More and More U.S. Congregations–Including Catholic Ones–Are Welcoming LGBT People

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will know that we like to promote the growing trend in the Catholic Church of parishes opening their doors to LGBT people and their families.  New Ways Ministry maintains a list of gay-friendly Catholic parishes and intentional eucharistic communities which has grown from its origin in 1997 with 20 listings to currently having well over 200 listings.

A new report from Duke University’s National Congregations Study confirms that this trend of gay-friendly faith communities has been growing rapidly across denominational lines in recent years.  The Association of Religion Data Archives’ website reports on some of the major findings from the study, noting that overall the changes seem to be connected to changes in society generally:

“The massive cultural changes in attitudes toward gays and lesbians in American society are also being reflected in religious sanctuaries, the study indicates.”

Some of the major findings from the study show a definite trend in acceptance:

“Twenty-seven percent of congregations in the 2012 study allowed gays and lesbians in committed relationships to hold volunteer leadership positions, up from 19 percent in the 2006-2007 study.

“Nearly half, or 48 percent, of congregations in 2012 reported that gays and lesbians in committed relationships may be full-fledged members; in the 2006-2007 study, 38 percent of congregations allowed such membership privileges.

“Seventeen percent of congregations reported having openly gay and lesbian worshipers. But those congregations were also relatively larger, so 31 percent of people in congregations are part of communities with gays and lesbians who are open about their orientation.”

The study’s director, Duke University’s Mark Chaves, a sociologist noted that the study shows that the perception that faith and LGBT equality are opposed is not, in fact, a reality:

“Chaves notes that an analysis of the 2006-2007 study found that religious communities who were politically active on the issue were about evenly split on both sides.

“And the latest study shows an increasing acceptance that is consistent with cultural changes in the nation.

“ ‘It’s not right to think of religion in an organized way … as being only on the conservative side of the gay-rights issue,’ Chaves said.”

While the study does not single out data on Catholic congregations, it’s clear that the Catholic community is definitely part of this growing trend.  Many recent studies have shown that Catholics are often ahead of the general U.S. population when it comes to societal acceptance of LGBT people (including support of marriage equality).   Hispanic Catholics, in particular, show strong acceptance.  (To learn more about these past studies, click on “Statistics”  under the “Categories” heading  in the right-hand column of this page.)

Why is Catholic acceptance so strong?  I think this has less to do with the general growing acceptance of LGBT people in the wider culture, and more to do with Catholic people living out their church’s social justice teaching with emphasizes the equality and dignity of all people, and that all people must be treated respectfully and fairly.  I think the Catholic emphasis on family also contributes to this strong acceptance.  Catholics are concerned with keeping their families together, and they want to make sure that all families are protected in society.

Whatever the reasons, it’s important to remember that the U.S. Catholic bishops, who speak strongly and loudly against LGBT equality, do not reflect the voice of the Catholic people in this matter.

If you are interested in helping your own Catholic parish or community become more LGBT-friendly, you can start by looking at the installments of Bondings 2.0’s occasional series “All Are Welcome” by clicking on that title under the “Categories” heading in the right-hand column of this page. You can also contact New Ways Ministry by phone, 301-277-5674, or email,, to obtain additional resources and consultation.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

November 13, 2013:  “Gay-Friendly Churches And Houses Of Worship Growing, According To National Congregations Study” (

Catholic Workshop on “Trans-forming Love”

While we know from poll after poll that Catholic lay people overwhelmingly support lesbian and gay people, I think there is probably not yet as strong support for transgender people among those in the pews.   The reason for the difference is probably because Catholic people have had less familiarity with transgender people, and probably rely more on myths or stereotypes than on factual evidence and personal testimony.

To help Catholics get a better understanding of transgender people and issues from the perspectives of both science and faith, New Ways Ministry is hosting a workshop day entitled “Trans-forming Love,” on Saturday November 23, 2013, 9:00 am – 3:30 pm, at the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart, 1001 West Joppa Road, Towson, Maryland, 21204,

The goal of the day is to dispel myths and stereotypes about transgender people by gaining sound information from the scientific community and from the life story of a transgender person. The transgender experience will also be explored in the light of faith and spirituality.  The day includes presentations on gender identity development, personal perspectives, legal considerations, and spiritual dimensions. There will be Q & A sessions, small group discussions, and informational handouts.

Edgardo Menvielle, MD

Two speakers will be making presentations.  In the morning, participants will hear from Dr. Edgardo Menvielle, MD, an attending psychiatrist at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. He co-founded the Gender and Sexuality Development Program and serves as its medical director. Dr. Menvielle provides clinical services and training for child psychiatry, psychology, pediatrics trainees, and students.

Hilary Howes
Hilary Howes

In the afternoon, the speaker will be Hilary Howes, a Catholic transgender woman, who has been married for 34 years. She authored the article, “To Be or Not to Be: A Catholic Transsexual Speaks,” which describes her conversion to Catholicism and her gender transition. Hilary is involved with several transgender rights organizations, including the National Transgender Religious Leadership Roundtable.

Space for this workshop is limited, so please register soon if you would like to attend.  Registration is required. Suggested donation is $25 (more if you can, less if you can’t) and includes lunch.

For more information and to register for this program online, please visit New Ways Ministry’s website.  If you have questions, please call (301) 277-5674 or send email to:

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

QUOTE TO NOTE: The Catholic Core of Love, Compassion, Justice

Representative Linda Chapa LaVia

computer_key_Quotation_MarksThanks to Religion News Service for providing their “Quote of the Day” for November 7, 2013, from Illinois Representative Linda Chapa LaVia, a Catholic, who voted for her state’s marriage equality law which passed this week.  LaVia explained her supportive vote in an interview with The Chicago Tribune:

“As a Catholic follower of Jesus and the pope, Pope Francis, I am clear that our Catholic religious doctrine has at its core love, compassion and justice for all people.”

Pope Francis’ example of a non-judgmental attitude toward LGBT people seems to be taking root among the faithful!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Macklemore, Marriage Equality, & Constructively Addressing Conflict


Bondings 2.0 started the “Campus Chronicles” series a year ago with the desire to highlight  the struggles and successes for LGBT welcome at Catholic colleges universities. While many challenges still exist, we also recognize that campuses contain many hopeful signs of where the Church overall may be headed. In that light, this post features two colleges which have seen both sides of the coin recently. Creighton University, in Omaha, Nebraska, and Providence College, in Providence, Rhode Island, constructively dealt with controversies related to marriage equality in ways that signify the progress being made and the work which still remains.

Creighton University

The Students Union Program Board at this Jesuit school sponsored a ticket giveaway to a concert by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, which initiated student protests due to the artists’ outspoken support for marriage equality. Macklemore, who was raised Catholic, topped charts in 2012 with his song “Same Love” and since then continues to advocate for LGBT equality.

Students protested the ticket distribution in a letter to the Student Union and University President, causing the giveaway to be delayed while administrators met with the protestors. Two protesting students also wrote a letter to the editor in the campus newspaper, The Creightonianexplaining their views. They requested that Creighton cancel the ticket giveaway, so as to not be seen supporting an artist who happens to support marriage equality.

Creighton administrators, however, allowed the giveaway to proceed. reported on the administrators’ statement, as well as general student reactions:

“The university said it is focused on educating students on social issues and that, ‘in the past, the university has hosted debates on the issue of same-sex marriage. We have had open sessions on this topic which centered on (Catholic) tenets of understanding and inclusion.’ ”

“Dozens of students and alumni took to Twitter to complain about the delay in the ticket giveaway.”

The news website also noted that last year Macklemore and Lewis performed at a number of Catholic schools, including Boston College, University of San Francisco, and St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia.  They also note that Creighton has allowed previous performers who have conflicted with Catholic teaching on marriage and other issues:

“In the past, Creighton has hosted artists and speakers whose values don’t match up with the university’s. Some have since come out in support of gay marriage. Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, which performed at Creighton in 2004, has publicly pushed for President Barack Obama to do more to support gay marriage. In October, Creighton sponsored a concert free for students that featured 3OH!3, a band widely criticized for sexism and misogyny in its lyrics.”

Providence College

In September, Providence administrators cancelled a planned lecture by philosophy professor John Corvino on marriage equality. The decision raised serious questions about the College’s welcome for LGBT students and academic freedom. Students and faculty met that same week on the night of the cancelled event to discuss these issues. What followed was a growing student movement, a strong resolution condemning the College’s action from the Academic Senate, and national media attention.

Now, The Brown Daily Herald reports these actions resulted in positive change. The lecture was rescheduled for this coming spring, which will now be a debate with leading anti-equality activist Sherif Girgis. Additionally, the school’s President Brian Shanley apologized for the way in which the decision was made. Most important of all, the Board of Trustees adopted a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. As the Herald reports:

“The student congress and faculty senate voted last year to change the college’s non-discrimination policy statement, but the Board of Trustees had yet to approve it, said Catherine Jones, a senior at Providence College. If the demands were not met by Friday at 5 p.m., the students wrote in their email, they planned to hold a silent demonstration that Saturday during a celebration honoring the opening of a new campus building, Terrones said.

“On Friday at about 3:30 p.m., Shanley announced that the school’s Board of Trustees had amended the policy to protect students of all gender identities and sexual orientations from discrimination on campus, Terrones said.”

The Friarfighters, as the group leading this movement call themselves, cancelled the protest amid promises to continue pushing Providence administrators towards a greater acceptance of LGBT people on campus.


The events at both Creighton University and Providence College offer students at Catholic colleges, and those who support them, at least two lessons.

First, for the most part the leadership in Catholic higher education increasingly understands the need to create inclusive, safe campus for all sexual orientations and gender identities. There is tremendous progress being made, and in the Creighton case it was the administration who largely defended the Macklemore giveaway against student anti-LGBT activists. Administrators can be forces for good on LGBT issues, and often the best approach is for students, faculty, staff, and administrators to work as partners to enhance inclusivity and Catholic identity.

Second, acceptance of equality is not yet universal, and some Catholic colleges remain deficient in protecting and affirming their LGBT community members. This does not mean however growth is not possible, but it may require students, or administrators, taking action. At Providence College, students successfully organized to persuade the Board of Trustees into adopting a non-discrimination policy which will tangibly improve the welcome for LGBT people on that campus.

Finally, students, employees, and alumni can on other Catholic campuses can take a first step by helping the schools to adopt employment non-discrimination policies. Such policies make words of welcome become real and tangible.  For more information on how to do this, you can click here or contact Bob Shine at

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Catholic Parish Quits Interfaith Service Rather Than Host Married Gay Musician

Despite Pope Francis’ encouragement for church leaders to drop their “obsession” with marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples, some persist in this respect, some times to the point of absurdity, as this story from Charlotte, North Carolina, illustrates.

Steav Bates-Congdon

Back in February 2012, Bondings 2.0 reported on the case of Steav Bates-Congdon, a music director at St. Gabriel’s, a Catholic parish in Charlotte, who was fired for legally marrying his longtime same-gender partner in New York State.  Bates-Congdon has found other employment at an Episcopal parish in the area, yet he still remains the focus of Catholic obsession, it seems.

Now, a second Catholic parish, St. Matthew’s, recently pulled out of plans for an interfaith service for the Thanksgiving holiday because Bates-Congdon was identified as the person who would be conducting the liturgical music for it, and the parish, which would be hosting the event, would not allow him to do so.

The Charlotte Observer reports:

“Mecklenburg Ministries’ 38th annual Thanksgiving Interfaith Service is still on for Nov. 26. But it’ll be held at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Dilworth, not at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Ballanytne – Charlotte’s biggest house of worship. . . .

“Monsignor John McSweeney, who pastors St. Matthew, said Sunday he declined Mecklenburg Ministries’ request that he formally invite Bates-Congdon to again help plan the service because “in no way would we give the impression that the Catholic Church approves of same-sex marital covenants.”

