Coming Out Day, when students on campus expressed their solidarity by affixing supportive fabric signs to their backpacks and coming out on social media. But LGBT programming and a generally affirming campus environment do not preclude prejudice said some students. Alaina Boyle, a senior who directs the Santa Clara Community Action Program and is queer, told The Santa Clara:

” ‘I have experienced discrimination and words of persecution from people on our campus before. . .I’m not surprised to hear that this is how some people really feel. . .I think there’s this overarching atmosphere of it being okay to put down certain groups and to speak out about how you feel about minority groups. I think that’s normalizing the hatred.’ “

Students and several offices on campus organized a march in which 70 students, staff, faculty, and administrators participated. Marchers changed “We are one” and “Love not hate” during the witness, about which the Multicultural  Center’s director Isaac Nieblas explained to The Santa Clara:

“We want to be loud and we want to be proud and we want to showcase that regardless of the symbols of hate and undertone of racism and misogyny and bigotry that exists here on this campus. . .We are not going to stand for it and we are going to start moving forward hand and hand.”Fr. Michael Engh, SJ, the University’s president, participated in the march and explained that he was there because “it is important that the administration

Fr. Michael Engh, SJ, the University’s president, participated in the march and explained that he was there because “it is important that the administration demonstrate that all students are welcome here.” Engh said the acts had violated a “sense of home” on campus.

Administrators hosted a community forum shortly after the acts of vandalism to address students’ questions, and the Multicultural Center facilitated restorative circles to help students process the incidents.

The forum was tense, according to The Santa Clara, as students asked whether the perpetrators would remain on campus and administrators refused to give details citing confidentiality requirements and the involvement of the Santa Clara Police Department. Students also questioned why administrators had used terms like “bias incident” and “act of discrimination” instead of “hate crime” to describe the events.

A statement from 25 LGBTQ community members was subsequently released, condemning the acts and naming four demands:

“The document contains four core demands, including that the acts be called hate crimes rather than acts of discrimination and that a full description of the vandalism be released to the Santa Clara community.

“The statement also demands that the university increase the security of campus surveillance footage to prevent images of hate crimes from circulating around the university and ‘re-traumatizing’ affected communities.

“The joint statement also calls for using a ‘transformative justice’ approach in order to hold the perpetrators accountable. This would allow those affected to address the perpetrators directly.”

The topic of hate crimes targeting LGBT people and other marginalized communities is quite present in the U.S. today after the presidential election. Though these incidents at Santa Clara happened in October, the negative effects such crimes cause are harm more than just the campus community. What should not be lost is that not only tragedy occurred at Santa Clara, but solidarity from church leaders and an appeal for transformative justice by campus groups.

Clearly, the teachings of the church on justice, solidarity, and reconciliation are foremost considerations for the community at Santa Clara University. The rest of us would do well to keep these teachings at the forefront of our lives, too, in these coming months and years when it seems hate is poised to raise its ugly head.

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.


–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 21, 2016

Why Are Burke & Chaput Now Calling for Less Papal Power?

Is Pope Francis’ desire for a more merciful and decentralized church being realized by the very church leaders most opposed to him? Debates over Amoris Laetitia, the pope’s exhortation on family life, seem to suggest just such a reality.

In order to understand how this dynamic might be working, it is first important to lay out a few news items.  I will then explain just what I and others think might be happening at this moment in the Church, and the possible impact for LGBT issues.

Raymond Cardinal Leo Burke visits the Oratory of Ss. Gregory and Augustine to celebrate Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament followed by a Reception. As Archbishop of St Louis, Cardinal Burke canonically established the Oratory on the first Sunday of Adve
Cardinal Raymond Burke, singing a new church into being

This week, Cardinal Raymond Burke threatened a “formal act of correction” against Pope Francis if the pope would not reply to a letter sent to him by Burke and three other cardinals, reported the Catholic Herald.

The four prelates– Cardinals Carlo Caffarra, Walter Brandmüller, Joachim Meisner, and Burke–submitted five “dubia,” or theological yes/no questions about Amoris Laetitia, but Pope Francis has declined to offer a response. Burke defended the cardinals’ defiant action, telling the Catholic Herald:

” ‘There is, in the tradition of the Church, the practice of correction of the Roman Pontiff. It is something that is clearly quite rare. But if there is no response to these questions, then I would say that it would be a question of taking a formal act of correction of a serious error.’ “

Burke proceeded to say that if ecclesial authority is in conflict with Tradition, it is the latter which is binding. If the pope is in error or heretical, Burke continued, the hierarchy would have not only the option but a duty to correct the pope whose primary purpose is unity. The idea of the pope as an “innovator, who is leading a revolution in the Church” is improper, he claims.

Cardinal Burke, formerly archbishop of St. Louis and then head of the Apostolic Signatura at the Vatican, was demoted by Francis to be chaplain of the Knights of Malta. The two had a private meeting last week following Burke’s laudatory comments for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.

Elsewhere, as yesterday’s post noted, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops did not formally discuss Amoris Laetitia during its fall plenary this week. Cardinal-designate Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican’s new Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life urged the country’s bishops to collectively address the exhortation, and he even rebuked a handful of bishops who had issued their own, mostly restrictive, pastoral guidelines based on Amoris Laetitia.

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Farrell specifically addressed guidelines put forth this summer by Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput. These guidelines, among other sanctions, ban people in same-gender marriages from parish ministries and seek to deny Communion to certain Catholics. In response to Farrell’s remarks, which Chaput described as “puzzling,” the archbishop told Catholic News Agency:

” ‘I wonder if Cardinal-designate Farrell actually read and understood the Philadelphia guidelines he seems to be questioning. The guidelines have a clear emphasis on mercy and compassion.”

Besides the Burke and Chaput discussions, conversations, and even quite heated debates, about Amoris Laetitia are happening worldwide.

In Germany, according to the National Catholic Reporter, the bishops have been divided on whether to admit to Communion persons who are divorced and remarried. During their fall meeting, the bishops discussed the exhortation, and pastoral guidelines are expected in the coming months.

In Argentina, it was reported in September that Pope Francis had signed off on pastoral guidelines created by the bishops there, saying their document was “very good and completely explains the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia [which concerns people in irregular situations].”

In Rome, the Vatican’s official newspaper L’Osservatore Romano has published essays defending Amoris Laetitia against conservative critics in the church. And Farrell has been very clear that the exhortation and surrounding conversations are “the Holy Spirit speaking” and, per the National Catholic Reporter that the document is “faithful to the doctrine and to the teaching of the church.”

At one level, all of these debates impact LGBT people and their families because the specifics of pastoral guidelines and the new openness to accompanying all people that is intended by Pope Francis can have very real consequences, positive and negative.

But on a deeper level, there are ecclesiological implications of the Amoris Laetitia debate, begun when the pope first called the Synod on the Family and led the church universal into that process. It is ironic that Cardinal Burke is claiming bishops have a right and duty to correct the pope or that Archbishop Chaput is defending the power of local ordinaries to act pastorally in their contexts when they have so often defended a legalist, centralized, even authoritarian understanding of church.

Even more ironically, their protests display episcopal collegiality and ecclesial decentralization that they have traditionally staunchly resisted.  This collegial and decentralized perspective is favored by Pope Francis and, in fact, called for by Vatican II. So, for bishops conferences to be debating and even ignoring a papal document is, in a sense, progress. For bishops to understand they have a certain co-responsibility for the church, and that the papacy exists within the college of bishops is progress, too.  It is odd, though, that those who have so strongly resisted such practices are now promoting them.

Movement towards a church that, to quote the pope, is “home for all” will benefit LGBT equality. It is good when church ministers have greater autonomy to respond to their contexts and the specific needs of their people. It is good when the coercive powers of the pope and the Vatican are lessened in favor of broader power sharing. It is good when theology is messy and pastoral responses are not entirely clear. This is the chaos in which the Spirit works and from which a renewed church that practices inclusion and abides by justice comes forth.

So what do you think: are these bishops helping the church move to being a home for all? Could it be that Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Chaput, and their confreres who are so forcefully and publicly resisting Pope Francis are actually, if unwittingly, helping to  advance the pope’s agenda for the church? Or are their efforts hindering Pope Francis and/or the cause of equality?

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 18, 2016

Top Vatican Official for Family Life Rebukes U.S. Bishops

Pope Francis’ top official for marriage and family issues criticized his U.S. colleagues this week for their failure to engage the pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia during their meeting. His criticism comes as larger questions are raised anew about the ongoing divide between bishops in the U.S. and the pope, and what the bishops’ direction will be these next few years.

Archbishop Kevin Farrell

Archbishop Kevin Farrell, the cardinal-designate tasked with leading the Vatican’s new Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, made his remarks during the fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) this week.

Farrell directly rebuked Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and other bishops who have released pastoral guidelines on the exhortation, without broader consultation, telling Catholic News Service:

“I think that it would have been wiser to wait for the gathering of the conference of bishops where all the bishops of the United States or all the bishops of a country would sit down and discuss these things. . .[to ensure] an approach that would not cause as much division among bishops and dioceses, and misunderstandings.”

Farrell said that even though bishops must respond to their local contexts, “they need to be open to listening to the Holy Spirit and open to what the bishops of the world” discussed during the Synod on the Family. Asked specifically about Chaput’s restrictive guidelines, which, among other sanctions, ban gay and lesbian people in relationships from parish ministries and seek to deny Communion to some Catholics, Farrell said:

” ‘I don’t share the view of what Archbishop Chaput did, no. . .I think there are all kinds of different circumstances and situations that we have to look at — each case as it is presented to us.

” ‘I think that is what our Holy Father is speaking about, is when we talk about accompanying, it is not a decision that is made irrespective of the couple.’ “

Farrell said the church cannot be “closing the doors before we even listen to the circumstances and the people,” but must rather say the church will work and walk with couples outside a heteronormative framework “to bring them into full communion.”

There was almost no other mention of Amoris Laetitia during the USCCB meeting which concluded yesterday, reported the National Catholic Reporter. Incoming Conference president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, confirmed in a press conference that no national conversation or Conference initiative was planned for implementing the exhortation’s vision. He assured reporters that conversations and local programs were, however, happening.

An ad hoc committee headed by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia compiled a four-and-a-half page report on such diocesan-level responses, in which he includes, as a resource, his own highly-criticized guidelines.  The report will receive no formal attention during the meeting, said Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, a member of the Communications Committee.

At a recent speech delivered at the University of Notre Dame, Chaput presented a vision of the church which is very much at odds with Pope Francis’ more expansive vision. He told attendees they should “never be afraid of a smaller, lighter church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness,” reported the National Catholic Reporter. Chaput continued:

” ‘Losing people who are members of the church in name only is an imaginary loss. . .It may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay. We should be focused on commitment, not numbers or institutional throw-weight.’ “

Chaput targeted Democratic politicians for, in part, their support of LGBT rights, suggesting that Vice President Joe Biden and others were “cowards” promoting “silent apostasy.” He praised now President-elect Donald Trump’s “gift for twisting the knife in America’s leadership elite and their spirit of entitlement, embodied in the person of Hillary Clinton.” Chaput also subtly attacked Islam, the accompaniment model for ministry preferred by Pope Francis, and even just being inclusive which he said was “not just lying but an act of betrayal and violence” if church teaching is not first upheld firmly.

Pope Francis himself provided a message to the USCCB meeting via video message which emphasized his more expansive vision for the church. Though ostensibly about the Fifth National Hispanic Pastoral Encuentro beginning January 2017, the pope’s words are applicable broadly for the Conference’s work if only the bishops would hear them. The pope said, in part:

“Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter, which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experiences, to break down walls and to build bridges.  The Church in America, as elsewhere, is called to “go out” from its comfort zone and to be a leaven of communion. Communion among ourselves, with our fellow Christians, and with all who seek a future of hope.”

Observers of the USCCB have noted for several years how distant mostU.S. bishops are from the pastoral vision of Pope Francis, championing opposition to abortion and LGBT rights above a more consistent ethic of life and the pastoral accompaniment of Catholics. Michael Sean Winters commented in the National Catholic Reporter about the Conference’s failed religious liberty campaign:

“In his update to the body on the work of the ad hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, Archbishop William Lori said they were making a difference. Are they? The centerpiece of their campaign, the ‘Fortnight for Freedom,’ garners little attention. In the popular press, religious liberty is now usually accompanied by scare quotes. In the popular mind, the cause of religious liberty is linked to discrimination against gays and lesbians, and not without reason. If that will be the faultline for religious freedom litigation in the years ahead, I shudder at the prospects for religious freedom.”

It is less clear what message the election of Cardinal DiNardo as USCCB president and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles as vice president sends about this divide between Rome and Baltimore. As Bondings 2.0 noted yesterday, they are more moderate choices from the given slate of candidates but they are certainly not positive voices for LGBT people.

But DiNardo told Crux that the election of a bishop who oversees a largely immigrant diocese and a bishop who is Hispanic, might be sending a message that the U.S. church stands with immigrant communities under a Trump administration. If this is true, we can hope it suggests a shift in the Conference away from its fixation on stopping LGBT rights to a much-needed focus on defending vulnerable populations who are far less safe than they were November 7.

Finally, activists have shown they will not stop pushing the USCCB on gender and sexuality issues. Earlier this week, DignityUSA members held a vigil outside the Conference to remember victims of the Orlando massacre this past June and call on bishops to use proper language for LGBT people. Elsewhere, former Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois raised a banner during the opening Mass, calling on the bishops to stop persecuting gay people. Bridget Mary Meehan described the action on her personal blog, writing:

Rev. Roy Bourgeois protests U.S. bishops treatment of gays, and he is joined by Rev. Janice Sevre-Duszynska, a Roman Catholic Woman Priest, who supported women’s ordination.

“[Roy’s face] looked angelic. He felt led by the Spirit, he said, to proclaim the message on his banner to the leaders of the US Church: ‘Bishops, Stop Persecuting Gays.’ He said he had to pull himself and the banner away from a security guard before making his way to the altar. There he bowed down and kissed it before holding up the banner to the bishops and turning it to the people of God. Then, he said, two priests tried to pull the banner away from him and he felt like they attacked him. He was surprised because they were priests. He had expected them to just allow him to walk out.”

From the Vatican (via Farrell) and the pews, it seems bishops in the U.S. are being asked to be more faithful to their office as shepherds and less eager to be politicians whose actions are corrosive to both ecclesial unity and people’s wellbeing.

Later this week, Bondings 2.0 will explore further responses which Catholic bishops have offered to Amoris Laetitia beyond the United States.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 17, 2016


How USCCB Leadership Candidates Have Approached LGBT Issues

UPDATE:  The election results are in:  Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston was elected president and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles was elected vice president. It looks like the bishops chose the most moderate leaders from the slate of ten described below.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) elects its new leadership for the next three years this morning, and will discuss as well its strategic plan for implementing priorities adopted last November. Each time the USCCB has met since Pope Francis’ election in 2014, observers have wondered when U.S. bishops would come around to the pope’s more pastoral vision for the church. Today’s post focuses in on the slate of ten presidential/vice-presidential candidates and their record on LGBT issues.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond
Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans is considered among the more pastoral candidates, including his approach to LGBT communities. In 2013, he announced a new outreach initiative in the archdiocese, and apologized to the LGBT community for the Church’s silence in 1973 when 32 people were killed and dozens wounded in an arson fire at a New Orleans gay bar. Aymond encouraged Catholic parishes to maintain affiliations with the Boy Scouts after the organization accepted openly gay leaders in 2015. That same year, the archbishop personally apologized to a gay man denied Communion at his parent’s funeral. Aymond was a candidate in the last USCCB election at which point he told the media, “I think that there are really people who believe, unfortunately, that the church is against people who are [gay and lesbian] or we don’t honor or give dignity to people who are of same sex orientation, and that is not true.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia just last month called for a “smaller, lighter” church of those he deems orthodox, and he issued pastoral guidelines this summer barring several categories of people from public ministry. One gay man has already been banned from being a lector under these guidelines, and other church workers have been sanctioned in the archdiocese in recent years. Chaput is no fan of Pope Francis and was a detractor of the Synod on the Family, along with ejecting LGBT groups from holding workshops on Catholic property during the 2015 World Meeting of Families. He is noted for ejecting children with same-gender parents access from Catholic school and voicing the antipathy of right-wing Catholics towards Pope Francis’ more welcoming style, even as a Villanova University study (in his own archdiocese) identified LGBT issues as a leading cause of declining Church attendance.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston was elected by his peers in the Conference to participate in the 2015 Synod on the Family. While there, he was among thirteen cardinals who signed a letter to Pope Francis essentially criticizing the pope’s handling of the 2014 synodal assembly. The Associated Press reported that DiNardo commented on Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” comment by saying it is really just what would be said about anyone. Last year, the cardinal opposed changes to the USCCB’s document on elections which had been criticized for its fixation on opposing marriage equality and a handful of other issues.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez
Archbishop José Gomez

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles is a leading Hispanic Catholic figure and presides over one of the US’ largest archdioceses.  Gomez opposed the teaching of LGBT history in California state education and signed onto a letter by several bishops opposing the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act because it now includes ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as protected classes.

Archbishop William Lori
Archbishop William Lori

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore criticized President Barack Obama’s executive order in 2014 to protect LGBT employees from discrimination. Lori led the USCCB’s religious liberty efforts, including the “Fortnight for Freedom,” which claimed the Catholic Church’s freedom was being attacked in part because of expanding LGBT equality. After moving to Baltimore, he opposed marriage equality in Maryland. He initially tried to downplay Pope Francis’ gay-friendly comments, but, in a hopeful sign, he said he will now rethink statements on LGBT and other controversial matters to see if they truly bring people to the Gospel.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron
Archbishop Allen Vigneron

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit has compared breaking up same-gender relationships to the Exodus where Moses led the Hebrews to freedom. In 2015, he attempted to ban Catholics who support marriage equality from Communion. His comments prompted outcry from Catholic parents in Michigan, and from Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton (links here and here) and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson. He also banned Fortunate Families from using church property because of their speaker, Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami criticized Vice President Joe Biden earlier this year for officiating at a same-gender wedding, and has been quite critical of LGBT rights. This summer, Wenski even so far as to attack publicly his brother bishop, Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, for saying the church’s rhetoric had a role in the Orlando massacre. After marriage equality became legal in 2015, Wenski warned church workers in a letter that they would lose their jobs if they supported LGBT equality. Previously, Wenski wrote a letter to Catholics in which he opposed marriage equality by saying that it would open  up the path to polygamy.  Prior to being made archbishop of Miami, he was bishop of Orlando, Florida, where he closed down a well-established diocesan ministry to lesbian and gay people.

Archbishop John Wester

Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe has a more moderate record than most other candidates when it comes to LGBT issues. Last year, he supported non-discrimination legislation in Utah (where he was formerly bishop). Wester said the law  “honored the rights of both the LGBT community as well as the religious community. It allowed us to have our beliefs in the public square and to have people in the LGBT community not being discriminated against in such basic things as housing and employment. We felt it was in line with our Catholic social teaching.”

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City criticized a court ruling that legalized marriage equality in Oklahoma in 2014. Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville has no strong record on LGBT issues.

Essentially unrepresented on the slate of presidential candidates are any true “Francis Bishops,” like Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, who will be made a cardinal later this month, or Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego. John Gehring of Faith in Public Life commented to the National Catholic Reporter:

” ‘There are bishops who recognize the pope’s pastoral approach and priorities are exactly what’s needed to begin recalibrating the church’s voice in the public square. . .Other bishops seem more comfortable doubling down on an approach that hasn’t been successful at inspiring people.’ “

Later today, the USCCB will also consider a strategic plan for its priorities adopted last November. These priorities were criticized by observers and even some bishops for not reflecting Pope Francis’ vision for the church. Archbishop Joseph Tobin, who was recently appointed to lead the Newark Archdiocese and who will be elevated to the College of Cardinals later this month, was among the critics. He said while there are no real problems with the priorities, they did not reflect the “newness that Pope Francis is bringing to the church universal.”

Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese said it was “too late and too embarrassing” to revise the priorities, but suggested that a resolution endorsing Pope Francis’ major documents — Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si, and Amoris Laetitia — as guidelines for their strategic plan would help. The bishops need to practice “more dialogue, more pastoral sensitivity, and more compassion,” said Reese who also commented in the National Catholic Reporter:

“Such a resolution would put a different spin on the meaning of ‘evangelization’ and ‘marriage and family’ in the USCCB priorities. It would mean that evangelization programs in the U.S. should reflect in content and tone Evangelii Gaudium. It would mean that programs on marriage and family should reflect the content and tone of Amoris Laetitia. All old programs and policies would have to be reexamined to see if they reflect these documents. . .How the church approaches and accompanies divorced Catholics, gays, and those who disagree with the bishops would therefore have to change.”

Failing to shift their work will only perpetuate the harm already done. Michael Sean Winters wrote in the National Catholic Reporter:

“The conference has continued to make their priority a crusade for religious freedom that has damaged the brand in ways their enemies could not do. . .They have since wedded the fight for religious liberty to efforts to discriminate against LGBT Americans, further damaging the cause by associating it with bigotry and alienating millions of young Catholics in the process.”

Winters concluded by asking whether the bishops would follow Pope Francis or “continue to let their actions and views be informed by the Catholic alt-right?”, and continued:

“No one should be sanguine about the [bishops’] antipathy towards Pope Francis. Electing culture warriors to leadership of the conference is a direct refutation of the guidance offered by Pope Francis and we all know it.”

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that many bishops in the United States are still clearly opposed to the vision of a church that is inclusive and merciful so frequently promoted by Pope Francis. For bishops like Charles Chaput and Allen Vigneron, when it comes to LGBT people this opposition to the pope’s outreach is doubly true.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 14, 2016

Dutch Cardinal’s Gender Request May Be Impossible to Fulfill

A Dutch cardinal has asked the Vatican for what is seemingly impossible to do.  He wants the pope to write an encyclical or other high-end church document condemning so-called “gender theory.”  The reason that this is impossible to do is that nobody really understands what church officials mean when they talk about gender theory.  It’s like a monster under the bed.  It sounds scary, but does it really exist?

In a recent interview with Catholic News ServiceCardinal Willem Eijk of Utrecht, Netherlands, said:

“It (gender theory) is spreading and spreading everywhere in the Western world, and we have to warn people.

“From the point of moral theology, it’s clear — you are not allowed to change your sex in this way.”

Of course, even though gender theory is a red herring, it’s obvious what the cardinal is referring to is gender transition.   And it might be good for the Vatican to issue a document about gender transition, but it should be a document which supports it, not condemns it.

Cardinal Willem Eijk

Like so many other church leaders in the past year, including Pope Francis, Cardinal Eijk reveals that he does not understand what gender transition is all about.  For Eijk and others, they view gender transition as a choice, and what’s worse, they seem to consider it a frivolous choice.

The cardinal’s words reveal that he does not have a clear understanding of gender transition. The Catholic News Service article reported that Eijk wants to “counter the spread of the new theory that gender can be determined by personal choice rather than by biology.”  The article further reported:

He said even Catholic parents were beginning to accept that their own children can choose their genders partly because “they don’t hear anything else.”

The problem with this line of thinking is that people are not choosing their genders.  They are responding to self-discoveries where they come to realize that the gender they were assigned at birth, based on their genitalia, is not the gender that they recognize that they are.  Instead of being a “choice vs. biology” situation, when a person decides to transition, it is often based on biological facts such as hormones, genetics, and psychological and emotion compositions.

Obviously, if the cardinal sees gender transition as a choice, and a frivolous one at that, he has not sat down and spoken with transgender people, and has not come to realize the often painful struggles they experience before reaching the fulfilling joy of living their true gender.

Eijk made his remarks in an interview before delivering the Anscombe Memorial Lecture at Blackfriars, a Dominican house of studies in Oxford, on the theme, “Is Medicine Losing its Way?”

Eijk’s further comments show that he thinks that people are not clearly understanding Church leaders.  The article reported:

” ‘It is like euthanasia and assisted suicide,’ Cardinal Eijk continued. ‘When people first began to discuss them they were unsure,’ but many people have now become so acquainted with such practices they are now deemed ordinary.”

However, as with many gender and sexuality topics in the Church, people do understand the magisterium’s position clearly.  They just don’t accept it because it does not account for more complex understandings of gender and sexuality which people have come to realize.  More importantly, the teaching does not fit with people’s lived experiences.  People aren’t believing “gender theory” the way they accept an academic theory.  Instead, they have accepted “gender reality” because of the many ways they have come to see that newer ideas about gender and sexuality help them live more healthy and holy lives.

Eijk explained that even though the Church’s teaching may not be popular, he believes it should still be taught, and that the result will be, as in Pope Benedict XVI’s vision, a smaller, “purer” Church. Eijk stated:

“It will be a tiny church, but a convinced church, and it will be willing to suffer.”

The Catholic Church has historically been a “big tent” church, until prelates appointed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI started realizing they were losing “culture wars,” and opted instead for this minimized vision.

The 2014 and 2015 synods on the family brushed against questions of gender, but they did not take them up for a full examination.  So, yes, I agree with Eijk that the magisterium should study this issue.  But it should be a study which includes opinions on many sides of the issue, that takes into account new understandings of gender instead of immediately condemning such views before even knowing what they say.  Most importantly, any study of this sort needs to listen to the voices of people who experience gender outside of what has been the traditional, and often stultifying, binary.

So many of the Church’s vexing discussions from a truly open and unbiased examination of gender.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 14, 2016


Inclusion Is a Baseline Posture for Jesuit College & H.S. Students at #IFTJ16

This weekend, some 1,800 students and school leaders have gathered for the Ignatian Family Teach-In to learn about justice and advocate for change. This year, more than ever, LGBT justice has become a constitutive part of the Teach-In’s activities, and inclusion is a baseline posture.

iftj-2016-insta-promoAmong the many breakout sessions, five sessions will address issues related to gender and sexuality. Last night, Jack Raslowsky, president of Xavier High School in New York, led a large conversation about LGBT issues on campus.

Today, there are four more sessions. Jane Bleasdale of the Institute for Catholic Educational Leadership at the University of San Francisco will explore the experiences of Black, Latinx, and LGBT students in Jesuit high schools and discuss how Catholic education could move from mere tolerance to real inclusion. Isiah Blake and Erick Krebs from The Spectrum, a race justice organization at Xavier High School, New York, will host a conversation on race, sexuality, and manhood, asking, “If Jesus didn’t feel the need to qualify his love, why do we?” Jane Barry, a graduate of Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry will lead a training on how Catholics can put mercy into action and be better allies for LGBT people.

New Ways Ministry’s Glen Bradley and I will be leading a session titled “Courageous Love: Responding to the Criminalization of LGBTQ Identities.” We highlight the more than 70 nations in the world where homosexuality is criminalized, including ten where being gay is punishable by death. Catholics in the United States must respond more proactively where LGBT people’s lives are threatened, and our workshop helps explore ways this response could be offered based on the church’s tradition. New Ways Ministry has previously presented at the Teach-In, including on transgender issues in Catholic contexts and creating inclusive campuses.

Sponsored by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, the Teach-In annually gathers students and staff from North American Jesuit high schools and colleges.

This year is my eighth Teach-In, having attended as a college student myself, and I am once again inspired being among so many students, staff, alumni, and others committed to “mercy in action,” this year’s theme. But today, perhaps because of the election last week, I am especially struck by this reality: inclusion here is a baseline from which one deviates, not an end towards which one aims.

What I mean by this is that for these students and young adults like myself, being inclusive of every person is a given. Being human, the lived reality of our inclusion is, yes, imperfect. We each fail to be inclusive, and sometimes we miss altogether to what genuine inclusion calls us. But even if imperfect, there is a basic posture of welcome and of acceptance among attendees. They are eager to educate and transform those people and institutions who do not practice this posture of inclusion, particularly in the church.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, which featured a letter from gay University of Notre Dame alum Jack Bergen, these uncertain times have left many of us afraid and grasping to make sense of what is happening. But being amid 1,800 students and other Catholics who are so energized to “go set the world on fire” by unapologetically loving each and every person helps convince me anew that love always trumps hate.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 12, 2016