After Orlando, Bishops Should Cancel Fortnight for Freedom

June 21, 2016
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Catholics protesting the original Fortnight for Freedom in 2012.

When it comes to the mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Catholics have not only responded to this horror, but to the failings of many church leaders to be in solidarity with LGBT communities. A handful of bishops identified the victims as LGBT people, but the vast majority including the Vatican could not even utter the word “gay” in their statements.

Today begins the U.S. bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom campaign. While it is ostensibly focused on religious liberty, in reality this now-annual campaign promotes such freedom at the expense of the rights of LGBT people and others. In view of their failings in responding to Orlando last week, the bishops should cancel the Fortnight and instead use the time to reflect on how they might reconcile with LGBT people in the church and in society.

The bishops could begin by thinking about Micheal Sean Winters’ questions posed to them ahead of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) spring meeting held in California last week. He wrote in the National Catholic Reporter:

“Do you see that referring to gay people as ‘people who experience same sex attraction’ is not only a clunky and bizarre phrasing, in the wake of the attacks Sunday morning, it was offensive? Do you see that it seems you are afraid to mention the word, as if saying it were a kind of communicable disease? Does such a reluctance reflect the respect and dignity for the human person the Church celebrates?

“Do you think it is polite to refer to people in the manner that they refer to themselves? Do you still call Presbyterians and Lutherans heretics? Would you appreciate being called papists? Idolators? Does your hesitancy reflect concern about certain theories about LGBT issues you have been sold by some conservative groups and, if so, is this reluctance to call gay people gay not an example of putting ideology before people which the pope has denounced as the source of great evil and many barriers and injustices in our world?”

Winters asked, too, about whether bishops’ conflicts about their own sexual identities “helped or hindered” their relations with LGBT people. Robert Mickens in the National Catholic Reporter  followed a similar line of questioning. On LGBT people, Mickens wrote, church teaching and most church leaders “put us in closets and do all they can to keep us there.” He suggested the roots of these problems reside in priests’ own homophobia:

“Closeted homosexuality among the clergy — especially in the hierarchy — is one of the most serious pathologies that continues to hamper our ordained ministers from being prophetic leaders.”

Mickens called gay priests who acknowledge their sexual identity but remain closeted “truly heroic men.” These priests and male religious are the “first and most tragic victims of a faulty and hurtful teaching” because they not only must hide themselves but must represent the very church causing that harm. Some of these priests and religious leave active ministry, while others remain to serve the people of God. Then Mickens identified the real problem as those priests and religious who are “homosexually oriented but refuse to admit this even to themselves.” He wrote:

“In this way, they unwittingly inflict their own unacknowledged suffering and pathology on others by mercilessly preaching a rigid morality and insisting on a strict adherence to the letter of every ecclesiastical law. . .These are the tightly buttoned-up types, in every sense of the word. And so many of them tend to find their identity in the traditionalist wing of the church.”

Vatican actions, including letters from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a 2005 instruction designed to bar gay men from seminary, have forced church ministers deeper into their closets. Mickens noted that the failings of many bishops to even note it was an LGBT nightclub targeted in Orlando “clearly attest that they fear even mentioning gay people.”

When closeted church leaders’ internal struggles are externalized as anti-LGBT actions, such decisions are too often acceptable in the bishops’ eyes. The Fortnight for Freedom’s skewed vision, the divisions it causes, and the aspersions it casts against Catholics who support LGBT equality, become normalized at the USCCB. Bishops’ failure to respond pastorally or even honestly after a massacre of LGBT people should almost be expected in such a stifling atmosphere.

Noting that today is “a time of increased danger to LGBTQ people (and those thought to be LGBTQ.),” theologian Lisa Fullam wrote on Commonweal’s  blog that “Queer Lives Matter.” The social reality therefore demands an improved and positive response from Catholic leaders, a response called for with renewed urgency after Orlando.  Fullam writes:

“The Orlando shooter was not Catholic. Nor does any reputable voice of Catholic leadership justify the killing of LBGT people, as, sadly, some ‘Christians’ have. While racism still afflicts our Church, our doctrine is not to blame, at least not any more–we still have much work to do, certainly, but no current Church teaching upholds racial or ethnic discrimination on theological grounds. Not so homophobia, which does still afflict both doctrine and practice in Catholicism.”

