Fordham Student’s Coming Out Sparked by Nun’s Anti-Gay Lecture

January 7, 2016

 

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Connor Griffin

A new column in OutSports reveals the silver lining in one nun’s homophobic remarks, as well as the contrasts that remain in Catholic education when it comes to LGBT issues.

In the column, Connor Griffin explained his coming out during as a high school junior. His personal process was sparked by a homophobic lecture, given by Dominican Sister Jane Dominic Laurel at Charlotte Catholic High School, North Carolina.  Sr. Laurel’s talk, which you can read about here, relied upon pseudo-science and prejudice. It understandably drew strong protests from the school community; nearly 1,000 parents attended a town hall to discuss the incident. The nun is a member of the Nashville Dominicans, a community of traditionalist members.

For Griffin, the talk had a personal effect.  He said that it forced him “to realize things about myself I was not ready to accept.” Griffin’s attention drifted during the lecture, but when he listened, what he heard was cruel:

 “Being gay was completely a choice, she said, and no one was born that wayYou have decided to be a victim of your parents’ abandonment and that is the reason you have made the conscious decision to be gay.

Distressed, Griffin recalled thinking “Could I be gay?” and realized:

“Yes. Yes, I could. It was in that moment, sitting in that assembly listening to that speaker, that I realized my own truth. I quietly got up from my seat, not to draw any attention, and walked out of the gym. I felt a rush of emotions hit me as if the gym was suffocating me.

“I erupted in tears. What made me cry that day I still don’t know. Maybe it was the fact that I believed what this woman was saying, or maybe it could have been the fear that I had after finally realizing that I am gay.”

The following days were, in Griffin’s word, the toughest of his life as he came out to friends and family while “not yet ready to accept being gay.” Eventually, he wrote:

” It became so empowering to share my truth with people in my life. I felt I was caged for so long, and every time I told someone I felt as if I was breaking a link in the chain that was holding me down.”

Griffin, then on his high school’s swim team, decided to remain closeted to his team and even considered not swimming in college. But after visiting New York’s  Fordham University, Griffin found a campus – and a swim team – that not only welcomed him but respected and support him. He even cited a recent comment by University President, Fr. Joseph McShane, in the Outsports essay:

” ‘I make no apologies for…homophobia, nor indeed any kind of bigotry nor act that devalues another person or group.’ “

Charlotte Catholic High School officials–and indeed all Catholic school administrators–should take follow Fr. McShane’s lead.

Thankfully, Connor Griffin has now found a Catholic campus that welcomes him as a gay student and athlete. He is no longer subjected to homophobia sanctioned by administrators, but many students in Catholic high schools still suffer. It should be a baseline principle in Catholic education that every student at every school feel safe and respected concerning their sexual and/or gender identity. While there is now a silver lining to celebrate regarding Sr. Laurel’s anti-gay address, the reality is it should have never happened in the first place.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Colleges Advance on Trans* Inclusion, Including Restrooms

December 3, 2015
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Fordham University students behind the gender neutral restroom campaign

As frequent readers of our “Campus Chronicles” series know, Catholic higher education frequently leads the wider church when it comes to LGBT inclusion. Lately, more and more colleges are acting for trans* inclusion along with existing welcomes of LGB community members.

Below, Bondings 2.0 provides details on some steps made for trans* inclusion, alongside other campus happenings this fall. You can read more using the provided links.

Fordham University Introduces All Gender Restrooms

Prompted by student demands, Fordham University has introduced new transgender inclusive restrooms on its Lincoln Center campus, reported student newspaper The Observer.

Though not labelled “All Gender Restroom,” as requested by student advocates with the organization The Positive, there are no gender markers on the new signage. Dean of Students Keith Eldredge said other restroom changes at Fordham’s campuses would be considered when requested by students.

Fordham’s Pride group also had a vigil for the Transgender Day of Remembrance last month, reported campus newspaper The Ramas part of the group’s “proactive and conscious effort” to promote gender inclusion.

Marquette University Begins LGBT Masses

Fr. Bryan Massingale celebrated the first of Marquette University’s monthly Masses for LGBTQ community members. Massingale, who teaches theology, told those gathered:

” ‘Many of the LGBTQ community members have heard stories that they are not welcome in the church. . .It is important to have a Mass where they feel welcome and that God does love them and no one is excluded.’ “

The Masses emerged from ongoing evening prayer and small group discussion opportunities offered by Campus Ministry. The next celebration is December 10, reported The Marquette Wire.

Laverne Cox Speaks at SLU

Transgender actor and advocate Laverne Cox spoke at Saint Louis University in early November, describing her personal journey and understandings of womanhood.

Georgetown University Hosts Several Events

Georgetown University launched a new bi-weekly forum for LGBT athletes, its latest peer-led discussion group facilitated by the LGBTQ Resource Center reported The Georgetown Voice.

Sophomore Lauren Gros of the Women’s Golf Team, who had trouble finding an openly LGBT student-athlete to consult with before her own coming out, will lead the group. She described it as a

“safe place for student-athletes to discuss their experiences and what it means to be gay and a student-athlete at Georgetown, what challenges we might face, what experiences we’ve had. . .”

Georgetown students also gathered earlier this month for an event marking Transgender Day of Remembrance, consisting of a memorial service and dialogue according to The Georgetown Voice.

A news story in The Georgetown Voice reflected on tensions over LGBT inclusion at the school.  The story noted conflicts in the 1980s which led to progress and today, a transgender student currently said Georgetown actually saved her.

“Dear Queer” Letter Highlights Young Catholics Welcome

Finally, a few words from a Catholic college student at Syracuse University responding to the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing marriage equality explained the reasons behind many young adult Catholics’ support for inclusion. Julia Mannino wrote in The Odyssey:
“I think that we, as Christians, need you; I need you, because I feel lost in my own faith. The perseverance and acceptance that I’ve seen thus far brings nothing but joy to my heart, and I cannot wait for you to experience all of the wonderful things that marriage promises us. Today is certainly a Sunday to celebrate, because in the eyes of the Lord, and finally the eyes of the law, we are all equal.”
Trans* visibility is more prominent than ever and, as they have done with lesbian/gay issues, Catholic campuses are once again leading the church at large to be more just and inclusive. The only question for the spring semester is which school will be next and, if they are not acting, why?

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.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Italian Priest’s Defrocking Stirs Debate Among Students at Fordham University

November 16, 2012

Don Mario Bonfanti

A Catholic priest in Italy has been removed from ministry for publicly coming out in October, but this case led to more fruitful discussions about spiritual leadership in the Church among some of its younger members here in the United States.

Bondings 2.0 noted in October that Don Mario Bonfanti posted,“I’m a gay priest, I’m a happily gay priest” on Facebook during International Coming Out Day.

Gay Star News reports that the bishop of Ales-Terralba has since removed Bonfanti from the register of priests. The bishop, Giovanni Dettori, identified a letter from the priest expressing discontent with the Church as ‘apostasy.’ Additionally, Bonfanti’s outspoken views on marriage equality, communion for divorced couples, and anti-war activism are well known. The diocesan newspaper revealed that the Church views the loss of this priest as ‘sad.’

Here in the U.S., Fordham University’s student newspaper, The Ram, offered a summary by Patrick Maroun of how some young adult Catholics view the controversy of Mario Bonfanti. Focusing on the Catholic commitment to love unconditionally, the essaycaptures students’ recognition that a priest’s orientation is highly irrelevant and discussion should be focused on the quality of ministry:

“Paul Ross, FCRH ‘15, said, ‘It doesn’t bug me at all. I see nothing wrong with it.’

“David Emami, GSB ‘15, shared a similar sentiment. ‘I’m okay with it,’ he said. ‘Is he a good priest?’…

“‘When you go to talk to [any other] priest, [presumably] he’s attracted to women, so there’s no real difference talking to a priest who is attracted to men, as long as his life is devoted to God,’ Marc Alibrandi, FCRH ’15, said…

“‘There’s no reason that him being gay and him being a priest have to be mutually exclusive,’ [Paul] Ross said.”

Young adults concern with a pastoral worker’s abilities trumps considerations of their identity as a person. Maroun hopes the case of Bonfanti in Italy is an opportunity to educate, to love, and to welcome:

“I want to reinforce the call for love in the Catholic Church…We must welcome members of the LBGT community as who they are, and not only as who we wish for them to be.  Just as in art, the beauty of our society and our world is a product of all of the different and great people in it, and the contrast that they create.”

In instances like the defrocking of Mario Bonfanti for coming out as God created him, an injustice is committed against good pastoral leaders desperately needed in the Church today. The person attacked, the community they serve, and the Church worldwide are all deeply harmed. We can hope, like the students at Fordham University, that from this injustice God draws forth good.  The Catholic Church can become more loving and welcoming, especially to the LGBT Catholics who so effectively serve in it.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

For New Ways Ministry’s listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, visit newwaysministry.org/gfc.

For further information on New Ways Ministry’s efforts in Catholic higher education and to get involved, contact youngadults@newwaysministry.org.


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: University of San Diego Controversy Growing as PRIDE Celebrates 21 Years

November 11, 2012

University of San Diego

Earlier this month, Bondings 2.0 reported on the University of San Diego’s (USD) decision to withdraw a fellowship invitation to British theologian Tina Beattie, largely speculated to be based on her support for marriage equality. In response, the community at USD is rising to Beattie’s defense and conversations over conscience, marriage equality, and academic freedom are occurring in the USD and wider academic community.

The American Association of University Professors stated  in a letter last week  that USD President Mary Lyons’ decision to disinvite Beattie was troubling. On campus, 170 faculty gathered outside of the main administrative building in protest on the same day the academic assembly voted overwhelmingly in support of Beattie. The assembly formally asked Lyons to reconsider her decision or face a vote of no confidence this week, characterizing it with a sense of importance and urgency. In an interview with National Catholic Reporter, Carlton Floyd, chair of the academic assembly executive committee and associate professor of English , was quoted:

“Floyd also portrayed Lyons’ decision as opposed to allowing a diversity of viewpoints on campus.
‘Diversity is the hallmark of education,’ he said. ‘If you can’t have opposing viewpoints, what exactly are you looking at if you can’t engage in dialog about those matters? What exactly does a university do?’”

Mary Lyon
President, University of San Diego

On Thursday evening students and faculty engaged these very issues in a forum titled, “Authority and Academic Freedom in Catholic Universities,” reported on by USD’s student radio organization. Included in the concerns of many was the connection of the Beattie decision to Vatican-backed conservative organizations linked to powerful financial donors:

“The concerns extended, too, to potential alumni and donor pressure that the panelists thought may have been at the root of this decision. Conservative donors have threatened to rescind funding from the university in the past based on similar events.

“Dr. Watson noted that alumni and donor uproar, especially those represented by the unofficial group Alumni for a Catholic USD, has often been linked to events or speakers in support of same-sex marriage and other issues of homosexuality, although Dr. Beattie was not scheduled to discuss homosexuality in her talks. ‘I fear that religion is being used as a shield for bigotry,’ Dr. Watson said.”

The National Catholic Reporter notes that although Lyons denies such connection, there is evidence that some conservative alumni did try to get Beattie disinvited:

“While Lyons and a university spokeswoman denied that pressure from outside groups had influence on the decision to cancel Beattie’s invitation, McKenna and another San Diego man known for his conservative Catholic viewpoints said in interviews with NCR that they had widely expressed displeasure with Beattie’s appointment.

“Among those they said they contacted were current and former members of the university’s board of trustees, San Diego coadjutor Bishop Cirilo Flores, the editor of the diocesan newspaper, and the Cardinal Newman Society.

“In her statement Monday, Lyons identified Beattie’s signing of an August letter in The Times of London along with 27 others, which said it would be ;perfectly proper’ for Catholics to support civil marriage for same-sex couples as ‘the heart of this matter.’ “

President Lyons’ decision has created an opportunity where many are speaking out about the case and its significance for discussion in the Church. Gerard Mannion, director of the Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture at USD where Beattie was to be a fellow, rejected Lyon’s charges of public dissent stated:

“There’s nothing to dissent from,’ Mannion said. ‘The church doesn’t have binding teaching on civil same-sex partnerships. It has a position and a preference, but it doesn’t actually have a binding teaching. Even were this not the case, the policy on academic freedom should protect her right to sign such a letter, which, after all, urged Catholics to follow their conscience.’”

The chair of Fordham University’s theology department, Terrence Tilley, echoed these sentiments defending the place of Catholic theologians as simultaneous public intellectuals in an interview with National Catholic Reporter:

“’Beattie doesn’t dissent from doctrine,’ said Tilley, who is also the Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Professor of Catholic Theology at Jesuit-run Fordham. ‘[Beattie] has just made a statement about the legitimacy of Catholics voting in favor of civil rights for people who want to marry people of the same sex…But that she has chosen to make a statement regarding politics means that she is not denying or opposing Catholic doctrine.’”

In related news, PRIDE, the University’s LGBT student group, held a fundraiser Saturday to celebrate its 21st anniversary on campus and the milestones it has attending including LGBTQ coursework, the inclusion of ‘sexual orientation’ in the nondiscrimination policies, and programming to create a welcoming campus.

These two events, contrasting controversy over Tina Beattie in this most recent iteration of culture wars on campus with the successes of PRIDE for over two decades, signify the ongoing challenges Catholic campuses face in maintaining their mission while creating welcoming and affirming communities.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

For New Ways Ministry’s listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, visit newwaysministry.org/gfc.

For further information on New Ways Ministry’s efforts in Catholic higher education and to get involved, contact youngadults@newwaysministry.org.


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Fordham Adopts ‘Queer’ Due To Student Campaign

November 4, 2012

Student organizations at Fordham University may now use the term ‘Queer’ in official programming, a decision reached after lengthy discussions with administrators in early October.

A statement announcing the decision by The Queer Campaign, a student group at Fordham,  in conjunction with the student groups Pride and Rainbow Alliance, said, in part:

“After a long period of dialogue with the Dean of Students and the Office of Student Leadership and Community Development, the word ‘queer’ may now be used on both the Lincoln Center and Rose Hill campuses of Fordham University, like any other word, by ANY club—as long as it is not derogatory. This represents a culmination of efforts enacted by the Queer Campaign…and many other communities at large.”

The Queer Campaign describes itself as “a movement for full rights to the usage of the word ‘queer’ at Fordham University at Lincoln Center.”

Tom Beaudoin, an associate professor of theology at Fordham, wrote on these recent developments in America magazine’s ‘In All Things’ blog. Beaudoin celebrates the decision as allowing a person to self-identify how they are addressed:

“Over the course of teaching college for the past dozen years, and through my own many missteps, I have come to see it as a basic rule of decency that as much as possible, people should be called whatever they prefer to be called. I have seen this rule of thumb proven helpful in many kinds of conversations across substantial differences…

“Of course, in a great many cases, letting adults specify the way they want to be addressed is not only a matter of decency, but also of dignity. This is especially the case where a part of oneself, or even something like one’s entire being, has not been acknowledged in situations where it mattered, and where people could have done differently.”

He writes that the re-appropriation of ‘queer’ from hate speech to a positive term has led to a new field of study, queer theory, and bears on religious studies and theology in smaller ways. More than this, Beaudoin identifies ‘queer’ as:

“Among many other meanings, queer means the dignity of speaking for one’s own identity and desires outside the expectations and constraints of what presents itself in many areas of life as the obligation to be (or become) ‘straight.’ This often quiet revolution is happening in uneven, but sure, ways across Catholic college and university life in the USA.”

In a follow-up post, he expands this conversation on ‘queer’ to the entire Catholic Church, where the characterization of LGBT persons is increasingly important in a milieu of negativity from some leaders.

Beaudoin’s belief that ‘queer’ is a nucleus for theological reflection is given a flesh-and-blood example  in the blog of a student writing on his experiences as a Queer Catholic. Describing the struggles of harmonizing these two identities, Nathan writes:

“This self hatred hit an all time low during my Junior year. I was in my “Christian Morality” class and my teacher told me that all “homosexuals” are “intrinsically evil”, “morally wrong”, and that “homosexuality is a mental disorder”. I went home… and I don’t think I had ever hated myself, my identity, more than I did that day. The ironic thing is that what kept me going, was my faith. I was a huge part of my youth group in my Church. My youth group was my safe-haven where I didn’t need to worry about being perceived as “gay” or “straight” , its where I truly felt loved by God and that the God we talked about in high school was not my youth group’s God.

“Your religion needs you. For me, I see so much beauty in my faith, in my Church. If you are struggling to come to terms, pray, experience, find God in the struggle. If I hadn’t struggled with my identity, my relationship with God would not be what it is today…You are needed, and that times are changing.”

The times are changing indeed and Fordham University is creating space for desperately needed honest conversation and expression about identity, sexuality, and faith.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: The Cardinal and Colbert

September 20, 2012

Stephen Colbert and Cardinal Dolan

Cardinal Timothy Dolan and television personality Stephen Colbert engaged in a widely-publicized conversation at Fordham University last week, moderated by Jesuit Fr. James Martin. The New York Times reports on the question and answer period, where one person asked:

“ ‘So many Christian leaders spread hatred, especially of homosexuals. How can you maintain your joy?’ ”
 
“Cardinal Dolan responded with two meandering anecdotes — one about having met this week with Muslim leaders, and another about encountering demonstrators outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”
 
“But Mr. Colbert’s response was quick and unequivocal. ‘If someone spreads hate,’ he said, ‘then they’re not your religious leader.’ ”

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Contradictions in Catholic LGBT Teaching and Practice

September 14, 2012

 

 

Contradictions in hierarchical attitudes towards LGBT issues and people were the theme of two commentaries this week from Catholic writers.

Bryan Cones

The first piece is a blog post from Bryan Cones, managing editor of U.S. Catholic, entitled “Can ‘respect, sensitivity, and compassion’ go with ‘instrinsic disorder’ when it comes to gay Catholics?”

Commenting on three recent news stories–the Worcester Diocese refusing to sell a mansion to a gay couple, the Connecticut priest reprimanded for assisting at his cousin’s wedding, the Franciscan University of Steubenville course which labels homosexuality as “deviant behavior”–Cones reflects on a contradiction that is at the heart of all three cases:

“Every Catholic institution when faced with these controversies (usually of their own creation) will parrot the line from the Catechism that ‘homosexual persons’ must be treated with ‘respect, compassion, and sensitivity,’ then go on to justify any behavior on the basis that a homosexual sexual orientation is an ‘objective disorder.’ Anyone else see the conflict? I don’t think any gay person in these situations (or their family members in the case of the priest at his cousin’s union ceremony) feel treated with ‘respect, compassion, or sensitivity.’

“Catholic teaching is of two minds on this question: On the one hand it upholds the fundamental dignity of every human being, each of whom is made in God’s image and likeness. On the other it insists that a small but consistent subset of human beings are unusually marked by sin in their created sexuality. Inevitably church institutions–Franciscan University, the Diocese of Worcester–get tangled up in in the conflict by clumsy people who try to say both things at the same time and end up embarrassing themselves and their institutions.

“The problem is, the two teachings really don’t go together, and the sooner we all realize that and agree to it, the sooner we will be able to find a new and hopefully more lifegiving way to talk about sexuality and lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in particular.”

Richard Giannone

The second piece is a Huffington Post blog entry from Fordham University Professor Richard Giannone entitled “True and False Religious Freedom.”  Reflecting on the marriage equality and religious liberty debate, Giannone notes:

“Liberty for the bishops is a synonym for power and control, their power, their control. They aim to impose unquestioned submission to their self-styled rectitude. Unlike Jesus’ freedom to challenge the elders and scribes, liberty by contemporary authoritarian lights deprives others of their rights. Such unchristian Christianity adds a new type of suffering on LGBT people.

“I am a 78-year-old man gay man who is a practicing Catholic. The older I get, the more clearly I see how official church teaching on sexuality presents a false idea of freedom and misconstrues Christianity. As in scripture, intolerance in daily life binds and traps. Subjugation comes early. Ecclesiastical homophobia burdens a LGBT child with recrimination and shackles the child in religious censure. Prejudice effectively cuts off young gay people from themselves, others, and God.”

I agree with Cones’ assessment that there is a deep tension between these two aspects of official church teaching.  While one stresses the importance of having positive behaviors towards gay and lesbian people, the other presents a strongly negative judgment about their sexual orientation.

I believe that church leaders are aware of this tension.  The problem, however, is that to resolve the tension, they favor the negative judgment over the positive behaviors.  There is no reason why it can’t be the other way around.

I think that Giannone poignantly describes the problem that such negative judgment produces.  It produces a prejudicial attitude that “effectively cuts off young gay people from themselves, others, and God.”

I agree with him that “Unlike Jesus’ freedom to challenge the elders and scribes, liberty by contemporary authoritarian lights deprives others of their rights.” Christian leaders should always be mindful of the paradox that they live as leaders since Jesus, their model, was certainly critical of institutional religious leaders who used theological principles to burden and oppress people.  Institutional authority creates a conundrum for Christian leaders that often encourages arrogance when it should inspire humility.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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