What Did a Cardinal Tweet About Book On Reparative Therapy?

A top African cardinal recently tweeted about a book on reparative therapy and another book that claims the LGBT movement is totalitarian. What exactly is his message in doing so, and what could the pastoral implications be?

Screen Shot 2017-08-16 at 12.15.05 PM.pngIn early August, Cardinal Wilfred Napier of Durban, South Africa tweeted about the book, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality: A New Clinical Approach. He linked to quotes from the book in three tweets, and in one of the tweets commented before the quote’s beginning:

“Just started reading this challenging work on a subject of great importance. ‘And most of all I want to express m. . . ‘” [Ed. note:  The tweet ended abruptly.]

The book is authored by Josepn Nicolosi, a founding member and former president of  National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, a reparative therapy advocacy group the . It was published in 2012, and is based on ideas that have long been discredited by mainstream professional communities.

In July, Napier tweeted about another book,  The Global Sexual Revolution: Destruction of Freedom in the Name of Freedom by Gabriele Kuby, which is also highly critical of LGBT people. Its dust jacket description includes the following:

“From the [LGBT] movement’s trailblazers to the post-Obergefell landscape, she documents in meticulous detail how the tentacles of a budding totalitarian regime are slowly gripping the world in an insidious stranglehold. Here on full display are the re-education techniques of the new permanent revolution, which has migrated from politics and economics to sex.”

Several anti-gay figures have also endorsed Kuby’s book, including Austin Ruse of the Center for Family and Human Rights (classified as a hate group) and leaders with the Family Research Council and the Alliance Defending Freedom. Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 explored how these extreme right wing figures and groups have helped import homophobia to Africa, even advocating for harsher criminalization laws.

Screen Shot 2017-08-16 at 12.28.27 PM.pngFinally, Napier retweeted a derogatory image against transgender persons posted by another user. It is a chart of differing gender identities, around which male and female are circled and labeled as “genders.” The other near three dozen identities are circled and labeled as “mental disorders.”

Why is Napier giving a tacit endorsement to these books and this chart by tweeting about them with little to no commentary?

His promotion of them is even more problematic given the Catholic magisterium’s own ambiguity about reparative therapy and what Vatican officials have termed “gender ideology.” The Catechism says the “psychological genesis” of homosexuality is unknown, though admits there is a “non-negligible” number of people with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” The U.S. bishops’ document Always Our Children addresses the issue of  reparative therapy more directly, but is ambiguous about support for it:

“You can help a homosexual person in two general ways. First, encourage him or her to cooperate with God’s grace to live a chaste life. Second, concentrate on the person, not on the homosexual orientation itself. This implies respecting a person’s freedom to choose or refuse therapy directed toward changing a homosexual orientation. Given the present state of medical and psychological knowledge, there is no guarantee that such therapy will succeed. Thus, there may be no obligation to undertake it, though some may find it helpful.”

Given these statements, Cardinal Napier could be promoting Nicolosi’s book and feel he is defended by church teaching. Doing so, though, is certainly not within the limits of contemporary discourse on these issues, which has overwhelmingly rejected reparative therapy as pseudoscience and where the diagnosis of gender dysphoria remains highly controversial.

What is more problematic for me is not Napier’s ideas engagement with alternative viewpoints or even an engagement of ambiguous doctrine. The problems arise when reading his tweets through a pastoral lens. The harm reparative therapies have caused pastorally and psychologically is well-documented, which has led to a dozen or so countries and at least eight U.S. states to ban it in some or all forms. Of particular concern is forcing children to engage in such therapy, given the long term harm it can cause them. All of these realities seem to suggest it would be pastorally inappropriate to speak positively about Nicolosi’s writings.

Additionally, Napier is a culture warrior. Though not a signatory, he supported five cardinals’ submission of dubia to Pope Francis about perceived doctrinal issues with Amoris Laetitia. His Twitter feed includes many statements and retweets that place him clearly in the right wing of the church, and he emerged as a strong reactionary voice at the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family. Read with this knowledge as context, his tweets about reparative therapy, the LGBT movement as totalitarian, and gender diversity as mental disorders read all the more threateningly.

I cannot know what is in Cardinal Napier’s heart or on his mind when tweeting quotes from Nicolosi’s book or linking to Kuby’s book, and especially not when retweeting the gender diversity chart. Still I have one invitation I humbly propose for the cardinal.

Cardinal Napier once claimed he could not be homophobic because he did not personally know any lesbian or gay people. He may not know when he has met an LGBT person, though it is almost assured that he has encountered members of these gender and sexual minority communities.

As a pastor, Napier would be wise to stop reading junk science and spend his time going out to meet with and listen to the stories of LGBT people and their families. That would be the real “challenging work on a subject of great importance,” and it would be the Christ-like path, too.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 17, 2017

Catholics Central in Debate on Australia’s Upcoming Marriage Equality Vote

Catholic voices remain influential in Australia’s ongoing struggle to pass marriage equality, the latest step of which has been the government’s announcement of a “postal plebiscite.”

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Malcolm Turnbull

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic, announced the non-binding vote last week. Elected in 2015, Turnbull is a pro-marriage equality candidate who agreed to adhere to a planned plebiscite drafted under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who opposes marriage equality. In keeping with this agreement, Turnbull has not allowed a vote on marriage equality in Parliament despite there being overwhelming support for passage.

Turnbull has said the “postal plebiscite,” a voluntary survey mailed to all Australians, will inform him on how to proceed.  The plebiscite’s question is “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” If the “yes” votes win, it would mean that Turnbull will hold a Parliamentary vote and allow legislators to vote their consciences on a marriage equality bill.  If the “no” votes win, there would be no parliamentary vote held, and the stalemate now in place would continue. To learn more about the vote, click here and here.

Beyond Turnbull, there are several other Catholic voices in the debate. First, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has affiliations with Opus Dei, is advocating a “no” vote. He said LGBT advocates are engaging in “moral bullying,” reported PinkNews, and that voting no would stop political correctness.

He also expressed bewilderment about why same-gender couples wanted marriage rights when in his eyes they are perfectly equal without either marriage or adoption rights. Abbott has links to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a U.S. organization that, among other agendas, promotes the criminalization of lesbian and gay people.

Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, is a partnered lesbian woman who has for years sharply criticized him for not supporting her legal right to marry.

Less hostile, but still opposed to marriage equality is Bishop Les Tomlinson of Sandhurst. Reiterating the need for all people to be respected, he said in a statement reported on by the Bendingo Advertiser:

“‘As the secular society seeks to answer the question as to whether it redefines marriage, I pray that we treat each other with respect and not resort to emotive or insulting language or behaviour.

“‘By restricting ourselves to emotional arguments, we ignore exploring the deeper effects of changing the definition and restrict ourselves to a superficial level of debate.'”

Paul Hegerty, a former Catholic priest, pushed back against Australian Catholics opposed to equal marriage rights. He claimed they had “hijacked” his religion, and pointed out that a majority of Christians support marriage equality. Hegerty wrote in the Courier Mail:

“I want religious freedom in this country and for my convictions to be heard in the public debate. Like many others I don’t want people opposed to marriage equality to hijack my spirituality and misrepresent it as some basis for denying other people their rights. People like me don’t want to impose our faith on others, including co-religionists who disagree with us. We get that Christianity seems ridiculous to many. We’ve known since the beginning that we Christians can look stupid. As one of our founders put it, we are fools. But we still want our voice to be heard as citizens of this country.”

Hegerty explained some of the reasons why Australian Catholics endorse LGBT equality, adding:

“And at the end of the day, we act on how we understand the fundamentals that Jesus gave us. . .It’s about how we treat others. Being kind to people is not an optional extra, it’s how we relate to God. As he taught, if we can’t love those we do see, how can we love God we can’t see? A famous parable of his summed it up — it has phrases that have a core place in the hearts of Christians: ‘When I was hungry, you fed me.’ ‘When I was sick, you visited me.’ So we hear Jesus today saying, ‘When I was LGBTQI, you got out of the way and let me get married.'”

