In Wake of Student’s Suicide, Catholic Parents Call for Safe Schools

August 17, 2016
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Daniel Fitzpatrick

Catholic parents of LGBT children are expressing their sorrow over a teenager’s suicide in New York, as well as their commitment to ensuring Catholic education is safe for all students.

Daniel Fitzpatrick died by suicide on August 11, having faced intense bullying from classmates at Holy Angels Catholic Academy in Brooklyn. He left a note in which Fitzpatrick said, “I gave up. The teachers didn’t do anything. . .I wanted to get out.”

The Board of Fortunate Families, an organization by and for Catholic parents of LGBT children, released a statement on Monday saying it was “saddened to hear” about Fitzpatrick’s death:

“We on the board of Fortunate Families are painfully aware that any child who is badgered and bullied is at greater risk for isolation, marginalization, depression, and sadly, suicide. Catholic Social Teaching holds that all of our children are persons who deserve life, dignity, respect and the freedom to live their potential to the fullest. All our children deserve to be educated in environments that embody that social teaching.”

A board member who lost a child to suicide acknowledged that suicide is the second leading cause of death in young adults and that suicides are deeply painful for the families and communities left behind. As they bury their son and brother, the Fitzpatrick family is considering, too, how to end bullying. A crowdfunding page which sought to raise money for unexpected funeral expenses has now raised more than $120,000. The family said they wish to use these funds to “give Daniel a proper memorial, as well as shine a bright light on the bullying that killed him. . .and allow for his legacy to live on.”

The student’s father, Daniel Fitzpatrick, posted a heart-wrenching video to Facebook. He spoke lovingly about his son, and affirmed his own commitment to intervene against bullying if he encounters it, including against LGBT youth:

“No parent should have to bury their child. No child should have to go through what my son went through. . .Bullying unfortunately is an epidemic. It ain’t right. . .If I ever see any child in my life from now on and I witness them and I see doesn’t matter if its boy, girl, straight, bi, transgender now. If they’re bullied, I will knock them out.”

Though Fitzpatrick did not identify as an LGBT person as far as anyone knew (he was bullied about his weight and his grades), his death is a moment for Catholic educators to reflect on the myriad ways in which schools are made unsafe. This includes problems for students of diverse sexual and gender identities, and students who may be questioning their identities. The Fortunate Families Board continued:

“We call on all involved in Catholic education to re-double efforts to prevent bullying and assist each child to reach their full potential, regardless of physical attributes, academic achievements or other characteristics which may make a student seem ‘different.’

“Although too late for Daniel, we are glad to see that the Brooklyn Diocese is re-examining its bullying prevention policies and training, and we pray that these also apply to students bullied because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Catholic education intends to form young people through faith to live flourishing lives, and to live authentically as themselves in service to others. As such, the church’s educational ministries should be sanctuaries for young people to come to know themselves, discern deep questions, and feel God’s love. Mercy and inclusion should be the hallmarks of every Catholic school. Earlier this week, educator Kevin Welbes Godin of Egale Canada wrote about the work Ontario’s teachers have done to create safer Catholic schools for LGBT students.

That good work is happening elsewhere, but is not widespread enough yet, and it is not happening quickly enough. As another school year begins, and we pray for Daniel Fitzpatrick and his family, let us each consider how we – as parents, as students, as teachers, as alumni, and as the faithful – might contribute so that Catholic education is safer and more inclusive of all God’s children.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


California’s SB 1146 Raises Tough Questions for Catholic Education

August 16, 2016
Ricardo Lara

Senator Ricardo Lara

Because of opposition from church leaders and others, a Catholic legislator in California withdrew portions of an education bill that would have eliminated religious exemptions from state non-discrimination laws.

Democratic State Senator Ricardo Lara will introduce SB 1146 this week without a clause eliminating non-discrimination exemptions for religious schools, reported Crux. Exemptions are currently in place, but if the bill had passed in its original form, all institutional recipients of Cal Grant funding, state education aid which helps low-income students, would have been required to have non-discrimination policies inclusive of LGBT people.

In its current form, the bill will still mandate reporting on whether institutions have received exemptions from federal Title IX protections and whether students had been expelled for violating morality codes.

Several religious leaders, including Catholic Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, had opposed the earlier version of SB 1146. Gomez authored a Crux op-ed with Pentecostal leader, Bishop Charles Blake,  suggesting the bill would violate religious liberty. A handful of Christian schools organized under the newly-formed Association of Faith-Based Institutions. These schools were primarily concerned with the Cal Grant funding provision. Conservative groups nationally have weighed in against the bill, too, fearful this type of legislation would spread nationally.

But opponents do not speak for all religious people in the state. Senator Lara, the bill’s sponsor, is himself an openly gay Catholic. He posted an explanation of his actions on Facebook:

“As a gay Catholic man, nobody has the right to dictate how I worship or observe my religion. And no university should have a license to discriminate, especially those receiving state funds. That’s why I will update my bill to ensure that Title [IX] universities disclose their exempt status publicly and require that universities notify the California Student Aid Commission if a student has been expelled due to their moral conduct clauses. These provisions represent critical first steps in the ongoing efforts to protect students from discrimination for living their truths or loving openly.

SB 1146 raises challenging questions about how to adjudicate the non-discrimination of LGBT people and the protection of religious liberty.  In The Atlantic, Alan Noble warned against absolutizing either of these values.  He called for a solution which allows a “thick diversity” in the United States so that all can flourish:

“No response to these scenarios [of LGBT students at religious schools] can erase all the conflicts and heartbreak between students, families, and academic communities, but through a model of communication, mutual respect, and dignity, schools can create a healthier environment for everyone.

“Both conservatives and liberals tend to approach the issue in absolute and uncompromising terms, but there ways to resolve this conflict that will allow for both religious freedom and protections for LGTB students while minimizing further litigation. By increasing transparency about Title IX exemptions and codes of conduct, easing the transfer process for students who cannot abide by the codes of conduct, and taking a strict stance on bullying and abuse, religious schools can retain their distinctive mission while protecting students.”

Noble made a point that cannot be forgotten in these debates. He noted that “[m]ost students voluntarily select . . . colleges because they want to be educated in a community that shares their values. . .they tend to be motivated by the centrality of their faith to their identity.”

Instead of legal battles, which may ensue anyway, religious institutions could reform themselves so they might better protect LGBT students. Noble said schools should clearly advertise what kind of community they uphold. He also wants the government to provide equal funding to students who choose religious schools which may have religious and exceptions.  His final hope was::

“. . . [R]eligious schools should help students who enroll and later decide they can no longer attend in good conscience. These students should be able to transfer to another school with the administrative, emotional, and practical support of the religious school. In addition, religious schools must be vigilant about dealing with bullying and abuse and create an environment in which students who have suffered feel safe to report these incidents without fear of expulsion or retribution. Many religious schools are working toward these kinds of practices; the challenge for all of them is to go beyond policies and rhetoric to ensure the safety of all students.”

This type of work has already been undertaken by many Catholic schools, particularly in higher education and particularly in California. Reading through the “Campus Chronicles” series on this blog, one sees the many efforts that students, staff, and administrators are making to not only welcome LGBT community members, but to support hem too. Though religious exemptions are available to them, many Catholic institutions have chosen freely to implement non-discrimination policies protective of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and/or marital status. More religious institutions should follow this model, appealing to faith values of inclusion and justice, rather than waiting for the State to impose inclusion.

SB 1146 may be voted on by the end of August. Whatever the outcome, the questions surrounding it are sure to continue in California and elsewhere.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


The Murder of Paul Broussard: A Catholic Bishop Speaks Out

August 14, 2016

History-Option 1

“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s new feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions ofBondings 2.0’s predecessor:  Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

1991: “The Murder of Paul Broussard”

In 1991, the gay-bashing death of a young Houston banker sparked a strong reaction from the local Catholic bishop in which he stated that to hate homosexuals “is to offend God.”

Paul Broussard was brutally beaten by ten youths–nine of whom were high school students–when he and his friends were leaving a nightclub in the Montrose section of Houston, known as a gay neighborhood, in the early morning hours of July 4, 1991.  Broussard was just blocks away from his home.  He was fatally stabbed twice during the attack.

First responders were slow to arrive at the scene, which was seen as a common practice for incidents in the Montrose neighborhood at that time because of fear of the AIDS virus.  The medical examiner indicated that “delay in treatment” was a cause of Broussard’s death.  In the days that followed, the city’s police chief declared that he had no intention of solving the crime, sparking days of protest marches at the mayor’s home by the gay community.  The protests went on to become the largest gay rights demonstration in Houston’s history.  Eventually, the attackers were apprehended and plea bargained to receive prison time.

Paul Broussard

On August 9th of that year, in the midst of all this turmoil, Houston’s Bishop Joseph Fiorenza took the unprecedented step of speaking out to condemn the brutality of this attack.  No bishop had ever spoken up against a gay bashing in such a public way. In a column in The Texas Catholic Herald entitled “The Death of Paul Broussard,” Fiorenza stated:

“To hate homosexuals is to offend God whose creative love gives life to every person and it is a violation of the Church’s teaching that every human being has immeasurable value and dignity which is to be respected by others. “

Fiorenza provided a theological basis for this claim:

“. . . [I]t is a religious truth that every person, regardless of lifestyle, is a child of God , formed in His image.  The ‘image of God’ in every person, whether a homosexual, a bisexual, or a heterosexual, is what gives dignity and worth to each individual, and is the reason that every person is th subject of human and civil rights.”

The bishop also got more specific in his instructions about how to eradicate the homophobia which caused such cruel acts:

“Any hatred of homosexuals or jokes about gay bashings or calling homosexuals by common epithets is clearly a violation of our responsibility to love as Christ loves every human person.  To hate or to violate another person, no matter whoo he or she is, continues the cyle of violence that can lead to other Paul Broussards’ being brutally killed just because they were thought to be homosexuals.  Please God, this will never again happen in our community. “

Bishop Fiorenza

Fiorenza also explained some recent experiences which brought the Broussard murder into a clearer focus for him:

“Shortly after Paul’s murder, I visited Central Europe and Berlin where I saw evidence of neo-Nazi anti-semitism   We must not forget that the demonic evil of Nazism also targeted homosexuals for the gas chambers.  Hitler wanted them eliminated.  God forbid that the Nazi hatred for homosexual would ever infiltrate into our community.  It is possible, however, if we are not alert to its dangers, and if we fail to teach the God-given dignity and worth of every human person.”

In an interesting move, the bishop also acknowledged that the failure to proclaim this teaching was part of the problem which caused gay bashing:

“. . . [O]ur tradtional mediating institutions [religious congregations, schools and homes] have failed society if anyone thinks ‘gay bashing’ is an acceptable form of diversion. Or what is worse, if any member of our religious congregations and schools has developed a hatred for homosexuals.”

He stressed that  the church’s teaching about human dignity needed to be proclaimed more strongly:

“The Church has always made an important anc clear distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual genital activity.  The Church has not and does not condemn those with a homosexual orientation.  Furthermore, every religious faith teaches that homosexuals are to be respected and loved as brothers and sisters in the human family and any attack upon them is a violation of religious principles.

“In view of the tragic death of Paul Broussard, it is timely for all faiths to recall this teaching to that it will be clearly understood and hopefully prevent a repeat of deaths resulting from ‘gay bashing.’ “

Bishop Firorenza’s example stands as a witness which should motivate Catholic bishops around the world to speak out against violence inflicted on the LGBT community.  This lesson is particularly important for the bishops who continue to support laws which criminalize and severely penalize LGBT people.  The teaching on human dignity is clear and unambiguous.  Application of this teaching to these situations should be similarly clear and unambiguous.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Catholic Priest: Church Cannot Abandon Transgender Catholics

August 13, 2016
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Fr. Bryan Massingale

The church must not abandon transgender Catholics. This is Fr. Bryan Massingale’s message in his new column published by U.S. Catholic, and it is a poignant message in view of Pope Francis’ recent remarks about gender identity.

Massingale. a professor of theology at Fordham University, New York, begins his essay by referencing a transgender panel discussion in which he participated earlier this year. Hosted by the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the largest annual gathering of Catholics in North America, that panel featured to young trans Catholics sharing their stories. Massingale commented on it:

“I was struck by their heartfelt conviction that accepting their true gender identities led them to a deeper and more authentic relationship with God. Hearing their stories of pain and triumph was one of the most privileged moments I have had in 33 years of being a priest.”

But Massingale notes that he questioned his own participation in the event, especially when friends and family asked him about the risks that identifying with LGBT people can have in the church. He explained:

“Space does not allow me to give my full response. But one reason why I chose to be present is because I have a lot to learn. To be blunt, I was at the panel precisely because of my ignorance and discomfort. Transgender issues were never addressed in either my moral theology courses in the seminary or in my graduate studies in Christian ethics. I—and most priests—have not been trained to specifically minister to transgender members of our parishes or to the concerns of their families.

“My personal ignorance is also shared by the church as a whole. There is much that we do not understand about what is technically called ‘gender dysphoria,’ or the lack of congruence between one’s physical body and gender identity. This ignorance leads to fear, and fear is at the root of the controversies in today’s so-called ‘bathroom wars.’ And there lies a major challenge that transgender people endure and that the faith community has to own: the human tendency to be uncomfortable and fearful in the face of what we don’t understand. It’s easier to ridicule and attack individuals we don’t understand than to summon the patience and humility to listen and to learn.”

The church cannot abandon trans Catholics because, Massingale explains, “Jesus would be present to, among, and with transgender persons.” His table ministry with society’s outcasts teaches Christians that we will be judged on “our compassion for the despised and disdained.” Lack of understanding of or comfort with people does not mitigate the obligation the church has to include them and minister to them.  Massingale also cited the compassionate side of Pope Francis:

“During Pope Francis’ visit last fall, he repeated on at least five occasions: ‘Jesus never abandons us.’ This is the deepest reason why I chose to be with Anna and Mateo, who spoke so eloquently for so many of our transgender fellow Catholics. Jesus does not abandon us. If we claim to be his followers, we cannot abandon them.”

You can read Fr. Massingale’s full essay by clicking here.

Fr. Massingale has himself not abandoned LGBT Catholics. While at Marquette University, he celebrated monthly Masses for members of the LGBTQ communities on campus because, he says, it is important they “have a Mass where they feel welcome and that God does love them.” He challenged Pax Christi USA members at their 2013 annual conference to increase the organization’s defense of LGBT rights, as both a human rights concern and a necessary part of attracting younger Catholics. Massingale also joined other Catholic theologians and officials in condemning proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda.

Fr. Massingale will continue his call for inclusion and justice in the church when he will be a keynote speaker for New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” Early registration has now opened if you are interested in attending, and you can find more information by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Global Catholics ‘Lament’ Gender Identity Remarks by Pope Francis

August 11, 2016
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Pope Francis addressing Poland’s bishops

Pushback has continued against transgender-negative remarks made by Pope Francis during his meeting two weeks ago with Poland’s bishops.

Francis expressed concern about schools teaching children they could choose their gender, the result of alleged ideological colonization, the pope suggested. You can read his initial remarks here, and a first round of reactions to them here.  New Ways Ministry’s response can be read here. For an insightful alternative view on the pope’s remarks, click here.

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) said it “laments the recent words of Pope Francis” and “regrets the lack of empathy” within them. GNRC’s statement continued:

“[Especially when] he mentioned Benedict XVI´s verdict that ‘we are living in an age of sin against God the Creator’, in reference to a conversation they previously had on gender issues. Such a statement, related to transgender and intersex people, does not express God’s love for those people, Catholic or not, who are usually and constantly questioned by the society, the Church and their families, for being whom they are. It might even be seen as reinforcing the condemnation and bullying of [transgender and intersex] people, even though the Pope surely did not intend it to be so.”

GNRC said it prayed for greater understanding from the church, offering its help in facilitating that process as all “walk the same path for a more truthful merger between our faith and our sexual orientation and/or gender identity.”

Journalist Mary Elizabeth Williams, noting the conflicted relationship some progressive Catholics have with this pope, wrote at Salon:

“Ever since becoming pope three years ago, Francis has had a confusing relationship with the LGBT community. . .So what does one do with a leader who’s better than others in the past, but still not nearly good enough?”

Catholic feminist Celia Wexler described Francis as “the pope of two minds” for The Huffington Post, writing:

“Time and time again, Pope Francis reveals the clash of two sides of the same man: the Pope of love and tolerance versus the Pope who closes the door on the possibility of change, and sees the world through the eyes of a 79-year-old celibate cleric. . .The Pope’s discomfort with changing attitudes, and emerging science, about gender identity keeps his instinct for generosity and kindness in check. Having Benedict reinforce that streak in his successor is very disillusioning.”

Pamela Valentine, the mother of a transgender son, wrote a letter to the pontiff on her blog, Affirmed Mom. Saying she would give Francis the benefit of the doubt, Valentine interpreted the pope’s words as if they were a mistake. She wrote:

“Last week, you announced that school children were being allowed to choose gender. I prefer to think you meant forced. And you are correct.

“All people in our modern society are forced to choose gender, to pick a team, from birth on. . .And so you took a stand. You said, enough. Stop forcing our children to choose, stop dressing them up as exaggerations of some idealized version of what men and women should look like. Stop thrusting them into roles that they don’t understand, don’t want, or don’t fit. Because Adam didn’t wear pants in the Garden of Eden and Eve didn’t wear a dress and make up. You know what they wore? Absolutely nothing and that’s exactly how God wanted it.

