Catholic School Leaders Urge Discernment on Marriage Equality Issue

Leaders at two Jesuit-run Catholic schools in Australia have urged discernment over the issue of marriage equality ahead of a non-binding plebiscite set to begin September 12. SBS reported:

“The rectors of Melbourne’s Xavier College and Sydney’s Saint Ignatius’ College, whose alumni include Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and former prime minister Tony Abbott respectively, have written to parents and staff arguing the Catholic Church’s understanding of marriage stretches beyond procreation.”

Fr. Chris Middleton, SJ

Fr. Chris Middleton, SJ, of Xavier College said young people’s “strong commitment to equality” is “something to respect and admire.” His column in the school’s newsletter appealed for civility and respect as the issue is debated. Of experiences with students, Middleton wrote:

“As one who works in a school and who is charged with witnessing to our faith to the young, it is clear that the debate exposes a real disconnect between the Church’s public opposition to same-sex civil marriage and the attitudes of young people. In my experience, there is almost total unanimity amongst the young in favour of same-sex marriage, and arguments against it have almost no impact on them. . .

“They are idealistic in the value they ascribe to love, the primary gospel value. Any argument against same-sex-marriage must respectfully address these core values, or they will fail a basic test of credibility with our young.”

Middleton said the church should reflect on why this support is so strong among young people, and offered a partial answer that they “know the reality of homophobia, and the destructiveness that it, like racism and sexism, can have in the lives of people, and especially on the young.”

More generally, Middleton said the institutional church “needs to find a voice that is appropriate to the secular sphere” given the debate is over civil and not sacramental marriage. This is a “difficult path” for church leaders, made even harder by the Royal Commission’s damaging findings about the sexual abuse of children by clergy.

Fr. Ross Jones, SJ

In his own column in the school’s newsletter, St. Ignatius’ Fr. Ross Jones also encouraged his school community to reflect on the plebiscite. He said that when discerning how to vote on a given issue, one must use reason:

“‘Were it not for the school of reason approach, we would still hold that slavery could be justified, or believe that wives were subject to their husbands, contra to what St Paul clearly dictated in the scriptures’. . .

“‘Presumably, same sex couples who make such a commitment to each other in good conscience, do so by reflecting on experience and on what it is to be human, using their God-given reason.'”

So far, church leaders, including Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne and the Australian Bishops’ Commission for Catholic Education, have refused to comment on the rectors’ remarks. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, an alum of St. Ignatius who opposes marriage equality, said of Jones’ remarks, “It sounds like they’re sitting firmly on the fence, which is a pretty painful place to be.”

Both of these elite schools have defended the rectors’ columns, and affirmed their schools’ missions to promote engaged citizens respectful of diversity. Fr. Middleton explained his reason for writing by saying he was motivated by “a concern that the Church needs to take seriously the views of our young people and to explore a way to articulate a response within the context of our Catholic tradition,” as well as his care for students’ well-being.

A statement from St. Ignatius also affirmed the school’s mission to “produce discerning Christians, who can embody the values of Christ in respectful debate and at the same time to be cognisant of the diversity of the community of which they, as thinking Catholics, are a part.”

Catholic schools in Australia have stepped up on LGBT inclusion. Last week, Bondings 2.0 reported on Trinity Catholic College’s decision to welcome and to accommodate two transgender students. These incidents are good news for a nation where the debate over marriage equality is increasingly harmful, including the posting of neo-Nazi literature targeting LGBT parents.

Australia’s bishops have had a mixed record engaging marriage equality, and there have been prominent Catholic figures speaking on both sides of the issue. Thankfully, Catholic schools are not letting church leaders’ hesitations stymie the schools’ educational missions to form engaged citizens who care about human rights and social justice, including for LGBT people and their families.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 8, 2017




Fr. James Martin Responds to Vatican Official’s Critique of New Book on LGBT Issues

Fr. James Martin, SJ, has responded to a high-ranking Vatican official’s critique of his new book, Building a Bridge. Their exchange is another step in the conversation on LGBT issues in the church into which Martin has helped breathe new life.

y648Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation on Divine Worship, sharply criticized Martin’s book in an essay for the Wall Street Journal. Sarah said Martin was “one of the most outspoken critics of the church’s message with regard to sexuality,” followed by the cardinal’s vigorous defense of Magisterium’s teachings on homosexuality.

The cardinal suggested that celibate lesbian and gay Catholics as the real witnesses to how the church should approach homosexuality. He wrote:

“It is my prayer that the world will finally heed the voices of Christians who experience same-sex attractions and who have discovered peace and joy by living the truth of the Gospel. I have been blessed by my encounters with them, and their witness moves me deeply. . .Their example deserves respect and attention, because they have much to teach all of us about how to better welcome and accompany our brothers and sisters in authentic pastoral charity.”