There are many reasons why the nation’s citizens are outraged about the postal plebiscite, not the least of which is its $122 million price tag, but most of all because Australians are long past ready to take this step towards greater LGBT equality. For too long, Catholic politicians like Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott have joined church leaders in stymieing the rights of LGBT Australians. It is time for them to join their fellow Catholics in supporting marriage equality not in spite of their faith, but because of it.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 16, 2017

GSAs in Ontario Catholic Schools Grow Students’ Faith, Build ‘Glory of God’

Gay-straight alliances are sometimes controversial in Catholic education. Yet five years after some Canadian legislators required schools to offer them if requested, Catholic schools in the province of Ontario are doing well on LGBT inclusion.

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Ontario’s Catholic educators marching at Pride

The Legislative Assembly of Ontario approved Bill 13, or the Accepting Schools Act, in 2012 against some Catholic leaders’ opposition. The Act requires that all schools funded by the government, which includes Canadian Catholic schools, must offer a student group titled “gay-straight alliance” if it is requested by students.

Those requests happened immediately, according to Danielle Desjardins-Koloff, the principal of Safe Schools, Equity, and Inclusion for the Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board. She commented to the National Catholic Reporter:

“‘To be honest, I was very excited, because I do believe that [the alliances] celebrate our human dignity and they recognize that these students have a unique place. . .We had allies where we didn’t know allies existed, where we hadn’t yet defined “ally.”‘”

Though she admitted that working in Catholic education is more difficult than secular settings, in the past five years Desjardins-Koloff has successfully trained every Windsor-Essex Catholic school on LGBT support, and all secondary schools have gay-straight alliances.  Achieving this goal has not meant watering down or sidelining Catholic identity:

“Desjardins-Koloff understands that some members of the community may fear that a gay-straight alliance would ‘devalue the traditional sense of a family,’ but she is quick to point to the convergence of a gay-straight alliance and Catholic ethos. She said she worked to ‘convince the community that these clubs weren’t about sex or sexuality. It was about sexual identity and orientation; it’s about identity and celebrating individuals’ authentic versions of themselves.’

‘Seeing Catholic social justice teaching providing ‘beautiful support,’ Desjardins-Koloff helps students design gay-straight alliance meetings that are ‘centered on Christ-like actions and discipleship.’ She thinks gay-straight alliances are helping to bring students back to a church where they felt they hadn’t belonged before.

“‘The first few times these kids don’t see themselves as part of the Catholic community at all, and they kinda laugh, and they don’t want to join hands and they don’t want to join in, and it’s by choice,’ said Desjardins-Koloff. ‘But by the end of the semester or even some by a month, we are praying together. Our hands are held and we’re in a circle and they feel that energy. They feel every bit a part of that community.'”

These efforts and similar ones throughout Ontario are bearing fruit beyond school walls. Catholic students have begun collaborating between schools and helping support the Catholic Student Leadership Team’s annual inclusivity conference, which now addresses LGBT issues. Students and staff in the Windsor-Essex district have also begun partnerships with secular LGBT groups in the community

Even with these many successes, there are still several aspects of LGBT supports in Ontario’s Catholic systems that are being worked out. Arlene Davis, vice principal at St. Anne’s Catholic School, said she has had several conversations with parents about the school’s gay-straight alliance which she advises:

“Our religious background is something that we respect, but at the same time, it is conservative, and we want to respect that and we want to help these kids along so that they can definitely go along and feel like they’re accomplishing things,’ said Davis.

“Having set up a booth for the gay-straight alliance group at St. Anne’s parent-teacher interview nights, Butler noticed that some parents seemed pleased to see it, but others she watched direct their children to avoid the club.”

But even with these obstacles, and several others you can read about here, Ontario educators have remained supportive. Kevin Welbes Godin of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association wrote for Bondings 2.0 about how Catholic teachers have led the way on LGBT inclusion. This support has included marching as a contingent in WorldPride and other Pride celebrations. Davis explained part of her own reasoning for staying involved:

“‘As a parent first, to see kids that just feel so free and so able to just express themselves and enjoy. And not be judged. . .like, this is who I am, and I’m cool with it. . .I think there still is that extra thing, when you’re on a team. It makes you feel a little bit more special, a little bit more heard, a little bit more accepted. . .”

In Davis’ comment, I hear echoes of St. Irenaeus’ words, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” Five years on, I am thankful for Bill 13 and the ways it has made the glory of God that much more visible in our world through the flourishing of LGBT students and their educators.

To watch a video about St. Anne’s Catholic School in Windsor-Essex, Ontario, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 15, 2017

 

Church Officials in Cameroon Say Bishop Murdered by Gay Priests

A church official in Cameroon claimed another bishop who died did not die by suicide as police have argued but was killed by gay priests.

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Bishop Jean Marie Benoit Bala

Monsignor Joseph Akonga Essomba made his accusation while preaching at a memorial Mass for Bishop Jean Marie Benoit Bala, who led the Diocese of Bafia, reported Crux.

Akonga said the “Catholic Church has come under attack,” both by government officials who had Benoit “brutally murdered” and the gay priests who informed on him:

“‘Shame to all those people in black suits and black spectacles [government officials] always sitting in the front rows of the Church. . .Shame to all those priests who have come here, pretending to sympathize. These are the people who killed our bishop, because he said ‘no’ to the homosexuality perpetrated by those priests.'”

Benoit’s body was found in a river, a few miles downstream from his car which was parked on a bridge and had a note inside that said, “I am in the water.” Government officials and foreign experts all concluded through an extensive investigation that included forensic evidence that the bishop drowned, potentially as a suicide.

Cameroon’s bishops have rejected these findings, as have many Catholics. Bishop George Nkuo said:

“‘The same reasons for which Christ was crucified apply to the killing of the bishop. . .He was killed because he stood for the truth. Any pastor, any bishop, any priest who stands for the truth should be ready to face the sword. It’s a beautiful way to die.'”

Bishop Sosthéne Léopold Bayemi of Obala said Benoit’s death proved that the church “will always resist the forces of evil,” while Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala, who heads the National Episcopal Conference, said the government should be truthful about who really killed Benoit.

The hierarchy’s rhetoric is highly dangerous and reckless.  Since no one has presented any evidence for the involvement of gay priests in Benoit’s death, the accusation smacks of the lowest kind of scapegoating.  Serious consequences to LGBT people and to priests can result because of such rhetoric.

There is a complete lack of concern for the dignity of such populations when bishops should be especially concerned with marginalized populations. If there are legitimate questions about the government’s investigations, the bishops should present facts, not accusations against an already stigmatized group.

Homosexuality is illegal in Cameroon, and some human rights group say it is the most aggressive nation in the world enforcing a gay criminalization law. Targeting gay priests for committing violence greatly increases the stigmas about and potential violence against LGBT people in general.

The bishops can correct their dangerous rhetoric if they retract their claims about gay involvement in Benoit’s death and make a positive statement about showing “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” for LGBT people. This case is also a powerful reminder of how a strong statement from Pope Francis condemning criminalization laws and violence against LGBT people could be. It is time for both Cameroon’s bishops and Pope Francis to speak out.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 13, 2017

 

 

Bishop Calls Being Gay a “Gift from God,” Seeks to Save LGBT Lives

Homosexuality is a “gift from God” according to one bishop in Brazil, who said his intentions in preaching on the topic were about saving the lives of LGBT people who may be at risk.

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Bishop Antônio Carlos Cruz Santos

Bishop Antônio Carlos Cruz Santos of Caicó made the positive remarks in a July homily, telling Mass-goers:

“‘If [being gay] is not a choice, if it is not a disease, in the perspective of faith it can only be a gift. . .The gospel par excellence is the gospel of inclusion. . .The gospel is a narrow door, yes, it is a demanding love, but it is a door that is always open.'”

Cruz added that perhaps “our prejudices do not get the gift of God” in LGBT people. Prejudice, he said, puts “concept before experience” and creates a negative impact.

As a black bishop, he related the situation with homosexuality today to a time when black people were enslaved due to white people’s prejudices, adding:

“‘Just as we were able to leap, in the wisdom of the Gospel, and overcome slavery, is it not the time for us to leap, from a perspective of faith, and overcome prejudices against our brothers who experience same-sex attraction?'”

Cruz also preached that people discover their sexual orientation rather than choose it. People of all sexual orientations have a choice about how to express that sexuality either “in a dignified, ethical way, or in a promiscuous one,” he added.

Crux reported that Cruz was prompted to make these statements after hearing a radio segment on the high rates of suicide in transgender communities. Moved by their suffering, Cruz considered the many LGBT people “who feel misunderstood and unloved by us, who are Church, by their families, by their society and even by themselves.”

Facing criticism, Cruz clarified his intentions in a statement the following week, saying his concerns were pastoral and not doctrinal. He wanted to “save lives, contributing so that we can overcome the prejudices that kill and enter into the dynamic of God’s mercy that respects, rescues and saves people.” Cruz’ statement continued:

“As Pope Francis told us many times, people already know by heart the doctrine of the Church about abortion, divorce and homosexual acts. . .He asks us not to be obsessed with sin, increasing the wounds of these people, and insists that the doors of the church are open to welcome, instruct, discern, love in order to bring salvation to all without exception.”

It is an often repeated but never tired truth that having one’s heart really broken open is key for committing oneself to solidarity with people forced to the margins. From the radio story, through his own reflections, and using contemporary knowledge about sexuality, Cruz was enabled to offer words of compassion and hope. His homily and statement were wonderful first steps, and I hope he will keep that commitment growing by not only preaching but acting to save lives and affirm people’s dignity wherever LGBT communities are under attack.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 10, 2017

Pope Congratulates, Blesses Gay Couple on the Baptism of Their Adopted Children

Pope Francis, through an aide, has sent his congratulations and apostolic blessing to a legally married Brazilian gay couple on the occasion of the baptism of their three adopted children.

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The Reis-Harrad family with the parish priest after the three children’s baptism.

According to Business Monkey News (the only immediately available English language news story), Toni Reis and David Harrad received a letter from Monsignor Paolo Borgia, advisor to the Secretary of State Vatican, which read in part:

“Pope Francisco wishes you congratulations, calling for his family abundance of divine graces, to live constantly and faithfully the condition of Christians.”

The couple, who were married in 2011, and they adopted three children–Alyson, Jessica, Felipe–between 2012 and 2014.   They wrote to the pope in the spring of 2017, informing him of the upcoming baptism of their children, who are now young teens.  They live in the city of Curitiba in Brazil’s Paraná state.

Reis posted a photo of the letter on his Facebook page.

20620900_1908359132785962_6362050348424843834_nThough the Vatican is downplaying the significance of the letter, saying the pope responds to many of the personal letters he receives, its impact on pastoral care cannot be underestimated.

Pope Francis knows the impact that his messages, even personal ones for private occasions, will have around the world.  He is savvy enough, based on his history of making headlines with LGBT-positive statements, to know that his gesture would be made public.

The way I see it, Pope Francis is giving a clear message to bishops, priests, and pastoral ministers around the world about how they should treat families headed by gay and lesbian couples.  His message is “welcome and bless.”

I am not under any illusion that Pope Francis approves, theologically, of same-gender marriages.  Indeed, he has publicly opposed laws intended to spread marriage equality.

But, he has consistently promoted a positive pastoral response to LGBT people and their families. He seems to recognize that there is a difference between political reality and personal reality, and he is courageous enough to respond positively to the personal reality, even if it conflicts with his political ideas.

Our bishops need to follow his example.  Of course, the first to come to mind is Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, who made headlines last month because of his draconian barring of married lesbian and gay people from most of parish life.  As we’ve noted before, Bishop Paprocki could learn from Bishop Patrick McGrath of San Jose, California, who instructed his priests to “not refuse sacraments or Christian Burial to anyone who requests them in good faith.”

The words of Toni Reis should ring in the ears of bishops and LGBT people around the world:

“It is a great advance for an institution that burned gays during the Inquisition and now sends us an official letter congratulating our family. I am very happy, as I can die in peace.”

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 9, 2017

 

Right-Wing Catholics in Poland Attack LGBT Rights, While Bishops Silent

LGBT equality in Poland is a contentious issue. While the issue evolved in recent years, since 2016 progress has been threatened by the right-wing Law and Justice party that governs Poland and boasts of its Catholic identity.

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Participants at Warsaw’s Equality Parade

Government restrictions have not, however, stopped some Poles from celebrating the LGBT communities in their country. In June this year, some 50,000 people took part in Warsaw’s “Equality Parade” that holds up not only LGBT people but other marginalized groups like people with disabilities.  In its 17th year, the Parade is more a demonstration for human rights against the right-wing government than a celebration of Pride.

As a bit of background, modern Poland never criminalized homosexuality. Since the Cold War ended, there has been an openness in some urban areas to lesbian and gay people. Homosexuality was removed from a list of mental health issues in 1991. The country has had openly gay and openly transgender politicians, and allows gay and bisexual men to donate blood.

Despite these positive developments, the country’s citizens remain generally opposed to certain LGBT rights. Marriage equality is constitutionally banned, and most Poles agree it should remain so. Attempted “registered partnership laws” for same-gender couples have been repeatedly defeated by legislators, though 2017 polling indicates that for the first time, a majority of Poles support some form of legal recognition. Non-discrimination protections are sorely lacking, and there are no anti-hate crime laws.

Unlike most nations, the situation in Poland is deteriorating and has been since the Law and Justice party took power in 2015. In an interview with World Politics Review, Agata Chaber of the country’s leading LGBT group, Campaign Against Homophobia, explained the conservative turn:

“The Law and Justice Party is stoking a fear of everything that is foreign, and portraying the EU as an unwanted and harmful influence on Poland. . .they say it has ‘forced’ Poland to adopt the so-called gay agenda. By portraying concern for LGBT rights as a product of foreign influence, the party is contributing to the isolation of Poland’s LGBT community.

“The Law and Justice Party has only been in power for two years, which is not long enough to dramatically change social attitudes. But given the alterations of school curricula, which removed elements emphasizing nondiscrimination while embracing more nationalist messaging, and the entrenchment of other policies, we might soon live in a society where any individual who is not white, straight, cisgender and Catholic is unwanted.”

Chaber added that the number of anti-LGBT people isn’t growing, but the “intensity of hate” by those who already are anti-LGBT is expanding. These radical nationalist groups are “increasingly dominating public discourse and public spaces, and in so doing they are making it much more difficult for LGBT people and their allies to live openly.”

Intimately connected to the Law and Justice party’s rise is the Catholic identity it strongly claims, even against church leaders’ criticisms. Poland is 95% Catholic, a majority of whom attend weekly Mass. For years, Church leaders have vehemently opposed any expansion of LGBT equality, creating fertile ground in which the conservative Catholic, anti-gay views of Law and Justice could grow.

The outcomes of this union of religion and politics have been devastating. Hate crimes have risen sharply, in large part because the government itself is ambivalent or even supportive of such acts. Harsh rhetoric has become more acceptable.

Chaber believes the future for LGBT rights in Poland is uncertain. As long as Law and Justice is in power and the threats from nationalist Catholic groups grow, there will be no new protections for LGBT people. LGBT groups’ best hope, Chaber said, is to do grassroots organizing that will “create a movement that will oppose violence and discrimination.”

I would add that now is a crucial moment for Catholic leaders, who are already critical of Law and Justice on other matters, to speak out for the human rights of LGBT people. Their opposition to the recognition of same-gender relationships does not have to stop them from using their power to oppose violence and discrimination against LGBT people.

New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick visited Poland in the late fall of 2016.  For a report on her activities there with LGBT groups and the media, click here

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 8, 2017