“That view clashed with the mission statement at Mecklenburg Ministries, which has nearly 100 member congregations of various faiths. So it moved the event.

“ ‘At the heart of our core values is honoring the dignity of all people and not excluding anyone,’ said the Rev. Christy Snow, who chairs the committee planning the interfaith service.”

The news story recounts a tortured process which began with Bates-Congdon receiving threatening messages from people claiming to represent the two Catholic parishes telling him that he should not participate in the planning of this event.  Both Catholic pastors deny parish involvement in these phone calls.  Bates-Congdon, not wanting to cause controversy, planned to bow out of the planning, but the prayer service organizers thought otherwise:

“[A]t the August meeting of that committee, chairwoman Snow asked Kathy Bartlett, music director at St. Matthew and a member of the planning panel, if she would ask McSweeney to issue a formal invitation to Bates-Congdon to clear up any misunderstanding.

“Mecklenburg Ministries also wanted a statement from St. Matthew – Charlotte’s largest church – welcoming everyone to worship.

“McSweeney said he had no problem with inviting all to worship. But he said he felt the request to formally invite Bates-Congdon was out of bounds, given Catholic teaching opposing same-sex marriage.

“ ‘I don’t think we should have to violate (those teachings). And we were the hosts, and they were the guests,’ he told the Observer. ‘Because you are welcome does not mean we have to agree to everything you may hold to.’ ”

Over the past few years, we have seen news stories where Catholic leaders have closed adoption services, de-funded immigration rights’ groups, fired teachers and pastoral ministers–all because of not wanting to appear to support committed lesbian and gay couples.   Last month, the two Catholic bishops in North Carolina even pulled out of the state’s Council of Churches because of the organization’s favorable outlook on marriage equality.

This latest incident of pulling out of a Thanksgiving prayer service because one of the musicians is a legally married gay man harms not only the church’s relationship with the LGBT community, but also its credibility as an interfaith partner.    If Catholics can pray with people who have fundamentally different views on major points of theology, surely they can pray with someone whose legal marriage is not approved by Catholic leaders.

With so many other differences that Catholicism has from these churches, one has to wonder why difference over marriage equality is the one which is the deal-breaker on praying together.

The only answer I can think of is “obsession.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

New Survey Shows Hispanic Catholic Support for Marriage Equality–With a Twist

Hispanic gay coupleA new survey report from the Public Religion Research Institute provides further evidence that Hispanics, especially Hispanic Catholics support marriage equality.   The statistics in his report, however, provide a new view of the support that Hispanics have for this issue.   While close to a majority feel that sexual relations between people of the same gender is immoral, a definite majority believe that marriage equality should be legal.

Here’s a description of the results from the report’s executive summary:

“A majority (55%) of Hispanics favor allowing gay and lesbian Americans to marry, compared to 43% who are opposed. . . .

“Hispanics appear willing to support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, even if they personally hold reservations about the morality of sex between two adults of the same gender. Hispanics are twice as likely to believe that sex between two adults of the same gender is morally wrong as believe it is morally acceptable (45% vs. 18%). Roughly one-third of Hispanics say either that it depends on the situation (8%) or that it is not a moral issue (26%). . . .

“Hispanics are sharply divided by religion on the issue of same-sex marriage. More than 6-in-10 (62%) Hispanic Catholics and 8-in-10 (80%) religiously unaffiliated Hispanics favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Hispanic mainline Protestants are divided, with 47% supporting same-sex marriage and 50% opposing it. In stark contrast, 8-in-10 (79%) evangelical Protestants oppose same-sex marriage, while just 1-in-5 (21%) support it. . . .

“A slim majority (51%) of Hispanic Catholics say it is possible to disagree with church teachings on the issue of homosexuality and remain a good Catholic, compared to 44% who say this is not possible.”

You can view the full report here.

This evidence proves the claim that many Catholics hold social justice as a more important value than sexual ethics in the discussion of LGBT issues.  If a person disagrees morally with a person’s same-gender relationship but still defends that person’s right to have such a relationship, one obvious explanation is that sexual ethics are not considered paramount in the evaluator’s eyes.

In a sense, it shows that these Hispanics are living out Pope Francis’ famous remark:  “Who am I to judge?”

Speaking of Pope Francis, Religion News Service highlighted another important piece of data from the report:

“The survey found that most Hispanics are delighted with Argentine-born Pope Francis, but they hold slightly less favorable views of the Catholic Church. While nearly 69 percent look favorably on the pope, only 54 percent see the institution in a favorable light.”

Catholic support for LGBT people in all quarters of the church is bound to continue to grow.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Los Angeles Times:  Many Latino Catholics Back Gay Marriage, Survey Says.

Bondings 2.0: Catholic Latino Voters Support Marriage Equality, Oct. 22, 2012

Bondings 2.0: Strong Support for LGBT Issues Among Hispanics–Especially Catholics, April 18, 2012

New Survey Indicates British Catholics Support Marriage Equality

survey resultsThanks to Terence Weldon, at the blog, we’ve been made aware of a new survey in the United Kingdom which shows that British Catholics are strongly in support of marriage equality–similar to U.S. Catholics on this side of the Atlantic.

The new report comes from the British Social Attitudes Survey.  The section regarding attitudes toward homosexuality are covered under the topic “Personal Relationships.  After noting a growing positive trend for marriage equality in the nation as a whole, Weldon turns to the religious analysis of the report.  He states:

“Predictably, religious groups are less tolerant of same – sex sexual relations than those who are not religious, and although disapproval is declining among people of all religions, this decline is slower than for those of no religious belief. What should be of concern to the defenders of the orthodox Catholic position, is that self- identified Catholics are more tolerant than Protestants. The published report does not present full tables for a breakdown by religion, or a full trend comparison, but this written summary makes the core message clear: barely a third of British Catholics agree with the CDF position, that all same – sex genital interactions are morally wrong/

“Not surprisingly, religious belief is closely linked to attitudes to homosexuality. Those who aren’t religious are the least likely to see it as always or mostly wrong, only 16 per cent do so. This compares to disapproval rates of over a third among Anglicans (40 per cent) and Catholics (35 per cent). ”

– Personal relationships, British Social Attitudes Survey

Why do surveys like this one matter?  Weldon rightly points out that while the church is not a democracy, Catholicism does operate under the principle of honoring the “sense of the faithful”–meaning what the Catholic laity actually believe–in evaluating church teaching.   He observes:

“Nevertheless, [we have] the important principle of ‘sensus fidei’ [‘sense of the faithful’] to consider, by which any church doctrine which is not accepted by the church as a whole, which has not been “received” and accepted by the faithful, cannot be held to be valid and binding. In the half century since the publication of Humanae Vitae, it has become abundantly clear that it has been rejected in good conscience, or even simply been ignored, by the overwhelming majority of married Catholic couples, and there is simply no evidence that the prohibition on artificial contraception does in fact have the authority of the sensus fidei behind it. It is now becoming equally clear that the absolute prohibition on same – sex sexual acts, and those on premarital sex, sexual relationships after divorce, and masturbation, are going the same way, When something like two thirds of Catholics, in very substantial parts of the Catholic world, disagree with the total proscription by the CDF – what possible justification can there be for continuing to defend the rigidity of current CDF sexual ideology?”

I think Catholics who work for equality and justice for LGBT people can be heartened by these survey results.  It shows that support from U.S. Catholics for marriage equality is not just an anomaly.  Despite bishops mounting strong campaigns opposing marriage equality in both the U.S. and the U.K., Catholic lay people have taken a different approach to this issue.  Catholics are relying on their deep sense of justice and their deep sense of the importance of love in a relationship.  These two senses are helping them to see that marriage equality is, in fact, a very Catholic concept.

To order or download a copy of New Ways Ministry’s booklet, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry