Pope Receives Bishop Jacques Gaillot–A French Bishop Who Blesses Gay Couples

September 2, 2015

Bishop Jacques Gaillot, who was removed from his diocese in France in 1995, in part for blessing the union of a gay couple, was received at the Vatican by Pope Francis, ending two decades of exclusion from official church activities.

Bishop Jacques Gaillot–received at the Vatican, at long last!

Bishop Gaillot, who has the head of the northern French diocese of Evreux until being demoted by Pope John Paul II, spoke with Pope Francis about many marginalized groups.  According to Agence France Presse (AFP)he “defended the rights of homosexuals, divorced people and migrants.”

According to the news report, Gaillot recounted his conversation with Pope Francis to the AFP reporter :

” ‘I don’t want to ask anything of you, I told the pope, but a whole people of the poor are happy that you are receiving me, and feel acknowledged too,’ Gaillot said.

” ‘I spoke to him about… the sick, the divorced, gay people. These people are counting on you.’

“The 79-year-old said he had told the pope how he had recently blessed a divorced couple as well as a homosexual couple, saying ‘he listened, he is open to all those things. He said that to bless is to speak well of God to people.’ “

And Pope Francis affirmed his ministry, according to the French bishop:

“Gaillot said he now devotes much of his time to helping and defending migrants and the pope, he said, told him ‘continue, what you do (for the downtrodden) is good.’ “

Since being deposed as Bishop of Evreux, Gaillot has remained active  by maintaining a website, Partenia.org, where he defended marginalized groups.  Partenia is the name of a now defunct ancient diocese which existed in the early centuries of Christianity in Algeria.  An Ouest-France  news report (with an English translation provided by a Bondings 2.0 reader) noted:

“Trying to convey something of the unprecedented nature of the situation and of pope Francis’ sense of humour Gaillot said, ‘the pope told me with a smile: I speak to the bishop of Partenia.’ “

The same news report also pointed out:

“The meeting took place at Pope Francis’ request, who left two messages on Gaillot’s answering machine during the Summer, before writing to formally invite him to the Vatican.”

Perhaps the most significant part of Gaillot’s account of describing his blessing of gay couples to Pope Francis:

” ‘I am in civil cloth and I just bless them. This is not a marriage, it is a blessing. We have the right to give the blessing of God, after all we also bless houses! The pope listened, he seemed open to all that. At that particular moment, he specifically said that to bless people also involves to speak well of God to those people,’ said the French prelate.”

The Wikipedia.org article on Gaillot described some of the actions which lead to his ouster over two decades ago, including the blessing of a gay couple:

“In 1988, during a closed-door session of the assembly in Lourdes, he advocated the ordination of married men to the priesthood. After the proceedings had finished Gaillot spoke to the press about the discussions held and also promoted his own viewpoints. By promoting a revision of clerical celibacy and the use of condoms, he caused considerable tension with the French bishops’ conference, the situation being exacerbated by the fact that in speaking to the media about the session, Gaillot had violated convention regarding assembly conclaves. He later defended his previous actions, remarking that ‘I never broke the vow of celibacy … I only questioned it. But that’s worse.’ Also that year, Gaillot took the unprecedented step for a Roman Catholic bishop of blessing a homosexual union in a ‘service of welcoming,’ after the couple requested it in view of their imminent death from AIDS.”

This Wikipedia article also noted that Gaillot expressed public support for marriage equality when France legalized it in 2012.

I had the pleasure of meeting Bishop Gaillot in Rome in the year 2000.  The occasion was the conference on religion and homosexuality at the first World Pride event.  I gave the opening address to the meeting, and, saving the best for last, Gaillot was to give the closing speech.  Unfortunately, the day before the conference, he received word that the Vatican ordered him not to give the speech.  Bishop Gaillot was unflustered.

The unusual thing about this Vatican action was that the hotel which was hosting the conference was a five-minute walk from the Vatican, yet the order, which came from Pope John Paul, was first sent to the Congregation of Bishops, who then called the president of the French bishops conference in Paris, who then called the then-current Bishop of Evreux, who then made a phone call from France to Bishop Gaillot in Rome.   Everyone laughed, including Gaillot, that if the pope wanted to give him this order, he could have simply walked a few blocks to speak with him in person.

Fifteen years after this strange communication incident, the new pope in Rome showed how important ordinary communication with a fellow human being is–especially for the necessary Christian act of reconciliation.  The Ouest-France news report described the very ordinary, humble and human way Gaillot’s visit with Pope Francis occurred:

“Gaillot, 79, in a black suit but without any pectoral cross, said he was greatly surprised by how informally Francis received him in the Vatican: ‘I was in one of the common room of St Martha’s House (where the Pope resides), a door opened and the pope simply came in. The meeting was carried out as if I was family, without any protocol. He truly is a free man. At one point, he stood up and said: Do you have a photographer? As I had none and there was none around who was available, we took (a photo) with a cell phone.’ “

An ordinary encounter between two human beings.  How our church leaders need to do so much more of this!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Swiss Bishops Offer Supportive Comments After Another Bishop’s Error

September 1, 2015

Bishop Markus Büchel, center, at an ordination

A Swiss bishop who was criticized for remarks deemed by some as advocating the death penalty for lesbian and gay people has apologized. His remorse has stopped neither public criticism from fellow prelates, who released pastoral appeals in the wake of this controversy, nor the filing of criminal charges.

Bishop Vitus Huonder of Chur quoted Leviticus in a July address at a conference of German-speaking traditionalist Catholics. Though he technically never suggested gay people should be executed, Bondings 2.0 noted at the time, his irresponsible language makes that interpretation extremely easy. After facing criticism, he apologized, reported The Local.ch:

“In a three-page letter sent to 800 of his colleagues, including priests and employees, on Wednesday night, Huonder apologized ‘to everyone who felt injured by my speech, in particular those of homosexual persuasion,’ reported Swiss news agency ATS on Thursday.

“The 73-year-old said it was a ‘mistake’ to write his speech purely ‘on a theological and academic level’. . .He also regretted writing it during the summer holidays when there was no one around to read it over for him.”

In response, at least two bishops criticized Huonder’s comments indirectly by offering pastoral appeals. Bishop Markus Büchel of St. Gallen, who is also head of the Swiss Bishops Conference, wrote a letter to pastoral workers after many expressed concerns about Huonder’s comments.  Kath.ch reported that he said that it was important in a sexual relationship was how a person responsibly uses sexuality, not whether that person is heterosexual or homosexual.  He encouraged Catholics to rely on their individual consciences.

Later he noted: ‘We are look forward to every relationship in which the partners accept each other as equal, valuable, beloved children of God and respect the dignity of others!’ ”

As for the church’s place when it comes to homosexuality:

“Büchel sees it as a task of the Church to accompany people on their way,’on which they can integrate their sexuality as a gift of God in their lives and their relations.” The Church must deal with the historical burdens of homosexuality and consciously develop ‘a new, human, and proper language.”

Büchel also spoke about Scriptural interpretation and contemporary understandings of homosexuality, affirming that “current knowledge about homosexuality as a constitutent part of personality, and not freely chosen, was not known at the time of the Bible.” The full letter, in German, is available here and Bondings 2.0 would welcome a more thorough translation of it from any of our German-speaking readers.

Abbot Urban Federer

A second episcopal response came from Abbot Urban Federer of Ensiedeln, who said church leaders should be for something, not against something. His first response to an email inquiry about “Why the Catholic Church condemns homosexuals?” was to simply quote the Catechism’s language about “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

Yet Federer felt that quoting the Catechism was not a sufficient response for this situation, so he reinterpreted the Leviticus passage more affirmingly on the abbey’s website, which you can find here in German, with a simple translation following:

“Although the passages condemn sexual intercourse among people of the same sex, they are not against homosexuality, which was not yet known in this ancient time. Therefore such passages can hardly be used to assess current issues!

He continued by saying that homosexuality “will occupy the church for a long time,” and he noted the Swiss bishops’ 2002 decision to support same-sex unions so that lesbian and gay people could be protected from discrimination. But Federer noted the church needs to do more,  citing a public letter to Huonder by the rapper Gimma to ask:

“Can the Church really and so loudly put a minus in front of homosexuality?. . .Gimma’s reaction is a provocative question for the Church: Should the Church not be used for people, for the dignity of gays and lesbians, rather than take action against certain people? The frank words of Gimma make me pensive and call me to more modesty.”

Finally, Federer turned to Pope Francis’ views on homosexuality:

“The Church may rejoice about homosexuals as children loved by God! Did not Pope Francis already show the Church how to deal with homosexuals in the right manner? In his first press conference as the head of Roman Catholic Church, he promoted the idea not to discriminate against male and female homosexuals. Verbatim, the Pope asked: ‘When a person is homosexual and seeks God and is of good will, who am I to judge?’ “

Bishop Huonder’s apology was also roundly criticized by LGBT groups. Pink Cross, an umbrella organization for several Swiss LGBT groups, filed a criminal complaint against Huonder in August for “inciting people to crime or violence” according to Newsweek. Bastian Baumann, director of Pink Cross, explained the bishop crossed a “red line” given his authority and exhortation to literal interpretation of Scripture:

“We believe in freedom of expression, and taking quotes from the bible is fine. . .But then he said the words should be applied to real life, which is the equivalent of calling for the death penalty for gay people. We were worried about that. He is the leader of a big church, and he was calling for people to follow his words, and we thought this could be dangerous.”

Baumann further rejected Huonder’s apology because “there was no misunderstanding” his remarks. If found guilty in this complaint, the bishop could face a prison sentence of up to three years.

What to make of all this?

My first reaction is that this is simply a reminder that God draws good out of bad situations. For as strikingly painful as Bishop Huonder’s citation of Leviticus was, the critical and pastoral responses from his colleagues are doubly positive. How simply refreshing to hear a bishop say, “The Church may rejoice about homosexuals as children loved by God!”

Second, it is good to see bishops who are willing to criticize a colleague whose behavior or statements were not in keeping with the office of bishop and Christian ideas. Both Büchel and Federer’s responses are polite, avoiding direct criticism of Huonder, but they make clear that his way of interpreting Scripture and discussing sexuality are irresponsible, outdated, and not in keeping with the best practices of Catholic theology today.

Third, and finally, Bishop Büchel’s letter is noteworthy as he shifts the conversation on homosexuality from genital acts to people. His exhortation for the “responsible use of sexuality” and emphasis on conscience are similar to how many theologians and ministers have reframed the conversation around homosexuality.

While I certainly doubt acceptance of same-sex relationships can be read into Büchel or Federer’s letters, the church’s leaders’ understanding of lesbian and gay people foremost as people is an important, though much belated, step. That they do this publicly and in criticism of a local peer who is  missing the mark is great!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


U.S. Catholics Like Pope Francis, But They Differ With Him on Marriage Equality

August 31, 2015

One benefit of a papal visit is that the media focuses its attention on the Catholic Church for a while. With Pope Francis set to arrive here in under a month, the media have ramped up their coverage of our church and its various controversies. Of course, LGBT issues are right up there among the key topics covered.

Pope Francis

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), in partnership with Religion News Service released the results of a survey this past week in which Americans, and particularly American Catholics, were asked about the papal visit and what they think about church teachings and policies.

The main overall finding was that 67% of Americans and 90% of American Catholics give the pope a favorable rating.  But when it comes to knowing or agreeing with some of his policies, there are some discrepancies, said Robert Jones, president and CEO of PRRI. In an article published in The National Catholic Reporter, Cathy Lynn Grossman analyzed some of the report’s data:

“The majority share his top priorities — on concern for the poor, the environment and the economy. But the flock veers from the shepherd on doctrine, particularly on sexuality and marriage.

“However, on question after question, Jones said, 1 in 5 Catholics said they didn’t know the pope’s views. And when they think they do, they’re sometimes wrong.”

The issue of same-sex marriage received specific attention in the survey.  Grossman reported:

“Consider the confusion over same-sex marriage. Francis has not changed the Catholic church’s official position opposing its legalization. Yet many U.S. Catholics (38 percent) believe he supports it. . .

The confusion might be because people like to believe the pope — famous for his  ‘Who am I to judge’ comment — thinks as they do: 49 percent of Catholics who support same-sex marriage mistakenly think the pope does as well.”

In other areas of LGBT issues,  U.S. Catholics showed strong support for equality, as has been the case for a several years now:

The Catholic church preaches against homosexual behavior. But PRRI finds most U.S. Catholics either don’t know or don’t heed that teaching:

  • 53 percent of Catholics say they don’t think same-sex marriage goes against their religious beliefs.
  • 60 percent favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.
  • 76 percent favor laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people against discrimination.
  • 65 percent oppose a policy that would allow small-business owners to refuse, based on their religious beliefs, to provide products or services to gay and lesbian people.

According to the PRRI summary of the report, U.S. Catholics think Pope Francis has a better understanding of their needs than the U.S. bishops do:

“By a margin of 20-percentage points, American Catholics are more likely to say Pope Francis (80 percent), as opposed to U.S. Bishops (60 percent), understand their needs and views well.”

The survey also polled former Catholics, and while it showed that they think favorably about Pope Francis, the same positive evaluation is not given to the U.S. bishops.  According to the PRRI summary of the report:

“Nearly 2 in 3 (64 percent) of former Catholics hold a positive view of the pope and 59 percent say he understands U.S. Catholics well, but only 35 percent say the same for the American bishops. That aligns with their sour view of the institutional church: Only 43 percent hold a positive view.”

LGBT issues were not the only focus of the survey.  Attitudes on economics, environment, immigration were among the other issues surveyed. You can read the entire report here or PRRI’s summary of the report here.

In one sense, there is no surprise in this survey. We have known for years now that Catholics overwhelmingly support LGBT issues.  Just review the posts  in our Statistics category to read about the overall increasing trend of support over the last few years.

To me the two most important facts are:

  1. U.S. Catholics incorrectly assume Pope Francis agrees with them on same-sex marriage
  2. U.S. Catholics–and former Catholics–believe Pope Francis understands them better than the U.S. bishops do.

These data should be wake up calls to both laity and hierarchy in the U.S. Catholic Church.  Laity need to have a more realistic view of Pope Francis’ position on same-sex marriage–though as we have pointed out before, even as recently as yesterday, Pope Francis can send mixed signals on this issue.

The greater challenge, though, will be for U.S. bishops to recognize that Pope Francis’ gracious, welcoming style and his openness to dialogue and discussion are factors that U.S. Catholics admire and would like to see more of in their Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Associated Press: “Ahead of pope’s visit to US, some friction over LGBT issues”

Think Progress: “On Almost Every Major Issue, Catholics Are More Progressive Than The Average American”

 

 

 


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”


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