One-on-One Pastoral Care Is Not Sufficient for LGBT Youth

An editorial in the St. Louis archdiocesan newspaper has commented on the controversy which erupted two weeks ago at Nerinx Hall H.S., a Catholic school, when the Nerinx president turned down a request from students to establish a gay-straight alliance (GSA). The editorial’s headline, “One-on-one pastoral care suggested for adolescents with same-sex attraction,” summarizes its main point, and it also shows the main problem with policies which deny students the opportunity to have a GSA in Catholic schools.

While some, and perhaps many, LGBT youth need one-on-one pastoral care,  such a model should not be the only one offered to them.  The problem is that if this is the only assistance provided, the method itself sends a message: your sexual orientation is a private matter which you should only talk about in secret and confidential meetings with authority figures.  When this type of pastoral care is the only kind offered, it can foster, even if unintentionally, feelings of shame, fear, and alienation.

A more public model, such as a GSA, helps students to recognize that they are not alone, that they have peers with whom they can discuss these issues, that the topic itself is not a taboo. Moreover, such groups provide social experiences for youths who are at risk of feeling isolated and alone.  GSAs help not only LGBT youth, but heterosexual and cisgender students who may have a close friend or family member who is LGBT.

At the heart of the controversy at Nerinx Hall was the application of a set of guidelines for working with LGBT youth, entitled “Hope and Holiness: Pastoral Care for Those With Same-Sex Attraction,” that the Archdiocese of St. Louis had developed.  Again, the title belies a negative assumption about LGB youth by referring to them as having “same-sex attraction.”  Fr. James Martin, SJ, noted the problem of such terminology in the talk he gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award.  He said:

“. . . [R]espect means calling a group what it asks to be called. . . .

“Names are important. Thus, church leaders are invited to be attentive to how they name the L.G.B.T. community and lay to rest phrases like ‘afflicted with same-sex attraction,’ which no L.G.B.T. person I know uses, and even ‘homosexual person,’ which seems overly clinical to many. I’m not prescribing what names to use, though ‘gay and lesbian,’ ‘L.G.B.T.’ and ‘L.G.B.T.Q.’ are the most common. I’m saying that people have a right to name themselves. Using those names is part of respect. And if Pope Francis can use the word gay, so can the rest of the church.”

In the editorial, an archdiocesan official defended the guidelines document, saying that the goal is to help youth:

“Kurt Nelson, superintendent of Catholic education for the archdiocese, said the very idea that students requested a club signals that they ‘want more help and support.’

While it may be true that the students want help and support, the fact that they requested a club indicates that the kind of help and support they want is peer socialization, not one-to-one counseling.  If they wanted the latter, that is what they would have requested.

The editorial continued:

“But Nelson also said that ‘just because you don’t have a club doesn’t mean you’re not providing help and support to kids.’ However, many factors need to be considered, such as the adults who will lead the group, as well as providing content that doesn’t contradict Church teaching, thus posing the threat of creating a public scandal.”

When a church official speaks of LGBT issues and uses phrases like “doesn’t contradict Church teaching” and “creating a public scandal,” I always assume that they are discussing issues of sexual ethics.  Of course, not providing sensitive pastoral care to LGBT people or actively discriminating against them both also contradict Church teaching, but I don’t think that these are what Nelson had in mind.  I may be wrong, but I’ve never heard an official use those terms in the ways I described.

If I am correct, then the big problem here is that the archdiocesean officials are only looking at LGBT issues as relating to sex.  They are avoiding things like stigma, oppression, alienation, repression, family difficulties, mental illness, self-loathing–all of which are frequently experienced by youth who have no support for their LGBT identity.  And these are all things which a GSA would help to mitigate.

The editorial noted correctly:

“The one-on-one approach also provides students an experience of accompaniment in many individual aspects of their lives, beyond the issue of sexual orientation.”

Yes, one-on-one is a much-needed form of ministry with LGBT people, especially youth.  But social opportunities, community-building, group prayer, and mutual peer support are also very needed.  GSAs can help provide that kind of ministry.  And their model of openness, honesty, trust, courage, and pride which they inspire are things that one-on-one ministry simply cannot provide.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 28, 2017

 

 

Vatican Official Criticizes Transgender Rights at Bioethics Conference

A senior Vatican official criticized transgender rights at a recent U.S. bioethics conference that was attended by more than one hundred North American bishops. But despite the official’s and conference organizers’ claims to the contrary, Catholic understandings and implications of gender identity are not settled.

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Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, addressed the conference, “Healing Persons in a Wounded Culture,” organized by two organizations with LGBT-negative records, the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) and the Knights of Columbus (K of C).

Paglia, who is president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and formerly head of the Pontifical Council on the Family before it was merged into the new Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, said in his address that bishops should be “very clear-headed and resolute in confronting the contradictions of extreme individualism and moral relativity.”

“Transgenderism” and “the ideological take-over of gender questions,” Paglia said, are tied to “the acquisition of greater power and the satisfaction of our own desires.” About a range of issues, the archbishop warned against people who are “maddened with dream of omnipotence. . .and the ancient call of hubris leads man to believe himself a ‘creator’ as well as a destroyer.”

On gender identity specifically, Paglia quoted a segment of Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia which suggests people today understand identity as “the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time” and that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.” He said later:

“As we respond to what for too long we have called ‘challenges,’ we must remember that we are to [sic] being called to a conflict but rather to a rebuilding, a reconstruction of what it means to be human.  Our first task is not to identify enemies but rather to find companions on the journey, person with whom we can share our path.  In this optic—and I’m referring to only one subject that can open a new horizon on the relationship between the Church and the family—a call for a new alliance, human and civil, between men and women wold be an indispensable resource. The alliance between the sexes that, as a result of openness to community, can be created not only within marriage and the family, is a resource that the Church must seek out, encourage and support.  It is likewise the most effective response to ideologies of separation or indifference.  The alliance of masculine and feminine must again take hold of the tiller of history, of statecraft, of the economy.”

Gender identity topics covered at the conference included “learning how recently won rights for transgender individuals could affect Catholic entities, including hospitals, schools and parishes, on both ethical and legal grounds,” reported Michael O’Loughlin of America magazine. Despite the conference devoting “the first day of our Workshop to grappling with the issue of transgenderism,” there were no presentations given or remarks offered by trans person.

Paglia’s remarks and the general tenor the conference are consistent with NCBC’s understanding of gender identity. America cited a statement from the organization that described trans equality as “coercive and based on a destructive understanding of human identity” and rejected all forms of gender transition or even using names and pronouns which may be inconsistent with a person’s biological sex.

But gender identity is not settled in either Catholic teaching or pastoral practice, and many have criticized approaches like that of NCBC. O’Loughlin quoted Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, who criticized the conference for not considering “the most up to date scientific research research on transgender issues” or for hearing testimony from any trans individuals.  He continued:

“They should instead follow the example of Pope Francis who has revealed that he has had discussions with transgender Catholics.”

Theological experts who had not been invited to speak at the conference were interviewed by O’Loughlin.  They agreed that more reflection was needed beyond the simple answers offered at the NCBC.

Charles E. Bouchard, O.P., who directs ethics and theology for the Catholic Health Association, said while gender dysphoria was nearly settled as a legitimate medical condition, much is still unknown about gender identity and “we’re trying to be cautious before we make definitive ethical statements about it.”

Carol Bayley, vice president for ethics at the Dignity Health System, argued in 2016 that, in America’s words, “Catholic hospitals may be morally permitted to carry out some gender reassignment procedures. She urged Catholic hospitals to have an open mind and to educate staff about trans issues.” America magazine quoted Bayley:

“‘Because this condition is relatively rare, and also because it affects socially freighted aspects of our humanity—sex and gender—many in Catholic health care are unfamiliar with it. That should not prevent us from rendering compassionate care’. . .

“‘Furthermore, Catholic health care institutions should be cautious about developing practices that could violate their own policies of non-discrimination, particularly in light of the federal government’s recognition of transgender individuals as members of a protected class.'”

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Discerning a path for the church through which it can more inclusively and more lovingly respond to trans people and their loved ones is urgently needed work. Trans communities experience rates of violence, discrimination, and suicide far higher than the general population. Rejecting trans people from Catholic health providers, who care for 1 in 6 patients nationally, will create much suffering.

While NCBC, K of C, and similar Catholic right-wing groups want to stem the expansion of LGBT rights, and specifically protections for transgender persons, many Catholics, thankfully, are taking a more inclusive approach. A Jesuit priest in Canada recently spoke out for transgender equality legislation, Indian Catholics helped found a school for transgender youth, and theologians are exploring gender identity in positive ways.  Most recently, Fr. James Martin, SJ, spoke out in defense of transgender youth, in the midst of the U.S.’s latest “bathroom debate.”

Bishops in North America should not be swayed by right-wing groups who promote an ideological agenda not rooted in good science nor the personal experiences of trans people. Applying Pope Francis’ words quoted in the graphic above, Catholics have two paths which we can follow: the path of exclusion or the path of inclusion.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 19, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

Reflect on Lent By Reading ‘Scripture and Story’ from LGBTQ Catholics

Today’s post is from guest blogger Jeff Vomund, who is Chair of the Liturgy Committee at Dignity/Washington.

I have heard the song “Lift Every Voice (and Sing),” known as the Black American National Anthem, sung hundreds of times over the course of my life.  (If you’ve never heard it, click here to listen to a moving a cappella version.) The hymn mixes James Weldon Johnson’s stark poetry with his brother John’s determined score.  Never has its title and first line felt so viscerally true to me as it has in our increasingly post-fact and post-truth world. The importance of each and “every voice” rings truer than ever.

dw-coverAnd while many voices have been raised recently in some form of protest, building bridges between people is also a vital concern for every voice.  Creating community has been a driving motive behind Dignity/Washington’s Lenten project:  Scripture and Story:  Lent through an LGBTQ Lens.  Dignity/Washington is a community of LGBTQ Catholics in Washington D.C., as well as friends and allies from across the spectrum of the Christian faith.  Scripture and Story is a book of daily reflections for Lent.  It contains a short reflection based on the daily readings for each of the 47 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.  These reflections are not just a commentary on the Scriptures but they also relate the lived experiences of the LGBTQ people of faith who authored them.

You can download a free PDF of the entire booklet by clicking here:  You can order hard copies, while supplies last, by emailing jeffvomund@gmail.com.

This project began as a service to Dignity/Washington members as a way to show how unique yet universal each person’s “journey through the desert” is.  However, in a world where vocal volume can be equated with truth, we wanted to share our own quiet encouragement to community with others, too.  It seems more important than ever to lift up the voices of any who have been outcast or oppressed.  This imperative is not true just for the discrimination waged against LGBTQ people by Church leaders. We seek to join a chorus of voices that want to make their presence known to a world in which members of a minority can feel invisible and unimportant.

In no way do we denigrate the faith experiences of those in the majority.  Just the opposite.  If you look at the reflections of these 47 brave authors, the most obvious characteristic is the universality of all faith experience.  We LGBTQ-identifying Catholics have, in so many ways, a journey that looks like any other believer:  the struggle to understand God’s call; the desire to love deeply and have meaning; the call to follow Jesus’ example of compassion.

At some point, we are all in the desert, seeking the freedom of a Promised Land that we worry might never be ours.  This is true, even as we rejoice when we catch glimpses of that land “across the Jordan” from where safety and peace beckon us.  Yet while our journeys traverse a universal arc, we also look through a particular lens–the lens of having to live with being told that even though “God is love,” our love is wrong.  That mixed message has driven most LGBTQ-identifying folk to the brink of non-belief.  But for these writers, who have stayed the course, surviving the crucible of Church and sex has made them that much more invested in their journey through the desert.  

Yet while our journeys traverse a universal arc, we also look through a particular lens–the lens of having to live with being told that even though “God is love,” our love is wrong.  That mixed message has driven most LGBTQ-identifying folk to the brink of non-belief.  But for these writers, who have stayed the course, surviving the crucible of Church and sex has made them that much more invested in their journey through the desert.  Paradoxically, that which the Church identifies as disorder has shown itself to be just a different way that God has “ordered our steps” as we travel to the Promised Land for which all creation groans.

That symbiosis between our faith and our sexuality is what we most wanted to share with those believers and fellow travelers outside of our community.  We offer it, not because our community or any of the individual authors believe we have reached this land of “milk and honey,” but because we are still on that journey. The more people who walk together, the further everyone can go.  We offer our voices of faith in the hope that it will encourage other people to share their own stories.  We are more convinced than ever that sharing our stories (and listening to others) matters deeply for our world.  And we have never been more convicted that for every voice to be lifted each person must add their own–no matter how imperfect–to the chorus.

