After Orlando, Bishops Should Cancel Fortnight for Freedom

June 21, 2016
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Catholics protesting the original Fortnight for Freedom in 2012.

When it comes to the mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Catholics have not only responded to this horror, but to the failings of many church leaders to be in solidarity with LGBT communities. A handful of bishops identified the victims as LGBT people, but the vast majority including the Vatican could not even utter the word “gay” in their statements.

Today begins the U.S. bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom campaign. While it is ostensibly focused on religious liberty, in reality this now-annual campaign promotes such freedom at the expense of the rights of LGBT people and others. In view of their failings in responding to Orlando last week, the bishops should cancel the Fortnight and instead use the time to reflect on how they might reconcile with LGBT people in the church and in society.

The bishops could begin by thinking about Micheal Sean Winters’ questions posed to them ahead of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) spring meeting held in California last week. He wrote in the National Catholic Reporter:

“Do you see that referring to gay people as ‘people who experience same sex attraction’ is not only a clunky and bizarre phrasing, in the wake of the attacks Sunday morning, it was offensive? Do you see that it seems you are afraid to mention the word, as if saying it were a kind of communicable disease? Does such a reluctance reflect the respect and dignity for the human person the Church celebrates?

“Do you think it is polite to refer to people in the manner that they refer to themselves? Do you still call Presbyterians and Lutherans heretics? Would you appreciate being called papists? Idolators? Does your hesitancy reflect concern about certain theories about LGBT issues you have been sold by some conservative groups and, if so, is this reluctance to call gay people gay not an example of putting ideology before people which the pope has denounced as the source of great evil and many barriers and injustices in our world?”

Winters asked, too, about whether bishops’ conflicts about their own sexual identities “helped or hindered” their relations with LGBT people. Robert Mickens in the National Catholic Reporter  followed a similar line of questioning. On LGBT people, Mickens wrote, church teaching and most church leaders “put us in closets and do all they can to keep us there.” He suggested the roots of these problems reside in priests’ own homophobia:

“Closeted homosexuality among the clergy — especially in the hierarchy — is one of the most serious pathologies that continues to hamper our ordained ministers from being prophetic leaders.”

Mickens called gay priests who acknowledge their sexual identity but remain closeted “truly heroic men.” These priests and male religious are the “first and most tragic victims of a faulty and hurtful teaching” because they not only must hide themselves but must represent the very church causing that harm. Some of these priests and religious leave active ministry, while others remain to serve the people of God. Then Mickens identified the real problem as those priests and religious who are “homosexually oriented but refuse to admit this even to themselves.” He wrote:

“In this way, they unwittingly inflict their own unacknowledged suffering and pathology on others by mercilessly preaching a rigid morality and insisting on a strict adherence to the letter of every ecclesiastical law. . .These are the tightly buttoned-up types, in every sense of the word. And so many of them tend to find their identity in the traditionalist wing of the church.”

Vatican actions, including letters from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a 2005 instruction designed to bar gay men from seminary, have forced church ministers deeper into their closets. Mickens noted that the failings of many bishops to even note it was an LGBT nightclub targeted in Orlando “clearly attest that they fear even mentioning gay people.”

When closeted church leaders’ internal struggles are externalized as anti-LGBT actions, such decisions are too often acceptable in the bishops’ eyes. The Fortnight for Freedom’s skewed vision, the divisions it causes, and the aspersions it casts against Catholics who support LGBT equality, become normalized at the USCCB. Bishops’ failure to respond pastorally or even honestly after a massacre of LGBT people should almost be expected in such a stifling atmosphere.

Noting that today is “a time of increased danger to LGBTQ people (and those thought to be LGBTQ.),” theologian Lisa Fullam wrote on Commonweal’s  blog that “Queer Lives Matter.” The social reality therefore demands an improved and positive response from Catholic leaders, a response called for with renewed urgency after Orlando.  Fullam writes:

“The Orlando shooter was not Catholic. Nor does any reputable voice of Catholic leadership justify the killing of LBGT people, as, sadly, some ‘Christians’ have. While racism still afflicts our Church, our doctrine is not to blame, at least not any more–we still have much work to do, certainly, but no current Church teaching upholds racial or ethnic discrimination on theological grounds. Not so homophobia, which does still afflict both doctrine and practice in Catholicism.”

Many Catholics are advising the bishops on how they could have respond better to Orlando, and Bondings 2.0 will highlight some of these suggestions tomorrow. But for now, Fullam offers a strong call to action. She elucidated Catholic sources for anti-LGBT prejudices, including the harsh language in church teaching and the epidemic of firing of LGBT church workers, before concluding:

“In the wake of Orlando, where racist homophobia killed 49 Americans and terrorized millions of LGBTQ people, especially queer people of color, it is time for the Church–the people of God, all of us–to step away from language that fuels distrust and disdain of sexual minorities. It is time for us to exercise positive solidarity with LGBTQ people. As with racism, it is not enough to renounce overtly homophobic acts, but rather we must recognize and stand against the structures of social sin that drive them. As Bishop Lynch observed, the Catholic faith is not innocent on this score. Instead, our churches must be safe places for LGBTQ people (and especially clergy, who are largely silenced about their sexuality) to be ‘out,’ and our institutions must be secure places to work. . .And please–if there is a Pride parade coming up near you, go out and stand with the LGBTQ community. Come and mourn and celebrate, come thumb your nose at the forces of sin and death that only love can overcome. In the wake of this most recent explosion of savage racist homophobia, we must all stand together as children of the same God.”

After Orlando, church leaders should, at the very least, be silent if they are unable to express true solidarity with the victims of the Pulse nightclub, their loved ones, and the LGBT communities worldwide suffering after this attack. Cancelling the Fortnight for Freedom would be a humble and penitent step towards reconciliation with those Catholics and people in society who have been harmed by the bishops’ politicking. It would be an overdue but honest recognition that those young people gunned down in Orlando were lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, and queer children of God, wonderfully made and worth celebrating. And it would be a healthy and welcome recognition that the bishops’ campaign against civil rights has perpetuated the homophobia and transphobia which not only caused the Orlando massacre, but causes daily suffering for LGBT people and their families.

To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Orlando massacre and Catholic responses to it, please click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Theologians: Catholics Have “Civil Rights Imperative” to Seek LGBT Protections

April 22, 2016
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Todd A. Salzman

Two theologians from Creighton University have called for Catholics to support LGBT non-discrimination protections in a new essay published in the National Catholic Reporter. In it, they specifically target the ill-founded opposition of U.S. bishops to such protections.

Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler provide an in-depth response to Catholic bishops’ repeated claims at local, state, and federal levels that expanding LGBT protections will infringe on religious liberty. The theologians disprove these claims and conclude further:

“[L]egislation protecting LGBT people from discrimination is a civil rights imperative that the Catholic church is obligated to support in a pluralist society.”

How did they arrive at this conclusion?

Salzman and Lawler begin by noting just how many controversies there presently are over LGBT protections, and that the bishops’ engagement thus far has been inadequate. The theologians identify the bishops’ 2012 statement on religious liberty, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” as a key reason for the bishops’ present failings, and they critique it on three major points.

First, Salzman and Lawler address the bishops’ treatment of secularism and relativism, which they identify as “the basis for both the bishops’ claims that religious freedom is under attack and for their resistance to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA].” This concern has deep roots in the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but is not well understood or engaged by the magisterium, the theologians assert.

Salzman and Lawler point out theological implications of new sociological data.  Specifically, they cite the facts that 73% of U.S. Catholics support LGBT protections and that there is “a growing disconnect between what the Catholic faithful believe about sexual morality and official Catholic moral teaching,”

One implication is that what the bishops call “relativism” is actually “differing perspectives with respect to the definition of human dignity and to what norms facilitate or frustrate its attainment.” Another implication is that sociological data helps to discern the sensus fidelium. About these implications, Salzman and Lawler conclude:

“To present official Catholic teaching on sexual ethical issues as if it were the only morally legitimate perspective, to use that teaching to claim violation of religious liberty if and when legislation conflicts with it, and to discount those Catholic perspectives that disagree with official teaching as manifestations of relativism discount also the rich diversity of the Catholic tradition and the contemporary sensus fidelium.”

Such a dismissal by church leaders threatens ecclesial and societal peace and thereby the common good, which is the theologians’ next area of critique against the U.S. bishops. About the common good, the theologians ask:

“How are we to realize the common good in the public realm, given pluralism within and without the church? What is the church’s proper role for engaging with the public realm to promote its vision of the common good?”

They also question how civil legislation relates to morality, and how to understand this dynamic in a pluralistic society, which Salzman and Lawler called “a hugely complex endeavor.” There are questions of prioritizing competing goods:

“Which is a higher value, respecting human dignity and ensuring non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, or attempting to block or repeal legislation that might allow homosexual actions the church deems immoral?”

They also raise the issue of whether LGBT issues are matters of public or private morality, a distinction which will have implications for how these issues relate to the common good:

” If they are about private morality, the church can both teach the possibility of just discrimination based on homosexual orientation and gender identity and can also support laws that prevent discrimination on the basis of homosexual orientation and gender identity.

“If they are about public morality, the church needs to balance its sexual teachings with teachings on nondiscrimination, and grasp the impact of pluralism on definitions of public morality.”

Salzman and Lawler explain that when marriage equality became legalized in 2015,  there needed to be “a corresponding shift in the perception of religious freedom in relation to this evolution” by the church.

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Michael G. Lawler

Finally, the theologians take up the question of just and unjust law in relation to the U.S. bishops’ document. By opposing ENDA, Salzman and Lawler write,  “the bishops’ conference has shifted its religious liberty claims from exemptions from a just law on the basis of conscience to prevention or repeal of an unjust law.”

But how the bishops’ come to define ENDA as an unjust law is flawed itself, say the theologians. Their opposition is rooted in the law’s alleged failure to differentiate between sexual orientation and sexual expression; the bishops desire an allowance of just discrimination based upon the latter. Salzman and Lawler write that the bishops should have argued for religious exemptions to discriminate against heterosexual people who use artificial contraceptives or have premarital sex, too, if that was truly their concern. Having not done so, the theologians conclude:

“The conference has not made this logical argument, which would indicate that its objection is not to immoral sexual acts but simply to homosexual orientation.

“By rejecting the federal non-discrimination legislation, the bishops’ conference is violating the common good, the protection of individual human dignity, on the basis of a generalization that homosexuals might engage in immoral sexual activity, and it is promoting unjust discrimination against even celibate homosexuals performing no homosexual acts.”

Citing Catholic moral principles, Salzman and Lawler also clarify that a moral end, such as protecting religious liberty, can never justify an immoral means, the discrimination of LGBT people, and that, according to double-effect principle:

“The direct consequence of the federal legislation is the protection of LGBT individuals against discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. An indirect consequence is that homosexual persons might engage in what the bishops deem immoral homosexual acts.”

Such principles are cited to reveal why Catholic support for ENDA is not only permissible, but should be encouraged. Yet Salzman and Lawler do not stop there, writing that a “more fundamental response. . .challenges the very claim that homosexual activity is intrinsically immoral and destructive of human dignity.” They continue, acknowledging Catholics’ widespread disagreement with the bishops over matters of sexuality:

“The burden of proof is on the church to demonstrate that homosexual acts are destructive of human dignity and cannot serve'”the good of the person or society.’ So far, it has not offered a compelling argument. An unproven assertion should not be advanced as the basis for an abusive use of religious freedom aimed at preventing or repealing nondiscrimination legislation and imposing the church’s morally questionable doctrine on the broader society.”

In short, the bishops “do not have the right to impose their moral teachings legislatively in a pluralistic society.” Salzman and Lawler convincingly argue that, not only should U.S. bishops not act thus, but they and the church actually have “a civil rights imperative” to advocate for LGBT non-discrimination protections. Their essay is well argued and grounded in reality, worth reading in full which you can do here. And there is one final note with which Salzman and Lawler, and now this post, conclude:

“The bishops should be ashamed of themselves for citing Martin Luther King Jr., the genuine and undisputed ‘conscience of the state’ for civil rights, to trample on the equal civil rights of homosexual, bisexual and transgender citizens.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Gay Ambassador Faces Harsh Letter from Bishops and Ban from Catholic School

March 30, 2016
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Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster

Religious leaders’ opposition to gay U.S. Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster is again intensifying in the Dominican Republic (DR), spearheaded by the actions of Catholic officials in the Caribbean nation.

In a mid-March statement, the Dominican Episcopal Conference (the organization of Catholic bishops in DR) condemned Ambassador Brewster, and they urged the nation’s government to complain formally about his appointment by the U.S. government. The bishops criticized “abuses” by Brewster since he arrived in 2013, saying the “sovereignty of the nation and its traditional values” is at stake.

The alleged violations of law and of protocol include visits to schools and youth events by the ambassador and his husband, Bob Satawake. Such visits are offensive to the bishops because the couple has “a family model that is incompatible” with the Dominican Constitution and the couple allegedly attempts to “confuse our youth.”