Cardinal Robert Sarah

Sarah has a strong LGBT-negative record, and has frequently condemned what he describes as “gender ideology.” Last year at the U.S. National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, the cardinal said transgender rights are “demonic” and marriage equality is a “poison.” During the 2015 Synod on the Family, Sarah said the LGBT rights movement had “demonic origins” and compared it to Nazism and fascism.  Bondings 2.0‘s Francis DeBernardo, who was part of the press corps at the meeting in Rome, deemed Sarah’s comments the Synod’s “most homophobic remark”.

Martin offered his reply to Cardinal Sarah in America magzine (which summarized the cardinal’s column, as well). He pushed back against Sarah’s claim that the book challenges church teaching. Martin said Building a Bridge, which is based on an address he gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge-Building Award last fall, is “not a book of moral theology. . .It is an invitation to dialogue and to prayer. . .” America reported further:

“Father Martin called Cardinal Sarah’s column ‘a step forward,’ noting that the cardinal used the term ‘L.G.B.T.,’ which a few traditionalist Catholics reject.’ . . .But, Father Martin said, the essay ‘misses a few important points,’ including a failure to acknowledge ‘the immense suffering that L.G.B.T. Catholics have felt at the hands of their church.’

Building a Bridge has been well received by many church officials, including counterparts of Cardinal Sarah who endorsed the book. Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Discastery for Laity, Family, and Life, called the book “welcome and much-needed.” Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said it was “brave, prophetic, and inspiring.” Other figures on the book’s dust jacket include Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, and theologian James Alison.

Martin’s book and the conversation it has sparked are already having an impact, which Bondings 2.0 has covered here. Some Catholics have been critical of Building a Bridge, including such diverse voices as lesbian writer Jamie Manson, theologian David Cloutier, and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.

Martin has thoughtfully responded to these critics and others through his social media channels and an interview with America. He has continued to be outspoken on LGBT equality as well, offering his own set of  propositions which affirm  LGBT people when Evangelical leaders released their LGBT-negative “Nashville Statement” recently.

Interestingly, Sarah has not received much approval from Pope Francis.  The pontiff targeted Sarah specifically in recent comments when he said, “with magisterial authority,” that Vatican II’s liturgical reforms were “irreversible,” a response critiquing the cardinal who is a liturgical traditionalist.

Where once Sarah’s views might have been backed by the Vatican through publication in L’Osservatore Romano, he now shares his opinion in a secular news outlet. And where once Martin’s book would have been, at best, denied an imprimatur and, at worst, led to an investigation against him, Vatican officials are now publicly endorsing the need for dialogue on LGBT issues in the church. Subtle though this change may be, it is still quite significant for LGBT Catholics and allies to remember in our ongoing work for full equality.

Bondings 2.0 will continue to follow the conversation around Building a Bridge. You can subscribe for daily updates on Catholic LGBT issues by using the box in the upper righthand corner of this page. If you have read Martin’s book, what do you think of it? Leave your thoughts or even a brief review in the ‘Comments’ section below.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 7, 2017

Australian Priest To Vote “Yes” for Marriage Equality

A high-profile priest in Australia has come out in favor of marriage equality amid a heated national debate over the issue, and his comments have been well received by Catholics.

Fr. Frank Brennan, SJ, endorsed marriage equality in the lead up to Australia’s non-binding plebiscite that will be conducted by mail this fall. Speaking at a lecture delivered in memory of famed Labor politician Lionel Bowen, himself a Catholic, Brennan told attendees:

“Though a committed Catholic, I could vote ‘yes’ in a survey on same sex marriage while hoping and demanding that the parliament do the hard work on religious freedoms when considering amendments to the Marriage Act. I am one of those Australians who will be pleased when same-sex marriages are recognised by Australian law but with adequate protection for religious freedoms.”

Brennan, who heads Catholic Social Services Australia and is a law professor, offered three observations to critics of his position. First, he noted that civil marriage is a contract that is already inconsistent with Catholic sacramental marriage because it is not permanent and does not need to be open to children.

Second, he said:

“With civil marriage being expanded to include same sex couples as contract partners in countries like UK, USA, Canada and New Zealand, there will be an increasing number of couples civilly married in those countries living in Australia. It will be more and more difficult to deny recognition of those civil marriages here in Australia when the couples are ageing and needing spousal rights and recognition in hospital etc.”

Third, children raised by same-gender couples deserve “a society where there is a public commitment to respect and affirmation of their family arrangements.” Brennan concluded his remarks on marriage equality with these words:

“Those of us who are Catholic have multiple affiliations. We are members of the Catholic Church affirming the sacramentality of marriage as defined by our Church and we are citizens of a pluralistic democratic society under the rule of law affirming the legitimacy of committed relationships which are solemnised at law in the hope of contributing to the well-being of the couple and of their children.”

Brennan has been outspoken on LGBT issues, including his 2015 foresight that any vote on marriage equality like the current plebiscite would be “very nasty” and would “unleash torrents of hate on the gay and lesbian community.” This year, negative campaigning has appeared which denigrates LGBT people. In Melbourne, hate speech quoting the research of a Catholic priest appeared on a poster. The possibility of church worker firings has been raised by at least one bishop [Editor’s note: The church worker firings story was initially reported as a direct threat, but was later clarified to be more general].

Brennan also supported civil unions for same-gender couples as early as 2011, and later argued for the separation of civil and sacramental marriage.

In contrast to Brennan’s well-received endorsement of marriage equality, students and alumni at a Catholic school in Melbourne reacted negatively when the local pastor encouraged parents to vote against equality. Fr. Joseph Abatu made his opposition to marriage equality public in the newsletter for St. Peter’s College Cranbourne. Critics reacted strongly on social media against Abatu’s intervention in the school community, reported TenPlay:

“[Alum Nate Bicey said,] In the class of 2004. . .there is at least 7 that have come out LGBTQI. It’s really disappointing to see you dishonour not just past students but today’s and tomorrow’s. . .I just hope for your sake no one in this school becomes a statistic of youth taking there [sic] life for not feeling equal and the school announcing that they are not.”

While the school includes sexuality in its non-discrimination statement, alum Val Bucky Barbosa said there was much bullying when they attended and “the school chose to do nothing.”

Polling shows Australian Catholics’ opinions are very much in line with Fr. Brennan’s “yes” vote, and few Catholics support LGBT-negative church officials like Abatu. Indeed, Queering the Church reported that two-thirds of Catholics were supportive of marriage equality. As usual, such support is because of Catholics’ faith, not in spite of it. Fr. Brennan’s comments during the lecture helpfully enrich the public reasons for why Catholics are so supportive when drawing from our faith tradition’s riches.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 6, 2017


LGBT Equality Could Strengthen U.S. Bishops’ Statement for Labor Day

Each year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops releases a statement for Labor Day. The bishops’ statement is strong this year, emanating from Pope Francis’ own strong calls for economic justice.This year’s statement is particularly strong in its defense of workers, migrants, and people of color.


But if the bishops’ statement also addressed the unjust firings of LGBT church workers (more than 60 of which have had their cases made public in the last decade), their claims would be even stronger. In today’s post, I highlight two sections of the Labor Day statement that are most relevant for LGBT church workers and the institutional church.

First, the bishops’ letter contains a section which proposes “Greater Legal Protections for Vulnerable Workers and ‘Good Entrepreneurs.'” In this section, they affirmed that a “powerful way to protect the dignity of the person is through law.” The statement continued:

“Legal protections cannot solve all problems when the culture itself must also change. Nevertheless, legal protections and important gains that humanize the workplace are vital and should be supported and strengthened. . .The law should also seek to avoid wage disparities for women, and exploitation of any kind. It should also encourage work environments that recognize and seek to end racism and its effects. . .workers must be aided to come to know and exercise their legal rights.”

The bishops rightly desired protections against discrimination based on gender and race within a larger affirmation of legal protections for workers. But when it comes to LGBT and Ally church workers, the bishops have opposed similar protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. They have exploited religious exemptions far beyond intended parameters to justify discriminatory firings.  And, of course, there is the longstanding pattern of discrimination against women in our church.

Second, the bishops write of “Recovering the Sacredness of Work.” Work, they say, “can be a place of great sanctity, giving expression to the deep yearnings of the human person” and even allow co-creation with God. The statement continued:

“This notion that work is sacred is essential, not only to understanding our work, but also to coming to know God himself; nowhere do we see this more powerfully than in the Eucharist.”

But where is their concern for LGBT church workers’ co-creation with God when these workers are summarily dismissed for living by their consciences. These firings are corrosive to the Body of Christ, and they show little pastoral concern for the flourishing of the church workers, their loved ones, and the affected communities.

The U.S. bishops labeled our current historical moment “a time of kairos,” or a decisive moment of both crisis and opportunity. They are correct in this assessment as economic inequality remains high and workers’ rights are under attack.

Catholics should join their bishops in continuing to demand a just and humane economy. To offer the most credible witness in this effort, the bishops should abide by the same principles they advocate for outside the church by practicing them inside the church.  LGBT-related employment matters in the church offer them a wealth of opportunities to do so.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 4, 2017

British Catholics Host Gathering on LGBT Issues in the Church

British Catholics joined together last month for a national conference on LGBT issues, a gathering that was marked by “joy” according to one organizer.

Bruce Kent, Quest chair Ruby Almeida, and Sr. Jeannine Gramick

Quest, a pastoral support group for LGBT Catholics and their families, sponsored the conference, which was titled “Act Justly, Love Mercy.” The group’s website featured highlights from the weekend, and these included:

“Two talks by Sr Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and a notable pioneer in LGBT ministry. These talks, and the Q&A sessions that followed, raised numerous important topics meriting further exploration – which will be discussed further in later posts. [Editor’s note:  More details about Gramick’s thoughts later in this Bondings 2.0 post.]

“A highly entertaining talk by Bruce Kent, notable for his work in peace activism, who reminded us that there are important areas of justice beyond LGBT issues, that all Catholics should be concerned with – and that obviously includes a responsibility for us as LGBT Catholics, towards the wider world as well.

“Moving and inspirational liturgies, for Mass and morning and evening prayers. By great serendipity, the Gospel for the closing Mass included the parable of the mustard seed.”

Terence Weldon
Terence Weldon

Ruby Almeida, the chair of Quest, said the conference was marked by a great deal of joy.

Terence Weldon, who blogs at Queering the Church, reported on Gramick’s talks as well as his interview with her. Questioners asked Gramick how they could advance positive change in the church. She emphasized personal relationships, and the need for LGBT Catholics and their allies to continue to take the initiative in reaching out to church leaders.

In response to Weldon’s question about Pope Francis and church doctrine. Gramick answered that the pope’s actions de-emphasized the importance of doctrine, particularly those teachings related to sexual ethics. Francis prefers to emphasise Jesus and his offer of salvation. Weldon commented on Gramick’s response:

“In this way, the message that Pope Francis is sending to LGBT Catholics, is more powerful than the hurtful doctrine that has so dominated what we have heard from the institutional church in the past. The question then arises, while the hurtful and damaging doctrine remains in place, who are we who are LGBT Catholics, to respond? Sr Jeannine offered here an analogy from American football (or from rugby, where it works equally well: Pope Francis is playing defence, against the damage of existing doctrine. To see real change, it is up to us to run with the ball.” [Editor’s note:  Sr. Jeannine attributes the football analogy to Father Bryan Massingale, a U.S. theologian who offered that image at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium in April 2017.]

The July conference is but one of Quest’s many initiatives to help support LGBT Catholics and their families in Great Britain.  Congratulations to Ruby, Terence, and the entire group for a successful event!

For more information about Quest, click here. For Terence Weldon’s blog, Queering the Church, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 3, 2017




“The Nashville Statement” Reveals Just How Far Catholic LGBT Issues Have Come

Evangelical leaders in the U.S. released “The Nashville Statement” earlier this week to make clear their opposition to LGBT equality. A prominent Catholic priest has responded by affirming the goodness of LGBT people.  The contrast between these two statements reveals just how far Catholic LGBT issues have come.

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 2.25.03 PM“The Nashville Statement,” drafted by the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, issues a series of affirmations and denials about sexuality. These include rejecting marriage equality and denying that “adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.”

Fr. James Martin, SJ, author of Building a Bridge, this summer’s new book on LGBT issues in the church, responded in a series of tweets with his own affirmations, coupled with denials. He tweeted:

  • Re #Nashville Statement: I affirm: That God loves all LGBT people. I deny: That Jesus wants us to insult, judge or further marginalize them.
  • I affirm: That all of us are in need of conversion. I deny: That LGBT people should be in any way singled out as the chief or only sinners.
  • I affirm: That when Jesus encountered people on the margins he led with welcome not condemnation. I deny: That Jesus wants any more judging.
  • I affirm: That LGBT people are, by virtue of baptism, full members of the church. I deny: That God wants them to feel that they don’t belong
  • I affirm: That LGBT people have been made to feel like dirt by many churches. I deny: That Jesus wants us to add to their immense suffering.
  • I affirm: That LGBT people are some of the holiest people I know. I deny: That Jesus wants us to judge others, when he clearly forbade it.
  • I affirm that the Father loves LGBT people, the Son calls them and the Holy Spirit guides them. I deny nothing about God’s love for them.

Such a supportive response coming from such a voice as prominent as Martin’s is welcome, and follows from Building a Bridge in which he calls for the entire faithful to show one another respect, compassion, and sensitivity.

His affirmation in response to “The Nashville Statement” is especially poignant given the Catholic church’s own history of harm to LGBT people that sometimes has mirrored the actions of those Evangelical leaders behind the statement. LGBT people and their loved ones know too well the exclusionary acts and discriminatory words that have come from church leaders at all levels and lay people next to them in the pews.

Thankfully, Fr. Martin’s tweets about “The Nashville Statement” reveal just how divergent the Evangelical and Catholic approaches have become. The contrast between “The Nashville Statement” and Fr. Martin’s tweets (which were written in the form of propositions to mirror the evangelical document) is a helpful reminder that, for most Catholics the conversation about LGBT issues is generally not reductionist–especially not to the point of absurdity.

While there has been progress, many people still feel that the institutional church continues to cause harm against too many people. We need to live in the tension of acknowledging past and lpresent harms, while we try to create a future of dialogue. Where each Catholic lands in this tension differs, and each person must decide how much acknowledgement of the past must happen while looking into the future.

What is undeniable is that within Catholic community a small space for dialogue is growing. Where dialogue happens, the church is moved beyond condemnatory propositions into a space of complexity which admits both difference and grace.  The Synod on the Family in 2014 and 2015 is a prime example of the beginning of a dialogue.

Fr. Martin’s book, and the many and varied responses to it,  has also definitely enriched the conversation on LGBT issues in the church to a deeper and more dialogical place. For that we can all be grateful.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 1, 2017

Catholic School Welcomes Transgender Students Amid Tensions in Australia

The principal of a Catholic high school has encouraged his school community to welcome two transgender students, a hopeful step not only for Catholic education by for Australian LGBT and Catholic communities as well.

8852592-3x2-700x467Brother John Hilet, FMS, of Trinity Catholic College Lismore in New South Wales, Australia, welcomed two students who came out to him as transgender. The students, who were assigned female at birth, sought to wear male uniforms consistent with their gender.

Though “surprised” to be dealing with gender identity issues, Hilet told ABC News that he was “very quickly moved by their level of trust, faith and willingness to come forward and speak with me.” He added:

“They were moved at a very deep level and at that point the only response I could think of was to treat them with compassion and reach out and do whatever I could to assist. . .

“One of the things I said to the students was that it is a fundamental Catholic teaching that all human beings have an innate dignity that doesn’t derive from anything other than the fact we are human and made in the image and likeness of God. . .When Jesus spoke he never taught us to do anything other than love others, so that was the way I expressed it.”

Brother John Hilet, FMS

The students’ request to wear male uniforms was approved, and the school went a step further by announcing a gender neutral uniform.

These changes were made in consultation with local church officials who had responded positively. Hilet consulted the New South Wales Catholic Education Commission and Bishop Gregory Homeming of Lismore, about whom Hilet said:

“[The bishop’s] response to me was quite clearly that this is an issue of wellbeing for these students. It is an issue of being caring, compassionate and reaching out and doing what we can to assist. I was very happy that confirmed my feelings.”

The principal also wrote a letter to parents, saying it was “essential as a Catholic community we offer our full support to these students.” Students would be expected to respect one another and understand difference, and Hilet explicitly warned against any bullying of the two trans students.

Expecting pushback, the school instead received overwhelmingly positive feedback from parents. Hilet explained;

“Invariably the responses have been incredibly positive, thanking the college for its openness and inclusiveness and overwhelmingly supporting the idea of a gender neutral uniform option. . .

“The one that touched me most was a mother who indicated one of her children left the school about three years ago for the same reason and at the time didn’t feel confident in coming to approach me and talk to me about it. And that was sad.”

This incident at Trinity Catholic comes at a difficult moment for LGBT people and their loved ones in Australia. The debate over the country’s non-binding plebiscite on marriage equality has become harmful, including a neo-Nazi poster targeting LGBT parents. Australia’s bishops have had a mixed record engaging marriage equality, and there have been prominent Catholic figures speaking out on both sides of the issue.

Brother Hilet’s decision could therefore have an impact on more than just the two students and the Trinity Catholic community. It can give hope to students in Catholic schools, to youth who may be questioning their gender identity, and to families seeking acceptance for their children. It is as well a bright light for all Australian Catholics, proof once again that our church can live by a more just and compassionate path on LGBT issues when we choose to do so.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 30, 2017