“[Pope] Francis has launched a global debate with his more welcoming language, including a response of ‘Who am I to judge?‘ to a reporter who’d asked about homosexuality. The Washington branch of Dignity, the country’s largest spiritual community of gay Catholics, may be in as good a position as any to gauge Francis’s impact, having watched the experience of being gay and being Catholic change dramatically over the years.”
The timing is appropriate because, as the story notes:
“A few weeks ago, members of Dignity/Washington had their first meeting in more than five years with local church officials. And members are considering continually how gay or Catholic to be: Should they add a rainbow flag to the altar, behind the cross? (Yes.) Should they focus on gay issues in sermons? (Split.) Should they shift from focusing within, on healing, or aim outward and take stands — such as allowing females to preside at Mass? (Very split.)”
The article carries varying responses to Pope Francis, too:
“Mark Clark, a retired father of two and a member of the Washington branch, said the pope’s impact is ‘huge’ not because of any imminent doctrine changes but because of his way of thinking.
“ ‘He has a sense he’s in charge of this foundational spiritual organization, and he can’t be making some sudden changes. It’s more like an aircraft carrier, turning slowly.’
“Marianne Duddy-Burke, Dignity’s national executive director, said the group is ‘paying a lot of attention’ to what the pope says and ‘how that impacts the actions of bishops and other Catholics.’
“University of New Hampshire sociologist Michele Dillon, who has written about Catholics who disagree with church teachings on key issues but remain Catholic, called the Francis era ‘a very interesting time for gay Catholics.’ How will Francis’s words be taken?
“ ‘Will it mean some local parishes will start new ministries to gays? Or will it mean Dignity loses relevance? That’s an open question,’ she said.”
There seems to be many challenges and opportunities ahead for the Dignity/Washington chapter, according to the article. For instance, the article describes how some of the chapter’s younger members recently attended an event sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington:
“[Jason] Entsminger went with a Dignity group recently to a Mass celebrated by Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl for young adults. They introduced themselves as being from Dignity, Entsminger said, and to other young people.”
Yet, some are not optimistic that there will be closer relationships with church officials:
“Dignity/Washington members aren’t making much of their recent meeting with a member of the archdiocese. ‘There’s no fruit on that tree,’ one group leader said. “
It seems like the need for a place for LGBT Catholics to gather and worship openly still remains strong for some of the DC members:
“ ‘I’d love to see us go out of existence,’said [Allen] Rose, 56. ‘But I’d hate it if we couldn’t figure out how to reach people who need us still. The biggest challenge we face is giving people a chance to heal and community in a changing environment.’ “
If Pope Francis succeeds in making the Catholic Church a more welcoming place for LGBT people, the needfor a group like this one may not be as strong. However, the desire for LGBT Catholics to worship together, gain support from one another, and offer ministry communally will still be strong, and will keep organizations like Dignity/Washington vibrant for a long time.
An online petition at change.org has been established to thank Pope Francis for his gay-positive comments last week on his plane ride home from Brazil.
The text of the petition, which has been organized by Allen Rose, a gay Catholic man in Washington, DC, reads:
“It is important to hear about God’s love for all people, and about the importance of the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Catholic church and in society from the Pope because religion has frequently been used to demonize gay people.
“Recently the Pope said, ‘If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?’ Thank you Pope Francis for saying this. Catholics and non-catholics have needed to hear a Pope say this for a long time.
“Various people are beginning to beginning to clarify, recast and modify this simple statement that the Pope recently made during a news conference. Sometimes simple statements about God’s love explain more than long, detailed theological works, or highly nuanced explanations of Catholic doctrine. Also, by saying, “Who am I to judge?” the pope is expressing the Catholic belief in the dignity of the human conscience, which often gets ignored in religious discussions about human sexuality.
“Pope Francis is the first pope to use the word gay. Previous popes have used words and phrases that are more harsh and judgmental. This is an additional indication of how to express a loving and generous attitude towards LGBTQ people.
“Therefore, I hope you will join me in saying thank you to Pope Francis.
“Since the Pope doesn’t have a public email account, we will deliver this petition to the papal nuncio to the U.S., the Vatican’s ambassador, so that it can be forwarded to Pope Francis.”
New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, From Water to Wine: Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, will have the distinct honor of a visit from Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman denied communion at her mother’s funeral, whose story made national headlines.
Ms. Johnson will visit the Symposium with her partner on Saturday, March 17, 2012, to address the assembled meeting participants about her recent experiences. Immediately following her remarks, the participants will confer a blessing upon Ms. Johnson, her partner, and their entire family.
“Barbara Johnson’s faith witness has been strong throughout this whole ugly incident,” said Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director. “We are honored and humbled that she will be with us for the Symposium, and we are sure that all will benefit greatly from her presence.”
The Seventh National Symposium takes place March 15-17, 2012, at the Renaissance Baltimore Innerharbor Hotel, 202 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, Maryland. Other major speakers are: Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley; former Maryland lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend; Catholic Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia; Richard Rodriguez, Pulitzer-nominated writer and commentator; Catholic theologians Patricia Beattie Jung and Luke Timothy Johnson. For more information and to register, please click here.
You can refresh yourself on the details of Ms. Johnson’s story by reading Bondings 2.0‘s three reports about the event; you can access those posts, in chronological order, here, here, and here. Ms. Johnson’s experience continues to make headlines. Just this week, Allen Rose, president of Dignity/Washington, published an essay in DC’s Metro Weekly, a gay news magazine, which touched on this case to call on the Archdiocese of Washington to provide better pastoral care for LGBT people:
“I believe that all of the national and international attention currently focused on the correct pastoral approach to LGBT Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington might create a grace-filled, teachable moment for this area’s LGBT Catholics, their bishops and priests.”
In calling for dialogue between LGBT Catholics and the archdiocesan administration, Rose suggests a variety of important and urgent topics that could be readily discussed:
“The following could be discussed: developing strategies to prevent bullying and anti-gay violence in Catholic schools, exploring ways to strengthen and expand the HIV/AIDS ministry, and forming a ministry throughout the archdiocese to support families with LGBT members.
“These and other pastoral questions demonstrate the systemic nature of the solutions that are required regarding pastoral care for LGBT Catholics. This would not be a forum to discus politics.”
New Ways Ministry has long-supported the idea of dialogue between church officials and LGBT Catholics, and we think that Rose’s proposal at this crucial time can turn a painful event into a turning point for good. In addition to LGBT Catholics, we think this dialogue should also include parents of LGBT people and pastoral professionals involved in this ministry. The time for such a dialogue is way overdue, and the story of Ms. Johnson’s painful experience has illustrated to the world the harmful results that delaying such a dialogue is causing. We repeat what we and so many others have said about Ms. Johnson’s case: “Never again.”
The House of Delegates joint-committee hearings for Maryland’s marriage equality bill went on until 11:40 p.m. yesterday, February 10, 2012. Catholics were prominent in the discussion, including New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder, Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, and Dignity/Washington’s Allen Rose, President. The transcripts of their testimony appear below.
The first speaker in defense of the bill was Governor Martin O’Malley, a Catholic. A good summary of his comments can be found in the Washington Blade’s report of the proceedings. O’Malley’s comments stressed the religious exemptions and religious liberty protections that the bill contains. (A report on O’Malley’s earlier testimony to the Senate committee hearings can be found by clicking here.)
Maryland Delegate Heather Mizeur, along with her wife, Deborah Mizeur, also gave testimony, and each touched on how their faith lives of Catholics were intimately connected to their lesbian identities. The Washington Post‘s account of the hearings cites Heather Mizeur as a nationally recognized leader on the question of marriage equality. The Baltimore Sun’s report of the proceedings leads with a note about Delegate Mizeur’s emotional testimony. (You can watch video of Heather’s debate on marriage equality with another Catholic delegate by clicking here.)
A separate Baltimore Sun preview report of the hearings which appeared on February 9, notes that the fate of the bill rests in a handful of undecided delegates. This report quotes Catholic Delegate Pam Beidle, who describes that she is torn between the testimony she hears from parents of lesbian and gay people in support of the bill and messages she receives from Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore to oppose the bill:
“Beidle finds that her meetings with the parents of same-sex couples are persuasive. ‘If I had a child who was gay, who had a lifelong partner, I’d want them to be happy,’ she said. ‘It is not my job to judge someone else’s moral decision.’
“At the same time, Beidle, a practicing Roman Catholic, says she hears from Cardinal-elect Edwin F. O’Brien, who opposes the bill. He stresses to Beidle the significance of marriage to their shared religious community and the extent to which he believes O’Malley’s bill would undermine that institution.
” ‘This is a difficult issue,’ Beidle said. ‘It is truly fifty-fifty.’ “
Also testifying in favor of the bill were Fr. Joseph Palacios, an adjunct professor of sociology at Georgetown University, and Phil Attey, Executive Director of Catholics for Equality. Speaking against the bill was Mary Ellen Russell, Executive Director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.
What follows are the transcripts of the testimony of three Catholic leaders who spoke in favor of the bill: New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder, Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, and Dignity/Washington’s Allen Rose, President. (Both New Ways Ministry and Dignity are members of the Equally Blessed coalition.)
SISTER JEANNINE GRAMICK, Co-Founder, New Ways Ministry
In 1971, while I was doing graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in preparation to teach at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, I met many gay people at the University. I particularly recall one lesbian couple, who were raising two children from one of the couple’s previous heterosexual marriage. I remember the love and concern they had for those children, how their schedules and decisions revolved around what would be best for their son and daughter. I thought that their affection and devotion for these children was surely as strong as the care received by children in heterosexual households.
This experience made me think. It made me question. It made me change my view of lesbian and gay people. It made me recognize that I could enlarge my understanding of what was “normal.” I began to expand my insights about what really constituted a family. I began to see that it was love, care, and concern that mattered, not gender.
I speak here today on behalf of the National Coalition of American Nuns and the majority of U.S. Catholics who favor legal marriage for same-sex couples.* We have changed our views about lesbian and gay people and about marriage. We have expanded our positions to include Marriage Equality, which encourages and supports committed relationships and families. Marriage equality fundamentally strengthens our Catholic values by supporting all our families. Our values are based on Catholic social justice teaching which directs us to work for laws and policies that support human dignity and that nurture the capacity of individuals and families to grow in community.
I feel sad that some Church leaders, including my own, claim that marriage must be only between one man and one woman, even though many people of faith and a majority of lay Catholics feel differently. Some churches have opened their doors to include lesbian and gay couples in the sacred rite of marriage. Some have not. We are not here to ask churches to change their theology of marriage. No religious leader will ever be forced to choose who can and who cannot be married. Such interference in religious matters is beyond the reach of the law.
We are here today to ask the state of Maryland to expand civil marriage for all our families, so that many of the lesbian and gay people I serve, often very religious people, have the opportunity to commit their love to each other and are able to fully support and care for their families.
I am here today as a Catholic nun, as a person of deep faith, to proudly say that I support HB 438, the Civil Marriage Protection Act and oppose any effort that would alter the Maryland constitution to deny marriage equality. Thank you.
(You can also watch video of Sister Jeannine’s remarks at a marriage equality prayer breakfast press conference by clicking here.
FRANCIS DeBERNARDO, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry
A while ago, I worked with a Catholic parish here in Maryland that wanted to welcome lesbian and gay people. They began with a short program of reading and discussion. One gentleman in the group was not as convinced as the others about this outreach. After several months of deep conversation where he learned about gay and lesbian families, he had a change of heart. He learned how gay and lesbian lives had been affected by unjust laws, oppressive stereotypes, and harmful cultural practices. And he saw how he himself had often been the perpetrator of those offenses, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly. He said to me, “You know, when we started this lesbian and gay welcome project, I thought we were doing this for other people, but now I realize that we HAD to do it for ourselves, so that we can be free of prejudices and biases that we don’t even realize we have.” He said that in doing this project, “We’re not just helping others, we’re helping ourselves.”
In this same vein, I encourage you to enact this law, not just for gay and lesbian couples, but for yourselves and for the wellbeing of all in our state. Passing this law will help us to become a more just community and will create a more stable society where ALL families are protected.
Marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples is, in the end, about honoring the love and commitment shared between two people and supporting their families. That is why the majority of Catholics support marriage equality laws. Even though the Catholic hierarchy, who we respect, may not support marriage equality, we know our faith teaches that where there is love, there is God. And where there is love, there is the basis for a more healthy and more just society.
ALLEN ROSE, President, Dignity/Washington
My name is Allen Rose. I am the president of Dignity/Washington. 25% of our members live in Maryland. We are a community of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Catholics, our families and friends. Dignity/Washington serves the spiritual and religious needs of LGBT Catholics in a manner that affirms God’s love for LGBT people, by providing a variety of activities, including a Gay-affirming Catholic Mass every Sunday.
I am here today to testify on behalf of the 45 Dignity/Washington members who are citizens of Maryland who are currently unable to marry the person they love. Some of our members have been in committed relationships for 15 or 20 years, and see in this legislation the opportunity to receive the same rights, benefits and recognition of their relationship that their parents, married siblings and married friends in opposite-sex relationships were easily granted when they decided to marry. I look forward to the day when any of these 45 citizens who so choose, will be able to marry the person of their choice just like any other loving couple. Our members in Maryland live in Takoma Park, Baltimore, the Eastern Shore and many other places around the state.
Since I am here representing a community of LGBT Catholics, I want to speak in support of civil marriage equality from a Catholic Perspective. We are disappointed that the Catholic bishops of Maryland are opposed to this legislation, We know they do not speak for all of the Roman Catholics in Maryland. As a matter of fact, on this issue, they do not even speak for most of the Catholics in Maryland. More Catholics support marriage equality than oppose it.
For an ordained Catholics to speak in favor of this legislation carries professional risks. Therefore, it is generally up to those of us who have no ordained standing within the Church, but who claim our Catholicism by virtue of our baptism, and who draw strength and support from Catholic traditions and practices, to do our best to attempt to represent those many Catholics who support marriage equality. A large majority of American and Maryland Catholics now see marriage equality as an issue of social justice.
Since I have been speaking as a Catholic in support of civil marriage equality, I have been talking freely about religion and religious belief. This bill, however, is about civil marriage, not religious marriage. This bill has strong provisions that protect religions, so that clergy are not required to marry same gender couples. We at Dignity/Washington agree with, and strongly support this provision of the bill. This provision further protects private church ceremonies and practices.
Part of our mission at Dignity/Washington is to speak truth to power by giving prophetic witness to the truth that we are all born in the image and likeness of a loving God, and that Gay men and Lesbians are a natural part of God’s plan for humanity. We preach this message to our own church’s leaders and to society at large.
Dignity/Washington urges the members of these committees, and all of your colleagues in the House of Delegates, to support The Civil Marriage Protection Act of 2012. It is right and just.