On Religious Freedom Day, Reclaiming a Progressive and Catholic Value

Today, people in the United States are not only remembering Martin Luther King, Jr., but celebrating Religious Freedom Day. Both commemorations have renewed meaning with an anti-equality presidential administration taking office in less than a week. It is thus an opportune day for Catholic LGBT advocates to reflect anew on two groundbreaking documents so we can reclaim religious freedom as a progressive and Catholic value.

religious-freedomFrederick Clarkson, a senior fellow for religious freedom at the think tank Political Research Associates, wrote an informative article on why religious freedom is indeed a progressive value. Civil rights and religious freedom are the “complementary values and legal principles necessary to sustain and advance equality for all” and is “one of the most liberatory ideas in history.” Clarkson continued:

“Religious freedom is a powerful idea—the stuff from which revolutions are sometimes made. It includes the right of individual conscience—to believe or not believe as we choose, without undue influence from government or powerful religious institutions, and to practice our beliefs free from the same constraints. It’s no surprise that the first part of the First Amendment guarantees freedom of belief.”

Clarkson offered a historical understanding for religious freedom.  In the U.S., the history of this concept begins with the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, whose anniversary is celebrated today. At that time in Virginia, the Anglican ruling class was oppressively using religion to retain political power. Civil courts would prosecute those accused of religious infractions, and vigilantes harmed non-Anglican Christians and others. The Statute was a groundbreaking attack against such abuses, and it would go on to inform the U.S. Constitution and legal precedents ever since.

For the nation’s Founders, protection of religious freedom was “synonymous,” in Clarkson’s words, with protections for individual consciences. Taken together, these constituted “a natural and absolute right,” one which has helped progressive movements throughout U.S. history, including the abolition of slavery, the organization of labor, and efforts for gender and racial equality. In summary, religious freedom has gone from an idea expressed locally in the the Virginia Statute to a human right defined globally by the United Nations, and has remained in each historical moment a clear progressive value.

But religious conservatives, including the U.S. Catholic bishops, are misusing this powerful idea and stunting the flourishing of marginalized communities in the process. In the past, segregationists claimed religious freedom to oppose interracial marriage; in the present, those opposed to LGBT rights have claimed religious freedom to fight marriage equality and transgender accommodations.

Since 2012, the U.S. bishops have focused their annual “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign on gender and sexuality issues yet have failed to address real threats to religious freedom experienced by, for instance, Muslims in the U.S. or Christians in the Middle East. They and their conservative associates from other denominations are actually harming real religious freedom.  Clarkson observed that this type of strategy is similar to what was happening in the 1780s when the movement for the religious freedom statute was originated:

“Aspiring clerical aristocrats debase the idea of religious freedom when they use it as tool to seek exemptions from the generally applicable laws of the United States—particularly those that prohibit discrimination.”

Catholics in the U.S. have largely ignored the bishops’ campaign, and overwhelmingly support LGBT equality. The behavior of Catholic lay people shows that religious freedom is not only a progressive value but a very Catholic one.

Religious freedom was not formally defined as Catholic teaching until Vatican II with the promulgation of Dignatitis Humanae in 1965. This Declaration on Religious Freedom, which was the U.S. hierarchy’s main contribution to the Council and relied on the once-censored writings of Jesuit Fr. John Courtney Murray, was in its own way groundbreaking. No longer did the Catholic Church endorse the “confessional State,” in which civil laws mirrored ecclesial teaching, as the ideal. Even Pope Benedict XVI has identified this teaching on religious freedom as one of Vatican II’s top contributions.

FrancisReligiousFreedom
Pope Francis on religious liberty

Our Catholic understanding of religious freedom protects individual consciences, and Catholics have affirmed a form of religious freedom from our earliest days by teaching the primacy of conscience. As the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes t noted, it is in conscience, this “most secret core and sanctuary” of our beings, alone with a God “whose voice echoes in [a person’s] depths,” where we make concrete judgments about how to live. To act against one’s conscience is wrong. Dignitatis Humanae made this foundational principle explicit in a political sense, positioning religious freedom as a Catholic value.

In a separate article for Religion News Service, Clarkson noted Dr. King’s own reference to religious freedom as a key influence for the civil rights movement. To these secular precedents–Dr. King’s support for religious freedom and the Virginia Statute this Religious Freedom Day–we as  Catholics’, need to add Dignitatis Humanae and the primacy of conscience. These are rich writings and witnesses for us to reflect on today.

And reflect we must. As I wrote about earlier this month, here and here, 2017 will be a year of struggle for LGBT equality under the incoming political leadership in the U.S. Already being considered is the First Amendment Defense Act, which is an effort to undermine civil rights by creating broad religious exemptions in federal law, allowing for greater discrimination. The need for LGBT advocates and other justice seekers to reclaim religious freedom in the United States from religious conservatives has never been so urgent.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 16, 2017

On Martin Luther King Day: A Parish’s Work for LGBT and Racial Justice

Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the great African-American leader of the civil rights’ movement of the mid-twentieth century.  He would have been 88. In the United States, tomorrow is the legal holiday for this occasion, but today is the actual birth date.

Rev. Martin Lutlher King, Jr.

Therefore, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the connections between the African-American civil rights movement and the LGBT civil rights movement.  Perhaps there is no better place to start than St. Vincent de Paul parish in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. It’s a parish where a painting of the 17th-century St. Vincent hangs alongside a photograph of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In December, The National Catholic Reporter featured the parish’s emphasis on social justice, which covers the gamut of issues.  A partial list of those issues was included in the newspaper’s story:

  • An emergency food pantry;
  • Participation in the “New Sanctuary” movement, assisting immigrants to gain legal status;
  • Welcoming to gay, lesbian and transgendered Catholics;
  • A twinning relationship with a parish in El Salvador;
  • A program focused on racial reconciliation;
  • Assistance to poor parents who send their children to Catholic schools;
  • Shelters for the long-term homeless, those transitioning to work, and for former convicts;
  • A Catholic school whose enrollment has increased from 225 students to 425 over the past four years, drawing parents — many non-Catholics — seeking an alternative to the hard-pressed Philadelphia public schools;
  • Active membership in Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER), an ecumenical organization devoted to social justice concerns, such as minimum wage legislation and racial justice.
At St. Vincent De Paul Church, Philadelphia, pastor Sylvester Peterka (left), exonerated death-row inmate Harold Wilson (center), and other participants in a prayer rally against capital punishment join hands and sing.

This parish that prides itself on being known as “the social justice parish” understands welcoming LGBT people as part of its broader agenda.  Interestingly, this social justice focus seems to be a response to a history that has not always been exemplary.   The article states:

Begun in 1851, it began as an Irish parish, attacked early on by Know-Nothing mobs in anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant actions. In the style of many ethnic-centered Philadelphia parishes, African-Americans and, later, Italians and other later immigrants were discouraged from joining. One parishioner, Joy Wuenschel, was baptized in a nearby parish because her family was told that St. Vincent would not baptize those who were not Irish. Her background is half-Italian.

Working on the issue of racial and ethnic prejudice seems to be at the root of the parish’s justice-oriented focus.  The article described a recent program about racial reconciliation held in the parish:

“African-American parishioners told stories about the historical struggle of being black Catholics in Philadelphia, including accounts of being spat upon by white Catholics going to Mass, as well as recollections of rules that forbade black Catholics from many parishes. There were also the bright spots in Philadelphia Catholic history, such as St. Katharine Drexel, who ministered to both black and white Catholics in early Philadelphia.

” ‘It was one of the most moving experiences,’ said Browning, who noted, ‘We have the resilience of black folks who have endured.’ It’s a lesson, she said, appropriate for those discouraged by this year’s elections.

“The discussion process, which lasted over weeks, provided a safe space for all to share concerns, said Wiley Redding, co-chair of the parish council. ‘When you mention race, the room becomes quiet’ in many places, but not so at St. Vincent.”

A lesson that I take from reading about St. Vincent parish is how important it is to recognize that working against injustice on one issue often paves the way for the ability to see injustice operative in other issues.  In our interconnected, globalized world, we must remember that we need to be aware of justice issues beyond our own personal connections.  If we work on LGBT justice issues, we should also be open to working on justice issues concerning racial minorities, migrants, refugees, the urban and rural poor.

The parishioners and staff of St. Vincent recognize what Martin Luther King, Jr. said decades ago: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

St. Vincent de Paul parish is listed in New Ways Ministry’s catalogue of LGBT-friendly Catholic parishes.  To find a parish near you, click here

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 16, 2017

Remembering Jeanne Cordova: A Lesbian Nun Who Broke Her Silence

At the LGBT spirituality blog, Jesus in Love, Kittredge Cherry offered a poignant remembrance this week of Jeanne Cordova, a lesbian advocate who had been a Catholic nun and who contributed to former woman religious and lesbian woman who was a contributor to the groundbreaking 1985 book, Lesbian Nuns: Breaking the Silence. Cordova passed away a year ago this past week.

jeanne-cordova-copy-300x300
Jeanne Cordova

Cherry remembered that Cordova was instrumental in the greater history of LGBT equality, beyond her “radical revelations about lesbian nuns.” Cherry stated:

 

“‘Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence’ remains the definitive work on this hidden and forbidden subject more than 30 years after it was first published. It is also one of the best-selling lesbian books of all time. . .Both the church and the secular LGBTQ community may prefer to forget the uncomfortable truth: Same-sex love exists in the church, and the church trained some leaders of the LGBTQ rights movement.”

In her post, Cherry offered a more expansive remembrance of Cordova’s life, drawing from her writings and from interviews. Cordova grew up in a conservative Catholic family, attending Catholic schools before entering religious life. In her own words, she “fell in love with God at the age of seven,” and this love was the main reason she became a woman religious. But there was a secondary reason why Cordova joined the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1966:

“I chose the convent because I knew I wasn’t interested in the world of men and women, marriage, children—’that’ lifestyle. Being in the service of God within a community of women felt natural and right.”

Cordova left after a year in the novitiate, a year after Vatican II ended, when religious life was changing dramatically. The IHM community in Los Angeles would eventually separate from the church just a few years after Cordova left, but during her year there, she experienced religious life in a time of postconciliar tension between hopeful reforms and lingering ills in the church. Cherry wrote:

“[Cordova] was enrolled in Immaculate Heart College, where sensitivity training, encounter groups and open classrooms exposed her to new ideas and emotions. She found out for the first time about drugs, the peace movement and covert homosexuality.

“As 1967 began, her Mother Superior informed her that she and her fellow novices were being sent to live in the ‘real world’ — Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles and the black ghetto of Watts. She was appalled and radicalized by seeing poverty and racial injustice for the first time.”

Cordova said Vatican II had ‘destroyed my dreams’; she sought a quiet life as a nun amid the trappings of the preconciliar church with its Tridentine liturgy and stiff habits. Her decision to leave was not just about coming out as a lesbian woman. Cordova underwent a more fundamental conversion. She explained:

“‘I left the convent because of my political radicalization and inability to justify the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings and actions regarding social justice, and its ongoing battle with my IHM order to keep women in line under patriarchy. My newly realized lesbianism was actually secondary to falling out of love with the Catholic Church, which I had questioned all my life.'”

No longer a nun, Cordova began working as a social worker and community organizer who “helped decriminalize homosexuality and protect the jobs of openly lesbian and gay teachers.” But in the church, she is known for her contribution to Lesbian Nuns: Breaking the Silence. Cherry explained that this work had influence outside the church, too:

“As the foreword to the 2013 reprint edition notes, the book ‘played a significant role in the mainstreaming of lesbian print culture.’ The editors ‘wanted to shatter the silence that denied the existence of lesbians in religious life and to make it clear that ‘lesbians are everywhere.'”

The book included stories from fifty nuns, cultivated from some 400 submissions. Cordova later wrote a more detailed account of her own life in Kicking the Habit: A Lesbian Nun’s Story and When We Were Outlaws. Before dying of cancer last year, Cordova said in an open letter, “It is wonderful to have had a life’s cause: freedom and dignity for lesbians.”

Finally, Cherry highlighted a key insight from Cordova that social justice movements, including for LGBT rights, have been filled with and led by former women religious. In Cordova’s words, religious life was “a boot camp for us all.”

The experiences of lesbian women religious are still quite hidden, and their contributions to the church and the world are still under-appreciated. For over 20 years, New Ways Ministry has had a project called Womanjourney Weavings which is an educational program for not only lesbian nuns, but for the leaders of women’s religious communities, and nuns who work in vocation and formation ministries.  For more information, contact:  info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

At New Ways Ministry’s upcoming Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” we will have a focus session entitled “Lesbian Nuns:  Gift to the Church.”  For more infomration about the symposium, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, click here.

Whether one is a woman religious, a former woman religious, or another part of the faithful, Cordova’s story is instructive. Her witness reminds us of the immense power of being in love with God and living authentically from that love can draw forth from us.  With it, we can change the world. As we remember, we ask her intercession: Jeanne Cordova, pray for us.

Note: If you are not aware of Kittredge Cherry’s blog, Jesus in Love, and her wider work on queer spirituality through the site Q Spirit, they are a good resource and well worth checking out. Like her post on Jeanne Cordova, Cherry offers many reflections on LGBTQ saints — some who are commonly known, others who are a bit more obscure.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 14, 2017

 

Fired N.C. Gay Teacher Files Federal Discrimination Lawsuit

U.S. federal court will be the venue for the latest employment suit brought by an LGBT person against a Catholic institution.

Lonnie Billard, who in 2014 was fired from his job as an English and drama teacher at Charlotte Catholic High School, North Carolina, is suing the school and the Charlotte Diocese which operates the institution.  Billard was fired after his impending marriage to longtime partner Richard Donham.

Lonnie Billard and Richard Donham

The Daily Mail explained the basis of the suit:

“Billard’s lawyers argue the firing violates prohibitions against sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. . . .

“The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which determined Billard has the right to sue, says on its website that religious organizations can give employment preference to members of the faith but can’t otherwise discriminate against protected classes of people.

“The commission’s position is that the definition of ‘sex’ contained in Title VII protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from workplace discrimination. It says a number of federal court decisions support the view that sexual orientation is covered under prohibitions against sex discrimination.”

However, according to one legal expert, the law in this regard is still being tested, so the outcome is not a certainty.

Billard’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyers are more confident about the case, according to The Charlotte News Observer:

“ACLU State Legal Director Chris Brook says in this case religious organizations are not immune from the ban against workplace sex discrimination outlined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

” ‘The school has a right to its religious beliefs,’ he told the Observer. ‘It does not have the right to ignore Title VII.’

“Billard said his adherence to Catholic doctrine ‘was never a part of the employment process.’

” ‘I was interviewed about my qualifications to be in the classroom. There was absolutely nothing said about “Are you gay or are you straight?” Although it didn’t take very long for people to figure that out,’ he said. ‘In the classroom, there was nothing about the Catholic religion. I taught the curriculum. I taught what was in the books.’

‘Brook argues that other employees of the school violate Catholic teachings about divorce and other spiritual matters. ‘Lonnie was the only one fired.’ “

One of the more troubling aspects of this case, which has occurred so many times in similar cases in the past, is that Billard said that school officials were aware of his relationship and did not consider it a problem until it became public.  From an ethical point of view, one has to question Catholic officials’ reasoning:  Is it okay to have a same-sex relationship as long as it is secret?  Unfortunately, time and again, that seems to be the message that they are sending. Fox 46 reported:

“Billard said it was no secret at Charlotte Catholic High School that he was in a committed relationship with his partner, Rich.

” ‘For all these years, Rich and I were a known entity. We were a gay couple in that environment. They knew it and no one ever said a word,’ Billard explained.

“A lawsuit filed on Wednesday alleges Billard was fired in 2014 after a Facebook post announced his intentions to marry his partner.

” ‘He had come to all the plays I directed. The kids knew him, the parents knew him, the administration knew him and, in fact, the administration would be sure to say, “Make sure to bring Rich, make sure to bring Rich,” ‘ Billard said.”

The Daily Mail reported that the lawsuit noted that a diocese spokesman said that Billard was let go for ‘going on Facebook, entering into a same-sex relationship, and saying it in a very public way that he does not agree with the teachings of the Catholic Church.’

To add to the injustice, Billard,69, taught full-time at the school for more than a decade (though he had scaled back to be a long-term substitute)  and was given the”Teacher of the Year Award” in 2012. He commented on his teaching career to The Daily Mail:

“I know that the Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage, but I don’t think my commitment to my husband has any bearing on my work in the classroom. I have never hidden the fact that I’m gay and my relationship with my partner was no secret at school. But whether or not the school previously knew that I am gay is not the point. People should be able to fall in love and get married without risking their jobs.”

Since the firing,  Billard has left the Catholic Church.

Several other church employees fired because of LGBT issues also have similar cases pending in federal court:  Sandor Demkovich, Colin Collette, John Murphy, and Flint Dollar.  Shaela Evenson brought a federal suit, but reached a private settlement before trial.  Other similar cases have also settled, but these were brought in state courts.  For a list of legal cases involving LGBT Catholic church employees, click here.  For New Ways Ministry’s resource page on “Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT Issues,” click here.

If you are concerned about the issue of LGBT employment in the Catholic Church, consider attending New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” April 28-30, 2017, Chicago.  One of our plenary session speakers will be Leslie C. Griffin, Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a national expert on the intersection of law and religion.  She will be speaking on the topic of “Religious Liberty, Employment, and LGBT Issues.”  Additionally, one of the symposium’s focus sessions will be on “The Challenges of LGBT Church Workers” and will feature Colleen Simon, Margie Winters, and Andrea di Vettori, who have all experienced firings from Catholic institutions because of marriage issues.  For more information and to register, click here.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 13, 2017

 

Australian Catholics Help Start Ecumenical LGBTI Group

Despite Australia’s ongoing debate over marriage equality, there have been several positive developments in Catholic LGBT issues recently in the land “down under.” Today’s post highlights one of those major developments.

ev-logo-1-e1483341716491Australian Christians have founded the interdenominational group Equal Voices to promote reconciliation between LGBTI communities and churches, reported Buzzfeed. The first meeting will occur at the end of this month, with a more formal launch in April.

Equal Voices seeks to be a networking and resource group based on values such as boldly proclaiming Christ’s love for all people, honoring same-gender relationships, and promoting listening and learning.

What is interesting about Equal Voices, according to spokesperson Natalie Cooper, is that those Christians involved are from “fairly conservative church backgrounds” that include Baptists, Pentecostals, Anglicans, and Catholics. Lay people hope to end the false idea that one can either be LGBT or Christian. Cooper added:

“‘For too long gay and lesbian people in the churches have been asked to carry the load by themselves. . .What’s often denied is that there are large numbers of LGBTI people of faith. Some of those people are in church, some of them are out, a lot of them are closeted because they don’t feel safe being out’. . .

“‘Very often, the impression given is that there is just one point of view, just one Christian voice. . .We want to make it clear there are lots of Christian voices, and give everyone a seat at the table.'”

Benjamin Oh

Among the leaders of Equal Voices is Benjamin Oh, a Catholic LGBTI advocate who has worked in human rights and development fields. According to his website bio, Oh “was elected as head of a Catholic international aid & development agency in Australia” and was the “World Youth Day Coordinator and Social Justice Project Manager for the worldwide Dominican Order” in 2008.  He also serves on the Steering Committee of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics.

Equal Voices’ first priority, according to Buzzfeed, is to “facilitate a national apology to LGBTI Christians and the wider community” that will be presented in the nation’s capitol. This Apology is partially inspired by Pope Francis’ own call last year for the church to apologize to LGBTI people.

But the Apology seeks to not only seek forgiveness for past wrongs, but to educate Christians so as to prevent future wrongs. Some Christians may object to apologizing, said Cooper, figuring such an action was not needed. But the Apology explained its own reasons:

“Speaking for myself and as a member of my church, I ask for your forgiveness:

  1. For being too slow to acknowledge that we need to say sorry to you.
  2. For not speaking up against the hurtful, damaging and often violent mistreatment you have been subjected to.
  3. For speaking about you, without first listening to you.
  4. For not creating safe environments within our churches where people can speak openly and honestly about their struggles and understandings.
  5. For perpetuating stereotypes, and for not taking full account of your actual lived experiences.
  6. For talking to you or about you in such a way as to suggest that sexual and/or gender differences are not part of your true identity as creatures made in the image of God, but are simply a result of brokenness or sin.
  7. For perpetuating the mistaken belief that non-heterosexual orientations should be treated, healed or changed, and for not acknowledging the damage such misunderstanding has wrought in peoples’ lives.
  8. For not acknowledging that Christians who are seeking to be faithful to their Lord and to the Scriptures are coming to different conclusions on matters of gender, sexual orientation, and marriage.

The Apology ended with five commitments to LGBTI people that signatories make, including supporting LGBTI “in every way possible,” being open to correction and guidance, holding others accountable for “careless, hurtful or misleading talk,” resisting efforts to exclude LGBTI people from churches, and engaging “in genuine and open dialogue to gain better understanding of other perspectives.”

Australian Catholics’ support for Equal Voices is consistent with many positive actions which have happened in the country. Last December, Fr. Paul Kelly’s eight-year effort to outlaw “gay panic” defense in Queensland led the state’s Attorney General to introduce a parliamentary bill doing just that. In response to Pope Francis, an Australian parish held a Liturgy of Apology to LGBT People which participants said opened new possibilities for healing. And when bishops have publicly opposed marriage equality, Catholics have pushed back, including Fr. Frank Brennan, S.J.’s, warning that a plebiscite on marriage equality could be “very nasty.”

Whether or not Australia’s Parliament will indeed pass a marriage equality law is still an open question despite overwhelming support by legislators and the public. But it is good to know Catholics, and Christians generally, are not waiting to advance the cause of LGBT equality in many spheres.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 12, 2017

 

A Question of Language: ‘Same-Sex Attraction’ vs. ‘Gay or Lesbian’

The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) recently featured an interview with Fr. Philip Bochanski, the new director of Courage, a ministry which promotes celibacy as the only path for gay and lesbian Catholics.  The article states that the priest reported that “the organization feels supported by Pope Francis’ encouragement to accompany those ‘with same-sex attraction’ on their spiritual journeys.”  Bochanski is quoted as saying that Francis’ language of accompaniment, “is very useful for us. It recognizes the approach we take.”

Fr. Philip Bochanski

It is noteworthy that Courage is taking direction in their pastoral work from Pope Francis, who is seen by many as having initiated on new openness on LGBT issues in the Church.  But, as the NCR article points out, the leadership of Courage does not follow Pope Francis when it comes to language about LGBT issues. The reporter stated:

“[The Courage] approach includes using a language that some might consider arcane. Unlike Francis, Courage does not use the term ‘gay, preferring the phrase ‘same-sex attraction.’ Still, the pope’s Amoris Laetitia apostolic exhortation on the family also uses the more formal same-sex attraction language.”

The language difference is not insignificant.  First of all,  for many gay and lesbian people, the term “same-sex attraction” is offensive because it does not adequately describe themselves or their personal experiences.   To call someone “a person with same-sex attraction” sounds very much like referring to someone who has a disease or condition which is different than the natural way that things should be.   Gay and lesbian people, however, do not experience their sexual identities as something irregular, but as something natural to themselves.

When Jesuit Father James Martin received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award last autumn, he noted in his acceptance speech that the Catechism calls people to treat lesbian and gay people with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.  He noted that it is a sign of respect to address people in the way in which they identify themselves.  Fr. Martin elaborated:

“. . . [R]espect means calling a group what it asks to be called. On a personal level, if someone says, ‘I prefer to be called Jim instead of James,’ you naturally listen. It’s common courtesy. And it’s the same on a group level. We don’t say ‘Negroes’ any longer. Why? Because that group feels more comfortable with other names: ‘African-Americans’ or ‘blacks.’ . . . Everyone has the right to tell you their name.

“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. . . .And if Pope Francis can use the word gay, so can the rest of the church.”

In the NCR article, Bochanski is quoted as saying “A person is not defined by a sexual orientation.”  But referring to oneself as gay or lesbian does not mean that one defines oneself by that designation.  It is merely descriptive of one feature of person’s constitution.  If a man describes himself as “a tall guy,”  it doesn’t mean that he defines himself by his height.

Another problem with the use of the “same-sex attraction” language is that for many people it actually seems to emphasize sexual activity more than “gay” or “lesbian” do.  Many gay and lesbian people view their identities as being about so much more than their attractions, which is only one part of their sexuality.  Their sexual identities are also about their relationships, emotions, and personal interactions.  Their sexual identities also have a social dimension, by which I mean that lesbian and gay people have often been made to feel different or stigmatized in mainstream culture which is predominantly heterosexual.

For the NCR article, I was asked about the difference between New Ways Ministry and Courage:

” ‘The difference in approach has less to do with celibacy and more to do with the understanding of sexual orientation,’ he said.  New Ways Ministry sees gay orientation as a gift from God, not a problem that needs to be overcome, said DeBernardo.

” ‘Courage has often taken a 12-step approach to sexual orientation, seeing it as a defect in a person. We don’t believe that is an authentically helpful response.’ “

In one respect that difference is encapsulated in the difference between the terms “a person with same-sex attraction” and “a gay or lesbian person.”

The good news from this article is that Courage has officially separated itself from reparative therapy.  The reporter stated:

“Courage has evolved, taking a different position on what some call reparative therapy, through which gays are encouraged to become heterosexual. In the 1990s, Courage literature was encouraging, stating, ‘for those who really want it, reparative growth is a possibility and happens regularly.’ “

“Courage is now officially neutral on reparative therapy which, while popular in some evangelical Christian circles, is controversial in the wider counseling community.”

Even better than remaining neutral on the topic would be for Courage to condemn it outright since it has proven to be pastorally and psychologically harmful for so many people.

The article also noted another development in Courage’s policy:

“Bochanski said he is open to discussion with other ministries to Catholic gays, including New Ways Ministry, an organization which holds that gays can be sexually active and still maintain their Catholic faith. But the difference in approach makes such dialogue difficult, he said.”

It is good to know that Courage is open to dialogue.  We here at New Ways Ministry would welcome such an opportunity.  We do not see that our differences would make dialogue difficult.  Dialogue is, after all, precisely about differences.  We believe dialogue would help us understand one another better, and help our organizations minister more effectively to LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 11, 2017

 

 

Resignation of Bishop Is An Opportunity for LGBT Reconciliation

A bishop with a harsh anti-LGBT record has prematurely resigned, creating an opportunity for his successor to heal wounds in the province related to gender and sexuality debates.

>Bishop Fred Henry says the church has a lot to apologize for, but remains a tremendous source of good.
Bishop Fred Henry

Canada’s Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary, Alberta, resigned due to health reasons, ending twenty years in office, with much controversy in recent years. Last year, Henry described Alberta’s new education guidelines aimed at protecting transgender students as “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic.” He then refused to apologize, saying any retraction was “simply not going to happen.

The bishop’s comments were offered amid wider debates in Alberta about Catholic education and LGBTQ supports that were, at times, quite heated. Indeed, Archbishop Richard W. Smith publicly thanked Henry upon news of his resignation for “the outstanding contribution he has made in the field of Catholic education in both Alberta and across the country,” according to Global News.

Pope Francis has now appointed Bishop William Terrence McGrattan as Henry’s successor in Calgary, reported CTV News. This transition has some LGBT advocates hopeful that a new page can be turned, while others remain skeptical of any change.

Kristopher Wells, director of the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies, said Henry had been “no friend to the LGBT community” but hoped “a new bishop will seek to build bridges and use faith as a way to include rather than exclude.”

“‘I’m really hoping that new bishop is open to dialogue with the LGBT community. One of the things Catholic LBGT and Catholic allies say is welcoming LGBT people into your lives and your communities is not in conflict with Catholic teachings.'”

Rebecca Sullivan, who directs the University of Calgary’s Women’s Studies Program was somewhat harsher in her assesesment, stating that “the grand old men of the Catholic Church are going quietly into the bleak night they created for themselves.” Yet, Sullivan thinks this resignation could signal “a brighter future for what Catholicism could stand for, not what Henry has stood for.” Another professor at the University of Calgary, Juliet Guichon, expressed the following:

“I hope that the incoming bishop engages with Catholics and the greater community and focuses on Pope Francis’ main messages, which are mercy, love and following one’s conscience.”

But not everyone is optimistic, reported Metro News. Jan Buterman, a transgender man who was fired from a Catholic school in 2008 after transitioning, does not expect much to change:

“‘I see no reason to believe that there will be any kind of change that substantively supports trans people in that particular faith. . .I see absolutely no statements from higher-ups suggesting that trans people are welcome in their faith.'”

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Bishop William Terrence McGrattan

There are no indications about how Bishop McGrattan will respond to LGBT issues in Alberta after his February installation. But he would be unwise to squander this opportunity to undo the harm Bishop Henry inflicted and to initiate a diocesan path more in keeping with Pope Francis’ model.

A first step could be apologizing for the harsh remarks Bishop Henry made last year, followed by concrete actions to show that the local church in Calgary will work to support LGBT people in parishes and in Catholic education. Let us pray for Bishop McGrattan and the local church in Calgary that they may find a new path forward in this new year.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 10, 2017