Cardinal’s Friendship with Gay Man “Melted Away” Prejudices

June 18, 2016
Red Ribbon Celebration Concert

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, left, and Gery Keszler

A top cardinal’s words during an HIV/AIDS fundraiser reveals the power of personal encounter to break down barriers and grow in mutual understanding–a good lesson for many bishops when it comes to LGBT people.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna appeared last week at the “Red Ribbon Celebration,” a  Viennese charity concert which supports people living with HIV/AIDS. To the surprise of many, he appeared onstage alongside Gary Keszler, a gay man who founded “Life Ball,” Europe’s largest HIV/AIDS charity. Global Pulse reported that cardinal spoke about “our shared humanity”:

“[Schönborn] underlined how important it was to discard prejudices, avoid thinking in categories and dialogue with people as people. . .

” ‘I am not the Catholic Church and Gery Keszler is not the Life Ball. We are first and foremost human beings. . .I said on the stage that I was presumably the only person in the Burgtheater (that evening) who has prejudices. I do have prejudices but they have melted away.’ “

What melted Schönborn’s prejudices was his friendship with Keszler, who lives with HIV. The two met at an event hosted by mutual friends and found their personalities aligned well. Global Pulse continued:

“The cardinal described [Keszler] as someone who has an eye for people who are having a hard time and are in a bad way, something the Austrian church leader said he very much appreciated. . .Cardinal Schönborn later explained on Facebook that he had had several ‘very moving’ talks with Mr Keszler in recent months.”

These talks led Keszler to invite the cardinal to the Red Ribbon Celebration. According to GGGthe activist later said of their appearance together, “Today a great thing has happened. . .It will reach the Vatican and the world.”

Hopefully, their witness as friends transcending differences will reach the world. Too many church leaders have been unwilling to even meet with LGBT people and their families, never mind share a meal and keep conversations going over time. This posturing has led bishops to be deficient in even the most basic knowledge of LGBT people’s realities, as my colleague Francis DeBernardo noted in his commentary on the U.S. bishops’ failings after the massacre at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando last Sunday.

But the cardinal’s words on stage reveal the power that simple gestures and intentional encounters can have, melting away prejudice and building shared understandings. If only more church leaders would engage with the humility and the concern expressed by Schönborn, who knows where our church could move on LGBT acceptance?

This event is not the cardinal’s first supportive act towards the LGBT communities. Last September, in an interview, he called a close friend’s same-gender relationship “an improvement” as they share a life together, even if it is considered irregular by the church. Speaking at the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod on the Family in 2014, Schönborn spoke about a same-gender couple that “was saintly” because of their love and care for one another. He has previously expressed support for civil unions, and in 2012 reinstated a gay man to a parish council after the local pastor had rejected him.

As we conclude a particularly challenging week which saw 49 LGBT people murdered in Orlando and church leaders’ failing to respond pastorally to the tragedy, the friendship of Christoph Schönborn and Gary Keszler is a sign of hope. One way to begin moving forward is for LGBT Catholics, families, and allies to contact our bishops and ask for meetings so the grace of encounter can do its work.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Fr. Dan Berrigan’s (Forgotten) Ministry to LGBT Catholics at the Church’s Margins

June 1, 2016
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Fr. Dan Berrigan

When Father Daniel Berrigan passed away in late April, tributes and anecdotes poured out about this Catholic priest who was peacemaker, poet, and much, much more.

Absent from almost all of these accolades was Berrigan’s outreach to lesbian, gay, and bisexual Catholics and to persons who had HIV/AIDS.

Tom Roberts wrote about some of Berrigan’s LGBT solidarity in the National Catholic ReporterFor instance, in the late 1960s the priest sponsored a gay group at Cornell University, according to LGBT advocate Brendan Fay. This act, in Fay’s view, revealed Berrigan’s “heart and his embrace and his willingness to go beyond the clerical comfort zone and to reach out and say ‘yes’ to a need instinctively.”

Berrigan attended Dignity services in New York after Cardinal John O’Connor expelled this group of LGBT Catholics from Church property in the city, and he ministered to Dignity communities elsewhere. In his book Portraits of Those I Love, Berrigan profiled former Jesuit and noted gay theologian John McNeill as “The Jesuit,” a chapter in which Berrigan admiringly called McNeill a person who was “unafraid of the cross.”

Like McNeill, Berrigan was unafraid to challenge a church to which he had committed his life. In an essay for The Huffington PostCarl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center, a New York social service agency for LGBT homeless youth, explored Berrigan’s outreach to sexual and gender minorities.  Siciliano explained that Berrigan’s concern for people hurt by the church was closely connected to the priest’s wider struggle for social justice. Preaching to Dignity/Miami in 1987, Berrigan offered the following remark:

“The church remains for the present adamant: against serious peacemaking, against the gay community. But in these matters, each in it’s own way a matter of life and death, it cannot be said that the church speaks for Christ. It could even be said that the church speaks in contrariety to Christ…We think of the church, and the official treatment of many, and then we think of Christ…We are struck by a contrast. The church rejects, ostracizes, places certain people beyond the pale; on a lifelong basis…

“I do not know, any more than you, whether church authority will renounce it’s sinfulness, will at last heal and bind up those it has wounded so grievously. (And so be healed and bound up, and acknowledge her own wounds.)…We must forgive, deepen our love, persist in our conviction that even the church can be redeemed from sin.”

Berrigan’s outreach to LGBT Catholics was paralleled by a ministry to those people dying from AIDS, Siciliano noted. He began chaplaincy with St. Vincent Hospital’s AIDS Hospice program, New York, as early as 1984 and continued this work through the mid-1990s. His task, Siciliano observed, “was to befriend those who were sick and dying” through pastoral visits and hospitality:

“He got to know the men. He describes himself as their ‘listener of last resort.’ Some were lonely and isolated. He invites them to meals at his apartment when they are healthy enough for the journey uptown. He takes them to restaurants. He invites one man living as a guest in someone’s tiny spare room to stay in his apartment while he spends some weeks teaching at a distant university. He invites another man to stay at a cottage he has use of on Block Island to escape a brutal heat wave, but alas when the time came the man had become too ill for the journey.”

In 1989, Berrigan, a prolific writer, published Sorrow Built a Bridge: Friendship and AIDS about his ministry. Siciliano offered snippets from the book because he believed it is important “that we read Dan’s words of admiration for the heroic goodness of these gay men [caring for people dying from AIDS] in contrast to the messages then being disseminated by the leaders of his Roman Catholic church.”

Berrigan helped bury the dead, too, offering memorial services even at his own apartment for those people who had felt so excluded by the church. All this work took a toll on the priest who wrote, in Siciliano’s words, “of being bludgeoned by grief, of being frightened by it’s intensity as his friends suffer and die” even as he kept ministering on the margins.

Siciliano commented that homophobia in Catholic circles and anti-church sentiments in LGBT circles have likely both contributed to the neglect of Berrigan’s outreach, but now he hopes the priest’s witness will be shared more widely because:

“Dan provides something remarkable: an example of a truly Christian response to AIDS and homophobia. Dan responded to the suffering and ostracism of people with AIDS with loving kindness, compassion and friendship. A friendship in which there was no place for the pharisaical moral judgement of so many church leaders. A friendship of persons made equal though love, helping each other through a terrible time.”

Dan Berrigan’s wisdom and his witness have been widely celebrated because he prophetically challenged U.S. militarism and nuclear weaponry. What cannot be lost is his prophetic challenge to the church, too, which occurred by his decision to simply live the Gospel amid communities marginalized by the church. May Dan’s life teach us all for many years to come.

To read the National Catholic Reporter’s obituary for Dan Berrigan, click here

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Is Elton John Correct? Is Pope Francis a ‘Hero’ for LGBT People?

October 31, 2014

Elton John

This week, Pope Francis received exuberant praise from openly gay British rock star, Elton John.  At an annual HIV/AIDS fundraiser, John called the pope his “hero.  The Guardian newspaper explains the context and elaboration of that remark:

“Sir Elton John has called Pope Francis his ‘hero’ for his compassionate drive to accept gay people in the Catholic church.

“At John’s annual AIDS benefit concert in New York City, the singer said Francis was pushing boundaries in the church and told the crowd: “Make this man a saint now, OK?”

“ ‘Ten years ago one of the biggest obstacles in the fight against AIDS was the Catholic church. Today we have a pope that speaks out about it,’ said John, earning cheers from the attendees at Cipriani’s on Wall Street. . . .

” ‘He is a compassionate, loving man who wants everybody to be included in the love of God,’ John said of the pope. ‘It is formidable what he is trying to do against many, many people in the church that oppose [him]. He is courageous and he is fearless, and that’s what we need in the world today.’ ”

Praise from such a prominent secular gay advocate surely shows how positively Pope Francis’ message of inclusion is received by the world beyond the Catholic Church. But it shows something else, too, I think.

Is Elton John right? Is Pope Francis a saint?

Elton John’s praise shows that probably a good portion of the world sees that Pope Francis is trying to develop a new approach to LGBT issues.  Despite the minor setback that the synod’s final report caused in the movement for greater welcome, people are picking up, instead, on the idea that Pope Francis is pushing for greater reforms.

Perception vs. reality?  Pope Francis has certainly done more for LGBT people than any other pope, by his simple and powerful gestures and statements.  Yet, we have yet to hear direct support for LGBT inclusion.  We see him nudging the Church in a direction that is more welcoming, but we don’t see him making bold statements.

Is his nudging a strategy?  For example, would making bold statements alarm too many conservatives?  On the other hand, is his simple nudging a way of simply providing new window dressing for the same old, same old?  Frankly, it’s hard to say.

I tend to be an optimistic person and one who favors pragmatic solutions over ideal ones.  So, I guess I lean toward the side that Pope Francis may be more genuine in his welcome than not.  Part of my perception is that I see the pragmatic effects of his nudging:  pastoral leaders are becoming a little more courageous.  Perhaps not much, but somewhat less fearful.

What do you think?  Is Pope Francis really as good as Elton John says he is?  Why do you think he is or isn’t?  Leave your answer in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


AIDS Conference: Anti-Gay Laws Harm Public Health; Catholic Support Still Essential

August 4, 2014

Participants in the 20th International AIDS Conference, held in Australia in July, expressed concerns about the uptick in anti-gay legislation around the globe, as well as cuts to faith-based healthcare providers.  Both factors exacerbate existing problems created by declining public interest in and funding for HIV/AIDS issues.

Addressing 18,000 delegates at the closing session in Melbourne, Australia, president-elect of the International AIDS Society, Dr. Chris Beyrer, criticized laws targeting LGBT communities saying these “are setting us back toward exclusion: limiting rights, reducing health care access and aiding and abetting the virus.” He specifically named Russia, Nigeria, Uganda, and India as places where discrimination is harming prevention and treatment efforts.

Deborah Birx, the U.S. global AIDS coordinator, spoke about the dual impact religion can have when dealing with HIV/AIDS. Highlighting the positive effects, she called faith-based efforts the “heartbeat of the response to HIV” and continued:

” ‘Many of us in the United States can remember the early scenes from St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City in the 1980s of desperate and dying young men being cared for by extraordinary and compassionate medical professionals and tireless nuns, when we didn’t know how to treat or what to do…What began as an awkward relationship between the gay community and the Catholic health care system became a story of acceptance, partnership, compassion and service that became a model for communities around the country and around the world.’…

“She said faith-based groups today provide 30-60 percent of the health care in countries where the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief operates, and much of that work is carried out by Catholics.”

Birx, however, warned conference attendees that stigma and discrimination against LGBT people, too often sanctioned or even promoted by religious leaders, could deeply set back the realistic goal of controlling AIDS. According to the National Catholic Reporter, the U.S. official challenged faith organizations saying:

” ‘[I]t is imperative that faith-based communities engage in renouncing and reducing the stigma and discrimination, hatred and violence that hamper our ability to reach and care for those in the society that are disenfranchised.’ “

Msgr. Robert Vitillo, longtime HIV/AIDS adviser to Caritas International, commented on the anti-gay laws:

“At face value, the legislation in some countries is supposedly to protect marriage between a man and a woman, or to prevent a more open concept of marriage which many northern countries seem to be legislating now. But many times legislation like this causes more discrimination, even violence, against sexual minorities…Yet many religious leaders do speak out against violence and discrimination.’ ”

“He said while the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not condone homosexual behavior, ‘in no way would the Catholic church condone violence or discrimination against anyone.’ “

Vitillo added that cuts in international assistance are a concurrent threat, and they are based upon false understandings about economic development in nations once considered impoverished. Vitillo explained, in a separate piece in the National Catholic Reporter:

” ‘It’s true that a small number of people are getting richer and richer, and the country’s GNP may have risen into the middle-income category, but the situation of the poor is often worse. And some governments claim they can handle all of their own health care, but they really can’t, and what they do provide they tend to concentrate in the large cities. As a result, the churches that have been providing care in rural areas have less access to funding today.’ “

Funding cuts and a shift away from faith-based providers are part of the fallout from decreased awareness and attention to HIV/AIDS issues in the international community. Maryknoll Fr. Rick Bauer, head of the Catholic HIV and AIDS Network, said of this emerging dynamic:

” ‘AIDS is not a designer charity anymore…And this comes just as we’re starting to believe we might end the pandemic as a global health emergency by 2030…To achieve that, however, we’ve got to get more people on treatment and get their viral loads down. Such treatment is the best prevention, but it’s going to be hard to do if we can’t keep attention focused on the challenge and if we can’t have access to the necessary funding.’ “

Bauer cited his own situation in Namibia, where funding through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has dropped from $100 million to $40 million annually has caused treatment center closings and a lack of adequate research. He said Catholic efforts to prevent and combat HIV/AIDS treat the whole person–medical, social, emotional, spiritual–and have greater success than simply medical solutions, favored by secular programs. In summary, Bauer told the National Catholic Reporter:

” ‘We now have the science to suppress the virus living in our sisters and brothers living with HIV. We now have the data that say if you get sufficient viral load suppression your life expectancy is the exactly the same as someone who is HIV-negative. Now we need the political will, the social mobilization, the church mobilization, to accompany our brothers and sisters to get the compliance and the viral load suppression that will ultimately make AIDS a manageable health issue.’ “

Still, Msgr. Vitillo expressed hope when leaving the conference:

“[T]here is more collaboration among the scientists than I’ve seen before, and more cooperation across disciplines, all of which gives hope for new discoveries’…

“Using benchmarks that experts have dubbed the 90-90-90 strategy, the new global assault on AIDS aims to expand testing so that 90 percent of HIV-infected individuals are aware of their status. Of that population, 90 percent will receive regular treatment with antiretroviral drugs. And 90 percent of those receiving that treatment will achieve sufficiently suppressed levels of the virus in their bodies that they will be unlikely to transmit it to others.”

This, according to Msgr. Vitillo, is a “step forward” in recognizing that treatment is really prevention and will help the AIDS pandemic become “a more or less managable chronic disease by 2030.”

Catholics and people of faith worldwide have joined the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, asking Pope Francis to condemn anti-gay legislation as inconsistent with Catholic teaching. These laws clearly increase discrimination and violence against people who are LGBT, and now it is clear they also harm the church’s longstanding commitment to end HIV/AIDS. To add your voice to #PopeSpeakOut, click here.

For AIDS-related posts on Bondings 2.0, see some of the related articles below or click here for full coverage.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles:

Bondings 2.0: “Discomfort with the Body of Christ 

Bondings 2.0: “Prayers for World AIDS Day

Bondings 2.0: “Mixed Review for New Book on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spirituality

Bondings 2.0: “The Catholic Dimension at the International AIDS Conference


Pope Francis Has Mixed LGBT Legacy As Archbishop in Argentina

March 15, 2013

Pope Francis

As Pope Francis settles in after initial celebrations, onlookers from all perspectives and places begin to dissect his legacy in Argentina to derive how he may lead from Rome. Bondings 2.0 will provide readers with a variety of commentary and information on Pope Francis as his papacy commences, starting today with an examination of his record on LGBT issues while archbishop.

Most notably, Cardinal Bergoglio presided over the Argentine Church in its failed attempt to stop marriage equality legislation in 2010 when equal rights for marriage were extended to all couples. The then-cardinal spoke of marriage equality in apocalyptic language. He perceived equal rights as a threat to existing families and used the term “war” when referring to the nation’s marriage equality debate.

Katie McDonough at Salon compiled some of Pope Francis’ sharpest critiques of marriage equality, which speak for themselves and include:

“‘Let’s not be naïve, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God’…

“Look at San Jose, Maria, Child and ask them [to] fervently defend Argentina’s family at this time. [Be reminded] what God told his people in a time of great anguish: “This war is not yours but God’s.” May they succor, defend and join God in this war.’”

Pope Francis, as archbishop in Argentina, also spoke strongly against the adoption of children by same-gender couples, which he labeled a form of discrimination and abuse:

“‘At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.’”

On a positive note, Pope Francis is widely revered for his commitment to the marginalized in society. National Catholic Reporter reveals that as Cardinal Bergoglio, he kissed and washed the feet of twelve AIDS patients in 2001 as a show of his “deep compassion for the victims of HIV-AIDS.”

As mixed as this record may be, not all view his record Argentina as the final word now that Cardinal Bergoglio is Pope Francis. Writing in Time, Tim Padgett is keeping his hopes up:

“I want to believe that his history as an advocate for the poor will bring him to see that today’s church is spending an inordinate amount of time, energy and ultimately moral credibility persecuting homosexuals, feminists and other “heretics” while it’s de-prioritizing, at least in the public’s eye, its core Christian (and human) mission of compassion and redemption.”

Whether Pope Francis will experience a shift as he assumes the papacy is known to God alone, but many in the LGBT community hold out for positive movement now that the former pope, Benedict XVI, has retired. Bondings 2.0 will report more thoroughly on signs of hope over the weekend, and further reactions from the Catholic LGBT community and organizations.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: December 24, 2012

December 24, 2012

News NotesHere are some news items which may be of interest:

1) Read the inspiring Huffington Post story of Sister of Charity Margaret Farrell who works at Los Angeles’ Covenant House, a shelter and social service agency for homeless teenagers.  Of her work, Sister Margaret says:

“Some say, how can I, as a nun, surround myself with such people — gays, transsexuals, HIV-positive clients?”I usually respond: Read the Bible. Look which people Jesus surrounded himself with.”

2) According to a LGBTQNation.com story, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has called upon the Maryland Catholic Conference (MCC) to publicly denounce Michael Peroutka’s $10,000 donation to the Maryland Marriage Alliance (MMA), the coalition which organized the state campaign to overturn marriage equality.  Peroutka is a member of  the League of the South, a neo-Confederate, secessionist organization labeled an “explicitly racist” hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.The MCC was a founding organizer of the Maryland Marriage Alliance. HRC is also calling on the MMA to return the donation.

3) The Supreme Court of Mexico, a heavily Catholic nation, has issued a decision that paves the way for marriage equality to become legal in the entire nation, according to the AfterMarriage blog.   Marriage equality is already legal in Mexico City, the nation’s capital district.

4) Joseph Amodeo, a Catholic writer who blogs at HuffingtonPost.com, offers “A Catholic Reflection on HIV/AIDS and the Call to Love,” which was originally presented as a talk on December 1, 2012, World AIDS Day,  at St. Augustine Catholic Church, Brooklyn, New York.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Prayers for World AIDS Day

December 1, 2012

English: The Red ribbon is a symbol for solida...

Today is World AIDS Day.  We pause to remember the effect that this pandemic has had on our world.  We recall that in the early days of the pandemic, when gay men were disproportionately affected by the syndrome, that the stigmas of homosexuality and illness for so long hampered so many from responding effectively.  We note that today the stigmas of poverty and race also hamper appropriate and effective responses to the newer populations that AIDS affects.

In a HuffingtonPost.com essay, Constance Mudenda, a Catholic woman, heartbreakingly offers two prayers for today:

“World AIDS Day is deeply emotional for me. In Lusaka, Zambia, people gather at the Cathedral of the Child Jesus for a candlelight service to remember loved ones killed by AIDS. I go to light candles and pray for my three children who died in the nineties, when a diagnosis of HIV here was a death sentence. One after the other I lost all of my children; first my son Chabala, then my daughters, Lubona and Namuya. All of us here looked on helplessly as our children, parents and friends were killed because medicine that was saving the lives of people with HIV in the West was too expensive to get to us. When antiretroviral medication (ARVs)finally arrived through the work of organizations like the Global Fund and PEPFAR, it was too late for my family. My eldest daughter would have been 19 this year if she had been able to hold on.

Constance Mudenda

Constance Mudenda

“The only reason I’m alive now is because 10 years ago, the world decided to do something about this pandemic which has by now killed 30 million of us. For 8 years I’ve been taking 2 little pills a day which have turned my illness from a death sentence into a chronic but manageable disease. I always say I’m married to my medication — until death do us part. I’ve been more faithful to these pills than to anything else in my life. . . .

“This World AIDS Day I will have two prayers — that, by 2015 no mother ever has to pass this deadly virus on to her baby again and that Lubona [her new infant daughter] will live in an AIDS free world.”

We join our prayers with those of Constance.

Last year on this day, Bondings 2.0 reported on the announcement of a competition to design New York City’s AIDS memorial, the site of which is a park across the street from the now defunct St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village.  A Catholic hospital, St. Vincent’s was the primary caregiver for the city’s HIV/AIDS population in the early days of the epidemic when other care givers turned people away.

This past week, the New York City the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Parks Department both unanimously approved a design for the memorial.   Approval from the  Department of City Planning, the last hurdle, is expected by the end of the month.  You can view plans the memorial’s design here.

May this time of remembrance and consciousness-raising empower us to continue to work to care for the sick and to work for eradication.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry.