Transgender Survey Can Be a Pastoral Examination for Catholics

New findings from the U.S. Transgender Survey offer key insights which can help religious communities’ respond to trans people. In an essay for Sojourners magazine, Austen Hartke, who is a writer, speaker, and creator of the YouTube series “Transgender and Christian,” highlights seven such insights, and many of them are applicable to the Catholic Church.

Austen Hartke

The Survey, conducted in 2015 by the National Center for Transgender Equality, includes input from almost 28,000 people. While the survey covered topics other than religion, Hartke noted there were seven religion questions, and they all deserve some reflection by churches.  I hope to show how the issues raised can be applied to specifically Catholic settings.

First, 66 percent of those surveyed “said that they had been part of a faith community at some point in their life,” wrote Hartke. Yet just 19 percent had been part of a faith community in the last year. In Catholic circles, trans issues are often dealt with as an external matter such as legal and political questions. These Survey numbers should be a wake-up call for Catholics to recognize the existing presence and contributions of faithful trans Catholics in church communities.

Second, nearly 20 percent of those surveyed in a religious community “have left because they were actively rejected.”   Hartke commented:

“Many trans folks stay, despite poor treatment and even spiritual abuse, because, as for many of us, the church is their family. Still, it’s difficult to stay where you’re not wanted. Nearly one in five trans people decides it’s better to leave, and we lose their presence, their spiritual gifts, and their unique perspectives and experiences. Once again, people of color experience this rejection more frequently, and larger numbers of Native and black trans people report leaving their faith communities.”

Some church institutions and officials, sadly, have adopted a very hostile and exclusionary posture towards trans people and their civil rights. Catholic dioceses and insurance plans have opposed transgender rights. The recent lawsuit against healthcare non-discrimination protections or the resistance to President Barack Obama’s education policies to protect trans students are examples. A Catholic school in New Jersey rejected a trans student, and it is reported that the University of Notre Dame denied housing to a trans student. These troubling incidents are coupled with less public incidents in which church ministers fail, due to ignorance and/or ideology, to provide adequate and healthy pastoral care for transgender persons and their families.

Third, given the reality of rejection in faith communities, trans people’s intense fears about such rejection are easily understandable. 39 percent have left a religious community because of fear of rejection. Taken together with those who have been directly rejected, nearly 60 percent of those surveyed who have religious beliefs have subsequently severed ties to a faith community over the issue of being rejected. Hartke wrote:

“It’s hard to worship when you’re constantly watching your back. Trans people in churches that are non-affirming or that haven’t taken a stand on LGBTQ+ inclusion often have to pray with one eye open, wondering if and when they’ll be outed, and what consequences they’ll have to face for trying to understand the identity God gave them.”

In the Catholic Church, this rejection is reinforced by an ill-informed yet quite outspoken hierarchy. A leading Vatican official has said transgender rights are “demonic,” and bishops worldwide have echoed these sentiments in less abrasive terms. Pope Francis’ record on gender identity is mixed: he met with and spoke approvingly of a transgender man from Spain while at the same time repeatedly condemning “gender ideology” and “ideological colonization.”

But the Survey findings also provide sources of hope where religious communities have been more faithful to Jesus’ inclusive model by welcoming and affirming trans people. Of the 60 percent who have left a religious community because of rejection, Hartke wrote, “42 percent of the transgender folks who have been rejected by a faith community have found a new one that welcomes them as they are.”

In addition, churches which offer a vocal welcome to trans people are living up to their public commitment. 96 percent of trans people in faith communities “said that they had experienced some form of affirmation,” and Hartke continued, “this statistic shows us that Christians are more than capable of bringing the Good News to people in ways that they can actually experience as good news.”

Some Catholics are already working hard to foster greater inclusion for and affirmation of trans people. Fr. Bryan Massingale has written movingly about why the church cannot abandon transgender people. A Catholic high school in San Francisco said a teacher who transitioned would remain employed. Theologians have exhorted the church to provide pastoral care and support promoting the wholeness of trans people, while not treating them with pity. Caritas India, the official development agency of that nation’s bishops launched an outreach program to trans people. More and more resources for Catholic affirmation of trans people are being developed. And there are many more positive examples, which you can find in our “Transgender” category by clicking here.

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey offers unprecedented information about trans experiences. It reveals, to quote Vatican II, the “joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties” of trans people.  Vatican II also advised that such human feelings are therefore the joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties of the People of God. Catholics can consider the Survey’s findings and what they reveal about religious communities as a kind of pastoral examination to begin the new year.

Where are you personally when it comes to knowledge about and acceptance of trans people? What has your parish or school done, or not done, to further inclusion? How can you make the coming year a time of growth around gender identity issues in your life and the life of the church?

To start, you can check out this resource page compiled by New Ways Ministry. We also welcome your thoughts and ideas in the “Comments” section below.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 3, 2016

Community Rallies to Support Fr. Warren Hall

By Glen Bradley, New Ways Ministry, September 25, 2016

Catholics and other members of the Hoboken, New Jersey, community gathered to support Fr. Warren Hall, a gay Catholic priest who was recently suspended from ministry by Newark Archbishop John Myers.

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A local clergywoman speaking at the rally

According to NJ.com, parishioners, LGBT community members and other locals gathered in a rally organized by Hoboken Pride and Jersey City Pride to show their support for Fr. Hall. The rally took place at Stevens Park in Hoboken, New Jersey.

In 2015, Hall was assigned by Myers to be a parochial vicar at both St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Church in Weehawken, New Jersey, and Saints Peter and Paul Church in Hoboken, after he was dismissed from his position as the Director of Campus Ministry at Seton Hall University for supporting the NOH8 campaign. One reporter said that the suspension from priestly ministry came after Hall openly supported unofficial LGBT events at the World Youth Day last July, as well as PFLAG New Jersey, Gays Against Guns and New Ways Ministry.

Hall also publicly supported counselor and coach Kate Drumgoole, who was fired from Paramus Catholic High School for being in a same-gender marriage. As New Ways Ministry reported earlier, Paramus Catholic’s alumni organized and signed an open letter condemning the school’s decision and showing support for Drumgoole. After receiving the letter, the school announced that two top administrators have been suspended.  

Hall spoke at the rally thanking the organizers and attendees while reinforcing his stance against Paramus High School’s dismissal of Drumgoole. NJ.com quoted him:  

It seems to me she was fired because of her sexuality… We don’t see schools letting people go because they’re divorced and remarried or living with someone

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Laura Knittel of Hoboken Pride

Laura Knittel of Hoboken Pride, also spoke at the rally saying:

Change is here, it can happen, it has happened, it will happen… Let’s pray for the archbishop. Father Warren, you’re work has just begun in a whole new chapter of your life.

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Michael Billy of Jersey City Pride

Michael Billy of Jersey City Pride noted:

We the people have a god-given right to stand up for what we know is right… This archbishop is vastly out of touch with what is going on in the world.

Joyce Flinn, a parishioner at Saints Peter and Paul and a supporter of Hall, spoke about Archbishop Myers’ decision, telling a reporter, “This is a terrible outrage… I appeal to this archbishop to retire.”

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Fr. Hall being interviewed at the rally

Hall explained in a video interview (see below) from NJ.com that while he understood the rationale behind Myers decision, which was reported as being based on breaking the vow of obedience, Hall insisted that he never actually spoke against the church or church teaching.

In the video, Hall explained:

I think by being involved with the groups I was involved with, who are viewed by the archbishop and some church leadership as being opposed to Catholic teaching, I think in that regard they believe i am being disobedient because in a letter or notice that the archbishop sent out last year, you know, he made clear that groups that have positions opposite of the Catholic Church, we should not be involved with.

Hall clarified:

However, my belief in that is that my involvement with those groups were for positive reasons: PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gay Children. I went to those groups to talk about how God loved their children and that we should welcome their children. And so I think I see why I’m accused of being disobedient. But I don’t believe it’s disobedience because the message that I brought to those groups, in every case, was not anti-catholic.

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Hoboken Councilman Michael DeFusco

According to NJ.com, Hoboken Councilman Michael DeFusco, a gay man and parishioner of Saints Peter and Paul Church, read Mary Oliver’s poem, “Sunrise.”

You can die for it —

an idea,

or the world. People

have done so,

brilliantly,

letting

their small bodies be bound to the stake,

creating

an unforgettable fury

of light.

DeFusco concluded with his own words, saying, “Thank you, Father Hall.”

While instances of retaliation against LGBT workers in Catholic organizations and LGBT-supportive priests continue, the support of communities to those discriminated against is truly encouraging. When Catholics gather together in support of their LGBT and LGBT-positive family, we find new life in our faith. For those who support Fr. Warren Hall or other dismissed church workers, being at a rally or signing a petition is an authentic way to live their faith.

Catholic School Graduate Killed in Orlando Massacre

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Akyra Murray

Names and photographs for many of the 49 people killed at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando have now been released, coming as we still grapple with the evil that happened Sunday morning and try to respond to these events.

Akyra Murray, an 18-year-old graduate of West Catholic Preparatory High School in Philadelphia, was among those victims killed. Murray “graduated third in her class just last week, and had just signed a letter of intent to play basketball for Mercyhurst University, Erie, Pennsylvania, reported ABC 6. She was in Orlando with family celebrating her graduation. A statement from West Catholic Preparatory said:

“Our hearts are broken, but together we will mourn Akyra’s loss and provide comfort to one another to honor the memory of such a wonderful young lady.”

A closed vigil is planned for this evening, and the school is providing grief counselors all week for affected community members.

Officials in Catholic higher education have released supportive statements and are offering Masses throughout the week for all those killed in Orlando, noting the LGBT identities of the victims. Fr. Brian Linnane, president of Loyola University Maryland, assured  the GLBTQ+ members of the campus community that “we stand shoulder to shoulder with them in condemning this crime and advocating for justice. . .today we are all GLBTQ+.”

In a statement, Dr. Lisa Reiter, director of Campus Ministry at Loyola University Chicago, wrote:

“This shooting is a painful reminder of the injustice and prejudice that afflicts our lesbian sisters and gay brothers on a daily basis. . .In light of the spirit of Jesus Christ, and Church teaching, let us examine how we might more fully extend friendship t our LGBT sisters and brothers, inviting them to share their joys and sorrows with us.”

Religious communities have offered statements of prayer and of solidarity with LGBT communities, too, including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia who shared their solidarity on Facebook.

Tragically, not all church leaders have responded well. As Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday, only four U.S. bishops referenced the anti-LGBT roots of this crime in their statements. A fifth, Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino, a city which suffered a mass shooting itself last year, released a statement which said:

“For those of us in San Bernardino this is especially painful because we also experienced the trauma of an act of public violence in our community not so long ago, at the Inland Regional Center. In that sense, we offer our prayers and our tears in solidarity with the victims of this attack, their loved ones, the Diocese of Orlando and the City, itself. Because of the circumstances of this attack, we also make clear our condemnation of discriminatory violence against those who are gay and lesbian, and we offer our prayers to that community.”

At The Wild Reed blog, Michael Bernard Kelly, who writes on gay Christian spirituality, responded to religious and civil leaders who offered prayers without referencing LGBT people:

“To every politician, and every civic or religious leader, including the Pope, who expressed sorrow and outrage at the Orlando shootings, but so very carefully avoided mentioning Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer people – YOU are part of the problem. Your words are empty and your hearts are hollow. Get back to us when you are ready to put yourself on the line to support and affirm US in the face of hatred and violence. Till then, hang your head in shame and repent of all that your past bigotry and current silence has spawned.”

Stephen Colbert

Finally, television host Stephen Colbert, who is Catholic, offered powerful remarks about the Orlando shooting before his show Monday night:

“Well I don’t know what to do, but I do know that despair is a victory for hate. Hate wants us to be too weak to change anything. Now these people in Orlando were apparently targeted because of who they love. And there have been outpourings of love throughout the country and around the world. Love in response to hate. Love does not despair. Love makes us strong. Love gives us the courage to act. Love gives us hope that change is possible. Love allows us to change the script. So love your country, love your family, love the families of the victims and the people of Orlando, but let’s remember that love is a verb, and to love means to do something.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Fr. James Martin: Respecting Transgender People “Fairly Simple Thing to Do”

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Jesuit Fr. James Martin again affirmed LGBT inclusion, saying transgender people using restrooms according to their gender identity “seems a fairly simple thing to do.” Meanwhile, U.S. bishops intensified their criticism of expanding transgender equality.

In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Martin was asked about the federal government’s new directive mandating transgender students be allowed to use gender-segregated facilities, like restrooms and locker rooms, according to their gender identity. Martin responded:

“I don’t know a whole lot about that issue, but I would say that I don’t understand the problem with letting transgender people use bathrooms that they feel comfortable in. Personally, I think it’s overblown and that people’s responses are really strange. I don’t know that much about transgender people but that’s all the more reason for us to try and treat them with dignity.

“I thought the comment from Attorney General Lynch was beautiful, that we are with you, we’re going to try to help you. Just as the church needs to treat gay and lesbians with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,’ which is in the catechism, it should be the same with transgender people. And letting them use the bathroom seems a fairly simple thing to do.”

Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo and Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committees on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and on Catholic Education, called the federal directive “deeply disturbing” in a statement. They said the directive failed to balance “legitimate concerns about privacy and security” and “short-circuits” ongoing conversations about gender. Malone and Lucas quoted Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia which says youth must “accept their own body as it was created.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, pushed back against the bishops’ statement and their use of Pope Francis to justify discrimination:

“We believe, as do many Catholics, that our transgender kin reflect the immensity and diversity of God’s creativity. They challenge us to humbly re-examine traditional beliefs about sex, gender, identity, and human relationships, and to acknowledge the limitations of our current understanding in these areas. We urge the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to engage in dialogue with transgender youth and adults, as well as their families, so they can better understand the pastoral and practical needs of these communities.”

Fr. Martin also commented on Pope Francis’ impact on LGBT issues  generally. Martin said it is “hard to overstate the impact” that Francis’ papacy has had in welcoming LGBT people. But the Jesuit priest criticized the institutional church for not providing more outreach to LGBT people, and offered three points to enhance pastoral care and improve ecclesial inclusion:

“First, by listening to their experience. Usually LGBT people are preached at instead of listened to. Second, by going out [of] their way to make them feel welcome. Third, by including them in leadership positions as anybody else would be, as Eucharistic ministers and lectors and things like that. But the first thing is listening to them. What is their experience?”

What is readily apparent from these Catholic responses to the federal directive protecting transgender students in public schools is who has listened to and come to know LGBT people–and who has not. Too many bishops have not asked themselves nor informed their ministry with the question proposed by Martin, “What are the experiences of LGBT people?” Pope Francis’ own deficiencies on matters of gender and sexuality, readily apparent in Amoris Laetitia, seem to stem from a failure to ask this question more publicly and proactively.

LGBT non-discrimination protections, for students and for everyone else, can be readily defended using Catholic teaching. But personal stories and relationships are perhaps more powerful sources for our theology and our advocacy today. So before another top Vatican official condemns trans identities as “demonic” or more U.S. bishops keep opposing LGBT civil rights, perhaps a pause for listening and for dialogue would be an appropriate next step. After that, respecting LGBT people should easily become a “fairly simple thing to do.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

“Amoris Laetitia” Is a Step in Process that Is Far From Over, Say Commentators

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Martin Pendergast

Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 featured reactions to Pope Francis’ new exhortation on family, Amoris Laetitia. Below are more reactions related to Catholic LGBT issues. You can read New Ways Ministry’s response by clicking here.

You can read LGBT-related excerpts from Amoris Laetitia by clicking here.

Martin Pendergast, a UK advocate for LGBT Catholics, said many people realized LGBT issues would not be central, reported The Tablet. But even in the “light treatment” this document affords such issues, there are positive developments:

“First of all, no condemnations, no quoting of language of ‘intrinsic disorder’, a nuance around the use of language like same-sex attraction, which some of us find offensive, an actual recognition of homosexual orientation, which is very significant in a document of this status.

“One of the key debates in the Church has been: is there such a thing as a different sexual orientation and paragraph 250 refers to people who manifest homosexual orientation. So it’s actually acknowledging that homosexual orientation exists: that’s very important.”

Pendergast said the text lacks the coherence of Evangelii Gaudium or Laudato Si, instead showing “evidence of interventions from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith” in the conservative messages that were included. He concluded:

“The question that many of us will have is: how are you going to apply those very important principles about conscience, internal forum, not judging people, not throwing stones at people?”

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Jonathan Capehart

Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post said the pope’s treatment of homosexuality “hues pretty closely” to paragraphs in the 2014 Synod’s midterm report that were celebrated for their positive approach but inspired quite a backlash. Capehart wrote:

“Sadly missing is this sentence: ‘Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority’. . .

“By talking about the humanity of gay and lesbian Catholics, Pope Francis is openly recognizing them as children of God. After centuries of demonization, that’s a revolutionary act that can’t be undone.”

Mary Hunt
Mary Hunt

Mary Hunt, theologian and co-director of WATER (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual), criticized the text as “a study in ambiguity that gives new evidence for the use of the term “jesuitical.” She continued:

“Alas, the hetero monogamous ideal remains in place while lip service is paid to the remote possibility of other options. Clearly the input of lay people at the two Synods amounted to little or nothing. All in all, this is a missed opportunity for Pope Francis to demonstrate that there is anything new under the Vatican sun.”

Ryan Sattler
Ryan Sattler

Ryan Sattler of the LEAD Ministry (an LGBT outreach) at St. Matthew Catholic Church, and a board member of New Ways Ministry, told the Baltimore Sun

“As much as we love Pope Francis — he has changed the tone of conversation on so many issues — when you have real, deep substance and doctrine in the church that continues to hurt and marginalize people, changing the tone doesn’t do the job.”

Ken Briggs, writing at the National Catholic Reporter, said the effectiveness of Amoris Laetitia was hindered because its authorship precluded the voices of lay Catholics, including LGBT people, from sharing their wisdom and challenges:

“Despite the many eloquent and enlightening portions of the pope’s message, it still emanates from a place which practices no family life that resembles that of the laity, and loses much credibility accordingly. . .the analysis and prescription contents of the document operate entirely within the sometimes shadowy framework of defined doctrine. allowing for no valid concept of family life outside the narrow definitions of Catholic moral teaching. It precludes the possibility that other models might reflect the Creator’s purposes in yet other ways.”

David Gibson
David Gibson

Beyond the document itself, David Gibson of Religion News Service set Amoris Laetitia within the ongoing process under Pope Francis from which the text emerged:

“But the larger reality conveyed by the document — and one that could unsettle Catholic traditionalists more than anything — is that the pope clearly wants the debates over church teachings and pastoral practices to continue and, perhaps, to continue to evolve. . .

“In other words, don’t look to Rome for the solution to every challenge, and don’t stop looking for ways to welcome anyone and everyone who feels alienated from the faith because their personal lives do not conform to the Catholic ideal. . .

“If that journey is part of the pilgrimage of faith, it is far from over. In fact, it may never be over.”

The journey to justice and equality for LGBT people in the Catholic Church is certainly not over. The reactions to and understandings of Amoris Laetitia and how it will impact the church are not over yet, either. Bondings 2.0 will, as always, keep our readers updated about the new document and its reception.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Archbishop Admits Church’s Mistake in Supporting Reparative Therapy

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Archbishop Charles Scicluna

Malta’s top bishop acknowledged church leaders were mistaken when they released a controversial position paper designed to oppose a bill which seeks to make reparative therapy outlawed in the island nation.

Speaking to the Times of Malta, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta said he “would not have simply released a position paper” about the reparative therapy bill knowing what he knows now.

The bill, entitled the Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression Act, seeks a “ban on professional conversion therapy” and an “outright ban on conversion therapy on vulnerable persons,” such as minors and those with disabilities. Professionals, such as therapists and ministers, and nonprofessionals, too, would face fines and jail time for engaging in or advertising reparative therapy if the bill is approved.

The Maltese bishops’ position paper stated, among a number of claims to draw heavy criticism, that the bill would privilege homosexuality and linked homosexual orientation to pedophilia. LGBT advocates and government officials were quick to condemn the eight-page document.

Drachma LGBTI and Drachma Parents Group, Malta’s leading LGBTI Christian organizations, said this position paper was a missed opportunity to build bridges, reported The Independent. The groups said in a statement that “LGBTIQ people who are living this reality” should have been included among the experts commissioned for the paper, adding:

“It would have been appropriate for the Church to dialogue with us about this delicate subject, especially after the significant gesture done by the Church when a few months ago it requested a member of Drachma to form part of the panel that prepared the Position Paper on the Embryo Act and to give a talk about LGBTIQ matters to the College of Parish Priests.

“We expected the Church not to miss out on an opportunity to build bridges with the LGBTIQ community by stating clearly that it is against conversion therapy, even though there might be certain elements in the bill that may require further clarification.”

The groups said the church should seek forgiveness from those subjected to reparative therapy, and  it should acknowledge the intense damage done to such victims, including spiritual damages.

Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said he opposed “the fundamental concept that equates homosexuality to illness or pedophilia,” reported Gay Star News. Helena Dalli, the Minister of Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties and sponsor of the bill, agreed and said the church’s position paper is “based on false premises,” reported Malta Today.

Mark Josef Rapa of We Are, a youth LGBTQQI organization, said the church’s position paper was unexpected and added that the position shows church leaders still believe “one can be cured from homosexuality,” , according to The Independent

The Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) said, in a statement reported by the Times of Malta, the bill “simply seeks to ensure that all persons, whatever their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression are valued equally.” MGRM noted the “serious prejudice towards bisexual persons” in the position paper, which suggested that such persons have difficulties being monogamous.

Among the other problems with the church’s position paper is that it described the bill as suffering “from a most basic and manifest discrimination,” as it would ostensibly allow conversion therapy for heterosexual people who would seek to become gay or bisexual. The paper, composed by Maltese academics in theology and law, claimed the bill ignores “grey areas of complex sexual orientations” and would bar those who seek to “curb his or her homosexual inclinations” because of a desire to be celibate or support a mixed-gender marriage. It attempted, too, a subtle critique of Malta’s Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act, which became law in 2014 and is considered the gold standard for transgender protections in Europe.

Facing such sustained criticism from so many quarters, Archbishop Scicluna’s interview is a noteworthy admission that the church should have handled the reparative therapy legislation differently. He clarified:

“Any conversion therapy which forces someone to go against their decisions or their life choices is just a no go – a no go – and I want this to be absolutely clear.”

Pressed on this position, Scicluna said if experts say such therapies are “totally harmful then we should avoid it.” He said further that, given how pastorally sensitive this legislation is, the approach should have been “less technical and more pastoral.” In retrospect, he said, the church should “not have simply released a position paper,” and he added:

“The experience has taught me it is not enough, when discussing a Bill, to contribute to the debate only with the help of experts. You also need to factor in the impact on people’s emotions and the perception the document may create.”

Scicluna took responsibility for the position paper, saying that while it comes from Malta’s church leadership, he approved its publication. The paper also claimed the bill would violate a consenting adult’s “right to receive treatment,” reported the Times of Malta. Asked whether the bishops’ panel of experts who prepared the position paper should have included “somebody from the gay community,” the archbishop replied:

“It would have helped immensely to include people from Drachma in the preparation of the position paper because they have contributed in other papers and their contribution has been precious. When I asked Professor [Emanuel] Agius [who formed part of the panel of experts], he said that was something we could have done and we should have done, as was the case with another position paper we presented recently.”

Scicluna’s willingness to admit the bishops’ position paper was mishandled and misguided in its approach, if not in its substance, was complemented by his renewed commitment to dialogue with LGB people:

“But I feel I have to build bridges with the gay community who felt our language was too technical, too cold and too distant. . .I want to reassure them that we are dead set against conversion therapy because we believe, as they do, as government does, that it goes against human dignity.

“We do not subscribe to beliefs that describe gay people as sick. . .These are labels that demean them. And certainly we are not going to associate gay people with paedophilia.”

Commenting on the Jubilee Year of Mercy inaugurated by Pope Francis, Scicluna admitted, too, that in the church’s history “our actions and language have not been inclusive” at times, and this year bears a “message of compassion and inclusivity” to drive the church’s efforts.

The archbishop reaffirmed a desire for dialogue and for collaborative work in his ministry, describing his leadership style as “highly collegial. He said he prefers to consult advisors and host discussions before making decisions. More importantly, as is evident regarding the bishops’ position paper on reparative therapy, Scicluna reviews his decision and feels free to revise ineffective or incorrect ones.

Scicluna remarked, too, about the Catholic Church’s role in public life because of his outspoken leadership style in Malta. He said while people appreciate a church engaged in society, it must be a church “that accepts it is a voice among many others” because the church exists in “a pluralistic society.” Church leaders cannot pretend to have the last word on issues about which they speak, he concluded. Democratic environments requires that we “be able to discuss things with respect and not take matters personally.”

This interview in the Times of Malta, worth reading in full, adds to Archbishop Scicluna’s improving record on LGBT issues. He clearly opposes marriage equality. Before Malta approved civil unions, he joined other church leaders in opposing the law. But he apologized at the same time to lesbian and gay people whose lives had been made harder by the church. And Scicluna has defended the love which can exist between same-gender partners, saying in one interview that “Love is never a sin. God is love.” He refused to sanction a Dominican priest who blessed the rings of an engaged same-gender couple, exhorting the priest in a meeting to continue outreach to LGB people but to do so respectful of the church’s rites as they are presently understood.

Scicluna’s mixed but generally positive record led the Malta Gay Rights Movement to honor him at the LGBTI Community Awards in 2014, though the then-auxiliary bishop declined because he does not receive awards or honors for simply “doing his duty as Bishop.” He took part in events for the International Day Against Homophobia that same year.

The archbishop’s latest remarks about the reparative therapy bill and episcopal leadership help his record on LGBT issues to become even more positive. Malta’s church leaders submitted a position paper to the government and to the public which is not much different from other bishops’ statements on homosexuality. For this, they received sustained and intense criticism from many voices in the highly Catholic country. What is key here is the the deep humility which undergirds the type of “Francis Bishop” that Scicluna seems to be exemplifying. He is willing to listen and learn, to acknowledge his mistakes, to seek reconciliation, and to exist more comfortably than most bishops within life’s complexities.

One last regret expressed by Archbishop Scicluna in the interview was that he had not yet structured pastoral visits into his leadership. On Fridays, in his words, “the bishop has to be where suffering is and I have not managed to do that.” He seems to know there is much suffering at the church’s own margins, as well as at society’s margins. I hope Archbishop Scicluna will spend more Fridays cultivating relationships and building bridges with LGBT people and their loved ones so that pastorally harmful mistakes like the bishops’ position paper on reparative therapy will not happen in the future.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

Is the Catholic Church Actually Progressive on LGBT Issues?

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Jane Fae

Is the Catholic Church actually progressive on LGBT issues, despite news headlines to the contrary? Yes and no, says Jane Fae,  a U.K. journalist who is a Catholic transgender woman. In a recent essay for Gay Star News, Fae asserts that what matters most is complexity and context of the issues involved.

Because of the complexity, Fae cautioned against LGBT advocates celebrating “bad news” about the Church, such as the contentious debates that took place at the Synod on the Family in October 2015.

Fae said secular LGBT advocates should not rejoice when it seems that the Church is splitting apart.  She wrote:

“The problem. . .is this particular piece of ‘bad news’ [about the Synod on the Family] is equally bad news for the millions of LGBTI people who do not live in broadly progressive countries.”

Why do LGBTI people suffer when the Catholic Church is troubled? Fae suggested any church critique must extend “beyond simple dislike” and include proper understandings of church history and ecclesial politics. Last fall’s Synod on the Family changed little, but those hoping for reforms should have been more realistic about the global church to begin with:

“The demographics of the present church show some 1.3 billion followers with the fastest growing segment in sub-Saharan Africa, an area not exactly known for its celebration of LGBTI values. . .

“Because of its size, the Catholic Church straddles the world, including millions of people whose views on LGBTI rights range from ultra-regressive to highly progressive. Inevitably, it ends up taking a middle of the road position which, equally inevitably, looks very backward from our perspective.”

Fae cautioned against a binary in which the West is progressive and others are “some dark opposite,” describing such thinking as “wrong” and “racist.” Instead, Catholics should consider both how the church fails on LGBT issues and how it leads, depending on the context discussed. She wrote:

“In those areas that are most antipathetic towards LGBTI rights, [the Catholic Church] is frequently a force for progress. Sometimes the main one, sometimes the only one.”

Fae contends that Catholics, including clergy, forcefully defend LGBTI human rights in some pats of Africa and Eastern Europe. She also noted the efforts by LGBT Catholics in London to aid LGBTQI asylum seekers. This is why a divided and troubled Catholic Church is no benefit to the cause of LGBT justice, as Fae explained:

“The church is not going to disappear. And while a split church might be helpful to campaigners in some parts of the world, it would be disastrous for those campaigning elsewhere, in areas where oppression is greatest, and where clergy protect minorities from persecution.”

As for the Synod on the Family, Fae does not consider it a loss. Pope Francis was deftly able to “balance a desire for a far more inclusive church with the need to avoid it splitting up.” For progressive Catholics who want same-gender weddings celebrated sacramentally, it was clearly not a victory. But the synod was a forward step because it avoided schism or disunity, hinted at by certain traditionalist members, while succeeding at shifting language. And to those suggesting shifts in language are not sufficient, Fae finds historical parallels in Vatican II. She wrote:

“Without defining a single new doctrine, just using a new positive vocabulary of spiritual kinship, the council significantly reshaped the church. . .That is the trick that Pope Francis was attempting to repeat.

“He has had few victories so far but the language is shifting. And, if what has gone before is any indicator of what is to follow, where language leads, hearts will eventually follow.”

Living in the Northeast U.S. where LGBT legal rights and cultural acceptance are basically normative, it can be easy for me to forget the harsh realities still faced by millions in our world. Jane Fae’s piece is a reminder that everything is grayer than we might prefer, that context matters significantly, and that change in the church is incremental and happening, even if the pace is painfully slow. You can read her column in full by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry