CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Boston Archdiocese Admits Lesbian Couple’s Child to Catholic School

“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Boston Archdiocese Overrules Parish To Admit Lesbians’ Child to School

The list of  painful actions Catholic institutions have been taking against LGBT people is staggering. LGBT people are fired from church jobs.  LGBT people are denied sacraments or liturgical participation at funerals of family members.  And perhaps most emotionally painful action, children of LGBT people are denied entrance into Catholic schools.

But not all dioceses follow these practices regularly.   Some offer their acceptance quietly, but in one case, in May 2010, church officials protected  a lesbian couple after their son was initially denied admission to  a local Catholic school

Boston. com reported on May 13, 2010:

“The Archdiocese of Boston said yesterday that administrators of a small Catholic elementary school in Hingham were not following archdiocesan policy when they rescinded admission of a prospective student after learning that his parents are lesbians.

“Spokesman Terry Donilon said the archdiocese has no prohibition against same-sex couples sending their children to Catholic schools.”

The school involved  was St. Paul Elementary School, Hingham.

This Boston example was particularly important at the time because only two months before, in March 2010, the Archdiocese of Denver had upheld a local parish school’s decision not to admit a child to a pre-K class because the parents were a lesbian couple.  Bosont.com reported:

“In Boulder, Colo.,  in March a Catholic school refused to allow a student in prekindergartn to reenroll after discovering the child’s parents were lesbians.  Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput defended the decision, writing in the Denver Catholic Register newspaper that the church does not condemn gays and lesbians or their children, but does define marriage as a hetgerosexual union.  He said families with other views ‘have other, excellent options for education.’ “

Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill

Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill, the Archdiocese of Boston’s Secretary for Education & Superintendent, said in a statement about the case:

“The Archdiocese of boston is committed to providing quality Catholic education, grounded in academic excellence and the teachings of the Catholic Church to the students at all of our schools.   We believe that every parent who wishes to send their child to a Catholic school should have the opportunity to purse that dream.  . . . The Archdiocese does not prohibit children of same-sex parents from attending Catholic schools.  We will work in the coming weeks to develop a policy to eliminate any misunderstandings in the future. “

O’Neill went on to explain that she met  with the school’s pastor and principal, and that she also contacted the parents to let them know she would help them find another Catholic school in the Archdiocese for their child.

Fr. James Martin, SJ

At the time, the case also caught the attention of Jesuit Father James Martin, who has emerged as a strong voice for justice for LGBT people in the Catholic Church.  On May 17, 2010, Martin wrote in a blog post for America magazine:

“The archdiocese’s decision is not only pastoral, but sensible–even practical.  For how can one adequately determine if the parents of a child agree with all of Catholic teaching?  Or even ‘respect the beliefs’ of the church? Many of the parents in parochial schools in the U.S. aren’t even Catholic.  How many of them are divorced and remarried?  How many believe in everything that the church teaches on important matters?How many even know what the church teaches on important matters.  Likewise, how many funerals of less-than-devout Catholics are celebrated?  How many couples with little interest in the faith are married in Catholic churches?

“Singling out children of same-sex couples smacks of targeting one particular group.”

The Archdiocese of Boston did act wisely and pastorally in this case, and in the process, set a precedent for all other U.S. dioceses to follow.  With the expansion of marriage equality in the U.S. in 2015, more Catholic schools are going to be faced with similar situations, if they haven’t been already.  The Boston example provides an excellent rationale for other church leaders to follow.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 16, 2017

 

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Calling All LGBTQ Educators in Catholic Schools!

If you’ve been a regular reader of Bondings 2.0, you will be aware of the terrible trend in recent years where LGBT and ally church workers are being dismissed from Catholic institutions.  If this information is news to you, please check out this blog’s resource page which archives all the news related to this terrible injustice.

Catholic schools have been a main target for these firings–both high schools and elementary schools.  While we’ve reported on the firings, the reactions, the protests, one thing that has been missing is the personal stories of the teachers affected.  Furthermore, another untold story is the fear and anxiety that these firings have had on those currently employed in Catholic institutions.

Two researchers from academic institutions have contacted New Ways Ministry to let us know about a study they are doing where they will survey LGBTQ educators currently working in Catholic schools.  This category includes teachers, counselors, administrators, coaches, support staff, and others working in Catholic schools.  Respondents do not have to be Catholic themselves. The goal of the survey is to generate a sense of the experience these people face as employees in Catholic schools. The survey would take 15-25 minutes to complete and is completely anonymous. The identity of the participant, along with any potential identifying factor, will be kept strictly confidential.   Educators do not have to be “out” as LGBTQ to participate.

This research will be a boon to our church, providing first-hand testimony and data from those who are most affected by this misguided policy of firing.

The researchers have asked New Ways Ministry for help in identifying LGBTQ educators in Catholic schools.  So, we turn to you, our faithful blog readers, to spread the word about this research project.  If you are an LGBTQ teacher in a Catholic school or you know someone who is one, please be in touch with New Ways Ministry: office@NewWaysMinistry.org or phone (301) 277-5674 between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Eastern U.S. Time.

All information will be held in strictest confidence by New Ways Ministry and by the researchers.   The study is being conducted in April and May, so quick responses would be the most helpful.

This research work will provide solid, scientific information and personal experience that can help our church better understand LGBTQ people, particularly those employed in church institutions.  If you have any possibility of asking someone to participate, please do so. Please feel free to share this information with others.

This upcoming Sunday is Palm Sunday, and Bondings 2.0 will continue our Lenten reflection series with an essay penned by a Catholic high school teacher who identifies as gay and queer.  If you are interested in getting the personal dimension to this issue, be sure to check back here on Sunday, April 9, 2017, to read this moving account.

If you would like to learn more about the issue of LGBT church workers in Catholic institutions, consider attending New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois.  Leslie Griffin, a professor of law, will give a plenary session talk on “Religious Liberty, Employment, & LGBT Issues.”  During one of the focus sessions, three people affected by the firings, Colleen Simon, Margie Winters, and Andrea Vettori will give personal testimony about “The Challenges of LGBT Church Workers.” For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 7, 2017

On Prom Dates as Pastoral Care: A Letter to My High School

img_7348Note: Bondings 2.0 writer Bob Shine is a 2008 graduate of Saint John’s High School, Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. This open letter is based on correspondence he sent to several school administrators this spring.

Dear Saint John’s Administration,

Earlier this spring, junior Matthew Barrett asked Saint John’s High School to allow same-gender prom dates. His petition garnered nearly 1,400 signatures, and the effort was widely supported in my conversations with fellow alumni. You can imagine my disappointment, then, when no positive response appeared from school administrators.

It was at Saint John’s that I came to know firsthand the deep harm caused when students are forced to hide and mitigate their authentic selves. These were the experiences of my best friends. Organizing in college and working in LGBT ministry since then has only affirmed this truth. And it has convinced me that, overwhelmingly, the church’s pastoral care for, and inclusion of, LGBTQ people is tragically deficient, despite magisterial statements of welcome and acceptance. Rates of self-harm, substance abuse, and suicide among LGBTQ youth remain sinfully high due to realities such as 84% of LGBTQ youth reporting harassment and 90% hearing prejudiced comments at school, according to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educators Network (GLSEN).

Acknowledging these realities, Catholic education should employ every means available to let LGBTQ students know they are good, as they are created in God’s image, and they can expect full inclusion as members of the community. Many of my close friends from Saint John’s have come out since we graduated in 2008. I cannot speak to the school’s environment today, but I know from their experiences that the high school years can be a traumatizing experience for gay, bisexual, and questioning students, even in schools offering the highest quality education.

Allowing same-gender prom dates would contribute positively to creating a safer space at Saint John’s, and it would also advance the school’s mission “to bring Christ to life in young men.” There is an evangelical aspect to becoming more inclusive, which invites your students to know the church we love as a place of mercy and of inclusion, rather than hostility and exclusion. These ideas are very much in keeping with the  mission of the Xaverian Brothers who sponsor the school.

For your consideration as you weigh this request from students, I highlight two instances where Catholic education allowed same-gender prom dates. Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, Australia, approved such a policy this past January, saying “These are quite often emotional situations and it’s very important that we always have respect for the dignity of the human being involved.” McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester, New York approved same-gender dates in 2013. Fr. Edward Salmon, the president, cited Pope Francis when explaining his decision and wrote:

“[Gay people] as is true of every human being, need to be nourished at many different levels simultaneously. This includes friendship, [brotherhood] which is a way of loving and is essential to healthy human development. It is one of the richest possible human experiences. Friendship can and does thrive outside of sexual involvement.”

Allowing same-gender prom dates and recognizing the Gay-Straight Alliance students have organized for St. John’s would be big steps towards greater pastoral care. It may not seem much, but in this instance welcoming a diversity of prom dates could be considered pastoral care if it actively helps students experience further the inclusion, acceptance, and love that God offers us. I pray that you may hear the voices of your students with God’s ears and respond as Christ would with mercy and with understanding.

Sincerely,

Bob Shine

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For those interested in the betterment of life for LGBT students in Catholic education, the Gay & Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame & St. Mary’s will be hosting a fundraiser for LGBT student scholarships in California. It will be Sunday, June 26, 12:00pm to 3:00pm in Malibu, CA. For more information and to register (requested before June 17th), please visit www.galandsmc.org

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

New Marianist Booklet Helps Catholic Educators Discuss LGBT Issues with Youth

blog marianist pictureA new resource to help Catholic educators discuss LGBT issues with students has been published by a committee of the Marianist community.

Addressing LGBT Issues With Youth:  A Resource for Educators is an 11-page PDF booklet which provides “strategies for assuring that our institutions and ministries promote understanding, respect and acceptance for all young people, regardless of their sexual orientation,” according to the LGBT Initiative page of the Marianist Social Justice Collaborative website.   The Collaborative describes itself as:

“a joint initiative of the Marianist Lay Network of North America, the Society of Mary (brothers and priests) and the Marianist Sisters. . . . It is a network that provides mutual support, resources, leadership for peace and justice, and links to other peace and justice groups.”

The document stresses the importance of creating safe space for LGBT students and provides a number of suggestions for educators can become “caring and supportive adults who will talk with them and guide them.”

The need for such a resource is described in the booklet’s first section:

“LGBT youth need reassurance from people who represent their faith if they are to integrate their self-understanding into their faith commitment. Catholic teaching often is misrepresented or misunderstood, which can cause turmoil for those who may conclude that God doesn’t love them. . . .

“While bullying affects a wide range of students, LGBT students or those perceived to be LGBT endure particular ridicule. . . .

“If adults don’t support their students, if they ignore bullying, if they remain silent when they should speak up, what is an LGBT youth to conclude? That he or she is not loved and valued, a flawed human person.”

The booklet situates its message within the Catholic tradition of non-discrimination towards LGBT people, which is taught in the Catechism.  Additionally, the rationale for their approach is supported by various bishops’ documents calling for pastoral care of LGBT people.  The Marianist charism itself is also referred to as a source of backing.  One of the “Characteristics of Marianist Education” that is quoted states:

“Educate persons to accept and respect differences in a pluralistic society. As the people of the world come increasingly into contact with one another, differences among them become more apparent. If the world of the future is to be peaceful, students of today must learn how to appreciate cultural difference and how to work with people unlike themselves.”

The booklet provides tips for how teachers can show support to LGBT students, but it also adds suggestions for how to educate the entire school community–administrators, faculty, parents–about sensitivity to LGBT people.  One significant section offers practical answers for how to answer critics who would oppose this type of approach.

The resource suggests a variety of practical ways to transform a school into a safe space, including updating the curriculum, adopting inclusive policies, establishing support groups, and ways of talking about LGBT issues in the classroom.

The booklet neither condones nor condemns sexual relationships, but does note that this topic is not connected to the idea of creating a safe space:

“Supporting LGBT students does not condone sexual activity any more than support ing heterosexual students condones sexual activity. Your care and support simply honors the dignity of each person and provides a place where he or she is accepted and valued.”

Connected to this topic of sexual relationships is an important concluding section on the Catholic Church’s call to all individuals to develop and follow their consciences.

Many Catholic educators can benefit from the suggestions offered in this resource.  If all Catholic schools adopted such an approach, our church and its educational system would be a much more welcoming place for LGBT students.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Laity & Church Workers Compel Bishop to Retract Orthodoxy Test

Bishop Robert Vasa

Bishop Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa temporarily retracted an addendum in the contracts of Catholic educators that required them to affirm obedience to the hierarchy and its teachings. The bishop’s actions resulted from swift and public outcry from affected employees and those in the diocese who strongly objected to this orthodoxy addendum, which included adherence on LGBT issues.

If the measure had passed, educators would have been required to assent to the faith addendum, titled “Bearing Witness,” or risk losing their job regardless of personal religious affiliation. National Catholic Reporter reports on the requirements contained within the addendum:

“…they agree they are ‘a ministerial agent of the bishop’ and that they reject ‘modern errors’ that ‘gravely offend human dignity,’ including ‘but not limited to’ contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia.

“The roughly 400-word addendum requires all teachers and administrators — Catholic and non-Catholic — to ‘agree that it is my duty, to the best of my ability, to believe, teach/administer and live in accord with what the Catholic Church holds and professes.'”

Bishop Vasa explained his decision to rescind this addendum for further review in a letter to educators released earlier this week. National Catholic Reporter  reported that the bishop’s reasons for changing his mind were because of his failure to consult pastors and principals before releasing the addendum and he “erroneously chose a path of informing rather than mutual discernment.” He expects to implement the same goals after a period of review in the spring of 2015.

Conscience protections were one of the main complaints against Bishop Vasa’s proposed addendum, coupled with concerns about firing educators over their positions on controversial sexuality issues, including nearly a quarter of the diocesan school systems’ employees who are not Catholic. Others reacted to theunilateral imposition of this orthodoxy test, instead of a more dialogical approach with the bishop. These objections created enough active opposition from Catholics across the diocese that Bishop Vasa felt compelled to rescind the addendum, if only temporarily.

With good majorities of Catholics supportive of LGBT equality, including marriage rights, the laity must ensure devoted ministers, educators, and other church employees have their consciences respected by the hierarchy. Whether they are LGBT individuals themselves or outspoken allies, no person’s offerings to the Church should be denied.  A former diocesan employee presents a an argument for why a loyalty oath is not practical:

“In a March 5 Press Democrat commentary, Cynthia Vrooman said ‘at face value,’ the Vasa addendum ‘seems to be a legitimate employer’s request,’ that teachers in Catholic schools follow church doctrine.

“However, the former diocesan adult education director wrote, ‘these directives are imposed on teachers who may or may not be Catholics,’ and they demand assent to church doctrinal formulations that are open to change…

“Vrooman said ‘the next shoe to drop’ will be an ‘affirmation of faith’ required to be signed by parish ministers, similar to the 2004 pledge required of parish ministers in the Baker, Ore., diocese, where Vasa was bishop…”

In the Catholic Church, successes for the laity against an overreaching bishop are few. Santa Rosa is a prime example of the laity’s ability to join with church workers in promoting positive changes when needed, just as Call to Action concluded a week focused on justice for those employed by the Catholic Church and its affiliated organizations. National Catholic Reporter reported on the actions of one parish who raised $4,000 for a full page sign-on add in the local paper opposing Bishop Vasa’s actions and supporting the educators.

New Ways Ministry applauds the Catholics in Santa Rosa for defending the right of educators to live their consciences while working within the Church structures, and hopes it will inspire laity worldwide to oppose attempts to place strictures on these rights.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry