Malta’s Rapid Shift on LGBT Rights Is Case Study for Other Catholic Nations

Malta has elected the nation’s first transgender politician, a sign of just how far on LGBT rights a country where Roman Catholicism remains the state religion has come. A closer analysis of this shift could help Catholics in other regions in their own journeys towards equality.

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Crowds in Malta celebrating Pride Week

Alex Mangion became Malta’s first transgender politician when he won a local election as the Partit Nazzjonalista (Nationalist Party) candidate, reported The Independent. But support for LGBT rights in the conservative party that had controlled Malta’s government since the late 1990s is a recent development, and came only after its 2013 defeat to the Partit Laburista (Labor Party) who had made LGBT rights a major platform item.

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Alex Mangion

Though the Nationalist Party had abstained from a successful vote on civil unions in 2014, Mangion said that presently “having a transgender person in the party made people realize it’s not conservative.” And by 2015, the Nationalist Party had joined the Labor Party in passing a groundbreaking transgender rights law. (It is worth noting that, under that very law, Mangion became “the first person in this tiny nation to be able to update the gender on his official documents without undergoing surgery or hormone treatment.”)

The Independent noted that this shift in a political party is “a microcosm of the evolution underway in Malta,” a traditional Catholic country which outlawed divorce as late as 2011. But where LGBT people once hid, rejected by church leaders and stigmatizing social norms, a married same-gender couple, Steve and Manuel Aquilina, now hosts and produces a leading cooking show. A colleague of theirs, Victor Anastasi, said:

“‘They’re accepted like everyone else. . .We’re a Catholic country. But eventually the church has to come to terms [with society changing].”

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Joseanne Peregin

Joseanne Peregin, the Catholic mother of a gay son, recalled a bishop once saying, “If you’re gay, excommunicate yourself. Go, there is no place for you in the church.” But then in 2011, she said, the Catholic Church’s control over Maltese politics was undercut sharply when divorce was legalized through a popular referendum.

Now it must be acknowledged,, said Fr. Rene Camilleri, that Catholics in Malta “are not taking a package deal.” Camilleri, who is Episcopal Vicar for Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Malta and a lecturer at the University of Malta, has previously described church teaching on homosexuality as “nonsensical.” He also said Catholic ministers “cannot deprive [same-gender couples] of the blessing for which they ask.”

Today, other nations seek to learn from and even copy Malta’s LGBT laws. Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs, and Civil Liberties Helena Dalli said that “what we have done here is serving as a model to other countries, and, in a good way, because more people are leading better lives.” And The Independent continued:

“Kyle Knight, a New York-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that what’s particularly admirable about Malta’s LGBT rights laws is ‘not just the result as much as the process’ that led to their creation.

“Members of the LGBT community, other advocates and a local human rights group served on a council set up in 2013 to advise the government. Legislation was accompanied by directives that covered how LGBT people in prison should be treated and how schools should deal with bullying of transgender or gay students.

“When Knight was recently asked in Japan how schools should handle anti-LGBT bullying, ‘We copied and pasted these (Maltese) guidance documents and we said, “Look, this is how you do it,”‘ he recalled.”

While marriage equality is not legal yet in Malta, same-gender couples are recognized through civil unions, there are extensive non-discrimination protections, so-called “conversion therapy” is banned with harsh penalties in place, and a 2015 law on transgender and intersex persons is considered the gold standard in Europe.

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The island nation of Malta

How does a country where Roman Catholicism is named in the constitution as the state’s religion and where 95% of its citizens identify as Catholic become so progressive in a short time? Some observers might consider Malta a paradox, understanding LGBT equality and the Catholic Church to be opposites. Yet, there is a very plausible explanation for what has happened.

First, it is an oft-repeated but worth reiterating truism: Catholics support LGBT equality because of, not in spite of their faith. Key tenets like social justice, human dignity, and non-discrimination have informed the faithful’s engagement in civic matters, and this includes working for the rights of sexual and gender minorities. It makes sense the citizens of Malta who practice, or even are simply informed by, Catholic faith would vote for equality.

Second, it has to be admitted that there are non-ecclesial matters influencing this shift. In Western contexts, homosexuality has been largely de-stigmatized and neighboring countries in Europe have been moving forward on LGBT rights. Some have credited Malta joining the European Union as an impetus for catching up to their neighbors, and now taking the lead. As in other Western contexts, Mass attendance and the moral authority of bishops have declined in recent years. Some people leave, or are pushed out of, the church, and there is a certain amount of secularizing that happens. These factors and more, as in other regions, contribute to the rapid pace of the shift.

2b5de-drachmabloglogoBut third, many Maltese remain practicing Catholics and this has made the biggest difference. A few weeks ago, I highlighted the positive outreach of the country’s bishops to LGBT communities . In fact, Malta’s leading gay rights group gave the bishops an award in 2014. Here are other important examples of positive Catholic moments on LGBT issues:

  • Drachma and Drachma Parents are both Catholic organizations engaging LGBT issues in the church, and they have made an impact. They helped consult on the civil unions law, pushing back against a bishop’s criticism, They hosted Sr. Jeannine Gramick in 2011 to educate about LGBT equality in the church. They also hosted theologians Sr. Margaret Farley, RSM, and James Alison.) They were credited by Bishop Mario Grech as helping him to understand the need and urgency for new pastoral care of LGBT people;
  • A priest who blessed a same-gender couple’s rings was not punished by the bishop; indeed, Archbishop Charles Scicluna affirmed the priest’s outreach efforts to LGBT people;
  • After releasing a harsh position paper opposing the government’s efforts to ban “conversion therapy,” a paper in which homosexuality was compared to pedophilia, Archbishop Charles Scicluna listened to Catholics’ criticism and then apologizedsaying the church was “dead set” against such programs.

Though I have never experienced the Church of Malta firsthand, I sense a serious Christian community of mature and critically engaged Catholics. Lay Catholics, and clergy like Fr. Camilleri, have grappled with not only church teaching, but the realities of their context.And, quite notably, the country’s bishops have been willing to affirm LGBT people as beloved by God and to listen to their people. They have even been willing to acknowledge where the hierarchy had it wrong, and to apologize to those whom they have harmed.

In under a decade, Malta went from being socially conservative to a world leader on LGBT rights. Maltese Catholics are a shining example of what can happen when the faithful really listen to the Gospel and live their faith in public life. Let us hope more and more historically-Catholic regions follow this path, especially in areas like Latin America and Africa where the church is rapidly growing and yet LGBT rights remain limited.

If you would like to read reflections from members of Drachma Parents, you can find Louise Laferia’s reflection on the call of being a parent to an LGBT person here and Joseanne and Joseph Peregin’s reflection on what makes a family holy here. For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of LGBT Catholic issues in Malta, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 13, 2017

 

Former Miss Universe Reconciles Catholic Faith with LGBT Equality

Pia Wurtzbach relinquished her crown as Miss Universe on January 29, 2017, but right before doing so, the model/actress posted a message on a Time magazine website in which she explained that her support for LGBT equality was not in conflict with her Catholic faith.

Wurtzbach, a citizen of the Philippines, who became Miss Universe in 2015, wrote a post for Motto.Time.coma website owned by Time which allows celebrities to state their opinions on whatever subjects they choose.  Wurtzbach began by describing the culture in which she was raised:

“I am Filipino, and like the vast majority of people in my country, I am a proud Catholic. I have a steadfast faith, and my religion is an essential element of who I am. Growing up, my family regularly attended mass, and I studied at a school that taught Christian fundamentals.”

It was exactly those “Christian fundamentals” which shaped Wurtzbach’s inclusive attitude:

“Religious establishments including the Catholic church teach that they are the one true faith, but the values instilled in me as a Christian have encouraged me to respect all beliefs and opinions. Growing up, my family taught me that to receive respect, you must first offer it.”

Wurtzbach is proud that “the Philippines is every day becoming a more tolerant community,” but she also notes that “my liberal opinions on many social issues sometimes conflict with Christianity’s teachings.”  Still, she holds firm to her opinions because they are rooted in her experience and her faith.   Having been raised by a single mother, her childhood was one of struggle. Wurtzbach notes how her experiences shaped her attitudes:

“Perhaps my nontraditional family unit allowed me to accept others’ differences without judgement and has made me proud to advocate for LGBTQ rights as a Christian. In fact, I find the strength to do just that through my faith. Undoubtedly, there will continue to be times when my faith and secular opinions clash, but in those moments, I find comfort in an old saying: ‘Live and let live.’ “

But her views were also shaped by her experience of LGBTQ people:

“I myself owe a lot to the LGBTQ community, many of whom are my closest friends. Without their accepting attitudes toward my own flaws and struggles, I would not be where I am today.”

Wurtzbach has used her celebrity to help those less fortunate.  In December 2016, she met with Manila’s Archbishop Luis Tagle to present the proceeds from a fundraising event she sponsored to be used for Caritas Manila.  Tagle gave her a rosary blessed by Pope Francis.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 12, 2017

 

 

 

 

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

Bishop Robert Barron Criticizes “Preoccupation with Pelvic Issues”

Bishop Robert Barron has said he does not believe the church should seek to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision that legalized marriage equality in the United States. Barron, an Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, also criticized an obsessive focus on “pelvic issues” because it diminishes Christianity and undermines evangelization.

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Bishop Robert Barron, right, with Dave Rubin

Interviewed by Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report, Barron answered questions about many topics. including homosexuality and marriage equality. Barron began his response to a question on these topics with the following:

“I said this one time, I was in New York with Cardinal Dolan actually, and we were talking to reporters. And I said, if the only thing a gay person hears from the Catholic Church is, ‘you’re intrinsically disordered,’ we’ve got a very serious problem on our hands, if that’s what the message has become. . . If that’s is the way our message is coming out, we [the church] are disordered. We had a problem in the way this message was being conveyed.”

Instead, the bishop said “message one” to gay people from the church should be:

“You are a beloved child of God, who has been embraced by the mercy of Jesus Christ and invited to a full share of the divine life. You’re a son of God, called to eternal life.”

Barron continued to say that, like everyone, the moral lives of gay people are complex, but reiterated that the starting point for the church’s engagement with gay people should be inclusion. This approach, he said, is the approach being modeled by Pope Francis.

Rubin, a married gay man, then asked Barron about marriage equality and the bishop’s “personal feelings” about the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision. Rubin inquired, “I assume you felt it was a wrong decision by the court?” Barron responded:

“I do. But I don’t think I want to press it further. I think where we are right now in the States, I’ll apply the Aquinas principle. I think it would probably cause much more problem and dissension and difficulty if we keep pressing it. . .

“I wouldn’t want to fully just say, that’s great, off you go. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to get on a Crusader’s tank and try to reverse that [decision].”

Barron clarified that he believes marriage equality does have “a negative impact on the wider society” and compromises marriage. Rubin asked him if, on marriage equality, his “heart and spiritual self aren’t quite matched up” because while the bishop wasn’t expressing judgment, he clearly did not approve of a same-gender marriage. The bishop described this characterization as “probably right.”

[NOTE:  You can view the relevant parts of the interview by clicking here.]

The interview comments are noteworthy, but more so because of later comments Barron made in a blog post published after the interview. There, he expressed gratitude for the friendly interview with Rubin, adding that he hoped viewers will understand “there is a lot more to Christianity than the ‘pelvic issues'” and that “this preoccupation with ‘the pelvic issues’ has served to undermine the work of evangelization.” Barron continued:

“When you read the great evangelizing texts of the New Testament—the Gospels, the Epistles of Paul, the book of Revelation, etc.—you don’t get the impression that what their authors wanted you primarily to understand is sexual morality. Rather, they wanted you to know that the great story of Israel had come to its highpoint and that God, in the person of the crucified and risen Messiah, had come to reign as king of the world. God, redemption, the cross, the resurrection, Jesus the Lord, telling the Good News—these are the master themes of the New Testament. Again, please don’t misunderstand me: God impinges upon all aspects of life and therefore placing our sex lives under the Lordship of Jesus matters. But I fear that for so many people in the secular world today, religion is reduced to the policing of sexual behavior, and this is massively unfortunate.”

All of these remarks have a different tone than other LGBT-related statements Barron has made, including through his role as founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. For instance, in 2015, responding to the coming out of transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, Barron posted on Facebook that transgender identities were a modern form of Gnosticism, an ancient Christian heresy, and analogized transgender people to pedophiles.

At this point, and especially when so many vulnerable populations are threatened by the Trump administration, the bishop’s resistance to use church resources in a futile fight against marriage equality is common sense. More bishops should make similar public statements. I hope Barron’s prominence, and his membership in the growing number of ‘Francis Bishops,’ will cause his resistance to become commonplace.

To Barron’s references about “pelvic issues” reducing the Christian message and undermining evangelization, I suggest a mirror. Barron framed this discussion as a general societal obsession with sexuality, perhaps implying that, as other bishops have said, it is the media or society which obsessed with such matters, not the church. But Barron needs to be more specific for his words to really have weight; he should admit that church leaders, too, often obsess about sexuality.

Similarly, while Barron suggested that the church’s teaching on homosexuality has been mistakenly conveyed as condemnation, I think he is mistaken that there’s been a mistake in communication.  Actually, the language of teaching is very harsh and has regularly been used to condemn.  Barron and other church leaders need to admit this reality.

Many other Catholics have found integrated ways to engage sexuality. For instance, Catholic families have often responded to a member’s coming out with the ability to both acknowledge and affirm that member’s sexual orientation, and to understand them as a whole person for whom sexual identity is but one essential part. These families began with a message of inclusion that their gay, lesbian, or bisexual member was a beloved child of God invited to life with Christ. And any navigation of morality was done with love, concern, and respect for the person’s conscience.

Such an approach seems to elude many bishops in the United States.   Barron correctly noted that, often today, Christianity has been reduced to a system of belief whose central tenets are prohibitions on sexual activity. What he needs to say further is that it is in large part the bishops who have created such a situation.

Bishop Barron has started to acknowledge what most bishops refuse to admit.  Both he and they now need to take further steps to building a more honest and forthright Catholic Church.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 7, 2017

 

 

LGBT Issues Prominent at Conference on U.S. Catholic Higher Education

LGBT inclusion was a central theme at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities‘ (ACCU) annual meeting this year. Entitled “Inclusion on Campus: Exploring Diversity as an Expression of God’s Grandeur,” the meeting explored several issues, including race, immigration status, and gender.

cukqoshwyaqbqfvDr. Julie Hanlon Rubio, an ethicist at St. Louis University, led a workshop on “Serving the LGBTQ Community.” According to the National Catholic Reporter, Hanlon is concerned that Catholic higher education did not offer appropriate support following last year’s massacre at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando in which 49 people were killed.

Rubio said, “[W]e can’t quite find the words. . .We have to find the theological resources that give us the ground to stand on so that we can appropriately claim the ground that is out there.” NCR reported further:

“Rubio advocated for calling students and others by the names that they wish to be called. Educators ought to be, she said, ‘less worried about the trouble we might get in by inclusion and more worried about the suffering they are experiencing.’. . .

“Rubio walked participants through a timeline of Catholic thinking on topics like what it means to be made in the image of God while offering theological tools for discussing gender and offering hospitality in the context of diversity and inclusion. Urging her listeners to be sensitive to the experiences of their LGBTQ students, Rubio stressed the importance of listening.

“In a question-and-answer period following the session, conference members discussed how to minister effectively when students may want advocacy, the status of conversations with bishops about LGBTQ concerns, and even the potential need for a  ‘safe space’ for theologians who grapple with these topics.”

Beyond gender and sexuality, the meeting dealt with other areas in Catholic higher education where diversity and inclusion could improve. These issues have taken on a new urgency given the first two weeks of the new U.S. presidential administration.

Fr. Bryan Massingale, a theologian at Fordham University, New York, said this was a “moment of stark clarity” calling on Catholic colleges and universities to offer a “powerful, robust vision” that understands “the urgency in which your students are feeling this moment in history.” He said further, “We need to both respond to and interrogate in light of our commitment to God” this new reality.

executive-order-statementIndeed, just as ACCU members gathered for the meeting, the president was issuing an executive banning citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the U.S. ACCU’s statement in strong opposition to this ban affirmed, “The commitment of our institutions to creating inclusive, welcoming campus environments that embrace people of all faiths and cultures.”

It is heartening to see thtat this commitment to inclusion and diversity is focusing on matters of gender and sexual identities, which are so present in students’ lives and about which institutions can offer key supports. As last Wednesday’s post for National Catholic Schools Week highlighted and New Ways Ministry’s LGBT-Friendly Colleges listing makes clear, many Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. are already offering LGBTQ supports and even coursework.

Hopefully, with ACCU’s forward-looking leadership, the meeting this year will encourage schools to either step up or start altogether their inclusion of LGBTQ people on campuses. To read the organization’s list of “Ten Ways to Be More Inclusive,” click here.

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Rev. Bryan Massingale

Fr. Bryan Massingale will address “Pope Francis, Social Ethics, and LGBT People” in the opening plenary session of  New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” The symposium begins on the evening of April 28th and runs until the afternoon of April 30th.  All events are in Chicago.  For more information, click here.

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, February 4, 2017

California Education Official Asks: “Is St. Paul a Homophobe?”

A California education official who is a Catholic is opposing a new LGBT-inclusive curricula, and his opposition stems from a misuse of Scripture, leading him to ask rhetorically whether St. Paul was a homophobe or inspired by God.

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Mike Dunn

Mike Dunn, president of the Conejo Valley School Board and a Catholic, has said he would not be voting for a proposed board policy to implement the state’s newly passed FAIR Act, a new law which adds LGBT information to history and social sciences curricula. The Thousand Oaks Acorn reported:

“Responding last Thursday to a message from a parent criticizing Dunn, the longtime trustee says California’s new K-12 history-social science framework, which instructs teachers to include the accomplishments of LGBT individuals and other marginalized people in their lessons, conflicts with his Catholic faith. . .

“The framework, adopted by the California State Board of Education in July 2016, directs educators to study the stories of a ‘very diverse collection of families,’ including families with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender parents. . .

“According to the framework, students should be able to ‘locate themselves and their own families in history and learn about the lives and historical struggles of their peers.'”

Dunn, a school board member for more than a decade, is fighting implementation of the state framework in his district. He claimed that his actions were rooted in his Catholic faith, and were helping to uphold the community’s beliefs:

“‘Where I spend eternity is far more important to me than being a school board trustee. . .If I ignore my Christian beliefs, what will happen to my soul when I die?’. . .

“‘I also believe that the community does not want homosexuality, bisexual and transgender (sic) taught to 7-year-old children.’. . .I am also sensitive to the reaction from mothers if we start promoting homosexuality.'”

The Board president’s reasoning is rooted in his interpretation of Scripture, specifically the Pauline epistles which he said “conflict with the state history framework” and commented further, “Is the apostle Paul a homophobe or was he inspired by God?”

According to the Thousand Oak Acorn, Dunn has previously opposed “a new state-mandated sexual education curriculum” and “refused to vote on a change to district policy that allowed transgender students to play on sports teams” consistent with their gender.

Dunn’s peers do not agree with him. Randy Smith, president of the Unified Association of Conejo Teachers, said nothing specific about Dunn’s response, but did say it was “of paramount importance” for the school district to comply with state law. Betsy Connolly, a member of the school board, said:

“‘I see no problem with a person’s faith informing their decision-making process. I expect it to. What I have a problem with is when people cherry-pick faith and facts to support their perspective. . .It’s an important distinction.'”

Connolly also told CBS 2 that schools must not only tell “the typical story” about families, so that students with parents in a same-gender relationship or who have a disability do not feel “at best invisible, at worst, shamed.”

In my view, Dunn’s opposition to the FAIR Act in California has relied on an interpretation of Scripture inconsistent with contemporary scholarship. In recent decades, responsible scholars have repeatedly disproven the idea that Paul’s writings in the New Testament condemn the modern understanding of homosexuality. Vatican II’s document on divine revelation in Scripture, Dei Verbum, expresses clearly how Catholics are to approach the Bible:

“[T]he interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.”

Connolly’s observation that a school board president has cherry-picked faith and facts to justify his opposition to LGBT equality is extremely accurate. Mike Dunn’s stance will stymie greater inclusion of and protections for all students and their families.   His concern for his own salvation should not be allowed to cause harm to students.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 19, 2017

Remembering Jeanne Cordova: A Lesbian Nun Who Broke Her Silence

At the LGBT spirituality blog, Jesus in Love, Kittredge Cherry offered a poignant remembrance this week of Jeanne Cordova, a lesbian advocate who had been a Catholic nun and who contributed to former woman religious and lesbian woman who was a contributor to the groundbreaking 1985 book, Lesbian Nuns: Breaking the Silence. Cordova passed away a year ago this past week.

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Jeanne Cordova

Cherry remembered that Cordova was instrumental in the greater history of LGBT equality, beyond her “radical revelations about lesbian nuns.” Cherry stated:

 

“‘Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence’ remains the definitive work on this hidden and forbidden subject more than 30 years after it was first published. It is also one of the best-selling lesbian books of all time. . .Both the church and the secular LGBTQ community may prefer to forget the uncomfortable truth: Same-sex love exists in the church, and the church trained some leaders of the LGBTQ rights movement.”

In her post, Cherry offered a more expansive remembrance of Cordova’s life, drawing from her writings and from interviews. Cordova grew up in a conservative Catholic family, attending Catholic schools before entering religious life. In her own words, she “fell in love with God at the age of seven,” and this love was the main reason she became a woman religious. But there was a secondary reason why Cordova joined the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1966:

“I chose the convent because I knew I wasn’t interested in the world of men and women, marriage, children—’that’ lifestyle. Being in the service of God within a community of women felt natural and right.”

Cordova left after a year in the novitiate, a year after Vatican II ended, when religious life was changing dramatically. The IHM community in Los Angeles would eventually separate from the church just a few years after Cordova left, but during her year there, she experienced religious life in a time of postconciliar tension between hopeful reforms and lingering ills in the church. Cherry wrote:

“[Cordova] was enrolled in Immaculate Heart College, where sensitivity training, encounter groups and open classrooms exposed her to new ideas and emotions. She found out for the first time about drugs, the peace movement and covert homosexuality.

“As 1967 began, her Mother Superior informed her that she and her fellow novices were being sent to live in the ‘real world’ — Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles and the black ghetto of Watts. She was appalled and radicalized by seeing poverty and racial injustice for the first time.”

Cordova said Vatican II had ‘destroyed my dreams’; she sought a quiet life as a nun amid the trappings of the preconciliar church with its Tridentine liturgy and stiff habits. Her decision to leave was not just about coming out as a lesbian woman. Cordova underwent a more fundamental conversion. She explained:

“‘I left the convent because of my political radicalization and inability to justify the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings and actions regarding social justice, and its ongoing battle with my IHM order to keep women in line under patriarchy. My newly realized lesbianism was actually secondary to falling out of love with the Catholic Church, which I had questioned all my life.'”

No longer a nun, Cordova began working as a social worker and community organizer who “helped decriminalize homosexuality and protect the jobs of openly lesbian and gay teachers.” But in the church, she is known for her contribution to Lesbian Nuns: Breaking the Silence. Cherry explained that this work had influence outside the church, too:

“As the foreword to the 2013 reprint edition notes, the book ‘played a significant role in the mainstreaming of lesbian print culture.’ The editors ‘wanted to shatter the silence that denied the existence of lesbians in religious life and to make it clear that ‘lesbians are everywhere.'”

The book included stories from fifty nuns, cultivated from some 400 submissions. Cordova later wrote a more detailed account of her own life in Kicking the Habit: A Lesbian Nun’s Story and When We Were Outlaws. Before dying of cancer last year, Cordova said in an open letter, “It is wonderful to have had a life’s cause: freedom and dignity for lesbians.”

Finally, Cherry highlighted a key insight from Cordova that social justice movements, including for LGBT rights, have been filled with and led by former women religious. In Cordova’s words, religious life was “a boot camp for us all.”

The experiences of lesbian women religious are still quite hidden, and their contributions to the church and the world are still under-appreciated. For over 20 years, New Ways Ministry has had a project called Womanjourney Weavings which is an educational program for not only lesbian nuns, but for the leaders of women’s religious communities, and nuns who work in vocation and formation ministries.  For more information, contact:  info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

At New Ways Ministry’s upcoming Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” we will have a focus session entitled “Lesbian Nuns:  Gift to the Church.”  For more infomration about the symposium, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, click here.

Whether one is a woman religious, a former woman religious, or another part of the faithful, Cordova’s story is instructive. Her witness reminds us of the immense power of being in love with God and living authentically from that love can draw forth from us.  With it, we can change the world. As we remember, we ask her intercession: Jeanne Cordova, pray for us.

Note: If you are not aware of Kittredge Cherry’s blog, Jesus in Love, and her wider work on queer spirituality through the site Q Spirit, they are a good resource and well worth checking out. Like her post on Jeanne Cordova, Cherry offers many reflections on LGBTQ saints — some who are commonly known, others who are a bit more obscure.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 14, 2017