‘Pope Francis’ Bishop Calls for Inclusive Church that Lives Out Vatican II

August 23, 2016
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Bishop Vincent Long

An Australian bishop appointed by Pope Francis has powerfully called on the church to make space for lesbian, bisexual, and gay people, and to examine how it handles homosexuality, as part of his larger call for the church to press on in the work set forth by Vatican II.

Bishop Vincent Long, OFM Conv., of Parramatta offered his remarks during the Ann D. Clark Lecture last week.  His talk was titled, “Pope Francis and the Challenge of Being Church Today.” Long said that among the church’s “greatest challenges” today is being inclusive, to be a church where, in Pope Francis’ vision, all are radically welcome. The bishop explained his definition of real ecclesial inclusiveness:

“By that I mean there must be space for everyone, especially those who have been hurt, excluded or alienated, be they abuse victims, survivors, divorcees, gays, lesbians, women, disaffected members. The church will be less than what Christ intends it to be when issues of inclusion and equality are not fully addressed. That is why you heard me say that I am guided by the radical vision of Christ. I am committed to make the church in Parramatta the house for all peoples, a church where there is less an experience of exclusion but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity.”

In an extended section on inclusion, Long continued by saying the parable of the Good Samaritan is “an incisive lesson that cuts our prejudices to the quick” because through it Jesus redefined what goodness means and collapsed human boundaries. It is Jesus’ “vision of love, inclusion and human flourishing that ought to guide our pastoral response. ” The bishop pointedly added, “. . . it is the holders of the tradition who are often guilty of prejudice, discrimination and oppressive stereotype.” Because of these biases, Long said the church must look inward at its own response to people it has harmed:

“We cannot be a strong moral force and an effective prophetic voice in society if we are simply defensive, inconsistent and divisive with regards to certain social issues. We cannot talk about the integrity of creation, the universal and inclusive love of God, while at the same time colluding with the forces of oppression in the ill-treatment of racial minorities, women and homosexual persons. It won’t wash with young people especially when we purport to treat gay people with love and compassion and yet define their sexuality as ‘intrinsically disordered’. This is particularly true when the Church has not been a shining beacon and a trail-blazer in the fight against inequality and intolerance. Rather, it has been driven involuntarily into a new world where many of the old stereotypes have been put to rest and the identities and rights of the marginalised are accorded justice, acceptance, affirmation and protection in our secular and egalitarian society.”

Addressing the impact Pope Francis should have on Catholic engagement of homosexuality, Bishop Long commented:

“In one of his interviews on a rather thorny issue of homosexuality, Pope Francis says that we must always consider the person, because – I quote ‘when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ It seems to me that the Pope has more than moved away from the approach of condemnation and judgement. He has refocused on the proclamation of God’s love for the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised; he has firmly placed the pastoral emphasis on the dignity of every person; he has committed the Church to the way of engagement, affirmation and compassion which is at the heart of the Gospel.”

Long’s call for the church to reform and renew its engagement of gender and sexuality issues was set within broader remarks about recapturing the vision set forth by the spirit of Vatican II. He said the church in Australia was at “a critical juncture” with declining numbers and public scandals rocking the institutional church. But with God there can be “unexpected outcomes of the most crushing defeats,” and he added:

“I believe that we are living in a watershed and a privileged moment in the history of the church. Just as the biblical exile brought about the most transforming experience that profoundly shaped the faith of Israel, this transition time can potentially launch the Church into a new era of hope, engagement and solidarity that the Second Vatican Council beckoned us with great foresight. From where I stand, the arrival of Pope Francis and his emphasis on servant leadership have unambiguously signaled this new era. He himself said poignantly that we are not living in an era of change but change of era. By this, he means that it is the church that needs to live up to its fundamental call to be ‘ecclesia semper reformanda’ or the church always in need of reform to be in sync with the movement of the Holy Spirit and direction of the Kingdom.”

Long said that, as part of this reform and renewal, there must be a “prophetic reframing” by properly interpreting the signs of the times “in a way that offers fresh and hopeful vision for the future.”

Long predominantly cited women as exemplars of faith, a notable point for church leaders who often condemn feminism. He cited the story of Puah and Shiphrah, Hebrew midwives at the beginning of the book of Exodus who rejected the Pharaoh’s desire that all young boys be killed.  He also mentioned the life of Mary MacKillop, founder of the Josephite Sisters in Oceania who was once silenced by church authorities but whose prophetic witness since been reclaimed. Remarking on the model of Christian leadership these women offer, the bishop said:

“It is a vocation of the Christian leader to be with his people in their hopes and struggles, anxieties and fears. He/she is to be ‘a Malcolm in the middle’ who occupies in betwixt and between, liminal, peripheral and precarious places. It is not easy to be in the middle, and to be loyal to both ends of the spectrum, to belong to the Church of orthodoxy and yet also to minister in the world of the unorthodox. That is really between the rock and the hard place as they call it. Yet, that is the calling of the leader, because we are meant to be in the coal face, in the messiness of it all and at the same time in fidelity to the Gospel. . .

“Being merciful is at the heart of Catholic identity. It is not simply a matter of acting with mercy and compassion to those in need with our position of power and privilege intact. Rather, it is a radical discipleship of vulnerability and powerlessness in the footsteps of the humble servant of God.”

Long ended his remarks by listing ways of being church that he believes must be reclaimed for this renewed and reformed vision to be built up, including:

  • “Less a role of power, dominance and privilege but more a position of vulnerability and powerlessness. . .
  • “Less an experience of exclusion and elitism but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity. . .
  • “Less a language of condemnation but more a language of affirmation and compassion.”

This is not Bishop Long’s first time speaking inclusively about LGBT issues. During the homily at his Installation Mass earlier this year, Long offered similar outreach to communities including LGB people hurt by the church. According to Tim Smyth of Acceptance, an Australian LGBT Catholics group, Long’s Installation Mass remark was “the first public statement by an Australian Bishop calling for spaces in our church for gay and lesbian Catholics.” Hopefully, the bishop will build on these remarks, and his pastoral leadership will help grow structural outreach to LGBT communities and their loved ones.

Worth noting, too, is that another Conventual Franciscan bishop appointed by Pope Francis recently made positive comments about LGBT issues. Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., of Lexington, Kentucky offered the reflections at this year’s conference for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, and in the first of these remarks he addressed LGBT issues in a positive light. You can find out more about his remarks by clicking here.

To close this post, it is best to quote Bishop Long once again, who offered this prayer at the Lecture’s end, a prayer which seems fitting for LGBT advocates in the church in this critical historical moment:

“May we be like the prophets for our people during this our contemporary exile. May we be strengthened to walk the journey of faith with them, proclaim the message of hope, the signs of the new Kairos and lead them in the direction of the kingdom. May all of us enact the rhythm of the paschal mystery of dying and rising in the pattern of our Lord who is the Alpha and the Omega.”

Amen. To read Bishop Long’s full remarks, which I highly recommend, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Australian Liturgy Answers Pope Francis’ Call for Apology

August 12, 2016

At the end of June, Pope Francis made headlines when he called on the church to apologize to lesbian and gay people for the harm that they have experienced.  In the six weeks since the pope made that call, no church leader or organization has accepted the pope’s challenge.  Until today.

What is likely the first public apology to LGBTIQ people in response to Pope Francis’ statement, an Australian Catholic parish and a Catholic LGBT coalition will be hosting a “An Apology Liturgy to LGBTIQ People” today, in which the two groups will ask pardon of the sexual and gender minority community, and seek to chart a more just course for the future.

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‘Pastoral organizers including St Joseph’s Church Newtown Parish Priest Father Peter Maher (3rd from right) at an ecumenical pastoral leaders’ roundtable hosted by the interagency’

The Mass is being sponsored by St. Joseph’s Church, Newtown (a suburb of Sydney), and the Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry, an umbrella group for several Australian Catholic groups that work for LGBT equality.

“We are taking Pope Francis’ words to heart, along with all the other positive things he has had to say over the years, not only about gay people, but also about Jesus’ words to welcome, heal relationships and show mercy” said Father Peter Maher, pastor of St Joseph’s, in a press statement.

Francis Vroon, a Rainb0w Catholics Interagency for Ministry spokesperson noted the innovative and unique experience this Mass will be:

“Perhaps for the first time in Australia, and possibly the world, we have a Catholic Church respond to these words, where we are inviting people of goodwill to community prayer in recognition of our church’s and collective failure to keep LGBTIQ people safe from discrimination and hurt. More importantly, we pledge that we do better from here on.”

Vroon noted that in hosting the Mass, the group  was joining with Pope Francis and the newly appointed Bishop of Parramatta, Vincent Long, in acknowledging the ways that the church has harmed or failed to protect LGBTIQ people.

Noting that just over 25% of the Australian population identifies as Catholic Vroon added:

“It may be also be possible that one in four people in the LGBTIQ community has come from a Catholic background, church or school. Many have left our church, some have remained, finding peace in reconciling both their sexuality and faith.”

The groups’ press statement offered an explanation of the purpose of having a Mass of Forgiveness, not just issuing a statement:

What can our humble prayer service do? In our Catholic tradition, we have a saying ‘lex orandi, lex credendi’ which is a fancy way of saying that what we pray informs our beliefs. As we pray for forgiveness, we resolve to change our hearts and be part of the healing process for those we have hurt or failed. One of our saints has been quoted as saying ‘Pray as if everything depended on God, Work as if everything depended on you.’ Some might say that words are empty without action, and perhaps we need the LGBTIQ community to keep us accountable, in positively encouraging ways. We have to start somewhere, and we hope our prayers are a beginning, as we start to walk with our LGBTIQ siblings in relationships that lead to a change of hearts towards each other. And then who knows what good fruits will be born of this?”

The Mass will be held at 8:00 p.m. on August 12th at St. Joseph’s, whose mission statement says is “to provide a safe place for all people to pray regardless of age, race, creed, gender, cultural background or sexual orientation.”  The parish was featured last year in a Bondings 2.0 post because of the rainbow banners which are a permanent fixture in the church building.

The Rainbow Catholics Interagency describes itself as a “coalition of Catholic organisations whose primary purpose is to build relationships, to pray, and to educate, in advocating for justice and the full inclusion of LGBTIQ Catholics and their families in the Australian Catholic Church and our larger community. Their members include parents, clergy, religious and pastoral leaders from various parts of the Australian Catholic community.”

New Ways Ministry will be praying with these groups, and we encourage all of our friends to do the same.  We will also be praying that other leaders, parishes, and church organizations will follow their example and make some public statement or action of apology, as Pope Francis has asked.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Around the Globe, LGBT Progress in Catholic Education is Slow, But Happening

July 22, 2016

handsCatholic education is a foremost way by which the church influences the world, educating millions of students, Catholic and non-Catholic, globally. Given this impact, how church officials address LGBT issues matters significantly and is therefore, frequently, a source of contention. But when done well, Catholic education can do much good for LGBT youth and their peers. This Bondings 2.0 post highlights how the complexities are playing out in several countries.

Scotland

The Catholic Church in Scotland will begin training its teachers for gender and sexuality competency inclusive of LGBTI concerns, reported Pink NewsA church spokesperson said the church has a “zero tolerance approach” to end discrimination, continuing:

” ‘The Church is working with the Catholic Head Teacher association to ensure that all teachers have adequate knowledge, understanding, and training and feel confident in addressing all aspects of relationships education, including LGBTI matters, in an appropriate and sensitive way.’ “

This commitment comes as the whole nation of Scotland  focuses on inclusion in schools, led by the campaign Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) and endorsed by all major political parties. Sixteen years ago, legislators repealed Section 28 which had barred gay-positive education in schools. The repeal did, however, not address what material should be taught. TIE’s objective now, according to The Heraldis “calling for mandatory teaching of LGBTI issues in schools to end discrimination and bullying” to save lives and equalize all students.

Questions remain about how the church’s stated commitment will be concretely enacted, given negative church teachings on homosexuality, For instance, working only through Catholic organizations may limit engagement with actual LGBT people and their families. KaleidoScot noted:

“The ‘appropriate and sensitive’ way to deal with such matters would arguably be through engagement with the very people directly affected, and liaison with teaching unions and other non-Catholic organisations would surely inform the Church’s thinking. The statement also fails to give any commitment to the teaching of LGBTI matters in Catholic schools. Furthermore, in some respects, the Church spokesperson’s statement suggests that it fails to see the need for significant changes in the way its schools operate.”

It remains to be seen what the Scottish Catholic Church’s commitment to training teachers will mean; hopefully, it will involve liberating education rather then relying on past methods which have suppressed LGBT students and staff.

Australia

In Australia, politicians are debating the Safe Schools Program to assist LGBT students, and the discussion has emerged in Catholic circles.

Peter Norden, a professor at RMIT University and a former Jesuit priest, said failing to support LGBT youth may violate international law.  Norden  published an article in the Australian Journal of Human Rights saying church teaching about homosexuality can harm young students. According to The Age, he wrote :

” ‘In many ways, same-sex attracted students are being asked to remain voiceless and invisible in some Catholic schools. . .For students that are same-sex attracted, they can be treated like second class citizens.’ “

Australian Catholic schools, which educate a fifth of the country’s students, may violate the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child, Norden said. This Convention guarantees free expression, protection from violence, and dignified education. But a 2006 study of Catholic school students by Norden found high rates of self-injury and suicide, calling into question whether church officials were attending to LGBT youth’s needs:

” ‘You would hope an organisation that values empathy, mercy and engagement might have cause to review their situation.”

LGBT organizations have expressed concerns with Catholic education which, as in the United States, has religious exemptions for how it operates. Micah Scott of the Minus 18, an LGBTI youth organization, told The Age:

” ‘Many topics, including sexual and gender diversity, are unspoken. It sends a message to already vulnerable young people that who they are is institutionally forbidden, and that they should be ashamed of their identity.’ “

Catholic officials have pushed back on these claims, including Ross Fox who directs the National Catholic Education Commission and Stephen Elder, chief executive of Catholic Education Melbourne, who said schools were already focusing on eliminating bullying and unsafe behaviors.

On the other hand, Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher’s election document listed the Safe Schools Program as one of the top four issues about which Catholics should be concerned, two others being religious liberty and marriage. The document says the Program “introduces children and teens to the concept of ‘gender fluidity’ and includes activites such as role-playing being in a sexually active same-sex relationship.”

Intrachurch conflicts were apparent, too, during a panel at the National Catholic Education Commission Conference held in June, reported The Record. Panelists largely opposed a proposed plebiscite on marriage equality, including Bishop Greg O’Kelly of Port Pirie who said the church should not campaign on the issue, but also that same-gender marriages have “submerged” the rights of children. But Carmel Nash, deputy chair of Catholic School Parents Australia, said though the church’s teachings should be respected, “many parents have probably, rightly or wrongly, moved on from the at view” and they should be respected having done so, too.

Canada

Alberta’s Catholic schools have been wracked by LGBT controversy for over a year. The Edmonton Catholic School Board ‘s consideration of a transgender policy led to one meeting become a “shouting match” last fall.  Additionally, the Board approved“just discrimination” in schools as a draft policy last December.

A new independent report questions whether the Board remains viable, noted the CBC. Donald Cummings, a consultant and the report’s author, described the Edmonton Boards governance challenges as “systemic, deep and resistant to change.” He said third-party mediation would be necessary to resolve problems. Alberta’s Education Minister, David Eggen, has intervened and assigned a deputy minister to oversee improvements by and greater accountability for the Board.

Catholic educators worldwide are increasingly being asked to grapple with LGBT inclusion and support, as more students come out and at younger ages, and more faculty and staff enter into same-gender relationships or marriages.

But one Canadian school in Toronto, Loretto College School, revealed a powerful way forward that helps entire communities. Jenna Tenn-Yuk, a spoken word artist, reported on Health and Wellness day at the all-girls high school. During  the day’s assembly, the school’s chaplain and six other staff affirmed LGBT students and championed gay-straight alliances. Tenn-Yuk wrote on her blog:

“Staff were standing in solidarity with LGBTQ+ students at the front of the school. . .I was deeply moved and quite emotional before I had to speak. I kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is happening right now. How would my life be different is this happened at my Catholic high school?’ . . .

“There was so much light and warmth in the room and it was an honour to be in that space. This is the start of something beautiful and will impact generations of students to come.”

That light and warmth should be what every student in Catholic education experiences, especially those who are marginalized like LGBT students. This post shows that while progress is, in many ways, being made, much work remains.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Priest Leads Opposition to Queensland’s “Gay Panic” Defense

May 27, 2016
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Fr. Paul Kelly

A Catholic priest in Australia has been leading efforts to eliminate the “gay panic” defense in his state.  The “gay panic” defense, which allows defendants to claim that a victim’s sexual advances motivated a criminal violence, is responsible for letting two men escape murder charges in a 2008 killing.

Fr. Paul Kelly launched an online petition in 2012 to repeal the “gay panic” defense law, which is still allowed in the states of Queensland and South Australia. In that petition, which now has nearly 248,000 signatures, Kelly explained his powerful reason for being involved:

“I’m a Catholic Priest and 8 years ago a man called Wayne Ruks was bashed to death in my Brisbane churchyard. Unbelievably, his killer’s convictions were downgraded to manslaughter, using ‘gay panic’ as a defence. . .

“I’ve made it my mission to see this revolting law abolished – it belongs in the dark ages. I have no words to describe how offensive, harmful and dangerous it is that two of our governments uphold that a person can be panicked enough by gay people to justify murder.”

Wayne Ruks was killed by John Meerdink and Jason Andrew Pearce in July 2008, his body found at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Maryborough. Extensive video evidence revealed the assailants beat Ruks for fifteen minutes, leaving him to die from internal bleeding. They avoided murder charges by claiming Ruks made sexual advances on them.

Father Kelly renewed efforts around the petition because the “leisurely pace” of change had been so slow.  He told News.com.au that eliminating this legal issue is “such a no brainer. . .It should’ve changed with one signature, not [240,000].”

Thanks to the efforts of Fr. Kelly and others, Australian government officials have finally promised to act. Premier of South Australia Jay Weatherill replied to the petition, describing the “gay panic” defense as an “outdated and offensive notion.” He promised legal reforms to remove it. Yvette D’Ath, attorney-general for Queensland whose government promised to eliminate the defense in 2015, said change was forthcoming so that the state’s criminal code would not be perceived to “condone violence against the gay community, or indeed any community.”

Fr. Kelly’s activism show how Catholic thought can help bring about justice for LGBT people.  Unfortunately, not all church leaders in Australia are standing with the LGBT community, though. The nation’s bishops have chosen the occasion of upcoming elections to reiterate their opposition to marriage equality proposals.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 12.43.47 PMThe Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) released a two-page statement in advance of federal elections to be held July 2. The statement included two paragraphs about marriage that imply expanded LGBT rights would victimize marriage and family in the “throwaway culture” criticized by Pope Francis. The bishops wrote that political decisions can end up “undermining marriage” and, alluding to a proposed plebiscite on marriage equality, said future decisions could further undermine marriage:

“Support for marriage and the family does not look a big vote-winner, so that even the most basic human institution, upon which the health of a society depends, can become part of the throwaway culture or at best an optional extra.”

These remarks intensify the Australian bishops’ collective opposition to marriage equality, as political reporter James Massola wrote in the Brisbane Times

“The remarks about same-sex marriage are significantly stronger than in the 2013 statement – which simply stated there ‘must be legal recognition of the unique nature of marriage between a man and a woman’ and 2010, when the issue was not mentioned and underscores concern in the Church.”

Whichever party wins in the July elections, it appears marriage equality is an inevitability for Australia. The nation’s residents overwhelmingly support it, with recent polls showing approval ratings above 60%. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic supportive of LGBT rights, said a plebiscite on the issue first proposed by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a Catholic who opposed marriage equality, would proceed if his Liberal party is re-elected. The opposition Labor party has promised to pass marriage equality in its first hundred days.

In a final related note, a discrimination complaint against the Australian bishops over an anti-marriage equality booklet they published last year has been withdrawn. Transgender advocate and politician Martine Delaney voluntary withdrew her complaint against ACBC and Archbishop Julius Porteous of Hobart after mediation efforts by the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner in Tasmania ended in futility. She explained to 9 News:

” ‘My primary reason [for withdrawing the complaint] is the tribunal process is a very long and drawn out process and during that time the message of this booklet is going to continue to be spread. . .My intention was to force (the church) to understand the gravity of their actions, but they refuse to do so and the damage has been done.’ “

The booklet, titled “Don’t Mess with Marriage,” was released last year to widespread criticism. In the Diocese of Hobart schoolchildren were controversially used as couriers to bring it to their parents. LGBT advocate Michael Bayly even called booklet and its dissemination a “new low” for the Australian bishops.

Australia’s bishops should reconsider how invested they will be in opposing the seemingly inevitable passage of marriage equality when real and pressing issues of justice beckon. They could learn well from Fr. Paul Kelly’s example, and focus instead on how they can help protect the lives and well-being of sexually and gender diverse people.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Posts

August 17, 2012: “Australian Priest Meets with Attorney General to End ‘Gay Panic’ Defense

July 13, 2012: “Australian Catholic Priest Re-Launches Campaign to End ‘Gay Panic’ Defense

January 26, 2012: “News Notes: January 26, 2012

January 2, 2012: “Catholic Priest Speaks Out for Equality in the Law

 

 


Australian Students Demand Greater LGBT Respect from Catholic Institutions

May 4, 2016
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Advocates rally in defense of Australia’s Safe Schools Program

College students in Australia are protesting an upcoming lecture by a of a Catholic man who claims “reparative therapy” successfully changed his sexuality, the latest dispute about LGBT issues as they relate to Catholic education  in that nation.

The University of Sydney’s Catholic Society will host James Parker tonight to speak about his experiences with “reparative therapy.” Parker is linked to People Can Change, a UK group which administers gay “conversion” programs, and he authored a 2014 piece about his own experience, reported Buzzfeed.

Georg Tamm, a gay Catholic student, said student objections were not to discussions about divergent views on sexuality, but specifically about the harm reparative therapy has caused. Tamm said:

” ‘I would have been OK with them inviting a priest, discussing why men and women are made for each other according to the Catholic scripture. . .But I don’t see the pertinence of inviting someone who is supposedly a patient of successful ex-gay therapy, when it has no scientific merit and is actually quite dangerous.’ “

Tamm said the Catholic Society’s invitation to Parker did not seem “to care about the welfare of those students” who are LGBT or questioning. Such talks, he added, defeat evangelical efforts “at a time when we need people to take the religion seriously and do good things with it.” The Catholic Society denied claims the event promoted prejudice against LGBT people.

Concerned students have appealed to the Student Union to prohibit, or at least refuse to fund, future events promoting reparative therapy. University of Sydney administrators are inquiring into whether restrictions can be placed on campus speakers, too.

Such LGBT controversies in Australian education are increasingly frequent. Last month, St. Francis Xavier College in Melbourne censored a sexual health workbook by requiring students to rip out a page about homosexuality and premarital sex. The Age reported:

“[Y]ear 9 students were called into the hall and told they could not leave until they had thrown a page of the textbook in the bin. . .

“[The [page] included a photo of two men hugging and smiling, and listed different sexual preferences including heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality.”

The workbook asked students age-appropriate questions about sexuality and relationships, but Principal Vincent Feeney explained such questions should be addressed in religious education classes rather than health classes. He defended St. Francis Xavier College further by saying it was inclusive of LGBT students and even allowed same-gender couples to attend formal dances. Students remained critical, however, with one calling the ripping of pages a “medieval weak response.” Others refused to tear the page out.

In another story, the Safe Schools Program in Australia, which educates against bullying, has come under fire after four successful years. Conservative politicians have attacked the Program, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic, has conceded to their demands. Following a government review, Safe Schools Programs, will be limited to high schools and have their content curtailed. A coalition under the name Save Safe Schools has organized rallies and campaigning to ensure funding is sustained and the Program keeps expanding.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a Catholic, described the Program as “social engineering” in his call for its defunding, reported Buzzfeed. Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, herself a lesbian Catholic, said such comments were “negative and unconstructive” because you cannot engineer a person’s lived reality.

Just two Catholic schools participate in the Safe Schools Program: St. Joseph’s College, a Christian Brothers school; and St. Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre, both in Victoria. St. Joseph’s College Head Paul Tobias said the Safe Schools debate “put people like me in a particularly difficult position” because of conservative attacks then lodged against the schools. Those pressures do not mean he or the school would be less supportive, however. He told The Age:

” ‘But I don’t believe there is anything in the Catholic faith that should stop us from promoting inclusiveness, diversity, and tolerance. . .

” ‘Every student who attends this school, irrespective of their sexuality, is entitled to be part of a safe environment. We need to accept that there are some kids who are heterosexual and there are some that are LGBTI.’ “

St. Joseph’s College under Tobias’ leadership established a homophobia task force as early as 1997 in response to an alum’s letter about anti-gay bullying. Tobias wrote to federal and state officials supporting the program, but he questioned whether the focused had shifted from promoting diversity and acceptance to focusing on the minutiae of gender and sexuality issues, which he felt would be detrimental to the Safe Schools Program’s mission.

Elsewhere in Australia, students in Catholic schools have challenged their institutions to participate. A gay student at St. Joseph’s College in Queensland asked Principal Michael Carroll for support, but the student’s testimony of intense bullying, but was met with a curt “no.” The student felt betrayed by administrators and teachers whom he admired, reported The Brisbane Times, and he added:

” ‘I hope that it is not the will of the Catholic Church that this group of young Australians, which are 14 times more likely to end their own lives, are not protected. . .All I can do is hope that they do not want to see me being abused, being made to feel uncomfortable and being separated from society, made to feel like a second-rate citizen.’ “

There is nothing in Catholic teaching which endorses marginalization of or discrimination towards LGBT people, particularly youth who are vulnerable and entrusted to the church for their education. Each of these controversies is rooted in flawed Catholic understandings of gender and of sexuality. These understandings refuse to prioritize social justice teachings about LGBT people’s rights and dignity, instead relying upon pseudo-science to validate outdated, but ideologically convenient ideas. As Australian Catholics reckon with how to protect LGBT people and expand their rights, including the question of marriage equality, a dose of honesty and an attentiviness to reality would be most healthy.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Sydney Archdiocese In Marriage Equality Brouhaha Concerning Supportive Businesses

April 15, 2016
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Archbishop Anthony Fisher, O.P.

Reports have surfaced that the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia, may have threatened to withdraw from businesses supportive of marriage equality, which is not yet legalized in that nation.  Actions by both Telstra, a telecommunications company, and the archdiocese seem to point toward some sort of agreement between the two entities regarding the upcoming marriage equality plebiscite. Mashable reported:

“According to The Australian, Archdiocese of Sydney business manager Michael Digges approached a number of companies who had given permission for their logo to be used in a newspaper advertisement in support of marriage equality in May 2015. . .He suggested the church could withdraw business from participating companies, including Telstra , which reportedly serves Catholic schools around Australia.”

Digges’ letter said corporations were “overstepping their purpose” in speaking publicly on this issue, and such acts should be “strongly resisted.” A further report from Business Insider claims former Telstra Chairwoman Catherine Livingstone met with Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher in October. Reporter Harry Tucker stated:

“The pair, who have both known each other for years, eventually came to a compromise. As part of that, Telstra would keep its logo on the Australian Marriage Equality page, but it would stop publicly campaigning around the issue.”

Telstra said there would be not further corporate involvement in the pro-equality campaign, other than their being listed as a supporter of the group Australian Marriage Equality.  Whether this decisiono is due to the Archdiocese’s letter is unconfirmed. For their part, Digges and the Archdiocese have denied any pressure was implied in the letter to businesses with whom the church partners.

LGBT advocates have been questioning church leaders’ precise role, if any, in Telstra’s backing away from seeking LGBT equality. The company’s customers, and Australians generally, have reacted quite negatively to this move. Shelley Argent, a mother and spokesperson for PFLAG, said the company was wrong, and the church “should be ashamed they’re even asking this,” reported the Herald Sun. Other customers said they may cancel their Telstra contacts over the matter.

Marriage equality is stalled in Australia’s Parliament despite 70% approval nationally and the support of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition leader Bill Shorten, who are both Catholic. Turnbull is holding fast to a plebiscite proposed by his predecessor Tony Abbot, another Catholic. Shorten recently called on Turnbull to hold the vote during the recalled parliament that begins this week.

Australians have criticized the plebiscite, promised by year’s end, as unnecessary since the overwhelming majority of Australians support marriage equality. Those critics include Fr. Frank Brennan, S.J., a law professor, who released on Facebook a letter he wrote to Prime Minister Turnbull. Brennan, writing against the plebiscite, explained some of the legal and political procedural complications:

“When the plebiscite vote is carried in favour of same sex marriage, as I am confident it will be, there will still be a need for our Parliament to legislate complex provisions protecting religious freedom and expanding the freedom to marry. It’s only a parliament, not a plebiscite, which can legislate the complex details of equality and the protection of all rights, including the right to religious freedom.”

Brennan also said the plebiscite would be “a waste of time” and “unleash torrents of hate on the gay and lesbian community.” Fr. Brennan’s projections seem likely given the Australian bishops’ heavily-criticized approach to opposing marriage equality, which has included using schoolchildren as messengers for an anti-equality pamphlet and using hyperbolic language about same-gender marriages.  Given Archbishop Fisher’s own negative record on LGBT issues and this recent incident between the Archdiocese and Telstra, it seems more than likely that any vote would negatively impact LGBT people.  Beyond the financial and political costs, it is time for church leaders to think foremost of the pastoral costs in mounting a hopeless campaign which aims only at causing further harm and division in an already wounded church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Gay Author Turns Down Catholic School Which Tried to Silence His Identity

March 15, 2016
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William Kostakis with his book, The Sidekick

An Australian Catholic high school has asked an an author who had been invited to the school to refrain from speaking about his latest novel, which contains a gay character, after the writer came out as a gay man.

De La Salle College, a high school located in the Sydney suburb of Revesby, had invited William Kostakis to speak about his new book, The Sidekicks, in March and in June. But Kostakis withdrew from the engagements after being asked in a staff member’s email to him, that he be silent about his new book, The Sidekicks, which has a gay character in it. According to News.Com.Au, the school leader’s email stated that the institution had:

” ‘. . .a concern about promoting your new book at our school as it is a Catholic school. . .We were reading over your blog and I think it might not be appropriate, and parents might not be happy.’ ”

The school had successfully hosted Kostakis when a previous book of his, The First Third, was published.  Kostakis writes for a teen-age audience.

The school was also concerned about a blog post  Kostakis wrote recently in which he acknoledged his sexual orientation and discussed a former boyfriend’s cancer diagnosis.

The author posted the staff member’s email on his blog, as well as part of his response to the school’s request:

“Coming out publicly was difficult. I feared I would have to choose between doing what I love/earn a living from – engaging kids to read and be truthful in their writing – and not having to hide my partners from colleagues as ‘friends’. I had hoped, having spoken at some Catholic schools, those schools would be comfortable with my revelation knowing what I bring to my presentations and workshops. And that my sexuality, while it informs who I am, is not the subject of my presentations.

“Professionally, it would probably be wise to still present in June, your students were a lovely audience, I have to stick up for my 16 year old self, and say this is personal. . .The First Third was acceptable, but now I have a blog post saying I like men, The Sidekicks is not.

“And that is not something I will accept for the promise of a pay cheque.”

Kostakis mentioned, too, that he is grateful that his high school teachers were courageous enough to have students read diverse literature, even if some people were uncomfortable with those choices, because it made him, a closeted gay student, feel safe. He concluded that he hopes teachers at De La Salle College would have courage to do the same.

The book in question, The Sidekicks, is a novel for young adults that is “mostly a book about the fear of closets, and why teenagers in real life have to stay in the closet,” said Kostakis. The only sexual activity in the book is a kiss, which is far less than his earlier work, The First Third, that the De La Salle official asked him to speak about instead.

This incident occurs as St. Joseph’s College, the nation’s only Catholic high school which chose to participate in Australia’s Safe Schools Program, an anti-bullying effort, faces intensifying criticism from conservatives to withdraw from the program.  Additionally,  Australians are weighing a potential plebiscite this year on marriage equality.

But politics should never dictate students’ well-being. It seems a visit from William Kostakis to discuss his books and his career would have benefited all students at De La Salle College, as it had previously, and particularly those who might be LGBT in and not yet out. It is sad that Kostakis’ coming out was treated as grounds for trying to silence him, rather than as a teachable moment.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


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