Review of S.F. Teachers’ Handbook Brings Out Hope and Confusion

February 26, 2015

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Cautious optimism and a fair dose of confusion seem to be the effects of an announcement by the Archdiocese of San Francisco that its revisions to the high school teachers’ handbook will be reviewed and refined by a committee of theology teachers from the schools.  Earlier this month, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone proposed a long list of loyalty oaths, primarily focusing on areas of church teaching regarding sexuality (including LGBT issues), be added to the publication.  A number of protests by teachers, parents, and students have erupted.

The news of the new review committee brought out a statement of guarded hope from a spokesperson from parents who opposed the revisions.  Crux reported:

“Publicist Sam Singer, who is representing parents and alumni of San Francisco Catholic schools as they try to counter the proposed dictates, said the archbishop’s statements were welcome news.

“ ‘The proof is in the pudding, so we’ll have to take a look at what the archbishop comes back with,’ Singer said. ‘But this is certainly a step in the right direction, and is welcomed by many of the parents, teachers and alumni. But there is still much work to be done.’ ”

But a certain amount of confusion about what Archbishop Cordileone wants this committee to do also exists.

SFGate.com reported:

“Under pressure from parents, students and staffers at the San Francisco Catholic Archdiocese’s schools, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said Tuesday that he is re-examining strict guidelines he proposed for teachers that would require them to reject homosexuality, use of contraception and other ‘evil’ behavior.”

Yet a statement from Fr. John Piderit, Archdiocesan Vicar for Administration and Moderator of the Curia, indicated that the committee would be doing much less than re-examining:

“The Archbishop has not repealed anything.  He is adding explanations, clarifications, and material on Catholic social teaching, via a committee of religion teachers he is establishing.  The committee is to expand some areas of the material to be included in the faculty handbook, and clarify other areas by adding material.  Nothing already planned to go in is being removed or retracted or withdrawn.”

Crux reported that Cordileone is asking the committee to “recommend to me an expanded draft” and “adjust the language to make the statements more readily understandable to a wider leadership.”

One critical area that does seem to indicate some change from Cordileone is in regard to his proposal that teachers be classified as “ministers.”   Such a classification would exempt them from labor law protection.   The statement from Fr. Piderit indicates that there will be a revision in this language:

“With respect to the use of the word ‘ministers,’ the Archbishop only said that ‘ministers’ is no longer being considered. That is all the Archbishop said.  The word currently being used is ‘ministry.’ Nonetheless, the Archbishop did say that he would work hard to find language that satisfies two needs.  One is the need to protect the rights of the teachers in the Catholic high schools to have complaints fairly treated.  The other is the right of the Archdiocese to run Catholic schools that are faithful to their mission.  Language must be identified that meets both needs.  Even if a substitute for ‘ministry’ is found, the substitute must guarantee that the teachers in the Catholic archdiocesan high schools promote the Catholic mission of the institutions.”

A letter Cordileone sent to teachers explaining the formation of the committee was published in Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper.  In one section he encourages their participation in the process and thanks them for their concern:

“. . . [A]fter speaking with your union negotiators, I have decided to form a committee consisting of theology teachers from the four Archdiocesan high schools to recommend to me a draft which, while retaining what is already there, expands on these statements and adjusts the language to make the statements more readily understandable to a wider readership. I will also leave to their discretion how to include the proper wider context within which to understand these points of doctrine. . . . Each of you may approach them with your thoughts, concerns and suggestions which they can then take under consideration as they prepare their draft. It is my hope that this can all be completed prior to the beginning of the next academic year.

“After my address to you on February 6, a number of you spoke to me seeking advice on how to effectively present the Church’s teaching in a compassionate and compelling way to your students who may be struggling in these areas and perhaps even feeling rejected or unwelcomed by the Church because of them. I was moved by your sincerity and commitment. Please know that I have already begun to look into resources that we can make available to you to assist you in this most important work.”

As Sam Singer, who was quoted at the beginning of this post, said, “The proof is in the pudding.”  The committee’s recommendations may or may not be able to change the material in the handbook which many find damaging.  The language that is developed to describe a teacher’s “ministry” will need to be parsed by theologically and legally to see what the ramifications in both areas are.

Cordileone’s charge to the committee is a narrow one.  The archdiocesan statement and his letter indicate that the substance will not change. How the committee responds to its charge will be critical in determining the next step of this controversy.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

National Catholic Reporter: “Controversial San Francisco handbook to be reviewed, expanded by theology teacher committee”

 


New Marianist Booklet Helps Catholic Educators Discuss LGBT Issues with Youth

February 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Students’ Resistance to Archbishop Cordileone Exemplifies Best of Catholic Education

February 24, 2015

Students lead vigilers in song and silence on Ash Wednesday

In San Francisco, hundreds of Catholics gathered on Ash Wednesday to protest the morality clauses for school teachers that the archdiocese has added recently. Singing and praying outside St. Mary’s Cathedral, the group held a candlelight vigil after sunset.

Students led this second major rally, organizing under the hashtag #TeachAcceptance, and were joined by parents, church workers, concerned Catholics, local teachers’ unions, and others.

Bay Area Catholics and their allies are persisting in their demands for justice following the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s announcement of new morality clauses in teaching contracts  that prohibit, among other items, public support of LGBT people.

Bondings 2.0‘s previous coverage of the new clause is available here.

One of the latest rally’s organizers, high school senior Mairead Ahlbach, told the National Catholic Reporter that students were:

” ‘learning and living the Catholic values of acceptance and love…We hope the archbishop hears this. [Jesus] would be here next to us.’ “

During intercessions, other students prayed for teachers, parents, those who are marginalized, and an openness of heart for Archbishop Cordileone. 14-year-old Hannan Regan told The Huffington Post:

” ‘The message we’re trying to get across is that we support all of our teachers, no matter their gender, sexuality, religion or race…The majority of students are very concerned about our teachers and all we want to do is show our love and support.’ “

Parents echoed those sentiments, including Vincent Campasano, a married gay man with a son in one of the affected Catholic high schools, who said the clause instills a “sense of fear.” He continued:

” ‘We object to this type of language. We are afraid we are going to lose teachers, good teachers, some of the best in the world, because of that fear that I mentioned earlier.’ “

Students rallying for #TeachAcceptance

Teachers and parents expressed concern for students when these new policies are implemented, especially LGBT youth. Veteran teacher Jim McGarry, who taught in area Catholic schools for over 25 years, said the archbishop’s decision may force LGBT youth to remain closeted and doubt their dignity and worth:

“At the same time, McGarry said he believes the vast majority of students ‘cannot and will not turn their backs’ on their gay peers. Students are very aware of the violence to which their LGBT friends can be exposed, he said, and many ‘have seen gay friends of theirs beaten up.’

” ‘The church needs to be “putting its arms around, providing extra layers of protection’ for the gay community, not turning its backs on them as he feels the new handbook statements could encourage, he said.”

Local clergy have privately and publicly questioned the wisdom of this new morality clauses as well. Fr. David Ghiorso said to the National Catholic Reporter:

” ‘This is a wonderful church in the archdiocese…[but] I struggle with understanding what is transpiring…We can be so much better than what is happening presently in this local church.’ “

The action on Ash Wednesday follows a previous rally of more than 200 people at the cathedral. Bay Area Catholics are promising more actions in coming weeks. A online petition has gathered more than 6,300 signatures. You can sign it here.

Archbishop Cordileone added to the already tense controversy in his response to a letter from Bay Area lawmakers who asked the archbishop to remove the morality clauses which they called “discriminatory and divisive.” According to Crux, The eight state legislators represent in those areas where Catholic schools will be affected. In his response, Cordileone defended the right to fire church workers by asking legislators:

” ‘Would you hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those you stand for, and who shows disrespect for you and the Democratic Party in general?’ “

The National Catholic Reporter  added that the archbishop claimed the legislators’ view was a misunderstanding.

Cordileone’s explanation only fanned the flames, however, according to SF Gate columnist C.W. Nevius:

“Here’s the concern the teachers have. What if a high school student comes to one of them in confidence and says he or she is having questions about their sexuality. That they think they may be gay and are worried about how to handle it in their life.

“What should the teacher say, that homosexuality is a mortal sin? That they must never think of a lasting, loving relationship? That marriage is out of the question? Because that’s Cordileone’s party line.

“And if the teacher should cave in and counsel the student with some actual sympathetic advice, tell him or her that it may be difficult but a normal part of human existence, what would the consequence be? Because it sounds, from Cordileone’s letter, that the teacher would be fired.”

Further actions on this controversy are coming from organized labor. They are concerned about Archbishop Cordileone’s suggestion that educators in Catholic schools would be designated as “ministers” and deprived of employment non-discrimination rights.

Cordileone addressed the San Francisco Archdiocesan Federation of Teachers Local 2240 in early February, but according to the National Catholic Reporter few faculty members were appeased. Union representatives are presently in contract negotiations and though the archbishop signaled he was flexible on the ministerial designation, no positive steps have been announced in the weeks since.

The California Federation of Teachers expressed its support for the local union and concern for the archbishop’s actions in a February 13th statement, saying the autonomy of religious institutions should be respected but “those views must be questioned and confronted when they fundamentally violate the constitutional rights of individuals who work in these schools.”

At the same time as the debate about the new morality clause intensifies, a related controversy shows the potential impact new teaching contracts could have. Elementary students at The Star of the Sea School received an examination of conscience pamphlet from the parish’s priest (the same priest who made headlines for banning female altar servers) asking them about their sexuality, including topics like masturbation, sodomy, and sterilization.  Many students, no older than 10 or 11, were mystified. Columnist C.W. Nevius connected this bizarre incident with the teaching contracts:

“And [Cordileone] doesn’t think that has a chilling effect on the teachers? Or that when teachers at Star of the Sea, a Catholic school in the Richmond, had grave reservations about a pamphlet including some questions about sex that was given to students they supposed to keep silent and let students read a document that was clearly inappropriate?…

“The fact is the teachers were right about that pamphlet in the first place. And they shouldn’t have to check their conscience at the door when counseling students — even (gasp!) if some of them turn out to be gay. It’s unfair, unethical and a misrepresentation of a religion that celebrates a loving, accepting God.”

Archbishop Cordileone’s decision to scrutinize church workers’ lives according to a narrow understanding of Catholic identity and Christian faith is deeply troubling and an unfortunate move for the archdiocese. However, the witness of students and teachers to resist discrimination and exclusion is a clear indication that the church–the People of God–are far more adherent to the Gospel and willing to struggle for LGBT justice.

To lend your support, connect with the #TeachAcceptance movement on Facebook, Twitter, or the online petition. You can also sign up online to volunteer through the Google form here.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of these and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can also find a full listing of the more than 40 incidents where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equal rights made public since 2008 here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Groups, Politicians Criticize NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade for Lack of Irish Identity

February 23, 2015

LGBT people boycotting the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade in a previous year.

LGBT and political leaders are again criticizing New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade for the way it has permitted openly gay contingents.

Though the host committee announced last September that it would welcome an LGBT-specific group of marchers, critics question the Irish credentials of that group, OUT@NBCUniversal, an LGBT employees group at the media giant which broadcasts the parade.  The critics expressed their desire that LGBT groups with Irish links be welcomed too.

According to CBS New York, these critics include several local politicians, who announced their own boycott of the 2015 event:

” ‘The issue has never been about having a gay group in the parade — it has always been about having an Irish gay group in the parade,’ openly gay Council Member Dan Dromm said Tuesday…

” ‘It is clear that last year’s decision was just to placate the parade sponsors,’ said Council Member Rosie Mendez. ‘Until my Irish queer brothers and sisters can march in this parade, I will not be marching at all.’

” ‘Until the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is really and truly inclusive of all I will not march in it,’ City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said in a statement. ‘Half measures will not suffice for a parade that should be open to everyone regardless of who they are or whom they love…Proud Irish New Yorkers should not be forced to hide their identities – period.’ “

Mayor Bill DeBlasio, who himself boycotted the parade in 2014, has not announced his plans for this year’s event. However, sources indicate he will again refuse to march unless a more inclusive plan is announced.

LGBT advocates are claiming the host committee’s ban on openly LGBT Irish contingents effectively remains in place. Brendan Fay of the Lavender and Green Alliance, which has applied to march, are hoping for a last minute decision to open the parade. Fay told The Irish Voice:

” ‘We have a month to go…The doors are still open and 2015 could be a celebration we can all be proud of. With the line of march yet to be published there is still time for both sides to reach an agreement. We at Lavender and Green Alliance have been working for decades for an inclusive Irish parade. My motto is “It’s always a yes until it’s a no.” ‘ “

Emmaia Gelman of Irish Queers told the Wall Street Journal:

” ‘To suggest again, for the 25th year, that we have to closet ourselves in order to be allowed into the parade is outrageous.’ “

Advocates are presently appealing to the parade’s 2015 Grand Marshal, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, as well as political leaders to help negotiate a more welcoming policy.

However, the parade host committee’s response has yet to budge. Top official Hilary Beirne endorsed OUT@NBCUniversal’s Irish credentials and said inclusion would be taken “one step at a time,” but this decision should “not necessarily” be understood as a wider welcome to openly LGBT contingents in coming years.

In September 2014, Bondings 2.0 said the inclusion of LGBT groups in New York City’s and Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parades greatly improved these celebrations “in the spirit of Catholicism’s long tradition of social justice — and perhaps most pertinent here, the Irish charism of unbounded and warm hospitality.” Parade organizers in New York should redouble their efforts to welcome all by listening to affected communities who claim the host committee’s efforts are insufficient.

For our continuing coverage of St. Patrick’s Day controversies in New York City and elsewhere, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Rainbows, Deserts, Wild Beasts, and Angels

February 22, 2015

On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for the First Sunday of Lent are: Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25:4-9; 1 Peter 3: 18-22; Mark 1:12-15.   You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.

I have always liked that the rainbow flag is a strong symbol of LGBT equality and justice. It is such a colorful, happy symbol.  And it is strongly connected to how Christians view the symbolic power of the rainbow. In today’s first reading, God tells Noah that the rainbow will serve as the symbol of God’s never-ending love for us.  God says:

“I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign
of the covenant between me and the earth.
When I bring clouds over the earth,
and the bow appears in the clouds,
I will recall the covenant I have made
between me and you and all living beings,
so that the waters shall never again become a flood
to destroy all mortal beings.”

Rainbows help me to remember that no matter what hardship or tragedy or injustice we experience, God will be with us, loving us, and helping us find new ways to continue in spite of negative forces.

Today’s gospel reading has a similar message.  It is a short passage, only three verses long, but filled with an important message.  In two sentences, St. Mark packs a profound theological lesson:

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.”

In his book, Following in the Footsteps of Jesus, Year B, José Pagola, one of my favorite Scripture interpreters, provides the following insight into these lines:

“According to the evangelist, ‘the Spirit sent him out into the desert.”  He doesn’t go on his own initiative.  The Spirit sends him out until he finds himself in the desert. Success is not going to come easily to him. Rather, trials, insecurity, and dangers await him. But the desert is at the same time the best place to listen to the voice of God in silence and solitude. . . .

“Jesus is tempted by Satan in the desert. . . . He will appear no more in the whole Gospel of Mark, but Jesus sees him in all those who want to lead him astray from his mission, including Peter.

“The brief account finishes with two strongly contrasting images: Jesus ‘was among wild animals,’ but ‘angels attended to him.’  The wild animals, the most dangerous in all creation, evoke the dangers that will always threaten Jesus and his plan.  Angels, the best beings in creation, evoke the nearness of God who blesses, takes care of, and protects Jesus and his mission.”

If you are an LGBT person or someone who works for LGBT equality, then you are most likely someone who has great familiarity with being in the desert.  Work for justice and equality is often a painful, desolate, discouraging experience, and one where temptations to give up, give in, or just becomes cynical and bitter abound.

I take hope from Pagola’s reading of this passage, however. Like all people, I have experienced “the desert” several times in my life.  I usually think of it as a negative experience, but Pagola’s interpretation reminds me that the desert can be a place not just of isolation, suffering, and temptation, but a place where God speaks to us most intimately.  It’s a place where we can find our deepest, truest selves.  A place where we can experience God’s care even though we may feel that we are being attacked.

I’ve been working in LGBT ministry and advocacy for over 20 years.  While I’ve seen some remarkable advances both in civil society and the church, it can also sometimes feel like the desert as I ask “How long, O God, before justice is made real?”   What I need to do is to turn that experience around.  Instead of focusing on what is not happening, I should instead focus on what God is doing for me in this desert time, how I am growing personally, how I am meeting incredible people, and how God is building something new–usually something so new that I often don’t recognize it.

While LGBT equality is not a reality in the Catholic Church, I am thankful for the desert experiences I’ve had because they have helped me see that God is working in mysterious ways in my life and in the life of the Church.  While we still have much work to do to educate the hierarchy, in the past 40 years, we have seen incredible growth in support from the laity.  More importantly, we have seen that in the desert, the laity have had to become more mature Christians than they might otherwise have been.  Sometimes the exile or desert experience that progressive Catholics have felt over the past few years has forced them to rely on prayer, community, and the development of their individual consciences.  In doing so, they have actually formed the model of the church that they want to see.  Without the desert experience, this would not have happened.

The rainbow is a wonderful sign of God’s love, and it is easy to see how its beauty and diversity of color symbolize divine love.  I think we also have to start to see that the desert can also be a sign of God’s love, if we look at it as an opportunity for listening to God’s word more intimately.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Chipotle Celebration Follows Catholic Teammate’s Coming Out

February 21, 2015

Ryan Murtha

The spring semester has brought many positive developments for LGBT inclusion at Catholic colleges and universities in the United States. Below, Bondings 2.0 features some of the highlights with links provided to read more.

Villanova University

A member of Villanova Unitiversity’s swim team came out as gay to applause — and Chipotle — in January, in yet another positive moment of LGBT college athletes being welcomed in Catholic higher education.

After winter break, Ryan Murtha told his teammates at the suburban Philadelphia school about his sexual orientation.  OutSports reported:

“When he was done speaking, Murtha looked up at his teammates. Some stared back at him, others looked down. The room was silent. No response…

“One teammate broke the silence with clapping. Then another. It was like a scene from a movie, with the entire team eventually joining in the celebration, cheering. They circled around Murtha and hugged him, assuring him that he was the same guy they’ve loved since he arrived on the team, and this wouldn’t change a thing.”

To celebrate, the team headed to Chipotle, Mexican fast-food chain restaurant. Hurdles remain for Murtha whose Catholic parents are struggling to accept him as a gay son .  Additionally, he is now barred from serving the Boy Scouts, an organization he has been dedicated to for most of his life. However, Murtha’s coming out will help the atmosphere at the more conservative Villanova where LGBT inclusion is a positive, but ongoing effort according to an article in student newspaper, The Villanovan , .which reported:

“At first glance, the University might not seem like the ideal place for an organization like the Gay-Straight Coalition. It’s small, with only around 6,500 undergraduate students. It is religious, with prominent Augustinian and Catholic roots. And it is conservative, or at least more so than the average public university. But nevertheless, the GSC has been operating at the University with the help of Kathleen Byrnes, the Associate Vice President of Student Life, since 2003. The group has around 40 active members, more than 100 on its email list and hosts several prominent events each semester. These events range from the ‘That’s So Gay’ student-led panel, where Villanovans discuss what it’s like to be openly gay on campus, to LGBT Awareness Week, where members raise awareness about homophobia and violence against those in the LGBT community. “

Georgetown University

The Washington Blade reports that an openly gay Republican is running as one of six candidates for student president at Georgetown University, in the District of Columbia. Tim Rosenberger would become the school’s second gay president in two years, following Nate Tisa’s election in 2013. He is running on a platform of fairness, saying in an interview:

“I think I can make Georgetown more supportive and fairer for all students…I want to see everyone, even people who don’t fit the very traditional Catholic mold, do well here and succeed.”

In a related story, Georgetown students also rallied for transgender rights as part of a student coalition in Washington, D.C. acting in response to the suicide of Leelah Alcorn. Campbell James of GU Pride told The Hoya:

“What we as Georgetown students can do to help counter the high rates of trans suicide is to make sure that we are supportive of our friends, family and fellow students who may identify as trans by making sure we use appropriate language choices and by allowing these individuals to feel comfortable being themselves.”

Marquette University

Marquette University administrators are seeking to  fire tenured Professor John McAdams for harassing a graduate student. Bondings 2.0 reported in December about a graduate student who came under fire for passing over a student’s comments about same-sex marriage because she felt they were irrelevant to the course material. McAdams harshly criticized the teacher on his personal blog, which led to her leaving the university after tremendous harassment. The incident is making waves in higher education as some defend Marquette’s decision while others claim it attacks academic freedom.

University of Notre Dame

The Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s has announced the creation of the  first LGBTQ scholarship, awarding two out undergraduates $2,500. The deadline to apply is March 1, 2015.  The scholarship would be awarded to a student at one of the two South Bend, Indiana, institutions, which are closely connected academically.

Thus far into 2015, it seems LGBT inclusion is hitting a very positive note in Catholic higher education. To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of Catholic higher education, see the “Campus Chronicles” category to the right or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


How Can the Church Improve Its Welcome to Trans* People?

February 20, 2015

Jennifer Mertens

As the church’s acceptance of gay and lesbian people improves, more Catholics are wondering about a similar welcome by the church for the trans* community. This pastoral question is critical, given the high rate of self-harm and suicide among transgender youth, a reality highlighted by suicide of teenager Leelah Alcorn at the beginning of this year.

Moved by Alcorn’s final words of her suicide note to “Fix society. Please,” National Catholic Reporter columnist Jennifer Mertens takes up this matter of whether or not the Catholic Church can welcome trans* people. She writes:

“In particular, Leelah’s story poses significant pastoral, theological and moral challenges for the Christian community. The suicide note from Leelah, who was raised in a fundamentalist Christian household, recounts an experience of Christianity in which gender variance was communicated as being ‘selfish and wrong.’ This stance exacerbated a social isolation and despair from which she concluded: ‘The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living.’ “

These challenges include “a linguistic framework suddenly experienced as inadequate” when it comes to gendered language and pronouns, as well as faith’s role in how family and friends respond to a transgender loved one. Gender identity is a new concept for many people and, for some, difficult to understand. Mertens is clear, however, that the pastoral needs demand Catholics become invested in learning about this new reality:

“Catholics must engage these questions with a courageous and receptive heart. Such engagement demands a commitment to dialogue, one that springs from God’s own dialogue with humanity as modeled in the Incarnation…

“As the Catholic church builds a relationship of dialogue with transgender people, it is important to remember that perfect love rests in God alone. As we seek to imitate this love in our dialogue with one another, may we humbly begin with asking: ‘Teach me, friend, how to love you.’ “

Mertens suggests “reaching out, listening, and seeking to understand transgender people.” Scientific evidence from the medical community and the lived experiences of families are also sources of information and increased understanding for the church.

Mertens concludes by urging Catholics to engage in practical and public solidarity with trans* people,especially youth, who suffer higher rates of discrimination and violence. She writes:

“A constructive first step can be taken insofar as the church stands in public solidarity with the suffering of transgender people. This solidarity embodies an authentic Gospel witness that reaches out to the marginalized members of our human community. An initial openness to affirming this solidarity has been signaled by the local archdiocese in Leelah’s city [of Cincinnati].”

The Archdiocese released a statement on Alcorn’s death that prayed for all, while remaining neutral about the teen’s gender identity. Mertens also reports that Dan Andriacco, an archdiocesan spokesperson, said the Catholic Schools Office would review “transgender” for inclusion in its discrimination and bullying policies.

Cincinnati’s response is atypical, and it is worth noting this is the same archdiocese which implemented enhanced morality clauses in teaching contracts last year, barring church workers from publicly supporting LGBT rights. Pope Francis is ambiguous too, warmly welcoming a transgender man from Spain to the Vatican recently, but also harshly critiquing the amorphous concept of ‘gender theory’, which may or may not include gender identity.

What is clear is that society’s intolerance of the trans* community causes a tremendous amount of suffering and violence, and Catholics must find new ways to welcome them into the church with, as Mertens writes, “a courageous and receptive heart.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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