How USCCB Leadership Candidates Have Approached LGBT Issues

UPDATE:  The election results are in:  Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston was elected president and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles was elected vice president. It looks like the bishops chose the most moderate leaders from the slate of ten described below.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) elects its new leadership for the next three years this morning, and will discuss as well its strategic plan for implementing priorities adopted last November. Each time the USCCB has met since Pope Francis’ election in 2014, observers have wondered when U.S. bishops would come around to the pope’s more pastoral vision for the church. Today’s post focuses in on the slate of ten presidential/vice-presidential candidates and their record on LGBT issues.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond
Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans is considered among the more pastoral candidates, including his approach to LGBT communities. In 2013, he announced a new outreach initiative in the archdiocese, and apologized to the LGBT community for the Church’s silence in 1973 when 32 people were killed and dozens wounded in an arson fire at a New Orleans gay bar. Aymond encouraged Catholic parishes to maintain affiliations with the Boy Scouts after the organization accepted openly gay leaders in 2015. That same year, the archbishop personally apologized to a gay man denied Communion at his parent’s funeral. Aymond was a candidate in the last USCCB election at which point he told the media, “I think that there are really people who believe, unfortunately, that the church is against people who are [gay and lesbian] or we don’t honor or give dignity to people who are of same sex orientation, and that is not true.”

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Archbishop Charles Chaput

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia just last month called for a “smaller, lighter” church of those he deems orthodox, and he issued pastoral guidelines this summer barring several categories of people from public ministry. One gay man has already been banned from being a lector under these guidelines, and other church workers have been sanctioned in the archdiocese in recent years. Chaput is no fan of Pope Francis and was a detractor of the Synod on the Family, along with ejecting LGBT groups from holding workshops on Catholic property during the 2015 World Meeting of Families. He is noted for ejecting children with same-gender parents access from Catholic school and voicing the antipathy of right-wing Catholics towards Pope Francis’ more welcoming style, even as a Villanova University study (in his own archdiocese) identified LGBT issues as a leading cause of declining Church attendance.

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Cardinal Daniel DiNardo

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston was elected by his peers in the Conference to participate in the 2015 Synod on the Family. While there, he was among thirteen cardinals who signed a letter to Pope Francis essentially criticizing the pope’s handling of the 2014 synodal assembly. The Associated Press reported that DiNardo commented on Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” comment by saying it is really just what would be said about anyone. Last year, the cardinal opposed changes to the USCCB’s document on elections which had been criticized for its fixation on opposing marriage equality and a handful of other issues.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez
Archbishop José Gomez

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles is a leading Hispanic Catholic figure and presides over one of the US’ largest archdioceses.  Gomez opposed the teaching of LGBT history in California state education and signed onto a letter by several bishops opposing the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act because it now includes ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as protected classes.

Archbishop William Lori
Archbishop William Lori

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore criticized President Barack Obama’s executive order in 2014 to protect LGBT employees from discrimination. Lori led the USCCB’s religious liberty efforts, including the “Fortnight for Freedom,” which claimed the Catholic Church’s freedom was being attacked in part because of expanding LGBT equality. After moving to Baltimore, he opposed marriage equality in Maryland. He initially tried to downplay Pope Francis’ gay-friendly comments, but, in a hopeful sign, he said he will now rethink statements on LGBT and other controversial matters to see if they truly bring people to the Gospel.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron
Archbishop Allen Vigneron

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit has compared breaking up same-gender relationships to the Exodus where Moses led the Hebrews to freedom. In 2015, he attempted to ban Catholics who support marriage equality from Communion. His comments prompted outcry from Catholic parents in Michigan, and from Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton (links here and here) and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson. He also banned Fortunate Families from using church property because of their speaker, Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry.

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Archbishop Thomas Wenski

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami criticized Vice President Joe Biden earlier this year for officiating at a same-gender wedding, and has been quite critical of LGBT rights. This summer, Wenski even so far as to attack publicly his brother bishop, Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, for saying the church’s rhetoric had a role in the Orlando massacre. After marriage equality became legal in 2015, Wenski warned church workers in a letter that they would lose their jobs if they supported LGBT equality. Previously, Wenski wrote a letter to Catholics in which he opposed marriage equality by saying that it would open  up the path to polygamy.  Prior to being made archbishop of Miami, he was bishop of Orlando, Florida, where he closed down a well-established diocesan ministry to lesbian and gay people.

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Archbishop John Wester

Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe has a more moderate record than most other candidates when it comes to LGBT issues. Last year, he supported non-discrimination legislation in Utah (where he was formerly bishop). Wester said the law  “honored the rights of both the LGBT community as well as the religious community. It allowed us to have our beliefs in the public square and to have people in the LGBT community not being discriminated against in such basic things as housing and employment. We felt it was in line with our Catholic social teaching.”

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City criticized a court ruling that legalized marriage equality in Oklahoma in 2014. Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville has no strong record on LGBT issues.

Essentially unrepresented on the slate of presidential candidates are any true “Francis Bishops,” like Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, who will be made a cardinal later this month, or Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego. John Gehring of Faith in Public Life commented to the National Catholic Reporter:

” ‘There are bishops who recognize the pope’s pastoral approach and priorities are exactly what’s needed to begin recalibrating the church’s voice in the public square. . .Other bishops seem more comfortable doubling down on an approach that hasn’t been successful at inspiring people.’ “

Later today, the USCCB will also consider a strategic plan for its priorities adopted last November. These priorities were criticized by observers and even some bishops for not reflecting Pope Francis’ vision for the church. Archbishop Joseph Tobin, who was recently appointed to lead the Newark Archdiocese and who will be elevated to the College of Cardinals later this month, was among the critics. He said while there are no real problems with the priorities, they did not reflect the “newness that Pope Francis is bringing to the church universal.”

Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese said it was “too late and too embarrassing” to revise the priorities, but suggested that a resolution endorsing Pope Francis’ major documents — Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si, and Amoris Laetitia — as guidelines for their strategic plan would help. The bishops need to practice “more dialogue, more pastoral sensitivity, and more compassion,” said Reese who also commented in the National Catholic Reporter:

“Such a resolution would put a different spin on the meaning of ‘evangelization’ and ‘marriage and family’ in the USCCB priorities. It would mean that evangelization programs in the U.S. should reflect in content and tone Evangelii Gaudium. It would mean that programs on marriage and family should reflect the content and tone of Amoris Laetitia. All old programs and policies would have to be reexamined to see if they reflect these documents. . .How the church approaches and accompanies divorced Catholics, gays, and those who disagree with the bishops would therefore have to change.”

Failing to shift their work will only perpetuate the harm already done. Michael Sean Winters wrote in the National Catholic Reporter:

“The conference has continued to make their priority a crusade for religious freedom that has damaged the brand in ways their enemies could not do. . .They have since wedded the fight for religious liberty to efforts to discriminate against LGBT Americans, further damaging the cause by associating it with bigotry and alienating millions of young Catholics in the process.”

Winters concluded by asking whether the bishops would follow Pope Francis or “continue to let their actions and views be informed by the Catholic alt-right?”, and continued:

“No one should be sanguine about the [bishops’] antipathy towards Pope Francis. Electing culture warriors to leadership of the conference is a direct refutation of the guidance offered by Pope Francis and we all know it.”

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that many bishops in the United States are still clearly opposed to the vision of a church that is inclusive and merciful so frequently promoted by Pope Francis. For bishops like Charles Chaput and Allen Vigneron, when it comes to LGBT people this opposition to the pope’s outreach is doubly true.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 14, 2016

LGBT Advocates to Cameroon’s Bishops: Retract Demand of “Zero Tolerance” for Homosexuality

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Members of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon

LGBT advocates are seeking Pope Francis’ intervention as they plead with Cameroon’s Catholic bishops to retract a harsh anti-gay statement released last month .

Following a mid-January meeting, the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon (NECC) released a statement advocating “zero tolerance” of homosexuality. The statement, unanimously approved, also stated that “this abominable thing that goes against nature risks becoming a social outbreak,” reported 76 Crimes, a blogsite which chronicles global developments in LGBT discrimination criminalization.

During the Conference’s discussion of homosexuality, individual bishops lodged their personal condemnations. NECC’s President, Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala, commented that homosexuality “threatens. . .the church’s foundations.” Cameroon, where 38% of the population is Catholic, criminalizes homosexuality with jail terms up to five years and steep financial penalties. The country’s bishops have a deeply troubling record on homosexuality, which you can read here, leading the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups to call it as one of Africa’s “most hostile countries” for LGBT people.

Given that this legal reality is coupled with deep social stigma, the LGBTI human rights group “Alternatives Cameroon” is appealing for mercy from the country’s bishops. In a press release reported by 76 Crimes, the organization stated:

“The Catholic Church failed to demonstrate how an individual’s sexuality could influence social cohesion and equilibrium or the sustainability of the family. To the contrary, we believe an individual’s sexual fulfillment can’t help but contribute to cohesion, stability and sustainability.

“With this hypocritical and hateful language condemning homosexuality, the Catholic Church (which accounts for about 37 percent of the Christian population) is contributing yet again to the destabilization of society and the family and their cohesion.”

The statement also said that Catholic leaders seek to divide Cameroonians by the “institutionalization of hatred,” contradicting Pope Francis’ “more conciliatory approach.” Alternatives Cameroon’s statement concluded with two appeals:

“We call on the Catholic Church to fulfill its primary mission to promote peace, love and tolerance and finally to be at the sides of the oppressed and those left behind.

“Finally, we call on Pope Francis (the head of the Catholic Church) to get control of the Cameroonian prelates, including the bishops of the National Episcopal Conference, and to harmonize the discourse of the Church.”

When Pope Francis made his pastoral visit to Africa last fall, Catholics and LGBT advocates worldwide called on him to condemn laws which criminalize homosexuality and to appeal for mercy on behalf of sexual and gender minorities. Francis remained silent. While there is no direct link to the pope, it is easy to see how Cameroon’s bishops feel permitted to make such statements when the pope refuses to condemn anti-LGBT laws.

Importantly, though, the bishops’ call for “zero tolerance” defies even the hierarchy’s own teachings about homosexuality which call for all people to be welcomed with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and for all signs of discrimination to be opposed. Pope Francis seeks a more decentralized church  which respects local decision-making, and this can be good. But when people will suffer greatly and even die because of church leaders’ actions, there exists a case of justifiable intervention by a higher authority, according to the principle of subsidiarity. Pope Francis remained silent last fall, but it is not too late for him to speak out and end episcopal prejudice so openly displayed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

U.S. Catholics Make Known Their Opinions on Marriage and Family Issues

In the past few weeks, we’ve posted about a few international bishops’ conferences reporting about what they have learned from their surveys of their lay people on matters of marriage and family life, in anticipation of the October 2014 Synod in Rome on those topics.  More and more bishops’ conferences are starting to disclose the responses to these surveys, and we will be reporting on them in the coming days.

Noticeably absent has been any report from the U.S. bishops, and this is probably due to the fact that very few of them made the survey available to their laity.   To remedy this omission of the voices of U.S. lay Catholics, a network of Catholic reform organizations sent out the survey to their members, and yesterday they have released a report on the compiled responses.  Released by member groups of the Catholic Organizations for Renewal and entitled Voices of the People: Responses to the Vatican Survey in Preparation for the Extraordinary Synod on the Familythe report provides statistics on the information gathered from over 16,000 respondents.   According to a press release, the report categorized responses under seven major themes:

  1. Pastoral care urgently needed
  2. Pedagogical/evangelism challenges
  3. Separated, divorced and remarried Catholics
  4. Same-sex marriage
  5. Women in the Church
  6. Sexual abuse scandals
  7. Skepticism and hope.

The survey responses were analyzed by an independent reviewer, Dr. Peter J. Fagan, M.Div., PhD., from the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in Baltimore, Maryland. 53% of the respondents identified as weekly church-goers, higher than the national average of 31% of Catholics who do so.

On the issue of  marriage equality, the report offers the following evaluation of Catholic attitudes:

“There  is  a  law  recognizing  marriage  equality  in  the  states  of  57  percent  of  the   respondents  (Q29)  and  marriage  equality  is  very  important  for  26  percent  of  the   respondents  and  extremely  important  for  47  percent  (Q33*).

“Respondents  were  asked  to  judge  the  attitudes  of  their  diocese,  parish  and  small   faith  communities  toward  both  marriage  equality  and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a   committed  partnership  (Q30).  As  the  geography  of  the  entity  became  more  local  and   familiar,  i.e.  from  diocese  to  parish  to  faith  community,  the  respondents’  judged  that   the  attitudes  were  less  hostile,  less  condemning  and  less  negative  and  became  more   supportive,  even  highly  supportive.  This  pattern  applied  to  both  marriage  equality   and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a  committed  relationship.    One  third  of  respondents  viewed  their  dioceses  as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage  equality  (37  percent)  and  same-­‐ sex  couples  (35  percent);  their  parishes  as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage   equality  (11  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (13  percent);  and  their  faith  communities   as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage  equality  (3  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (4   percent).

