Bishop Calls Being Gay a “Gift from God,” Seeks to Save LGBT Lives

Homosexuality is a “gift from God” according to one bishop in Brazil, who said his intentions in preaching on the topic were about saving the lives of LGBT people who may be at risk.

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Bishop Antônio Carlos Cruz Santos

Bishop Antônio Carlos Cruz Santos of Caicó made the positive remarks in a July homily, telling Mass-goers:

“‘If [being gay] is not a choice, if it is not a disease, in the perspective of faith it can only be a gift. . .The gospel par excellence is the gospel of inclusion. . .The gospel is a narrow door, yes, it is a demanding love, but it is a door that is always open.'”

Cruz added that perhaps “our prejudices do not get the gift of God” in LGBT people. Prejudice, he said, puts “concept before experience” and creates a negative impact.

As a black bishop, he related the situation with homosexuality today to a time when black people were enslaved due to white people’s prejudices, adding:

“‘Just as we were able to leap, in the wisdom of the Gospel, and overcome slavery, is it not the time for us to leap, from a perspective of faith, and overcome prejudices against our brothers who experience same-sex attraction?'”

Cruz also preached that people discover their sexual orientation rather than choose it. People of all sexual orientations have a choice about how to express that sexuality either “in a dignified, ethical way, or in a promiscuous one,” he added.

Crux reported that Cruz was prompted to make these statements after hearing a radio segment on the high rates of suicide in transgender communities. Moved by their suffering, Cruz considered the many LGBT people “who feel misunderstood and unloved by us, who are Church, by their families, by their society and even by themselves.”

Facing criticism, Cruz clarified his intentions in a statement the following week, saying his concerns were pastoral and not doctrinal. He wanted to “save lives, contributing so that we can overcome the prejudices that kill and enter into the dynamic of God’s mercy that respects, rescues and saves people.” Cruz’ statement continued:

“As Pope Francis told us many times, people already know by heart the doctrine of the Church about abortion, divorce and homosexual acts. . .He asks us not to be obsessed with sin, increasing the wounds of these people, and insists that the doors of the church are open to welcome, instruct, discern, love in order to bring salvation to all without exception.”

It is an often repeated but never tired truth that having one’s heart really broken open is key for committing oneself to solidarity with people forced to the margins. From the radio story, through his own reflections, and using contemporary knowledge about sexuality, Cruz was enabled to offer words of compassion and hope. His homily and statement were wonderful first steps, and I hope he will keep that commitment growing by not only preaching but acting to save lives and affirm people’s dignity wherever LGBT communities are under attack.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 10, 2017

Excommunicated Priest Suing Diocese is Inspired by Pope Francis

Fr. Roberto Francisco Daniel, aka “Fr. Beto”

Excommunicated this spring for making public comments in support of LGBT people, Robert Francisco Daniel is turning to the Brazilian court system to seek justice from Catholic Church. Fr. Beto, as he is commonly known, is acting now partially due to Pope Francis’ positive remarks about LGBT people at the end of World Youth Day.

Fr. Beto was a popular priest and media personality before the Diocese of Bauru charged him with “heresy” and “schism” and forced him to leave the priesthood in April. Folha de S. Paulo reports on the recent legal developments, noting that the former priest has considered a civil lawsuit since his excommunication and believes the local hierarchy’s treatment of him was unjust.

The former priest also published a book, “Forbidden Truths,” since then. Iglesia Descalza carries a translation of Fr. Beto’s recent interview with BBC Mundo about everything that has happened since April. When asked why he is choosing legal action, Fr. Beto replied:

“The Bishop of Bauru gave me two alternatives — retract all materials published on the Internet and apologize, or canon law would be applied to me. In the face of this, I thought it was good to leave the priestly ministry and return at another period of time…

“But facing excommunication, I decided to get into the common justice system, not simply because I want to come back, but because no institution can do to a person what the local Church did to me. I was treated like an adolescent and expelled without the right to defend myself.

“The Church didn’t respect me as a human being, it didn’t respect the 14 years I’ve been in the priesthood, it didn’t respect my family.”

Yet, he also credits Pope Francis’ remark on gay priests as important in going ahead with the lawsuit. Fr. Beto calls the pope a “moderate progressive,” saying:

“[Francis is] trying to get back to a more open, reflective Church. When he says that if a Christian isn’t revolutionary, he’s not a Christian, that’s where he’s going. When he says that the pastor [‘the shepherd’] should smell like the faithful [‘the sheep’], he’s indicating that we priests have to live a simpler life along with the other faithful. He doesn’t have a vision of a hierarchical Church.

“And when he talked about gays, he ended on a high note. ‘If a gay person is seeking God, who am I to judge him?’ It means that what he cares about is the person’s character, not their sexual orientation.”

The acclaimed comment was the pope’s response to a journalist’s question about a ‘gay lobby’ in the Church, and Fr. Beto offers his own views on this perennial issue:

“The gay lobby exists, but it isn’t for the Church to accept homosexuals. It’s a power struggle and the gays within the Church are much more homophobic than the heterosexuals, incredible as it may seem. They’re more conservative; they’re struggling for power. A power that’s more focused on aesthetics, on positions.

“They’re mostly people who entered the priesthood fleeing their sexuality and they’ve ended up living out their sexuality in an almost schizophrenic way within the Church hierarchy.”

As for the root of Fr. Beto’s problems, namely his rejection of homosexuality or same-sex acts as sinful, the former priest contrasts his work as a theologian with Pope Francis’ public role:

“There’s a big difference between what [Pope Francis] says and what I’m trying to reflect about. Is saying to a gay person ‘we accept you but not your sexuality’ really loving one’s neighbor? It’s condemning a person to celibacy and instilling in them that their sexual desire is a sin, something they’ll have all their lives.

“Is this respecting human knowledge? That’s my question, which is neither a sin nor an attitude that merits excommunication…

“That two people of the same sex, who are intimate, are freely giving pleasure to one another and perhaps even expressing love…what about that would be a sin? A sin is a loveless act. And lovelessness isn’t present in a homosexual relationship.”

Finally, Fr. Beto is asked about his current relationship with the Catholic Church and offers words familiar to many who identify as Catholic, even as contemporary leaders and institutions might turn them away:

It’s ambivalent: I feel I’m Catholic, belonging to this Church. I didn’t choose to stop being a priest, so I continue to be a priest. But through the Diocese of Bauru, through the local Church, I’m excluded.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Online Petition Thanks Pope Francis for His Gay-Positive Remarks

petition (1)An online petition at change.org has been established to thank Pope Francis for his gay-positive comments last week on his plane ride home from Brazil.

The text of the petition, which has been organized by Allen Rose, a gay Catholic man in Washington, DC,  reads:

“It is important to hear about God’s love for all people, and about the importance of the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Catholic church and in society from the Pope because religion has frequently been used to demonize gay people.

“Recently the Pope said, ‘If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?’  Thank you Pope Francis for saying this.  Catholics and non-catholics have needed to hear a Pope say this for a long time.

“Various people are beginning to beginning to clarify, recast and modify this simple statement that the Pope recently made during a news conference. Sometimes simple statements about God’s love explain more than long, detailed theological works, or highly nuanced explanations of Catholic doctrine. Also, by saying, “Who am I to judge?” the pope  is expressing the Catholic belief in the dignity of the human conscience, which often gets ignored in religious discussions about human sexuality.

“Pope Francis is the first pope to use the word gay.  Previous popes have used words and phrases that are more harsh and judgmental. This is an additional indication of how to express a loving and generous attitude towards LGBTQ people.

“Therefore, I hope you will join me in saying thank you to Pope Francis.

“Since the Pope doesn’t have a public email account, we will deliver this petition to the papal nuncio to the U.S., the Vatican’s ambassador, so that it can be forwarded to Pope Francis.”

You sign the petition by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Equally Blessed’s World Youth Day Pilgrims Make Headlines as Transformers

Equally Blessed LogoThe six young Catholic LGBT pilgrims who journeyed to World Youth Day continue to make headlines a week after the enormous event in Brazil is over.  These pilgrims, sponsored by the Equally Blessed coalition (comprised of Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry),  visited the gathering of Catholic youth from all over the world, and “evangelized” the people they met about the goodness and equality of LGBT people.  You can read Bondings 2.0‘s previous blog post about them here for more background on their mission.

Recently, they were featured in a BBC television report on World Youth Day, which offered them as an example of how some of the youth at the event were not convinced that “the church was moving fast or far enough.”  You can view the video here.  The brief interview with the Equally Blessed pilgrim Delfin Bautista begins at 1:52.

The pilgrims have also recently posted their own videos on YouTube.   You can view all of them by visiting Equally Blessed’s YouTube channel.  One important moment for the pilgrims was when one of them, Ellen Euclide, asked a question about LGBT issues at a catechesis session led by a bishop.  You can view her question, the audience’s positive response, and the bishop’s answer here:

You can also hear Ellen’s background information and reflection about asking the question in this YouTube video:

The Washington Post’s “On Background” online show featured Ellen, along with The National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen, discussing the pope’s gay positive comments.  Ellen’s comments begin at about 7:25.  You can view that video here:

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Just in case that link does not work, you can view the video on the show’s website by clicking here.

Kate Childs-Graham, a “Young Voices” columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, featured the ministry of these pilgrims in her column this week, and she dubbed the group “The Transformative Six.”    She described their work and advocacy while in Brazil:

“So to Rio they went, armed with rainbow bracelets and rosaries, prayer cards and kites. They had hundreds of conversations with other pilgrims from across the world. Many — if not most — supported their message and equality and inclusion, and they engaged those with whom they disagreed in spirited dialogue. Then, they blogged, Facebooked and tweeted about their experience.”

And then Childs-Graham wondered:

“Maybe the pope saw an Equally Blessed kite or received a sticker. Maybe he heard that a brave young woman asked a bishop about LGBT equality and the masses cheered. Maybe he noticed, like these pilgrims, the open arms of the Christ of Corcovado. No matter what it was that helped Pope Francis transform his tone and hopefully will help him transform our church, I’m giving all the credit to the Transformative Six.”

Who knows?

What we do know for sure is that the pilgrims touched the hearts and souls off many of the young people they encountered, and that was plenty transformative!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Pope Francis Offers Respect for Gay Priests, Signaling a New Papal Direction

In what is probably his most gay-friendly statement to date, Pope Francis said that he will not judge gay priests, and he respects their vocation.

Pope Francis on plane
Pope Francis on plane

The New York Times quotes his response to a reporter’s question about gay priests, asked during a press conference on the plane ride back to Rome from World Youth Day celebrations in Brazil:

 “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

This is probably the clearest break with his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  Benedict issued an instruction to bishops not to accept gay candidates for the seminary, a policy that was being considered under John Paul’s papacy.

The Chicago Tribune expanded on the pope’s comments on this topic:

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well.  It says they should not be marginalized because of this (orientation) but that they must be integrated into society.

“”The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem.”

The pope was answering a question about his statement last month concerning a “gay lobby” in the Vatican, so his reference to lobbies above probably refers to that context.

The Tribune also noted that Francis joked about his “gay lobby” comment:

“You see a lot written about the gay lobby. I still have not seen anyone in the Vatican with an identity card saying they are gay.”

The New York Times expanded on the gay lobby comment, and also allegations of gay trysts happening among staff at the Vatican Bank:

“Reporters on the plane said that the pope had been candid and high-spirited and didn’t dodge a single question, even thanking the person who asked about reports of a ‘gay lobby’ inside the Vatican, and about Italian press reports that one of the advisers he had appointed to look into the Vatican Bank had been accused of having gay trysts.

“Francis said he had investigated the reports and found them groundless. He added that while such a lobby would be an issue, he did not have anything against gays and that their sins should be forgiven, media reports said. He said that while homosexuals should be treated with dignity, using sexual orientation for blackmail or pressure was a different matter.”

Many people have been waiting for a clear message from Pope Francis on LGBT issues, and it seems like this one indicates he will take a decidedly different approach than his immediate predecessors had done.

Some will say that this is not enough, that he still refers to sins of homosexuals, but I think the important thing is the question of emphasis.  While his predecessors emphasized sin in relationship to LGBT people, Pope Francis looks like he will be emphasizing human dignity, respect, and social integration.  Even if he doesn’t drop the sin language, this is still a major step forward, and one that can pave the way for further advancements down the road.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Equally Blessed Pilgrims Bring LGBT Faith Witness to World Youth Day

World Youth Day, the gathering of young Catholics with Pope Francis in Brazil this past week, has garnered many headlines for the pope’s charisma.  LGBT issues have not been mentioned, other than to say that the pope was greeted by protesters who staged a “kiss-in” when he arrived in Rio de Janiero.

Some of the Equally Blessed pilgrims with friends they have met at World Youth Day events.
Some of the Equally Blessed pilgrims with friends they have met at World Youth Day events.

But the real LGBT story at World Youth Day (WYD)has not made it to the major media outlets.  Six young LGBT U.S. Catholics have journeyed to the gathering as pilgrims, sponsored by Equally Blessed, the coalition of Catholic organizations which work on LGBT equality issues. (The four members of Equally Blessed are Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry.)

The six pilgrims–Delfin Bautista, Lauren Carpenter, Ellen Euclide, Megan Graves, Jennifer Guterman, Sara Kelley–have been attending the WYD events with other pilgrims, and have been striking up conversations with them to raise awareness of LGBT equality issues.   According to an Equally Blessed press release, Kelley had this to say about the project:

“I’m going to World Youth Day to help start a different conversation about LGBT people in the church, and to offer a different view than the hierarchy’s on how LGBT people can be included. I hope simply to talk to people and to ask questions of the Church’s current teaching.”

The press release also noted:

“In addition to participating in World Youth Day events, the pilgrims hope to meet representatives of other LGBT Catholic groups and possibly participate in a pubic vigil on behalf of LGBT people.”

You can read the entire press release here.

The Equally Blessed Pilgrims:  Delfin Bautista, Megan Graves, Ellen Euclide, Jennifer Guterman, Lauren Carpenter, Sara Kelley
The Equally Blessed Pilgrims: Delfin Bautista, Megan Graves, Ellen Euclide, Jennifer Guterman, Lauren Carpenter, Sara Kelley

While in Brazil, the pilgrims are maintaining a blog about their experiences on the Equally Blessed website.   You can read their reflections by clicking here.  The following are some excerpts:

Delfin Bautista:

“When we think of activists often time the images that come to mind are of a person with a bullhorn leading a chant or a passionate orator giving a speech to set people’s hearts ablaze or the community organizer who brings together all of the logistics for a public education campaign.

“At World Youth Day we’ve encountered many who embody this spirit—people gathering to sing, dance, and exchange stories (through gestures, facial expressions, and other forms of communication when spoken languages differed).  Many reflected physically the joy of being here and of sharing their experience of faith and pride in their countries in very energetic ways.    As I stood in line to finish the process of registering our group, participated in Mass, and during our catechesis sessions where everyone focused on the Bishop speaking, I realized that as introverts we have been invited to step up to the challenge of going beyond our comfort zone to go up to other WYD participants to hand out rainbow rosaries, EB prayer cards, and get to know where people are coming from.  We have been interviewed by the BBC and approached by pilgrims from all over the world who are interested, intrigued, and happy that there is some form of visible lgbt and queer presence at WYD. “

Megan Graves:

“As we continued to pass out and share many of our rainbow trinkets and gifts, many people we delighted to have them, especially the rainbow rosaries! Many of the Central and South American youth that we met we very positive about our outreach, we even had one young woman who spoke only Portuguese translate for us several times.  Also, for me personally, it was wonderful to engage in brief dialogue with those who spoke Spanish, because I wanted to try my best to explain our ministry.”

Ellen Euclide:

 “The atmosphere was one of celebrating multiple identities and connecting across cultures.  We all struggled to overcome language barriers and smiled for pictures with people we had just met.  People were proud of their national identity and sang football chants and church songs, but the excitement came from the feeling of connection, that we have all been brought together by our diverse experiences of the same faith.

“In that atmosphere our identity as LGBT Catholics received a warm welcome.  Lucky for us “LGBT” and “gay” translate directly in both Spanish and Portuguese so many people deciphered our banner and our schpeil and we were greeted with smiles, hugs and even cheers.  Even those who disagreed simply said “hm, well I think differently” and walked away, letting us continue without further discussion.  I had several conversation with Spanish speakers who were very surprised to see us.  Some were cautious, asking if we were associated with a parish, if we were celibate or if we took communion and made sure to ask if the ribbon would identify them as “one of us.”  The majority though were very positive.  One man asked how he could help and took a stack of our prayer cards to hand out, a young Bolivian asked for my email address because he’s wants to work in LGBT rights in his country and said he thinks most LGBT Bolivians go to church but keep their identity a secret and several Spanish speaking Brazilians helped us translate our message and stayed around to explain our banner to other Portuguese speakers.”

Godspeed to our young pilgrims and witnesses for Catholic LGBT equality!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

South America’s Marriage Equality Victories Mixed With Strong Catholic Backlash

Two more nations in South America acted on marriage equality in the wake of legislative victories in Uruguay and Argentina.  Colombian legislators rejected equal marriage legislation in a heated vote, while a leading Brazilian court ruled to allow same-gender marriages and all of this occurs in the shadows of an impending trip to the continent by the first pope from South America this summer.

Colombia

In a tense debate, the Colombian Congress rejected a marriage equality bill in a 51 to 17 vote which signaled a backlash to the growing acceptance of LGBT people in South America. Financial Times now reports couples seeking marriage licenses will need to register in the courts.

The legislation was prompted by a 2011 ruling from Colombia’s highest judiciary body, the Constitutional Court, that the Congress must enact equal marriage law within two years. Colombia has a dominant Catholic majority, many of whom vocally oppose pro-LGBT laws, however Cardinal Ruben Salazar is on the record endorsing civil unions as a form of legal protection for same-gender couples.

Brazil

The National Council of Justice, a high-powered judiciary body in heavily Catholic Brazil, ruled the government may not deny marriage licenses to same-gender couples. However, The Telegraph reports this rule has deeper implications than just allowing the legislature to act:

“‘This is the equivalent of authorising same-sex marriage in Brazil,’ said Raquel Pereira de Castro Araujo, head of the human rights committee of the Brazilian bar association.

“Supreme Court Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa explained that there was no reason for government marriage licensing offices to wait for Congress to pass a law on same-sex marriage before extending gays rights they legally already have.

“‘Are we going to require the approval of a new law by Congress to put into effect the ruling that already has been made by the Supreme Court? That would make no sense,’ he said in comments quoted by the G1 news website.”

Brazil is the largest Catholic nation worldwide, and the institutional Church there has not been friendly to LGBT rights. Bondings 2.0 reported earlier in May about a priest who was excommunicated for speaking out about inclusivity and welcome for sexual minorities. It appears conservative Catholic influences remain strong in the legislature too, and opponents of LGBT rights insist room remains for a challenge:

“In Congress, a strong religious faction opposes same-sex marriage, and has not yet approved a law on same-sex marriage regulations. And the NCJ’s decisions are subject to appeal before the Supreme Court…

“While some state courts have recognised same-sex marriages, the council’s ruling was the first to set out a national standard.”

In the interim, it appears Brazil will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples as it simultaneously prepares for the arrival of Pope Francis for World Youth Day this summer.

Pope Francis

The effects of the new papacy on national hierarchies’ actions around pending marriage equality bills remains an open question, though Bondings 2.0 and others have mused about how he might act given his history of support for civil unions as a compromise. A piece in The National Catholic Reporter sheds further insights in terms of marriage. John Allen writes:

“On this score, I was told by three sources in Argentina that the [New YorkTimes basically got it right: Bergoglio did, in fact, favor civil unions…

“Guillermo Villarreal, a Catholic journalist in Argentina, said it was well known at the time that Bergoglio’s moderate position was opposed by [conservative bishops]…The difference was not over whether to oppose gay marriage, but how ferociously to do so and whether there was room for a compromise on civil unions…

“Behind the scenes, sources say Bergoglio tried to avoid fireworks on the gay marriage issue. One young Catholic told me, for instance, he had wanted to organize a public recitation of the rosary on the eve of the vote outside the legislature, knowing that supporters of gay marriage would also be there and the prayer would be a provocation. He wrote to Bergoglio seeking advice, he said, and Bergoglio called him directly, suggesting they pray at home instead.”

As highly Catholic nations, like Brazil and Colombia, continue slowly progressing towards full marriage rights for same-gender couples, perhaps the detente approach of Pope Francis on civil marriage will mute some of the most vocal anti-LGBT opposition. How the new Pope will deal with, if at all, the issue of marriage equality spreading throughout the Americas during his first return visit will be interesting to track. 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry