If Australians end up legalizing marriage equality, such a victory might actually increase the risk that church workers could lose their jobs in LGBT-related incidents. And with a postal survey on the marriage question underway, there may be increased risks even if church workers are public about their support for equal marriage.
Though the postal survey Australia is non-binding, the marriage debate has been just as heated as if it were binding. In one incident, it was reported that Melbourne’s Archbishop Denis Hart, speaking as president of the Australian Bishops’ Conference, had threatened to fire church workerswho enter same-gender marriages, should marriage equality be approved. A later report clarified the archbishop’s statement, mitigating the reported threat but acknowledged that individual bishops are free to act as they wish in their dioceses.
Fr. Andrew Hamilton, SJ, a consulting editor for the Catholic magazine Eureka Street, has said even if Hart’s statements were misreported, the possibility that church workers would be fired remains alive.
Writing inLa Croix, Hamilton said the argument that employees at Catholic institutions should live publicly in a way consistent with church teaching, lest they undermine that teaching, “belongs to a past age.” Catholic institutions now readily employ non-practicing Catholics, people of other faith traditions, and non-believers. Hamilton commented on this new reality:
“What attracts many people from diverse backgrounds to work in these Catholic organizations with children, the ill and people who are marginalised is their ethos. The tradition they inherit appeals to the unique value of each human being regardless of faith, worthiness of life, gender or sexual preference.
“That appeal is rooted in the belief that each human being is deeply loved by God. It is embodied in the story of Jesus Christ, and in the stories of the religious congregations inspired by him to found the organizations.”
Hamilton’s concern is to protect this ethos of care for marginalized and vulnerable people. If this ethos is to continue, then Catholics charged with transmitting the faith from which it emerges must be “enthusiastic about living its values, and able to commend them effectively and ensure that they govern their relationships with the people whom they serve and with one another.”
Transmission, Hamilton wrote, is based on trust, which “would certainly break down” were church workers to lose their job over LGBT issues. Indeed, the author said Australian lesbian and gay people are specifically vulnerable with the postal survey underway, and the church therefore has “a particular responsibility” to offer respect for and care to them. Hamilton concluded:
“The credibility of Catholic organizations as Christian and as humane is at stake.”
More than 70 church workers have come forward that they have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes in the last decade. Often, these firings occur when a church worker enters into a same-gender marriage. Other times, it is a church worker’s public support for marriage equality that led to their firing. Whatever the reason given by church officials, Hamilton is on point when he wrote that nothing less than the church’s credibility is at stake when these unjust firings occur.
ForBondings 2.0‘s full coverage LGBT-related employment issues in the church, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of such church workers and volunteers, as well as other information and resources about the topic..
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 26, 2017
Today, we offer seven questions to Danica Roem, a candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates. If elected, Roem, who was raised Catholic, would become the commonwealth’s first openly transgender elected official. Roem is challenging Delegate Bob Marshall, a Catholic and 25-year incumbent who has focused on opposing LGBT equality. Roem corresponded with Bondings 2.0 via email.
1. For our readers who are not in Northern Virginia, can you tell us a little about your background and about why you are running for state Delegate?
I’m a 32-year-old step-mom and a lifelong Manassas resident who authored more than 2,500 news stories about the greater Prince William County area as the lead reporter for the Gainesville Times from 2006-2015. I’m running to fix Route 28, bring high-paying jobs to Innovation Park, fill the office vacancies in Manassas Park and raise teacher pay in Prince William County and Manassas Park so it’s not the lowest in Northern Virginia. I believe we can accomplish all of those items together while working to make Virginia a more inclusive commonwealth. No matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship, or who you love, you should be welcomed here for who you are, not for what other people tell you you’re supposed to be.
2. Can you share a little bit about your Catholic background? Has your Catholic background had an influence on your involvement in politics?
I was baptized and confirmed Roman Catholic at All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas. After attending kindergarten through third grade at Loch Lomond Elementary School in Manassas, I attended Catholic schools for the next 13 years, including five at All Saints Catholic School in Manassas, four years at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax (Class of 2002) and four years at St. Bonaventure University in western New York (Class of 2006), where I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism/Mass Communication.
My Catholic background introduced me to a quote from St. Francis de Sales that I repeat often on the campaign trail: “Be who you are and be that well.” Meanwhile, the social justice teachings from the church that are inclusive of other people–particularly taking care of the poor, homeless, neglected, abused and forgotten–are extremely important to me.
3. A lot of transphobia comes from religious groups. Why do you think this is so?
It’s a conflict between a literal interpretation of the Bible and the lived, experienced reality of people who deviate from that literal interpretation without reconciling what psychology teaches us. God has a place for transgender people, to,o and it’s not to club us over the head to tell us we’re supposed to be someone we’re not.
The same God who made men and women made some men transgender, some women transgender and some people non-binary. If God didn’t want transgender people to exist, we wouldn’t. If the entirety of your interpretation about what it means to be a man or woman boils down to an anatomical definition of sex, then you’re leaving out the heart and soul of what it means to experience a gender or lack thereof.
4. How have your gender identity and spiritual identity related to one another in your life?
My own personal gender identity and spiritual identity are reconciled. I’m not afraid to say I disagree with a lot of the Vatican’s teachings on gender and sexuality, and I fundamentally disagree with the lack of power offered to women within the church. People are perfectly capable of independent thought, we don’t have to believe everything we’re told from otherwise fallible people who are just like you and me.
5. You’re running against a Catholic, Delegate Bob Marshall, who has taken positions against the LGBT community, including introducing a “bathrooms bill” similar to North Carolina’s HB 2 law that would mandate people use restrooms according to their assigned sex at birth. What message do you have for Catholics like Marshall who do not endorse LGBT equality?
If I filed a bill so Catholic priests have to use a facility different than anyone else, that probably wouldn’t go over too well though it would be easy to justify it by saying, “Well, too many Catholic priests abused boys and young men, so they can’t be in the same restroom as boys and young men.” In fact, reading that very sentence probably elicited some sort of reaction from you, likely either, “That’s so offensive!” or “Ha, you tell ’em!” It shouldn’t have made you comfortable or uncomfortable; it should have made you simply recognize the absurdity of filing such a bill. We don’t do that because it’s discriminatory, it singles out and stigmatizes a specific group of people based on the actions of a criminal minority. And it’s impossible to enforce.
Meanwhile, there has never been a case in American history of a transgender woman sexually assaulting another woman in a restroom but transgender women are treated as if we’re more of a threat than the priest in the boys’ room who has a history of sexual violence. The last thing any transgender person wants to do is expose the parts of their anatomy that make them different from the other people around them. It speaks to a fundamental lack of understanding about how gender dysphoria works to suggest otherwise.
Transgender women are women, transgender men are men, gender non-conforming people are people and we all just need to pee.
Regarding equality more broadly, it’s simple: if two consenting adults want to get married, celebrate their joy, don’t tell them they’re abominations. If you wouldn’t want to be discriminated against for who you are, let alone told to be someone you’re not, then don’t discriminate against other people for who they are and don’t tell LGBTQ people they’re not supposed to be LGBTQ. Some people take time to figure out what’s best for them and they may try out several different identities until something fits. Some people know who they are and when they figure it out, they’re set. So leave them alone.
6. Religion, gender, sexuality are often volatile topics. How much of a role do you think they will play in campaigning for the office you are seeking?
They only play a role when I’m asked about them or I’m trying to find common ground. What other people say about religion, gender and sexuality is their business. When I’m knocking on doors, I’m talking about my plan to fix Route 28.
7. If you win the election, you will be the first trans person to hold elected office in Virginia, and one of a only a small number of LGBT elected officials in the country. Do you see yourself as an LGBT role model?
If you mean a role model for LGBTQ people who focus on improving infrastructure while running for office, sure. Otherwise, I don’t call myself that but if other people see me as a role model, that’s their business. I’m running to fix Route 28. Seriously. That’s why I’m doing this. When we replace the traffic lights in Centreville with overpasses, I’ll retire from politics and actually have a life again. So, note to anyone who doesn’t want me in office long: if you want me to go away, then hurry up and fix Route 28. I’ll gladly step aside when it’s done. I have exactly zero political ambition beyond the General Assembly. I’ll never run statewide. I’ll never run for Congress. I’m running to do a good job as a delegate, which vicariously means I’ll show that well-qualified transgender people are perfectly capable of dealing with public policy as anyone else who’s well-qualified.
A high-profile priest in Australia has come out in favor of marriage equality amid a heated national debate over the issue, and his comments have been well received by Catholics.
Fr. Frank Brennan, SJ, endorsed marriage equality in the lead up to Australia’s non-binding plebiscite that will be conducted by mail this fall. Speaking at a lecture delivered in memory of famed Labor politician Lionel Bowen, himself a Catholic, Brennan told attendees:
“Though a committed Catholic, I could vote ‘yes’ in a survey on same sex marriage while hoping and demanding that the parliament do the hard work on religious freedoms when considering amendments to the Marriage Act. I am one of those Australians who will be pleased when same-sex marriages are recognised by Australian law but with adequate protection for religious freedoms.”
Brennan, who heads Catholic Social Services Australia and is a law professor, offered three observations to critics of his position. First, he noted that civil marriage is a contract that is already inconsistent with Catholic sacramental marriage because it is not permanent and does not need to be open to children.
Second, he said:
“With civil marriage being expanded to include same sex couples as contract partners in countries like UK, USA, Canada and New Zealand, there will be an increasing number of couples civilly married in those countries living in Australia. It will be more and more difficult to deny recognition of those civil marriages here in Australia when the couples are ageing and needing spousal rights and recognition in hospital etc.”
Third, children raised by same-gender couples deserve “a society where there is a public commitment to respect and affirmation of their family arrangements.” Brennan concluded his remarks on marriage equality with these words:
“Those of us who are Catholic have multiple affiliations. We are members of the Catholic Church affirming the sacramentality of marriage as defined by our Church and we are citizens of a pluralistic democratic society under the rule of law affirming the legitimacy of committed relationships which are solemnised at law in the hope of contributing to the well-being of the couple and of their children.”
Brennan has been outspoken on LGBT issues, including his 2015 foresight that any vote on marriage equality like the current plebiscite would be “very nasty” and would “unleash torrents of hate on the gay and lesbian community.” This year, negative campaigning has appeared which denigrates LGBT people. In Melbourne, hate speech quoting the research of a Catholic priest appeared on a poster. The possibility of church worker firings has been raised by at least one bishop [Editor’s note: The church worker firings story was initially reported as a direct threat, but was later clarified to be more general].
Brennan also supported civil unions for same-gender couples as early as 2011, and later argued for the separation of civil and sacramental marriage.
In contrast to Brennan’s well-received endorsement of marriage equality, students and alumni at a Catholic school in Melbourne reacted negatively when the local pastor encouraged parents to vote against equality. Fr. Joseph Abatu made his opposition to marriage equality public in the newsletter for St. Peter’s College Cranbourne. Critics reacted strongly on social media against Abatu’s intervention in the school community, reported TenPlay:
“[Alum Nate Bicey said,] In the class of 2004. . .there is at least 7 that have come out LGBTQI. It’s really disappointing to see you dishonour not just past students but today’s and tomorrow’s. . .I just hope for your sake no one in this school becomes a statistic of youth taking there [sic] life for not feeling equal and the school announcing that they are not.”
While the school includes sexuality in its non-discrimination statement, alum Val Bucky Barbosa said there was much bullying when they attended and “the school chose to do nothing.”
Polling shows Australian Catholics’ opinions are very much in line with Fr. Brennan’s “yes” vote, and few Catholics support LGBT-negative church officials like Abatu. Indeed, Queering the Church reported that two-thirds of Catholics were supportive of marriage equality. As usual, such support is because of Catholics’ faith, not in spite of it. Fr. Brennan’s comments during the lecture helpfully enrich the public reasons for why Catholics are so supportive when drawing from our faith tradition’s riches.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 6, 2017
Here are some items about Catholic LGBT news that may interest you:
1. Leo Varadkar, the Republic of Ireland’s first gay prime minister, told attendees at Belfast’s Pride celebrations that it was “only a matter of time” before marriage equality became legal in Northern Ireland. Both traditionally Catholic parties in the North support marriage equality, while it is Protestant-backed political groups leading the opposition.
2. A hate crime complaint filed against Archbishop Francisco Javier Martínez of Granada has been dismissed. An LGBT group filed the complaint earlier this year based on the archbishop’s criticism of gender ideology in a homily, but his remarks fell under free speech protections according to a Spanish court official. This complaint is the second attempted hate crime charge against a Spanish bishop.
3. San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has appointed Maggie Gallagher to an archdiocesan post dealing with worship and liturgy. Gallagher is the founder of the National Organization for Marriage. Both the archbishop and Gallagher were leading Catholic opponents of marriage equality in the U.S.
4. The Catholic Women’s League of Canada criticized the nation’s new Bill C-16 law which adds gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. Margaret Ann Jacobs, the League’s president, said the group was concerned that Catholics would not be able “to live out their faith and peaceably disagree with the current gender theory without fear of reprisal.”
The Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry (RCIA), a coalition of LGBTI affirming Catholic groups and pastoral organizers, this past week released a statement of concern about harsh messages that have begun appearing in the lead up to the nation’s non-binding plebiscite on marriage equality this fall.
On last Thursday, Bondings 2.0 reported on a neo-Nazi poster bearing hate speech that appeared in Melbourne. The poster cited a Catholic priest’s discredited research that claims children with same-gender parents suffer disproportionately higher rates of abuse and addiction than those raised by heterosexual parents.
We also reported on Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart’s threat that he would fire church workers who entered civil same-gender marriages should that become a legal option. Archbishop Timothy Costelloe has since clarified those remarks, though not before a major Catholic healthcare provider released a statement affirming its LGBT employees.
Though Australians overwhelmingly support marriage equality, the plebiscite has instigated an increasingly harmful debate. That is why RCIA released both a peaceful guide for forming one’s conscience on the issue, and appealed for civility and respect especially from church leaders. Its statement said, in part:
“We are acutely aware that suggestions that LGBTI people are in some way campaigning against the rights of other Australians is both deeply hurtful and victimizes the already marginalised. Because of this, some LGBTI Catholics feel disheartened. They are disappointed and confused that some of their spiritual leaders seem not to realise the pain they cause by their language.
“Many have expressed shock and distress over the disturbing collaboration by some church leaders with the Coalition for Marriage whose position implies LGBTI people are to blame for demanding their civil rights. For many this has been very difficult and has caused harm. As is always the case, harm experienced by LGBTI people is also reflected in their families, friends, colleagues and allies.”
The voting guide asked Catholics to form their consciences by thinking about church teachings on inclusion and non-discrimination. It also rejected claims that marriage equality would threaten the church’s teaching on sacramental marriage or impair religious freedom. The guide included these points as well:
“v) To reflect on what social justice means in the context of the appalling history of violence and abuse against LGBTI persons both in the church and in civic society. . .
“vii) Consider the human rights of LGBTI people to have equal access to society’s civil institutions including civil marriage.
“viii) To consider as Catholic Christians how you can protect and support LGBTI persons and their loved ones from discrimination, prejudice, harm and abuse.”
At least one bishop has endorsed the idea that Catholics should vote and follow their conscience. Bishop Michael McKenna of Bathurst said, as quoted in the Daily Liberal:
“Catholics will be informed by their beliefs in marriage according to their faith and that will lead some to vote no but others might say that this is what I believe as a Catholic but for various reasons vote yes. . .I think there are different opinions about changing the law on marriage among all people.”
Two weeks ago, Bondings 2.0 reported on the central role which Catholic voices are playing in Australia’s ongoing debate over marriage equality. In a moment when right-wing extremism is resurgent in the world, these damaging incidents in Australia are a moment to pause for reflection, and focus on appeals to conscience.
Church officials like Archbishop Hart, along with other prominent Catholics like former prime minister Tony Abbott, a marriage equality opponent, should ask what their impact is on LGBT people’s lives when they promote harmful misinformation and discredited science. They should consider the message of Bishop McKenna that respects the agency of Catholics who properly form and live by their conscience.
All Catholics should consider whether the Church’s mission is to stymie equal human rights for all people or to firmly resist hate in every place and in every moment where it surfaces. Do we really want to be a church where bishops threaten devoted LGBT church workers while remaining silent about hate speech targeting LGBT people?
As we reflect on these questions, and as Australian Catholics form their consciences on marriage equality, the Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry gives us these words to pray for Australia and every place where extremists are a threat to LGBT people:
“We pray that the weeks leading up to the survey will be a time when respect and listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit will reign over rhetoric and ideology that can damage the human spirit in each person.”
It seems the center of Catholic LGBT news right now is Australia, where a non-binding plebiscite over marriage equality has ignited anintense debate in which Catholics are heavily involved.
Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 reported that Melbourne’s Archbishop Denis Hart had threatened to fire church workers who entered same-gender civil marriages, should marriage equality be legalized in the future. Now, a fellow archbishop has clarified the archbishop’s comments.
Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, on behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops Commission, claimed Archbishop Hart’s comments had been misreported. Costelloe said individual bishops would decide how to handle such cases should marriage equality become legal. He continued, according to The Christian Post:
“Normally such issues would be addressed, in the first instance, in discussions between the staff member concerned and the local leadership of the school. The aim would be to discover a way forward for the school and the staff member that preserves the Catholic ethos of the school.”
Other Catholic leaders have weighed in on the issues surrounding Australian marriage equality.
The St. Vincent Health Association responded to Archbishop Hart’s comments with its own statement. The Association, sponsored by Sisters of Charity of Australia, appealed to those people it served through its healthcare ministries:
“We want to acknowledge this may be a difficult time for many of our staff, their families and friends. We want to be absolutely clear: all our LGBTQI employees have the full support of St Vincent’s Health Australia. We value you. We recognise you and are grateful for your contribution and care. This will never change.
“St Vincent’s has a long tradition of embracing diversity in our workforce. We will continue to support all our staff in whatever marriage choices they make in the future. All of our staff, whatever their life experiences and backgrounds, have a significant part to play in helping us serve the people who come to us for care. Our staff from the LGBTQI community are no exception.”
Elsewhere, the Edmund Rice Centre published a guide to aid Catholics in their participation in the plebiscite. The Centre is a ministry of the Christian Brothers, who also sponsor many schools in Australia. The guide begins:
“The survey [a.k.a. plebiscite] asks only one question: ‘Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?’ It is not about freedom of speech, freedom of religion, gender identity, ‘Safe Schools’ or political correctness.
“For the Edmund Rice Centre, an organisation inspired by Catholic Social Teaching and the Charism of Blessed Edmund Rice, the issue of marriage equality is about human rights and anti-discrimination. Rights for all people, including those who identify as LGBTQI, are guaranteed in various United Nations human rights conventions.”
The guide continued by debunking myths about marriage equality, and concluded succinctly:
“Marriage equality is not a threat to freedom of religion or freedom of speech. It is simply a question of whether same-sex couples can enjoy the same rights as opposite sex couples. Love is love. It is as simple as that.”
Finally, historian and writer Paul Collins authored an open letter to Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher who has opposed marriage equality. Collins, who serves on the advisory board for Australian Catholics for Equality, wrote:
“Like many Australian Catholics, I am disturbed by your identification of your personal views on marriage equality with those of the Catholic Church. No one questions your right to hold such views, but many are concerned when you identify them—or allow others, such as journalists—to identify them with the teaching of the Church.”
Collins proceeded to detail how church teaching on marriage has developed over time. He said the archbishop’s thoughts on marriage “are really drawn from an early-twentieth century, bourgeois notion of marriage which found a slightly more modern, post-World War II expression, in the nuclear family.” Collins concluded the letter:
“The saddest thing is that you have linked Catholicism with some of the most reactionary and unattractive political forces in the entire country. You may agree with such people, but please don’t identify our church with them. . .My request is that you take these issues into consideration before you go on the record again claiming that your views represent those of Australian Catholicism. They don’t.”
To reading Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of how Catholics have been involved in ongoing Australia’s marriage equality debate, click here.
[Editor’s Note: Today’s post includes an anti-gay slur that may be difficult for some readers.]
Hate speech against LGBT people has appeared in Australia’s intensifying debate over marriage equality, which Australians will vote on in a non-binding plebiscite this fall. ABC is reporting that in Melbourne, a poster had apperared which contains language that is linked to both neo-Nazis and a U.S. Catholic priest who is a university scholar:
“The anti-LGBTI poster, seen in Heffernan Lane [in Melbourne], says ‘Stop the fags’ with an image of two hands holding rainbow coloured belts and a child sitting with its head down.
“The poster includes statistics credited to Donald Paul Sullins, a priest at Catholic University of America whose research has been widely discredited.
“The sign, which has been shared widely on Twitter, includes claims: ’92 per cent of children raised by gay parents are abused. 51 per cent have depression. 72 per cent are obese.'”
Only one such poster has appeared in the city, according to the Melbourne City Council, which promised to remove any offensive material that may appear in the future.
Sky Newsreported that the poster seemed to originate from a neo-Nazi website. It cited a 2016 study by Sullins entitled “Invisible Victims: Delayed Onset Depression among Adults with Same-Sex Parents.” That study is considered illegitimate and has “little or no credibility” as the work of a “noisy fringe,” according to sociologist Michael Rosenfeld of Stanford University. The Weekreported further:
“Of 79 studies looking at children raised in same-sex households gathered by Columbia Law School, all but four found no significant difference in outcome for children of gay parents compared to their peers in heterosexual households.
“Nathaniel Frank, the head of the Columbia project, says that the four dissenting studies – including Sullins’ 2016 paper – were all authored by religiously motivated authors. ‘Their transparent efforts to commandeer an entire social science field to advance a religious agenda makes their scientific claims – and them – into laughing stocks. . .'”
While Sullins stated, “I strongly denounce the pejorative language and fearmongering in the poster,” Sullins defended his research by saying “the statistics it cites are essentially accurate.” The journal in which the study was published is, however, greatly distancing itself from Sullins. On the journal’s website, the editors highlighted an extensive and critical Letter to the Editor which the journal had published against Sullins’research. The journal’s publisher also included a disclaimer about the research on their webapge.
The New York Times reported that in Sydney a pamphlet in Chinese and in English was distributed which claimed, “Homosexuality is a curse of death in terminating the family line” and included a number of damaging myths about the LGBT community and people living with HIV/AIDS.
Government officials and campaigners on both sides of the issue quickly condemned the hate speech. Bill Shorten, head of the Labor party, said opponents of the plebiscite “feared exactly this kind of hurtful filth would emerge” and that “[t]his kind of garbage isn’t ‘debate’, it’s abuse.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic who is pro-marriage equality but chose to continue with the questionable plebiscite, condemned the posters saying, ” I deplore disrespectful, abusive language” and that this is a time to “put your arms around” distressed friends.
Former PM Tony Abbot, also a Catholic and a key opponent of marriage equality, urgedAustralians to not be “distracted by a handful of extreme and unpleasant posters or flyers.”
Thus far, Australia’s bishops have been silent. Melbourne’s Archbishop Denis Hart last week threatened to fire church workers who entered into civil same-gender marriages. The question is why is he not now condemning hate speech against LGBT people, given that such harmful language is strongly condemned in church teaching.
Though the bishops may remain opposed to marriage equality, they should follow recent advice from Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx. He said the church focus more on the ways it has failed to stop discrimination against lesbian and gay people rather than stopping marriage equality. With hate intensifying in the debate leading up to this plebiscite, this would be a very good shift in focus for all Catholics .