Jeff Vomund, Dignity/ Washington, February 26, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Two Jesuits Offer Contrasting Reactions to Repeal of Guidelines Protecting Transgender Youth

U.S. bishops, including Bishop George Murry, S.J., have applauded the Trump administration’s decision to rescind federal guidelines aimed at protecting transgender students. In contrast, Fr. James Martin, S.J. criticized those who oppose transgender rights. But which of these two paths taken by Jesuit priests will Catholics follow should LGBT rights become repealed.

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Archbishop Charles Chaput and President Donald Trump

In a joint letter, Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap.,were of Philadelphia and Bishop George Murry, S.J. of Youngstown, in their respective capacities as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth and Committee on Catholic Education, said they were “grateful” that the Trump administration has revoked a “Dear Colleagues” letter with guidelines for protecting transgender students that was issued during the Obama administration.

Describing the Trump administration’s decision, The New York Times reported that “top civil rights officials from the Justice Department and the Education Department rejected the Obama administration’s position” which had expanded nondiscrimination protections based on sex to include trans youth in public schools. Those protections allowed trans students to use sex-segregated spaces, like bathrooms and locker rooms, consistent with their gender, and to have their name and pronouns respected at school.

When the “Dear Colleagues” letter was issued last May, Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo and Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha released a statement calling it “deeply disturbing.” Elsewhere, Catholic groups sued the Department of Health and Human Services last year to prevent implementation healthcare nondiscrimination protections similar to the education guidelines.

screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-10-48-38-amBut Fr. James Martin, S.J., took a different approach than his Jesuit counterpart, Bishop Murry. In a series of tweets on February 22nd, when the policy change was announced, Martin indirectly criticized the decision by expressing his support for transgender youth. Martin said:

  • #Trans students endure so many indignities already. They should be able to use whatever bathrooms they choose. It’s doesn’t hurt anybody.
  • It saddens me that a #trans student cannot choose what bathrooms to use. A basic need. It’s an affront to their dignity as human beings.
  • And who is harmed by a #trans student using a bathroom? I’ve seen women using men’s rooms when the ladies’ rooms were full. Who is harmed?
  • As usual, the one who is made to suffer indignities is the one on the margins, the one seen as “other,” the one seen as “them.”
  • But for Jesus, there is no “other.” There is no “them.” There is only “us.” So we must be about openness, acceptance and inclusion. #trans

screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-10-50-04-amFr. Martin, who received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge-Building Award last October, also posted messages on Facebook that were similar to his tweets. Last May, when the Obama administration implemented the now-rescinded directive, Martin, in an interview, said respecting trans people was a “fairly simple thing to do.

It is worth noting that another Jesuit priest and theologian, Fr. Gilles Mongeau, SJ, recently defended a transgender rights bill in Canada.

massingale_2The action of Frs. Martin and Mongeau align with theologians exhortations that the church should provide pastoral care to trans people and promote their human wholeness, while not treating trans people with with pity. Fr. Bryan Massingale has written movingly about why the church cannot abandon transgender people. (Note: Fr. Massingale will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” this April. For more information, please visit www.symposium2017.org).

Supporting trans people is consistent with church teaching, and already practiced by many of the faithful, especially outside the U.S. Indeed, historically Catholic nations have led on expanding rights for trans and intersex people: Malta has enacted what is considered the gold standard of gender identity laws in Europe, and the Associated Press reported that Argentina has “the world’s most far-reaching laws” that allow children as young as 6 to have official documents which conform with their gender identity. In India, the bishops’ development agency launched an outreach program for trans people, and Catholics helped open the nation’s first school with supports for trans youth.

Speaking about hope in a recent weekly audience, Pope Francis said that the hope given to us by God “does not separate us from others, nor does it lead us to discredit or marginalize them.” With a U.S. federal government now led by politicians with long records of hostility toward LGBT rights, it is now more urgent than ever for Catholics to reject Bishop Murry’s path of exclusion and discrimination and instead choose Fr. Martin’s path of compassion and inclusion.

You can find more of Bondings 2.0’s coverage of gender identity issues in our “Transgender” category to the right or by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 25, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Bishops Take Note: Marriage Equality Linked to Decreased Youth Suicides

According to a new study, suicide attempts by youth have decreased where marriage equality is enacted. Such data should be a wake-up call for Catholic bishops rethink their strong opposition to equal civil marriage rights and LGBT rights more generally.

web1_suicide-stop2JAMA Pediatrics, a leading medical journal, published the study, “Difference-in-Difference Analysis of the Association Between Same-Sex Marriage Policies and Adolescent Suicide Attempts,” in its February 20, 2017 edition. PBS Newshour reported:

“The researchers found that suicide attempts by high school students decreased by 7 percent in states after they passed laws to legalize same-sex marriage, before the Supreme Court legalized it nationwide in 2015. Among LGB high school students, the decrease was especially concentrated, with suicide attempts falling by 14 percent.

“But in states that did not legalize same-sex marriage, there was no change.”

PBS noted that overall deaths by suicide for all populations have risen during the period surveyed by this study, 1999 to 2015. Led by Julia Raifman of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, researchers compared suicide rates between states that had and had not passed marriage equality. She told PBS:

“Raifman told the [PBS] NewsHour she was interested in studying same-sex marriage laws ‘as a marker of equal rights in general,’ adding that other laws that pertain to LGBT rights — such as employment and housing protections — still vary widely around the country.

“The study noted that the laws themselves reflected larger social trends toward support for the LGBT community, a possible factor in the fall in suicide attempts. But Raifman said that the decrease was especially concentrated around the time that same-sex marriage laws passed.”

What is left unexplained is why the decrease in suicide attempts is correlated to marriage equality. Raifman suggested it could be mental health improvements that come with being considered equal in society or seeing more representations in public life of married same-gender couples. PBS reported further:

“The feelings of being accepted and connected to society have “a protective effect in relation to suicide risk, suicidal ideation and suicidal behaviors,” said Dr. Victor Schwartz, a chief medical officer of the JED Foundation who works to reduce youth suicide. Schwartz wasn’t involved in the study. . .

“‘[Stigma is] a real risk factor, a feeling that you’re at odds with your family or community. . .It’s very painful, and can be very frightening. You feel like you’re going to be left out on your own.'”

Dr. Brian Mustanski of Northwestern University’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing, said the wider literature shows “positive health effects of social policies that affirm and protect the equality of the LGBT community, and those positive benefits extend beyond LGBT individuals to the general population.”

Will these findings affect the way U.S. church leaders relate to LGBT equality? They should. Religious leaders, including Catholic bishops, have led the opposition against marriage equality and LGBT rights generally. But their opposition, as many pointed out, has the potential of causing harm to LGBT people, especially youth. Given the fact that 15 youths in the United States die by suicide each day and that LGB youth have an attempted suicide rate four times the average, this approach is no longer tolerable, if it ever was.

The U.S. bishops promote pro-life activities, but most often limit these to abortion. Many Catholics question bishops’ real commitment to social justice. But if the bishops are indeed pro-life, then why have they shown so little regard for the lives of LGBT people? If this latest research, which shows how much good legal equality can have on the lives of LGBT youth, does not move their hearts to end campaigns against LGBT rights, then their pro-life admonitions will ring empty.

Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 reported about the Vatican’s effort to gather input directly from youth and young adults for the 2018 Synod of Bishops. Pope Francis and the Curia seem to have the right approach to engage youth, who are much more strongly aware of the need for LGBT acceptance, inclusion and justice. The U.S. bishops need to change their approach to LGBT rights not just for the good of sexual and gender diverse people, but because doing so will save lives and help youth flourish.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 23, 2017

 

CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Dutch Bishops’ Statement Critiques Negative Approach to Lesbians and Gays

History-Option 1“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. 

Dutch Bishops’ Homosexuality Document Released in English by New Ways Ministry

On February 20, 1980, which was Ash Wednesday that year, New Ways Ministry published an English translation of the Dutch bishops’ recently published document, Homosexual People in Society, a groundbreaking text, which strongly critiqued the way Catholic leaders had traditionally approached lesbian and gay issues.

The document, which had been published in the Netherlands in August 1979 by the Catholic Council for Church and Society, an official agency of the Dutch hierarchy comparable to a committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was intended to promote discussions in parishes and Catholic groups in Holland.  New Ways Ministry said that it reprinted the document in English to be “a tool for discussion among grassroots people and hopefully as a spur to larger study” on gay and lesbian issues. The National Catholic Reporter announced the English translation in the pages of its March 7, 1980 issue.

As its title suggests, the document was primarily concerned with the social effects that gay and lesbian people experienced, particularly as a result of Church doctrine and practice.  In its introduction, the Council stated:

“In light of the Church’s traditional views of sexuality, this position of excluding homosexual persons from Church life causes even further discrimination.  Singling people out within the Church community can tend to foster social discrimination.  Consequently, it is not surprising the the Church’s pronouncements about rejecting social discrimination do not always sound very credible.”

One of the important points of the document was its critique of traditional Scripture interpretations which were used to condemn lesbian and gay people.  In some of its strongest language, the Council observed:

“First, a direct biblical basis for judgment on a homosexual orientation as such is absent; the Scripture writers were not aware of a constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation.  This means that any appeal to the Scriptures in order to condemn a homosexual orientation and to transfer that condemnation into social discrimination must be rejected as an abuse of Scripture.

“Secondly, when the Scriptures speak disapprovingly about homosexual acts, the main emphasis appears to be on the condemnation of abuses in which homosexual acts play only a part.  Most often these abuses are mentioned very explicitly: violation of hospitality, blackmail, prostitution, and especially idolatry. . . .

“There seems to be insufficient grounds for justifying discrimination against homosexual persons by appealing to those texts.”

Also, significant for its time, was an openness to critique natural law by appealing to new scientific research.  The Council wanted to examine

“. . . the problem of how an appeal to the natural law can be convincing in those cases where homosexual behavior can not be shown to be an expression of arrested development or perversion of a heterosexual orientation from personal or social pressures, but is understood and experienced as a natural expression of a homosexual orientation. This problem is even more urgent since, even in the sciences, a consensus is growing about the constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation.”

In a certain respect, the Dutch document was promoting similar ideas of non-judgmentalism that we have seen advocated by Pope Francis.  In one section, the document states:

“. . . [F]rom the moral judgment on homosexual behavior one cannot derive automatically a total condemnation of someone who behaves homosexually, let alone relegate him or her to the position of a social outcast or second-class citizen.”

These words are extremely important for Church leaders and pastors to pay heed to before excluding LGBT Catholics from sacraments, volunteer ministries, or employment.

 The document continued in the vein of Pope Francis.  In the following section, we read a forerunner to the pope’s complaint that Church leaders overemphasize sexuality issues. The document condemns “all too one-sided and exaggerated attention to sexual behavior.”  It continued:

“This overemphasis plays a role in another way in the problems of homosexual people in society, since this overemphasis can itself be a source of discrimination.  The Council wants to call attention emphatically to this.  Respect or personal freedom and conscientious striving for a just society exclude a position on sexuality which identifies orientation and behavior too closely together.  This creates a danger of shortsightedness and one-sidedness in judging people.  It can easily lead to an excessive attention to sexual behavior especially in its strict expressions of genital sexuality.”

The document does not challenge the prohibition of sexual activity between persons of the same sex, though it does acknowledge at one point that “the rejection of homosexual behavior embarrasses the Church precisely because some successful homosexual love relationships do exist.”

The more important emphasis in this document, however, is its insistence that Church leaders and pastors should not become condemnatory of lesbian and gay people. The authors were aware that the Church’s prohibition on same-sex activity could be inflated and destructive.  They warned that the prohibition “should certainly not be viewed as any indication of silent support for discrimination,” noting:.

“For that would be a sad caricature of Christianity.  In fact, the destructive results of this caricature are already being felt.  There is evidence of this, for example, in the fact that the self-acceptance of the homosexual person, which is often the result of a difficult struggle, frequently leads to an automatic break with the Church.  This is understandable within the framework of that caricature.  But in our opinion, it is a sad state of affairs both for the Church and the homosexual person.”

For its time, the Dutch document spoke truths that were hard for people to accept.  I think that even today, unfortunately, some Church leaders would be uncomfortable with some of the idea that the document expressed.  But in many quarters of the Church, including in the papacy, we are seeing some of their ideas finally taking root.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 22, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Vatican Wants to Hear from Youth for 2018 Synod

In 2014, there was great excitement when the Vatican announced that in preparation for the extraordinary synod on the family,  it would be sending out a questionnaire to local bishops to solicit opinions and perspectives from the people in their dioceses.

In the U.S., at least, the excitement soon fizzled when it soon became apparent that many bishops were not distributing the survey broadly, but instead, some handpicked responders.  In 2015, with a similar Vatican questionnaire, there was wider distribution, but still pockets of reluctance on the part of some bishops to really listen to what people were saying about family, marriage, children, sexuality, gender.

Pope Francis poses for a selfie with young people at World Youth Day in 2013.

As the Vatican prepares for the 2018 synod on youth, officials in Rome have decided to bypass the bishops in terms of soliciting the opinions specifically from youth in the Church.  Instead of distributing a survey or questionnaire for bishops to disseminate, the Vatican has set up a website for youth to speak their minds directly to Vatican officials. The website, http://www.sinodogiovani.va, (Translation: “youth synod”) will not be live until March 1, 2017.

Robert Mickens, a longtime Vatican observer, reported in his “Letter from Rome” column posted on the Commonweal website:

“Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, head of the Rome-based secretariat that coordinates the Synod’s activities, told journalists on Friday that his office was launching a website in March that will allow youngsters to honestly raise questions and share their views about life and faith inside the Catholic church.

“He said their input—in addition to a questionnaire sent to bishops and heads of religious orders—would then form a substantial part of the working document (instrumentum laboris) that will frame the discussions when Pope Francis convenes the XV General Assembly of the Synod in October 2018 around the topic, ‘Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.’ “

In a letter addressed to youth, released when the website was announced, Pope Francis encouraged their participation in the electronic forum, stating:

“A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity. Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master. The Church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism. Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls. St. Benedict urged the abbots to consult, even the young, before any important decision, because ‘the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.’ (Rule of St. Benedict, III, 3).”

Why is this development important for LGBT issues?

First, a number of observers had commented that during the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family, the data collection and summarization was potentially and very probably biased toward what local bishops wanted to hear.   Since the questionnaire was distributed by bishops, and then the answers collected and summarized by the same officials, people’s voices were filtered. Such filtering would be the case even from the most open-minded bishops because filtering is inevitable when collating and summarizing responses.

Second, as survey after survey has shown, young Catholics, here in the U.S. and in many nations abroad, take LGBT equality and justice much more seriously than older generations and church officials.  By allowing youth to speak for themselves directly to the Vatican, the likelihood that there will be strong voices for greater acceptance of and advocacy for LGBT people will surely come through loud and clear.   Not to mention that youth have a much different attitude toward sexuality and gender generally than Church leaders typically do.

Mickens notes that the Vatican may be in for an earful, but that this might be exactly what they want.  He commented:

“Giving such a prominent voice to the young people themselves (which the Vatican identifies as between ages sixteen and twenty-nine) could open up a can of worms. In fact, the internet initiative has the potential of soliciting a whole range of opinions and criticism that the church’s pastors may not want or be prepared to hear.

“But, no doubt, that’s what the pope wants. And he may see the younger generation as a resource and ally in bringing change to a church that too often seems stuck in stale formulas from a bygone period that no longer have meaning for contemporary people.”

According to the plans for the synod so far, young people will also participate as auditors, similar to the way married lay people participated at the synods on the family.  Unfortunately, during the family syonds, there were no voices that disagreed with church teaching allowed to speak. At the 2015 synod, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago commented on this absence, stating that he thought church leaders would have gained from hearing differing perspectives.  He explained:

“I know that myself, when I did the consultation in my diocese, I did have those voices as part of my consultation, and put that in my report, and so maybe that’s the way they were represented.  But I do think that we could benefit from the actual voices of people who feel marginalized rather than having them filtered through the voices of other representatives or the bishops.  There is something important about that, I have found personally.”

It looks like the Vatican may be more open to hearing these diverse voices for the 2018 synod.  If they don’t take these voices seriously, at least giving them an open airing, the synod on youth will simply fall flat as an evangelizing moment.  The Vatican has taken steps in the way of openness to young people’s ideas. Let’s hope and pray that they continue in this direction. And let’s hope and pray that Catholic youth will participate robustly in this exciting project.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 21, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.