Catholic LGBT issues have been making headlines in Canada. Here are three updates that may be of interest:
Archbishop Campaigns Against Franklin Graham
Vancouver’s Archbishop Michael Miller joined other religious figures in opposing evangelical leader Franklin Graham’s attendance at a Christian gathering that happened in early March, reported The Washington Post. In an open letter, the leaders shared their concerns about anti-Muslim and anti-gay views held by the son of preacher Billy Graham, writing:
“Regrettably, Franklin Graham’s public comments appear to compromise Jesus’s mission of love and justice for all. He has made disparaging and uncharitable remarks about Muslims and the LGBTQ+ community, while portraying the election, administration and policies of US President Donald Trump as intrinsically aligned with the Christian Church.”
The letter cited, in particular, Graham’s comment that, because “the Enemy [Satan] wants to devour our homes,” LGBT people should be barred from churches and homes. Archbishop Miller and other leaders committed themselves to promoting the Christian faith as one that welcomes all people and seeks social justice.
Calgary Bishop to Retain Predecessor’s LGBT-Negative Approach to School Issues
Bishop William McGrattan, the new leader of the Catholic church in Calgary, Alberta, said he will maintain many of the policies from his predecessor, Fred Henry. Asked about LGBT issues, he told the Calgary Herald:
“With regard to gay-straight alliance, even that very terminology creates a sense of what I would say not an agenda but is promoting a certain lifestyle. In Ontario, we call that respecting differences so that we allow young people to know there are differences and that we need to respect those without labelling them with those particular terms.”
Some Albertans had hoped McGrattan’s arrival would be an opportunity for church leaders and LGBT communities to reset tense relations. But the new bishop said he “may not be as direct but I’ll be as firm” as Henry, who once described education policies that protect LGBT students as “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic.”
Indeed, McGrattan told the Calgary Sun that proposed guidelines for transgender students in the province are based in gender theory which “is not truth,” and said gender transitioning “does not change the biological fact and truth of the individual.”
Officials in Catholic Education Claim Discrimination
Officials from several Catholic education systems in Alberta are complaining about a regional scholar’s criticisms of how church-affiliated schools are handling LGBTQ students. The Edmonton Sun reported:
“Two Catholic school district superintendents and two groups representing Catholic school boards and superintendents wrote to the university’s chancellor and president last fall to complain about comments made by educational policy studies professor Kristopher Wells regarding school board policies meant to protect LGBTQ students.”
Wells spoke out repeatedly during disputes in the last two years over LGBTQ guidelines being implemented in the province’s schools. In 2016, Wells released a “report card” evaluating four Catholic systems for their LGBTQ supports, all of which received either low or failing grades
Scholars, including the president of the University of Alberta where Wells is based, criticized Catholic education officials’ letters for trying to suppress academic freedom. The letters were disconcerting, Wells said, but would not silence him because “the issues at stake are far too important.”
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 14, 2017
New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader: Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS. For more information and to register, visitwww.Symposium2017.org.
Today is the fourth anniversary of Pope Francis’ election, a moment for taking stock of what he has accomplished, is doing, and hopes to achieve in his remaining years. Francis’ record on gender and sexuality issues is mixed, but his larger efforts to help the church more fully receive Vatican II and to reform the Curia may be better places for LGBT Catholics and their allies to focus.
Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, writing in the National Catholic Reporter, outlined what he sees as five of the pope’s great achievements. To progressives who are critical of the pontiff, Reese said Francis’ record is “revolutionary” and should be celebrated. Whether one agrees with that assessment or not, Reese’s points are worth highlighting with an eye on LGBT issues:
“First, the pope has called for a new way of evangelizing. He tells us that the first words of evangelization must be about the compassion and mercy of God, rather than a list of dogmas and rules that must be accepted. . .He does not obsess over rules and regulations. He is more interested in orthopraxis (how we live the faith) than orthodoxy (how we explain the faith).”
This new way of evangelizing has prioritized human beings as subjects before God, not categories or objects. In a 2016 interview, expounding on his famous “Who am I to judge?” remark, Francis spoke about gay people with a welcoming tone and without any mention of condemnatory sexual ethics. This approach seems to have worked, at least initially. The pope received a “Person of the Year” award from not only Time, but from The Advocate, and various celebrities like Edie Windsor, Antonio Banderas, and Elton John have applauded him for his focus on mercy, not law.
Reviews of Pope Francis in the church have likewise been fairly positive. Some 50 LGBT Catholics and their families on pilgrimage with New Ways Ministry received VIP seating during a papal audience, a deeply healing and hopeful moment for many pilgrims and others. Francis met personally with a transgender man, Diego Neria Lejárraga, who had been excluded from his parish in Spain. Speaking about the meeting in a later interview, the pope described Neria Lejárraga as “he who was she who is he” and used male pronouns. If human encounters lead to hearts broken open, as Sr. Simone Campbell told a Vatican gathering last week, then such interpersonal acts cannot be undervalued.
Reese’s second point is that the pope “is allowing open discussion and debate in the church. . . .It is impossible to exaggerate how extraordinary this is.” For context, he explained:
“Only during Vatican II was such a debate possible. . .During the last two papacies, dissent was roundly condemned and suppressed. The theologies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI could not be questioned. . .Under Francis, synodal participants were encouraged by the pope to speak their minds boldly and not worry about disagreeing with him. The result is a freer exchange of views, public disagreements, and even outright criticism of the pope by some conservative cardinals. All of this would never have been allowed under earlier popes.”
This new openness includes an end to investigations against and silencing of theologians, which Reese said “is extremely important if theology is to develop and deal with contemporary issues in a way that is understandable by people of the 21st century.” But what has not entered the conversation, either generally or at the Synod on the Family, are the voices of LGBT people and their families who must inform theology and ministry by speaking about their lives and realities.
Welcoming disagreement, and even playing with his own ideas in public, is a sign of healthin the papacy. But it has led to consternation from many parts of the church. Precisely what Francis means in an interview or off-the-cuff remark is not always clear. This phenomenon has created problems, like misreporting that he had compared transgender people to nuclear weapons or speculation with little factual basis. Perhaps most notable was the mix up about Pope Francis alleged meeting with right-wing icon Kim Davis during his visit to the United States.
Politically, Pope Francis has had less tolerance for diversity of opinion. He has repeated denunciations against marriage equality (e.g., in Slovakia, Slovenia, Philippines), even saying there was a “world war to destroy marriage.” Moreover, he has remained silent about efforts to criminalize and discriminate against LGBT people, even as Catholics ask him to speak in defense of human rights. His decision to be involved in the marriage debate but not the issue of criminalization shows poor prioritization for a pope who promotes human rights.
Third, Reese identified Francis as “presenting a new way of thinking about moral issues in Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia,” which promotes a richer and more mature understanding of ethical living:
“Under this approach to moral theology, it is possible to see holiness and grace in the lives of imperfect people, even those in irregular marriages. Rather than seeing the world as divided between the good and the bad, we are all seen as wounded sinners for whom the church serves as a field hospital where the Eucharist is food for the wounded rather than a reward for the perfect. Gone is any attempt to scare people into being good.”
Amoris Laetitia was a positive step for the church generally but provided less joy for LGBT Catholics and their families. Indeed, theologians have noted how its treatment of sexuality does not seem consistent with the rest of the exhortation. The disappointment of gender and sexual minorities was present throughout the Synod on the Family process which, despite some positive moments, largely set aside homosexuality and related concerns.
Fourth, Reese noted the pope’s prominent commitment to environmental justice. This has included the release of the encyclical Laudato Si, which was warmly received though raised questions for LGBT advocates based on ambiguous language about gender identity. Failure to clarify in this encyclical and in other remarks what he means by “ideological colonization” or unspecified critiques of gender theory have given LGBT-negative bishops leeway to be condemnatory.
Finally, Reese wrote that Francis “has moved to reform the governance structures of the church.” Reese evaluated this work as slow but in progress. These efforts have included appointing more pastorally-oriented bishops who are less interested in sexual issues, whom he described as not crusaders but “humble and trusting sowers of truth.” And he received Bishop Jacques Gaillot who, in 1995, was removed from office for blessing the union of a same-gender couple.
So what happens now? I offer three brief points of my own for how we can understand and evaluate Pope Francis today.
First, when evaluating anything Pope Francis says or does, his commitment to enfleshing Vatican II must be kept in mind. This effort is his fundamental project, one which was set aside by his two predecessors, but one which will be explosive long term if it continues.
Second, Francis possesses a basic understanding that LGBT people are marginalized, and acknowledged the need for pastoral accompaniment of LGBT people as “what Jesus would do.” Yayo Grassi, a gay former student of the pope who has remained friends with Francis, said at a New Ways Ministry event last fall that Francis has said to him explicitly, “There is no place for homophobia” in ministry. These are building blocks from which greater inclusion and justice can arise.
