Bishop Endorses Ban on Transgender Soldiers, Silent on Other Discrimination

Responding to President Donald Trump’s apparent ban on transgender soldiers in the military, the archbishop for the Military Services, USA released a statement endorsing the ban. Meanwhile, there’s been silence from U.S. bishops on another Trump administration act that could advance discrimination against LGBT people.

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Archbishop Timothy Broglio

Archbishop Timothy Broglio opened his statement on the transgender ban with an affirmation that the church cares for all people “regardless of personal choices or conditions, because Christ offers salvation to all people.”

While Broglio supported Trump’s trans ban, he believed that the president missed the real issue about gender identity. Broglio said that trans soldiers are not problematic because of military readiness or cost, as the president claimed, but because of a deeper reason. Broglio said the ban fails “to address the essence of the issue – the dignity of the human person.”Broglio explained:

“[G]ender ideology undermines basic Christian anthropology by defining the person as a disembodied mind and the body as a mere instrument. . .Sexual orientation and gender identity issues reflect a rapidly increasing and incorrect societal attitude that individual behaviors in life should pursue immediate and personal choices rather than eternal truth.  In extending the maternal care of the Church to the faithful of this Archdiocese, it is opportune to reaffirm that personal choices in life, whether regarding the protection of the unborn, the sanctity of marriage and the family, or the acceptance of a person’s God-created biology, should be made not solely for a penultimate reality on this earth but in anticipation of the ultimate reality of sharing in the very life of God in heaven.”

Other Catholics endorsed the president’s ban, even while it is still unclear whether his tweet constituents an actual order and how such an order would be implemented. Theologian Chad Pecknold of The Catholic University of America described the ban as the “right decision” because trans people being respected “doesn’t mean that they are fit for combat in the defense of a nation.”

The Trump administration took another anti-LGBT action on the same day as the announcement of the ban, which was also the 69th anniversary of when the military was racially desegregated.

The Justice Department announced that it would no longer interpret Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employment discrimination for certain protected classes, to be inclusive of sexual orientation. This decision reverses actions taken by President Obama’s Justice Department, which had also interpreted the law as protecting workers based on gender identity. So far, Catholic bishops in the U.S. have been silent about this discriminatory regression.

These two responses undercut church leaders’ claims that LGBT people should be shown “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” Broglio and Pecknold speak in terms that treat trans people as objects and as problems with which the church must deal rather than understanding trans people as members of Christ’s body and gifts to the world. Their words seem to indicate they have not personally encountered a trans person and listened to such a person’s story. Their theology derives from anti-trans ideology rather than being grounded in lived realities and scientific knowledge. They certainly do not seem truly concerned with the human dignity of trans people, despite Broglio’s statement that he is.

Church leaders should vocally oppose federal actions that would allow more employment discrimination against LGBT people. While there are more complicated issues when it comes to church workers, church teaching clearly rejects the firing of an employee based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression. That same church teaching says “every sign of unjust discrimination should be avoided.” The bishops’ collective silence on this issue when they have so quickly spoken out to oppose LGBT issues, such as marriage or transgender equality, is sadly telling.

In other similar situations, Church leaders have responded differently than Broglio. Pope Francis himself, whose record on gender identity is admittedly mixed, readily affirmed one nun’s ministry with transgender women in Argentina. Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich said recently that “people should be called the way they want to be called.” Most of all, U.S. bishops could listen to their German peer and papal adviser, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich. He recently said the church should be more concerned with discrimination against LGBT people than marriage equality. His statement included these words:

“[It is worth recalling] that the Church has not exactly been a trailblazer as far as the rights of homosexuals are concerned. We must express our regret that we did nothing to oppose homosexuals from being prosecuted. “

Shifting positions to be truly concerned with the dignity of transgender people and discrimination against members of LGBT communities would not be difficult for the U.S. bishops if they have the will to do so. The sad reality is that even four years into Pope Francis’ leadership, that will too often remains absent.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 1, 2017

Cardinal: Focus on Church’s Failure to Defend Gay Rights, Not Marriage Equality

In contrast to many Catholic leaders, a ranking German cardinal has said the church should be more concerned with the way lesbian and gay people are discriminated against than with marriage equality.

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Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who heads the German Bishops’ Conference, made his remarks in an interview with Augsburger Allgemeine , a major Bavarian newspaper.

Marx rejected conservative church voices who have claimed that marriage equality will have dire social consequences in Germany after legislators approved lit earlier this month. While upholding the Magisterium’s heteronormative teaching on marriage, Marx chided critics, according to La Croix:

“‘[It is worth recalling] that the Church has not exactly been a trailblazer as far as the rights of homosexuals are concerned. We must express our regret that we did nothing to oppose homosexuals from being prosecuted. The law (which made homosexuality a crime) was not rescinded until 1994 (in Germany) and we, as a Church, did not concern ourselves with it.'”

Marx, who is a close advisor of Pope Francis, also commented on the key distinction between church and state, as it relates to lawmaking:

“‘The Christian position is one thing. It’s another thing to ask if I can make all the Christian moral concepts (state) laws. . .Whoever fails to understand that the one does not automatically lead to the other, has not understood the essence of modern society.'”

Pressed on this question by the interviewer, Marx reiterated his point that the church does not “simply want to mold our opinions into laws.”  Marx explained:

““We live in an open society in which there are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and non-believers. In a secular society, the state must make laws that are valid for everyone.”

The interviewer also asked whether the passage of marriage equality proved the church had lost its influence in the public realm. Marx replied:

“‘Surely Christian influence doesn’t show itself only in laws, but in the everyday values that are lived in society. It is not merely a case of our influence but of those concerns, the Gospels oblige us as Christians to carry out. . .We don’t only lobby for the Church!'”

Marx did express support for a legal appeal before the nation’s Supreme Court, but interestingly his welcome of the appeal was so that it would “be good for legal peace in Germany.” This statement could imply that he would accept whatever the Court’s ruling might be.

The German bishops’ overall response to the legalization of marriage equality has been quite nuanced, and in such a way that it is a sign of positive change in the church. In his statement on the issue, Archbishop Heiner Koch disapproved of marriage equality while recognizing a need to protect same-gender couples who exhibit “mutual responsibility and care” in their relationships.

As for Cardinal Marx, his record on LGBT issues has been somewhat ambivalent but is increasingly positive. Last year, Marx said history had treated gay people badly, such that “as church and as society we have to say sorry.” During the Synod on the Family, he was one of the leading voices for greater welcome and pastoral outreach to lesbian and gay people. He has also called for a re-thinking of sexual ethics around homosexuality which takes into account the reality of people’s lives and relationships.

At the same time, including in these most recent comments, Marx has continued to advance heterosexual couples as having a “special relationship, and firmly rejected the idea that same-gender relationships could be blessed in the church.

Nonetheless, it is very good news that a church leader as high-ranking as Cardinal Marx would publicly voice what so many Catholics have lived by for years: the church’s primary treatment of LGBT issues should come not from sexual ethics, but from social justice.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 18, 2017

NEWS NOTES: Church Official Calls Non-Discrimination Laws a “Sword” Against Equality Opponents; Other News Updates

Here are some items that may be of interest:

News Notes1. Non-discrimination laws aimed at protecting LGBT people are “used as a sword by LGBT activists to go after those who disagree with their ideological beliefs on human sexuality,” according to the Nebraska Catholic Conference’s Executive Director, Tom Venzor. Writing in the Southern Nebraska Register, Venzor criticized state bill LB173 that would have made sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes.

2. Dignity/Chicago recently celebrated its 45th anniversary, reported the Windy City Times. Members gathered for Mass and a celebration where DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke spoke, and the group honored Lambda Legal. Ramon Rodriguez, Dignity/Chicago’s board president, told attendees, “Our work is far from done. . .we are only as good as how we tackle the current and future needs of our community.”

