Vigil for Orlando Victims Displaces Gay-Negative Lecture at Catholic School

June 22, 2016
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Bishop Peter Ingham and Emma Rodrigues

A Catholic school in Australia replaced a lecture against marriage equality with a candlelight vigil for victims of the mass shooting in Orlando which targeted an LGBT nightclub. The vigil is but one of many ways by which Catholics have shown their support for the victims and their families, and solidarity with LGBT communities.

Parents at St. Therese School in Wollongong, New South Wales, protested the scheduling of a lecture against marriage equality  by the Australian Family Association (AFA), reported the Illawara Mercury. AFA had used harsh language against same-gender relationships in its promotional materials for the event. Parents described the school’s use of its parent email list to promote the lecture as “extremely bigoted” and “totally inappropriate.” Against the school community’s calls for the event to be cancelled, Bishop Peter Ingham had defended the lecture and the hierarchy’s teaching on marriage.

After the Orlando incident, however, the lecture was replaced by a candlelight vigil for victims organized by Emma Rodrigues, an LGBTQI advocate.  Perhaps the surprise of the event was when Bishop Ingham showed up and stood side-by-side with Rodrigues. Tim Smyth of Acceptance, a Catholic LGBT group in Sydney, noted:

“While the vigil displaced a planned talk at the school that evening by a group opposed to marriage equality (and those with a more cynical bent might question the sequence of events), postponing the talk to make way for a vigil to remember the Orlando nightclub massacre victims and agreeing to the photo, is a step forward, albeit small.”

Smyth informed Bondings 2.0 of another positive Catholic LGBT development in Australia at the Installation Mass for Bishop Vincent Long, OFM, of Parramatta, a suburb of Sydney. Smyth reported that Long’s homily included “the first public statement by an Australian Bishop calling for spaces in our church for gay and lesbian Catholics.” Smyth continued:

“Bishop Long, a refugee from Vietnam, noted that the Catholic Church has ‘not lived up to that fundamental ethos of justice, mercy and care who have been hurt by our own actions and inactions’. Bishop Long went on to refer to Pope Francis’ call for a Church ‘where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the Gospel’. Bishop Long then stated that ‘there can be no future for the living Church without there being space for those who have been hurt, damaged or alienated, be they abuse victims, survivors, divorcees, gays, lesbians or disaffected members. I am committed to make the Church in Parramatta the house for all peoples, a Church where therein less an experience of exclusion but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity’.”
In the U.S., more bishops have acknowledged the shooting as targeting LGBT people, though some used language such as “same sex attraction” and “lifestyle” to allude to the LGBT dimension of the tragedy. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, New York, reflected more extensively and sympathetically on Orlando in his column for diocesan newspaper, The Evangelistwhere he wrote:
“But whatever — or whoever — possessed this man last Sunday morning to enter the Orlando nightclub Pulse, described by its owner as ‘a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community,’ Mateen’s objective seemed clear enough: to put a violent end to defenseless members of a class of human beings simply because they existed and he did not want them to live. . .
“At this time, we must state unequivocally that our respect for the dignity of all human beings includes those who themselves identify or are associated in the judgment of others as members of the LGBTQ community, a class whose vulnerability to acts of terrorism was graphically and shockingly exposed at the massacre in Orlando.”

Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport said, “There can be no place in our midst for hatred and bigotry against our brothers and sisters who experience same sex attraction or for anyone who is marginalized by the larger society.”

Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine said a massacre should not be necessary to “recognize our shared humanity, regardless of our lifestyle or paradigm of marriage and human sexuality, and that Catholics must attended to all people including the “gays and lesbians in our families.”

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500+ marchers in Seattle honoring Orlando victims (Photo: St. James Cathedral)

Faith communities and religious congregations have shown their solidarity not only with the victims in Orlando but with LGBT communities suffering in its aftermath.

More than 500 Seattle residents walked through that city’s LGBT neighborhood from the Episcopal cathedral to the Catholic one to honor those people killed, and to call for stronger gun control laws. Fr. Michael Ryan, pastor of St. James Catholic Cathedral, said there was “no better way” to express solidarity and call the community to prayer “in a very dark and painful moment” than this walk, reported the National Catholic Reporter.

In Washington, D.C., Dignity/Washington organized an interfaith vigil that drew hundreds to the city’s Dupont Circle.

In Indiana, the Sisters of Providence hosted a prayer service at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Terre Haute, to express solidarity with the victims and their families.

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Vigilers gathered in Dupont Circle

A statement from Franciscan provincials in the U.S., reported by the National Catholic Reporter, said the order stands “shoulder-to-shoulder with our LGBT brothers and sisters as they grieve and try to make sense of this tragedy. To them we say clearly: We stand with you.”

Fr. Pat Browne of Holy Apostles Parish in London reflected on the hate-fueled violence which struck down not only 49 people in Orlando last week, but resulted in the murder of British MP Jo Cox. Browne, who is a chaplain to the Houses of Parliament, wrote:

“As followers of Christ it is the mission of all Catholics and Christians to ensure that everyone, regardless of their colour, their creed, their sexual orientation is VISIBLE and VALUABLE. If you want to argue with that and say No, there is an exception…he didn’t mean….then you have got it wrong. Which group have you got a problem with? Gays? Migrants? Beggars on the street? There is no-one Christ omits from the warm embrace of his love. If YOU want to, then best be honest. Leave the Church. YOU ARE NOT OF CHRIST.”

Noting the Scottish church’s continued silence after Orlando, Kevin McKenna wrote in The Guardian:

“I remain hopeful that the Catholic church in Scotland will join with Scotland’s main political parties and the majority of its citizens to express sorrow at what happened in a gay Orlando nightclub last weekend. The victims were children of God and loved by [God] and so are those in the LGBT community who today feel a little more fearful and vulnerable as a result. The church to which I belong must now also reach out to them.”

Despite these positive responses from around the world, problematic responses are beginning to increase. Conservative Catholic outlets have published pieces that suggest church leaders should not be in solidarity with LGBT people or that claim anti-LGBT Christians are being attacked after Orlando. Melinda Selmys responded critically to such notions at her blog, Catholic Authenticity:

“Erasing the fact that the attack on the Pulse was likely motivated, at least in part, by religious homophobia is cowardly. As evidence arises to suggest that the killings may have been sparked by internalized homophobia, the Church really needs to be all the more forceful in communicating that homophobic hatred and violence are unacceptable. . .

“Instead, we have virtual silence from the hierarchy. We are left to grieve alone, unacknowledged by our spiritual fathers. And we have articles, like this one, that use one of the greatest tragedies ever to strike our community as an opportunity to argue that that community is illegitimate, that it must never be accepted, acknowledged, named.”

 

Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 explored the religious roots involved in the mass shooting in Orlando that targeted an LGBT nightclub. This reality means faith traditions have a responsibility to respond strongly when violence strikes. Catholic faithful and pastors, by their words and acts, are showing that the church is the people of God, and that God’s people stand in solidarity with LGBT people, especially in their time of need.

To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Orlando massacre and Catholic responses to it, please click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Catholic School Graduate Killed in Orlando Massacre

June 16, 2016
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Akyra Murray

Names and photographs for many of the 49 people killed at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando have now been released, coming as we still grapple with the evil that happened Sunday morning and try to respond to these events.

Akyra Murray, an 18-year-old graduate of West Catholic Preparatory High School in Philadelphia, was among those victims killed. Murray “graduated third in her class just last week, and had just signed a letter of intent to play basketball for Mercyhurst University, Erie, Pennsylvania, reported ABC 6. She was in Orlando with family celebrating her graduation. A statement from West Catholic Preparatory said:

“Our hearts are broken, but together we will mourn Akyra’s loss and provide comfort to one another to honor the memory of such a wonderful young lady.”

A closed vigil is planned for this evening, and the school is providing grief counselors all week for affected community members.

Officials in Catholic higher education have released supportive statements and are offering Masses throughout the week for all those killed in Orlando, noting the LGBT identities of the victims. Fr. Brian Linnane, president of Loyola University Maryland, assured  the GLBTQ+ members of the campus community that “we stand shoulder to shoulder with them in condemning this crime and advocating for justice. . .today we are all GLBTQ+.”

In a statement, Dr. Lisa Reiter, director of Campus Ministry at Loyola University Chicago, wrote:

“This shooting is a painful reminder of the injustice and prejudice that afflicts our lesbian sisters and gay brothers on a daily basis. . .In light of the spirit of Jesus Christ, and Church teaching, let us examine how we might more fully extend friendship t our LGBT sisters and brothers, inviting them to share their joys and sorrows with us.”

Religious communities have offered statements of prayer and of solidarity with LGBT communities, too, including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia who shared their solidarity on Facebook.

Tragically, not all church leaders have responded well. As Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday, only four U.S. bishops referenced the anti-LGBT roots of this crime in their statements. A fifth, Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino, a city which suffered a mass shooting itself last year, released a statement which said:

“For those of us in San Bernardino this is especially painful because we also experienced the trauma of an act of public violence in our community not so long ago, at the Inland Regional Center. In that sense, we offer our prayers and our tears in solidarity with the victims of this attack, their loved ones, the Diocese of Orlando and the City, itself. Because of the circumstances of this attack, we also make clear our condemnation of discriminatory violence against those who are gay and lesbian, and we offer our prayers to that community.”

At The Wild Reed blog, Michael Bernard Kelly, who writes on gay Christian spirituality, responded to religious and civil leaders who offered prayers without referencing LGBT people:

“To every politician, and every civic or religious leader, including the Pope, who expressed sorrow and outrage at the Orlando shootings, but so very carefully avoided mentioning Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer people – YOU are part of the problem. Your words are empty and your hearts are hollow. Get back to us when you are ready to put yourself on the line to support and affirm US in the face of hatred and violence. Till then, hang your head in shame and repent of all that your past bigotry and current silence has spawned.”

Stephen Colbert

Finally, television host Stephen Colbert, who is Catholic, offered powerful remarks about the Orlando shooting before his show Monday night:

“Well I don’t know what to do, but I do know that despair is a victory for hate. Hate wants us to be too weak to change anything. Now these people in Orlando were apparently targeted because of who they love. And there have been outpourings of love throughout the country and around the world. Love in response to hate. Love does not despair. Love makes us strong. Love gives us the courage to act. Love gives us hope that change is possible. Love allows us to change the script. So love your country, love your family, love the families of the victims and the people of Orlando, but let’s remember that love is a verb, and to love means to do something.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


After Orlando, Archbishop Pledges to LGBT Communities: “I Stand With You”

June 14, 2016
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Bishop Robert McElroy

Catholic leaders were initially silent about the anti-LGBT prejudices undergirding the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, which has left at least 50 people dead and more wounded. Four bishops have since released statements acknowledging the prejudice behind these attacks. Other organizations and prominent Catholics have also highlighted the anti-gay distinction, as well as the serious omission on the part of some Catholic leaders who have ignored the LGBT dimension of the incident.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego released a statement, saying the murders were “rooted in a counterfeit notion of religious faith and magnified by our gun culture.” He continued:

“The shootings in Orlando are a wound to our entire society, and this time the LGBT community has been specifically targeted and victimized. . .

“We pray for the many victims in Orlando who were targeted for death simply because of their sexual orientation, and we grieve with their loving families and friends.  This tragedy is a call for us as Catholics to combat ever more vigorously the anti-gay prejudice which exists in our Catholic community and in our country.”

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Archbishop Blase Cupich

Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich had recognized gay and lesbian victims in his initial statement, and followed up with a letter read at a regularly-scheduled Sunday evening Mass hosted by the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach ministry. Cupich said in the letter, posted on Twitter by journalist Michael O’Loughlin:

“For you here today and throughout the whole lesbian and gay community, who are particularly touched by the heinous crimes committed in Orlando, motivated by hate, driven perhaps by mental instability and certainly empowered by a culture of violence, know this: the Archdiocese of Chicago stands with you. I stand with you.

“Let our shared grief and our common faith in Jesus, who called the persecuted blessed, unite us so that hatred and tolerance are not allowed to flourish. . .”

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Bishop Robert Lynch

Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg responded on his blog, acknowledging forthrightly that Pulse was a nightclub for “Gay, Lesbian, Transgender” patrons. He continued:

“[S]adly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence. Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that. Without yet knowing who perpetrated the PULSE mass murders, when I saw the Imam come forward at a press conference yesterday morning, I knew that somewhere in the story there would be a search to find religious roots. While deranged people do senseless things, all of us observe, judge and act from some kind of religious background. Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop also.”

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Bishop David Zubik

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh released a statement which said, in part:

“Our Muslim neighbors are grieving over this tragedy as much as our gay and lesbian neighbors. We are all God’s children. May we love, honor and respect one another as such.”

Meanwhile, in his initial response to the incident, Bishop John Noonan of Orlando did not acknowledge the gay and lesbian dimension of the attack. Preparations for his diocese’s Vigil to Dry Tears, which took place last night, had no evidence that the victims were members of the LGBT community.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, also ignored victims’ identities about which David Gibson noted in the National Catholic Reporter:

“That statement contrasted with Kurtz’s statement a year ago after the shooting massacre in a black church in Charleston, S.C. Speaking two days after the attack on Mother Emanuel by a white supremacist, Kurtz repeatedly condemned the ‘racism and the violence so visible today’ and called for efforts to combat both, in personal change and through public policies.”

Michael Sean Winters, in a column in the National Catholic Reporter, wrote about Kurtz’s and other bishop’s failure to identify this incident as having an anti-LGBT dimension:

“If you are so [out of touch] that you do not realize that the refusal to refer to people as they refer to themselves is offensive, especially when that same group of people has just been the object of a violent and murderous attack, stop pretending to any claim to moral leadership in the society and just go away.”

fortunate_famliliesChurch organizations and prominent Catholics offered statements about the shooting in Orlando as well. Fortunate Families reacted to “an act of terror and an act of hate” with a statement which said:

“Our children have the right to live, work and celebrate without fear, to create families of their own and worship in peace. We stand in solidarity with our children and all parents of LGBT+ persons as we remember those lost and those in pain. We are deeply saddened by this event, since we abhor violence of any kind, and we hold in prayer all children of God victimized by hatred – both perpetrators and victims.”

dignity usa logoMarianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, contrasted the violence with Pride celebrations and said further in a statement:

“This cruel attack will make many LGBTQ people feel unsafe and experience anxiety. For many, it will awaken memories of the days when gay bar patrons were frequently the targets of violence. . .[W]e hope and pray that our nation will come together to reject violence against LGBTQ people in the strongest possible ways.”

Pax Christi USA released a statement which said:

“This shooting directed towards the gay, lesbian and [transgender] community which resulted in injury and massive deaths, is of grave concern to Pax Christi USA. . .No amount of bigotry, fear, anger or hatred ever justifies the senseless taking of lives.”

Across the Atlantic, in London, England,  the city’s LGBT Catholic Community, which was gathered for its regular 2nd Sunday Mass at Farm Street Jesuit Parish, responded promptly in prayer by adding the following petition to their liturgy: “We pray for the 50 people who lost their lives this morning in the terror attack on the gay night-club in Florida, for the injured, and for their families and loved ones.”

Jesuit Fr. James Martin released a powerful statement about the Orlando shooting, saying that this time of grief and fear for LGBT communities was a moment for Christians and Catholics to stand with them. Martin criticized the bishops’ silence, saying church leaders would express solidarity if this massacre happened to a particular ethnic group or religious denomination. That so few bishops expressed solidarity with LGBT communities is, in his words, “revelatory.” Martin continued at America:

“This is revelatory. It reveals how the L.G.B.T. community is invisible to much of church. Even in death they are invisible. For too long Catholics have treated the L.G.B.T. community as ‘other.’ But for the Christian there is no ‘other.’ There is no ‘them.’ There is only ‘us.’

“This is a moment to end this ‘us’ and ‘them.’ For there is no ‘them’ in the church, because for Jesus there was no ‘them.’ He consistently reaches out to those on the margins, bringing all people in. Those who are invisible to the community are seen by Jesus. By seeing them, by welcoming them, by loving them, he makes the ‘them’ an ‘us.’

“Catholics are invited to make every person feel valuable and visible, especially at times of loss. Jesus asks us to do this. The church needs to stand in solidarity with all of ‘us’ in Orlando.”

You can watch Fr. Martin’s full statement in the video below or by clicking here.

Finally, another Jesuit, Brendan Patrick Busse, offered sharp words against church leaders who he said “have an allergy to the word ‘gay’ in their statements of condolence.” He wrote on Facebook:

“Something ‘intrinsically disordered’ revealed itself again in Orlando today and it was armed with bad religion and an assault rifle. I fear our government is complicit in one of those causes and our Church in the other. To speak around the particulars of this violence – its inspiration and its target – is to perpetuate it.

“Defending the ‘dignity of all’ in public means very little if we can’t bring ourselves to defend the dignity of our LGBTQ – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer – family members in particular and in pride.

“Praying for Orlando is prudent. . .Praying for Pulse is prophetic.”

In yesterday’s statement from New Ways Ministry’s Executive Dirctor Francis DeBernardo, he noted that by the end of Sunday, Cupich was the only bishop who had mentioned gay and lesbian people in his reaction to the massacre.  It is a relief to know that at least two other bishops have joined him, and that other Catholic leaders are recognizing the glaring omission on other bishops’ part. May Catholic leaders increasingly pray not only for Orlando, but by clearly and proudly naming the LGBT identities that have been targeted, pray for Pulse and by extension all affected LGBT people too.

We will continue to post more about Catholic reactions to and analyses of the Orlando massacre in the coming days.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: Gay Priest’s Orientation a ‘Blessing from God’

May 31, 2016

computer_key_Quotation_MarksAs part of Sr. Camille D’Arienzo’s regular interviews with extraodinary “ordinary” Catholics in the National Catholic ReporterFr. Ron Cioffi reflected upon his 47 years as an ordained priest. He spoke about being raised Catholic, his call to ordained ministry, connections with the Catholic Worker movement, and most of all the parish in New Jersey where he has served for many years. Then, asked if there is anything else readers should know, the priest came out, tying together beautifully his sexual identity with his vocation:

“Yes, I am a gay person whose self-identity includes an abiding call to ministry in our church. I wish to testify that there is nothing in seriously living out my life as a priest that dissuades me from any other conclusion than that my orientation is a blessing from God for use in and for the church that is called to help each of us discern and celebrate the good and always affirming love of God for all persons.”

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Fr. Ron Cioffi

Earlier in the interview, Fr. Cioffi said he had an as yet unrealized goal of establishing an outreach committee with a “focus on welcoming and credibly supporting” LGBT people. He explained at the interview’s end how his coming out as a gay priest might advance that welcome and support:

“In sharing this deeply personal fact, I hope it will give courage and hope to so many people who find their minority status a deeply wounding and unrelieved burden that too few religious leaders have moved to redress with a healing that acknowledges one’s full human dignity.”

Despite research suggesting that a high percentage of Catholic priests are gay, there are very few priests who are out publicly. Like other out gay priests before him, Fr. Cioffi provides an example which helps combat the stigma that keeps too many clergy silenced.  Such an example can heal the wounds of exclusion that too many LGBT people bear because of church ministers. This witness is, most certainly, a blessing from God!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Major German Catholic Gathering Offers Historic Welcome to LGBT Catholics

May 29, 2016
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Catholic Day attendees view a video message from Pope Francis

LGBT organizations were welcomed for the first time to a major Catholic gathering in Germany, an historic step by which Catholics are living into the church’s more inclusive and justice-oriented future.

Katholikentag, or Catholic Day, is a high-profile, biennial conference organized by the lay-led and LGBT-supportive Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK). Catholic Day, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, was attended by 30,000 people and featured more than 1,000 exhibitors and events, according to Terence Weldon of Queering the Church. He reported:

“Prominently in attendance, present by direct and explicit invitation to promote [LGBT] inclusion in church, are three countrywide LGBT advocacy groups: Netzwerk katholischer Lesben (the Catholic Lesbian Network), Arbeitsgruppe Homosexuelle und Kirche (HuK)(Workgroup Homosexuals and Church), and Initiative Kirche von unten [Initiative for Church from Below], a progressive grass-roots organization that actively advocates for LGBT inclusion.”

The Catholic Lesbian Network’s Manuela Sabozin said this welcome is more than toleration because they have been “able to push our themes to the fore.”

Those themes became programming events, including a forum on marriage equality, a workshop called “Cross and Queer” on gay communities in the church, and spirituality events. The organizations worked from a Rainbow Center hosted at a Protestant church. Other LGBT events included concerts by Leipzig’s gay choir and an LGBT Christian musical group called “Queerubim.” Church reform organizations that advocate for other progressive issues exhibited at the meeting as well.

Catholic Day’s influence and that of ZdK generally are evident in the number of church and political officials who participate, including an official message from Pope Francis. Notable ecclesial attendees included Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising who also is the President of the German Catholic Bishops Conference, and Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin. Public officials included German President Joachim Gauch, who offered a keynote address, and openly gay legislator Stefan Kaufmann who spoke about marriage equality.

Weldon observed that inviting LGBT organizations to Catholic Day is “of major importance” because of the central role ZdK plays in the German church despite its formal independence from ecclesial structures. Weldon quoted a conservative news outlet which said this year’s Catholic Day gives “witness to the revolutionary power of the Central Committee of German Catholics.” Deutsche Welle also commented on the significance of welcoming LGBT groups:

“In fact, the presence of Kaufmann with three of the most important gay and lesbian Catholic advocacy groups in the country shows that the ZdK is willing to take an openly progressive position, and controversial in equal measure, with regards to the type of church it wants to promote.”

It is important to note that the three organizations invited by ZdK were not simply pastoral ministries seeking greater welcome. These organizations are truly radical on LGBT inclusion and demand the fullness of justice from the church. ZdK itself took the bold step last year of calling on the Catholic Church to bless same-gender unions in church. Issues concerning LGBT people and their families were openly and freely discussed at Catholic Day.

Deutsche Welle concluded its coverage of this year’s Catholic Day by noting a strong progressive movement among the laity:

“. . . [I]t is possible to make out the sketch of the church that German Catholics envision. . .[one that is] already diverse, complex and lively.”

That vision of a church which seeks justice in the world while practicing justice itself was readily apparent at Catholic Day. The Rainbow Center, symbolizing justice in the church, integrated seamlessly with the 21-foot refugee boat used as an altar by Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, symbolizing Catholics’ pursuit of justice outside the church.

Catholic Day’s theme this year was, “People First: What should we want and do for people of today to live together in the future?” This marvelous question is one the church universal should reflect upon.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Complicating Catholic Understandings of Sex and Gender

May 23, 2016

SR-Church-Easter-candle-01 (2)Respecting LGBTQI people should be a “fairly simple thing to do,” as Jesuit Fr. James Martin remarked in an interview earlier this week. But understanding the diversity of gender identities can be complex even for committed allies, given how broad and nuanced transgender and intersex issues are. And sometime the consequences of not understanding and respecting can be deeply damaging.

Christians, including Catholics, have spearheaded anti-LGBT efforts like North Carolina’s HB2 law, ignoring the concrete reality that non-discrimination protections definitively improve LGBT people’s well-being. These opponents opt instead for faulty religious arguments to justify their opposition, arguments which theologian Katie Grimes took on at Women in TheologyShe posed a difficult challenge to anti-transgender Christians, asking:

“[W]hat in your life has lead you to believe that love, which God epitomizes perfectly, means wanting anything but happiness, in every sense of the word, for other people?”

Christian opposition to transgender identities is often rooted in literal readings of Genesis. They interpret creation story texts to mean God creates people only in the male/female binary. To such thought, Grimes responded:

“They twist the word of God in the shape of their own preconceptions.  They do not think to ask, ‘how do we know what makes a male a male and a female a female?’  They instead assume that God defines masculinity and femininity in the same way they do.”

Against arguments rooted in biological determinism, Grimes criticized how some Christians “deify the bodies . . we receive at birth.” She wrote:

“Besides turning natural law into a cliché (so babies with cleft palettes or heart defects ought not undergo corrective surgery?), this theory ends up unwittingly celebrating the very queerness it seeks to contain.  If we take this view seriously, then we would have to also say that God naturally creates many human beings (about 1 in 2000) whose bodies do not fulfill our socially constructed definitions of man and woman.”

Ultimately, Grimes concluded that anti-transgender Christians “sell God short” because they “assume that God’s imagination and creativity is no bigger than their own.”

Catholic opponents specifically, including some U.S. bishops, have cited supposed church teaching  in their objections to transgender equality. They claim there is clear and defined church teaching on gender identity that simply needs to be promoted. Melinda Selmys questioned the validity of this claim at her blog Catholic Authenticity, writing:

“Whenever I hear this, I suspect that the person making the comment has had little to no experience actually dealing with the transgender, queer or intersex communities. It’s basically a position that you can arrive at only if you’re taking the problems home, painting them out of their context and looking at them in a theological laboratory where everything is very simple and clear-cut.”

Selmys then listed eight scenarios drawn from her experiences as a Catholic which reveal the many complexities of gender identity, asking after each one what the reader would do. For instance, an intersex person assigned male at birth identifies as a woman upon reaching adolescence and feels called to religious life as a nun. Is this person accepted? Or a woman religious who cares for survivors of human trafficking knows she must minister to the trans survivors according to their gender identity if she is to be successful. How does the sister proceed? Or parents consult a canon lawyer about their intersex child. The canonist recommends corrective surgery while intersex adults criticize such surgeries as painful and violating. What do the parents do? Each of Selmys’ scenarios contains many intricacies that defy simple answers.

Failing to engage gender identity issues in their fullness has negative pastoral, as well as political, consequences. For instance, a Catholic priest in New York said being transgender is the same as considering oneself a chicken because “something has gone wrong in my feelings. . .I need help.” Fr. Andrew Carrozza’s op-ed continued in this vein, attacking transgender people in the name of faith. The priest’s approach is unfortunately similar to other Christian opponents who have refused to listen to transgender people’s experiences, and relied upon the same faulty religious thought critiqued by Grimes and Selmys.

Mollie Wilson O’Reilly criticized Carrozza in Commonweal, and her comments are broadly applicable to Catholic opponents of any form of LGBT equality. While affirming a place for the church in conversations about sexuality and gender, Wilson O’Reilly wrote:

“Carrozza is making the gentlest version of the church’s basic claim that we have nothing left to learn about human sexuality. This claim is simply not plausible to a growing number of people, especially young people, and volunteering it with placid confidence in the face of something as complicated as gender identity and public accommodations for transgender people is not doing anything for the church’s credibility.”

She added that ” ‘naive’ [is] the kindest word that comes to mind” for pastoral ministers like Fr. Carrozza who believe “gentle ridicule” is an appropriate response.

The writer H.L. Mencken once said, “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”  Catholics must resist the temptation to reduce transgender and intersex issues, even if such distillation is well-intentioned. And it is worth asking, too, whether the questions raised about gender identities are themselves even complex enough. We have to ask and keep asking the right questions–and answer and keep answering in dynamic ways to avoid simple and wrong answers.

As Katie Grimes made clear, this debate matters beyond correcting the wrongness of simple answers. Simple answers employed in the name of the church are actively harmful in justifying prejudice, discrimination, and, at times, even violence against LGBT people. We must commit ourselves to complicating constantly our understandings of gender and of sexuality to ensure we are always reading the signs of the times in new ways, with new eyes and open hearts.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Officials Condemn LGBT Murders in Bangladesh, Call for Justice

April 29, 2016
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Xulhaz Mannan, left, and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy

Catholic officials in Bangladesh have condemned the brutal murders of two LGBT advocates, criticizing too the discrimination that sexual and gender diverse communities face in a nation which still criminalizes homosexuality.

Four days ago, Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were killed by militants affiliated with Ansar Al Islam. Mannan founded and edited Roopbaan, the nation’s first and only LGBT magazine, and worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Tonoy was an actor who advocated for gay rights.  Both were hacked to death by machete

Mannan and Tonoy’s murders add to a spree of targeted killings by militants against liberal figures and intellectuals. Al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates are seeking to grow in the majority Muslim nation, and their campaign includes targeting LGBT advocates.

The brutality of these murders by machete, coupled with the victims’ gay identities, has propelled the story into the international spotlight. Two Catholic officials in Bangladesh have reacted forcefully against the murders.

Fr. Albert Thomas Rozario, head of the Archdiocese of Dhaka’s Justice and Peace Commission and a Supreme Court lawyer, told UCA News that justice must be ensured for the two gay men murdered:

” ‘The church always supports the demands of LGBT people for equal rights and opportunities as ordinary citizens. . .We call on the authorities to ensure justice is meted out for the killings, and also to take steps to end discrimination against this community.’ “

Rosaline Costa, a Catholic who is Executive Director of Hotline Human Rights Trust Bangladesh, said the government must do more than just investigate these killings:

” ‘God has given us freedom of choice and nobody is allowed to persecute people for their sexual orientation because of so-called traditional values based on conservative religious norms. A truly democratic society can’t accept abuse in the name of religion. . .

” ‘A proper probe and justice for the killings won’t do much protect the community. The government must ensure that the discrimination of LGBT people ends in this country even though the so-called protectors of Islam might not like it.’ “

The situation for LGBT people in Bangladesh is highly oppressive. Being gay is criminalized with sanctions including life imprisonment. While the law criminalizing homosexuality is a leftover from British penal laws, strong current prejudices lead to cultural disapproval and discrimination. Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim nation, is highly religious, though there are only about 300,000 Catholics or 0.2% of the population. An anonymous advocate with the gay rights group Boys of Bangladesh told UCA News that being LGBT “can result in the denial of every opportunity and rights” and that they are considered “dreadful sinners.”

The deep tragedy of these murders is shining light on the suffering of Bangladesh’s LGBT communities, both in country and abroad. Fr. Rozario and Rosaline Costa countered the idea that religious belief entails LGBT condemnation, and they rejected violence in the name of religion. They acted because of their Catholic faith, not in spite of it, to not only seek justice for Mannan and Tonoy but to demand government action against anti-LGBT discrimination and violence. In this way, where fundamentalist religion and anti-LGBT hate had culminated in the brutality of these murders, Catholics found a way to mediate God’s love and cry out for God’s justice.

But the church’s response must move beyond reactive calls for justice when LGBT people are attack to a proactive solidarity which seeks protections before tragedy occurs. Words from Pope Francis condemning LGBT criminalization would go a long way towards this goal, but he has remained silent. Thankfully, clergy like Fr,. Rozario and lay people like Rosaline Costa are not waiting, but immediately standing with marginalized communities to demand justice and fair treatment.

If Pope Francis would condemn criminalization against LGBTQI people, he would clarify a sometimes ambivalent Catholic stance regarding violence against sexual and gender minorities. Catholics across the world have asked Francis to send a clear message through the #PopeSpeakOut campaign – and you can add your voice by clicking here and learning about a variety of ways that you can contact the pontiff!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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