Let No One Be Left in the Field

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by LGBTQ theologians and pastoral ministers studying at Boston College.  The liturgical readings for the First Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122:1-9; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

Craig Ford
Craig Ford

Today’s reflection is  by Craig A. Ford, Jr., a doctoral candidate in Theological Ethics at Boston College.

At first glance, Advent might seem to be a season designed to mess with our notion of time. Advent, we hear frequently, is about waiting, about expecting. These words, at least for me, don’t strike up images that imply a lot of activity: waiting and expecting, for me, conjure up scenes in which activity is temporarily suspended–like sitting in a doctor’s office, or waiting on a crucial email you need from a colleague in order to complete a project.

On the other hand, everything about our daily lives during this time of year seems to be in a state of consumer frenzy, amplified by the compulsion to shop and buy presents, to prepare dinners, to host parties, to send out Christmas cards. This madness is the furthest possible thing from waiting; it seems, instead, like racing.

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Jean-Francois Millet, “The Angelus”

But, if we let the readings for this first week of Advent grab our attention for a few moments, I think we’ll see that the impression of Advent as a sort of liturgical waiting room is inaccurate. And they certainly don’t advocate for Advent to be a time consumed in buying the latest and the greatest new gadgets. Instead, today’s scriptures point out that we need to be engaged in different sorts of activities.

This alternative impression comes into view most clearly when we go through the readings backwards. Jesus’ words to us in the Gospel invite listeners not into a story where people are sitting on their hands, but instead into a story where people are going about the daily rhythms of their lives completely oblivious to the Gospel’s demands. From here, the arrival of the reign of God is dramatized as the sudden disappearance of some of those closest to us. “Two men will be out in the field,” Jesus says, “One will be taken, and one will be left” (Matt. 24:40).

But no one should be left in the field. Our job as Christians is to include everyone, and this is the activity in which Advent demands that we engage.

What does this sort of work entail? It entails our going about the business of opening ourselves to each other. It entails the courage not to retreat into ourselves beyond the demands of self-care. (We should never discount self-care, including everything that’s required in order for us to feel healthy and be willing to extend ourselves in service to others once again, such as cups of coffee with friends, long walks, and disconnections from social media.) Our work entails trying to live a non-exclusive Gospel, where we become ambassadors of welcome to each other. Paul summarizes this in the second reading as the act of putting on Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:14), which we know from elsewhere in Scripture is identical to taking in, providing for–in a word, loving–our neighbor (1 Jn. 4:20).

This work is not easy. And for those who us who identify as LGBT, as queer, or as gender non-conforming Catholics, this type of activity will seem downright unfair. After all, why should we expect to open ourselves up to others such as our own bishops who continue to use the hurtful language of the truth about man and woman, and the unique bond of marriage they form”? (What such a statement obscures is the actual truth that no relationship hallowed by the presence of love can afford to be excluded from the Church, the very community animated by love, the bond of the Holy Spirit.)

Moreover, the prospect of President-elect Donald Trump in the United States exacerbates these negative messages, as Trump’s presence in the public forum has validated the homophobic and transphobic sentiments of some of his supporters. These supporters, in turn, are making these sentiments public in a way that causes many of us to fear for our safety, especially if we live in states marked by that do not have policies protecting LGBT, queer, and gender non-conforming persons.

But this work of opening ourselves to all is nevertheless the call of the Gospel. This is the work of Advent, of waiting for the arrival of Christ. We must pray for God to strengthen us in this work. For lying on the other side of this work is the presence of justice and the presence of peace. The illustration of Isaiah has captured many hearts: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares; and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again” (Is. 2:4). Will it capture ours?

We queer Christians know that we cannot afford to perpetuate exclusion. This Advent, may we dedicate ourselves to no longer leaving anyone–friend or foe, beloved or bigot–in the field.

La Salle Brothers in Philippines Start LGBT Group; Other International News

While much attention has been given to LGBT rights in the U.S following the election and the U.S. bishops’ meeting, there are several developments internationally to report. Today’s post includes four updates with links to news reports if you would like to read further.

Catholic School in Philippines Starts LGBT Group

A La Salle Brothers school in the Philippines approved BHIVE, an LGBT-oriented group at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, reported the Manila Standard. It is the first school in the Brothers system in that country to take such a step.

csb-facadeCarmelita Lazatin, the College’s Vice Chancellor for Lasallian Mission and Student Life explained that diversity “has always been one of its richest resources for learning and innovation,” and that BHIVE would help “explore the reach of the words ‘inclusive’ and ‘education.'”

John Carlo Lazo, a BHIVE leader, said this approval comes after a five-year process, but now hopes to open “new opportunities for conversation,” as well as providing a safe space for LGBT students.  The school is located on several campuses in Manila.

Fiji Archbishop Calls for Respect of LGBT People

Archbishop Peter Loy Chong of Suva in Fiji affirmed the need to respect communities marginalized for their sexual or gender identity, reported The Fiji Times. Chong cited Pope Francis for addressing LGBTI people himself, saying “everyone is the same” and should therefore be respected.

In 2015, Chong, while commenting on pornography, said that the church must provide a”proper positive education on human sexuality,” which teaches that “sexuality is for the purpose of relationships, the physical side of our sexuality is secondary to the emotional relationship.” Chong said further:

” ‘Each person has to develop to be a mature sexual person, whether it’s through masculine or feminine and even homosexuals, they have their own sexual orientation which is a gift from God and through their sexual orientation, they relate to people.’ “

Zambian Bishops Impede HIV/AIDS Prevention

LGBT advocates in Zambia criticized both the nation’s prison system and Catholic officials for the promotion of abstinence as a solution to the higher than average rates of HIV infection found among prisoners, reported AllAfrica.  Catholic officials stated that the distribution of condoms as a prevention measure would be considered as promoting homosexual activity.

Fr. Paul Samasumo, speaking for the Zambia Episcopal Conference, said the church supported  a policy of using only abstinence education as a prevention method, and the prisons have done so.

Prevention efforts have also been hampered due to the criminalization of homosexuality, a holdover from British colonial rule. Being convicted of same-sex activity carries a punishment of up to 14 years in prison.

English Bishop Cautions Against ‘Ideology of Gender’ in Schools

Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, England wrote a letter to Catholic educators on how to handle gender identity questions in schools, framed by him as “the ideology of gender which underlies transgenderism.” He urged schools not to be “swayed or fall victim to the errors of our times.”  It appears that his own understanding of trans realities and questions of gender seems limited.

For all the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog using the provided “Follow” box in the upper right hand corner of this page. Contact info@newwaysministry.org with questions and news tips.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 26, 2016

 

 

Are Synods Actually Helpful for LGBT Catholics and Their Families?

Following the Vatican’s 2015 Synod on the Family, a handful of dioceses worldwide have convoked their own local synods to discuss issues in and plans for their local church. These gatherings have been heralded for advancing episcopal collegiality and participation of the laity, parts of Pope Francis’ vision for the church.

But while that may be so, the Synod on the Family was described as a “disappointment” by some LGBT advocates and local synods’ treatment of sexuality has been mixed. It is therefore a live question in the church whether these synods are actually helping LGBT Catholics and their families.

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Participants conversing at Detroit’s synod.

The Archdiocese of Detroit held its “Synod ’16: Unleash the Gospel” last weekend, part of its evangelization efforts in which thousands of Catholics have participated through some 240 Parish Dialogue Gatherings and nights of prayer.

More than 11,000 responses were distilled into 46 propositions for the consideration of the synod’s 400 delegates, reported the National Catholic Reporter. Top priorities included lifelong faith formation, building parishes marked by loving encounters, empowering Catholics to live active faith lives, and, according to diocesan newspaper The Michigan Catholic:

“Build a framework for mutual accountability between pastors, parishes, schools and the Central Services. To build a foundation for this, heal wounded relationships, build trust and practice transparency. . .

“Build cultural competency among individuals, parishes and archdiocesan leadership to acknowledge and break down barriers that divide us — including race, ethnicity, sex and socioeconomic status.”

The Archdiocese has faced financial and organizational difficulties in recent years, including a declining Catholic population, difficulties in many ways tied to Detroit’s citywide troubles. But the synod also acknowledged the splits within the church community. Auxiliary Bishop Michael Byrnes, who oversaw synod preparations, told NCR:

“‘I’m really, really grateful to build within our parishes a capacity to welcome the other. . .I mean we were naming things of ethnicity, of race, gender and sexual orientation. . .It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’re dealing with. And now this is going to take a while to grow but that was named in the last session and got a lot of support. . .

“‘[Archbishop Allen Vigneron has] a huge vision, this isn’t just about becoming more pious, this is really about taking action for social, neighborhood transformation. . .We can’t just stop at “Jesus save me, so that I can go to heaven.” It has to be “Jesus, save me, so that I can help heal the world.”‘”

Themes of healing and reconciliation where divisions exist in the church and with the surrounding community were prominent at the gathering. While LGBT issues were not specifically mentioned in news reports, it would be surprising if these topics were not raised at Saturday morning’s session on the family.

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Archbishop Vigneron at Mass during the Synod

But what is perhaps most remarkable are the statements from Archbishop Vigneron, a conservative bishop with an anti-LGBT record that includes remarks which compared breaking up a same-gender relationship to the Exodus liberation, seeking to deny Communion to Catholics who support marriage equality, and banning a Fortunate Families event  from church property.

Vigneron told the National Catholic Reporter the synod sought “a radical overhaul of the Church in Detroit” to “transform the very culture of our Archdiocese — how we work, how we pray, how we minister, everything — so that in everything we do, we are more effective witnesses to the Gospel.” Citing the writings of Pope Francis as the inspiration, the archbishop said he would be “listening and contributing and being part of this whole process.” Afterward, he commented to The Michigan Catholic:

“‘We talked a lot about hospitality and about how we need to be welcoming to them, but also about reconciliation. . .There are people who are hurt, and we need to work together to heal those hurts.'”

These statements from Vigneron have a strikingly different tone from his previous statements and, while they do not address LGBT issues specifically, they seem to hint at a new understanding on his part of the ways the church has excluded and even hurt Catholics.

Archbishop Vigneron should now take the next step of sitting down with LGBT Catholics and the Catholic parents of LGBT children to hear their stories and be open to the ways the Spirit speaks through them to him and to the Archdiocese. Doing this before he releases a pastoral statement on the synod, expected Pentecost 2017, could greatly improve what will likely become a guiding document in Detroit. Including sexual orientation and gender identity in the synod’s commitment to accountability and cultural competency on the part of church ministers is one way he could be tremendously helpful.

So while issues of gender and sexuality were not explicitly addressed or reported in Detroit last weekend, unlike the diocesan synod in San Diego under Bishop Robert McElroy where LGBT topics came up organically, they will likely be affected by the synod.

Just how that happens, however, is unclear. Could the synod’s findings reinvigorate attention to a heteronormative and nuclear understanding of family or will other family arrangements including same-gender relationships be pastorally accompanied?

And the larger question remains: are these synods helping LGBT people and their families, indifferent about them, or even pastorally damaging?

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 25, 2016

 

 

Counting Our Blessings and Giving Thanks!

Happy Thanksgiving to all Bondings 2.0 readers! We hope that you have much to be thankful for this year.

At New Ways Ministry, we are particularly grateful for all those people around the globe who support us spiritually, financially, and in many other ways great and small.  We are also thankful for all our blog readers and commenters.  Your thoughts and reflections make this site a wonderful place for discussing Catholic LGBT issues.

Our tradition on Bondings 2.0 for Thanksgiving is to gather thoughts of gratitude New Ways Ministry’s volunteers, board members, and staff. Their reflections are below.

What are you thankful for this year, especially items that may pertain to Catholic LGBT issues? We invite you to share your items in the “Comments” section of this post.

Glen Bradley, Staff Associate:

I am thankful for all the inclusive and supportive people in my life who helped me find God’s love for everyone, including myself.  I am also thankful for all the safe spaces that our LGBTQ+ siblings and allies build with great devotion, particularly those prophetic spaces in Catholicism.

Mary and Joseph Byers, Board Members:

This Thanksgiving, as all other Thanksgivings and always,  we are grateful for our blended family of gay sons and straight daughters.  They are a blessing to us and each other.  Together they bring joy to our family and a shining example to others.

Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director:

This year, I am thankful that so many Catholics are speaking out about LGBT equality.  I’ve worked in this field for 24 years, and I can’t remember a year when so much discussion has happened as in this past year.  We may not have achieved our dream of full equality in church and society, but I think we have reached a point where the discussion cannot be stopped.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, Co-Founder:

I am grateful that Pope Francis recently named three U.S. cardinals who smell like the sheep and are not afraid to defend their sheep. I’m thinking, in particular about Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican’s new Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, who said he does not agree with Archbishop Chaput’s guidelines that exclude LGBT people from church ministries and same-gender couples from Communion. These “Francis bishops” give me hope for the future of the Church and LGBT ministry.

Brother Brian McLauchlin, SVD, Volunteer:

I am grateful for Church hierarchy who are willing to speak out on behalf of LGBT people and issues.  Bishop McElroy of San Diego, for instance, who named the anti-gay prejudice in connection to the Pulse nightclub massacre.  In general, I think Bishop McElroy is someone who would be willing and able to dialogue on LGBT issues.  Also, I am grateful that noted members of the clergy, like James Martin, SJ, speak out in favor of LGBT people.  I pray that next year, I will be even more grateful that more and more bishops and members of the hierarchy will address LGBT issues and open themselves up to constructive dialogue.
Robert Shine, Social Media Coordinator:
I am grateful for:
1. Younger LGBTQ theologians who are helping to guide the church into healthier and more liberating understanding of gender and sexuality;
2. Transgender Catholics who call our church to greater fidelity to the Gospel by courageously sharing their stories and educating others on trans realities;
3. Catholic youth and young adults who reject treatment from church leaders that is anything but fully equal and respectful of LGBTQ people, and seek a church that is “a home for all.”

Vern Smith, Volunteer:

I am thankful for those individuals who, when treated with bigotry and injustice by the church hierarchy, have spoken out and told their stories.  Many have lost their jobs or their ministries merely because they were married or came out as LGBT+.  I have heard so many painful, touching, and courageous stories by those who experienced terrible treatment by their official church.  They are powerful, important stories that must be heard. I am so thankful that the spirit has moved them to speak out honestly, in their own voices, bringing light to the implications of hierarchical actions.

Cristina Traina, Board Member:

I am grateful for :

1.LGBTQ Catholic groups, both local and national, especially the group at my parish, St. Nicholas, in Evanston, Illinois.  Thanks to you all for your faithfulness, joy, hospitality, and visible involvement in parish life;

2. Catholic theologians and ethicists, because throughout Catholic history major changes in official teaching have come after they have laid the groundwork for it;
3. Gay and lesbian parents, whose matter-of-fact involvement in the church life is a quiet witness of hope.

Is the Church Complicit When Bias Incidents Occur on Catholic Campuses?

While Catholic higher education often leads the church’s efforts to be more inclusive of LGBT people, as Saturday’s post about gay college athlete Chase Boyle explored, several incidents this fall reveal that campuses are not without LGBT-related problems. And the institutional church may be complicit.

Fordham University Heals After LGBT Harassment

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A sign near gathered Fordham University students

In September, students at Fordham University rallied at the “Speak-Out Against Homophobia,” a response to anti-LGBT comments written on the dorm room door of three LGBTQ students.

According to campus newspaper The Fordham Ram, the speak-out allowed students to not only show solidarity but share their negative experiences on campus. Junior Gina Foley addressed the impact that the University’s Catholic identity has had on her:

” ‘It feels like Fordham doesn’t want us here. . .I know that I belong in the LGBTQ community and at Fordham. I know that I belong in the Catholic community, but they don’t want me here. I see this all the time, and it hurts.’ “

Sarah Lundell, a senior with Progressive Students for Justice: Women’s Empowerment, said the student body largely “has remained apathetic,” and this has contributed to policies that harmful to LGBTQ students remaining in place. Lundell said that “although Fordham claims to be a welcoming Jesuit university, it fails to uphold cura personalis [sic] for LGBTQ students and other marginalized identities.”

While progress can be made, a recent piece on Fordham’s Rainbow Alliance displays some of the positive work and community building already underway. You can read more in campus newspaper The Fordham Observer.

Students Push for GSA at Newman University

After a proposed gay-straight alliance (GSA) was rejected by Newman University administrators two years ago, students are again seeking its establishment on at the Wichita, Kansas, school. Student Lauren Spencer wrote in campus newspaper The Vantage that such a group was needed because homophobia is present on campus:

“Last year I was told by a friend that as they were passing through the Student Center they heard a classmate say something along the lines of, ‘Now they’re letting gay people get married. What’s next? Are they gonna let people marry animals?’ “

Spencer said uninformed statements like these prove that a GSA is needed not only to support LGBTQ students, but to educate other students on issues of sexuality and gender and, she concluded, “what is more Catholic than putting an end to the hating of thy neighbour?”

Outside Groups Protest at Marquette’s Campus

Problematic actions have come not only from within campus communities, but from outside groups intent on disrupting policies supportive of LGBTQ people. Ten people from the ultra-right-wing organization American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property protested at Marquette University about the school’s support for transgender students.

Enrique Tejada III, a student who coordinates the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, organized a counter protest because, he told The Marquette Wire:

” ‘We align with Christ-like ideals of respect, support and compassion and we hope we can be a light for the community. We are charged to be the difference and we want to be that everyday for faculty, staff and students.’ “

Administrators, including Provost Dan Myers and Dr. William Welburn, who directs the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, lent their support. Welburn said the protestors should read Marquette’s values and “respect our position on human dignity and what we teach our students.”

Pride Week Starts at Stonehill College

Finally, a bit of positive news from Stonehill College, Massachusetts, which celebrated its first ever PRIDE Week in mid-October, hosting events that recognized and affirmed LGBTQ+ persons in the community and provided a space for allies to show solidarity.

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These stories from Catholic campuses across the United States are reminders that despite the positive steps of establishing resource centers and allowing LGBT student groups, colleges and universities affiliated with the church still face some of the same challenges any institution faces when it comes to prejudices and fears. But it is worth reflecting, too, on the ways which LGBT-negative church teaching and a less affirming ecclesial culture impair Catholic higher education from offering a more robust and unequivocal embrace of LGBT community members.

Catholic education should aid all students in coming to know God’s love by living into their authentic self, so the question worth asking is whether schools doing enough to curtail ignorance and hate so this flourishing becomes possible for every student?

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 22, 2016

When the U.S. Bishops Rejected the Language of “Objective Disorder”

History-Option 1“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

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

November 1990: When the U.S. Bishops Rejected the Language of “Objective Disorder”

In mid-November 1990, the U.S. bishops issued a 185-page document entitled “Human Sexuality:  A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning,” designed to set the course for Catholic education on sexual topics.

Davenport, Iowa’s Catholic Messenger newspaper carried an article on the document with the headline “Bishop asks: Are we credible on sex?”   The article explained:

“Passage came only after debate which highlighted underlying questions about the Church’s credibility on artificial contraception, the proper pastoral approach to homosexual persons and long-standing controversies between educators and some Catholic parents over sex education in schools.”

On the topic of homosexuality, the debate centered around the use of the language “objective disorder,” a term which had only been recently coined in 1986 in the Vatican’s “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.”

The news article reported:

Cardinal John O’Connor

“. . .[A] spirited discussion on homosexuality was set off by an amendment proposed by Cardinal John O’Connor of New York and Bishop Raymond Lessard of Savannah, Ga.  They asked for the addition of language from a 196 statement by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to state that a homosexual orientation is ‘objectively disordered.’ “

Not all bishops agreed with this proposed addition.  The newspaper continued:

“Auxiliary Bishop Peter Rosazza of Hartford, Conn., objected, saying that phrase in the doctrinal congregation document ‘has caused untold damage in the homosexual community.’

Archbishop John Quinn

“Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco agreed but said the problem arises because ‘the statement is misunderstood.’

” ‘It is a philosophical statement; about tendencies and their objects, not a statement about persons, he said.  ‘Every individual has disordered tendencies–to anger, to greed, the seven capital sins.’

“But because the Vatican statement ‘is read’ as meaning that the person with the tendency is disordered, it has presented a pastoral problem that ‘is difficult to overcome,’ he said.”

The newspaper account said that several other bishops joined in the discussion on both sides of the debate, but that ultimately they rejected the O’Connor-Lessard amendment to include “objective disorder” in the document.

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin

Instead, an alternative was proposed by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago and Archbishops Quinn and Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile, AL.  The article explained the new, accepted language:

“The approved amendment said that a homosexual ‘orientation in itself, because not freely chosen, is not sinful.’ It added a footnote quoting the doctrinal congregations’ reference to such a tendency as ‘objectively disordered’ and an explanation, drafted by Archbishop Quinn, of the meaning of that phrase in the Vatican document.”

The headline of the story, “Bishop asks: Are we credible on sex?” referred to another debate about the document’s language on contraception.  Bishop Kenneth Untener of Saginaw, Michigan, questioned a passage which said that the logic on contraception teaching is “compelling.”  He questioned the use of that term “knowing in fact that the logic is not compelling–not compelling to people in general, not compelling to many bishops.” He continued:

“When we speak that way, some would compare us to a dysfunctional family, unable to talk openly about a problem that everyone knows is there.”

Bishop Kenneth Untener

Untener made a case for the sensus fildelium–the Church doctrine that says that the sense of the faithful about a particular teaching must be taken into account by the magistgerium. He reported that he asked his 23-person diocesan pastoral council to give their anonymous opinions on how the  “Human Sexuality” document treated the topic of artificial contraception.  The vote was 22 to 1 against the document’s content. Untener explained to the bishops:

“You must understand these are not dissidents. They are farmers and city people, men and women, middle-aged and older.

“I don’t know what would happen if you did the same with your pastoral council . . .  your presbyterate (priests).  I don’t know what would happen if we did it with each other right here.  . . . “

Though speaking on artificial contraception, the same logic could easily apply to LGBT issues. Two years later,  Bishop Untener would apply similar thinking to the issue of homosexuality when he was a speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium on Lesbian/Gay Issues, in Chicago.

At the 2014 and 2015 Vatican synods on family life, we saw that bishops from around the world were publicly questioning the use of the language of “objective disorder.”  It’s worth remembering that the U.S. bishops had for a long time been reluctant to use that language in their own documents.  They did not use it in their 1997 pastoral letter “Always Our Children” addressed to parents of lesbian/gay people, until the Vatican directed them to add the language in footnotes for a revised version one year later.

More importantly, it’s important to remember that bishops meeting can, have, and should be opportunities for debate and discussion.  We have seen some of that spirit already some some the bishops appointed by Pope Francis, who have raised challenging questions at bishops’ meetings. Bishop Untener’s example also shows that the opinions of lay people, especially those affected by a church teaching, should also be part of the discussion.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 22, 2016

Santa Clara University Responds to Anti-LGBT Slurs, Swastikas

Santa Clara University experienced multiple hate crimes last month, including messages against LGBT people, incidents which have energized members of the campus community to express their solidarity and demand change.

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Student vandalizing a poster at SCU

Vandals struck the California Jesuit school twice this past October, reported campus newspaper The Santa Clara:

“Over the weekend in Casa Italiana Residence Hall, a swastika was drawn in blood in an elevator and derogatory messages aimed at the LGBTQ community were written on a fourth floor hallway bulletin board. These acts came just two weeks after the 43 Students Memorial was defaced.”

The anti-LGBT messages appeared days before National Coming Out Day, when students on campus expressed their solidarity by affixing supportive fabric signs to their backpacks and coming out on social media. But LGBT programming and a generally affirming campus environment do not preclude prejudice said some students. Alaina Boyle, a senior who directs the Santa Clara Community Action Program and is queer, told The Santa Clara:

” ‘I have experienced discrimination and words of persecution from people on our campus before. . .I’m not surprised to hear that this is how some people really feel. . .I think there’s this overarching atmosphere of it being okay to put down certain groups and to speak out about how you feel about minority groups. I think that’s normalizing the hatred.’ “

Students and several offices on campus organized a march in which 70 students, staff, faculty, and administrators participated. Marchers changed “We are one” and “Love not hate” during the witness, about which the Multicultural  Center’s director Isaac Nieblas explained to The Santa Clara:

“We want to be loud and we want to be proud and we want to showcase that regardless of the symbols of hate and undertone of racism and misogyny and bigotry that exists here on this campus. . .We are not going to stand for it and we are going to start moving forward hand and hand.”Fr. Michael Engh, SJ, the University’s president, participated in the march and explained that he was there because “it is important that the administration

Fr. Michael Engh, SJ, the University’s president, participated in the march and explained that he was there because “it is important that the administration demonstrate that all students are welcome here.” Engh said the acts had violated a “sense of home” on campus.

Administrators hosted a community forum shortly after the acts of vandalism to address students’ questions, and the Multicultural Center facilitated restorative circles to help students process the incidents.

The forum was tense, according to The Santa Clara, as students asked whether the perpetrators would remain on campus and administrators refused to give details citing confidentiality requirements and the involvement of the Santa Clara Police Department. Students also questioned why administrators had used terms like “bias incident” and “act of discrimination” instead of “hate crime” to describe the events.

A statement from 25 LGBTQ community members was subsequently released, condemning the acts and naming four demands:

“The document contains four core demands, including that the acts be called hate crimes rather than acts of discrimination and that a full description of the vandalism be released to the Santa Clara community.

“The statement also demands that the university increase the security of campus surveillance footage to prevent images of hate crimes from circulating around the university and ‘re-traumatizing’ affected communities.

“The joint statement also calls for using a ‘transformative justice’ approach in order to hold the perpetrators accountable. This would allow those affected to address the perpetrators directly.”

The topic of hate crimes targeting LGBT people and other marginalized communities is quite present in the U.S. today after the presidential election. Though these incidents at Santa Clara happened in October, the negative effects such crimes cause are harm more than just the campus community. What should not be lost is that not only tragedy occurred at Santa Clara, but solidarity from church leaders and an appeal for transformative justice by campus groups.

Clearly, the teachings of the church on justice, solidarity, and reconciliation are foremost considerations for the community at Santa Clara University. The rest of us would do well to keep these teachings at the forefront of our lives, too, in these coming months and years when it seems hate is poised to raise its ugly head.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

 

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 21, 2016