3. High school student Riley Collins created a radio essay on “My Catholic mom and her two queer sons,” which addressed the tensions in his family between his Filipino mother’s grappling with having two gays sons and the sons’ distanced relationship from the Catholic Church.

4. A film about a Venezuelan transgender activist and legislator was reportedly barred from two church-affiliated colleges: the Catholic University Andrés Bello and the Catholic University Santa Rosa. Producers of the film “Tamara” claimed the schools told them they could not host a screening because it was “transsexual propaganda.” The colleges denied these allegations, reported ArtsFreedom.

5. A Roman Catholic farmer in Michigan alleged that he was barred from a farmers’ market because he does not support marriage equality. Steve Tennes of Country Mill Farms is now suing the city of East Lansing, which operates the market. The city’s mayor, Mark Meadows, said the ban is because Tennes refused to host a same-gender wedding at his facility, and the city does not contract with vendors who discriminate.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 25, 2017

Semesters End with a Hate Crime, a Walkout, and a Lavender Graduation

Yet another academic semester is in the books. Today’s post features news highlights from around Catholic higher education.

Creighton University Responds to Hate Crime

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Note found at Creighton University with anti-gay slur blurred out at the top

Community members at Creighton University were shaken when a gay student, Joseph Gray, discovered a hateful note pinned to the door of his dorm room. The note said:

“Kill yourself. Leave our school. Gays are not welcome in Nebraska or Creighton.”

Gray reported the note to University officials, saying he “shouldn’t have to come back to where I sleep and worry about what I’m going to see” when he and other gay students have to worry about on-campus bullying in the daytime.

Fr. Daniel Hendrickson, S.J., the University’s president, released two statements. In the first statement, he said the note was “a breach of the Jesuit values we all share as the Creighton community, values which bind us all in the common mission of ensuring Creighton is a safe, respectful, inclusive place.”

Following up, Hendrickson said he was “very troubled” by the note and confirmed it was being investigated by the administration.

Gray told WOWT 6 News, a television station in Omaha, that while the note was only frustrating to him, similar acts could be far more damaging to other students. He wants administrators to help the note’s author understand the harm such hate speech causes.

Notre Dame Graduates Walk Out on VP Pence

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Students walking out of Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony as Vice President Pence speaks

As Vice President Mike Pence began addressing the University of Notre Dame’s commencement last week, more than 150 graduates and their families silently walked out in protest. They were greeted outside the ceremony by some 300 additional protestors, reported the South Bend Tribune.

Xitlaly Estrada, a graduate who participated in the walkout, said the protests were because students were “for racial justice, for immigrant rights, for LGBT rights, for every marginalized group that’s been targeted by Pence’s actions.”

Student organizers with We Stand for ND cited Pence’s opposition to LGBT rights as a key part of the protests. The statement said:

“During his time as governor of the state of Indiana and now as a Vice-President, Pence has targeted the civil rights protections of members of LBGT+ community. . .Pope Francis has bestowed upon the world a call. . .to acknowledge and respect the humanity of sexual minorities, and to bring down all walls that separate us.”

Georgetown Students Celebrate Lavender Graduation

Students at Georgetown University once again celebrated a Lavender Graduation organized by the LGBTQ Resource Center by recognizing the achievements of some 120 LGBTQ graduates, according to the campus newspaper, The Georgetown Voice.

Fr. Greg Schenden, S.J., the Catholic chaplain, said the University supports LGBTQ students “precisely because we are Catholic and Jesuit.” The Voice reported that “University President John DeGioia spoke about the activism that led to the founding of the LGBTQ Resource Center.”

Georgetown University has hosted a Lavender Graduation each year since 2009, and there are at least seven other Catholic colleges who have held such ceremonies in previous years.

Holy Cross Students Share Campus Experiences

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Sample posters that were part of Holy Cross’ students listening campaign

Student leaders at the College of the Holy Cross recently displayed posters with quotes from LGBTQ+ community members about what it means to be a sexual and/or gender minority on the campus.

The Student Government Association said the project sought to raise such voices because, according to the campus newspaper, The Crusader, “In order for us to become more welcoming to people in the lgbtq+ community, we need to listen closely to what those already here are saying.”

Responses were gathered through an anonymous survey, and were mixed between positive and negative statements. Some students said they felt supported, while others said they could not be out at Holy Cross or had to begin commuting. One poster read, “Being queer at Holy Cross means you’re an activist simply by existing whether you want to be or not.”

Fordham University Raises Trans Awareness

Students at Fordham University celebrated the Transgender Day of Visibility in late March by hosting a screening of “The Trans List,” a documentary about prominent trans people like Laverne Cox and Bamby Salcedo, founder of the TransLatin@ Coalition. A discussion followed and student journalist, Sam Deassis, raised questions in the campus newspaper, The Fordham Observer, about the practical implications of trans awareness for their campus community.

Fordham has already taken steps to be more supportive of transgender students by implementing gender-neutral restrooms and hosting a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in 2015.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 26, 2017

Court: Church Legally Justified in Firing of Gay Church Worker in Chicago

In a ruling released last week, a federal judge has said a Catholic parish was legally justified in firing a gay church worker. The Washington Blade reported:

“In a seven-page decision, U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras determined Tuesday the Holy Family Parish, which is under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Chicago, had the right to terminate Colin Collette because the worker’s position was ministerial in nature.

“‘By playing music at church services, Collette served an integral role in the celebration of mass,’ Kocoras said. ‘Collette’s musical performances furthered the mission of the church and helped convey its message to the congregants. Therefore, Collette’s duties as Musical Director fall within the ministerial exception.'”

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Colin Collette

Collette sued Holy Family and the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2015 claiming employment discrimination under federal, state, and county laws. It was hoped Collette’s case would add to the small, but growing number of legal victories for church workers who have lost their jobs over LGBT issues.

Judge Kocoras did not, however, rule on whether Collette was discriminated against by the parish; he ruled on whether the firing was protected under the so-called “ministerial exemption.”

According to the Blade, the judge’s actions preceding the ruling show he “entertained the idea Collette’s position wasn’t ministerial in nature and therefore protected under the civil rights law.” But that was not where Kocoras ended up, as he explained in the ruling:

“[A] position can be found to be ministerial if it requires the participant to undertake religious duties and functions. . .Here, Collette worked with church volunteers to choose the music that would enhance the prayer offered at mass. Choosing songs to match the weekly scripture required the group, including Collette, to make discretionary religious judgments since the Catholic Church does not have rules specifying what piece of music is to be played at each mass.'”

Collette was fired in 2014 as Holy Family’s music minister because his engagement to longtime partner and now husband, Will Nifong, became known to church officials. The firing was traumatic for the parish, where Collette had served for 17 years. Some 700 parishioners attended a town hall about it and there welcomed Collette with a standing ovation. One parishioner expressed anger and disappointment at the treatment of Collette, saying: “Everybody was welcome…That’s become a lie.

The firing is problematic not only for the parish, but for the Archdiocese as well. Archbishop Blase Cupich has said the consciences of LGBT people must be respected, and even endorsed legal protections for families headed by same-gender partners. Yet, the Archdiocese has continued to defend the firings of Collette and another gay church worker, Sandor Demkovich.

This latest ruling should not be celebrated by church officials because, while it may be legal justice, it has not advanced social justice. Archbishop Cupich could, however, freely choose to act for the common good by apologizing to Collette and taking the lead in reconciliation efforts at Holy Family.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 25, 2017

Griffin PromoIf you would like to learn more about the issue of LGBT church workers in Catholic institutions, consider attending 

Leslie Griffin, a professor of law, will give a plenary session talk on “Religious Liberty, Employment, & LGBT Issues” at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois.    During one of the focus sessions, three people affected by the firings, Colleen Simon, Margie Winters, and Andrea Vettori will give personal testimony about “The Challenges of LGBT Church Workers.” For more information, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

After Trans Student Shot, Catholic School Shifts Course

A British Catholic school is attempting to make itself a safer space after a transgender girl student was shot with a BB gun by another student. Though the school has responded with some positive steps, this horrifying incident is a reminder of the urgency with which Catholic education needs to become safer for LGBT students.

safe-schools_0A transgender girl in Manchester, England, was shot by a classmate after months of severe bullying, and just two days after the girl’s mother met with school officials about a previous bullying incident.

G, a pseudonym for the 11-year-old girl, had endured five months of harrassment and threats, according to her mother, identified as A. Gay Star News reported:

“Last Monday, G’s mother A was called into school following a ‘distressing’ incident [wherein students had written a series of anti-transgender slurs on her notebook, which we have chosen to omit here]. . .

“The previous day, A said she had sent an email to staff about the escalating bullying. While she was bullied a little at primary, it got a lot worse when she joined secondary school. And she believes that email was ignored.

“‘Pupils have thrown water over her, spat at her, and kicked her to the ground. Not a day goes by without her being attacked, insulted or threatened with violence,’ her mother said.”

A said she told school officials that “something bad was going to happen,” and she faulted them for doing little to intervene against the bullying. When G was shot, her mother said the school did not notify A for over an hour. When she arrived at school, A found her daughter “extremely quiet, just shaking and not speaking.”

Though the physical harm was minimal, the emotional wounds of these incidents have left G in pain. She is unable to sleep because of nightmares, and she has vocalized thoughts about suicide. The family is seeking supports for her. A explained that it has been very clear since her daughter’s coming out that they would need to work hard to ensure G does not become one of the many transgender youth who die prematurely from violence or by suicide.

The Catholic school, which has gone unnamed in news reports, is now taking steps to educate students and staff towards creating a safer environment, reported the Manchester Evening News. The headteacher said the student who fired the BB gun has been expelled. In a statement, the headteacher said:

“The victim is a transgender pupil and sadly there have been incidents of bullying before this latest incident. We have worked with our pupils to respect and accept people of different sexual orientation and identities and will continue to do this. We have enlisted the support of a national organisation to help us further with our training of staff and pupils and support for our transgender pupils. We have met with the parents of the pupil to apologise and to see what we can do further as a school.”

These efforts have included inviting Stonewall, an LGBT organization in England, to do trainings for members of the school community. But school officials should not stop there or lessen their commitment to LGBT students. The mother was clear that the intense bullying G experienced is because of her gender, saying, “It is a hate of who she is and it is awful.”

At least one other British Catholic school has worked with Stonewall, the United Kingdom’s leading LGBT equality group, to make schools safer.  As Bondings 2.0 noted when we reported this news in 2013, such a relationship between a religious group and a secular group is a model for how the Church and the LGBT community could work together.

On a related note, a transgender student Mason Catrambone, who was rejected by a Catholic high school in New Jersey last year, recently began classes at a public school that welcomes him.

During National Catholic Schools Week in January, we featured an Australian gay man who thanked his Catholic school for helping him come out and feel affirmed. While this is not the experience of many LGBT Students, and certainly G has suffered greatly at a Catholic school, it is helpful to remember that the church’s education programs can be a source of tremendous good if done in welcoming and affirming ways.

For now, let us pray that G finds healing and can return, as she hopes to do, to her Catholic school — a place where, increasingly, every student is safe, welcomed, and affirmed.

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” will include a focus session on, “Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions,” led by campus minister and researcher Michael Maher.  We will also host a focus session on “Transgender and Intersex Identities and the Family,” featuring Deacon Ray Dever, Lexi Dever, and Nicole Santamaria. The symposium is scheduled for April 28–30, 2017, in Chicago.  For more information, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 9, 2017

For Third Time, Court Rejects Catholic School’s Motion to Dismiss Discrimination Suit

A New Jersey Catholic school’s motion to dismiss the discrimination lawsuit it faces from a fired lesbian employee has again been dismissed.

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Kate Drumgoole, right, and her wife, Jaclyn Vanore

The motion, filed by co-defendants Paramus Catholic High School and the Archdiocese of Newark, was denied by a New Jersey state appeals court. This means a lawsuit filed against them by former Paramus Catholic dean Kate Drumgoole can proceed.

Drumgoole sued the school in August after being fired earlier this year when the archdiocese became aware of her same-gender marriage with Jaclyn Vanore. NJ.com reported:

“[Drumgoole] alleges she was discriminated against by the archdiocese, the school and its president after it was revealed that she was married to a woman.

“The school admitted in a legal motion that she was fired because of her marriage, but argued it didn’t violate state rules because church employees must abide by the Catholic faith.”

This is the third time a joint Paramus Catholic-Archdiocese of Newark motion to dismiss the lawsuit has been rejected by New Jersey courts.

In October, a judge rejected the argument that the defendants were exempt as religious institutions from the New Jersey Laws Against Discrimination (NJLAD), saying a ruling on whether such an exemption applies could not yet be made.

The case will likely come down to whether Paramus Catholic and the Archdiocese are exempt from the states’ employment non-discrimination exemptions, based on whether Drumgoole is legally considered a minister. The defendants have admitted outright that Drumgoole, a former guidance counselor and basketball coach, was fired because she entered a civil marriage with her wife.

The discovery period which can now finally proceed will allow for a determination of whether the exemption applies or not. A finding may be quickly followed by a resolution.

A recent editorial from The Record said it seems as if Kate Drumgoole’s discrimination suit “has been going on for years, but in reality, it has only barely begun.” The editors commented further:

“Whether Drumgoole’s team can prove its case – although we have held she should not have been terminated – Drumgoole’s case deserves to be heard in a court of law. Individuals who believe they have been wrongfully terminated have the right to seek legal redress, to take their case to a court, to have the justice system weigh the merits.

“Despite efforts by the school and the archdiocese to seek dismissal, a Superior Court judge, and now a state appeals court, have both concluded that Drumgoole’s case has enough merit to keep moving forward. Only by proceeding to discovery can a clearer picture begin to be drawn in the case of an abrupt firing of someone who, from all appearances, seemed to be a model employee and representative of the school.”

Drumgoole’s case sparked a number of related controversies in the local Newark church this fall. Fr. Warren Hall, an archdiocesan priest, was suspended from priestly duties in part because of his support for Drumgoole.  The school’s principal was suspended from work for a few days, and the school’s president still remains suspended. Over 3000 school community members signed a petition protesting Drumgoole’s firing.

A particularly troubling aspect of this firing is that church officials only became aware of the marriage after an estranged family member of Lenore’s sent photos of the couples to them. Drumgoole’s job description does not seem ministerial, and it would seem fitting that she be protected by LGBT non-discrimination laws. Whatever the court’s ruling, it will not change two facts. First, church officials allowed a family wound to be exploited by them to cause further harm. Second, they are defending their discrimination against an LGBT person by claiming a religious exemption. While that maybe legally correct, the Catholic tradition does not support such discrimination.

Instead of waiting on a court’s ruling, Newark’s new Cardinal Joseph Tobin should end the legal defense, admit a discriminatory mistake was made, apologize to Drumgoole, her wife, and Catholics generally, and see how reconciliation can now be attained. Such actions initiated by Tobin, who was appointed by Pope Francis, would be a clear indication that the exclusionary style and actions of his predecessor, Archbishop John Myers, are no more. And that is Good News which Newark’s Catholics very much need to hear this Christmas.

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 more than 60 incidents since 2007 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 20, 2016