Many Catholics are advising the bishops on how they could have respond better to Orlando, and Bondings 2.0 will highlight some of these suggestions tomorrow. But for now, Fullam offers a strong call to action. She elucidated Catholic sources for anti-LGBT prejudices, including the harsh language in church teaching and the epidemic of firing of LGBT church workers, before concluding:

“In the wake of Orlando, where racist homophobia killed 49 Americans and terrorized millions of LGBTQ people, especially queer people of color, it is time for the Church–the people of God, all of us–to step away from language that fuels distrust and disdain of sexual minorities. It is time for us to exercise positive solidarity with LGBTQ people. As with racism, it is not enough to renounce overtly homophobic acts, but rather we must recognize and stand against the structures of social sin that drive them. As Bishop Lynch observed, the Catholic faith is not innocent on this score. Instead, our churches must be safe places for LGBTQ people (and especially clergy, who are largely silenced about their sexuality) to be ‘out,’ and our institutions must be secure places to work. . .And please–if there is a Pride parade coming up near you, go out and stand with the LGBTQ community. Come and mourn and celebrate, come thumb your nose at the forces of sin and death that only love can overcome. In the wake of this most recent explosion of savage racist homophobia, we must all stand together as children of the same God.”

After Orlando, church leaders should, at the very least, be silent if they are unable to express true solidarity with the victims of the Pulse nightclub, their loved ones, and the LGBT communities worldwide suffering after this attack. Cancelling the Fortnight for Freedom would be a humble and penitent step towards reconciliation with those Catholics and people in society who have been harmed by the bishops’ politicking. It would be an overdue but honest recognition that those young people gunned down in Orlando were lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, and queer children of God, wonderfully made and worth celebrating. And it would be a healthy and welcome recognition that the bishops’ campaign against civil rights has perpetuated the homophobia and transphobia which not only caused the Orlando massacre, but causes daily suffering for LGBT people and their families.

To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Orlando massacre and Catholic responses to it, please click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


“Fortnight for Freedom” Fails to Rouse Catholics to Oppose LGBT Equality

July 12, 2015

For the fourth year in a row, the U.S. Catholic Bishops declared a “Fortnight for Freedom” from June 21st to July 4th–a time for Catholics to pray and organize to protect supposed threats to religious freedom.  For the fourth year in a row, this project has failed to find an audience among Catholics in the pews, who don’t agree with the bishops that their religious liberty is threatened.

Many Catholics think that claiming religious liberty is threatened is a way for religious leaders, such as the bishops, to oppose a number of governmental initiatives, including marriage equality.  By saying that marriage equality will harm the Catholic Church’s ability to practice its faith works as a red herring.  As Father Thomas Reese recently pointed out in The National Catholic Reporter,  the U.S. bishops have made accommodations with other civil laws that do not match their beliefs, so, morally, they can do the same with marriage equality.

It’s surprising that the bishops’ campaign did not pick up more speed this year than in the past since the Supreme Court decision for marriage equality came right in the middle of their Fortnight.  But perhaps it’s not surprising, since many Catholics welcomed the decision and don’t see it threatening their freedom.  As Paula Ruddy, writing at The Progressive Catholic Voice blog wrote:

“American Catholics have been formed in the values of two traditions – the value of community in the Roman Catholic tradition and the value of individual liberty in the U.S. democratic tradition. Most of us have learned to value both, to integrate the two more or less successfully. We try to avoid both the excesses of “group think” and the excesses of ‘go-it-alone’ individualism. We have to do this without the support of our institutional church.”

That sentiment was shared by Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, and Reverend Barry Lynn, president of Americans United, in an op-ed they co-authored for The Baltimore Sun at the very beginning of the Fortnight campaign.  O’Brien and Lynn pointed out that American Catholics want a nation where everyone’s needs are met and everyone’s consciences are respected:

“The American public has arrived at a consensus that it’s not OK to be mean and nasty. They don’t think it’s OK to take taxpayer money to diagnose someone with HIV and not give that person — through condoms, medication and counseling — the ability to live and love as HIV positive. It’s not OK when refugees from Latin America, or those who are victims of sex trafficking or sexual abuse, are denied emergency contraception that could prevent pregnancy — especially when they are not even referred to another provider who can give survivors what they need. The American public does not agree when an employer either refuses to hire you because you want to marry your same-sex partner, you want contraceptives covered by your insurance or you would like to use IVF to have the baby you’ve always wanted.”

The real danger is that real religious freedom is threatened by the unholy alliance between pulpit and government. O’ Brien and Lynn stated:

“[T]he real threat we see is an all-time low in political commitment to, and understanding of, the idea of separation of church and state.”

O’Brien underscored this problem in a separate op-ed that he wrote for Crux:

“Real religious freedom is freedom of and freedom from religion. Neither party seems to understand that you don’t get to impose your beliefs onto somebody else — your freedom stops at the end of your nose.”

Or, as Ryan Hoffman, communications director for Call To Action, said it in a post on the organization’s website:

“Real ‘religious freedom’ upholds an individual’s decision to live in accordance with their sexual identity and religious values. Discrimination on the basis of such is not a Catholic value.”

Frederick Clarkson, a senior fellow with Political Research Associates, framed the problem this way in an essay on LGBTQNation.com:

“The narrative is usually framed in terms favorable to the Christian Right: casting religious freedom versus LGBTQ rights. But there is more to it as the battle for the definition of a religiously plural society rages hotter than meets the eye. . . .

“The Christian Right, in both its evangelical and Catholic expressions, is seeking to co-opt the great tradition and constitutional doctrine of religious liberty as a front to advance their particular cultural and religious agenda at the expense of everyone else.  But there is a broad-based pushback from many sectors, both religious and non-religious, to preserve and advance religious freedom for all, and not just the self-selected few.”

If Catholic bishops continue to take a narrow view of religious liberty, they will, in effect, be making the Catholic religion a more narrow and marginalized sector of society.  Mark Silk, a contributing editor at Religion News Serviceargued against the idea that it is beneficial for religious institutions to shrink down in order to preserve their identity in a way that is totally separate from mainstream society.  In a blog post, Silk pointed out an important historical example:

“[I]t’s hard to see an American future where, as the early Christian intellectual Tertullian put it, ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’ What a number of latter-day Christian intellectuals are hoping for, instead, is what American Conservative blogger Rod Dreher is calling the Benedict Option, by which he proposes that Christians in America take as their model Benedictine monasticism after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West. . . .

“Dreher’s idea is that just as European civilization re-emerged from these ‘islands of sanity and serenity,’ so a religious civilization can eventually re-emerge from contemporary Christian communities that hold to traditional values and beliefs.

“It’s a pretty lousy analogy, actually. The heavy business of keeping peace and order, and effecting the transition from Roman emperors to the likes of the Frankish King Clovis, was done by popes such as Gregory the Great and aristocratic (and married) Gallo-Roman bishops. Monasteries did preserve a good deal of ancient Roman culture — among other things, monks copying out enough naughty Latin literature to keep latter-day classicists in business. But the idea that people outside the cloister forgot what it meant to be a human being, while small communities of celibate men (and women) didn’t, is romantic nonsense.

“More importantly, however, the monastic model served Western Christendom badly in important ways during the era of extraordinary economic and institutional growth that began after the Viking invasions ended in the 11th century — not least by making celibacy obligatory for priests serving communities in the world, and consequently devaluing the religious lives of married folks.”

After four years of failed Fortnights, U.S. bishops should learn that Catholics in the pews do not see their religious freedom threatened.  So much wasted money on a campaign which looks more like a political strategy against policies the bishops don’t like than a humanitarian effort to preserve an ideal.   In other parts of the globes, people’s religious freedom is severely threatened, and they pay for it with their lives.  The U.S. bishops would do better by funding programs to oppose those oppressive measures instead of trying to convince Catholics here that there is a monster under the bed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


‘Fortnight for Freedom’ Campaign Ends With Protest and Op-Ed

July 7, 2012

LGBT Catholics and supporters outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC.

The U.S. bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign, designed to try to convince people that religious freedom is under attack in our nation, ended on July 4th.   LGBT Catholics and supporters gathered on that day at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC, to protest the campaign.  The Washington Blade reports:

“ ‘We’re here as a non-partisan group of Catholics to say we don’t want our church involved in these kind of politics,’ Joseph Palacios, director of the Catholics for Equality Foundation, told the Blade as he and other protesters stood in front of the basilica on Michigan Avenue, N.E. ‘We want our church leaders to be pastoral leaders particularly concerned with the poor and the vulnerable, the gay and lesbian community, women and the equal rights of all people rather than the partisan politics they seem to be playing.’ ”

“Members of Catholics United, Dignity USA, Nuns on the Bus, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance and other organizations took part in the protest that coincided with a Mass that marked the end of the “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched last month in Baltimore. Protesters sang hymns and held a banner that read ‘Bishops: We need pastors, not politicians. Your antics are hurting the church’ on the sidewalk in front of the basilica as the faithful arrived. . . .

” ‘I’m here today because I think our bishops are on the wrong track,’ said Sister Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry and the National Coalition of American Nuns.  ‘They’re using religious liberty as a political tool to be against the president, when in reality the people whose religious liberty is being denied are the people who work at church-related institutions. Freedom of conscience is for the individual.’ . . .

” ‘They [the bishops] want equality only for heterosexual people and so they’re using the argument of religious freedom,’ stressed Gramick. ‘It’s the freedom of the individual that’s being denied. No church or religious institution is going to be forced to perform gay weddings and this is what our bishops are leading Catholics to believe, which is false.’ ”

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo published an op-ed essay entitled “The Growing Abuse of ‘Religious Freedom’ “ on Advocate.com to mark the closing of the bishops’ campaign, noting:

“The Catholic hierarchy is trying to fundamentally change the legal understanding of individual liberties, weighting the supposed rights of religious institutions more heavily than individual rights. At New Ways Ministry, we think there are good secular and religious arguments for not twisting the law into a tool for discrimination. Last fall, the Catholic bishops created the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty to protect against a host of alleged threats, with five of the six predictably having to do with sexuality. The committee opposes same-sex marriage and endorses ‘ministerial privilege,’ which sets different employment standards for religious groups, allowing discrimination that is illegal for other employers. In addition, religious institutions should not have to cover contraception in employee health plans; Catholic charities should continue to be awarded federal funds to serve victims of human trafficking while refusing to provide a full range of reproductive services; and international HIV prevention programs should not require condom distribution. . . .

“The LGBT community has suffered under the law, both by discriminatory statutes and from a lack of recognition for dimensions of our lives that don’t fit within existing legal norms. But our faith in the law and our respect for religious differences are what have many of us invested in the painstaking process of nurturing good, rights-affirming policies while uprooting injustice. Our fundamental objection to the bishops’ religious freedom campaign is that it’s a misuse of the law — an attempt to create new rights for religious institutions while trampling on the rights long-guaranteed to all individuals.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


In DC, Gay Catholics Protest ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ Campaign

June 27, 2012

Gay Catholics protest “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign. (Washington Blade photo by Blake Bergen)

Gay Catholics in Washington, DC, staged a protest against the two-week-long “Fortnight for Freedom” staged by the U.S. bishops to promote the idea that religious liberty is under attack in the U.S.

The Washington Blade  reports that the event was on George Washington University’s campus, where a Fortnight for Freedom event was being held:

“Members of Catholics for Equality and Dignity USA sang hymns and held a large banner that read ‘Bishops: We Need Pastors, Not Politicians, Your Antics are Hurting the Church’ outside the Charles E. Smith Center on 22nd Street, N.W. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington was among those who spoke to the estimated 4,000 people who attended the gathering.”

A spokesperson for the protesters explained the reason for the demonstration:

“ ‘We’re here to provide an opposite viewpoint to the U.S. bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom campaign,” said Joseph Palacios, director of the Catholics for Equality Foundation. He noted to the Blade that 67 percent — or $4 billion — of Catholic Charities’ annual funding comes from state and federal government sources. ‘They claim that they are being victims of religious liberty, when in fact the Catholic Church has probably more liberties than any organization in our country.’ . . .

” ‘This is all about election year politicking,’ argued Palacios. ‘This is a cover for the Catholic Church’s issues on gay rights, on women’s reproductive issues, on so-called religious infringement.’ ”

One of the protesters explained that the demonstration showed that not all Catholics support the bishops’ campaign:

” ‘Catholics are very divided in terms of their support for this conservative political agenda,’ said Arlington resident Bob Miailovich as he stood outside the GWU rally. ‘We have already met here though today some people who are into the more conservative agenda and they take offense at any public program that does not comport foursquare with what the bishops are teaching. As Catholics, it’s a big church and it has a lot of divided opinion. We’re not monolithic on these social issues.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry