Beyond Pope Francis, What Else Has Been Happening in Catholic LGBT News?

April 19, 2016
Tony Flannery

Fr. Tony Flannery

Pope Francis’ document Amoris Laetitia has dominated Catholic LGBT news since its publication on April 8th. Everyone, it seems, is weighing in about the 250+ page document. You can access Bonding 2.0’s coverage of the document and selected reactions here.

But there has been other news relevant to Catholic LGBT issues that should not be missed. Below, Bondings 2.0 offers a sampling of some of the more important items.

Listen to Fr. Tony Flannery and Other Priests, Says Irish Bishop

Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry said Ireland’s church leaders need to dialogue with priests who are advocating for church reform. This outreach should include Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, who faced Vatican persecution in 2012, and the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland which he co-founded. McKeown said the bishops “have to be constantly reaching out” and “willing to go way beyond our comfort zone,” reported the National Catholic Reporter. Citing Pope Francis, the bishop added:

” ‘It takes time to listen and to talk and to build bridges and to have an openness to hear their story.”

Fr. Flannery, who has been barred from public ministry since 2012, in part because of his openness on LGBT issues, said this support was a first for the Irish hierarchy. He commented on an important topic that such outreach by the bishops might focus upon:

“My answer to that is simple. All I have ever looked for in relation to myself and others who are accused of ‘dissent’ is a process that is fair, just and transparent. . .The present CDF process is a scandal, and brings shame on our church.”

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Gov. Terry McAuliffe

Bishops, Laity Remain Split Over Religious Freedom Bills

Virginia’s bishops expressed disappointment that Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Catholic, vetoed “license to discriminate” legislation passed by the legislature, reported the National Catholic Reporter.

According to a Virginia Catholic Conference statement, Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington and Bishop Francix DiLorenzo of Richmond said the law, which would have protected those who withheld  services from same-gender couples, was about religious freedom . Vetoing the bill on live radio, Governor McAuliffe, himself a Catholic, described the bill as “nothing more than an attempt to stigmatize.”

Meanwhile, Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, who is also Catholic, rescinded an executive order protecting those persons involved with state business who discriminate against LGBT people and replaced it with a non-discrimination order, reported Buzzfeed.

Church Worker Faces Financial Burden in Legal Battle

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Jan Buterman

Fired Canadian educator Jan Buterman is facing financial difficulties in his legal battle against the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, Edmonton, Alberta, reported Metro News.

Buterman sued the district for removing him as a substitute teacher after his gender transition more than eight years ago. He has been in court since, losing the latest round in appeals court, but Buterman has promised to press on and is exploring funding options. He explained why he will keep struggling:

“I’m not the only trans person who has lost a job in this province, far from it, but most people don’t have it in writing or don’t have access to legal council. . .Most trans people who run into this don’t have the means to address it.”

Bishop Says Same-Gender Marriages Can “Destroy Everything Christian”

In a recent interview, Bishop Emeritus Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska claimed that marriage equality would lead to efforts “to destroy everything Christian” and called the increasingly successful movement for LGBT rights “devastating,” reported the Lincoln Journal Star.

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Laurent Stefanini

Gay Ambassador Nixed by Vatican is Reassigned to the UN

Laurent Stefanini, France’s one-time nominee as Ambassador to the Holy See, will take up a position at the United Nations instead by representing his nation in UNESCO, reported France 24. Stefanini’s nomination was seen to be rejected by the Vatican because it was never approved after being submitted January 2015. Many speculate this rejection was due to Stefanini’s identity as an openly gay man.

For all the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog using the provided box in the upper right hand corner of this page. Contact info@newwaysministry.org with questions and news tips.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Pope Francis Calling on African Bishops to Oppose LGBT Discrimination, Says Theologian

April 18, 2016
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Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator

More than a week after Pope Francis released Amoris Laetitia, his apostolic exhortation on family, new insights and analyses continue to be published.

Today, Bondings 2.o highlights several noteworthy contributions from theologians. Foremost among these is a Jesuit priest’s assertion that the document calls for change from African bishops who may support, or at least do not oppose, the criminalization of homosexuality.

Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, S.J., a theologian based in Kenya, told the National Catholic Reporter  that the document was neither revolutionary nor disappointing. Applying Amoris Laetitia to an African context, Orobator said the document forcefully rejected LGBT discrimination, and should shake up the continent’s sometimes prejudiced episcopacy:

“Furthermore, on a continent where at least 38 countries criminalize homosexuality, the pope’s trenchant call for respect for human dignity, avoidance of unjust discrimination, aggression, and violence, and respectful pastoral guidance [paragraph 250], should galvanize the church in Africa to embrace wholeheartedly African families and their LGBT members who have been stigmatized, marginalized, and excluded from the life of the church. Church leaders need to dissociate themselves from governments and politicians who persecute gay people, and show example of respect for their dignity. In Africa, we say the church is “family of God,” implying that it welcomes all without discrimination. The preeminent mark of this church and the world church is hospitality. Clearly, Francis is calling the church in Africa to practice what it preaches by becoming a church that welcomes all into the family without discrimination.”

Orobator added that the document showed there was “long way to go before we actually make the bold steps that are long overdue” when it comes to sexual ethics and gender justice. But it is a “pastoral turn” and “much needed guide for the African church.” Orobator explained:

“In other words, the realization that the first task of the church is not merely to squabble over contested moral issues. . .We need to respect the diverse and complex reality of people’s situation — and avoid sweeping generalizations, hasty judgments, and damming labels.”

Many theologians did not comment specifically on LGBT issues, which received scant attention in the document, but these scholars’ insights about how Amoris Laetitia affects theology and pastoral praxis are easily applicable to LGBT issues despite Pope Francis’ omission of providing such applications.

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Massimo Faggioli

Massimo Faggioli of the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota, wrote in Commonweal, that the pope offered “almost complete silence” on homosexuality. Critical of the distance which has developed between the hierarchy’s teachings and theologians’ contributions, Faggioli suggested a manner by which Amoris Laetitia will impact the church, and help LGBT issues to move forward:

“Pope Francis has issued an exhortation that represents the first attempt by a pope to demonstrate how the episcopal collegiality of Vatican II is supposed to work. Relying heavily on the final synod reports of 2014 and 2015, the document takes into account the real and divisive debates that took place at the synod on the issues of family, marriage and divorce, and homosexuality.”

There were no clear victories on controversial issues, said Faggioli, but Pope Francis’ pastoral and practical way of engaging such issues is an “undeniable” change. In a separate article on Il Sismografo Faggioli, noted that part of this change was the pope’s contributions to building “a very inclusive ecclesiology.” This ecclesiology, or theology of the church, echoes Vatican II and Francis’ Latin American context in seeking a church which is synodal, collegial, and humble.

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Emily Reimer-Barry

Calling the document “wonderfully complicated,” Emily Reimer-Barry of the University of San Diego, writing at Catholic Moral Theology, said Amoris Laetitia was Pope Francis’ invitation to Catholics to live an adult faith:

“My overall take-away is that Pope Francis is saying it is time for lay people to discern their deepest values and take responsibility for living them out; we need to see church teaching for what it is—a complicated messy (even imperfect) tradition trying to form people to make healthy choices that are good for society. So this document becomes a celebration of conscience and a rejection of a legalistic paradigm.”

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Fr. James Bretzke

Instead of a church imposing laws, people of faith are asked to first know God’s love and then figure out how God invites them to respond in authentic ways. How one responds to God’s love is directly related one of the document’s foremost themes: conscience. Fr. James Bretzke, S.J. of Boston College noted in America that references to conscience doubled from the Synod’s 2015 final report. He continued:

“Though the word ‘conscience’ appears only 20 times in the Italian version of the exhortation, what the pope has given us is what I would call a “thick description” of what following a formed and informed conscience looks like in the concrete. While Pope Francis clearly believes there are few, if any, simple ‘recipes’ or ‘one-size-fits-all’ concrete, absolute norms, neither does he fear that the attempt to discern what God is asking of us is impossible to find and put into practice.”

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David Cloutier

David Cloutier of Mount St. Mary’s University also commented on Amoris Laetitia‘s complexity, asking readers to engage these complexities rather than being satisfied with easy answers. He wrote in Commonweal:

“Yes, this document is ambiguous. Perhaps we as a Church can sense the opportunities possible if we live into that ambiguity, rather than prematurely close it down in one direction or the other.”

Cloutier’s call for the church to engage ambiguity, if applied to the lives, needs, and gifts of LGBT people, could be quite an opening. This insight is particularly true in regions where being openly gay or transgender still endangers one’s life. But since Catholic bishops sometimes support laws for LGBT people to be excluded and even jailed, the ambiguity could be used to continue church oppression of LGBT people.  For example, bishops in Malawi used a pastoral letter on mercy to call for LGBT people to be jailed. Such oppression will happen if bishops and pastoral agents reject Pope Francis’ wider call for mercy and  inclusion.  As general as this call is in the document, it could advance equality in the church.

How this document will be used to shape theology and pastoral practice around issues of sexual and gender identity remains uncertain. Despite initial disappointments, theologians seem to suggest there could be positive results if Catholics engage the text and set out to help transform their own lives and local communities.

You can read previous Amoris Laetitia reaction posts herehere,  and here. You can read New Ways Ministry’s response to the document by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Head of Catholic News Service Resigns After Right-Wingers Complain

April 16, 2016
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Tony Spence

The head of Catholic News Service (CNS), a news organization owned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,  has resigned, after being asked to do so by U.S. church leaders.

Tony Spence resigned on Wednesday as director and editor-in-chief of CNS, having served twelve years in that position. The National Catholic Reporter explained:

“Spence attended a regularly scheduled staff story meeting at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. Sometime later, after meeting with Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, the general secretary of the bishops’ conference, Spence was escorted from the conference office building without being allowed to speak to his newsroom staff.”

A memo sent the same day from Chief Communications Officer James Rogers to CNS staff said Spence was “stepping down,” but the reasons behind his departure are more problematic. Spence, who colleagues describe as “shattered” by his resignation, faced criticism from right wing organizations for LGBT-related tweets he sent out during February, March, and April. Spence told NCR:

“The far right blogsphere and their troops started coming after me again and it was too much for the USCCB. . .The secretary general [of the U.S. bishops’ conference] asked for my resignation, because the conference had lost confidence in my ability to lead CNS.”

The tweets in question include Spence’s comments on state religious liberty laws targeting LGBT people, Catholic efforts to welcome trans people, and Italy’s debate over civil unions. A sampling of the tweets includes, as available from National Public Radio :

get flushed as NC governor signs bill over

“Stupid evidently contagious. Tennessee tries to join MS, NC, IN in passing pro-discrimination laws.”

“Italy postpones voting, at risk. Opposition from church cited.”

“Fascinating story from #LACongress: #TransgenderCatholics hope to build bridges in church”

Spence told America magazine he never expected that commenting on developing news stories would provoke the backlash it did. The right wing campaign included emails “urging his excommunication and calling him a traitor to the faith.”

Spence has been in Catholic journalism for three decades, serving the church at diocesan and national levels, as well as being a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Calling his time at CNS “the best 12 years of my professional life,” Spence will return to his home state of Tennessee and “start over.”

Tony Spence joins more than 60 church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since 2008. His forced resignation is particularly troubling because it is another incident where right-wing Catholics were able to force a church worker out based upon trivial claims.

Last May, Rick Estridge resigned as a vice president at Catholic Relief Services (CRS) after a right-wing organization publicly released the gay church worker’s marriage license. Estridge resigned as an alternative to being fired after 16 years of celebrated service to CRS whose leadership refused to stand beside their longtime employee against the right-wing attacks.

Responding to right-wing trivial claims only encourages such operatives to continue their tactics. Tony Spence’s forced resignation is a concession to those who wish to harm LGBT people and any Catholics who stand with them.

My prayer now as Tony Spence resigns, as it was when Rick Estridge was forced out, is that as our church confronts attacks on its faithful workers, we may we all listen to Scripture’s most repeated theme: “Be not afraid!”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


Sydney Archdiocese In Marriage Equality Brouhaha Concerning Supportive Businesses

April 15, 2016
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Archbishop Anthony Fisher, O.P.

Reports have surfaced that the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia, may have threatened to withdraw from businesses supportive of marriage equality, which is not yet legalized in that nation.  Actions by both Telstra, a telecommunications company, and the archdiocese seem to point toward some sort of agreement between the two entities regarding the upcoming marriage equality plebiscite. Mashable reported:

“According to The Australian, Archdiocese of Sydney business manager Michael Digges approached a number of companies who had given permission for their logo to be used in a newspaper advertisement in support of marriage equality in May 2015. . .He suggested the church could withdraw business from participating companies, including Telstra , which reportedly serves Catholic schools around Australia.”

Digges’ letter said corporations were “overstepping their purpose” in speaking publicly on this issue, and such acts should be “strongly resisted.” A further report from Business Insider claims former Telstra Chairwoman Catherine Livingstone met with Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher in October. Reporter Harry Tucker stated:

“The pair, who have both known each other for years, eventually came to a compromise. As part of that, Telstra would keep its logo on the Australian Marriage Equality page, but it would stop publicly campaigning around the issue.”

Telstra said there would be not further corporate involvement in the pro-equality campaign, other than their being listed as a supporter of the group Australian Marriage Equality.  Whether this decisiono is due to the Archdiocese’s letter is unconfirmed. For their part, Digges and the Archdiocese have denied any pressure was implied in the letter to businesses with whom the church partners.

LGBT advocates have been questioning church leaders’ precise role, if any, in Telstra’s backing away from seeking LGBT equality. The company’s customers, and Australians generally, have reacted quite negatively to this move. Shelley Argent, a mother and spokesperson for PFLAG, said the company was wrong, and the church “should be ashamed they’re even asking this,” reported the Herald Sun. Other customers said they may cancel their Telstra contacts over the matter.

Marriage equality is stalled in Australia’s Parliament despite 70% approval nationally and the support of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition leader Bill Shorten, who are both Catholic. Turnbull is holding fast to a plebiscite proposed by his predecessor Tony Abbot, another Catholic. Shorten recently called on Turnbull to hold the vote during the recalled parliament that begins this week.

Australians have criticized the plebiscite, promised by year’s end, as unnecessary since the overwhelming majority of Australians support marriage equality. Those critics include Fr. Frank Brennan, S.J., a law professor, who released on Facebook a letter he wrote to Prime Minister Turnbull. Brennan, writing against the plebiscite, explained some of the legal and political procedural complications:

“When the plebiscite vote is carried in favour of same sex marriage, as I am confident it will be, there will still be a need for our Parliament to legislate complex provisions protecting religious freedom and expanding the freedom to marry. It’s only a parliament, not a plebiscite, which can legislate the complex details of equality and the protection of all rights, including the right to religious freedom.”

Brennan also said the plebiscite would be “a waste of time” and “unleash torrents of hate on the gay and lesbian community.” Fr. Brennan’s projections seem likely given the Australian bishops’ heavily-criticized approach to opposing marriage equality, which has included using schoolchildren as messengers for an anti-equality pamphlet and using hyperbolic language about same-gender marriages.  Given Archbishop Fisher’s own negative record on LGBT issues and this recent incident between the Archdiocese and Telstra, it seems more than likely that any vote would negatively impact LGBT people.  Beyond the financial and political costs, it is time for church leaders to think foremost of the pastoral costs in mounting a hopeless campaign which aims only at causing further harm and division in an already wounded church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Sr. Jeannine Gramick “Extremely Disappointed” by Pope Francis’ Exhortation

April 14, 2016
Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, or The Joy of Love, continues to instigate commentaries and analysis from all over. Bondings 2.0 provides our third round-up of reactions.

You can read previous reaction posts here and here. You can read New Ways Ministry’s response by clicking here.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, said she was “extremely disappointed in these bland remarks” offered by Pope Francis in the document. Gramick continued, in a statement to the National Catholic Reporter:

“[Francis] repeats previous calls for non-discrimination without giving examples of what that discrimination entails. LGBT people are shunned, fired from their jobs, bullied, jailed, executed and assassinated.”

Speaking of Pope Francis’ comment that the Church at times can uphold an “artificial theological ideal of marriage,” Gramick asked if the church has “an artificial theological ideal that all marriages should be heterosexual?” She also commented on Amoris Laetitia as it relates to transgender issues, saying:

“The document shows no understanding of gender identity, and of the pain parents feel when their child says they want to die because they are in the wrong body. Society once thought that homosexuality was a choice; now we know that the orientation is not a choice, but a discovery that one makes about oneself. So too with gender identity. The person comes to discover that their body does not match who they really are inside. The person must follow the inner promptings of the heart.”

But Gramick noted that, as church history shows time and gain, teachings do change, and she said the pope is “laying the groundwork for this change.”

fortunate_famliliesFortunate Families (FF), a national network for Catholic parents of LGBT children, said Pope Francis’ exhortation offered “glimmers of hope,” but ultimately,  it fell short. The FF statement said:

“We feel that this document would have been even more powerful if only the Pope would specifically connect this primary teaching of conscience formation to our LGBT children, who often feel called by God to full participation, including sexual intimacy, in a committed relationship. . . Positive statements on the issues of gender expression and language based on solid scientific evidence are also lacking.”

In a related commentary, Patricia Vasilj, the Catholic mother of a gay son, wrote on the DignityUSA website:

“Our GLBTQ children are not just inconveniences. . .Our GLBTQ children deserve more than a few paragraphs in a 264 page report. You, the Church, have left many of them shattered. The Church and Faith are intertwined. When the Church turns away, they believe God has gone with it. Their Father in heaven has not left them, but one certainly can’t tell that from the tone of this treatise. I am saddened and angry that once again our children have been hurt by those who should know better.”

logo-galc-copia1The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics released a comprehensive statement, saying Amoris Laetitia “opens up new perspectives,” though these perspectives are not fully applied to LGBT issues. It concluded:

“While we appreciate this understanding of dialogue, we also invite the Church to embrace this type of dialogue herself and adopt such attitudes towards the several LGBTQI persons within the Catholic Church who also want to share with the Church their own lived faith in their sexual and gender diversity.”

we-are-church-ireland-logoIrish reform organization We Are Church Ireland said in a statement, reported by the National Catholic Reporter, that they welcomed Amoris Laetitia, but noted its recommendations were inadequate because they “did not reflect the voices of Catholic families who had no deliberative voice throughout the course of both Synods.” The statement said further:

“The one area where Pope Francis has failed to recognize is the giftedness and grace of Gay and Lesbian people both as single people and in their relationships.”

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Gina Messina-Dysert

Feminism and Religion’s Gina Messina-Dysert, a religion professor at Urusline College, Pepper Pike, Ohio, said it seemed Pope Francis “has finally read Margaret Farley’s Just Love,” but needed time to process it. Messina-Dysert added:

“Francis has called for us to begin to change our attitudes towards ‘the other’ but is still unwilling to change the man made rules of the Vatican.  He refuses to acknowledge that LGBTQ relationships are in fact just. . .it continues a highly negative tone for the LGBTQ community and does not acknowledge women’s value outside of marriage.”

HRCThe Human Rights Campaign, through a statement by Senior Vice President Mary Beth Maxwell, said it had “hoped that Pope Francis’ more open and loving message about LGBT people would translate into fuller inclusion during the Church’s Year of Mercy.”

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John Gehring

John Gehring of Faith in Public Life explained to the Gaston Gazette that this document should refocus the church’s concern for families on the real threats against them, rather than false threats like marriage equality, which church leaders so heartily attack. Gehring wrote:

“While some view family values as only a battlefield in the culture wars, the pope understands that poverty, the refugee crisis and an economy of exclusion are grave threats to families. He widens the frame in a way that should expand the debate beyond a few hot button sexual issues.”

You can read more about the content of Amoris Laetitia from Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter by clicking here.   You can read document excerpts related to LGBT issues by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

The Chicago Tribune, LGBT faith community voices disappointment over ‘Joy of Love’

The New York Times, “Francis’ Message Calls on Church to be Inclusive

Religion Dispatches, “Pope Francis’ Love Letter is a Lost Opportunity” by Mary Hunt


Title IX LGBT Exemptions Will Not Disqualify Catholic Colleges from NCAA

April 13, 2016

campusprideshamelistThe National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) will not disassociate from religiously-affiliated colleges, including some Catholic ones, that have requested Title IX waivers. Such waivers would allow schools to discriminate against someone based on the person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression.

LGBT organizations Campus Pride and Soulforce requested, in a letter to NCAA officials, that the NCAA disqualify schools which fail to protect LGBT students by seeking such exemptions. NCAA Chief Inclusion Officer Bernard Franklin responded in his own letter, defending the Association’s record on LGBT issues and deferring the matter of Title IX waivers to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex-based discrimination, has been interpreted recently to include LGBT protections. While religious exemptions are not new, application of these provisions has risen sharply as civil rights based on sexual and gender identity have expanded. 43 colleges requested exemptions in 2015 compared to just one college in 2013.

At least five Catholic colleges are among those who have requested such exemptions, according to a report from the Human Rights Campaign. These include Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, John Paul the Great University in Wyoming, St. Gregory’s University in Oklahoma, and the University of Dallas in Texas.

Schools which receive exemptions are essentially enabled to discriminate at will on the basis of sexual and gender identity. Jocelyn Sun of Soulforce, writing at Believe Out Loud, explained further why such exemptions are so deeply problematic:

“Title IX isn’t just about LGBTQI students in faith-based institutions. . .It’s about debunking the myth that you have to choose between being a Christian and all the other identities God gave you. It’s about educators not having to pick between investing in and building trust with students and making a living. It’s about holding our universities accountable to be the community we’ve dreamed of and are working hard to create.”

The NCAA’s decision not to sanction colleges which have sought Title IX exemptions is puzzling because it seems wrong to include schools in its athletics programs that institutionally advance prejudice. These exemptions also highlight the difference between the many Catholic colleges supportive of LGBT students and the five schools seeking exemptions. While there is a lot of progress to celebrate, there is much work to be done in college athletics and in Catholic higher education.

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


Bishops Offer Qualified Support for Anti-LGBT Laws

April 12, 2016
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Bishop Joseph Kopacz

Bishops in North Carolina and Mississippi have reacted to their state’s passage of new “license to discriminate” laws, and, in their responses, they failed to oppose discrimination against LGBT people.

Mississippi’s HB 1523

HB 1523 in Mississippi “explicitly allows the denial of services, goods, wedding products, medical treatment, housing, and employment to LGBT people,” reported Buzzfeed. Governor Phil Bryant signed the law April 5th. Ben Needham of Project One America, an LGBT group in the Deep South, deemed HB 1523 the “worst religious freedom bill to date.” State Representative Stephen Holland described it as “the most hateful bill I have seen in my career in this legislature.”

But Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson offered qualified praise of the law, releasing a brief statement about HB 1523 that reads:

“The Diocese of Jackson supported and would continue to support a religious exemption on behalf of the mission of the Catholic church with regard to education and social services. We would like to continue to provide these services while remaining faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church. The diocese had no involvement in the other portions of the bill that addressed business and government operations. The church will continue to work to protect its First Amendment right to worship, to educate and to serve in the public domain while respecting the dignity of all citizens.”

Bishop Roger Morin of Biloxi, whose retirement was announced earlier this year, has not commented on the law.

North Carolina’s HB 2

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Bishops Peter Jugis, left, and Michael Burbridge

North Carolina’s HB 2 mandates public restroom use according to a person’s assigned sex at birth.  The bill was the state legislature’s response to an LGBT non-discrimination ordinance approved by the City of Charlotte in February. When the bill passed the legislature, a statement posted by Catholic Voice North Carolina, a lobby for the state’s two bishops, Peter Jugis of Charlotte and Michael Burbridge of Raleigh, said in part:

“A March 23 special  session of the General Assembly yielded a favorable outcome for religious liberty. Legislators revamped North Carolina’s non-discrimination law so that it could be applied consistently across the state. They also voided a Charlotte ordinance that would have opened bathrooms and locker rooms.”

What’s Ahead

Tennessee’s legislature sent a bill to Governor Bill Haslam allowing mental health professionals to refuse service based on their religious beliefs. South Carolina lawmakers are considering an anti-LGBT bills in their state, though Governor Nikki Haley has said it is not needed. A few dozen more such bills exist across the country. Despite U.S. Catholics’ overwhelming support for LGBT non-discrimination protections, most bishops have yet to resist these discriminatory laws.

Criticizing North Carolina’s law as “a permission slip for bias,” theologian Lisa Fullam wrote in Commonweal against bishops’ failure to oppose LGBT discrimination:

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifies that gay people ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’ (2358). Transgender people are not mentioned. Allowing LGBT people to be barred from public accommodations at will would seem to violate the Catechism’s teaching of respect for the equal dignity of all God’s children. Sadly, the Catholic bishops of North Carolina, Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte and Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh, issued a warm thank you to North Carolina for denying the equal dignity of our LGBT brothers and sisters.”

Fullam speculated that these laws seek to “encourage North Carolinians to see gay or trans people. . .as threats to public safety,” affecting even those only perceived to identify as LGBT. Drawing a parallel between these laws targeting LGBT communities and Arizona’s SB 1070 law targeting undocumented communities, Fullam concluded that just as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed SB 1070, so, too, should they vigorously oppose legislation discriminating against LGBT people.

In addition to the harm such laws cause to LGBT communities, these laws actually weaken religious liberty despite claims that they are enacted to strengthen religious rights. Writing in Commonweal, Matthew Stillman said supporters of such bills want to opt out from all situations where they would have to treat LGBT “in minimally considerate and decent ways.” He continued:

“They want the state to sanction their own discrimination, but then are horrified when others freely choose to follow a different, better path. They want their freedom, but despise the free choices of others. . .Freedom means getting their way, all the time. The future of religious liberty in this country will be a perilous one indeed if it becomes associated with such nonsense.”

Nonsense, indeed. Catholic bishops would do well to listen to the overwhelming majority of Catholics in the U.S. who oppose any legislation which infringes on the rights of LGBT people and undermines religious liberty. Then, learning from the people of God’s wisdom, bishops in North Carolina and Mississippi should correct their mistakes and other bishops should speak out for LGBT human rights.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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