Jamie Manson: Catholic Schools Must Say “No More” in Firing of LGBT Teachers

August 2, 2015

Jamie Manson

Firing LGBT teachers from Catholic schools must stop, says a National Catholic Reporter columnist, at the same time that the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s disputed teaching contract controversy nears resolution.

Jamie Manson, award-winning NCR columnist, recently called for the firings to end because it feels “like every week brings a new story” about these troubling incidents.

Citing the expulsion of Margie Winters from Waldron Mercy Academy near Philadelphia, Manson highlighted a central issue in so many of these employment disputes:

“Even a Catholic institution that strives to be inclusive and nurturing can’t protect an LGBT employee. As long as Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that same-sex relationships are sinful and a violation of God’s plan for humanity, LGBT employees will not be safe in their jobs in Catholic institutions.”

Indeed, in the more than fifty LGBT-related employment disputes made public since 2008, many involved church worker whose relationships were known by employers and co-workers for years. Then, when complaints are filed or these relationships become “too public,” schools fail the Gospel and expel teachers out of fear for the institutions’ own well-being:

“While not saying it explicitly, [Waldron Mercy principal Neil] Stetser’s letter strongly suggests that a serious threat was looming over Waldron Mercy if they refused to fire Winters. Though few Catholic schools will go public about it, the truth is that many of them are forced to fire LGBT employees because the presiding bishop threatens to revoke their canonical status.

“According to Canon 803 §3, ‘No school is to bear the name Catholic school without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.’ That ‘competent ecclesiastical authority’ is the bishop who presides over the diocese in which the school is located, even if a religious community sponsors the school.

“A loss of canonical status would, of course, have financial repercussions, such as the loss of funding or even the loss of the school’s property. Even more tragically, it has sacramental consequences. It is unlikely that the Eucharist or the sacrament of reconciliation could be celebrated at the school, for example.”

Given that Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput said he was “grateful” Winters was fired and the decision showed “character and common sense,” his evaluation of the school’s decision is clear. Yet, Manson points out that such “bullying” of school officials into discriminatory acts is not the worst part of this situation. The “darker irony” is school officials choosing to prove Catholic identity by “destroying an LGBT employee’s livelihood.”

Manson suggested a way forward that all Catholic schools should seriously consider lest no change happen in this increasing trend:

“It is time for us to encourage school leaders, both religious and lay, to refuse to comply with demands that they fire LGBT employees. . .

“Why, then, not call the bishops’ bluffs? Imagine the pushback and negative press a bishop would get if he stripped a Catholic school of its identity for refusing to fire an LGBT employee. Imagine the momentum that could be built and the empowering precedent it could set for other schools facing the same turmoil. . .

“For the sake of the integrity of our church and the future of Catholic education, it is time to defy the threats and bullying, have the courage of our convictions, and refuse to perpetuate this injustice inside the walls of our Catholic schools.”

Manson’s call comes as teachers in San Francisco’s Catholic high schools reach a tentative agreement in a months-long dispute, though this has not softened fears that Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone will not end his campaign on their private lives. Proposed language, yet to be voted on by the teachers, includes phrasing that ties teachers’ personal conduct to their professional position though some protections for teachers were introduced as well. The contracts are not, however, a done deal, reported the San Francisco Chronicle.

Manson argues convincingly that these church worker firings must stop, given the tremendous harm they cause and the hypocrisy exhibited. The voices of those fired speak powerfully to this need too. Margie Winters described her expulsion as “like a death” in a recent Crux report.

Too many Catholics and those affiliated with the schools feel similarly when such injustices occur. Regular readers of this blog will remember the growing response by affected communities who organize and resist when discrimination occurs, but such outcry is still not stopping new disputes.

The firing of LGBT church workers must end, and we must all do our part to answer Manson’s call by ensuring ecclesial institutions protect their workers and will find support among the People of God if they stand firm against a bishop’s discriminatory desires. A first step? Consider implementing an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy passed at your Catholic parish, school, hospital, or social service agency. You can find more information on making this change here.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Winters and San Francisco stories and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ group to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the almost 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


London Cardinal Urges Nationwide Expansion of LGBT Catholic Masses

August 1, 2015

LGBT Catholics Westminster pilgrims with New Ways Ministry pilgrims in Rome earlier this year

Masses in London which offer an intentional welcome to the LGBT community should be expanded across England, Westminster’s (London) Cardinal Vincent Nichols is recommending.

This endorsement of these welcoming Masses comes via Fr. Keith Barltrop, the Catholic official tasked with LGBTQI outreach for the Archdiocese of Westminster.   The liturgies take place twice a month at London’s Church of the Immaculate Conception, overseen by the Jesuits, and located on Farm Street, by which the parish is familiarly known. Baltrop’s comments were reported by The Tablet:

“. . .[T]he cardinal would like to see the Farm Street Masses as a model for other parishes in his archdiocese. He added that the idea could be taken up by parishes in other dioceses.”

This desire for expansion comes two years after the “Soho Masses” were moved to the Farm Street Church at the cardinal’s request, a move which caused some concern at the time, but one now bearing fruit it seems. The Tablet explained:

“Key to the transition was that the Farm Street Masses are an extension of the diocese’s pastoral care for gay people. LGBT Catholics join the regular congregation at the 6.15 p.m. Mass on Sunday evenings twice a month and meet afterwards for a social gathering in the parish hall.”

The pastoral shift here is significant. Instead of fostering separate communities for LGBT and ally Catholics, this model seeks to fold them into regular parish life, while still providing a preferential welcome as well.

According to Martin Pendergast of the LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council, expansion depends on parishioners’ initiative and is one among several efforts to include all. The Council is also preparing a briefing paper that LGBT Catholics hope will appear at the 2015 Synod of Bishops by way of England’s delegates, Cardinal Nichols and Northampton Bishop Peter Doyle. Language is key to the Council’s requests:

“A major line of argument in the paper, he said, would be a move to encourage the Vatican to undertake a “serious review” of the vocabulary it used in relation to homosexuality.

” ‘Two terms which have been used by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in regard to homosexuality are ‘objective disorder’ and ‘intrinsic moral disorder. . .But these are inaccurate and theologically quite inappropriate – and the people who are most hurt by this sort of language are the parents of children who come out as gay. What does it mean to them to hear their children described in those terms?’ “

In June, LGBT Catholics Westminster participated in London Pride as a registered parade group. Cardinal Nichols called this an “opportunity for evangelization,” reports The Stream.

In February, LGBT Catholics from Farm Street celebrated Mass in Rome with New Ways Ministry’s pilgrims who were there during the same week. (See photo above.)

A recent editorial from The Tablet affirmed Nichols’ desire for expanded LGBT-focused Masses and stated “the Gospel must point the way on gay issues.” Calling same-gender marriage “something of a distraction in this debate,” it continued:

“Treating gays and lesbians with equal dignity and respect does not depend on being for or against gay marriage. Cardinal Nichols is a good example of that position, as is Pope Francis himself. Indeed, the new chief executive of the gay campaigning body Stonewall, Ruth Hunt, who is Catholic, told The Tablet that changing attitudes, not legislation, was now her prime concern.”

Hunt said Masses explicitly welcoming LGBT Catholics are necessary because of the “ever-widening chasm” between faithful Catholics and church institutions which reject them. Hunt, who is a lesbian Catholic herself, has previously said something must be done about faith communities which do “significant damage to people’s mental health” while silencing LGBT-inclusive religious leaders.

This is Fr. Barltorp’s second positive statement on LGBT issues in as many weeks, adding to Cardinal Nichols’ growing positive record on LGBT issues.

Last week, Barltrop said there was nothing doctrinal about one’s gender identity and the church would be “fully supportive” of those who transition after careful discernment. Barltrop responded to traditionalist critics, saying one website was the Catholic “equivalent of Islamic fundamentalism” and underscored that there is no teaching on transgender identities.

Cardinal Nichols’ desire for expanded LGBT-focused Masses is on point, especially when some church leaders choose to discriminate against these communities and deny Catholics participation in the sacraments based on who they are or whom they love. Such Masses should not stop at English shores, but indeed they should be expanded around the world!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Letter Asks Pope Francis to Encounter LGBT Catholics During U.S. Visit

July 31, 2015

A coalition of Catholic, LGBT, and Hispanic groups have invited Pope Francis to meet with LGBT Catholics during his U.S. visit in September, contrasting with the more cautionary policies of Archbishop Charles Chaput and the 2015 World Meeting of Families. The New York Times reports:

“In a formal letter sent to Pope Francis at the Vatican, groups representing gay and transgender people, Catholics, and Hispanics said the church in America was in the midst of a ‘pastoral crisis’ over gay issues and asked to meet with him while he was in the United States. While some American conservatives are eager to see Pope Francis make use of his popularity on this trip to advance the fight against abortion and same-sex marriage, gay Catholics want him to acknowledge their rejection by the church, and to welcome them as full members with equal access to sacraments like baptism and marriage.”

Signatories included church reform groups (including Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry), gender justice projects, academic figures, LGBT advocates, national Hispanic organizations, and Catholic parents of LGBT children. Their call is for Francis to listen to LGBT Catholics’ stories, too often marked by intolerance and injustice. DignityUSA’s Marianne Duddy-Burke told the Times reporter:

“We see so many people we love abandoning the church because of the kinds of indignities and pain that they’re subjected to…whether it’s being denied a kid’s baptism or hearing a priest make horrible comments during a homily. Everybody’s got stories of pain and alienation, and those things do real harm to people. And it needs to end.”

The Times coverage includes the story of Lui Akira Francesco Matsuo, a transgender Catholic who was rejected from his Detroit parish a few years ago. Matsuo, who is originally from Japan, says Pope Francis “lost my trust” when the pontiff compared gender theory to nuclear weapons, but has hopes for the upcoming visit:

“I want him to extend his hand openly, especially to the transgender community…I am a practicing Catholic. I just don’t have a parish I can call home.”

Nicole Santamaría, an intersex woman from El Salvador, shared her own desires for Pope Francis’ visit:

“To families who are different, let him speak out and say that we are beloved human beings, that we are beloved of God…I don’t want another teenaged boy or girl to take his or her life because they thought that not even God loves them.”

Santamaría and her mother are among fourteen LGBT Catholic families participating in Equally Blessed’s pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families. These families will share their stories and represent the religious experience of Catholic families with LGBT members from around the world. You can lend your support to this effort with a donation here.

Deb Word, the Catholic mother of a gay man who did not come out until he was 23 for fear of going to hell, said she would tell Pope Francis:

“We don’t need to put this kind of trauma on a child’s soul.”

Word works closely with Catholic parents through Fortunate Families, as well as having provided a home for more than 17 LGBT youth experiencing homelessness over the years. The letter calls particular attention to to the plight of LGBT youth who experience elevated levels of bullying, discrimination, self-harm, suicide attempts, substance abuse, homelessness, and family rejection. The letter stated:

“This is a crisis that the church can help to address through effective pastoral care and programs that provides love and support for these youth.”

Initially considered as a speaker at the World Meeting of Families, Word was rejected after acknowledging the harm church teaching has caused LGBT people. Fortunate Families’ application to exhibit was rejected in addition and the only LGBT session at the Meeting will be by a celibate gay man and his mother.

Pope Francis, who has stressed “encounter” as an important part of ministry, should listen to these faith-filled yet pained stories Outreach to LGBT Catholics by the pontiff will be doubly meaningful in Philadelphia, where Archbishop Charles Chaput has helped lead the American bishops’ crusade against many LGBT equality measures. He recently expressed gratitude that a lesbian teacher was fired and said the school exhibited “character and common sense” in being discriminatory.

The archbishop’s actions have prompted Joel Mathis, a Philly-area columnist, to ponder whether Chaput is intentionally opposing Francis’ more merciful and welcoming style, writing in Philadelphia Magazine:

“Chaput seems to have a specific mission in mind — to lay down a marker for what the church’s teachings on gay relationships and should be — and he doesn’t have time to wait until after the pope’s visit to begin making his case. . .The difference between the two men, then, might be one of tone more than substance — but it’s such a difference of tone that it has substance.”

Mark Segal, in a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer , also suggested Chaput should with LGBT Catholics and their families to hear their stories because “Your Archbishop is not a popular man in your Church or the city.”

Even with negative responses from Archbishop Chaput and the World Meeting of Families thus far, those involved with the letter believe Pope Francis has charted a different course on LGBT issues that could allow progress. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told the Times the pontiff was “at least willing to have conversation and interaction” and LGBT issues are no longer a “litmus test” for ecclesial exclusion. He added:

“I don’t think he’s going to be the pope that makes the changes we want…But he’s already taken a number of important steps that will, I think, pave the way for future changes.”

HalltoFrancis_FinalThis record includes meeting with an LGBT advocate during his recent trip to Paraguay, his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment, inviting LGBT pilgrims to VIP seating during an audience in Rome, and welcoming a transgender man rejected by his Spanish parish to the Vatican for a meeting. Francis’ record has prompted other letters and calls for meetings with the U.S. LGBT community, including a recent letter by fired gay priest Fr. Warren Hall.

Whether Pope Francis meets with LGBT Catholics during his U.S. visit, they and their loved ones will be visible and participating in the World Meeting of Families and other events. The pilgrimage is not the only way that LGBT issues will be present in Philadelphia during the WMF. Groups are sponsoring events and programs “outside the walls” of the WMF, but nearby in Philly.

All are welcome to hear and to be heard, an invitation hopefully Pope Francis will take up and be transformed by his encounters with faithful Catholics who love their church while knowing LGBT people are sacred and equal in God’s eyes.

For the latest news regarding the 2015 World Meeting of Families, visit the appropriate category on the right hand side of this page or click here for all the Bondings 2.0 posts covering the preparations for this event.

During the World Meeting of Families, New Ways Ministry will host a half-day workshop on gender diverse families entitled TransForming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholics Perspectives, on Saturday, September 26, 2015, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at St. John the Evangelist Parish Center, 1212 Ludlow Street, Philadelphia.  For more information, click here.

For more information about New Ways Ministry events at WMF, please send inquiry emails to: info@NewWaysMinistry.org. For more information about the Equally Blessed Coalition’s pilgrims to WMF, please click here.   You can donate financially to support these pilgrims’ work by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Transgender Godparent-To-Be Calls Diocesan Rejection a “Kick in the Stomach”

July 30, 2015

Alex Salinas

A transgender Catholic is not allowed to be a godparent, says a Spanish bishop, who further denied any discrimination in the case.

Alex Salinas, 21-year old trans man who describes himself as a “firm believer,” sought to be his nephew’s godfather. The parish priest involved with the baptism accepted him initially, but reversed the welcome after the diocese became involved in the decision. No other parish in the area would perform the baptism.

Bishop Rafael Zornoza of Cadiz and Ceuta personally endorsed Salinas’ rejection and, according to Pink News insisted:

“that the parish priest was ‘kind and understanding’ in conveying to Mr Salinas that he ‘cannot serve as a baptismal sponsor because of canonical requirements that a sponsor live in accordance with the faith.’ “

According to  The Local, the priest told Salinas he could “spiritually encourage and help the child in living the faith” and offered him a role as “spiritual godparent” instead. Salinas was outed because church documents proving he is baptized and confirmed identify him as female, of which Salinas said, “in the church’s eyes, I was still a woman, even though my documents of identification have changed.”

Even while Salinas describes this rejection as a “kick in the stomach,” Bishop Zornoza and the diocese deny any discrimination because such acts happen “frequently.” The diocese said Salinas does not fulfill the requirements according to the Code of Canon Law, which mandate godparents be:

“…be Catholic, be confirmed, have received the holy sacrament of the Eucharist and, at the same time, live a life congruent with faith and the mission they are assuming.”

It is Salinas’ gender identity that is, apparently, incongruous with being a good godparent for he fulfills the rest with vigor according to the Huffington Post. But a closer look at Canon Law, alongside church teaching, reveals the diocese’s reasoning is faulty.

First, the requirements for a godparent, referred to as “sponsor” are set out in Canon 874 §1 which stipulates among other items the item about living “life of faith in keeping with the function.” Salinas fulfills all of the requirements, including leading a “life of faith in keeping with the function.” Indeed, children growing up in the church today could benefit greatly from LGBT Catholics who teach all about living as one’s authentic self, the path to holiness, and witness what it means to remain faithful to Christ and to the People of God in a church plagued by internal injustices.

Second, trans and gender diverse identities are not a doctrinal matter, a point recently reiterated by England’s top Catholic official for LGBTQI outreach, Msgr. Keith Barltrop. Indeed, he added the church should be “fully supportive” of those who decide, after careful discernment, to transition. The pastoral response to Alex Salinas was anything but supportive or welcoming, stemming from a harmful medley of clerical ignorance and prejudice.  At the very least, the pastoral leadership in this case should give the benefit of any of their doubt to the parents of the child.

Thankfully, Salinas plans to appeal to the discriminatory decision to both church and civil authorities for the injustice committed against him. “Oversight Against LGBTfobia,” a Spanish advocacy group, admitted that even if it is not legally discriminated, the exclusion of transgender people from the church’s sacramental life is “ethically reprehensible.”

Church officials in Rome should pay attention to this case. Pope Francis personally welcomed a trans man and his fiancee to the Vatican, following their rejection at the Spanish church where they were longtime parishioners. A repeat effort, perhaps including a baptism at St. Peter’s Basilica, would be a clear sign that Catholic ministers must welcome trans and gender diverse persons into the full life of the church.

The incident should also be a wake-up call for church ministers worldwide to get educated on gender identity topics and not misuse Canon Law or church teachings to harm a very marginalized community.

For those attending the World Meeting of Families, or anyone who wants to come to Philadelphia at the end of September, consider attending New Ways Ministry’s half-day workshop on gender diverse families entitled TransForming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholics Perspectives, on Saturday, September 26, 2015, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at St. John the Evangelist Parish Center, 1212 Ludlow Street, Phialdelphia.  For more information, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Scouting’s Response to BSA Policy Does Not Bode Well for Scouting

July 29, 2015

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS ) has responded to the decision by the Boy Scouts of America to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and also to allow local troops to decide, based on religious principles, if openly gay men would be allowed to serve as leaders. Their response. which is not affirmative, could harm the future of Catholic scouting.

In a letter to Catholic Scout leaders from NCCS National Chairman Edward P. Martin and National Chaplain Father Michael P. Hanifin that was published by the website, the two leaders offered a mixed message about the decision:

“It is not entirely clear how these rights will be squared with previous policy changes the Boy Scouts have made, or how they will work in practice, but it appears that the resolution respects the needs of Catholic-chartered organizations in the right to choose leaders whose character and conduct are consistent with those of Catholic teaching. At the same time, we express strong concern about the practical implications of this resolution, especially for our young people in Scouting, and whether the term ‘sexual orientation’ will be correctly understood and applied only in reference to sexual inclination and not to sexual conduct or behavior. We also express concern that the resolution articulates a position on adult sexual conduct that does not make clear that sexual behavior should be reserved to a husband and a wife in marriage.”

It is unfortunate that this statement confuses “sexual orientation” with “sexual conduct or behavior.”  “Orientation” has been used popularly for many decades now, and it has always clearly meant a person’s interior constitution, not a decision to be involved in sexual activity.  Even the U.S. bishops, in their 1998 letter Always Our Children, offered this understanding of the term:

“. . . [I]t seems appropriate to understand sexual orientation (heterosexual or homosexual) as a deep-seated dimension of one’s personality and to recognize its relative stability in a person. A homosexual orientation produces a stronger emotional and sexual attraction toward individuals of the same sex, rather than toward those of the opposite sex. It does not totally rule out interest in, care for, and attraction toward members of the opposite sex. Having a homosexual orientation does not necessarily mean a person will engage in homosexual activity.”

Do the leaders of the NCCS not know this understanding of the term?  Why would they think it would be incorrectly applied to sexual behavior?  I don’t know of any policy situation in any field of endeavor where these two terms have been confused–except for the fact that many anti-gay people assume that “orientation” guarantees behavior, which, of course, is not true.

Most importantly, framing the discussion strictly between the terms “sexual orientation” and “sexual behavior” disregards an important quality of gay men that is germane to this debate:  the ability to enter into loving and committed sexual relationships.   As long as people keep using the orientation vs. activity dichotomy, they make invisible the real lives of lesbian and gay people, who for the most part, are interested in relationship and love.

The NCCS letter does not state directly whether they will discourage local BSA troops to allow openly gay men serve as leaders, but the last sentence in the paragraph quoted above, which deals with a definition of marriage, seems to indicate that at the very least, they will not welcome openly gay men who are civilly married.

Time and again over the past few years, the U.S. Catholic Church has witnessed how Catholic parents, educators, and students have risen up in protest against the unjust firing of gay and lesbian Catholic school teachers who have legally married.  It should be clear to the leadership of the Catholic Church that Catholics are not tolerating this kind of discrimination.

So, what will happen to Catholic scouting if gay men–single or married–are not accepted as leaders in their local troops?  As most troop leaders are parents of scouts, what will happen when a scout’s gay dad is not allowed to be a leader? In both these cases, I predict that parents and youth will vote with their feet and join another troop which does not discriminate.

We already saw something like this in 2013 when the BSA lifted its ban on openly gay youth becoming scouts. When one pastor in Illinois tried to separate the parish’s troop from the BSA, the parishioners and scouting parents strongly protested.

In 2013, the NCCS and many diocesan bishops, supported the policy change to welcome gay youth.

The recent 2015 NCCS statement gay men as scout leaders stated:

“Our youth don’t want to leave Scouting.”

I agree. But I think that youth today want Scouting that is discrimination-free.  And as the years go by, more parents and youth will be joining that belief, too.

The NCCS has an opportunity to encourage and promote a discrimination-free Catholic Scouting by encouraging their troops not to ban gay men from leadership.  It has the opportunity to promote a realistic view of gay men that is rooted in the desire for relationship and love.  NCCS can help today’s Catholic youth develop a healthy respect for gay men by allowing these men to serve openly and freely.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles and posts:

The New York Times: Catholic Panel Urges Churches to Continue Sponsoring Scout Troops

The New York Times: “Boy Scouts Are Poised to End Ban on Gay Leaders”

The National Catholic Reporter: “Religious groups weigh support for Boy Scouts after vote to end ban on gay leaders”

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting:  FAQs Regarding BSA’s Youth Membership Standard”

On 2013 BSA decision to accept openly gay youth as scouts:

Bondings 2.0: National Catholic Committee on Scouting Supports Boy Scouts’ Inclusive Policy

Bondings 2.0: National Committee and Local Dioceses Begin to React Boy Scouts’ Decision

Bondings 2.0: Boy Scouts Inclusivity Could Signal End of Catholic Scouting

 

 

 


Bishops Down Under Offer Over-the-Top Rhetoric as Marriage Equality Approaches

July 28, 2015

Australia’s marriage equality campaign logo

Australia’s political leaders are slowly moving towards marriage equality, prompted by successful developments in Ireland and the United States. The political movement has prompted aggressive action from the nation’s Catholic bishops.

Brisbane’s Archbishop Mark Coleridge attacked marriage equality proponents in a piece for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, saying there is “violence” in alleged attempts to discredit and silence those who oppose equality.

Using the language of “same-sex attracted,” Coleridge argued that civil equality already existed, and the push for marriage rights is pure ideology. He called it “a dramatic form of the Western myth of progress which the facts of history have never confirmed,” reported The Tablet.

Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher used equally harsh language during a Marriage Mass, reported The Catholic Herald. His told those in attendance that LGBT advocates:

“…are determined to silence any alternative to the politically correct position in this matter; to bully us all into accepting the deconstruction and redefinition of a fundamental institution; and to relegate questions of what marriage is and is for as secondary to an homogenising ‘equality.’ “

The Archdiocese of Sydney also criticized those responsible for a full-page pro-marriage equality ad published in June, questioning whether corporations should be involved in the debate at all. In a letter sent to the ad’s more than 150 corporate supporters, the archdiocesan business manager Michael Digges claims they “are publicly supporting a strategic, political and well-funded campaign” to change Australian marriage law.

Elsewhere, Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart, who distributed an anti-marriage equality pamphlet by sending it home  with students in Australia’s Catholic schools, has admitted it has not been well received.

That is an understatement given the concerns expressed by many when it was first announced that the bishops were using schoolchildren as young as 6 or 7 for the anti-equality campaign. Rodney Croome, director of Australian Marriage Equality, condemned making these children “couriers of prejudice,” urging parents to report the material to the Office of Anti-Discrimination Commissioner. One letter to the archbishop claims a formal complaint was filed, reported The Australian, and the Office does not deny this.

Still, Porteous defended the “Don’t Mess with Marriage” pamphlet as a “positive contribution” and part of his duties as bishop in teaching the faith, reports SBS.

A former teacher in Melbourne also wrote recently about Archbishop Denis Hart’s 2007 refusal to implement Jesuit Social Services’ Not So Straight report, “aimed at helping teachers respond to the needs of gay teens in Catholic schools. Michael Kelly wrote in The Age:

“I wonder how many students in Catholic schools have spent anguished hours coping with abuse and bullying, how many have secretly hated themselves, how many have attempted suicide since Hart buried that report in 2007. . .The Jesuits’ programs would not have solved everything, but they would have shown a church, and a hierarchy, that cared more for the mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health of young people than for rigid doctrinal purity.”

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

The Australian bishops should follow the lead and example of one of their own brethren, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, retired Auxiliary from Sydney, who has spoken rationally and compassionately on the need for the hierarchy to reform Catholic sexual ethics in such a way that allows for the equality of lesbian and gay relationships.

Politically, Australian legislators will introduce a cross-party bill equalizing marriage rights in August. This has a fairly good chance of passage, though it is uncertain. Either way the bishops need to shift course towards a more pastoral and reconciliatory approach.

Australia’s bishops should start putting the best interests of young people, and all Australians, before their campaign against LGBT legal rights. The heavy-handed and hyperbolic strategies of previous papacies must be put to rest, and the only overreactions now acceptable are unconditioned displays of love to those the church has harmed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Ireland’s Top Bishop Meets with Gay Advocates, Withdraws Marriage Boycott Threat

July 27, 2015

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh

Ireland’s leading archbishop met with faith-based LGBT advocates last week, with the focus of the discussing being on his participation at the Synod of Bishops this fall, and keeping Ireland’s marriage referendum clearly as a backdrop for the conversation.

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the Primate of Ireland, met with representatives from Faith in Marriage Equality (an ecumenical group) and We Are Church (a Roman Catholic church reform group) organizations at his residence last Wednesday. The meeting was requested by the groups before the May referendum in which equal marriage was approved by nearly two-thirds of Irish voters.

At the October synod in Rome, Martin will represent the Irish church alongside Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. The LGBT advocates at the meeting with Eamon Martin asked him to raise the pastoral care of gay and lesbian persons, sharing some of their own stories which were well received.

Brendan Butler of We Are the Church, a Catholic reform organization, highlighted the harm the church’s language inflicts on LGBT people.  He singled out for particular mention, the language in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1986 letter, which described a homosexual orientation as “an objective disorder and ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil.”   Butler stated:

“If the Catholic Church is to regain credibility not only with the gay and lesbian community but also with the wider Catholic community then existing Catholic teaching needs to change.”

Jim O’Crowley, a gay Catholic, also shared stories in the meeting, following up on a booklet, “To Have and To Hold: Stories and Reflections of LGBT People, Their Families, and Friends,” the archbishop was sent. According to Irish Central, Martin said “he found it helpful to read this book and also to listen to accounts by gay Catholics.”

Faith in Marriage Equality’s Richard O’Leary affirmed the meeting as a “positive step to open dialogue,” building upon Diarmuid Martin’s call for a “reality check” by church leaders in the wake of Ireland’s referendum. O’Leary added:

“We were positively received by Archbishop Martin who said he was committed to continuing dialogue and that he was particularly concerned about the pastoral care of gay persons.”

Martin’s record is increasingly positive on LGBT issues. He publicly criticized Cardinal Raymond Burke’s characterization of the Irish as “worse than pagans” for voting for marriage equality, saying he “wouldn’t use that language.” Preceding the vote, his record was more mixed having said religious liberty was being threatened but also publicly critiquing a fellow bishop who compared homosexuality to Down’s Syndrome.

In addition, the Irish bishops had threatened that priests would no longer grant civil marriages if the referendum passed. Now, Archbishop Martin is second-guessing that stance, reported The Independent, saying church leaders would “monitor the situation to see if it’s possible for us to continue.”

The Association of Catholic Priest’s Fr. Gerry O’Connor said ending priests’ role in marriage was always a “false threat” used against voters. He noted that it would be deeply troubling to do so because it would curtail one of the church’s limited avenues with younger Catholics who comprise the majorities of weddings, while also being largely absent from churches otherwise.

After the Irish referendum in May, commentators from all quarters speculated about the impact the vote had and would continue to have on not only the Irish Church, but the Catholic Church globally.

Archbishop Martin’s meeting may be a first fruit, incarnating the culture of encounter called for repeatedly by Pope Francis but which is still too often denied to LGBT Catholics. Sharing stories and personal relationships have been instrumental in advancing equality, inside the church and out, and their importance will remain to keep shifting culture even as legal rights advance.

Let us pray that Archbishops Martin and Martin will listen attentively to the voices of Irish Catholics, bearing their desires for greater justice and inclusion to the synod in Rome for all the church to hear!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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