“I know that many will leap to defend your accusations that I let my child choose. Only I know that you’re smart enough to know that nobody gets to choose their gender. . .For you to make any other claim about your gender means that you do not understand it, and I would certainly hope the leader of a major religion would not speak on matters he didn’t understand.”

Valentine concluded by noting that her trans son expresses an interest in becoming Catholic, knowing love from Jesus and being affirmed by his family. She challenged Pope Francis “to expose a gross oversimplification of gender in our world. . .to change the world and make it better for future generations.”

Finally, Eliel Cruz, the executive director of Faith in America, told Edge Media Network:

“It is incredibly naïve Pope Francis believes the image of God is anything close to binary. . .In believing that God is only represented in male or female, Pope Francis is effectively eliminating the diversity and complexity of the image of God. Francis also ignores the reality of intersex individuals in his complementary lens. Pope Francis is denying the full image of God when he denies the transgender community.”

For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of gender identity issues in the Catholic church, visit the “Transgender” category on the right-hand column of this page or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Italy Is a Case Study for How the Church Can Build Up a Marriage Culture

August 9, 2016
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Deborah Piccini and Elena Vanni celebrating their civil union in Italy

Civil unions by same-gender couples have begun in Italy, implementing a law passed earlier this year against the Catholic hierarchy’s objections. But a new study suggests that church weddings, already in great decline, may disappear altogether in Italy in 15 years.  These two facts make Italy a case study for how the church can actually build up a healthy and positive culture around marriage.

It is not clear which couple was the first to be legally joined in Italy, but it is clear that couples have rushed to get their relationships legally recognized. Malay Mail reported one couple entered a union early in Milan because, after 28 years together, one partner was terminally ill. Gay Star News reported that Elena Vanni and Deborah Piccini were among the first couples, celebrating their union at the City Hall of Castel San Pietro near Bologna. Vanni said of their decision to be united under the law:

“‘Desires are the engine that leads us to be happy. . .Not that we were in a hurry, but at some point, our union [became] a discourse about justice.'”

Italy’s national conversation about same-gender relationships has been contentious, and much of the debate has been framed around the issue of justice. Both sides rallied hundreds of thousands to their cause, resulting in massive demonstrations in the lead-up to the law’s passage last May. Lay Catholics were split on the civil unions question, though Italians overall support expanding LGBT rights.  Italian church leaders substantively supported anti-equality efforts, though the Italian Episcopal Conference and some bishops practiced more distance than they had before Pope Francis’ election. For its part, the Holy See avoided the debate in Italy. Still, church leaders were overwhelmingly clear they did not support the law and the Conference’s president called the law’s passage “a loss for everyone.

Contrasting this rush by couples to enter civil unions is a report which suggested that Catholic sacramental weddings in Italy may end altogether by 2031. The study was done by CENSIS, the Center for Social Investment Studies, and analyzed marriage trends from the last two decades. Crux reported that the numbers of Italians entering into sacramental marriages were “in free fall” despite 95% of the nation’s residents still identifying as Catholic. Religious weddings fell by an average of 6,400 annually, and civil ceremonies are holding steady, but show little to no growth.

CENSIS director Massimiliano Valerii said the study indicates the “dissolution of this institution [of marriage],” which the Center attributed in part to legislative trends “including the fact that children born outside of marriage are now recognized as equally legitimate as those born to married couples, and also the civil recognition of de facto couples in addition to those who are married.” Civil unions for lesbian and gay couples are too new to have been factored into any calculations.

The phrasing, “culture of marriage” is used mostly by conservative opponents of marriage equality who claim that the expansion of LGBT rights undercuts the institution of marriage and family life. But Italy reveals that the culture of marriage is not defended, and certainly not strengthened, by denying LGBT people their human rights. If this were the case, marriage should be flourishing in Italy, the last Western European nation (aside from the Holy See) to grant rights to same-gender couples. It is not.

Whether or not sacramental marriages in the Catholic church will cease by 2031 is uncertain. Trends provide guidance, but do not predict the future. What is certain is that the debate over LGBT rights in Italy will continue. Civil unions are progress but are not equivalent to equal marriage rights. Adoption rights for same-gender partners were stripped from the civil unions law to ensure its passage. While employment non-discrimination protections exist, these protections do not extend to other areas like public accommodations. Between now and 2031,  Italian church leaders have an opportunity to shift their strategy on marriage equality, and, in the process, save the nation’s culture of marriage.

Until now, bishops’ engagement with marriage policy in many Western nations has almost exclusively existed of their public condemnations of marriage equality, divorce and remarriage, or contraception. They have failed to offer a compelling, positive, and hopeful vision of marriage and family life that the Catholic tradition possesses. The synodal process and Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, attested to the institutional church’s deficiency in preaching and cultivating this vision.The generally conservative Italian episcopacy has been a prime example of this approach.

But if the bishops would listen to the LGBT people and their loved ones, who are actually defending marriage and family, they might actually build up the culture of marriage that they seek. Where the bishops have failed, lay people have led the way. It is no coincidence that marriage equality, and LGBT rights overall, frequently advance first in regions which are predominantly Catholic. The faithful, driven by a sense of justice for people who are marginalized, have championed equality under the law precisely to strengthen all couples and their families. Catholic loved ones of LGBT people, particularly parents, have passionately affirmed not only the goodness of same-gender relationships but demanded equal protections for them. These Catholics understand that all love is good before God, and it should be affirmed and protected by society because marriage and family are indeed essential goods for human flourishing.

As Italians keep addressing LGBT rights, the nation’s bishops should stop resisting LGBT rights as if equality’s progress is anti-marriage and anti-family. They have done tremendous damage to the institution of marriage by claiming some love is second class, and that some families should not be recognized as such. Bishops should instead listen to the many faithful Catholics in Italy and around the world whose advocacy for equality has done more to build up a culture of marriage.

Foremost among these leaders is the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, who has to some extent undertaken this positive reclamation of marriage and family.  Unfortunately, he has done so by promoting heterosexuality as the norm for these institutions. If he cannot affirm marriage equality, he could at least affirm publicly  the love and commitment which exists between same-gender couples and the legal protections their families deserve.   That would do wonders for the culture of marriage in Italy and around the world.

 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Bishops Criticize Vice President Joe Biden for Officiating Same-Gender Marriage

August 7, 2016
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Tweet from Vice President Biden of the wedding ceremony

Vice President Joe Biden has been criticized by U.S. bishops for officiating at a same-gender wedding last week.

On Friday afternoon, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops  (USCCB) published a blog post about public officials who officiate at same-gender marriages. Written by three bishops, the post does not mention the Vice President by name but, given the post’s timing, he is most likely one of its targets.

The bishops who authored the post are Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, the USCCB president; Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chair of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth; and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. They wrote:

“When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics. What we see is a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth.”

The bishops said that faithful witness “will only grow more challenging in the years to come,” alluding to their claims that expanded LGBT rights threaten their religious liberty. They cited both Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia and the pontiff’s address to the U.S. Congress last fall to support their negative position on same-gender marriage. When it comes to marriage equality, it seems some U.S. bishops are willing to reverse their general silence about Francis to use the popular pontiff in their opposition to LGBT rights.

Conservative Catholics have criticized Biden as well, reported Brian Roewe of the National Catholic Reporter. The Lepanto Institute, an ultra-conservative watchdog group, wrote letter to Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. asking whether Biden has  excommunicated himself by his action.  Yet, Edward Peters, a conservative canonist, acknowledged that canon law does not provide for excommunication in such a case.  Peters did suggest, however, that he thought that there are grounds to deny Communion to the Vice President.  So far, Wuerl has not responded, at least publicly, to either charge.

Last Monday, Biden officiated his first wedding, conducted for White House staffers Brian Mosteller and Joe Mahshie. The Vice President, who is Catholic, has a long record of supporting LGBT rights and is credited with pushing President Barack Obama to endorse marriage equality.

Marriage equality is an irreversible given in the United States now. Why do the bishops keep expending their energy and resources fighting this new reality which protects families and expands love? Their opposition to LGBT rights is well-known, as is their public feud with the Obama administration. It is unclear what impact the bishops had hoped for with this blog post–especially since it seems that they took a swipe at the Vice President without directly confronting him. These bishops need to read a little more of Pope Francis’ writings, and reflect a little more on his witness of living out a church that is “home for all.”

I would point them specifically to Amoris Laetitia’s line that church ministers are called to form consciences, not replace them. Like many Catholics who affirm LGBT people and their relationships, Biden seems to have properly formed his conscience and then acted upon it by choosing to officiate this wedding ceremony. And like so many other Catholics, he is witnessing to God’s expansive and ever-present love.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


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