New Anti-Bullying Manual for Catholic Schools Is a Gift to the Church

A new manual for Catholic school teachers in England and Wales on how to combat homophobia and biphobia has caused a bit of a minor controversy based on its origin, perhaps because the document offers strong practical advice on how to stop and prevent bullying of sexual minority students.

The document, entitled “Made in God’s Image:  Challenging homophobic and biphobic bullying in Catholic Schools” was produced by the Catholic Education Service of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, in partnership with St. Mary’s University, Twickenham.  The Catholic Herald reports, however, that some critics have questioned who contributed to the document:

“A covering letter accompanying the document, reported online, states the CES has ‘received funding to cover the printing and distribution of a hard copy for each school.’

“However, a spokesman said: ‘The document is a collaboration between the CES and St Mary’s and no external funding has been received for it.’ “

The critics said that portions of the document are very similar to anti-bullying materials produced by Stonewall and lgbtyouth Scotland, two leading UK LGBT equality organizations. Stonewall denied any involvement but said their materials are public and they’d be glad if their ideas were used by others.

What is most remarkable about this “controversy” is that the criticism seems intended to discredit what is a fine document on how to educate Catholic students about respecting gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.  Regardless of its source, the document explains its Catholic rationale very clearly.  Here are some excerpts from the first section:

“This guidance forms part of the commitment of the Catholic to the pastoral care of pupils and in particular the elimination of homophobic stereotyping and bullying for all children and young people educated in our Catholic schools. Its aim is to challenge all forms of homophobic and biphobic bullying in order to create safe spaces for pupils to come together to learn. . . .

“The intention of this guidance is to help our schools flourish as communities of loving respect where everyone is cherished as a person made in the ‘Image of God’. In April 19971 Cardinal Basil Hume wrote, ‘The Church recognises the dignity of all people and does not define or label them in terms of their sexual orientation. The pastor and counsellor must see all people, irrespective of their sexuality, as children of God and destined for eternal life. . . .

“Any systematic failure to respect that dignity needs to be tackled, if necessary by appropriate legislation. Nothing in the Church’s teaching can be said to support or sanction, even implicitly, the victimisation of anyone on the basis of his or her sexuality. Furthermore, ‘homophobia’ should have no place among Catholics. Catholic teaching on homosexuality is not founded on, and can never be used to justify ‘homophobic’ attitudes.”

And the document is clear that the material presented is based on Catholic social teaching. The following is an excerpt that descibes “inclusive education” as founded on Catholic social teaching:

“Inclusive education:  If we are serious about inclusive education in our Catholic schools then we must be concerned with the quest for equity for all who work within our communities. The social teaching of the Church and our participation within this teaching should be at the heart of what guides our work as a community. The well being of all – staff and pupils – requires the removal of any barriers of prejudice, discrimination and oppression if all are to strive and to realise our potential as unique and fulfilled human beings.

“What is Catholic Social Teaching? “The immediate purpose of the Church’s social doctrine is to propose the principles and values that can sustain a society worthy of the human person”. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 580) Catholic Social Teaching calls us…

  • to be aware of injustice in our society and the wider world
  • to challenge and change our attitudes to take action to bring about a more just society and
  • to be aware of injustice in our society and the wider world
  • to challenge and change our attitudes
  • to take action to bring about a more just society and world”

The bulk of the document presents eight detailed lesson plans that teachers can use to address bullying against gay, lesbian, and bisexual students, within an authentic Catholic context. Though transgender people are not mentioned in the general sections of this document, bullying against them is mentioned briefly in the lesson plan section.  More discussion of transphobia could have improved this document.

The Catholic “frame” and material conained in these lesson plans make it difficult to understand why critics would suggest that it was too heavily influenced by secular sources.  And what would be the problem if secular sources were used?  The Church as always learned from knowledge developed in the secular world.  Why should such learning be a problem in this case?

The document points out the need teachers have for guidance on bullying:

“Very few teachers in primary schools (8%) or secondary schools (17%) say they have received specific training on tackling homophobic bullying.

“Three in ten secondary school teachers (29%) and two in five primary school teachers (37%) don’t know if they are allowed to teach lesbian, gay and bisexual issues. . . .

“Scheider and Dimito (2008) found that 68% of teachers did not feel enough resources were present in schools to deal with issues on sexual orientation. 60% of teachers interviewed did not feel they had appropriate training and 56% of teachers believed parents would protest if sexual orientation or gender identity were raised at school.

“For teachers working in church school contexts there can be a hesitancy in addressing or challenging issues related to sexual orientation. It can be wrongly assumed that, for teachers working in a church school, there is a tension between a strongly held religious belief and equality and respectful treatment for gay people. As the St Mary’s University survey shows . . . many of our Catholic schools toned support in approaching issues relating to sexual orientation and, indeed, to respond to issues of homophobic bullying.”

Clearly, this document addresses an important need.  While there are certain sections in it that apply to UK law and policy regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, the bulk of this document, especially the lesson plans, can be useful for Catholic school teachers in almost every location.

If you work in a Catholic education or youth ministry, or if you are someone who is concerned generally about bullying, you should read the entire document by clicking here.  Made In God’s Image is a great gift to Catholic education!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 14, 2017

 

How Cardinal Dolan Can Express His Love for LGBT People

Responses  to Cardinal Dolan’s Easter Sunday comments keep pouring in.   If nothing else, it shows how his comments struck nerves, both positively and negatively.  It shows how much affirmative words from the hierarchy are needed, and it shows how important it is that the hierarchy go beyond just words to send a positive message to LGBT people.

Jamie Manson
Jamie Manson

The National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie Manson, says she is

“. . . getting weary of bishops and cardinals who tell me how much they love my gay and lesbian friends and I, while at the same time willfully misunderstanding us, refusing to talk to us and devaluing our relationships.”

Her analysis continues by pointing out several actions that Dolan has taken recently that emphatically do not show love for LGBT people:

  • Co-signing an anti-marriage equality document with some of the most vociferous anti-gay leaders of Evangelical churches.
  • Refusing to respond to a letter and petition written by Joseph Amodeo, a former member of the junior board of Catholic Charities of the New York archdiocese, pleading with Dolan to meet with LGBT homeless youth, many of whom were thrown out of their homes by religious parents. Amodeo later resigned from the board, without public reaction from Dolan.
  • Failing to speak out when his brother bishops and priests turn the Eucharist into a political weapon, denying communion to LGBT people and those who support marriage equality.

After reviewing similar actions and statements by San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and Pope Francis (when he was archbishop in Argentina), Manson provides an eloquent depiction of what true love is, which seems to echo St. Paul’s famous description in 1 Corinithians 13:

“While it may be true that Dolan, Cordileone and even the new pope are seeking a more pastoral approach to gays and lesbians, I really wish that they would stop calling it love.

“Love does not ignore letters pleading for dialogue and reconciliation.

“Love does not turn away spiritually hungry people from God’s Eucharistic table.

“Love does not use spiritually violent rhetoric against a marginalized community’s fight for justice.

“When we love another person, we genuinely desire to know her or him. When we love, we long to listen to the beloved and to learn his or her story. To love in this way, we must be authentically present to the beloved. This kind of love is risky because it demands vulnerability on the parts of both the lover and the beloved.

“If members of the hierarchy took the risk of truly listening to gay and lesbian couples, they might find, as the majority of U.S. Catholics have, that many of these couples equally embody the faithfulness, devotion, sacrifice and fruitfulness that characterize the best heterosexual relationships.

“They might open themselves up to the possibility that God is speaking new truths through the voices and lives of gay and lesbian couples and transgender persons. They might see that not only are same-sex couples entitled to equal rights and protection, they have as much potential to honor the institution of marriage as opposite-sex couples.”

Equally Blessed LogoEqually Blessed‘s Marianne Duddy-Burke and Mary Ellen Lopata, in an on-line New York Times op-ed, offer some suggetions to Cardinal Dolan to how he could back up his words of welcome with real actions. Among the items they suggest for the bishops are:

  • Dropping opposition to immigration reform that would allow partners in same-sex couples to enter the U.S. legally
  • Adopting anti-bullying programs in Catholic schools
  • Changing to more pastoral tone and content when referring to LGBT people
  • Dissociate the U.S. hierarchy from the National Organization for Marriage
  • Abandon opposition to allowing lesbian and gay couples to adopting children.

They conclude their list with:

“Perhaps most important, the bishops should stop hiding from us. There is no reason the bishops, priests and deacons of every diocese in the United States cannot hold regular meetings with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics and their families to allow them to speak honestly about their experiences within the church. The result might not always be agreement, but at least it could be a spirit of respect and openness.

“We suspect that some of these recommendations will be received more warmly than others. But having them received at all would be progress for which we might one day have Cardinal Dolan to thank.”

(Equally Blessed is a coaltion of four national Catholic organizations which work for justice and equality for LGBT people in church and society.  The four organizations are Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.)

glaadIn a similar vein, Ross Murray of GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) in an online Washington Post op-ed, suggests three ways for Cardinal Dolan to back up his Easter Sunday message:

“1.Cardinal Dolan needs to stop talking about LGBT people and spend more time listening to them.”

“2.If Cardinal Dolan cannot talk about LGBT people without uttering words of condemnation, he should simply stop talking about LGBT people in general.”

“3.Cardinal Dolan could turn his stated love into tangible action that would help real LGBT people in their day-to-day lives.”

Murray elaborates on each of these three points in his essay, and he concludes with:

“God’s love is felt, not simply stated. When Cardinal Dolan makes such blatant attacks on LGBT people, it makes his ‘I love you and God loves you’ in front of the media ring hollow. Such expressions of love need to be backed up with tangible action. Do something that demonstrates that church leaders view LGBT people as more than a threat or a curse.

“Cardinal Dolan can keep saying that he loves us and God does too, but until he turns away from the camera to actually listen to the stories of our lives, these words will have no meaning.”

Clearly, Cardinal Dolan has his work cut out for him.  The challenge to him is the challenge that all Christians face: to make the Gospel incarnate in the world.  With all of the commentary and suggestions and support offered to him to do something tangible, Cardinal Dolan should have an easier time deciding what to do next.  The ball is in his court.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

‘You Shall Love Your LGBT Neighbor As Yourself’

Tomorrow is Spirit Day, sponsored by GLAAD, to take a stand against anti-LGBT violence and  bullying among youth. LGBT supporters worldwide will wear purple and promote #SpiritDay on social media as a show of solidarity. Noted Jesuit priest  and author James Martin wrote a blog post for America magazine earlier this week on why participation by Catholics is important, entitled ‘Why Not Wear Purple on Friday?

Citing statistics from the Trevor Project  and US Department of Justice officials, Fr. Martin highlights thatLGBT youth are at a vastly increased risk for suicide attempts, family rejection, and bullying in schools. He encouraged Catholic participation in Spirit Day:

“This should be a no-brainer for Catholics, who are called by Christ to support those who suffer or struggle in any way, particularly those on the margins.

“This is an especially relevant issue for Catholics who support traditional families…For Catholics overall it is an opportunity to demonstrate their ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity’ for their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and thus heed the call of the Catechism.  (There’s even a site for Catholics supporting the initiative.)  And when we’re talking about suicide, we’re talking about a ‘life issue.'”

James Martin, SJ

Martin even responds to Catholics objecting to Spirit Day and similar initiatives because of an implied endorsement of organizations that oppose official Catholic teaching. He reminds Catholics that it is important to act against injustices, even if partners do not agree on all aspects, because the alternative of waiting for perfection means halting progress. Martin speaks to the heart of Catholic participation in Spirit Day:

“Many gay and lesbian Catholics have told me (in person, in emails, in notes and letters and in Facebook messages) how alienated they have felt from the church lately.  Perhaps as a result of some of the rhetoric that has been used recently, an increasing number of gay and lesbian Catholics, and gay and lesbian youth in particular, feel marginalized from the church in which they were baptized.

“So why not do something simple to show compassion for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, especially those who are bullied or who have even attempted suicide? Purple is a penitential color, the color of remorse, and so it is particularly appropriate as a sign of remorse over any LBGT hate speech.  Why do something small to show your love of neighbor?”

Those of us at New Ways Ministry will be wearing purple tomorrow to publicly witness against the bullying, violence, and hate speech that harm so many LGBT youth and New Ways Ministry hopes you will join in taking a stand because, as Fr. Martin writes:

“You shall love your LGBT neighbor as yourself.”

Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry