Lay Catholics in Italy Split on Civil Unions Question

January 31, 2016
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Outside the Pantheon in Rome, equality supporters, including Catholics, call for civil unions to be legalized.

YesterdayBondings 2.0 explored how Pope Francis and the Italian hierarchy have engaged that nation’s present debate about civil unions for same-sex couples. One theologian’s analysis was that, for Pope Francis, this was an issue best left to the laity. Today’s post explores just how the laity have been involved and what their involvements could mean.

Italian Catholics on both sides of the civil unions question have participated in major demonstrations. Nearly a million LGBT supporters rallied on January 23 in public squares across Italy, bringing clocks with them to call on legislators to “wake up” about the necessity of recognizing same-gender partners in law. Rome’s Gay Center spokesperson Fabrizio Marrazzo said the 100+ demonstrations signal Italy’s “crisis point. . .about civil rights,” reported the National Catholic Reporter.

Among those experiencing this crisis is Andrea Rubera, a married gay Catholic in Rome, whose story, told in The New York Times ,reveals the urgent necessity of legal protections. Rubera married his partner, Dario De Gregorio, in Canada, and they became parents to three children. The Times article explained:

“But when they returned to their native Italy, a transformation occurred. Mr. Rubera suddenly became a single man, and his legally recognized husband in Canada became his single male roommate in Italy. Italian law also divided custody of their children.”

Of this, Rubera commented:

” ‘There are major injustices coming from this, all toward the kids. . .We are dreaming to be recognized as we are — as a family.’ “

Despite this reality, support for civil unions is declining, if the polls are accurate. Latest numbers have support below 50% whereas it peaked at 67% or higher last May, a decline tied to a clause supporting stepchild adoption for same-gender couples, according to some pundits. Attempting to assuage critics, the civil unions bill was watered down, reported Crux, when sponsors added “language clearly distinguishing the relationships from marriage” and other amendments.

Yesterday, groups and individuals against civil unions took part in “Family Day” protests, which received support from some church leaders, including Italian Episcopal Conference President, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco. According to Crux’s John Allen, lay support for conservative church leaders is one reason that the Catholic Church “still has significant social capital and packs a political punch” in Italy. He wrote:

“That doesn’t mean the Italian Church wins all the time; famously, it lost referenda in 1974 over divorce and in 1981 over abortion, and prevailed in 2005 over stem cell research only by persuading Italians not to vote in order to invalidate the ballot.

“Yet Mass-going Catholics remain a sizable chunk of the national population and are well represented in both major political parties, and their sentiments have to be at least considered.”

Yet, simply citing that Catholics are politically involved is not sufficient evidence that LGBT rights will fail. It may actually be evidence for the contrary, as Out Magazine noted:

“At one time, the power of the conservative Roman Catholic Church seemed an almost insurmountable obstacle to the progress of LGBT rights. In 2003, Belgium became the first Catholic-majority country to adopt marriage equality, soon to be followed by Canada, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, France, and, most recently—and in a popular referendum—Ireland, revealing a trend that shatters such a pessimistic illusion. In fact, countries with a Catholic majority make up nearly half of those with marriage equality, and Catholics are overwhelmingly inclined to support same-sex marriages, or at least civil unions. So long as the false narrative of mainstream Catholicism’s lack of acceptance prevailed, LGBT progress for Italy looked bleak. Now, the country of 60 million looks poised to legalize same-sex civil unions. “

Ireland’s referendum and the marriage victories in many historically Catholic countries and states, aided in most cases by lay Catholics’ fervent efforts for equality, are true. But this is Italy, where the church’s political hold remains stronger due to the Vatican’s influence. With lay Catholics active both for and against civil unions, with Pope Francis advancing a more nuanced response, and with Italy’s bishops not united in strong opposition, it seems unclear just what influence Italian Catholics will have on Tuesday’s expected vote.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Indonesian Catholics Defend LGBT Students’ Rights Against Education Minister

January 27, 2016
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Minister Muhammad Nasir

Catholics in Indonesia have rejected a government official’s call to ban counseling services to LGBT students in higher education.

According to Asian CorrespondentMuhammad Nasir, who serves as Minister of Research, Technology, and Higher Education, decried such programs at the University of Indonesia, stating:

” ‘The LGBT culture is not in accordance with the values and morals of Indonesia. I will not allow it.’ “

The Minister added that, as moral guardians, colleges and universities had a duty to exclude LGBT groups on campus and said sexuality is a choice by individuals.

Nasir attempted to walk back his comments yesterday, saying that while LGBT people should not be discriminated against by laws, this does not mean “the state legitimizes the LGBT culture.” He specified further that he was not against people, but their activity and wanted to disallow “members of the LGBT community openly displaying their sexuality on campus.” He admitted to lacking the power to enact such changes.

Nasir’s critics claim he is essentially trying to ban LGBT students from higher education, despite his clarifications. Alongside LGBT advocates, civil rights activists, and a Change.org petition, Nasir’s critics include officials in Catholic higher education, reported ucanews.com:

” ‘The minister distinguished between a psychosexual condition and sexual praxis as something against moral values,’ Franciscan Father Peter C. Aman, a professor of moral theology at the Jakarta-based , told ucanews.com on Jan. 25.

“For the psychosexual condition, he said, the community cannot be regarded as violators of the moral values. ‘It’s like heterosexual condition. It doesn’t come out by itself even though it has potential to violate moral values.’

“Catholic universities had a moral obligation to oppose the minister’s remarks: ‘The church must defend the community (in this case),’ he said.”

It is unclear whether Nasir was actually making such a distinction or if Fr. Aman is projecting a distinction, but his assertion that the church “must defend” LGBT people is noteworthy.

Matheus Beny Mite, charged with Catholic education at Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia, said that if the minister’s goals “are against human rights,” they would be rejected by the University.

While it is problematic that these two Catholic officials felt the need to condemn sexual activity, their rejection of Nasir’s uninformed remarks is a positive development. Furthermore, Fr. Aman affirmed that the church has an obligation to be in solidarity with LGBT communities facing discrimination,and Professor Mite rightly categorized this issue under human rights, not sexual ethics. Though Catholics constitute less than 4% of Indonesia’s population, these two Catholics by their acts of solidarity provide an outsized witness for the church — and advance LGBT justice.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right hand corner of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Concerns Included in University of San Diego Student Demands

January 10, 2016

usdAs the new year gets underway,  college campuses will soon be in full swing.  Here are stories from three Catholic schools that are working for greater LGBT equality for their students.

USD Students’ Demand LGBTQ Justice

University of San Diego (USD) students have released a list of equality demands for marginalized students–including LGBTQ students–to kick off the spring semester. Uniting under “Concerned Students @ USD” and led by the Black Student Union, student groups and activists at the school are seeking a number of critic al campus reforms.

The 22 demands ask “that the university stand by its professed values now” to critically examine and change those aspects of campus life which are “exclusionary, alienating, and invalidating to its marginalized students.”

Though primarily focused on matters of racial justice, the intersectional approach means Concerned Students @ USD forcefully includes queer and transgender communities in their efforts. Related demands include:

  • Gender-neutral restrooms in every campus building;
  • Greater representation in administration and student leadership of “people of color, queer-identified people and women”;
  • Creation of a new Gender and Queer Studies department with a minimum of 12 full-time faculty;
  • A mandatory orientation program comprehensive of race, gender, and sexual identity;
  • Intentional inclusion of “cultural, LGBT and feminist student organizations” in campus programming;
  • A ban on Yik Yak, an anonymous social media application, where hate speech, including homophobic and transphobic remarks, are quite prominent.

USD President James Harris responded to the students’ demands in the campus newspaper The Vista at last semester’s end, calling upon all students to become involved with a newly begun strategic planning process where matters of justice and equality could be taken up.

University spokesperson Peter Marlow confirmed that Harris had met with involved students to help them participate in the planning process, though he added that “any fringe ideas that may be contrary to our Catholic identity would be vetted by a broad audience and even broader perspectives and priorities.”

DePaul University Considering Preferred Name Policy

Officials at Chicago’s DePaul University, the U.S.’ largest Catholic college, are considering a Student Preferred Name and Gender Policy. This proposed policy would allow students to identify their “preferred name” rather than legal name in university systems, as well as leave their gender “unspecified.” Katy Weseman, who coordinates LGBTQA Student Services, told campus newspaper The DePaulia this change is:

“Very much in line with DePaul’s mission, part of honoring a person’s human dignity is honoring and respecting how they identify and how they refer to themselves. . .this is very much a social justice issue.”

Marquette University Implements Gender-Neutral Restrooms

Students returning to Marquette University in Milwaukee this semester will have access to gender-neutral restrooms on the ground floor of all residence halls, reported campus newspaper Marquette Wire. The restrooms, labeled “All Gender,” are being welcomed by students. Marquette becomes the eighth Jesuit college in the U.S. to offer more transgender-inclusive restrooms.

      *      *      *      *      *

What is particularly impressive in all three stories is that it is both students and staff have been working, independently and in collaboration, for LGBT justice. Radical efforts from the grassroots, like Concerned Students @ USD, continue pushing already inclusive schools even further. Institutionalized reforms, like at DePaul and Marquette, ensure that students’ efforts become protected and permanent.

As another semester begins, Catholic higher education in the U.S. continues to lead the broader church in how we can improve LGBT acceptance and inclusion in our communities.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right hand corner of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


2015: A Miraculous Year for Love

December 23, 2015
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“Pentecost” by He Qi

Reports confirm there is no ‘bleeding host’ in Utah. When photos of a consecrated communion wafer covered in red liquid emerged, some were shouting “miracle!” Extensive scientific testing proves that the red color encasing the wafer was simply red mold, not Christ’s blood. The takeaway? No miracle. Nothing to see here.

Miracles in the Catholic Church are, to put it charitably, a pet peeve of mine. They are used to ‘prove’ God (huh?) or ‘confirm’ sainthood (popular acclamation being too difficult to control). Using miracles in ecclesial as well as popular contexts straddles the line between faith and superstition, too frequently dipping into the latter. Miracles must be proven empirically to be miracles. Faith is jettisoned. The ‘bleeding host’ (and testing done upon it) exemplify this mentality.

What bothers me most about this common understanding of miracles, though, is that, in seeking the superstitious and super-natural, we miss the real miracles God performs in our world. 2015 was a year of miracles, miracles of love. I want to reflect on a few now so they are not lost.

In composing Bondings 2.0’s year in review materials, it was striking to Frank DeBernardo and me that there were far more candidates for “Best News of 2015” than for “Worst News of 2015.” (You’ll get to vote for which stories you think fit these titles, starting on December 26th here on this blog.)For LGBT issues in the Catholic Church, it was overall a year of growth and progress, despite some negative moments.

No, sacramental marriage equality did not happen. Doctrinal articulations about homosexuality remain fixed and teachings about gender identity remain harmfully ambiguous. But miracles happened:

There are many more positive news stories from 2015, but what these specific moments mentioned above reveal is the Spirit working explosively in God’s people. Miracles are not against nature, but rather divine bursts of God’s grace which empower nature to stretch beyond observed limitations. In other words, the aforementioned moments are real miracles, really occurring.

For more than three decades (for starker contrast, a decade longer than I have been alive), church leaders sought to silence and punish, suppress and break prophetic voices and ministries. They failed.

In just three years, with the freeing space created by Pope Francis, LGBT advocates began harvesting the fruits that so many have courageously, and often quietly, tended to for many years. Cultures of fear are, slowly, ceding to communities of acceptance. Pope Francis expounds ever more forcefully his call for mercy. Love, in all its divine forms, is expanding in our church. 

2016 will soon begin, and speculations abound for how the Catholic Church will continue to be reformed and renewed in the coming year. As someone who watches ecclesial happenings, I have some of my own. For one, I hope the institutional church will seriously enact a post-marriage equality agenda–meaning that church leaders will start focusing on the human needs of LGBTQI people, rather than obsessing about preventing same-gender marriage. The Passion is still being replayed daily in LGBTQI people’s lives, when discrimination causes undue suffering and violence spills out Christ’s blood. Institutional responses to this reality remain inadequate at best and, in their worst forms, sinfully complicit.

But what I will be watching for most closely in the coming year is how God uses Her people to enact more miracles and expand love in a wounded and divided creation. The People of God incarnate these divine bursts because the Spirit is alive among us, renewing the fires first lit during Pentecost in each time and place, and enabling us to be co-creators of God’s Reign.

As we end a year of miracles, may we evermore be God’s miraculous instruments for inclusion and equality in 2016!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Senator to Pope Francis: Reprimand Anti-Gay Cardinal

December 17, 2015
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Senator Dick Durbin

A U.S. senator has asked Pope Francis to reprimand an anti-gay cardinal who has repeatedly attacked a gay ambassador.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois wrote a letter to the pontiff regarding the Dominican Republic’s Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodriguez. The cardinal has made repeated remarks against U.S. Ambassador James Brewster. Durbin explained:

“Even before Ambassador Brewster’s arrival in Santo Domingo [capital of the Dominican Republic] in 2013, Cardinal Rodriguez launched a personal attack against him with public statements quoted in the popular press.  The Cardinal used the hateful slur ‘faggot,’ which he continues to use to this day.  In a recent interview Cardinal Rodriguez again described the Ambassador as a ‘faggot’ and falsely claimed the Ambassador was setting out to promote ‘faggotry’ in the Dominican Republic.  The Cardinal described the Ambassador as a ‘wife’ who ‘should stick to housework.’ “

The senator, who described Brewster as a “personal friend,” also noted the protests against the ambassador organized by officials in the Dominican Republic’s Catholic hierarchy. Durbin said all of this was “inconsistent with that clearly stated value” in church teaching to respect people of all sexual orientations. He concluded:

“Since your selection as Pope, you have shared a message of compassion, tolerance, and love.  I remember distinctly when you spoke to us at the joint session of Congress in September and reminded us of our responsibility to ‘defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good.’

“I accept that challenge and I am calling on you to ask nothing less of the hierarchy of the Church.”

Durbin, who is Catholic, challenges Pope Francis to enact more concretely the welcoming and merciful tone set out by the pontiff. While Francis is emphasizing decentralization and synodality, the situation with Cardinal López is severe enough to warrant intervention. Pope Francis should seriously consider Senator Durbin’s letter in light of the Year of Mercy.

Cardinal López’s resignation–or at the very least a strong public apology–would be a good start to the New Year. The cardinal is 79 years old,  four years past submitting a resignation letter to the Vatican which has not yet accepted the resignation.  An immediate acceptance would remove him from public spotlight in the Dominican Republic, and it would end the unwarranted and homophobic attacks endured by Ambassador Brewster and his husband.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Church Sign About Jesus’ Two Dads Draws Anti-Gay Critics

December 14, 2015
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Sign outside Ss. Columba-Brigid Church

“Jesus had 2 dads and He turned out just fine” read a Catholic church’s sign which has drawn criticism from those concerned it could promote acceptance of gay parents.

Saints Columba-Brigid Catholic Church in Buffalo, New York, intended for the sign to be a message of welcome to children with a father and stepfather, according to the pastor, Fr. Roy T. Herberger. He found it in a Google search for “funny church signs” and hoped this particular message would welcome those in non-traditional families.

Having spent nearly five decades in ministry, Herberger has encountered many children made to feel less worthy because of their family structure. He told the Buffalo News:

” ‘My only purpose was to say, “Look, hang in there. People understand what you’re going through. Don’t give up on yourself.” ‘ “

Herberger said he was thinking specifically of children in the parish with both a father and a stepfather, and in other non-traditional family groupings. He explained to Yahoo! News, speaking of his inclusive message in signs and in homilies, that:

” ‘They are a challenge to be more open to the teachings of Christ. . .his openness, his acceptance, his love. . .That sometimes gets covered over by church traditions, rules, and regulations.’ “

Buffalo’s Bishop Richard Malone mandated the sign’s removal after claiming that he received critical calls from “around the world.” Despite the pastor’s explanation of his intention for the sign, Malone said the possibility that this inclusive message “be misunderstood and even perceived in a heretical way” necessitated its removal.

Parishioners have generally supported Fr. Herberger, who said the only complaints he received were from outside the parish because those inside know his intentions. Margaret McGrath, a parishioner who directs the church’s Family Resource and Advocacy Center, said the priest was both the “true spirit of the Catholic Church” and “Pope Francis among us.” Buffalo News reported:

“Herberger recently gave a homily encouraging the church’s flock to be accepting of all loving relationships, McGrath said, and she saw the sign as an extension of that pulpit message.”

Petra Fontanez, a parishioner who was a single mother, said she does not always feel accepted in church settings, but this message helped her feel welcome.

This incident is, sadly, another incident where a highly vocal minority attempts to stymie local Catholics’ efforts towards mercy and inclusion. The truism “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” comes to mind. Everything, it seems to LGBT-negative activists, is tied to their negative narrative about LGBT families.

Whether the sign refers to same-gender parents or stepparents or grandparents really doesn’t matteer. Nontraditional families, rather than nuclear families,are increasingly normative. Fr. Herberger’s decision to reach out to the margins of his own parish is pastorally wise and in keeping with Pope Francis’ desires for the church in this Year of Mercy.

The sign in dispute is funny and welcoming, but it also reveals a deeper truth. Jesus was born into a most nontraditional family. When the church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family in a few weeks, a reminder that it is love which defines family, Fr. Herberger should consider what message about family to include on the church’s sign. I suggest he do a repeat: “Jesus had 2 dads and He turned out just fine.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


LGBT Rainbows Are Appearing Over Ireland

March 14, 2014

In the very, very Catholic nation of Ireland, LGBT equality has been growing by leaps and bounds among the populace. Yet, the negative approach that many Catholic institutions and leaders still take to LGBT issues still exerts an out-sized influence over practices and policies.  Over the past month, several news items have emerged from Ireland, and in this post, we will try to provide a survey of the major developments.

Perhaps the biggest news is that a recent survey by RTÉ, Ireland’s public television company, finds that an overwhelming majority of citizens support the country’s proposed measures to institute marriage equality.  The Guardian reported:

“A new opinion poll shows that only just under 20% of voters will oppose introducing same sex marriage into the Irish constitution.

“More than three-quarters of voters say they support marriage equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in a proposed referendum by the Fine Gael-Labour coalition.

“The survey by the Red C opinion poll firm for Irish public broadcaster RTÉ and The Sunday Business Post found that 76% would be in favour of allowing LGBT couples to legally marry in the Irish Republic. Around 5% of voters were undecided and 19% opposed the law reform.”

Ben Kelly

For Irish musician Ben Kelly, who is gay and Catholic, the news of support rang true to his personal experience growing up in Ireland.  In an essay titled, “To Be Young, Gay, and Catholic” on the website IrishCatholic.ie, Kelly explains that acceptance has been growing for years, and that is a natural progression for many Irish citizens:

“I feel a huge shift in opinion has happened over the past few decades in Ireland, and the country now has many evolved Catholics who are happily rejecting the more damaging rules on how we live and love. After the cultural traumas of the abuse scandal, the ghosts of the Magdalene laundries and other scars inflicted by Church teachings which are increasingly at odds with the lifestyles of the general congregation, Catholic Ireland is accepting gay people. It’s hardly surprising that people who have felt so much hurt are happy to accept a little love.

“Former President Mary McAleese was right: being gay is no longer seen as ‘evil’ or ‘intrinsically disordered’. I was relieved when my parents didn’t have a problem with me being gay, and surprised further when my grandparents didn’t either. But, come to think of it, they belong to generations who quietly disregarded the Church’s teachings on divorce, contraception, and sex before marriage – all of which were condemned from the pulpit, but ignored by many outside the church gates. Homosexuality is just another thing that the Church must realise is being accepted and incorporated into the lives of Irish Catholics.”

Jerry Buttimer

Such an outpouring of support probably did not come as a surprise to Jerry Buttimer, a gay member of the Irish parliament,  who said he sees a lot of progress in the Catholic Church on LGBT issues.  Speaking at a debate at Dublin’s Trinity College on the topic “The Catholic Church can be salvaged,” Buttimer was quoted by The Irish Times

 

“He said Christian understanding was exhibited far better in Catholic communities than in the hierarchy, and there was now a need for a third Vatican council dealing with the issues of morality and sexuality, as the current model of morality was from a different society.

“He praised Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for sending a ‘message of conciliation, of tolerance and respect’ to the gay community, in remarks made on RTÉ Radio One last week.

“Pope Francis had indicated a similar message recently when he spoke to the world’s media. ‘You have to have the hope that the man at the top can lead that change,’ he told students. ‘We now need a church that reflects the values we now have of love, of peace and of justice.’ “

Also speaking at the debate in support of a positive future for the church was Redemptorist Father Tony Flannery, who was relieved of priestly ministry because of his support for progressive reform topics, including LGBT equality.

The experience of lesbian and gay teachers in Ireland was also in the news recently, as The Journal, a national publication, published personal stories of lesbian and gay educators about their professional experiences.  (All accounts were written anonymously because of the fear of being fired.) The Journal notes the extensive role that the Catholic Church plays in Irish education and their exemption from an important anti-discrimination policy:

“In Ireland, schools run by the Catholic Church (which is the vast majority) are allowed exempt from certain aspects of equality law because of their religion’s ethos and teachings. They were given an exemption to the European Equality Directive back in 2000 which allows for this ethos to be upheld during recruitment.”

The stories recount being passed over for promotion, being ignored at staff meetings, having the principal drop in unannounced on lessons and parent meetings, and suffering verbal and sometimes physical abuse, to name a few experiences.  One teacher’s description is particularly disturbing:

“I have witnessed homophobia and what can only be considered gay bashing in both the classroom and the staff room, unfortunately. I was targeted by two separate students on two separate occasions in two different schools and, both times when I complained, the reaction of school managers was more lenient that I had expected or than I wanted.

“On both occasions, the students chose to make the comments in a very public forum – in front of large groups of people. The intention of which was to publicly humiliate me as the teacher.

“What can one say about these types of experiences other than when you consider that I actively choose to keep my private life separate to my public life because I believe my private life has no place in my career, only to be targeted by teenagers who’s intention is public humiliation is pretty depressing?”

You can read all of the accounts of these teachers here.

Panti Bliss

In a story that made headlines around the globe, a drag queen named Panti Bliss, made a speech at Dublin’s famed Abbey Theatre about homophobia, as a response to criticism she had made on public television about critics of LGBT equality.  Bliss (who is also known as Rory O’Neill) made reference to a Catholic notion about homosexuality in her speech. The following excerpt is from The Billerico Project:

“Have any of you ever come home in the evening and turned on the television, and there is a panel of people — nice people, respectable people, smart people… and they’re all sitting around, and they are having a ‘reasoned’ debate on the television: a reasoned debate about you?”

“About what kind of person you are, about whether or not you’re capable of being a good parent, about whether you want to destroy marriage, about whether or not you’re safe around children, about whether or not God herself thinks you’re an abomination, about whether in fact maybe you are intrinsically disordered. And even the nice TV presenter lady… even she thinks it’s perfectly okay that they’re all having this ‘reasoned’ debate about you and about who you are and about what rights you deserve or don’t deserve.”

You can watch the 11-minute video of her speech here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


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