Malta’s Rapid Shift on LGBT Rights Is Case Study for Other Catholic Nations

Malta has elected the nation’s first transgender politician, a sign of just how far on LGBT rights a country where Roman Catholicism remains the state religion has come. A closer analysis of this shift could help Catholics in other regions in their own journeys towards equality.

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Crowds in Malta celebrating Pride Week

Alex Mangion became Malta’s first transgender politician when he won a local election as the Partit Nazzjonalista (Nationalist Party) candidate, reported The Independent. But support for LGBT rights in the conservative party that had controlled Malta’s government since the late 1990s is a recent development, and came only after its 2013 defeat to the Partit Laburista (Labor Party) who had made LGBT rights a major platform item.

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Alex Mangion

Though the Nationalist Party had abstained from a successful vote on civil unions in 2014, Mangion said that presently “having a transgender person in the party made people realize it’s not conservative.” And by 2015, the Nationalist Party had joined the Labor Party in passing a groundbreaking transgender rights law. (It is worth noting that, under that very law, Mangion became “the first person in this tiny nation to be able to update the gender on his official documents without undergoing surgery or hormone treatment.”)

The Independent noted that this shift in a political party is “a microcosm of the evolution underway in Malta,” a traditional Catholic country which outlawed divorce as late as 2011. But where LGBT people once hid, rejected by church leaders and stigmatizing social norms, a married same-gender couple, Steve and Manuel Aquilina, now hosts and produces a leading cooking show. A colleague of theirs, Victor Anastasi, said:

“‘They’re accepted like everyone else. . .We’re a Catholic country. But eventually the church has to come to terms [with society changing].”

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Joseanne Peregin

Joseanne Peregin, the Catholic mother of a gay son, recalled a bishop once saying, “If you’re gay, excommunicate yourself. Go, there is no place for you in the church.” But then in 2011, she said, the Catholic Church’s control over Maltese politics was undercut sharply when divorce was legalized through a popular referendum.

Now it must be acknowledged,, said Fr. Rene Camilleri, that Catholics in Malta “are not taking a package deal.” Camilleri, who is Episcopal Vicar for Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Malta and a lecturer at the University of Malta, has previously described church teaching on homosexuality as “nonsensical.” He also said Catholic ministers “cannot deprive [same-gender couples] of the blessing for which they ask.”

Today, other nations seek to learn from and even copy Malta’s LGBT laws. Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs, and Civil Liberties Helena Dalli said that “what we have done here is serving as a model to other countries, and, in a good way, because more people are leading better lives.” And The Independent continued:

“Kyle Knight, a New York-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that what’s particularly admirable about Malta’s LGBT rights laws is ‘not just the result as much as the process’ that led to their creation.

“Members of the LGBT community, other advocates and a local human rights group served on a council set up in 2013 to advise the government. Legislation was accompanied by directives that covered how LGBT people in prison should be treated and how schools should deal with bullying of transgender or gay students.

“When Knight was recently asked in Japan how schools should handle anti-LGBT bullying, ‘We copied and pasted these (Maltese) guidance documents and we said, “Look, this is how you do it,”‘ he recalled.”

While marriage equality is not legal yet in Malta, same-gender couples are recognized through civil unions, there are extensive non-discrimination protections, so-called “conversion therapy” is banned with harsh penalties in place, and a 2015 law on transgender and intersex persons is considered the gold standard in Europe.

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The island nation of Malta

How does a country where Roman Catholicism is named in the constitution as the state’s religion and where 95% of its citizens identify as Catholic become so progressive in a short time? Some observers might consider Malta a paradox, understanding LGBT equality and the Catholic Church to be opposites. Yet, there is a very plausible explanation for what has happened.

First, it is an oft-repeated but worth reiterating truism: Catholics support LGBT equality because of, not in spite of their faith. Key tenets like social justice, human dignity, and non-discrimination have informed the faithful’s engagement in civic matters, and this includes working for the rights of sexual and gender minorities. It makes sense the citizens of Malta who practice, or even are simply informed by, Catholic faith would vote for equality.

Second, it has to be admitted that there are non-ecclesial matters influencing this shift. In Western contexts, homosexuality has been largely de-stigmatized and neighboring countries in Europe have been moving forward on LGBT rights. Some have credited Malta joining the European Union as an impetus for catching up to their neighbors, and now taking the lead. As in other Western contexts, Mass attendance and the moral authority of bishops have declined in recent years. Some people leave, or are pushed out of, the church, and there is a certain amount of secularizing that happens. These factors and more, as in other regions, contribute to the rapid pace of the shift.

2b5de-drachmabloglogoBut third, many Maltese remain practicing Catholics and this has made the biggest difference. A few weeks ago, I highlighted the positive outreach of the country’s bishops to LGBT communities . In fact, Malta’s leading gay rights group gave the bishops an award in 2014. Here are other important examples of positive Catholic moments on LGBT issues:

  • Drachma and Drachma Parents are both Catholic organizations engaging LGBT issues in the church, and they have made an impact. They helped consult on the civil unions law, pushing back against a bishop’s criticism, They hosted Sr. Jeannine Gramick in 2011 to educate about LGBT equality in the church. They also hosted theologians Sr. Margaret Farley, RSM, and James Alison.) They were credited by Bishop Mario Grech as helping him to understand the need and urgency for new pastoral care of LGBT people;
  • A priest who blessed a same-gender couple’s rings was not punished by the bishop; indeed, Archbishop Charles Scicluna affirmed the priest’s outreach efforts to LGBT people;
  • After releasing a harsh position paper opposing the government’s efforts to ban “conversion therapy,” a paper in which homosexuality was compared to pedophilia, Archbishop Charles Scicluna listened to Catholics’ criticism and then apologizedsaying the church was “dead set” against such programs.

Though I have never experienced the Church of Malta firsthand, I sense a serious Christian community of mature and critically engaged Catholics. Lay Catholics, and clergy like Fr. Camilleri, have grappled with not only church teaching, but the realities of their context.And, quite notably, the country’s bishops have been willing to affirm LGBT people as beloved by God and to listen to their people. They have even been willing to acknowledge where the hierarchy had it wrong, and to apologize to those whom they have harmed.

In under a decade, Malta went from being socially conservative to a world leader on LGBT rights. Maltese Catholics are a shining example of what can happen when the faithful really listen to the Gospel and live their faith in public life. Let us hope more and more historically-Catholic regions follow this path, especially in areas like Latin America and Africa where the church is rapidly growing and yet LGBT rights remain limited.

If you would like to read reflections from members of Drachma Parents, you can find Louise Laferia’s reflection on the call of being a parent to an LGBT person here and Joseanne and Joseph Peregin’s reflection on what makes a family holy here. For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of LGBT Catholic issues in Malta, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 13, 2017

 

Former Miss Universe Reconciles Catholic Faith with LGBT Equality

Pia Wurtzbach relinquished her crown as Miss Universe on January 29, 2017, but right before doing so, the model/actress posted a message on a Time magazine website in which she explained that her support for LGBT equality was not in conflict with her Catholic faith.

Wurtzbach, a citizen of the Philippines, who became Miss Universe in 2015, wrote a post for Motto.Time.coma website owned by Time which allows celebrities to state their opinions on whatever subjects they choose.  Wurtzbach began by describing the culture in which she was raised:

“I am Filipino, and like the vast majority of people in my country, I am a proud Catholic. I have a steadfast faith, and my religion is an essential element of who I am. Growing up, my family regularly attended mass, and I studied at a school that taught Christian fundamentals.”

It was exactly those “Christian fundamentals” which shaped Wurtzbach’s inclusive attitude:

“Religious establishments including the Catholic church teach that they are the one true faith, but the values instilled in me as a Christian have encouraged me to respect all beliefs and opinions. Growing up, my family taught me that to receive respect, you must first offer it.”

Wurtzbach is proud that “the Philippines is every day becoming a more tolerant community,” but she also notes that “my liberal opinions on many social issues sometimes conflict with Christianity’s teachings.”  Still, she holds firm to her opinions because they are rooted in her experience and her faith.   Having been raised by a single mother, her childhood was one of struggle. Wurtzbach notes how her experiences shaped her attitudes:

“Perhaps my nontraditional family unit allowed me to accept others’ differences without judgement and has made me proud to advocate for LGBTQ rights as a Christian. In fact, I find the strength to do just that through my faith. Undoubtedly, there will continue to be times when my faith and secular opinions clash, but in those moments, I find comfort in an old saying: ‘Live and let live.’ “

But her views were also shaped by her experience of LGBTQ people:

“I myself owe a lot to the LGBTQ community, many of whom are my closest friends. Without their accepting attitudes toward my own flaws and struggles, I would not be where I am today.”

Wurtzbach has used her celebrity to help those less fortunate.  In December 2016, she met with Manila’s Archbishop Luis Tagle to present the proceeds from a fundraising event she sponsored to be used for Caritas Manila.  Tagle gave her a rosary blessed by Pope Francis.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 12, 2017

 

 

 

 

Catholic College Football Player Finds Strong Support As He Comes Out

In a society which is becoming increasingly accepting of LGBT people, the two arenas where coming out as gay is still a major hurdle are sports and religion. For gay male athletes, the more macho the sport, the more difficult the coming out can be. And for those who are people of faith, the more doctrinaire a religion is, the challenge to be out also gets increasingly harder.

So, when an athlete comes out, especially one who is Catholic and attends a Catholic college, there’s hope that even these two last arenas where the closet is strong may finally be liberated.

Kyle Kurdziolek

Kyle Kurdziolek, a sophomore at St. Francis University, Joliet, Illinois, and a linebacker on the school’s football team,  recently told his personal story to Outsports.com,  a website where other Catholic college athletes have shared their coming out experiences.   He is the first scholarship athlete to come out.

Kurdziolek grew up in rural Illinois, and noted that “It wasn’t very accepting in my area.”  He said that he often heard other parents at football events say that if their son was gay, they’d force him to be straight.  Still, his own Catholic family was headed by parents who taught him to be respectful of a gay neighbor who lived nearby.

One remarkable detail of his story is that Kurdziolek acknowledges that while he was extremely worried about revealing his orientation in high school, he found the Catholic college campus to be a welcoming place to LGBT students. (The school is on New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBT-friendly Catholic colleges and universities.)  Although he enrolled in 2014, he waited until 2016 to reveal his orientation to teammates, friends, and coaches, wanting to prove himself as a football player first.  In his first season of play, he achieved 33 tackles.

Once he felt accepted as a student and an athlete, Kurdziolek felt he could be totally honest, saying:

“Everything in life was going good. It felt like there was one piece missing, and that one piece, personally for me, it was me coming out.”

He received support from family, friends, and teammates.  Perhaps most interesting is that a fellow Catholic teammate who was not accepting of gay issues still accepted Kurdziolek.  The Outsports article states:

“St. Francis running back Jordon Smith considers Kurdziolek a close friend, but he grew up Catholic and believes those philosophies. ‘I’m going to support my friend no matter what,’ Smith said. ‘I’m not really for the whole gay rights thing, but I’m working on evolving. I’m trying to accept it more.’

Smith’s response proves what many in the Catholic LGBT movement have witnessed for decades: the power of personal relationship in overcoming strongly held negative ideas about LGBT topics.

Kurdziolek rests during a game.

Kurdziolek’s coaches were also strongly supportive, responding in ways that show the best of Catholic educational philosophy. Josh Mander, assistant coach, told Outsports:

” I told him, ‘I love you no matter what. It doesn’t matter. I tried to just be comforting and let him know that he had my support.”

Head coach Joe Curry was similarly strong in support:

“I was happy that he told me. I always tell the guys, ‘We want to build a relationship with you and not just be a coach.’ … I don’t treat Kyle any different. He is part of the program … and I’m extremely happy for him.”

One teammate’s sign of support was particularly important to Kurdziolek:

“Kurdziolek turned 21 on Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving, and to celebrate the milestone, he planned a trip to Chicago’s gay neighborhood, Boystown. Kurdziolek made the trip with a few non-football friends and offensive lineman Tyler James.

” ‘I had a blast,’ said James, who had never been to a gay bar before Kurdziolek’s birthday. ‘I did something that I wouldn’t have done normally because of my friend Kyle, and I got to experience this whole new, cool atmosphere.’

“Because of Thanksgiving, many of Kurdziolek’s teammates were with their families and unable to attend, making James’ attendance meaningful.

” ‘Having him come along, it just made me feel confident about myself and the people I have around me that love me for me,’ Kurdziolek said.”

Coming out stories are wonderful tales of liberation, but, equally important, they serve as guides to others who are struggling with revealing who they are. Kurdziolek noted that the example of Michael Sam, a college athlete who went on to the National Football League, and who came out before he was drafted by a team, was a major exemplar for him.   St. Francis assistant coach Mander also remarked on the power of role-models:

“A gay man playing college football, something that you don’t hear or see ever, it’s one of those taboo things within the football world. You wouldn’t expect a gay player to be here, but … maybe we start something that shows kids that it’s fine. You’re OK to be out and be a member of a football team.”

Kyle Kurdziolek is now certainly one of those role models for young football players and Catholics.  And St. Francis University is a role model for Catholic colleges who are looking for ways to support LGBT students.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 11, 2017

 

After Trans Student Shot, Catholic School Shifts Course

A British Catholic school is attempting to make itself a safer space after a transgender girl student was shot with a BB gun by another student. Though the school has responded with some positive steps, this horrifying incident is a reminder of the urgency with which Catholic education needs to become safer for LGBT students.

safe-schools_0A transgender girl in Manchester, England, was shot by a classmate after months of severe bullying, and just two days after the girl’s mother met with school officials about a previous bullying incident.

G, a pseudonym for the 11-year-old girl, had endured five months of harrassment and threats, according to her mother, identified as A. Gay Star News reported:

“Last Monday, G’s mother A was called into school following a ‘distressing’ incident [wherein students had written a series of anti-transgender slurs on her notebook, which we have chosen to omit here]. . .

“The previous day, A said she had sent an email to staff about the escalating bullying. While she was bullied a little at primary, it got a lot worse when she joined secondary school. And she believes that email was ignored.

“‘Pupils have thrown water over her, spat at her, and kicked her to the ground. Not a day goes by without her being attacked, insulted or threatened with violence,’ her mother said.”

A said she told school officials that “something bad was going to happen,” and she faulted them for doing little to intervene against the bullying. When G was shot, her mother said the school did not notify A for over an hour. When she arrived at school, A found her daughter “extremely quiet, just shaking and not speaking.”

Though the physical harm was minimal, the emotional wounds of these incidents have left G in pain. She is unable to sleep because of nightmares, and she has vocalized thoughts about suicide. The family is seeking supports for her. A explained that it has been very clear since her daughter’s coming out that they would need to work hard to ensure G does not become one of the many transgender youth who die prematurely from violence or by suicide.

The Catholic school, which has gone unnamed in news reports, is now taking steps to educate students and staff towards creating a safer environment, reported the Manchester Evening News. The headteacher said the student who fired the BB gun has been expelled. In a statement, the headteacher said:

“The victim is a transgender pupil and sadly there have been incidents of bullying before this latest incident. We have worked with our pupils to respect and accept people of different sexual orientation and identities and will continue to do this. We have enlisted the support of a national organisation to help us further with our training of staff and pupils and support for our transgender pupils. We have met with the parents of the pupil to apologise and to see what we can do further as a school.”

These efforts have included inviting Stonewall, an LGBT organization in England, to do trainings for members of the school community. But school officials should not stop there or lessen their commitment to LGBT students. The mother was clear that the intense bullying G experienced is because of her gender, saying, “It is a hate of who she is and it is awful.”

At least one other British Catholic school has worked with Stonewall, the United Kingdom’s leading LGBT equality group, to make schools safer.  As Bondings 2.0 noted when we reported this news in 2013, such a relationship between a religious group and a secular group is a model for how the Church and the LGBT community could work together.

On a related note, a transgender student Mason Catrambone, who was rejected by a Catholic high school in New Jersey last year, recently began classes at a public school that welcomes him.

During National Catholic Schools Week in January, we featured an Australian gay man who thanked his Catholic school for helping him come out and feel affirmed. While this is not the experience of many LGBT Students, and certainly G has suffered greatly at a Catholic school, it is helpful to remember that the church’s education programs can be a source of tremendous good if done in welcoming and affirming ways.

For now, let us pray that G finds healing and can return, as she hopes to do, to her Catholic school — a place where, increasingly, every student is safe, welcomed, and affirmed.

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” will include a focus session on, “Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions,” led by campus minister and researcher Michael Maher.  We will also host a focus session on “Transgender and Intersex Identities and the Family,” featuring Deacon Ray Dever, Lexi Dever, and Nicole Santamaria. The symposium is scheduled for April 28–30, 2017, in Chicago.  For more information, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 9, 2017

Will Catholic Boy Scouts Ban Trans Youth? Maybe. Maybe Not.

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) has reacted to the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) policy change to allow transgender boys to participate in local troops.  The NCCS statement, vaguely worded, does not explicitly say they will not honor the new policy, but the import of the message is that they will not.  How local parish troops will respond, however, remains to be seen.

According to a Catholic News Service story posted on The National Catholic Reporter website:

“The [BSA’s] change in policy ‘has no impact on the operation and program delivery of Scouting program(s) in Catholic-chartered units,’ said a Feb. 4 statement issued by the Catholic Scouting committee.

” ‘Scouting serves the Catholic Church through the charter concept, which is similar to a franchise,’ it said. ‘The units chartered to a Catholic institution are owned by that organization. The BSA has stipulated that religious partners will continue to have the right to make decisions for their units based on their religious beliefs.’

“The statement was signed by George S. Sparks, national chairman of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, and Father Kevin M. Smith, a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, who is national chaplain of Catholic Scouting. The statement was approved by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston, South Carolina, who is the episcopal liaison between Catholic Scouting and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

The new BSA policy said that the organization would honor the gender listed on a youth’s application, not the gender listed on a birth certificate.  Since the NCCS statement said the policy change would have no effect on Catholic-chartered Scouting units, it can be presumed that these units will still use birth certificates as evidence of gender.

Just before the new Scouting policy was announced, a New Jersey regional council of the BSA expelled a transgender boy from a local cub scout troop.  The troop was chartered by a local Catholic parish, indicating that the local community saw no problem with accepting a transgender boy.

So, we have an interesting situation here.  The BSA has enacted a new policy.  The NCCS says that its organization does not have to change its policy because the BSA allows local control for religiously-based troops.  Yet, in at least the New Jersey example, a local community’s actions were more in line with the BSA’s new policy.

So, will the NCCS policy ban transgender youth from Catholic sponsored troops?  Perhaps not. It seems likely that according to the NCCS’ own reasoning, local authority, if it is inclusive and welcoming like the NJ parish was, might make their own decisions about what evidence of gender they will use to determine admission.   Outside the U.S., we recently witnessed Ireland’s Catholic Girl Guides, a scouting organization, announce that they are developing a policy and practices to welcome transgender girls.

Make no mistake, though:  it would have been much better if the NCCS statement had simply welcomed the BSA policy change.  Once again, we have an example of a secular group being more welcoming than a religious one, which is a truly sad and shameful situation.  Moreover, we will still have to worry about how the NCCS will respond to Catholic scouting troops which do welcome transgender youth.  Will the NCCS disassociate from these groups?

The NCCS’ vaguely worded statement shows that they are not engaging the transgender issue directly.  Their reticence is not helpful because it does not reveal their full perspective on the matter.  Instead of addressing the substance of the issue–gender identity–they rely on a procedural topic–local control of policies.  Is it possible that they did this to allow the possibility of local Catholic troops to accept transgender youth?  Or are they simply reluctant to express an anti-transgender sentiment explicitly?  Their future actions will reveal their intent.  For now, we hope that the defense of local control will allow many Catholic parishes to show their support of transgender scouts.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 9, 2017

 

 

Catholics Do NOT Support Religious Refusals to Gays and Lesbians

A new survey reveals that a majority of Catholics oppose allowing small businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian people because of a religiously held belief.

The data from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows that 63% of Hispanic Catholics and 61% of White Catholics object to these religiously based refusals.  When compared to the general American population, of which 61% oppose these refusals, the data shows what many pollsters have long observed:  U.S. Catholics poll equivalently with the general population.

The survey examined the opinions of a wide range of religious traditions and found that a majority of almost all traditions opposed religious refusals.  Unitarian/Universalists showed the greatest opposition, with 87% responding negatively to the idea.  Mormons and Hispanic Protestants showed the smallest amount of opposition, with 52% of each responding negatively. The only group not showing a majority of opposition was White Evangelicals, with 42% responding negatively, 50% supporting religious refusals, and 8% undecided.

The same report also showed that a majority of religious Americans support marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.   Catholics showed greater support for marriage equality than the general U.S. population.  While 58% of all Americans support marriage equality, 63% of White Catholics and 62% of Hispanic Catholics do so.

The PRRI report pointed out an interesting political phenomenon when it compared opposition to marriage equality with opposition to religious refusals.  In five traditions surveyed which showed opposition to marriage equality–Black Protestants, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hispanic Protestants,  and Mormons–a majority of each of these groups still opposed allowing religious refusals.  The data suggests that religious people who do not support marriage equality still believe that gay and lesbian people should not face discrimination because of someone’s religious belief.

You can look at all the data by clicking here.

U.S. Catholic bishops have supported a broad campaign for a definition of religious liberty which allows for discrimination against LGBT people.  Perhaps the bishops should pause from this campaign for a while and listen to the voices of the people in the pews on this issue.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 8, 2017

 

Bishop Robert Barron Criticizes “Preoccupation with Pelvic Issues”

Bishop Robert Barron has said he does not believe the church should seek to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision that legalized marriage equality in the United States. Barron, an Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, also criticized an obsessive focus on “pelvic issues” because it diminishes Christianity and undermines evangelization.

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Bishop Robert Barron, right, with Dave Rubin

Interviewed by Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report, Barron answered questions about many topics. including homosexuality and marriage equality. Barron began his response to a question on these topics with the following:

“I said this one time, I was in New York with Cardinal Dolan actually, and we were talking to reporters. And I said, if the only thing a gay person hears from the Catholic Church is, ‘you’re intrinsically disordered,’ we’ve got a very serious problem on our hands, if that’s what the message has become. . . If that’s is the way our message is coming out, we [the church] are disordered. We had a problem in the way this message was being conveyed.”

Instead, the bishop said “message one” to gay people from the church should be:

“You are a beloved child of God, who has been embraced by the mercy of Jesus Christ and invited to a full share of the divine life. You’re a son of God, called to eternal life.”

Barron continued to say that, like everyone, the moral lives of gay people are complex, but reiterated that the starting point for the church’s engagement with gay people should be inclusion. This approach, he said, is the approach being modeled by Pope Francis.

Rubin, a married gay man, then asked Barron about marriage equality and the bishop’s “personal feelings” about the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision. Rubin inquired, “I assume you felt it was a wrong decision by the court?” Barron responded:

“I do. But I don’t think I want to press it further. I think where we are right now in the States, I’ll apply the Aquinas principle. I think it would probably cause much more problem and dissension and difficulty if we keep pressing it. . .

“I wouldn’t want to fully just say, that’s great, off you go. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to get on a Crusader’s tank and try to reverse that [decision].”

Barron clarified that he believes marriage equality does have “a negative impact on the wider society” and compromises marriage. Rubin asked him if, on marriage equality, his “heart and spiritual self aren’t quite matched up” because while the bishop wasn’t expressing judgment, he clearly did not approve of a same-gender marriage. The bishop described this characterization as “probably right.”

[NOTE:  You can view the relevant parts of the interview by clicking here.]

The interview comments are noteworthy, but more so because of later comments Barron made in a blog post published after the interview. There, he expressed gratitude for the friendly interview with Rubin, adding that he hoped viewers will understand “there is a lot more to Christianity than the ‘pelvic issues'” and that “this preoccupation with ‘the pelvic issues’ has served to undermine the work of evangelization.” Barron continued:

“When you read the great evangelizing texts of the New Testament—the Gospels, the Epistles of Paul, the book of Revelation, etc.—you don’t get the impression that what their authors wanted you primarily to understand is sexual morality. Rather, they wanted you to know that the great story of Israel had come to its highpoint and that God, in the person of the crucified and risen Messiah, had come to reign as king of the world. God, redemption, the cross, the resurrection, Jesus the Lord, telling the Good News—these are the master themes of the New Testament. Again, please don’t misunderstand me: God impinges upon all aspects of life and therefore placing our sex lives under the Lordship of Jesus matters. But I fear that for so many people in the secular world today, religion is reduced to the policing of sexual behavior, and this is massively unfortunate.”

All of these remarks have a different tone than other LGBT-related statements Barron has made, including through his role as founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. For instance, in 2015, responding to the coming out of transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, Barron posted on Facebook that transgender identities were a modern form of Gnosticism, an ancient Christian heresy, and analogized transgender people to pedophiles.

At this point, and especially when so many vulnerable populations are threatened by the Trump administration, the bishop’s resistance to use church resources in a futile fight against marriage equality is common sense. More bishops should make similar public statements. I hope Barron’s prominence, and his membership in the growing number of ‘Francis Bishops,’ will cause his resistance to become commonplace.

To Barron’s references about “pelvic issues” reducing the Christian message and undermining evangelization, I suggest a mirror. Barron framed this discussion as a general societal obsession with sexuality, perhaps implying that, as other bishops have said, it is the media or society which obsessed with such matters, not the church. But Barron needs to be more specific for his words to really have weight; he should admit that church leaders, too, often obsess about sexuality.

Similarly, while Barron suggested that the church’s teaching on homosexuality has been mistakenly conveyed as condemnation, I think he is mistaken that there’s been a mistake in communication.  Actually, the language of teaching is very harsh and has regularly been used to condemn.  Barron and other church leaders need to admit this reality.

Many other Catholics have found integrated ways to engage sexuality. For instance, Catholic families have often responded to a member’s coming out with the ability to both acknowledge and affirm that member’s sexual orientation, and to understand them as a whole person for whom sexual identity is but one essential part. These families began with a message of inclusion that their gay, lesbian, or bisexual member was a beloved child of God invited to life with Christ. And any navigation of morality was done with love, concern, and respect for the person’s conscience.

Such an approach seems to elude many bishops in the United States.   Barron correctly noted that, often today, Christianity has been reduced to a system of belief whose central tenets are prohibitions on sexual activity. What he needs to say further is that it is in large part the bishops who have created such a situation.

Bishop Barron has started to acknowledge what most bishops refuse to admit.  Both he and they now need to take further steps to building a more honest and forthright Catholic Church.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 7, 2017