Pope Francis’ Remark About Children’s Book Raises Question of His Support for Lesbian and Gay Families

August 29, 2015

Pope Francis

Pope Francis is once again making headlines for a message which may have contained a positive comment on families headed by lesbian and gay couples.

The reason that the above sentence contains may is because, as has happened before, the pope’s comment is somewhat cryptic and open to interpretation, not to mention that the Vatican is downplaying any gay-positive intent.

Through a message by one of his staff members at the Vatican Secretariat of State, Msgr. Peter B. Wells, the pope sent a message of encouragement to an Italian author, Francesca Pardi, who recently penned a children’s book about families which has been controversial in Italy because some of its characters are gay penguins and lesbian rabbits youngsters.  Pardi sent the book, along with other books with gay and lesbian themes, to the Pontiff in June.

According to a news report in The Guardian, the significant part of the letter from the Vatican stated:

“His holiness is grateful for the thoughtful gesture and for the feelings which it evoked, hoping for an always more fruitful activity in the service of young generations and the spread of genuine human and Christian values.”

The book’s Italian cover. (translated: “Little Egg”)

While this may not seem to be a ringing endorsement of the book, entitled Piccolo Uovo (translation:  Little Egg), it is certainly a strong affirmation of Pardi and her work, which has been the center of a literary-political storm in Italy.  The Guardian story notes:

“The book. . .was met with disapproval by Venice’s new mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, who in June banned Piccolo Uovo and about 50 other titles from schools. The decision led more than 250 Italian authors to demand their own books be removed from the city’s shelves, a move one writer described as a ‘protest against an appalling gesture of censorship and ignorance.’ “

In fact, when Pardi sent the book to the pope, she included a letter describing the negative criticism that she received. Catholics are a large part of the “We Defend the Family Committee,” a nationwide group against lesbian and gay families,  which has been one of the leaders of the campaign against Pardi’s book. In part, she told the pope:

“Many parishes across the country are in this period sullying our name and telling falsehoods about our work which deeply offends us.We have respect for Catholics … A lot of Catholics give back the same respect, why can’t we have the whole hierarchy of the church behind us?”

So, while the pope did not make a direct statement about the lesbian and gay content of the book, he did take the position of affirming the book which has been embroiled in a public controversy, and one which involves Catholics.

The Guardian also reported that a Vatican official offered an explanation for the pope’s comment which indicates that it was not meant to be affirming of families headed by lesbian or gay parents:

“The Vatican said the closing blessing of the private letter was addressed to Pardi and not in support of teachings which went against church doctrine on ‘gender theory.’ “

Hmmmmm.  Sounds like a bit of hair-splitting to me.

Francesca Pardi

Pardi, herself has interpreted the message very positively, while also very realistically.  The Guardian reported:

“Pardi said she had not expected a reply and was surprised to receive the letter at her Milan home. ‘It’s not that I think that he’s for gay families, because there’s the Catholic doctrine, but we mustn’t think that we don’t have rights,’ she said.”

Pardi also told the International Business Times that she saw the blessing as an opening for greater dialogue:

” ‘I was very touched by it,’ Pardi told IBTimes UK. She explained that the letter was not supportive of gay rights but nevertheless marked an important change in the Church attitude towards homosexuals. ‘Obviously he [Francis] doesn’t agree with homosexuality and if he ever was to make such an opening he would never do so in a private letter to me!’ she said. ‘However, only to consider me as an interlocutor worth respect is a tremendous step forward. I read it as an opening towards people and dialogue, a message of tolerance.’ “

Because Italy does not have marriage equality or protections for lesbian parents with children, Pardi married her wife in Spain, and the couple had their four children in the Netherlands, according to Jezebel.com.

So how do we interpret this latest cryptic message from Francis? While I try to be cautious of over-interpreting his statements in a positive light, I can’t help but think that he, and his staff, have to know what they are doing and how the public will react to their comments.  He has had too many ambiguously positive LGBT statements over the past few years for this to be merely accidental.

At the same time, let’s not rush to assume that Pope Francis is supporting marriage equality.  His clear negative statements about legalizing marriage for lesbian and gay couples are a clear indication that he opposes such initiatives.

I think that Pope Francis is showing Catholics that they can interact politely with people with whom they disagree.  He is not presenting content to the debate, but modeling how the debate can take place. As I’ve said before, that, in itself is a step forward. I believe that once the debate about LGBT issues can occur civilly in the Church, then we are on our way to taking steps towards greater justice and equality.

As I’ve also said before, though, we have to recognize this phase as a first step, and not relax into complacency.  There is still much work to be done to achieve full equality of LGBT people in the Catholic Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

People: “Pope Francis Praises Author of Children’s Book That Includes Lesbian Rabbits and Gay Penguin Parents”

Huffington Post: Pope Francis Gives Blessing To Author Of Gay Children’s Book”

New York Daily News: “Pope Francis sends letter lauding LGBT-themed children’s book banned by Venice mayor”

A Plus: “Pope Francis Again Proves He’s A Revolutionary By Praising A Children’s Book Conservatives Hate”

Daily News Analysis India: “Breaking taboos: Pope Francis blesses lesbian children’s author who writes on same-sex families”

 

 

 


BREAKING NEWS: In Quick Victory, Catholic School Reverses Position in Firing of Lesbian Teacher

August 27, 2015

Lauren Brown

In a landmark decision for LGBT employees at Catholic institutions, St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon, has altered its employment policies to be more inclusive, in response to what was a growing backlash against administrators’ decision to withdraw an employment contract with a lesbian counselor, Lauren Brown. Bondings 2.0 reported on this incident earlier today and you can find more details here.

In a Wednesday night meeting of the school’s board, members voted to expand employment policies to welcome gay staff and administrators will attempt to reconcile with Brown, whose job offer was rescinded after she came out as a lesbian woman to school officials.

A statement on Facebook from St. Mary’s President Christina Friedoff said, in part:

“Effective immediately, St. Mary’s has added sexual orientation to its equal employment opportunity policy.

“St. Mary’s is a diverse community that welcomes and includes gay and lesbian students, faculty, alumnae, parents and friends, including those that are married.”

[New Ways Ministry’s official response to these decisions can be found by clicking here.]

Mounting pressure from students, alumni, and the local community triggered the board meeting, wherein the school reversed its position less than 48 hours after a previous letter from Friedoff defending the firing was sent. Yesterday, about twenty students protested at the school and others took to social media through the hashtag #FightForSMA to express their disapproval. Anna Lee, a senior, told The Oregonian:

“I was confused, then I started to get angry. . .There’s an unspoken rule of acceptance. The teachers make us feel safe, and we can confide anything.”

Another student, senior Katie Ferrarini, told KPTV that the decision to discriminate against Brown was “surprising” because their entire junior year religion class focused on social justice and it was made clear discrimination was unjust. Indeed, one alumna speaking to NewNowNext said:

“The irony is the school’s mission is so much about social justice. They trained us to fight this.”

Also worth noting is a critical statement from Tim Boyle, CEO of Columbia Sportswear, and his wife, Mary, a 1967 alumna of St. Mary’s who are among the school’s most generous benefactors. The Boyles were “extremely disappointed” and said the school’s decision “was wrong and should be reversed,” reported Willamette Weekly.

What happened at St. Mary’s Academy is a remarkable success, which has not happened in the more than 50 public incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their job in LGBT-related employment disputes. First, Lauren Brown refused to be silenced through a payout and was a credible witness for young women at St. Mary’s of living with authenticity and integrity. Now, community members came together as church, using their different leverage points to enact lasting positive change from a wounding injustice.

New Ways Ministry has been advocating for Catholic institutions to adopt non-discrimination policies like the one St. Mary’s Academy has.  Let’s pray that other schools, parishes, and church institutions will follow their example.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category 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


Dismissed Lesbian Educator Refuses Catholic School’s Monetary Offer

August 27, 2015

Lauren Brown

Update: The board of St. Mary’s Academy has changed the school’s employment policies as a result of this incident. For more details, see Bondings 2.0‘s updated coverage by clicking here.

A Catholic school in Oregon withdrew a job offer to a lesbian woman after finding out about her sexual orientation and relationship with a woman.  Additionally, according to documents released by the prospective educator, the school asked her to sign an agreement not to sue the institution and not to speak about the contract withdrawal.

Administrators at St. Mary’s Academy, an all-girls high school in downtown Portland, informed Lauren Brown they would not be honoring the contract they agreed upon in April,  and they offered her a year’s compensation if she would agree not to file legal action against the school and also to remain silent about the contract’s withdrawal. Brown rejected the hush money, telling Willamette Weekly:

“To sign a contract that’s going to affect the rest of my life, and my passion for advocating for LGBT youth and LGBT people—there’s no way I could sign that. . .I could never live with myself.”

You can read the documents Brown released by clicking here.

Other details about the incident are in dispute. Brown claims that in July she informed Principal Kelli Clarke about her relationship with a woman:

“Brown says she asked Clark in that phone call what she should say in her [staff] biography, since she has a girlfriend. Brown also asked: Would she be allowed to bring her girlfriend to school events? What if she got married? She says Clark told her that was uncharted territory, but that Clark would support her. 

“Brown says Clark called back July 30 with a different message: ‘It may not work out.’ . . .

“Brown met with Clark and [school president Christina] Friedhoff at St. Mary’s on Aug. 4. She says the meeting lasted more than three hours, with both women pressuring her to sign a separation agreement that offered her six months’ salary in return for a promise not to sue the school or talk about why she lost the job.”

That agreement even dictated, verbatim, what Brown could post to social media about the firing and mandated that she reply to inquiries by saying, “I learned that my intent to enter into a same-sex marriage is in conflict with the teachings of the Catholic church.”

A St. Mary’s lawyer tells a different story. The school claims Brown notified them of her upcoming marriage in the fall and the school sought the separation agreement to explicitly identify her “intent to enter a same-sex marriage” as the reason. That language for social media and inquiries was requested by Brown, says the school.

In a letter to the community, Friedhoff stated that the school’s sponsoring congregation, the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, as well as the board, support the school’s decision.  Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample also expressed support for the administration with his own statement, reported on in The Oregonian.

Brown said that she rejected the money so St. Mary’s students, some of whom, assuredly, would be part of the LGBT community, would “not be ashamed of who they are” and to point out that even in Portland there is discrimination.

Statue on campus decorated in protest by current students

Brown has hired an attorney and is considering her legal options, but as with many recent firings in the U.S. there is already a growing public support for her situation. Jeanna Frazzini of Basic Rights Oregon said this support is to be expected because Catholic education imbued so many with a sense of justice and inclusion:

“Some of my dearest colleagues in social justice came out of St. Mary’s. . .When folks at the school hear about what’s happening, they’ll be concerned—and they’ll want to see significant changes.”

Students, alumni, and Portlanders are uniting on Twitter around the hashtag #FightForSMA and decorated a campus statue in rainbow garb to protest the firing. More action may emerge as classes resume next week.

Back to school was always an exciting time for me, as was the end of school. This excitement has been tempered in the last few years because these times now mean an uptick in educators and church workers losing their jobs in LGBT-related disputes. Lauren Brown could have greatly contributed to St. Mary’s Academy, a self-described “diverse community,” in her position as college counselor.

Instead, students will only know Brown as the victim of administrators who are putting the letter of the church’s law over any concern for social justice. What a sad lesson to begin a new school year on.

Thankfully, Brown is teaching these young women a far more essential lesson about not comprising your identity or integrity.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category 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


New Location and New Opinions on LGBT Catholic Events in Philadelphia

August 26, 2015

An important location update about the eviction from a Philadelphia Catholic parish of New Ways Ministry’s gender identity workshop and Equally Blessed’s World Meeting of Families programs, which we reported on last week, is included in the middle of this blog post.

News of the evictions of New Ways Ministry’s gender identity workshop and Equally Blessed’s World Meeting of Families programs being evicted from a Philadelphia Catholic parish spread around the country last week. (You can see a selection of links to various news outlets reporting on the issue at the end of this post.) During all the conversations that I had about the evictions with various people, three thoughts came to mind that put these actions into various ironic perspectives.

DSC_0223 (1)

New Ways Ministry pilgrims pose in St. Peter’s Square following the Ash Wednesday 2015 papal audience where they received VIP seating.

The first occurred when I was sending a reporter a photograph of New Ways Ministry that she saw on our Facebook page and wanted to use.  It was a photo of New Ways Ministry pilgrims proudly holding our organization’s banner in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City (see photo at right).  The occasion was Ash Wednesday, 2015, the day that our pilgrimage group was seated in VIP seats we received from the Vatican for the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square.

As I looked at the photograph, a thought dawned on me:  “The Vatican gave us VIP seats for a papal audience and yet now we are being evicted from a Catholic parish in Philadelphia. Something is wrong here.”

Was the Vatican’s example of welcome not enough for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to follow?

The second irony came when I was talking to a reporter and explaining that Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, was born and raised in Philadelphia, and that it was in that city where here ministry to the LGBT community began back in 1971, over 44 years ago.

I thought: “How sad that our church has changed so radically in the past 44 years!  How sad that someone with such strong roots in the Catholic world of this city can now have her ministry so unceremoniously evicted.”

Fortunately, all the programs-affected by the eviction–New Ways Ministry’s gender identity workshop and Equally Blessed’s World Meeting of Families projects–have now been re-located to Arch Street United Methodist Church,  55 North Front Street,  Phialdelphia 19107, and the same schedule of dates and times remains intact.

A third irony is that these events, which had not been well-known beforehand, have now received national attention and very strong local attention in the Philadelphia area.  More people now know about these programs than we would have been able to reach with our limited advertising means.  God certainly does work in mysterious ways.

Kelly Stewart

In a column in The National Catholic Reporter Kelly Stewart commented about the idea behind this third irony.  She stated:

“[T]here is a danger in talking about the ‘opportunities’ afforded by exclusion. I do not mean to minimize the seriousness of institutional homophobia or to suggest that progressive Catholics search for ‘silver linings’ in the grim picture that is the WMOF 2015 event agenda. My point is that, even when they have been barred from participation in the meeting or forced to relocate from Catholic to Protestant churches, LGBT Catholic groups have still helped shape conversations about family, sexuality, and gender identity in valuable ways.”

Stewart’s main purpose in her column raises a more important question:

“To the extent that the WMOF [World Meeting of Families] is a forum for discussing the lives of Catholic families, LGBT families should, of course, be able to participate fully. But to the extent that the WMOF is a rally to defend the patriarchal ideal of family against the specters of feminism and homosexuality, LGBT Catholics might want to consider embracing their outsider status. . . .

“The WMOF is . . .dedicated to defending the privileged status of a narrow, patriarchal ideal of family against the outside ‘threats’ of feminist and LGBT theology and politics. LGBT Catholics and the people who care about them should consider embracing their position as outsiders — and the possibilities that position holds for building more just, respectful, and equitable models of relationships.”

James-Rowe cropped

James Rowe

In a blog post on Believe Out Loud, James Rowe takes a different perspective on the World Meeting of Families and the recent eviction of LGBT groups from a Catholic parish.  He stated:

“. . . [C]ontrary to how the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Archbishop Chaput himself have chosen to treat the LGBT Catholic community thus far, I can take comfort and pride in the fact that my LGBT Catholic colleagues and their families are still going to Philadelphia in September, whether Archbishop Chaput wants us there or not.

“And when we arrive in Philly, we will continue to place value on the entire Catholic family, whether Archbishop Chaput wishes to recognize us as his Catholic brothers and sisters or not.

“And when we arrive in Philly, we will talk about how we can help the Catholic Church and even Archbishop Chaput himself become the Church and its people that Jesus truly intended them to be, whether Archbishop Chaput wants to listen to us or not.”

Jim Smith portrait

Jim Smith

Jim Smith, Associate Director of DignityUSA, wrote a blog post for the National Catholic Reporter commented on the value of having LGBT families at the WMF.  Writing as a representative of the Equally Blessed coalition, Smith compared these families to the woman in Scripture (Luke 7:36-50) who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair, while religious leaders look on and condemn her:

“In just a few weeks, throngs of Catholics will enter the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. These people will bring the same tears of love and faith brought to Jesus so many years ago. Fourteen families from our Equally Blessed coalition will be among them: parents of transgender or gay children who have been challenged over thousands of days and nights to love those kids unconditionally, who know viscerally what it means, in the words of the prophet Micah, ‘to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly’ in their parental roles; gay couples with children who live by the promise to raise those children ‘according to the love of Christ’; transgender, intersex and gay persons themselves who are coming through a fire of marginalized existence into the freedom of God’s beloved, finally knowing their ;sin; is not who they are and whom they love, but what chases us all — greed, fear, hate, hubris.”

One thing is for sure:  the World Meeting of Families is going to be an important moment in U.S. Catholic history and in the discussion of LGBT issues in the Catholic Church.

You can read more information and register for New Ways Ministry’s workshop, “Transforming Love:  Gender Identity from Catholic Perspectives,”  by clicking here and downloading a PDF of the brochure.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Philly.com:  “LGBT groups are told: Can’t use church space for events during World Meeting”

Reuters: “Philadelphia archdiocese cancels LGBT program ahead of pope visit”

Crux: “Gender identity workshop booted from Catholic parish in Philly”

Advocate.com: “Philadelphia Catholic Parish Reneges on Hosting LGBT Events”

Religion Dispateches: “Archbishop Boots LGBT Catholics From Philly Church”

National Catholic Reporter: “LGBT groups criticize decision to eject them from church near World Meeting event”

Newsworks.org: “When Philly Catholic church closes door to gay and lesbian event, coalition finds sanctuary with Methodists”

Huffington Post: “LGBT Group Rejected By Philadelphia Archdiocese Won’t Back Down”

Washington Post: “LGBT equality groups getting shut out of Pope Francis meeting in Philadelphia”

Christian Today: “What’s actually happening with LGBT Catholics in Philadelphia?”

NJ.com: “Ahead of papal visit, LGBT workshop cancelled by Philadelphia parish”


Chicago Archbishop: ‘We Must Be Open to New Avenues & Creativity When It Comes to Families’

August 25, 2015

Archbishop Blase Cupich

Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich called for the church to improve its welcome of non-traditional families in his homily last Sunday, offering a beautiful reflection as the church prepares for October’s Synod of Bishops to discuss marriage and family issues.

Preaching on Ephesians 5, a troubling text given its exhortation that “wives be submissive to your husbands,” Cupich said the text is actually quite subversive because it exhorts that husbands to be subordinate to their wives as well. This mutual submission between spouses is a teaching the early Church “would have found quite astonishing, if not revolutionary.” The archbishop explained:

“Christ was doing something utterly new in the human family, changing how people understand their relationships with each other as family. With the upcoming synod, it is clear that the Holy Father is calling the Church to examine our categories of expression about what we believe and be open to new avenues and creativity when it comes to accompanying families. All of this has much to say to us in Chicago, that we not settle for solutions that no longer work, expressions that no longer inspire and ways of working that stifle creativity and collaboration.”

Though Cupich did not mention families with LGBT members, it is not a stretch to see how this message clearly applies to their situations.

Cupich was preaching in Holy Name Cathedral the at Mass for Investment of the Pallium. where Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Viganó presented the Chicago archbishop with the pallium, a small woolen stole worn metropolitan archbishops to signify their unity with the papacy. This pallium Mass was the first in a new model of investiture instituted by Pope Francis whereby archbishops receive the vestment in their local archdiocese rather than in Rome, reported Michael O’Loughlin of Crux. This is part of Pope Francis’ attempts to decentralize church power and affirm local communities’ participation.

Much of the homily centered around the papacy however, presenting messages of Pope Francis by citing both Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si. In my view, what Cupich was really doing was calling the archdiocese to be a truly catholic church that is “home for all” where all are welcome. Citing Pope John XXIII, the archbishop told those at Mass:

“He called the entire Church to a fresh appreciation of the ancient teaching of the medicine of mercy in an era when many in the Church preferred the narrow path of severity and condemnation. . .It is the pope’s ministry that draws us out of a narrow provincial view that reduces our experience of Church to just what is happening in my parish, my diocese, my country. . . .[The pope in his travels] introduces us to our brothers and sisters in places we never visited, reminding us of what it means to be Catholic, a Church whose universality must be reflected in every particular Church.”

Cupich’s words are worth noting not only for the message given to the congregation gathered, including twenty bishops, but for their broader significance given this church leader’s rising significance. He was Pope Francis’ first major episcopal appointment in the United States, coming with a largely positive record on LGBT issues that was further confirmed when he said last yearon CBS’ “Face the Nation” program that all families deserve legal protection

Yet, Cupich’s remarks are forward looking because he is expected to be appointed a special delegate to the Synod and his weight as a voice in the American Church will only grow.

His comments starkly contrast with those of some of his peers. This is especially true in Illinois, where Bishop Thomas Paprocki, who once held an exorcism against marriage equality, recently announced a restrictive new policy of Catholic school admission which casts a supsicious eye on lesbian and gay parents,  and where a priest of the Diocese of Peoria mailed his entire town an anti-gay letter paid for with church funds.

As for the October synod, Pope Francis is hoping for a miracle, and his appointments are raising the stakes that something positive for LGBT families might just happen. Judging from Cupich’s words, he is open to the Spirit’s guidance and to new ways of accompanying families. He commented on the Risen Christ “always doing something new” before quoting Evangelii Gaudium:

“Jesus can always break through the dull categories with which we would enclose him, and he constantly amazes us with his divine creativity. . .[to the point that] new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs, and words with new meaning for today’s world.”

New paths and more eloquent signs are desperately needed when it comes to the church’s response for non-traditional families, like those with LGBT members or led by same-gender couples. Let’s hope more bishops share Cupich’s desire for mercy and creativity in the coming weeks.

To read Archbishop Cupich’s fully homily, which I highly recommend, click here.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the 2015 Synod on the Family, click here. To receive regular updates in the coming months on the Synod and ALL Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to the blog (for free) by typing your email address in the “Follow” box in the upper right-hand corner of this page, and then click the “Follow” button.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Springfield Diocese Sets Restrictive Expectations for Parents of Catholic School Children

August 24, 2015

A same-gender couple’s attempt to register their child in a Catholic school in the diocese of Springfield, Illinois, has resulted in a new diocesan policy which, according to a local newspaper account “could call into question parents’ lifestyles, especially if they go against Catholic teaching, and takes a new approach toward a more Protestant tradition of tithing.”

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Springfield’s State Journal-Register reported this past weekend that Bishop Thomas Paprocki sent a letter to local pastors and principals on July 20th, informing them of the new “Family School Agreement” which would require non-Catholic families to attend Sunday Mass and contribute financially.  According to the news report, the Agreement also stipulates the following for all parents, Catholic and non-Catholic:

“. . . the expectation that parents, adoptive parents or legal guardians of children enrolled in Catholic schools meet with their parish pastor if they are ‘not living in accord with church teaching.’

“That would take in persons who are divorced and remarried but haven’t been granted an annulment, unmarried couples living together, and people who are in same-sex marriages or partnerships.”

The newspaper said it obtained a copy of Paprocki’s letter, which mentioned that it was the case of a same-sex couple attempting to register their child in the spring was one of the reasons for instituting this policy.  In 2013, Paprocki made headlines for conducting an exorcism on the same day that the governor of Illionois signed marriage equality into law.

In terms of tithing, the newspaper reported the following details about the Agreement:

“The discipleship and stewardship components of the Family School Agreement mandate that the entire family, even if some members aren’t Catholic, participate in weekly Mass and on holy days of obligation, and it ‘obliges’ families to try to tithe at least 8 percent of their income to the parish church in addition to paying school tuition.”

Jonathan Sullivan, the diocesan director of catechetical services, which is responsible for overseeing the schools, acknowledged that 8% is an “aspirational” figure.  He also said that the Agreement might be revised for the following year.  The agreeement was modeled on a similar one in the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas.

An anonymous source who attended an August 7th diocesan meeting of pastors and principals said that objections were raised to the tone and substance of the Agreement.  Some schools have not required parents to sign the Agreement.  No pastor or principal was willing to speak with the reporter, however.

The penalty for not adhering to the Agreement can be severe, according to the newspaper:

“Parents and students who actively promote ‘a moral or doctrinal position contrary to Catholic teaching’— supporting ordination of women priests, for instance — would be considered in violation of the Family School Agreement. The agreement says that could lead to the expulsion of the student.”

John Freml

John Freml, who is a graduate of Springfield Catholic schools and serves as the coordinator for the Equally Blessed coalition and a local Call To Action chapter, offered a pastoral critique of the new policies:

” ‘What parents in their right minds would idly sit by while a religion teacher is forced to tell their children that something is wrong with their family?’ . . . This is not the kind of church that Pope Francis has called for, and Paprocki should reread what the pope has said about how the church should treat children of same-sex parents.”

Though Sullivan said that the diocese “isn’t trying to coerce people” to convert to Catholicism, the new policy will most likely be felt that way by many parents.  It will encourage the saddest and lowest form of “religious” behavior: going through the motions without an internal assent.

The new policy seems in line with a philosophy that Paprocki expressed in defending his exorcism, referenced above. In an interview in 2014 he stated:

“. . . [S]ometimes, like any good parent will tell you, that sometimes you have to discipline your child, sometimes you have to say no. And sometimes, you even have to punish.

“And when a parent does those things, they’re not being hateful towards their children, they’re actually being very loving by correcting them and showing them the right way to do things.”

In a sense, the new policy is setting up requirements for what people have to do to receive the Church’s ministry. That is not a Catholic thing to do.  Catholic schools around the nation and the globe educate millions of non-Catholic students, as well as millions of Catholic students whose parents may disagree with the magisterium of the Church. Setting up a requirement for what people have to do to receive services from the Church goes counter to what millions of Catholics around the world are doing.  Catholic education should be an expression of the Church’s desire to serve the world, not a reward for going through pro forma steps.

According to the Springfield diocese, school enrollment there has been decreasing.  This new policy will surely speed up that decrease, as parents will choose other alternatives that respect their human dignity and individual consciences–two principles of Catholic teaching which the schools should be demonstrating.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Illinois Priest Sends Entire Town Anti-Gay Letter, Calls it a “Public Service”

August 23, 2015

Fr. Timothy Sauppé’s letter

Thousands of Illinois residents received an unsolicited public notice about the “homosexual culture war” from a Peoria diocesan priest earlier this month, but Fr. Timothy Sauppé is refusing to apologize for his action and words, as criticism in his community grows.

The August 11th letter sent to all addresses in the 61883 ZIP code (Westville, IL) opened with the following:

“I am Fr. Sauppé, pastor of St Mary’s Catholic Church & the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! The US Supreme Court has issued a new ‘civil right’ recognizing same-sexed ‘marriages.'”

The referenced parish is St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Westville, and the letter continued by attacking same-sex relationships, reported Commercial-News.

When contacted by the press, the priest defended his letter, written “to evangelize and to protect St. Mary’s Catholic Church from future attack” according to the parish website. Sauppé told Commercial-News:

“As pastor, I’m not only over Catholics, but I’m over everyone within my parish boundaries and a lot of those people don’t know about the other side to this issue.

“So I was doing a public service to them by explaining that we have a constitutional right not to condone [same-sex marriage].”

He further denied claims the letter was political and said anyone objecting to his actions is a “religious bigot.”

The letter’s reverse side advertised local events with several organizations listed as cosponsors, though these groups deny any affiliation. Westville Lions Club president Darren VanDuyn told reporters:

“I was furious because we are a diverse group of people and I didn’t want to be tied to this belief that we don’t all share this opinion of. . .I know a lot of good people from St. Mary’s and Sauppé’s opinions just don’t represent the church as a whole. . .This is the action of one individual. Throw the flyer away and be done with it.”

While throwing the flyer away is a good first step, this is not Fr. Sauppé’s first, and, unless he is stopped, likely not last inappropriate act when it comes to homosexuality.

Fr. Sauppé

In a homily shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling last June, the priest claimed “they will come after the Catholic Church” by challenging churches’ tax exempt status and by forcing ministers to perform same-gender weddings.

In a post on the parish website, “Identifying & Preparing For The Homosexualist Agenda,” he said marriage equality’s expansion is linked to a new age of persecution that will “tear at the Mystical Body of Christ, as surely as did the Roman flagellum, thorns, and nails on the historic body of Christ.”

Fr. Sauppé’s tirades are not limited to opposing LGBT equality. He made headlines in 2013 with the claim that couples’ use of contraception had put the parochial school out of existence. Glancing at the parish website and a quick Google search clearly shows he holds extremist views on many topics.

The Diocese of Peoria, in which Westville is located, has at least one previous precedent of extremist Catholic rhetoric. In 2012, Bishop Daniel Jenky compared President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, causing some to question whether he broke election laws.

Regardless of what Sauppé says, his actions are neither a public service nor evangelical. They are precisely the opposite, and they stymie the well-being of both civil society and the church.  Sauppé owes the people of Westville a profound apology for using church funds to mail anti-gay materials to their homes and businesses. Otherwise, he is simply doing the church a great disservice by fostering prejudice and fear.

To reconcile with the community after apologizing, he could educate himself like reading what some of the People of God would say to Pope Francis about LGBT issues, which have a lot more to do with love and inclusion than condemnation. He could take the further step of meeting with local LGBT people and their families, including Catholics, and follow Pope Francis’ lead in trying to create a church that is “home for all” at the Westville parish.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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