The bishops cited Pope Francis’ condemnations of “ideological colonization” to defend their criticism of Brewster, and Victor Grimaldi, the Dominican Republic’s Ambassador to the Holy See, sent the Conference’s statement to Pope Francis, according to Dominican Today. There is no comment thus far from either Pope Francis or the Holy See about this devolving situation in the Dominican Republic. Responding to the bishops’ statement, Brewster said in a radio interview reported by Buzzfeed:

“We’re promoting equality around the world. . .That’s not why we went to the school, but we’re not going to have people continue to condemn and try to keep Bob and I or anyone else in the closet because [sic] that’s not who we are — and we’re proud of who we are, and we’re proud of representing the values of making sure that people aren’t marginalized.”

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Signs outside San Juan Bautista

In a second incident, San Juan Bautista School in Santiago banned Brewster from its property. Officials posted at least three signs outside the school which read, “The entrance of the US Ambassador of the United States is not permitted in this institute.” They have since been defaced by LGBT activists and were then removed for Holy Week. The school’s director, Fr. Manuel Ruiz, defended the signs,reported Dominican TodayRuiz told a radio interviewer he had the right to put up signs on private property and that “[Brewster’s] presence and of his partner in a school isn’t innocent.”

Finally, a petition launched by the Dominican Council of Evangelical Unity, a Protestant coalition, which asks President Barack Obama to remove Ambassador Brewster has gained 32,000 signatures.

In response to the criticism of the ambassador, public figures and organizations in the U.S. and the in the Dominican Republic have come to Brewster’s defense against these religious attacks. The Human Rights Campaign released a statement supporting Brewster, and one of their board members said it was “deeply concerned” by the religious leaders’ actions. HRC President Chad Griffin invoked the pope when he reiterated that support in the Blade, saying:

” ‘It’s time Pope Francis spoke out against this campaign of hate being perpetrated by Catholic Church leaders.’ “

Rosanna Marzan, director of Diversidad Dominican, an LGBT equality group, said the issues referenced by the ambassador’s critics are “a smokescreen to cover up other issues.” Her remarks were backed by Cristian King of Trans Siempre Amigos, another Dominican LGBT organization.

In the last few months, the White House and the State Department have been clear that they fully support Ambassador Brewster. Last week, 61 congresspeople signed a letter to the Dominican Republic’s president, Danilo Medina, affirming their support for Brewster and his work to “advance universal human rights,” reported the Washington BladeThese politicians and others are using the hashtag #ImWithWally to express their support. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, a Catholic, previously wrote to Pope Francis asking  him to intervene in attacks against Brewster, who is Durbin’s friend.

Brewster himself has been diplomatic but firm in rebutting Catholic leaders’ criticism and promoting LGBT human rights. In an interview with Michael Lavers of the Washington Blade, he commented on Cardinal López’s repeated homophobic comments:

“The disappointing thing for me is that I don’t see that as something that you’re hearing from the leader of the Catholic Church in Rome. . .I would hope that the Vatican — as we would not do that with their officials — would understand and condemn those types of words to any official with any government. . .”

Brewster said, too, that the attacks against him and his husband have prompted many Dominican citizens to express their support for marginalized LGBT communities:

“It’s a great social conversation that needed to happen and I think its happening now. . .It’s rising the level of those who bully and perpetuate prejudices in areas for all marginalized groups and it’s allowing them to be seen for who they are.”

While these incidents may indeed be increasing visibility of and support for LGBT justice in the Dominican Republic, Catholic officials’ participation in the homophobic attacks must cease immediately. What is happening in the Dominican Republic against Ambassador James Brewster and his husband demands ecclesial action.

Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus López Rodriguez, the leading prelate in the DR, has previously said Brewster was “wife to a man” and should stick to housework. In 2013, López used an anti-gay slur to refer to the ambassador , and he said Brewster should “take his gay pride elsewhere.”  The Washington Blade reported that López once described LGBT tourists as “social trash” and “degenerates.” Cardinal López’s remarks made Bondings 2.0’s lists of Worst Catholic LGBT News in both 2013 and 2015.

Cardinal López’s anti-gay leadership has harmed the Dominican hierarchy and other clergy.  Pope Francis should immediately accept his letter of resignation submitted four years ago on López’s 75th birthday. As Bondings 2.o previously argued, Pope Francis’ direct involvement in the local church would not undermine his efforts towards decentralized power in the Catholic Church. It would be a necessary action to cull some Catholic leaders’ overt prejudice. Dominican Catholics should use the Year of Mercy to promote greater respect for and inclusion of LGBT communities, as a way to undo some of the damages recently inflicted.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


U.S. Catholics Overwhelmingly Reject LGBT Discrimination by State Legislatures

March 4, 2016

RuizNondiscrim.jpgMarriage equality’s legalization in the United States last year has prompted an anti-LGBT backlash at state and local levels. Bills ostensibly defending religious liberty  allow legal discrimination for opponents of equality. Conversely, ordinances to expand non-discrimination protections  for LGBT people face strong religious opposition. Where are Catholics amid these debates?

New polling from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows 73% of U.S. Catholics support LGBT nondiscrimination protections, two points higher than the 71% U.S. average. 61% of Catholics oppose allowing business owners to deny service to LGBT people. Even those opposed to marriage equality are far more approving of non-discrimination protections, according to PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones.

This widespread Catholic support for civil rights is driven by strong support from the lay faithful. For instance, James Rowe, a Catholic who is and the executive director of Believe Out Loud, said it is the mission of LGBTQ Christians and allies to “mobilize love” when anti-LGBT religious groups seek to institutionalize their discriminatory theologies. Rowe reflected on his own Catholic faith in view of South Dakota’s HB 1008 which would have mandated students use restrooms and locker rooms according to their assigned at birth sex:

“The very idea behind this harmful law is discrimination, plain and simple—and discrimination has no place in Christianity.

“My Catholic teachings tell me that Jesus stood in solidarity with those who are most often bullied and ostracized by others—and I believe today, Jesus would have been in Pierre, South Dakota, standing at the steps of the Capitol building demanding that Governor Daugaard veto this harmful bill.”

Believe Out Loud joined LGBT, educational, and civil liberties organizations in delivering 80,000 signatures opposing the bill, which was thankfully vetoed by the governor earlier this week.

Buzzfeed reported at least 105 similar pieces of legislation at the state level which seek to curtail civil rights rooted in sexual and/or gender identity, or allow the denial of services to LGBT people. None have yet passed, but there is momentum in at least eight states.

Unfortunately, the church’s leadership differs from the faithful, despite Catholic teachings which say every sign of unjust discrimination must be opposed. South Dakota’s bishops, Robert Gruss of Rapid City and Paul Swain of Sioux Falls, released a letter expressing their support for HB 1008. Religious leaders’ opposition and legislators’ questionable coupling of Church and State can create a belief that LGBT and religious belief are at odds with one another in these debates. It is a frequent refrain here at Bondings 2.0 that Catholics support LGBT justice because of their faith and not in spite of it.

Mychal Copeland, who co-edited Struggling in Good Faith, an interfaith anthology about LGBTQI inclusion, challenges the idea that LGBT justice and religious belief are at odds.  In Copeland suggested that currently “every American religious tradition is engaged in a struggle about LGBT inclusion” and there are changes happening, even if quite slowly. He continued:

“[T]here is a prevailing assumption that individuals will hold anti-LGBT religious doctrine above other religious ideals. More and more religious leaders and lay people are prizing overarching principles of faith, such as compassion, love, dignity, and welcome over negative religious legislation. . .Americans are more likely to see that [LGBT] individual as someone who should be able to rent an apartment, keep a job, and even marry the one they love.”

Church teaching does not allow for discrimination, meaning it should be unthinkable that Catholics would support any “right to discriminate” bills or oppose nondiscrimination protections. Sadly, this is not the case. If church teaching does not suffice, then perhaps we need to appeal to the deeper love expected of Christians by Jesus. It is Jesus’ kind of love which led early Christian writer Tertullian to note how his pagan contemporaries said, “See how those Christians love one another.” Catholics are certainly supportive of LGBT communities because of this love, but we must keep working to ensure that our church and our Christian faith are not used any further to deny the civil rights due to LGBT communities.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Malawi Bishops’ Comments Fail to Defend Marginalized LGBT People

January 26, 2016
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President Peter Mutharika, left, with Archbishop Thomas Msusa

As Malawi debates whether to repeal its laws which criminalize homosexuality, the nation’s Catholic bishops are lobbying heavily for the keeping such laws on the books.

Most recently, the Catholic bishops conference of the nation, called the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), sought an audience with U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People, Randy Berry, who visited the country this month. ECM Chair Archbishop Thomas Msusa of Blantyre explained why the bishops wanted such a meeting, as reported by Nyasa Times:

“Any discussion affecting the social and moral fibre of Malawi should at its best be as inclusive and accommodative as possible. Our teaching and a majority of our faithful have spoken clearly against the bullying of our international partners on issues of constitutional change to accommodate homosexuality in our laws.”

But, while Berry met with government offices and civic organizations, he did not meet religious leaders who wanted to defend homosexuality’s criminalization or believed international aid was tied to LGBT laws. Berry said assertions that U.S. aid is conditioned upon LGBT rights are “completely false,” but that these human rights could not be separated from broader concerns about governance in Malawi, reported Nysasa Times.

Five ECM bishops also brought up the idea of alleged international pressures about homosexuality in their mid-January meeting with President Peter Mutharika. They told him to “resist pressure” on LGBT human rights because these are “alien to most Malawians” and are “being championed by foreigners,” said Archbishop Msusa. He continued, according to All Africa:

” ‘As the Catholic Church, we say “no” to supporting these gay activities and we will follow strictly our church doctrine.’ “

President Mutharika recently said LGBTI people’s rights “should be protected,” but believes ultimately the populace should decide on whether to repeal Malawi’s anti-homosexuality law.

Malawi’s church leaders have spoken publicly against homosexuality from the pulpit, too. Bishop Mathews Mtumbuka of Karonga told a Catholic women’s gathering that gay people are “sinners who need to repent.” Bishop Montfort Sitima of Mangochi applauded a Catholic musician for cancelling his concert when questionable reports surfaced about two men kissing in the audience.

Being gay in Malawi is illegal, and a conviction could lead to up to fourteen years hard labor for men and up to five years imprisonment for women.  The government dropped charges in December against two men, Cuthert Kulemeka and Kelvin Gonani, after their arrests for being gay drew widespread criticism.

Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu has issued a moratorium on enforcement of the anti-gay law,until further notice, though anti-LGBT politicians are challenging the legality of this moratorium. Homophobia is still quite prevalent in the nation’s politics. A spokesperson for minority party, People’s Part, said earlier this month that lesbian and gay people should be killed rather than jailed

Malawi’s bishops are promoting misinformation when they claim first that homosexuality is “alien” to Malawians and second that foreign aid is being used to pressure donor nations to adopt LGBT rights. Misinformation is problematic, but doubly so when used to endorse, implicitly as well as explicitly, anti-LGBT prejudices that have and can lead to discrimination, imprisonment, and violence.

Though Catholics are only 20% of the population, Malawi’s bishops possess tremendous authority in the country due to their critical role in the nation’s transition to democracy in the early 1990’s. Their voices weigh heavily in this debate about repealing the criminalization laws which, it should be noted, are not supported by church teaching.

The bishops should be defending the human rights of all people, even if disagreements about sexual ethics exist, instead of providing cover for those politicians and public figures whose homophobia and transphobia has and will have dangerous consequences. But as it stands, the bishops in political and ecclesial arenas alike are failing to defend and may even be causing harm to marginalized LGBT communities in Malawi.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Nebraska Bishops Promote Anti-Transgender Policy for High Schools

January 8, 2016
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Nebraska School Activities Association logo

Nebraska’s Catholic bishops are actively opposing a state education association’s draft policy aimed at protecting transgender athletes in the state’s high schools. And instead, they are supporting an anti-trans proposal offered by Catholic schools in the state.

The Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) is currently considering three trans-related policy proposals, one which would be a policy implemented by the NSAA board, and two others, proposed by member schools, which would be by-law changes .

The NSAA board will vote on the first policy on January 14th. This policy would “put the initial decision [about gender identity issues]. . .in the hands of parents and local school districts.” If questions arose, an NSAA “gender identity eligibility committee” could review a student’s request and require documentation of at least one year of hormone therapy or gender-confirming surgery.

Each side of the debate in Nebraska has criticized this draft policy. Natalie Weiss of the Nebraska Trans Community told the Journal Star she thinks the policy is incoherent and unfair to trans students. A single vote on any such committee could deny a trans applicant access to high school athletics; religious schools could simply deny transgender athletes. All transgender students would beforced to use either private locker rooms and bathrooms or those matching their assigned sex at birth. Danielle Conrad, executive director of ACLU of Nebraska, said any policies which disregard gender identity as a civil rights issue are legally questionable.

Nebraska Catholic schools announced a second proposal in response to this first draft policy. Known as the “at birth proposal,” this bylaw change would define athletic participation according to assigned sex at birth. It is supported by the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC), the state bishops’ policy arm.

A third proposal amends the “at birth” proposal to allow for “birth certificates legally altered to reflect gender change after surgery,” according to the Lincoln Journal Star. This third proposal, coming from schools friendlier to trans concerns, would allow athletic participation only to those trans students whose legal documentation corresponds with their gender identity.

NCC is urging Catholics in the state to support the “at birth” proposal by contacting educational officials.  They oppose the first and third options. A joint statement in December from Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, and Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt of Grand Island called even minimally trans-inclusive policies “unjust” and said they would “allow a harmful and deceptive gender ideology” into the state’s schools, both public and private. NCC Policy Director Sheri Rickert said gender identity issues are “really a rejection of God,” reported the National Catholic Reporter.

The current discussion was prompted by two transgender high school students near Omaha who expressed interest in athletic participation. If the first draft policy is approved by the NSAA board, it would be immediately effective, but it could then be overturned if the bylaws are change in April. Regional votes on the second two proposals, which are bylaw changes, will be held on January 6th and 13th, reported the Lincoln Journal Star. Three of six NSAA districts must approve a bylaw change for it to be then considered during the Association’s general assembly in April, where it would need a two-thirds vote to be formally approved. If neither the “at birth” proposal nor its modified form receive approval by three of six NSAA districts this January, then they will be shelved. District VI voted last Wednesday in favor of the “at birth” proposal backed by church leaders.

Transgender students in Nebraska deserve to have their gender identity respected,  and should be allowed to participate in athletics according to their identity. Catholic principles of justice, human dignity, and equality mandate that Catholics support policies which advance the good of LGBT students rather than diminish their identities, as the “at birth” proposal does.

Catholics, particularly Nebraskans, can contact NSAA representatives in the coming week to oppose the “at-birth proposal” and demand policies which protect transgender students. To take action, fill out the form below. For a sample message, which you can copy and paste into the ‘Message’ box, see below a sample letter based upon a message sent by Nebraskan Catholic and former NSAA participant John Noble.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Sample Letter:

Dear NSAA Member,

I am writing you today as a Catholic opposed to the “sex at birth” bylaw proposal currently before the NSAA. This proposal disrespects the dignity of transgender Nebraskan students and would bar their participation across the state.

As a Catholic, I believe in the life and dignity of all persons, including our transgender siblings. This proposal disrespects these fundamental tenets of Catholicism by denying transgender students’ life and dignity, opting instead to let fear help creater unsafe environments for such students.

Please oppose the “sex at birth” bylaw proposal and support the Gender Participation Policy. The safety and dignity of transgender Nebraskans depend upon your support.

 

 


Will U.S. Bishops Finally Affirm Pope Francis’ Agenda This Week?

November 15, 2015

Pope Francis arriving at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Washington, D.C. before his address to U.S. bishops

U.S. bishops will gather for their fall plenary this coming week, the outcomes of which will clearly indicate whether they are finally ready to affirm Pope Francis’ agenda or pursue more of the same. Either way, decisions made in Baltimore will impact LGBT Catholic issues in this country for the next several years. So what is at stake?

Strategic Priorities

First, bishops will vote on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ strategic priorities through 2020.

The discussion around these goals may be the “most explosive” debate of the entire meeting, observed Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter. The current five priorities are: family and marriage; evangelization; religious freedom; human life and dignity; vocations.  In one sense,  all of these topics touch, in varying degrees, upon LGBT issues.

A draft of new priorities during their June meeting received heavy criticism, with Burlington’s Bishop Christopher Coyne saying it was “the same thing we’ve always done” and other Pope Francis appointees–Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago and Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego–added their own sharp criticisms.

With marriage equality a settled matter politically, will the bishops keep this issue and potential opposition to other LGBT advances, like nondiscrimination protections, at the top of their priorities? With a refugee crisis abroad and economic injustices rampant at home, will bishops continue prioritizing opposition to LGBT rights? Answers to these questions and the broader agenda-setting conversation will have a major impact, directing the USCCB’s significant resources and setting a public tone for ecclesial leadership.

Elections

Second, the bishops will vote on key positions in committee leadership.

There is “a real choice” in these races, according to Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese of the National Catholic Reporter. Four of Pope Francis’ personal appointees are in races and almost all contests are between a bishop more in the style of Francis and a bishop who is less so.

Most relevant is the election for chair of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth between Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput and Bridgeport’s Bishop Frank J. Caggiano. Chaput is a noted culture warrior, whose city hosted the World Meeting of Families in September and who is fresh off the Synod on the Family where he showed few signs of prioritizing mercy and inclusion. Alternatively, Caggiano believes “that which unites us is greater than that which divides us.”

The chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development is contested between Venice’s Bishop Frank J. Dewane and San Diego’s Bishop Robert W. McElroy. Dewane has been publicly criticized by his own priests, while McElroy has been hailed as a leader of a more welcoming Catholic Church. Other elections include the chairs for committees tasked with Catholic Education, Divine Worship, and Clergy, Religious Life, and Vocations.

With LGBT issues rapidly increasing their visibility in the church as well as the world, these committees could impact how the U.S. bishops respond to the persecution of LGBT people globally, the firing of LGBT church workers, or the acceptance of openly gay priests. Who is elected will, ultimately, be a referendum on whether the U.S. episcopacy wants leaders focused on mercy and encounter or those focused on legalism and confrontation.

Faithful Citizenship

Third, the bishops will vote on minor revisions to their document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which outlines political engagement for Catholics and is released before major elections.

This document has been criticized for its overemphasis on “culture war” issues, including opposition to marriage equality, while downplaying more pressing social justice issues. Unfortunately, the expected changes to this document will be minimal, according to Stephen Schneck of U.S. Catholic. Noting this document was last revised in 2011 before Pope Francis was elected, Schneck wrote:

“Faithful Citizenship, as it has come to be called, reads like something from another age. . .Its tone is juridical, and does not convey the merciful and pastoral message of His Holiness. In form, it is an un-Francis-like assemblage of pronouncements for judging citizens, politicians, and officeholders. . .

“Our bishops should be reminding Catholic voters and officeholders of the church’s insistence that government itself (and not just charitable individuals) has a responsibility to address poverty, injustice, environmental degradation, and to provide for a moral economy. Our bishops do a disservice to their flock if American Catholics imagine that the church’s teachings for citizenship and government are restricted to matters like abortion, marriage, or religious liberty.”

From his earliest interviews, Pope Francis has criticized certain Catholics’ “obsession” with issues like same-sex marriages. Marriage equality is now legal nationwide without any realistic challenges for its reversal. The U.S. bishops should not just make limited changes, but totally overhaul Faithful Citizenship to reflect both Pope Francis’ agenda and the political realities of the nation in which they minister–particularly climate change.

Were the Bishops Listening to the Pope in D.C.?

Finally, there is the broader question of how the U.S. bishops will relate to Pope Francis and his agenda moving forward. Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter recalled Pope Francis’ words addressing the U.S. bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Washington, DC, during his papal visit, writing:

“There, [Francis] confronted the dominant culture warrior approach the USCCB too often has displayed, most notably this year in their reaction to the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage. The pope said, ‘Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.’ “

Pope Francis added a strong appeal for dialogue, and at this upcoming meeting, in Winters’ estimation, the U.S. bishops have an “opportunity to demonstrate that they heard the Holy Father” or choose to remain “out of touch with their own flocks” about which Winters wrote:

“The sad and regrettable fact is that the USCCB of late has acquired only the smell of the neo-conservative, upper middle class Catholic sheep and the Republicans for whom they vote.”

But Pope Francis’ criticism of the U.S. bishops, and his call for them to restructure their priorities, did not end in September. The pontiff’s particularly strong words about change in the Catholic Church earlier this week make the U.S. bishops’ choice next week all the more meaningful. Winters suggested:

“When the session opens on Monday morning, the bishops should set aside the agenda, read this entire talk, pray over it, maybe have small group discussions of it, and then return to their agenda in the afternoon. How do they evaluate their ministry, individually and as a conference, in the light of the pope’s remarks? The Holy Father said this morning, ‘We are not living an era of change but a change of era.’ Will that change of era be manifest in Baltimore next week?”

In recent weeks, both at the Synod and and in the wake of Vatican financial scandals, Pope Francis has made clear that little will stop his reform agenda for the Catholic Church. He has said, “Today is a time of mercy!” and that he wants a church that is “home for all.” The question in Baltimore next week is whether U.S. bishops will agree with these words and evolve, or clarify their resistance to Pope Francis and double down on their anti-LGBT obsessions.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Article:

Crux: “US bishops to consider priorities and pornography


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