“Asked  about  attitudinal  support  of  marriage  equality  and  same-­‐sex  couples,  the   inverse  pattern  applied:  the  more  local,  the  more  support  for  marriage  equality  and   same-­‐sex  couples  in  a  committed  partnership  (Q30).    Seven  percent  of  dioceses  were   seen  being  at  least  somewhat  supportive  of  both  situations,  as  did  thirty  one  percent   of  parishes  and  two  thirds  of  small  faith  communities.    The  striking  contrast  in  this   inverse  pattern  is  the  discrepancy  between  the  dioceses  perceived  as  hostile  and   condemning  toward  marriage  equality  (37  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (35   percent)  and  the  perception  of  the  respondents’  small  faith  communities  attitudes  as   being  highly  supportive  of  marriage  equality  (45  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a   committed  partnership  (47  percent). “

The entire report concludes with the following observation from the analyst:

There  can  be  no  conclusion  to  this  Report  because  it  is  offered  as  participation  to   the  dialogue  and  discernment  leading  up  to  the  Extraordinary  Synod  on  the  Family   to  be  held  in  the  Vatican  during  October  2014.    However,  if  we  were  to  try  to   capture  what  the  respondents  have  said  in  one  sentence,  we  turn  to  voice  of  Pope   Francis  when  he  wrote,

“ ‘The  Church  must  be  a  place  of  mercy  freely  given,  where  everyone  can  feel   welcomed,  loved,  forgiven  and  encouraged  to  live  the  good  life  of  the  Gospel.’   (Evangelii  Gaudium,  #114)

“If  there  were  one  near-­‐universal  hope  of  the  over  16,000  respondents  to  this  Survey,   it  would  be  that  this  vision  of  the  church  would  become  a  pastoral  reality.”

Organizational sponsors of the survey project from Catholic Organizations for Renewal include American Catholic Council, Call To Action, CORPUS, DignityUSA, Federation of Christian Ministries/Roman Catholic Faith Community Council, FutureChurch, New Ways Ministry, RAPPORT, Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference, Voice of the Faithful, and Women’s Ordination Conference.   Other supporting organizations include Catholic Church Reform, Fortunate Families, and Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER).

You can read some of the qualitative responses to the survey either in English or Spanish.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

How to Offer Input for Synod on Family Is Mired in Confusion

Since the Vatican asked for Catholic input to inform next fall’s Synod of Bishops, ambiguity reigns among lay people, clergy, and, it appears, even the Vatican. Directions to disseminate it “immediately” and “as widely as possible” accompanied the Vatican’s release of the 39-question survey, but how this is incarnated is less clear and limited interpretations in the US have left many unhappy.

Officials at the Vatican seem conflicted on what exactly the Synod is asking of bishops and lay people. National Catholic Reporter notes remarks by Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, general-secretary of the Synod, as potentially clarifying:

“Baldisseri said pastors were expected to provide summaries of the views and experiences of parishioners and that their findings would be ‘channeled’ in turn through national bishops’ conferences for ultimate consideration by the synod.

“Individual Catholics are welcome to communicate their views directly to the synod’s offices at the Vatican, Baldisseri said. His staff is preparing the synod’s working document, which should be published in May.”

Also unclear is what weight responses from non-episcopal voices will carry in the Synod, and even what the Synod’s scope will entail:

“[Archbishop Bruno] Forte said he wanted to emphasize the ‘pastoral slant’ of the theme as ‘a perspective through which the Holy Father invites us to look upon the value of the family and the challenges it faces today.’

” ‘It is not, therefore, a matter of debating doctrinal questions…But rather how to understand how to effectively proclaim the Gospel of the family in the times we are living, characterized by a clear social and spiritual crisis.’ “

As for the US bishops, their conference has closed off any broader consultation with Catholics and asks only for bishops to send their personal observations. This path has left many dissatisfied, and several bishops and past staff at the USCCB called the letters from the Vatican and the Conference conflicting messages.

Coincidentally, the Archdiocese of Detroit published a questionnaire for Catholics about the quality of parish life and local church issues which is unrelated to the upcoming synod. This survey, according to National Catholic Reporter, skips topics such as marriage equality and the archdiocese’s spokesperson went to lengths separating it from the Vatican’s request for Catholic input.

Equally dissatisfied are many American Catholics who desire their voices be heard at the Synod and question what impact this effort will actually have in reforming Church practices. Catholic Organizations for Renewal has launched its own survey, based on the Vatican’s questions, and is available to be completed by clicking here.

Linda Pinto, the facilitator of Catholic Organizations for Renewal, a leadership forum of US progressive Catholic organizations said, “U.S. Catholics have been happily surprised that the Vatican is seeking input on issues like divorce and remarriage, use of contraception, same-sex marriage, and what kind of pastoral practice is effective and appropriate. They have been disappointed that there was not a vehicle for them to give their input. That’s why we created this on-line survey. Lay Catholics have strong feelings and a great deal of experience on these matters. Our voices, along with those of our bishops, need to be heard.”

Organizational sponsors of the survey project from Catholic Organizations for Renewal (COR) include American Catholic Council, Call To Action, CORPUS, DignityUSA, Federation of Christian Ministries/Roman Catholic Faith Community Council, FutureChurch, New Ways Ministry, RAPPORT, Roman Catholic WomenPriests, Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference, Voice of the Faithful, and Women’s Ordination Conference. Other supporting organizations include Catholic Church Reform, Fortunate Families, and Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER). Additional organizations are being invited to sponsor the project, and to encourage their members to complete it.

“We want this survey to reach as many U.S. Catholics as possible,” said Pinto. “These are important issues, and our goal is that everyone who wants to have input should have that chance. How our Church ministers to people is of concern to all of us.”

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good have also launched a survey to gather Catholic input in the US in place of the bishops’ silence.

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo was interviewed on MSNBC-TV’s News Nation program last week about the survey and he supported the idea of lay people providing their opinions to the synod.  “The Church teaches that lay people have a right and a duty to express their opinions to their leaders in areas in which they have competence,”  DeBernardo stated.  “Who but lay people have greater competence in the areas of sexuality, gender, and relationships, since they live those realities every day.”

NBC News  reports on several Catholic reform leaders and theologians offering their input, quoting Professor Thomas Groome of Boston College as saying:

” ‘To my knowledge, it’s the first time in the history of the magisterium have genuinely attempted to consult the laity’…

” ‘All of these things have been closed issues and you could be fired for even talking about them. Raising these questions and polling people — it at least signals something other than a closed mind. You have to thank God for small mercies.’ “

NBC News also quotes Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA:

” ‘It’s pretty astonishing…’

“I think it demonstrates a grounding in the practical realities of the world,’ Duddy-Burke said, though she cautioned that the real test is if the Vatican agrees to hear from a diverse range of families at the actual synod.

Amid this confusion, Michael O’Loughlin writes at Religion News Service about his hopes for the Synod, especially in regard to LGBT issues. He notes that, recently, the term ‘family’ is synonymous with the anti-LGBT agenda of Catholics who opposed equal rights, or worse acted harshly against gay and lesbian people. However, with Pope Francis, O’Loughlin has more positive hopes:

“Perhaps the synod will lead to divorced and remarried Catholics having access to communion. And, maybe, too, it’ll lead to the rights of all children, including those being raised by two parents of the same gender, to be baptized and to attend religious education classes and Catholic schools. Recognizing the impact of quality work on family life, perhaps the church will support the rights of LGBT people in employment law, or at least the rights to hold jobs at Catholic institutions. Parishes might consider ways to make non-traditional families feel like they are valued parts of the faith community. Or, maybe, the synod won’t address LGBT people and families at all. Which would be an improvement, too.”

Whether or not the Synod will take up LGBT family matters is, as expected, unclear. Regardless, it is important for LGBT-affirming Catholics to make their voices heard through the surveys offered by Catholic Organizations for Renewal and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

NEWS NOTES: August 19, 2013

News NotesHere are some items that may be of interest:

1) Using hyperbolic language, the Catholic bishops in England released a document responding to that nation’s passage of marriage equality earlier this year. The document reiterated common messages from the hierarchy, while adding new concepts about Catholics being alienated in their own country because of the new law. You can read more at The Catholic Register. Marriage equality in England has at least one columnist asking if the Catholic Church should remove itself from marriage altogether.

2) Responding to the firing of educator Carla Hale this spring for marrying her wife, one set of Catholic parents began wondering about a Catholic burial for their gay son. While several Catholic officials and funeral directors assured them the institution denies a Catholic burial in only the most extreme instances, these parents remain dissatisfied. Alternatively, one gay Catholic man told The Columbus Dispatch: ” ‘One place the Catholic Church is really, really, really nice about is death.’ ”

3)In the African nation of Cameroon, more anti-gay prosecutions and the seeming assassination of prominent advocate Eric Lembembe caused LGBT rights organizations to demand better conditions from the civil and religious authorities in Cameroon who support homophobic language and acts. LGBT advocates said in a statement reported by France 24: ” ‘The religious authorities, the Cameroonian Roman Catholic Church in particular, take a position on homosexuality in order to incite violence,’ ” Cameroon, where about a quarter of the population are Catholic, is one of the worst nations for LGBT rights.

4) A Michigan high school student won a lawsuit in which he claimed his First Amendment rights were violated during a 2010 classroom interaction. The student claimed his Catholic faith did not allow him to accept LGBT people, and was then written up by his teacher for disruptive behavior. Some observers in Education Week believe this case could have broader implications in the tension over free speech in schools and anti-bullying policies that seek to protect sexual orientation and gender identity.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

NEWS NOTES: July 18, 2013

News NotesHere are some items you might find of interest:

1) Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the retired Vicar General of the Rome diocese, responded to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions on marriage equality by calling same-sex marriage an “illusion,”  reports On Top magazine. 

2) New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo published an op-ed on Advocate.com explaining that while Catholic bishops may decry the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions, Catholic lay people are rejoicing at the news.

3) The mother of a gay son reflects on her participation in the “Dirty Hands” demonstration at New York’s St. Patrick Cathedral.  Her thoughts can be read in a Fortunate Families blog post.

4) St. Louis, Missouri’s Catholic Action Network for Social Justice participated in their city’s Pride Festival, spreading a message of  Catholic inclusion and welcome, reports RiverfrontTimes.com.

5) Alaskan U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Catholic and a Republican, has announced her support for marriage equality, according to an op-ed published on her website.  Relevant excerpts can be found in a news story on TV.msnbc.com.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

As England Passes Equal Marriage, Catholic Church Given Opportunity to Grow

A rainbow double-decker bus passes by London’s Parliament.

Marriage equality is finally legal in the United Kingdom after receiving ‘Royal Assent’ from Queen Elizabeth yesterday, making it the 18th nation to enact equal marriage rights. Now, it will be up to the British public and their religious leaders to implement the new law without further conflict — and perhaps the Catholic Church can seize this opportunity to improve relations with the LGBT community there.

After final approval from the two legislative chambers then the queen, same-gender couples will be able to marry starting next summer. The Huffington Post reports that several British politicians spoke to the importance of this legislation for LGBT people in their nation, including Culture Secretary Maria Miller:

“[She] said ‘marriage is the bedrock of our society and now irrespective of sexuality everyone in British society can make that commitment’.

” ‘It is a wonderful achievement and whilst this legislation may be about marriage, its impact is so much wider. Making marriage available to all couples demonstrates our society’s respect for all individuals regardless of their sexuality’…

” ‘It demonstrates the importance we attach to being able to live freely. It says so much about the society that we are and the society that we want to live in.’ “

Also championing the new law are LGBT advocates like Stonewall UK’s director Ben Summerskill, who are sensitive to the religious issues at play. Summerskill gave an extended interview to The Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Westminster (London) recently where he spoke positively of religion’s relationship in society and in regards to LGBT equality. He calls himself a “critical friend” of Christian churches, not an opponent and continues:

“ ‘I think that one thing the Roman Catholic Church has not been good at is wrestling with these sorts of issues in a constructive and supportive way. Lesbians and gay people in the Church of England might be dissatisfied with what it’s done, but it’s a church that wrestled with these issues. For a gay Roman Catholic, there is no acknowledgment that there is a community of interest within the Church.’…

“ ‘I think it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that many denominations have been insufficiently energetic in addressing some of the hatred and prejudice…Well, there’s no doubt some of them have encouraged it. But I’m wary of caricaturing a whole denomination. Of course there are good things [in the Catholic Church]. There are good things in all churches that bring people together. We now work directly with 500 schools, with a third of local authorities, on dealing with homophobic bullying. And those include Roman Catholic faith schools, which take the issue incredibly seriously. They are exemplary in the way they deal with these issues.’ “

In the United Kingdom, examples of Catholics positively engaging LGBT issues, as one London school did, are contrasted with hyperbolic statements from the Catholic bishops who previously threatened to stop performing marriages if the nation legalized equal marriage rights. Now that the law is in effect, the example of Ben Summerskill and other ‘critical friends’ of the Catholic Church should be guiding influences so that all families are provided for and welcomed by their parishes as same-gender Catholic couples begin to marry.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry