Catholics Among Christian Leaders Supporting LGBT Rights in Uganda

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights has released an open letter by American Christian leaders expressing solidarity with LGBT Ugandans as their that nation continues to consider anti-gay legislation. Among the 46 signatories are 28  who are connected with Catholic institutions (see below).

The announcement on the Kennedy Center’s website states:

“Washington — July 24, 2012 Today, a group of 46 American Christian leaders issued an open letter expressing solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Ugandans in the face of “increased bigotry and hatred.” The letter, coordinated by Faith in Public Life, Human Rights First and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, comes as a new Political Research Associates report released today accuses, among others, evangelicals such as Pat Robertson, Catholics and Mormons of setting up campaigns and fronts in Africa designed to press for anti-gay laws. . . .

” ‘It’s important for Ugandans to know that not all Evangelical and Catholic leaders think LGBT people should be criminals,’ says Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda and the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award laureate, ‘This letter from prominent American Christians is a crucial step in our efforts to introduce Ugandans to more positive and loving Christian messages in contrast to the harmful rhetoric from our own pastors that only leads to more violence and hate.’ “

In part, the text of the letter reads:

“Regardless of the diverse theological views of our religious traditions regarding the morality of homosexuality, the criminalization of homosexuality, along with the violence and discrimination against LGBT people that inevitably follows, is incompatible with the teachings of our faith.

“As American Christians we recognize that groups and leaders within our own country have been implicated in efforts to spread prejudice and discrimination in Uganda. We urge our Christian brothers and sisters in Uganda to resist the false arguments, debunked long ago, that LGBT people pose an inherent threat to our children and our societies. LGBT people exist in every country and culture, and we must learn to live in peace together to ensure the freedom of all, especially when we may disagree. We condemn misguided actions that have led to increased bigotry and hatred of LGBT people in Uganda that debases the inherent dignity of all humans created in the image of our Maker. Such treatment degrades the human family, threatens the common good, and defies the teachings of our Lord – wherever it occurs.”

“We condemn misguided actions that have led to increased bigotry and hatred of LGBT people in Uganda that debases the inherent dignity of all humans created in the image of our Maker. Such treatment degrades the human family, threatens the common good, and defies the teachings of our Lord – wherever it occurs.”

To read the full text of this letter and to see the full list of signatories, click here.

The signatories associated with Catholic institutions are:

Ambassador Thomas P. Melady
Former U.S. Ambassador to Uganda and the Vatican

Gerald J. Beyer, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Christian Social Ethics Department of Theology and Religious Studies, Saint Joseph’s University

Nicholas P. Cafardi
Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law, Duquesne University

M. Shawn Copeland
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Boston College

Rev. Paul Crowley, S.J.
Santa Clara Jesuit Community Professor, Religious Studies Department, Santa Clara University

Nancy Dallavalle, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Religious Studies, Fairfield University

Francis Schüssler Fiorenza
Stillman Professor for Roman Catholic Theological Studies, Harvard Divinity School

Jeannine Hill Fletcher
Associate Professor of Theology, Fordham University

Sister Mary Ann Hinsdale, IHM, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Theology, Boston College

Bradford E. Hinze, Ph.D.
Professor of Theology, Fordham University

Rev. James Hug, S.J.
President, Center of Concern

John Inglis
Chair and Professor, Department of Philosophy, Cross-appointed to Department of Religious Studies, University of Dayton

Reverend Raymond B. Kemp
Senior Fellow, Woodstock Theological Center, Center for Social Justice DC Community Fellow, Georgetown University

Paul Lakeland
Aloysius P. Kelley S.J. Professor of Catholic Studies, Director, Center for Catholic Studies, Fairfield University

Rev. John Langan S.J.
Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Professor of Catholic Social Thought, Georgetown University

Rev. Bryan N. Massingale, S.T.D.
Professor of Theological Ethics, Marquette University

Joseph A. McCartin
Associate Professor of History, Director, Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, Georgetown University

Alex Mikulich
Loyola University, New Orleans

David J. O’Brien, Ph.D.
University Professor of Faith and Culture, University of Dayton

Christopher Pramuk
Associate Professor of Theology, Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH

Thomas J. Reese, S.J.
Senior Fellow, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University

Stephen F. Schneck, Ph.D.
Director, Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, The Catholic University of America

Sister Nancy Sylvester,IHM
President, Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue

Terrence W. Tilley
Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Professor of Catholic Theology Chair, Theology Department, Fordham University

Edward Vacek, S.J.
Boston College

Todd Whitmore
Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, University of Notre Dame

Tobias Winright, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Theological Ethics, Saint Louis University

Sandra Yocum, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Religious Studies Department, University of Dayton

Almost 42% of Uganda’s population is Catholic, the largest denomination in this predominantly Christian nation.   As Bondings 2.0 has reported before, Catholic opposition to anti-gay legislation is critical to insure that LGBT people there are protected.  You can read about the importance of such support here and here and here and here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


The Ups and Downs of LGBT Issues on Catholic College Campuses

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson’s essay, “As Culture War Rages, What’s the Status of LGBT Rights on Catholic Campuses?” takes an unflinching look at how issues about sexual orientation and gender identity are being treated in various locales. The news might be a bit of a mixed bag.

Manson, an award-winning columnist for The National Catholic Reporter who recently led a focus session on Catholic young adults and LGBT issues at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, points out many of the good things that are happening:  the recent More Than A Monologue conference series, the offering of domestic partner benefits at some campuses, the establishment of LGBT centers on two national campuses, that over 100 schools are listed on New Ways Ministry’s gay-friendly Catholic college list.

She also observes, however, that job security for LGBT faculty and staff can be precarious.  More worrisome is the culture of fear about LGBT topics that still exists on Catholic campuses:

“For all the advances on some Catholic campuses, a culture of fear still looms heavily. Though nearly twenty scholars and program directors were contacted for comment on this article, only three were willing to speak on the record.

“This silence, whether self-imposed or ecclesiastically-ordered, raises important questions about the future of younger theologians and scholars at Catholic universities. What is the impact on academic integrity when new faculty members fear that they might be denied tenure, or get their university in trouble with a bishop, if they publish ideas or speak to the media about controversial topics?”

This fear and silence was in evidence just a few days ago when Anna Maria College, a small Catholic school in Massachusetts, rescinded their invitation to Victoria Kennedy, widow of Senator Edward Kennedy, in part because of her support of marriage equality.   But perhaps as evidence of the mixed bag that Manson describes, it is also true that another Catholic college in Massachusetts, Boston College School of Law, will, in fact, be hearing Ms. Kennedy as their commencement speaker this spring.   You can read the full story of the Anna Maria College decision here.

Still as we’ve said before, Catholic colleges are one of the areas in the church where New Ways Ministry sees the most progress in the area of LGBT issues.  Manson’s article offers three reasons.  The first reason is the fact that the majority of Catholics are supportive of LGBT issues:

For [Professor Paul]Lakeland [of Fairfield University] . . . the divide on LGBT issues, ‘is not between church and academy, but between the institutional voice of the episcopate and the bulk of the Catholic population.’

“According to a 2010 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 49% of white Catholics support gay marriage, up 5% from the previous year’s poll. A 2011 study by the Public Religion Research institute found that ‘when same-sex marriage is defined explicitly as a civil marriage,’ support increases to a staggering 71%.”

The second reason focuses on the mission of a university:

“Paul Crowley, SJ, professor of theology at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit school located in the middle of Silicon Valley, sees not so much of a divide between bishops and universities as ‘a difference of approach.’

“ ‘The Catholic university should be a place where there is more room than there is in some other sectors of the Church for free exploration of ideas and questions that people may raise,’ said Crowley. ‘This isn’t to deny a legitimate, normative role for the Church’s teaching in the intellectual life of a Catholic university.’

Campuses are pluralistic places with students and faculty who represent a diversity of religious traditions, races, ethnicities, and sexual expressions. ‘So, in regard to the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, the Catholic university should be a natural place to ask, “what are the lived implications of the Church’s teachings?’” Crowley said. ‘How do you, in a reality-based way, negotiate the Church’s teachings with human lives? ‘ ”

The third reason offers, perhaps, the most promise for a future Catholic church that promotes equality and justice for LGBT people:

“The Pew Forum’s 2010 study of ‘Religion Among Millennials,’ demonstrated that 72% of Catholics between the ages of 18 and 29 believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society.

“One professor who asked to remain anonymous told me, ‘The views of younger people are a sign of hope.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Sex, Marriage, and the Church, Part 2

Yesterday, I posted a lengthy piece about Commonweal’s print colloquium entitled “Sex, Marriage, and the Church.”  In that post, I commented on the responses with which I tend to agree.  Today, I will examine the responses with which I tend to disagree. For the context of this discussion, please refer to yesterday’s post.

William Portier, who teaches theology at the University of Dayton, is to be commended for his insightful remark that church leaders need to be more pastorally sensitive to people when it comes to sexuality and marriage.  The most notable of his examples is:

“Face to face with an actual gay person, the phrase ‘objectively disordered’ whatever theoretical sense it might make, is pastoral nonsense. “

Portier, however, is not a supporter of same-sex marriage, noting, “The church can’t change the norm of heterosexual monogamy.”  Porter’s critique of  marriage equality is based on his belief that marriage is primarily a social institution, but that in the eyes of society, it has become focused on individualism:

“For complex historical reasons such as industrialization and the changing roles of women, we have increasingly come to see marriage as a personal matter in which children are optional, a category into which same-sex marriage fits quite ‘naturally.’ “

I disagree.  Portier’s assumption that same-sex marriage is only concerned with the interests of the individuals involved ignores the fact that by creating more stable family units for households headed by same-sex couples, the entire society benefits.

Christopher C. Roberts has probably the  dimmest view both of the general marriage crisis that the church faces:

“The situation is arguably as bad as the brutally pagan world of antiquity. Today’s collapse might continue no matter what we do.”

But my greater disagreement with him comes from his solution:  better education.  He states:

” Simply learning the reasons our church teaches what it does would be a significant first step. Better catechesis would go a long way toward creating the possibility of resisting the collapse. “

The argument that people disagree with the hierarchy’s teachings on sexuality and marriage because they don’t understand it does not ring true to my experience as an educator in this area.  I have met many, many people who understand the teaching very, very well,  and still disagree with it.  While it is true that education on sexuality and marriage from an adult perspective would be of help to our church, I do not believe that it will result in greater fidelity to teachings that people do not see as relevant to their lives.

R.R. Reno, editor of the journal, First Things, also takes a dim view of the current situation, but for him the enemy is not ignorance, but secular culture.  Reno believes that Catholics are influenced too heavily by forces outside the church:

“Today, bourgeois American culture has incorporated into itself the countercultural belief that traditional morality involves a cruel and unnecessary limitation on the sexual lives of men and women. This conviction—now a bourgeois conviction—reassures many Catholics that their dissent couldn’t possibly reflect a moral outlook deformed by popular culture. Instead, it emboldens them to ignore the church when she suggests that our sexual behavior is sinful and our moral vision clouded.”

I tend not to agree with thinkers who view “the world” as the enemy of the church.  There is much in “the world” that is good (and conversely, there is much in the church which needs improving).  This “black-and-white” thinking is too simplistic and is often used to forestall any possible change.  It is a “fortress” mentality that eschews any dialogue with people and institutions that are deemed “other.”

Reno’s suspicion of  “the world” forces him into a position of also being suspicious of the laity of the church:

“. . .the animating ethos of the Catholic Church does not come from the laity, or even the diocesan clergy, but instead from religious orders that are constituted to cast out the bourgeois hearth gods of health, wealth, and hedonism.”

While I disagree that the only source of the church’s animating ethos is from the religious orders (again, this is an example of  his penchant for “either/or” thinking),  interestingly, I agree that religious orders do play an important role in concert with the rest of the church.    However, my experience with religious orders tells me that many of them are pushing for renewal in the church’s sexual theology, not for preserving it.

The one participant in this print colloquium on whom I did not comment was Nancy Dallavalle, a professor of religious studies at Fairfield University.  The reason is that I wasn’t sure where she stood on the issues that concern me.  She closes her contribution with the following:

“Yes, the traditional moral patterns matter—let’s teach them. But they are not the entire point, and should not be presented as such. Sacramental marriage should not be reduced to a prize awarded to couples who meet all items on a checklist of approved behaviors; it should be an invitation, reserved for couples who genuinely recognize their need for grace, and have the humility to hunger for a tradition that will sustain it.”

While I am inclined to agree with her that sacraments should not be treated as rewards or prizes, I did not get a good enough sense from her of what she includes in the “traditional moral patterns” that she thinks should be taught.

As I mentioned in the previous posting on these contributions, I encourage you to read the full accounts for yourselves to get a clearer understanding of the varied positions.

The wide diversity of opinions just among these nine thinkers should be enough evidence that indeed a more wide-ranging examination of sexuality and marriage is desperately needed in the church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

More Than a Monologue

Seated at the Fairfield Conference: Sister Jeannine Gramick (left) and Jamie Manson (right). Standing at left is moderator Diana Swancutt, associate professor of New Testament, Yale Divinity School.

The “More Than A Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church” conference series ended with a program at Fairfield University entitled  “The Care of Souls:  Sexual Diversity, Celibacy, and Ministry.  The headline for an article in the National Catholic Reporter  explains the focus of this conference: “Homosexuality among church leaders discussed at Jesuit university event.”

New Ways Ministry co-founder Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL was a featured speaker, discussing the history and spirituality of lesbian nuns.   Her respondent was Jamie Manson, an NCR columnist, who will be a workshop speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, March 15-17, 2012, in Baltimore.

In her response to Sr. Jeannine’s talk, Manson reflected on how the experience of church is different for lesbian women than it is for gay men:

” “For lesbians the experience of being Catholic affects more than their sexual orientation; it relates to the anatomy itself. By banning women from serving as priests, the hierarchy says — in this great cosmic hubris — that God simply cannot work sacramentally through the body of a woman. For most lesbians, and many straight women, this leads to feelings of isolation and disempowerment,’ Manson said. ‘I cannot stress enough how corrosive it is to the spirit to have never seen a woman’s bodily form wear a stole, stand behind an altar, raise the bread and wine, place her hands in the waters of the baptismal font, step through the center door of the confessional.’ ”

The More Than A Monologue series began with a conference at Fordham University, which featured another Symposium workshop speaker, Hilary Ranney-Howes, a transgender Catholic woman.  An NCR article on that event featured the following from Hilary’s talk there:

“Hilary Howes, a 56-year-old event designer and transgender activist from Washington, D.C., who said she was born “with male genitalia and a female brain,” talked about the unique position of transsexual people who are Catholic. Howes “transitioned to live as a woman” through a sex-change operation 16 years ago, and was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic eight years ago. “[I] remain in my Catholic marriage of 33 years, to the most understanding woman in the world — making ours one of the few same-sex marriages affirmed by the Roman Catholic church,” Howes continued, drawing laughs from the audience.”

Let’s hope that “More Than a Monologue” becomes more than a one-time series.  Our church needs more discussion, education, and debate on LGBT issues, especially when presented in such an informative and engaging manner.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry