New Ways Ministry and U.S. Catholics Rejoice at Supreme Court Marriage Equality Decision

June 26, 2015

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to enable marriage equality to be enacted throughout the nation.

New Ways Ministry rejoices with millions of U.S. Catholics that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided in favor of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples! On this historic day, we pray in thanksgiving that justice and mercy have prevailed and that the prayers and efforts of so many have combined to move our nation one step closer to fairness and equality for all.

With this Supreme Court victory, Catholics recommit themselves to working to make sure that all LGBT people are treated equally in both church and society.  While we are delighted with this victory, there is still much work to be done to ensure those goals.

Catholics have been at the forefront of working for equal marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples. The overwhelming majority of U.S. Catholics have consistently been in favor of marriage equality, and have put their support into action in legislative, judicial, and electoral campaigns.

Their Catholic faith has inspired them to make sure that their lesbian and gay family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers receive equal treatment by society. The Supreme Court’s decision embodies the Catholic values of human dignity, respect for differences, and the strengthening of families.

While the U.S. Catholic bishops have consistently opposed marriage equality measures on all fronts, Catholic people in the pews have had a different perspective from their leaders.   The lived faith of Catholic people has taught them that love, commitment, and sacrifice are the essential building blocks of marriage and family. Their daily experiences interacting with lesbian and gay couples and their families has taught them that these relationships are identical to heterosexual marriages in terms of the essential qualities needed to build a future together, establish a family, and contribute to social stability and growth.

The U.S. bishops now need to reconcile themselves to the new social reality of marriage equality, as it is poised to spread to all 50 states. They can do so by entering into a dialogue with lesbian and gay Catholics to learn more about the reality of their lives and how their faith inspires their relationships. The bishops should declare a moratorium on firing lesbian and gay church employees who have married legally. These firings have been a scandalous trend with effects that are harmful not only to the people involved, but to the life of the Church.

Today begins a time for Catholic supporters and Catholic opponents of marriage equality to reconcile with one another and work to build up their local faith communities so that together they can work for a world Pope Francis envisions: one of justice and mercy.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


New Ways Ministry’s LGBT Catholic Pilgrims Get VIP Seats at Papal Audience

February 19, 2015
NWM Rome 2015

New Ways Ministry pilgrims pose in St. Peter’s Square following the papal audience with Pope Francis.

In what is surely the most official welcome from Church officials that New Ways Ministry has received in its 38-year history, a pilgrimage group of 48 LGBT Catholics and supporters led by our co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, received VIP seating at the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, on Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015.

Sister Jeannine had written to Pope Francis in December 2014, asking him to meet personally with the group when they visited Rome as part of their ten-day pilgrimage to Florence, Assisi, and the Eternal City.

Two weeks before departure on February 12th, she received a letter from Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Prefect of the Papal Household, letting her know that he had reserved tickets for the group for the Ash Wednesday audience.  She assumed that these were the general seating tickets. On the night of February 17th, when the group picked up the tickets at St. Peter’s, they learned that they were VIP seating.

When the group arrived at St. Peter’s Square in the morning, we were guided by papal ushers to the level of the Square where the pope sits.  All were astonished!    While we were not able to shake the pope’s hand personally, it is very significant that the Vatican responded so positively to an LGBT group by giving us such a prominent place at the audience.
When the pope passed by our group, we all sang “All Are Welcome,” a popular hymn which calls for an inclusive church.  We also called out several times that “We are LGBT Catholics!”
Pope Francis greets pilgrims at the Ash Wednesday audience.

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at the Ash Wednesday audience.

Although Sister Jeannine Gramick has led two other pilgrimages to Rome under the two previous popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, their presence was ignored at the papal audiences.

A Religion News Service story in The Washington Post noted that it was not just Vatican recognition that was significant, but that several other Church leaders helped the process along the way:

“. . . Archbishop Georg Ganswein, head of the papal household and the top aide to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, responded to New Ways’ request for a papal meet-and-greet by reserving tickets for the group at Francis’ weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square. It’s not a private meeting — which is tough for anyone to get — but it’s not nothing.

“The pope’s ambassador to Washington forwarded a similar request to Rome. Even San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone — point man for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ battle against gay marriage — had written a letter to the Vatican on their behalf.

“Last December, Cordileone had a constructive meeting with Frank DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, a co-founder of New Ways and a longtime advocate for LGBT inclusion in the church. But they were still surprised by the archbishop’s willingness to write a letter for them.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo in St. Peter's Square following the Ash Wednesday audience.

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo in St. Peter’s Square following the Ash Wednesday audience.

Gibson also noted that a British cardinal has given similar prestigious recognition to an LGBT Catholic pilgrimage which is also in Rome this week:

” . . . British Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster sent a warm blessing to a group of LGBT Catholics from London who are joining up with New Ways in Rome. ‘Be assured of my prayers for each and every one of you,’ Nichols wrote. ‘Have a wonderful pilgrimage. God bless you all.’ “

Reuters story published on Huffington Post captured the response of New Ways Ministry’s leaders just after they left the papal audience:

” ‘What this says is that there is movement in our Church, movement to welcome people from the outside closer to the inside,’ Gramick said in St. Peter’s Square. . . . “DeBernardo said Catholic gay and lesbian couples and other non-traditional families should be invited to the meeting, known as a synod, to speak to the bishops about their faith and their sexuality.”

An Associated Press video also reported their reactions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhM3UMRl830 Several of the LGBT pilgrims were visibly moved by the welcome they received and by the experience of seeing the pope in person.  Several noted that they felt this was one more step in the progress–albeit, slow–that LGBT Catholics have been making in the Church for several decades.  All agreed that this day will never be forgotten.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Associated Press: “Gay Catholics Get Vatican Welcome, but No Papal Shout-Out”

New York Daily News:  “American gay Catholic group welcomed to Vatican”


Was Synod 2014 a “Turning Point” or “Clash of Factions”? What Will Synod 2015 Be?

December 13, 2014

The upcoming synod on marriage and family to take place at the Vatican in 2015 was in the news this week because the discussion document was released, and bishops around the world were once again asked to consult with the laity about matters pertaining to the synod’s topic.

Pope Francis

But this week there was also a looking back towards the October 2014 synod.  At his general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke about the recent meeting and said that the meeting did not include a “clash of factions,” as media reports indicated.  Religion News Service provided excerpts from the pope’s comments on the past synod:

“ ‘Some of you have asked me if the synod fathers fought,’ Francis said. ‘I don’t know if they “fought,” but they spoke forcefully. This is freedom. This is just the kind of freedom that there is in the church.’

“In a bid to set the record straight, the pope acknowledged the extensive media coverage of the global gathering in October and likened it to ‘sports or political coverage.’

“ ‘They often spoke of two teams, pro and con, conservatives and liberals,’ the pope told thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.

“ ‘There was no clash between factions … but a dialogue between the bishops, which came after a long process of preparation and now continues, for the good of the family, the church and society. It’s a process.’ ”

Jesuit commentator Father Thomas Reese had a different interpretation of the meeting.  He stated that differences of opinion clearly existed among the synod participants, making this synod very different from those in recent memory.  Reese said:

“Rather than advising the pope, these earlier synods often simply quoted the pope to himself. They were a way of bishops showing their loyalty. Francis gave the bishops freedom to speak.”

Indeed, in the document that was released this week, that landmark meeting in October was described as a pastoral “turning point” for the Church, the Associated Press noted.

Both New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA criticized this week’s document because of using the term “homosexual tendencies,” and because of lack of focus on families headed by gay and lesbian couples. In addition to each group’s statements, an Advocate.com article contained additional comments from the leaders of these two organizations.

 

Ryan Denson, writing at AddictingInfo.com has a different point of view, though, about the document and the upcoming synod.  He sees the identification of a “turning point” as significant, and that the Catholic Church may be on the road to becoming more open to LGBT people and those who are divorced and remarried.  Denson wrote:

“Baby steps are turning into leaps as Pope Francis and the Vatican urge the world’s bishops to be guided, not just by doctrine, but by the Pope’s compassionate message which includes a ‘turning point’ inspired by meetings at the Vatican. The new message seeks to provide better pastoral care for gays and divorcees across the globe . . . .

“[I]n other words, the Vatican is asking the bishops and other clergy members to act like Jesus, who loves and respects all, and not act like arrogant, judgmental religious zealots. Instead of focusing on outdated dogma, Pope Francis is truly teaching the Gospels, and with the ousting of several prominent homophobic priests, the Vatican is starting to realize that he means business.

“The bottom line is this: the Pope is currently facing vocal opposition from those who view the church as an exclusive club where the unsaved and unworthy are not welcomed. He wants to change this. And he has made it very obvious that he does.”

ThinkProgress.com also looked on a more positive side to the survey released.  They quoted several progressive Catholic leaders, who have a more optimistic view of the synod, the questionnaire, and the process.  Bob Shine of New Ways Ministry was one of those more optimistic voices:

“ ‘Language about tendencies is problematic,’ Shine, who oversees young adult ministries for New Ways, told ThinkProgress in an email. ‘That said, I think the intentions of reaching out to and providing pastorally for LGBT people and their families is what is really guiding this process … Pope Francis has encouraged genuine dialogue during this whole synodal process.’ ”

Other Catholic leaders said likewise:

“ ‘Regardless of the wording, the survey itself is a step in the right direction towards providing better pastoral care of LGBT people, as is the Vatican asking for wider inputs from ‘all levels’ for the 2015 synod on the family,’ Stephen Seufert, state director of the progressive Catholic group Keystone Catholics, told ThinkProgress. ‘Both the survey and the Vatican document released yesterday relating to the 2015 synod are indications of a church that wants to focus less on rigid, uncompromising doctrine and more on providing greater pastoral care.’

“James Salt, executive director of the left-leaning advocacy group Catholics United, echoed Seufert.

“ ‘The fact that they are explicitly asking this question is a sign of progress,’ he said. ‘Rather than retreating to a position of doctrine, they are reflecting the changing world that we live in.’ ”

Clearly, marriage and family are high on Pope Francis’ agenda.  This week, he announced that he will be speaking on these topics in a series of talks at his weekly general audiences at the Vatican.  Bondings 2.0 will keep an eye on important messages, especially those relating to LGBT people.

So, what do you think?  Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the upcoming 2015 synod?  What did you think of the document that was released this week?  Are you surprised to hear Pope Francis say that the 2014 synod was not a contentious discussion?  Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Praying for Synod and for New Ways Ministry’s Presence in Rome and Portugal

September 28, 2014

One week from today, Pope Francis will open the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to discuss the topic, The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.  For Catholic LGBT advocates, there has been great anticipation of the event, perhaps mainly because Pope Francis asked the bishops of the world to consult the laity on marriage and family topics, and, even more so, because pastoral care of families headed by same-gender couples was one of the areas for which input was sought.

Today has been set aside as a day of prayer for the Synod, and Pope Francis has composed a Prayer to the Holy Family for the Synod.   You can access this prayer, and other prayer intentions for the Synod, by clicking here.   Of course, we ask that you include in your prayer for the Synod that the concerns of families with LGBT members or those headed by same-gender couples will be heard and responded to pastorally by the bishops.

When the Synod opens on Sunday, October 5th, New Ways Ministry representatives will be in Rome.  Both Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder, and Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, will be traveling there to participate in several events surrounding the Synod, and also with the hope that they will be able to provide a pro-LGBT voice in the public discussions of the Synod that the media will offer.  In addition, DeBernardo will travel to Portugal for the first international meeting of Catholic LGBT groups.

Joining them, too, in Rome will be Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia.  Bishop Robinson spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in 2012, where he called for a total re-vamping of the Church’s system of sexual ethics.

The following are the various events that these three people will participate in:

  • “The Ways of Love: International Conference on pastoral care with homosexual and trans people,” Friday October 3, 2014, at the Waldensian Faculty of Theology, Aula Magna, via Pietro Cossa 40, Rome.  For more information, and to see the line-up of speakers, click here.    (For a previous blog post about this event, click here.)
  • “Lets’s witness our hope,”  a forum for Italian Christian LGBT groups, Saturday and Sunday, October 4-5, 2014, at Centro Pellegrini Santa Teresa Couderc, Via Vincenzo Ambrosio 9, Rome.  For more information about this event, click here.
  • “The Path from the 2014 Synod to the 2015 Synod: The Pastoral Challenges for Welcoming LGBT people,” a lecture by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, Wednesday, October 8, 2014,  Via Marianna Dionigi, 59, Rome.  This lecture is sponsored by Nuova Proposta, a Christian LGBT organization in Rome.  For more information, click here.
  • “When Identity Becomes a Crime: Criminalization of Homosexuality Globally,” an international conference, Saturday, October 11, 2014, 4:30-6:3o pm, at the Capitoline Museum, Sala Pietro da’ Cortona, piazza del Campidoglio 1, Rome. The speakers will be Frank Mugisha, a Ugandan LGBT activist, Jules Eloundou, a human rights defender from Cameroon, André du Plessis, UN program and advocacy director for ILGA World, and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s executive director. Dr. Michael Brinkschröder, a co-president of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, will moderate.  Bishops participating in the Synod are invited to attend.   The event is sponsored by the City of Rome and Dutch Ministry’s Department of Education, Science & Culture.

While in Europe, New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo will also travel to Portugal to attend a meeting of Catholic LGBT groups from around the globe who are gathering to discuss the inauguration of a world-wide association for those who work for LGBT equality in the Church.  The meeting will be held in the city of Portimão on October 6-8, 2014.

28 organizations from 16 different countries will be attending this first World Congress of Catholic Homosexual Associations.   Organized by Rumos Novos,  a Portugese Catholic gay and lesbian group (whose name, incidentally, translates as “New Ways”), this meeting’s theme will be “Building Bridges.”  According to the meeting’s website:

“This congress invites us to look with serenity and deepness towards our Church and our life, allowing that on ‘both sides of the bridge’ light can brighten the view of all, often distorted  by prejudices, fears and sorrows.”

DeBernardo will be a speaker at the conference, addressing the topic of the gifts that LGBT people bring to the Church.

José Leote, the coordinator of the conference, in an interview with Algarve Daily News, said the meeting’s participants will send a letter to Pope Francis.  They will ask the pope, among other things, that gay and lesbian people will experience “integration at all levels of the Church and the possibility of working in parishes without the stigma of sexual orientation.”

The Portugal News described the two-pronged parts of this meeting:

“The congress will take part in two phases, the first being a public phase and open to anyone interested, and a second part reserved for representatives of the associations in which the basis of the future World Organisation is to be set.”

While New Ways Ministry asks for your prayers for the Synod, especially that LGBT concerns will be heard, we also ask your prayers for Sister Jeannine and Francis DeBernardo, as they journey to these events.  Please pray that God will bless them with wisdom, courage, and fortitude during these important events.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


LGBT Advocates Will Explain ‘Ways of Love’ to Synod of Bishops

August 3, 2014

As you probably already know, in October this year, the Vatican will be hosting a world synod of bishops to discuss marriage and family issues.  Just days before that  meeting begins, an international group of Catholic supporters of LGBT people will be meeting in Rome, along with representatives of the Waldensian Church and of the civil society, in order to discuss about how to renew the pastoral care with a view of fully including the LGBT people, and same-gender couples and families.

The conference, entitled “The Ways of Love: International Conference for a Pastoral Care with Homosexual and Transsexual People,” will take place on Friday, October 3, 2014, in Rome.   At the close of the conference, an appeal for appropriate pastoral care for LGBT people will be made to the bishops meeting in the synod.

A keynote speaker at the event will be Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary bishop from Australia who is the author of the book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church.  Bishop Robinson was a featured speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in 2012, where he called for a total re-vamping of the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality.

In addition to Bishop Robinson, the other speakers will be:

 James Alison, Catholic theologian and priest. Originally from the United Kingdom, he residesin Brazil and has worked extensively on homosexuality and Catholic faith, in particular on Catholic consciousness and gay consciousness;
Antonietta Potente, theologian and Italian Dominican nun based in Bolivia. She will offer a reflection on a new approach of the Gospel to the LGBT people;
Letizia Tomassone, Waldensian pastor, President of the Commission on Faith and Homosexuality of the Baptist, Methodist, and Waldensian Churches in Italy. She will tell about the path that these Churches have undertaken before openly including the LGBT people and couples;
Joseanne Peregin, President of the Christian Life Community in Malta and mother of a homosexual man. She will tell about the feelings and the fears that Catholic parents may have when it comes to homosexual children.

In anticipation of this conference, the website for the meeting has been posting interviews with some of the conference organizers, an international group of people from five continents.   Below is a sampling from some of those interviews, describing the needs of LGBT Catholics and the hopes for the syond.  Clicking on each name will bring you to the page with the entire interview with that person.

Michael Clifton, David et Jonathan, France:

“When the PACS (Civil Union bill) was introduced in 1999, the Roman Catholic Church’s reaction was quite hysterical, with demonstrators chanting ‘Les pédés au bûcher!’ (‘Burn the faggots!’). When last year (2013) the present government introduced a law allowing marriage and adoption for same-sex couples, there were once again enormous demonstrations, sometimes violent.

“The Church paid for special trains and buses to carry demonstrators to Paris and in churches the faithful were asked to pray for the demonstrators. But officially no members of the hierarchy took part in these demonstrations: some of them just went along before the demonstrations to congratulate and encourage the demonstrators.

“The archbishops of Paris and Lyon made quite strong public statements, likening homosexuality to, for example, zoophilia. Since the law has been enacted, the climate has become quieter and rumours are going around that a large number of the bishops regret the excessive language of last year.

“Even so, the bishop of Bayonne, earlier this year, went to Russia to congratulate Putin on his energetic persecution of homosexuals. On the other hand, two or three bishops have made definite attempts to set up some dialogue with homosexual groups and there is also some contact with influential theologians.”

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, USA

“I think this synod is a great opportunity for bishops to discuss LGBT people, relationships, and families. It is the first time the bishops are covering the topics of marriage and family in a synod since the question of legal marriages for gay and lesbian couples has become a reality. Many bishops from around the world have already publicly acknowledged that most Catholics do not accept the moral condemnation of loving, committed lesbian and gay relationships.

“If these bishops are honest, I think they will realize that this rejection of the church’s teaching is not because people don’t understand it, but because Catholics of good faith have reflected prayerfully on their experiences of lesbian and gay people and couples and have witnessed something holy in their lives and commitment.

“It’s also the first synod under Pope Francis. I think the bishops know that people around the world have responded positively to Francis’ new, welcoming approach to LGBT people. I think they will realize that any negative statements from the synod about lesbian and gay couples will alienate a great number of Catholics in the pews.”

Gianni Geraci, Progetto Gionata, Italy:

“Pointing out new ways where the ecclesial communities and homosexuals can meet and discover a new meaning for the announcement of the Gospel is what is needed. The idea is to follow in Abram’s footsteps, who wasn’t defeated by fear, who didn’t stand still in Harran where his father took him, who didn’t want to know in advance where the Lord was taking him, who didn’t ask for reassurance but only God’s promise to keep him under His blessing. (Gen. 12:1, 2).

“Homosexuals’ experience is deeply connected to Abram’s vocation: just like him, they need to face a horizon they don’t know, go down a road of which the final destination is unknown and the challenge of turning their homosexuality into sanctity without role models or points of reference. Just as happened to Abram, they will hear their old friends ask: ‘Why are you doing this? Live your life and give up unrealistic ambitions. Don’t walk roads you are not familiar with.

“But just as Abram did, they will hear God’s promise echo in their hearts: it is absurd to human reasoning (‘I will make you into a great Nation’, the Lord said to him when he was seventy-five and with no children because of his wife’s barreness) and it is demanding (‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household’). This promise, apart from His blessing (‘I will bless you’), has no warranty (‘Go to the land I will show you’). There is only an undefined destination that the Lord will point out on the way. Yet it is God’s promise.”

The conference is sponsored by the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups and financially supported by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of the Netherlands.  It will be held at the Waldensian Faculty of Theology, Rome.

In addition to the three people quoted abover, other conference organizers include:

Francesco Boschi (REFO, Italy); Michael Brinkschroeder (European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, Netherlands); Marianne Duddy-Burke (DignityUSA, United States); David Musonda (Dette Resource Foundation, Zambia); Innocenzo Pontillo (Progetto Gionata, Italy); Andrea Rubera (Nuova Proposta, Italy); Diane Xuereb (Drachma LGBT, Malta).

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


What Makes a Catholic Advocate for LGBT Equality Tick?

July 10, 2014
Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo

As one of the co-founders of New Ways Ministry, I’ve had the pleasure of working for more than 20 years with Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry and editor of this blog. Many New Ways Ministry supporters and Bondings 2.0 readers have had the opportunity to meet him as he travels around the country doing workshops and talks on Catholic LGBT topics.

But, even if you know Frank personally, you will probably see a new side to him, as I have,  in the recent in-depth personal interview conducted by The National Catholic Reporter’s Sister Camille D’Arienzo, RSM.  The interview is this week’s installment of the popular series “Conversations with Camille” which focuses on the lived faith experiences of unique Catholics.

Of course, if you want to get the full experience, you should probably read the entire interview, which you can access by clicking here.  In this blog post, I’ll provide some excerpts that may give you some insights into what motivates and sustains him in his work for LGBT equality and justice in the Catholic Church and civil society.

In the interview, Frank speaks candidly and lovingly of his early development within his family:

“I grew up in a large Italian family in Brooklyn. I was one of eight siblings. We lived in a house with members of my mother’s extended family, and Sundays and holidays were always filled with cousins, aunts, uncles and close friends getting together. Family was always a very important part of my life. . . .

“My mother died when I was 3 years old, leaving my father with six children, two of whom were newborn twins and the other four ranging in age from 3 to 10. My father remarried the following year, and our “new” family began a lifelong journey of bonding together. My new mother had two more children in the coming years, bringing my large family to 10 members. I learned early the responsibility, benefits and power of belonging to a strong family unit. . . .

“This unique family experience taught me powerfully at a very early age that love, not biological reproduction, is what makes a family. That lesson has served me well as my work at New Ways Ministry continues to place me in the midst of marriage equality debates.”

Frank relates the strange and humorous set of circumstances that brought him to New Ways Ministry:

“New Ways Ministry was only 2 miles from my house. When I wanted to start working on LGBT justice, they were the closest place for me to be involved. I started as a volunteer, and then I joined the staff part time. I had been teaching writing part time, too, but I was getting burned out from that work, and the work at New Ways Ministry was very exciting to me. It just felt natural.

“I always tell people as a joke that I started work at New Ways Ministry for the money. At the time, I had just received my first credit card, and in a few short months, I racked up what I thought was a horrible debt. I realized that I would not be able to pay off the bill unless I took a second job. Just at that time, New Ways Ministry was looking for a part-time worker, and since I had been volunteering there, I was hired.

“The funniest thing about this story is that my whopping credit card debt was $800. I’ve since learned that the average credit card debt in the U.S. is about $10,000. Since that time, I have paid off my balance in full every month.”

He speaks gratefully about what he has witnessed in his ministry with LGBT people:

“The main thing that attracted me to work at New Ways Ministry and has kept me here for 20 years has been the people that I have met as I travel. I have had the incredible opportunity to hear so many amazing stories of courage, love and faith. I’ve met a number of real saints: Catholic LGBT people who faced immense amounts of oppression, often from their church and its leaders, and who still continue to testify to the truth about themselves and to live in love the way they know that God has created them. . . .

“When I first started working at New Ways Ministry, I was reading a book called Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed by Philip P. Hallie. It is the story of the Huguenot village of Le Chambon, France, which sheltered Jewish people during World War II in open defiance of the Nazi regime. The courage of these French Protestants, who took literally the commandment “Love one another,” had a profound effect on me. And as I met LGBT Catholics, their parents, and their pastoral ministers who were speaking out for their human rights and their rights as baptized people, I saw the same courageous spirit as the people of Le Chambon.”

He describes how the challenging work of Catholic LGBT ministry brings him joy:

“People tend to think that I spend my days arguing and fighting with homophobes, and as a result, I must get really down. It’s not true. Most of the people that I come in contact with are Catholics who are seeking creative ways to ensure LGBT justice and equality. I find so much joy in my work because I see so much good happening. It’s like almost every day I get to learn about real miracles taking place. How can I not be lighthearted? I get to witness so much joy.”

And, perhaps most intimately, he reveals the inner workings of his relationship with God, including his favorite Scripture verse:

“Psalm 27: 8-9. ‘Of You my heart has spoken, seek God’s face. It is your face O God, that I seek. Hide not your face from me.’ Whenever I feel lost, this reminds me of the true direction of my life. I’ve also found it helpful when I have to deal with difficult people. It reminds me that they, too, are the face of God. . . .

“Lately, my image of God is a bed. A big, soft, comfy bed with lots of pillows and quilts and blankets where I can just relax and be myself. In that bed, I can be at peace and learn to deal with and respect my morning grumpies, my terror-filled nightmares, my most hopeful dreams, my anxious questions and challenges that keep me awake at night, and, of course, my moments of joy-filled bliss.”

In the full interview, Frank illustrates many of the turning points of his life with details and stories that are poignant and telling.  I think you will find the interview enlightening, inspiring and fun.   As one of the commenters on The National Catholic Reporter’s  website said:

“Thank you, Sister Camille, for this is a wonderful interview, I am so inspired by it! Francis DeBernardo seems like a a man I would want for a friend; a delightful person.”

–Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Religious Leaders, Including Catholics, Call on Obama to Oppose Religious Exemption in Upcoming Executive Order

July 9, 2014

President Barack Obama’s expected executive order barring federal contractors from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has sparked a controversy because some religious leaders have asked him to include a broad religious exemption in the order.

But, yesterday, Obama heard from a different group of religious leaders, this one asking him not to inscribe discrimination into his executive order by including a religious exemption.  Over 100 diverse clergy, academic, and lay leaders wrote to the president asking him to truly protect LGBT people by not providing language that would exempt religious institutions.

At least seven Catholics were among the letter’s signers:  Francis DeBernardo, executive director, New Ways Ministry; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, Dignity/USA; Jim FitzGerald, executive director, Call To Action; Sister Jeannine Gramick, executive coordinator, National Coalition of American Nuns; Mary Hunt, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual; Jon O’Brien, President, Catholics for Choice; Deb Word, President, Fortunate Families.

The letter argues the case against religious exemptions from a variety of perspectives.  First, there are practical considerations:

“Requiring all federal contractors to operate according to the same set of non-discriminatory hiring practices is more than fair; it is a critical safeguard that protects all parties. If contractors were allowed to selectively follow employment or other laws according to their religious beliefs, we would quickly create an untenable morass of legal disputes. Furthermore, if selective exemptions to the executive order were permitted, the people who would suffer most would be the people who always suffer most when discrimination is allowed: the individuals and communities that are already marginalized.”

There is also the religious perspective:

“Increasing the obstacles faced by those at the margins is precisely the opposite of what public service can and should do, and is precisely the opposite of the values we stand for as people of faith.”

The letter also argued from logic:

“An executive order that allows for religious discrimination against LGBT people contradicts the order’s fundamental purpose, as well as the belief shared by more and more Americans every day, which is that LGBT people should not be treated as second-class citizens. An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.”

The letter also argued from the perspective of American cultural values:

“In a nation as diverse as the United States of America, it is critical that the federal government be trusted to follow—and indeed, to role-model—equitable employment practices. We believe that our mutual commitment to the common good is best served by policies that prohibit discrimination based on factors that have no relationship whatsoever to job performance. We are better and stronger as a nation when hiring decisions are made based on professional merit   rather than personal identity.”

You can read the entire text of the letter, with a list of all signers, here.

In addition to the letter, more than 30,000 U.S. Christians have signed a grassroots petition urging President Obama to oppose those who would use their faith to justify anti-gay discrimination. The petition, organized by Faithful America, reads, in part:

“There’s nothing Christian about firing someone just because they’re gay or lesbian. Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t fund discrimination.”

The letter from faith leaders and the Faithful America petition were in part a response by last week’s Hobby Lobby decision, which many feared would become a slippery slope to expand religious exemptions.

As a person of faith, what are your thoughts about religious exemptions?  Offer your ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

National Catholic Reporter: “Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over religious exemption for anti-gay discrimination”

ThinkProgress.com: 100 Faith Leaders To Obama: Religious Liberty Shouldn’t Be Used To Discriminate Against LGBT People

New York Times: “Faith Groups Seek Exclusion From Bias Rule”


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