Holy Saturday: The Great Silence

“Christ in the Tomb” by Philip Agius

What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.

The Lord goes to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying:

‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.’

                                                                        –from an ancient homily on Holy Saturday

Archbishop: How Has the Church Been So Judgmental and Harsh to LGBT People?

In recent years, Ireland’s church has been shaken deeply by revelations of widespread abuse at church institutions. Crimes were perpetrated against women who became pregnant outside marriage and children forced to endure sexual violence, and these crimes were often aggressively covered up by church leaders.

Archbishop Martin, holding the right arm of the crucifix, and other participants in Dublin’s Way of the Cross on Good Friday

Leading Way of the Cross through Dublin on Good Friday, Ireland’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin spoke honestly about the ways the church has further “crucified” people who were already marginalized in society, reported the Irish Times.

Martin asked piercing questions, including about the church’s treatment of LGBT people:

“How is it that the church and its institutions could at various times in history, and not only in a distant past, have been so judgmental and treated broken people who were entrusted to its care with such harshness?

“How could we have tried to use the teaching and the merciful way of dealing with sinners to justify or accept harsh exclusion? Think of so many groupings who were misjudged: single mothers who wanted to keep a baby they loved, gay and lesbian people, orphans.”

+Martin Good FridayArchbishop Martin criticized Christians who can be “so judgmental and hurtful” to socially marginalized people, and provided a partial answer to his own question:

“Scandals within the church, bitterness and division, empty ritual, a false clerical culture of superiority, judgmentalism of people who Jesus would have welcomed, have all contributed to darkening the possibility of many to recognise the true Jesus.”

The archbishop has a record of LGBT-positive statements, particularly during Ireland’s debate over marriage equality before it was legalized via referendum in 2015. He repeatedly called for respectful engagement(here, here, here, and here), acknowledging the harsh style with which church leaders had approached LGBT rights to that point.

Martin even joined Armagh’s Archbishop Eamon Martin in the rare act of criticizing a fellow bishop who had made LGBT-negative comments. The Dublin archbishop also referred to an anti-LGBT group’s messaging as “obnoxious.” After Irish citizens voted to approve marriage equality, Martin said that moment should be a “reality check” for the church. The archbishop has also said previously:

“Anybody who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic if they do that – they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people.”

Ireland’s church is, in a sense, enduring its own Holy Saturday. The entire nation is reckoning with church-inflicted suffering which so many people were forced to endure for years, “crucifixions” in their own right. But if church leaders seek to heal with the penitent and honest style that Archbishop Martin exhibited yesterday, the Irish church could experience its own type of resurrection.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 15, 2017

Holy Thursday: Into the Very Midst of Life

“Last Supper lv” by Ivan Guaderrrama

Jesus is apt to come, into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable moments. Not in a blaze of unearthly light, not in the midst of a sermon, not in the throes of some kind of religious daydream, but…at supper time, or walking along a road…He never approached from on high, but always in the midst, in the midst of people, in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks.

                                                                                                         –Frederick Buechner

Openly Gay Prime Minister and His Husband Welcomed at Vatican

Luxembourg’s openly gay prime minister and his husband were welcomed at the Vatican recently, a potentially hopeful sign that church officials will increasingly respect people in same-gender civil marriages.

Prime Minister Bettel, center, with his husband, Destenay, and Archbishop Gänswein.

Archbishop Georg  Gänswein greeted Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and his husband, Gauthier Destenay, as they arrived to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the European Union. Pink News reported:

“The gay couple joined other heads of government from across Europe for the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome [which founded what would become the European Union]. . .Pope Francis then held a meeting with the leaders, including Prime Minister Bettel, in the Vatican, marking the anniversary.

“Despite the unusual circumstances – Mr. Bettel is the only openly gay leader in the world – Vatican bosses opted for the usual protocol around heads of government and their spouses.”

That it was Gänswein who welcomed them is also notable as he was given a Vatican position by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whom he still serves as the former pope’s personal secretary.

Luxembourg legalized marriage equality in 2014, a move Bettel oversaw in a country where 67% of the population remains Catholic.  In 2015, the couple married shortly after the new law went into effect. About their treatment at the Vatican, Prime Minister Bettel tweeted:

“It was a great pleasure and honour for me and Gauthier to be welcomed by the leader of the Catholic church. XB”

Welcoming an openly gay politician is another chapter in the confusing story of  whether and how the Vatican and other Catholic institutions will treat LGBT people, including those people in same-gender marriages.

NWM Rome 2015
Pilgrims in Rome shortly after the audience

In 2015, a pilgrimage of LGBT Catholics and their families led by New Ways Ministry was given VIP seating at an audience with Pope Francis. It was reported that Archbishop Gänswein had a role in securing the tickets, and pilgrims expressed their feelings that it was moment of welcome they would never forget.

But that same year, the Holy See rejected France’s ambassador, Laurent Stéfanini, who is openly gay and married. Few answers about the rejection were offered by either the French government or the Holy See. After six months of simply waiting, France withdrew Stéfanini’s application for diplomatic credentials without an official reason given by either party.

Elsewhere, since 2008, more than 60 church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT-related issues; for many, their firing was caused by a decision to marry their same-gender partner.

This institutional confusion is, in part, due to Pope Francis’ own mixed record on LGBT issues. The pope of “Who am I to judge?” is also the pope of “there is a world war to destroy marriage.” In just over two weeks, Catholics will gather in Chicago to discuss just what to make of LGBT issues in the age of Pope Francis during New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium. There is still time to register, which you can do by clicking here.

While magisterial teaching prohibits same-gender sacramental marriage, civil law is not synonymous with church teaching. One thing Pope Francis is clear about through his many acts is that church leaders should be prioritizing radical hospitality over exclusion. Welcoming Bettel and Destenay is a good step, but to really make such inclusion palpable, it must be modeled at churches worldwide.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 11, 2017


On Gilbert Baker’s Passing, Why Rainbow Flags Are Needed in Catholic Spaces

Gilbert Baker, the person who designed the rainbow flag used as a symbol of LGBT identity, passed away last week. Despite his flag first appearing in 1978, controversy about its presence continues, including a recent spate at a Catholic university in Australia. As we remember Baker’s contribution, this additional unfortunate incident is a reminder of why pride flags are so essential for Catholic spaces.

The flag sticker in dispute

Rainbow flag stickers have twice been posted, and twice torn down, at the University of Notre Dame Australia’s campus in Fremantle. The stickers were posted by the Student Association on their office windows as an expression of welcome, given the general absence of LGBTQ supports on campus. Buzzfeed reported:

“’We took it upon ourselves to do stuff for our LGBTIQ students, because there was nothing,’ student association president Dylan Gojak told BuzzFeed News. ‘One of the first steps was putting up these ally stickers.’ . . .But the vandalism has placed the stickers in the spotlight – and prompted complaints to university management arguing the ‘divisive’ rainbow flag has no place on campus.”

Gojak said for LGBTQ students like himself “there’s nothing, there’s no public statement, there’s no sign that you’re welcome here.” No action thus far has been taken on recommendations made by the Sexuality and Pastoral Care Working Party. The repeated vandalism against the flag stickers has only intensified awareness that such supports are absent.

Administrators initially asked the Student Association to remove the flag stickers, though a compromise was reached which allowed them to remain. After the stickers were vandalized a second time, Vice Chancellor Celia Hammond sent an email, saying:

“‘While I believe the symbol is divisive, and the University does not support all that has come to be associated with the Rainbow flag, the University does not condone the sticker being deliberately taken down in the way that it was. . .This only aggravates the situation and has the potential to cause additional distress.’ . . .

“‘To that end, while the University does not endorse the Rainbow flag, and does not approve it being displayed on any other parts of the University campus, the University is not seeking for it to be removed from the two windows of the Student Association Office at this time.'”

According to Hammond, “the display of the politically charged stickers” could imply the University is not in full compliance with Catholic teaching. She acknowledged there may be people on campus with homophobic views that are “inconsistent with our Catholic teachings,” but that there were others with “legitimate concerns” about the flag stickers.

Gilbert Baker

Over time, the rainbow flag has come to signify inclusion, acceptance, and pride in embracing the sexual and/or gender identity.  These are all Catholic values and can lead a person on the path to holiness.

Baker’s flag, created at the request of martyred gay icon Harvey Milk, was to be more celebratory than the pink triangle symbol then in use, which has ties to Nazi Germany. And, according to Gay Star NewsBaker imbued the flag with even more meaning:

“Each stripe on the original eight-color flag had a meaning starting with hot pink which represented sexuality. Red represented life, orange was healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic and art, blue for serenity and harmony and violet for spirit.”

These facts make it hard to understand what “legitimate concerns” could be lodged against the posting of rainbow flag stickers. Rather, it is very disturbing that the University of Notre Dame Australia offers no formal support to LGBTQ students, and, in this recent situation, administrators could not express unqualified solidarity with such students.

As the world remembers Gilbert Baker, church officials should remember that church teaching backs the value of each stripe on the rainbow flag, as well as the flag’s symbol of welcome and acceptance. Given how important LGBTQ visibility can be for youth and young adults, every Catholic institution should fly the rainbow flag with pride this spring.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 10, 2017


Calling All LGBTQ Educators in Catholic Schools!

If you’ve been a regular reader of Bondings 2.0, you will be aware of the terrible trend in recent years where LGBT and ally church workers are being dismissed from Catholic institutions.  If this information is news to you, please check out this blog’s resource page which archives all the news related to this terrible injustice.

Catholic schools have been a main target for these firings–both high schools and elementary schools.  While we’ve reported on the firings, the reactions, the protests, one thing that has been missing is the personal stories of the teachers affected.  Furthermore, another untold story is the fear and anxiety that these firings have had on those currently employed in Catholic institutions.

Two researchers from academic institutions have contacted New Ways Ministry to let us know about a study they are doing where they will survey LGBTQ educators currently working in Catholic schools.  This category includes teachers, counselors, administrators, coaches, support staff, and others working in Catholic schools.  Respondents do not have to be Catholic themselves. The goal of the survey is to generate a sense of the experience these people face as employees in Catholic schools. The survey would take 15-25 minutes to complete and is completely anonymous. The identity of the participant, along with any potential identifying factor, will be kept strictly confidential.   Educators do not have to be “out” as LGBTQ to participate.

This research will be a boon to our church, providing first-hand testimony and data from those who are most affected by this misguided policy of firing.

The researchers have asked New Ways Ministry for help in identifying LGBTQ educators in Catholic schools.  So, we turn to you, our faithful blog readers, to spread the word about this research project.  If you are an LGBTQ teacher in a Catholic school or you know someone who is one, please be in touch with New Ways Ministry: office@NewWaysMinistry.org or phone (301) 277-5674 between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Eastern U.S. Time.

All information will be held in strictest confidence by New Ways Ministry and by the researchers.   The study is being conducted in April and May, so quick responses would be the most helpful.

This research work will provide solid, scientific information and personal experience that can help our church better understand LGBTQ people, particularly those employed in church institutions.  If you have any possibility of asking someone to participate, please do so. Please feel free to share this information with others.

This upcoming Sunday is Palm Sunday, and Bondings 2.0 will continue our Lenten reflection series with an essay penned by a Catholic high school teacher who identifies as gay and queer.  If you are interested in getting the personal dimension to this issue, be sure to check back here on Sunday, April 9, 2017, to read this moving account.

If you would like to learn more about the issue of LGBT church workers in Catholic institutions, consider attending 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.  Leslie Griffin, a professor of law, will give a plenary session talk on “Religious Liberty, Employment, & LGBT Issues.”  During one of the focus sessions, three people affected by the firings, Colleen Simon, Margie Winters, and Andrea Vettori will give personal testimony about “The Challenges of LGBT Church Workers.” For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 7, 2017

President Duterte and the Bishops: Where Do They Stand?

Vacating a campaign promise, the Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte has said he opposes legalizing marriage equality in the heavily Catholic nation. But given the president’s controversial record, how will the bishops engage his latest shift on LGBT rights?

President Rodrigo Duterte

The New York Times reported that Duterte, while speaking to Filipino expats in the Asian nation of Myanmar, “did not take issue with anyone’s sexuality [as] two of his brothers-in-law, and some of his cousins, are gay.” However, the president said no one could “erase the great divide between a woman and a man.” Further, referencing a Time magazine cover on gender identity, he said:

“‘That is their culture [the United States]. That’s for them. That can’t apply to us, because we are Catholics. . . And there is the civil code, which states you can only marry a woman for me, and for a woman to marry a man. That’s the law in the Philippines.'”

But marriage equality is a legal right Duterte once affirmed. Campaigning in January 2016, he said there was an “error in the Bible” as it should have said marriage was for “Adam, Eve, and the gays.”

This mixed messaging was repeated after he arrived home from the Myanmar trip, reported Asian Journal. Duterte told journalists that his nation’s laws, which ban same-gender marriage, must be upheld, and yet:

“I am centered on the human being. . .[W]hatever makes you happy, you go out of this universe happy and fulfilled. If it makes the gays happy, let them be. I do not condemn anybody there. What makes you happy, good. Just don’t violate the law.”

A final complication is that Duterte’s Myanmar speech, in which he criticized marriage equality, “stressed that the [Philippines] was Asia’s bastion of Roman Catholicism,” according to The New York Times. He rooted his opposition to marriage equality in the Catholic faith. Yet, this is a president who allegedly called Pope Francis the “son of a whore.” His newfound fidelity to Roman Catholicism contradicts much of his record.  The Times reported:

“Mr. Duterte has had a complicated relationship with the Catholic Church, which he has assailed in vulgar terms as a ‘hypocritical institution.’ He has openly accused its leaders of corruption and sexual exploitation.

“The usually outspoken church has largely kept silent in the face of such attacks, but it has lately been forced to criticize the government amid mounting pressure to say something about Mr. Duterte’s bloody crackdown on drugs.”

Duterte’s administration is deeply controversial. He is tied to many alleged human rights abuses via his now-suspended war on drugs–abuses which may have included extrajudicial killings. Manila’s Archbishop Louis Antonio Tagle has expressed concerns publicly about the president’s leadership. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said in a pastoral letter that Duterte was “morally reprehensible” and had little concern for church teaching.

The Filipino bishops remain a powerful force in their nation: divorce remains outlawed and contraceptive access is restricted despite a major reproductive health push in 2012. And the church has successfully led movements which removed two dictators in the last twenty-five years.

Given Duterte’s troubled relationship with the church and the immense power that the bishops wield, could the Filipino president be using a tougher opposition to LGBT rights to deflect the bishops’ attention away from his alleged corruption and human rights violations? If so, perhaps the more important question is whether bishops in the Philippines will take Duterte’s bait? Or will they follow Pope Francis’ advice to stop obsessing over sexual issues, and focus instead on helping the human rights of all people flourish?

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section below.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 3, 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, visit www.Symposium2017.org.