Third, Pope Francis will likely not move beyond his limitations as an older cleric raised in a traditional Argentinian culture when it comes to questions of gender and sexuality. This reality means we cannot hesitate to get on with our own work. Change in the church comes from below. Australian Catholics seized on the pope’s call for the church to apologize to LGBT people by holding a liturgy for such an apology. As I have written previously, we must do likewise in using the room Francis has created to work for equality where, when, and how we are able.
As we evaluate Pope Francis today and going forward, we must not miss the forest for the trees. This papacy has been about God’s expansive mercy, and Francis has involved himself in the causes of many vulnerable peoples. He is witnessing to the Gospel in bold and beautiful ways, even if imperfectly.
One way of doing this work is by joining the conversation at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader: Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
To read “What the People of God Would Say to Pope Francis” based on comments from Bondings 2.0 readers, click here. For our full coverage of this papacy, see the “Pope Francis” category to the right or click here. And here are more articles that may be of interest:
Students at a Catholic high school in Connecticut who have been petitioning the administration to allow same-gender prom dates are now also seeking a public apology after a student leader alleged that she was intimidated by school officials.
On February 27, a Mercy H.S. senior named Allison V. launched a Change.org petition that gained nearly 2,000 signatures in support of students’ request for same-gender prom dates. Citing the pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia at one point, Allison wrote:
“Many LGBT+ children who are raised in a Catholic home are terrified to come out. They could face harassment, judgment, and rejection from their peers and family. So they don’t come out, and they suppress that part of themselves. Suppressing who you are and living in constant fear of the people around you has horrible effects on mental health, causing a high suicide rate among LGBT+ teens who are not supported by their family or community.
“Catholicism is a religion based on love. Jesus preached a message of love and acceptance of all of your neighbors, he hung out with society’s rejects and did not discriminate at all. I subscribe to that message of love, and Pope Francis actively preaches that love.”
But, according to a second petition which has gained more than 1,500 signatures itself, Allison was intimidated by administrators into closing down her first petition. She posted an update saying, “I’m sad to say that I will be discontinuing this fight due to administration strongly advising me to give up.”
The second petition, addressed to the Archdiocese of Hartford and Diocese of Norwich, as well as administrators at the all-girls school in Middletown, Connecticut, seeks not only same-gender prom dates, but a public apology for the alleged actions against Allison. It states, in part:
“Nothing about Mercy’s prom policy comes anywhere close to understanding, compassion, or providing a safe and nurturing environment. . .It’s time for Mercy High School to set a standard based on love and acceptance and the first step is to issue a public apology to the student that took a stand for justice. That needs to be followed by an immediate reversal of their horrible policy of discrimination.”
Alumnae have added their voices in support of the students’ initiative, starting the #WePROMise campaign on social media and contacting Mercy High officials. The Hartford Courant reported:
“Victoria Scott, a 2013 Mercy graduate from Oxford and now a college student in New York, said she didn’t come out as gay until after high school because she never felt the environment at the school would have allowed it.
“‘As a young woman in high school, I was still trying to figure out who I was as a person,’ she said. . .We don’t have a problem with being a woman of Mercy, it’s the human rights issue and the respect issue. . .To the alumni looking at this issue, there is no mutual respect.'”
Mercy High officials are not agreeing to the students’ request. Sr. Mary McCarthy, the school’s president, said in a statement:
“‘Mercy’s practice relative to prom attendance has been, and continues to be, that Mercy students are permitted to attend alone or in the company of a friend or friends of their choosing. . .In this tradition, the expectation has been that a Mercy student’s date be male. These limitations are premised both in preserving the spirit of the prom as a safe and enjoyable experience for the students of Mercy, as well as recognizing and adhering to the teachings of the Church.'”
McCarthy also said students are expected to attend Mercy High with an understanding and desire to abide by these principles” of the Catholic faith. The Diocese of Norwich’s statement, released through Mercy High spokesperson Marie Kalita-Leary, said, “Mercy is proactive with regard to clearing the air and being faithful to its founding values – as it has already done in this particular instance.”
Unfortunately, despite the Diocese’s wishes, the air has not been cleared at Mercy High School. Students and their allies are continuing to build support for equality when it comes to prom dates, including the #WePROMise website found here.
Each prom season, incidents of discrimination at Catholic schools continue to grow, and each prom season, I wonder why. There is no reason a lesbian student should be thrown out from prom for wearing a suit or a gay student should be suspended for wanting to bring a male partner. In a letter from last year, I wrote to my former high school that equality at prom is not only the right thing to do, it is good pastoral care. Common sense can clear the air at Mercy High, and could avoid such controversies altogether, if only administrators opened themselves more fully to students’ needs.
There are at least two examples where Catholic high schools have taken positive actions for students at prom. In 2013 in Rochester, New York, president Fr. Edward Salmon explained McQuaid Jesuit High School’s decision to approve same-gender dates by citing Pope Francis, and saying:
“[Gay people] as is true of every human being, need to be nourished at many different levels simultaneously. This includes friendship, [brotherhood] which is a way of loving and is essential to healthy human development. It is one of the richest possible human experiences. Friendship can and does thrive outside of sexual involvement.”
In Melbourne, Australia, Archbishop Denis Hart approved a similar policy, saying “These are quite often emotional situations and it’s very important that we always have respect for the dignity of the human being involved.”
I hope Sr. Mary McCarthy and Mercy High officials will listen to their students and will follow the advice of these two positive steps. The school should apologize for any mistakes made and open prom as a space where all students feel welcomed to celebrate.
A fired gay church worker’s lawsuit against the Catholic school where he once taught may proceed, per a judge’s ruling, but how successful it will be at trial is not clear.
Kenneth Bencomo, who taught at St. Lucy’s Priory High School, Glendora, California before being fired in 2013, won the ability to sue the school. The Glendora Patch reported:
“Superior Court Judge Monica Bachner rejected arguments by lawyers for St. Lucy’s Priory High School in Glendora that there were no triable issues in the case . . .Bencomo, now 49, sued St. Lucy’s in March 2014, alleging wrongful termination in violation of public policy, violation of the state Labor Code and breach of contract.”
That wrongful termination, after working there since 1998, resulted because he married his husband, Christopher Persky, in 2013, claimed Bencomo.
At issue now is whether Bencomo was legally terminated under the “ministerial exemption,” which provides religious institutions exemption from employment law when hiring or firing someone classified as a minister. Judge Bachner affirmed that, as a Catholic school, the “ministerial exception” is valid for St. Lucy’s; whether it applies to Bencomo is what will be decided in the upcoming trial. The Patch reported:
“Bencomo produced ‘substantial’ evidence through his course records that he did not teach any religious classes, but instead taught studio art, dance, English and yearbook and magazine courses.
“‘(St. Lucy’s) never required that faith or religion be used in the classes taught by (Bencomo) because he was not in the religious department,’ Bachner wrote. ‘Furthermore, (Bencomo) never personally led prayers. In his teachings, (he) never relied on or referenced Catholicism.'”
Bachner said the school’s claims are further undermined because Bencomo, who was raised Catholic, had previously introduced his husband to co-workers at St. Lucy’s. For now, though, her ruling only means that the fired teacher’s lawsuit will not be dismissed under the “ministerial exemption” law, and has enough grounds to go to trial.
The lawsuit’s record provided more details about what allegedly happened at St. Lucy’s, reported the Patch. Bencomo said the vice principal met with him about his marriage and, in the teacher’s words, “asked me if I knew what I was doing and if I knew that I was violating my contract.” Noting the couple’s posts on social media and newspaper, the vice principal allegedly asked him, “Why did it have to be so public?” Bencomo’s lawyers say he was then terminated after refusing two settlement amounts, $41,000 and $63,000, to keep the firing quiet.
Bencomo has since claimed he “had no idea” what the church’s teachings on homosexuality and abortion were, and only learned about these after being fired. He explained in a deposition:
“‘Because I grew up, you know — that the Catholic Church was a welcoming place and that God loves all his children. . .And I’m one of his children, and I don’t do anything wrong. I don’t break the law. He made me this way and why. . .would this be wrong?'”
The trial between Bencomo and St. Lucy’s is scheduled to begin June 27th.
Speaking yesterday at a Vatican event for International Women’s Day, Sr. Simone Campbell of NETWORK sharply criticized the Catholic hierarchy for being more concerned with retaining power than the realities of people’s lives.
Campbell addressed the Voices of Faith gathering, during which Catholic women from around the world share their stories under the banner of “All Voices Count.”
In her address, the sister behind “Nuns on the Bus” and who heads a national Catholic social justice lobbying group, referenced the resignation of clergy abuse survivor Marie Collins from Pope Francis’ commission addressing the church’s sexual abuse crisis. Campbell commented, according to Crux:
“‘The institution and the structure is frightened of change. . .These men worry more about the form and the institution than about real people. . . [Collins was blocked] by men. Isn’t this the real problem within the church?’
“‘The effort to keep the church from stopping this sort of thing is shocking. . .It is about male power and male image, not people’s stories. The real trouble is they have defined their power as spiritual leadership and they don’t have a clue about spiritual life.’
“‘Most of the guys who run this place haven’t dealt with an ordinary human being who’s been abused, an ordinary woman or a boy who has been abused. . .If you don’t deal with the people you don’t have your heart broken open. The bureaucracy is so afraid of having their heart broken that they hide.'”
Pointing out the absence of any senior Curial officials at the women’s gathering, Campbell said she was unsure “if it’s a slap in the face or evidence of how much power they think we have.” That Campbell was invited at all is noteworthy, given NETWORK, the lobbying and education organization she leads, was one of the identified factors in the Vatican’s 2012 doctrinal investigation of U.S. women religious.
Though not directed at LGBT equality, Campbell’s words are easily applicable to matters of gender identity and sexuality in the church. The lives and voices of LGBT people have also been discredited and silenced by the Magisterium, whose present articulation of the Tradition is deeply tainted by patriarchy and homophobia.
Campbell provided a strong explanation for the hierarchical disconnect: the failure and/or inability of many clergy to have healthy relationships with those who are not like themselves. In her words, they are “so afraid of having their heart broken that they hide.” Even in more forward-leaning gatherings formally sanctioned by the Vatican, like this Voices of Faith event yesterday or the Synod on the Family process, openly LGBT people have not been invited to share their stories.
But perhaps church leaders are right to be afraid of listening to the stories of people they marginalize, for these experiences possess a radical transformative power. The person who is “Other” makes a claim on the listener, compelling them to act for the good of that person to whom they have listened. Indeed, Maltese Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo has admitted it was meetings with the Catholic parents of LGBT children which helped shift his thinking on LGBT topics, and prompted him to make a speech at the Synod on the Family calling for greater LGBT inclusion.
Scripture’s most repeated exhortation to us is to “be not afraid!” I congratulate Sr. Simone for having the courage and wisdom to speak such prophetic truth within the Vatican itself. I pray her words will resound in church leaders’ minds and hearts, so they choose to listen and to be moved by people marginalized for their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.
Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS will lead a retreat preceding New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Other prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
Pope Francis has designated this March as a time to pray for persecuted Christiansaround the globe, that the entire church may offer them loving support as they face repression. In recent years, many U.S. Christians, including the Catholic bishops, have framed movement toward LGBT equality as matters which threaten religious liberty. For example, they claim that bakery store owners who oppose marriage equality on religious grounds would experience persecution if the law said they had to bake a wedding cake for a same-gender couple.
But when Pope Francis asks us to pray for persecuted Christians, saying they are “forced to abandon their homes, their places of worship, their lands, their loved ones!” and are “killed because they are Christians,” he is not referring to bakers and florists and Catholic healthcare systems. It’s past time for the U.S. bishops to be clear: LGBT rights do not threaten religious liberty, and Christians are not being persecuted because marriage equality is now legal.
Since the 2015 Supreme Court decision enacting marriage equality (and even before that), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been vigorously arguing that LGBT equality can cause harm to people of faith. Despite 49 people being massacred at an LGBT nightclub last June, the Conference proceeded days later with its annual Fortnight for Freedom against women’s and LGBT equality.
Elsewhere, right wing Catholic groups have sued former President Obama’s administration over healthcare regulations aimed at protecting LGBT patients. Legal efforts have been led by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is in part funded by the Knights of Columbus. And a few Catholic bishops signed a letter claiming religious liberty was undermined where sexual orientation and/or gender identity had been made protected classes.
Perhaps worst of all, the U.S. bishops were nearly silent about harmful remarks by then-candidate Donald Trump that targeted minorities and other vulnerable communities. Jamie Manson of the National Catholic Reportersaid Trump’s victory rewards the bishops who have been obsessed with abortion and sexuality politics, but with a high cost. Manson said that candidate Trump “inspired hate-speech, xenophobia, bias crimes, and violence toward women.” She continued:
“[T]he evidence suggests that the bishops’ conference threw under the bus the needs of these vulnerable peoples for the sake of advancing their anti-abortion, anti-LGBT, right-wing religious liberty agenda.
“And what will this crusade for religious liberty gain in the end? A woman’s painful choice to have an abortion will only become more agonized, difficult and unsafe. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people may be able to keep their marriages, but their rights to work, housing, benefits and services will no longer be guaranteed under the law.
“The bishops, of course, will continue to rest in absolute security, their rights protected, their privileges untouchable, their every need taken care of.”
Theologian Michael Peppard explored the bishops’ blind spot well in Commonweal, saying the bishops’ recent statement on religious liberty mentioned neither the plight of U.S. Muslims nor refugees fleeing violence. He commented:
“The most basic religious freedoms do not involve taxes or bureaucratic forms. Religious liberty—the kind that is ‘first, and most cherished’—means not to be harassed, surveilled, or killed for one’s religion. And to welcome those fleeing such conditions abroad, to the extent that we can, and prevent those conditions within our borders.”
Christians in the world are facing real persecution for professing a belief in Jesus Christ. Their situation is dire, with some Middle East churches collapsing altogether. Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and other religious minorities in the U.S. have faced intensifying discrimination and violence, encouraged by government actions like the second attempt to ban Muslim immigrants.
In their flawed approach to religious liberty, the bishops have contributed to this harm that has cut two ways: needless suffering has been inflicted uponagains LGBT people and their loved ones while the suffering of religious people facing genuine persecution has largely been ignored in the U.S. church.
So let this March, as we join our prayers for persecuted Christians with Pope Francis’, be a moment in which U.S. church leaders reset their troubled relationship with religious liberty. Let’s pray that the U.S. Catholic bishops stop using religious liberty to oppress LGBT people and their loved ones, and instead that they amplify their defense of any and all peoples who are genuinely persecuted for having faith.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 7, 2016
Religious liberty will be a plenary session topic at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader: Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
In the same week that the U.S. Catholic bishops praised President Trump for revoking guidelines to protect transgender students, across the border in Canada, a trans teen was honored for bringing equality to her Catholic school.
Tru Wilson, 13, a resident of the suburb of Ladner, was named a Sexual Health Champion by Options for Sexual Health, a nonprofit agency in Vancouver. The Georgia Straightreported:
“[Wilson’s] family filed a human-rights complaint when Ladner’s Sacred Heart [school] refused to allow her to attend as a girl. As a result, the Catholic Independent Schools Vancouver became one of the first Catholic school boards in North America to change their policy to support gender expression and identity.”
During an awards breakfast, the teen described what transitioning had been like, saying, “I just want acceptance. . .It’s so strange that it’s hard. Why does it have to be hard?” She discussed invasive questions she has been asked and, through tears, about losing a close friend whose family would not accept her.
Tru was honored, in part, for the positive change she and her family were able to effect in Vancouver’s Catholic schools. In 2014, when she began transitioning at age 10, Sacred Heart Elementary School barred Tru from dressing in the female uniform, using female restrooms, or being called by her preferred name. Doug Lousen, the Catholic schools superintendent at the time, said “you cannot just change your sex.”
But the Wilsons, having overcome their own struggles with Tru’s coming out, did not accept Sacred Heart’s discrimination. They filed a human rights complaint against the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese, settling for an undisclosed amount and the adoption of a new transgender education policy by the Archdiocese.
That policy, believed to be the first such policy for Catholic schools in North America, allows trans students to use their preferred pronouns, as well as wear the uniform and use the restroom associated with their gender identity. Transgender students are able to file for accommodations and work with a pastoral team of medical, spiritual, and educational experts to create individualized plans for each student.
But, there has been a downside. The Archdiocese claimed that church teaching stopped schools from supporting students who medically transition. And it has not quickly become the “template” the Wilson’s lawyer had hoped it would become in Catholic education. Disputes over LGBTQ student policies have been fierce in the neighboring province of Alberta. Lastly, Tru never returned to Catholic schools, and religion has become a mixed blessing for the Wilsons. Michelle explained during the breakfast:
“‘We thought that we could kind of ignore the aspects of the faith that we didn’t necessarily agree with and take advantage of all the really good things about it. . .For me, [this experience has] reinforced that there are some great things about faith and there are some really sad things that people use to pit people each other because of faith.”
Unfortunately, as in Tru Wilson’s case, LGBTQ youth too often experience these negative aspects of faith. A trans student at a Catholic school in England was shot with a BB gun after months of bullying. In the U.S., federal guidelines aimed at protecting trans students were repealed by the Trump administration last month.
But through the steady and courageous work of people like Tru Wilson and her parents, positive changes are happening. Catholic officials should do their part to expedite such changes by preemptively adopting supportive policies for trans students like Vancouver’s.