Australian Students Demand Greater LGBT Respect from Catholic Institutions

May 4, 2016
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Advocates rally in defense of Australia’s Safe Schools Program

College students in Australia are protesting an upcoming lecture by a of a Catholic man who claims “reparative therapy” successfully changed his sexuality, the latest dispute about LGBT issues as they relate to Catholic education  in that nation.

The University of Sydney’s Catholic Society will host James Parker tonight to speak about his experiences with “reparative therapy.” Parker is linked to People Can Change, a UK group which administers gay “conversion” programs, and he authored a 2014 piece about his own experience, reported Buzzfeed.

Georg Tamm, a gay Catholic student, said student objections were not to discussions about divergent views on sexuality, but specifically about the harm reparative therapy has caused. Tamm said:

” ‘I would have been OK with them inviting a priest, discussing why men and women are made for each other according to the Catholic scripture. . .But I don’t see the pertinence of inviting someone who is supposedly a patient of successful ex-gay therapy, when it has no scientific merit and is actually quite dangerous.’ “

Tamm said the Catholic Society’s invitation to Parker did not seem “to care about the welfare of those students” who are LGBT or questioning. Such talks, he added, defeat evangelical efforts “at a time when we need people to take the religion seriously and do good things with it.” The Catholic Society denied claims the event promoted prejudice against LGBT people.

Concerned students have appealed to the Student Union to prohibit, or at least refuse to fund, future events promoting reparative therapy. University of Sydney administrators are inquiring into whether restrictions can be placed on campus speakers, too.

Such LGBT controversies in Australian education are increasingly frequent. Last month, St. Francis Xavier College in Melbourne censored a sexual health workbook by requiring students to rip out a page about homosexuality and premarital sex. The Age reported:

“[Y]ear 9 students were called into the hall and told they could not leave until they had thrown a page of the textbook in the bin. . .

“[The [page] included a photo of two men hugging and smiling, and listed different sexual preferences including heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality.”

The workbook asked students age-appropriate questions about sexuality and relationships, but Principal Vincent Feeney explained such questions should be addressed in religious education classes rather than health classes. He defended St. Francis Xavier College further by saying it was inclusive of LGBT students and even allowed same-gender couples to attend formal dances. Students remained critical, however, with one calling the ripping of pages a “medieval weak response.” Others refused to tear the page out.

In another story, the Safe Schools Program in Australia, which educates against bullying, has come under fire after four successful years. Conservative politicians have attacked the Program, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic, has conceded to their demands. Following a government review, Safe Schools Programs, will be limited to high schools and have their content curtailed. A coalition under the name Save Safe Schools has organized rallies and campaigning to ensure funding is sustained and the Program keeps expanding.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a Catholic, described the Program as “social engineering” in his call for its defunding, reported Buzzfeed. Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, herself a lesbian Catholic, said such comments were “negative and unconstructive” because you cannot engineer a person’s lived reality.

Just two Catholic schools participate in the Safe Schools Program: St. Joseph’s College, a Christian Brothers school; and St. Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre, both in Victoria. St. Joseph’s College Head Paul Tobias said the Safe Schools debate “put people like me in a particularly difficult position” because of conservative attacks then lodged against the schools. Those pressures do not mean he or the school would be less supportive, however. He told The Age:

” ‘But I don’t believe there is anything in the Catholic faith that should stop us from promoting inclusiveness, diversity, and tolerance. . .

” ‘Every student who attends this school, irrespective of their sexuality, is entitled to be part of a safe environment. We need to accept that there are some kids who are heterosexual and there are some that are LGBTI.’ “

St. Joseph’s College under Tobias’ leadership established a homophobia task force as early as 1997 in response to an alum’s letter about anti-gay bullying. Tobias wrote to federal and state officials supporting the program, but he questioned whether the focused had shifted from promoting diversity and acceptance to focusing on the minutiae of gender and sexuality issues, which he felt would be detrimental to the Safe Schools Program’s mission.

Elsewhere in Australia, students in Catholic schools have challenged their institutions to participate. A gay student at St. Joseph’s College in Queensland asked Principal Michael Carroll for support, but the student’s testimony of intense bullying, but was met with a curt “no.” The student felt betrayed by administrators and teachers whom he admired, reported The Brisbane Times, and he added:

” ‘I hope that it is not the will of the Catholic Church that this group of young Australians, which are 14 times more likely to end their own lives, are not protected. . .All I can do is hope that they do not want to see me being abused, being made to feel uncomfortable and being separated from society, made to feel like a second-rate citizen.’ “

There is nothing in Catholic teaching which endorses marginalization of or discrimination towards LGBT people, particularly youth who are vulnerable and entrusted to the church for their education. Each of these controversies is rooted in flawed Catholic understandings of gender and of sexuality. These understandings refuse to prioritize social justice teachings about LGBT people’s rights and dignity, instead relying upon pseudo-science to validate outdated, but ideologically convenient ideas. As Australian Catholics reckon with how to protect LGBT people and expand their rights, including the question of marriage equality, a dose of honesty and an attentiviness to reality would be most healthy.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Iowa Catholic School Will Not Recognize Student for LGBT Scholarship

May 3, 2016
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Liam Jameson

A Catholic high school in Iowa which previously fired a gay teacher is now refusing honors to a graduating senior who is also gay.

Officials at Dowling Catholic High School, West Des Moines, have said senior Liam Jameson may not receive an LGBT scholarship from the Eychaner Foundation during the school’s awards ceremony this Thursday. Jameson is asking school officials to reverse their decision, so that he can be recognized equally for his accomplishments, reported OutSports. A Change.org petition, which you can sign here, has more than 1,000 signatures already. The student wrote an open letter explaining his appeal, stating in part:

“I’ve worked hard to prevent suicides, and having this scholarship presented allows other students to learn that LGBTQ students are valued in society, not shunned. That’s why the Committee presents the scholarships at Senior Awards Programs, to try and help save other young lives who feel isolated and worthless, like I once did. . .Bishop Pates, President Deegan, Principal Meendering, please choose life and demonstrate that all lives are worthy of ‘wholeness and dignity’. Doing so shows the entire Dowling Catholic student body that they are truly valued and loved regardless of who they are.”

The Eychaner Foundation describes itself as a “non-profit organization committed to promoting tolerance and non-discrimination,” and notes that it is “dedicated to anti-bullying.” Jameson was awarded the $40,000 Matthew Shepard Scholarship, named after hate crime victim whose 1998 murder in Wyoming sparked a national call to end violence against LGBT people.  The scholarship recognizes Jameson’s leadership as a gay student at Dowling Catholic where he helped organize a 250-student walk-out last year protesting the firing of gay teacher Tyler McCubbin. He also led efforts to found an LGBT club, called One Dowling Family, which provides a safe space at the school. Of this latter work, Jameson shared:

“I wanted to leave Dowling a better place, one worthy enough to educate all the brave souls who have had lives far better and far worse than mine. A space for all. A space that valued the few just as much as it valued the many. That space is now called One Dowling Family, formerly One Human Family. . .I can leave Dowling knowing that I made it a better place, one that provides students a place where they can be free.”

Dowling Catholic administrators released a brief statement yesterday, stating that scholarship organizations are not allowed to present awards during the ceremony, and thus Jameson would be honored in a manner consistent with his peers. The statement reads:

“At Dowling Catholic High School we are proud of all of our senior students who have received awards and scholarships to further their education. All scholarship recipients are honored during the Scholastic Award Assembly. Each senior selects up to two scholarships to be read out loud when a slide that includes their name and picture comes up on the screen. We do not allow organizations who are awarding the scholarship to attend and individually present the scholarship to the student. This policy was shared in writing with the Eychaner Foundation regarding the Matthew Shepard Award. We are pleased one of our students received the Matthew Shepard Award and he will be honored in the same manner as his classmates.”

The Eychaner Foundation refuted this claim with their own statement from Rich Eychaner, which said Dowling Catholic “misrepresents the efforts the efforts the school has gone to in dishonoring Iowa’s Matthew Shepard Scholarship.” The statement continued, noting the scholarship had been presented at Dowling Catholic in 2014 without problem:

“Since then, Dowling constructed and then revised a policy to limit scholarships presented to their students. Dowling further tightened their policy to specifically target the Matthew Shepard Scholarship by writing in ‘rules’ that the school could deny the student’s choice of scholarships that were publicly read under criteria that targeted our scholarship. . .

“After Principal Meendering became aware that Liam intended to apply for Iowa’s Matthew Shepard Scholarship Program the policy was revised to state. . .’Students may choose to accept any award; however Dowling Catholic High School reserves the right to not acknowledge any award.’ (emphasis added)”

Other Iowa Catholic schools have welcomed the Foundation, though not without some controversies. In 2012, a student at Prince of Peace Catholic High School was also the recipient of the Matthew Shepard scholarship from the Eychaner Foundation.  Bishop Martin Amos of the Diocese of Davenport originally denied permission for the scholarship to be announced at graduation, but he reversed the decision and allowed the presentation to go forward. The bishop also congratulated the student, and re-affirmed the diocese’s support of anti-bullying and anti-discrimination principles.

In a related note, there are questions about the safety of One Dowling Family as a space inclusive of all students. Fr. Zach Kautzky, the school’s chaplain whose oversight of the safe space group had been mandated by the school, tweeted a link a news story which denigrates transgender identities. Though students have requested Kautzky be replaced, Principal Matt Meendering “downplayed the group’s LGBT focus” and said the matter was being discussed, wrote a columnist for the Des Moines Register.

It is inexplicable why Dowling Catholic administrators will not allow a graduating gay student to be honored alongside his peers, and why rules have been repeatedly revised. Jameson has contributed greatly to the school community, testifying to the power of being one’s authentic self, and to helping his peers do likewise. He should be celebrated not only for receiving this scholarship, but for modeling the type of student that Catholic education seeks to form when it is at its best. School officials will hopefully find a wisdom and courage similar to their student’s and reverse their discriminatory decision. Regardless, Jameson will surely excel at Iowa State next year and then wherever life takes him.  Congratulations, Liam!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Catholic Officials Condemn LGBT Murders in Bangladesh, Call for Justice

April 29, 2016
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Xulhaz Mannan, left, and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy

Catholic officials in Bangladesh have condemned the brutal murders of two LGBT advocates, criticizing too the discrimination that sexual and gender diverse communities face in a nation which still criminalizes homosexuality.

Four days ago, Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were killed by militants affiliated with Ansar Al Islam. Mannan founded and edited Roopbaan, the nation’s first and only LGBT magazine, and worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Tonoy was an actor who advocated for gay rights.  Both were hacked to death by machete

Mannan and Tonoy’s murders add to a spree of targeted killings by militants against liberal figures and intellectuals. Al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates are seeking to grow in the majority Muslim nation, and their campaign includes targeting LGBT advocates.

The brutality of these murders by machete, coupled with the victims’ gay identities, has propelled the story into the international spotlight. Two Catholic officials in Bangladesh have reacted forcefully against the murders.

Fr. Albert Thomas Rozario, head of the Archdiocese of Dhaka’s Justice and Peace Commission and a Supreme Court lawyer, told UCA News that justice must be ensured for the two gay men murdered:

” ‘The church always supports the demands of LGBT people for equal rights and opportunities as ordinary citizens. . .We call on the authorities to ensure justice is meted out for the killings, and also to take steps to end discrimination against this community.’ “

Rosaline Costa, a Catholic who is Executive Director of Hotline Human Rights Trust Bangladesh, said the government must do more than just investigate these killings:

” ‘God has given us freedom of choice and nobody is allowed to persecute people for their sexual orientation because of so-called traditional values based on conservative religious norms. A truly democratic society can’t accept abuse in the name of religion. . .

” ‘A proper probe and justice for the killings won’t do much protect the community. The government must ensure that the discrimination of LGBT people ends in this country even though the so-called protectors of Islam might not like it.’ “

The situation for LGBT people in Bangladesh is highly oppressive. Being gay is criminalized with sanctions including life imprisonment. While the law criminalizing homosexuality is a leftover from British penal laws, strong current prejudices lead to cultural disapproval and discrimination. Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim nation, is highly religious, though there are only about 300,000 Catholics or 0.2% of the population. An anonymous advocate with the gay rights group Boys of Bangladesh told UCA News that being LGBT “can result in the denial of every opportunity and rights” and that they are considered “dreadful sinners.”

The deep tragedy of these murders is shining light on the suffering of Bangladesh’s LGBT communities, both in country and abroad. Fr. Rozario and Rosaline Costa countered the idea that religious belief entails LGBT condemnation, and they rejected violence in the name of religion. They acted because of their Catholic faith, not in spite of it, to not only seek justice for Mannan and Tonoy but to demand government action against anti-LGBT discrimination and violence. In this way, where fundamentalist religion and anti-LGBT hate had culminated in the brutality of these murders, Catholics found a way to mediate God’s love and cry out for God’s justice.

But the church’s response must move beyond reactive calls for justice when LGBT people are attack to a proactive solidarity which seeks protections before tragedy occurs. Words from Pope Francis condemning LGBT criminalization would go a long way towards this goal, but he has remained silent. Thankfully, clergy like Fr,. Rozario and lay people like Rosaline Costa are not waiting, but immediately standing with marginalized communities to demand justice and fair treatment.

If Pope Francis would condemn criminalization against LGBTQI people, he would clarify a sometimes ambivalent Catholic stance regarding violence against sexual and gender minorities. Catholics across the world have asked Francis to send a clear message through the #PopeSpeakOut campaign – and you can add your voice by clicking here and learning about a variety of ways that you can contact the pontiff!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Univ. of San Francisco President Congratulates Lesbian Coach on Marriage

April 27, 2016
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Fr. Paul Fitzgerald

Earlier this month, Bondings 2.0 posted about the University of San Francisco’s (USF) acceptance of two women’s athletics staff who had come out and announced their marriage to one another. The president of this Jesuit university has now added his own welcome.

Fr. Paul Fitzgerald, SJ, in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle, welcomed news that women’s basketball coach Jennifer Azzi and assistant coach Blair Hardiek were married to each other. He had not previously known about their relationship, but said:

“Coach Azzi has entered into a civil marriage according to the laws of the land. . .We will afford her every benefit and legal protection which she is due. The university is a Catholic Jesuit institution that is purposefully diverse and dedicated to inclusivity.”

The Chronicle reported that Fr. Fitzgerald said he received just a single negative response after Azzi’s coming out, while also receiving “a flood of more positive feedback from the USF community.” Athletic Director Scott Sidwell, the first USF official to welcome Azzi’s coming out, said there had been  “a tremendous outpouring of support,” including members of the women’s basketball team. Rachel Howard, a junior, said:

“They are the two most professional women I know. . .If someone loses interest in our program because they hear that two of our coaches are married to one another, they are clearly missing the point.”

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Jennifer Azzi

The Chronicle article also shed light into both coaches’ experiences growing up and coming out in accepting Catholic families:

“Both Azzi and Hardiek were raised Catholic. . .They still pray before every meal and every evening.

“When Azzi came out to her mother in her early 20s, she asked her if ‘God would love me differently.’ Her mother assured her that God’s love was nonjudgmental, like a parent’s love.

“Azzi and Hardiek have always had the support of their families. When Azzi told her father she was gay, he took her hands and told her, ‘you’re just as beautiful to me now as you’ve always been.’ “

In July 2015, Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York City, publicly congratulated the head of the school’s theology department, J. Patrick Hornbeck, on the occasion of his marriage to Patrick Berquist, which had been announced in The New York Times.

Azzi’s coming out can have many positive effects. The coach herself hopes she might give “other people courage to be free and live truthfully,” if they desire to do so.

Golden State Warriors President Rick Welts, the first openly gay executive in the National Basketball Association, said young people “will read about her and get closer to believing they can be open about who they are.” Azzi made the announcement of her orientation and marriage at a ceremony during where Welts was being honored.

And in the church, it is now a reality that a Catholic college employs the only openly gay head coach of a Division I basketball program. Based on the excellent performance of USF’s women’s basketball last season, Azzi seems to be working out quite well. The public support of the university’s president hopefully ensures that Azzi and Hardiek will not join the 60+ church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since 2008.

Hopefully, the combination of Azzi’s coming out and USF’s welcoming acceptance, will inspire more church officials to make statements and, more importantly, implement policies, as a handful of institutions have already done, that allow LGBT employees to live and to work freely.

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


Bishops’ Employment Action Against Editor Has Troubling Consequences for U.S. Church

April 26, 2016
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Tony Spence

More than sixty church workers have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since 2008, but the recent news of Tony Spence’s departure from Catholic News Service(CNS) gained wider attention in Catholic media because of his high-profile position.

Spence was director and editor-in-chief of CNS, which is owned by the USCCB. His forced resignation has chilling implications for church workers and for the bishops’ conference. It raises troubling questions for the U.S. church primarily because the USCCB responded so swiftly and completely to accusations leveled against Spence by several small right-wing Catholic groups. The alleged offenses for which Tony Spence was fired are sending tweets about LGBT news stories.  For example, in one tweet he described a story about transgender Catholics sharing their stories as “fascinating.” In another, he called anti-LGBT laws in places like Mississippi and North Carolina “stupid.”

Robert Mickens, writing in Commonweal, said the Spence situation was “further enabling homophobic and hate-mongering heretic hungers” on the church’s right wing.  Mickens said the USCCB caved to the extremist attacks on Spence, and without warning, asked for his resignation, despite his sterling professional record which includes being an advisor to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

Small organizations like these accusers, some consisting of a single person, have targeted LGBT church workers before and now even attack those Catholics who dare to comment on LGBT issues.

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter, calling the firing “regrettable in the extreme,” echoed the reality that such actions only encourage extremist behavior. He wrote:

“[T]he USCCB has become in thrall to right-wing activists whose ability to weigh competing values is skewed or worse. The bishops have been ill-served, and many of them know it, but no one has taken the lead in seeking to change it. The conference is losing staff faster than the Titanic lost passengers. Now, they will range themselves among that sliver of conservative opinion that believes they must fight and die on the hill of opposition to LGBT rights. Someone should tell them that the country passed that hill five miles back.”

Patricia Miller, writing for Religion Dispatches, said Spence’s firing should not be surprising because it is in keeping bishops’ actions nationally, which have included the monitoring of church workers’ social media profiles:

“Across the country, conservative Catholic bishops have pushed employees of Catholic institutions to sign what are in effect loyalty oaths that promise to monitor the Twitter accounts and Facebook pages of employees of Catholic institutions. . .the bishops’ strategy appears to be ever-tighter wagon-circling, and Spence was definitely on the outside of the circle.”

The Spence situation will also impact CNS. Mickens asserts that conservatives at USCCB have sought to change the news service into “a propaganda wing for the conference’s numerous culture war battles.” He explained:

“But Spence struggled to protect the independence that is written into the news agency’s statutes—one of the features that has made Catholic News Service such a good, reliable, and credible source of church news and analysis.

“But like just about everything else the reactionary leaders at the U.S. bishops’ conference touch these days, it looks like they are determined to ruin this too.”

Winters agreed that CNS would become “worthless” if it loses editorial independence.

Winters looked deeper than the standard claim that Spence was forced out for posting tweets opposing LGBT discrimination. He suggested the USCCB, unable to back down from the religious liberty narrative, is shifting away from contraception issues related to the Affordable Care Act to issues of LGBT civil rights. To support this idea, Winters commented:

“No one likes to admit it, but the Church’s theology related to gays and lesbians is inadequate. For two thousand years, the working assumption was that gays and lesbians were behaving in an aberrational manner but, in recent years, most people have come to accept that being gay is not a choice to act in a certain way, but is constitutional for that person. We have not yet wrestled with that fact, and the changed moral framework it requires, adequately. . .

“I fear, too, that the same psychology at the conference that led them to fire Spence would frustrate any effort to find a compromise formula on the issue of LGBT rights. Unlike the fight over the contraception mandate. . .this time the bishops should start with the theology and let the legal strategy flow from that.”

Finally, and most basically, Winters reminded the bishops that, on seeking to restrict LGBT rights, “[t]hey will lose” and “deserve to lose.” People in the U.S. generally disagree that religious liberty is under attack, and Catholics readily question whether the bishops’ advocacy has crossed the threshold from genuine political participation to partisan campaigning.

In her Religion Dispatches essay, Miller stated the same idea in a different way:

“Spence’s firing, and the lack of respect for both freedom of the press and individual conscience it reflects, shows just how transactional the bishops’ relationship with fundamental American freedoms really is.”

The Spence fiasco raises serious questions for the for the U.S. church. Does the USCCB find that simply listening to Catholics’ lived experiences, something so forcefully witnessed to by Pope Francis, a threatening proposition? Does the USCCB totally reject opposition to discrimination against marginalized communities, an undeniable principle in Catholic social thought? Is an accomplished veteran journalist and Vatican advisor, celebrated by his peers on both accounts, so readily expended to appease extremist Catholic elements?

Without a statement from the USCCB about the Spence situation and the issues that it raises, it seems that the U.S. bishops are answering “yes” to these questions. And to that, U.S. Catholics must respond with a very clear no.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Can “Amoris Laetitia” Be a Starting Point for Progress on LGBT Issues?

April 23, 2016

screen_shot_2016-04-06_at_17-46-45-1-255x400“The apostolic exhortation is not just the last step of a long process. It is going to be another starting point.”

These words are from Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro, editor of the influential Civiltà Cattolica, commenting on Pope Francis’ exhortation about the family, Amoris Laetitia.

The exhortation has been a disappointment to many in terms of LGBT issues, with some commentators saying that it offers a stale, cursory, and at times condemnatory treatment of these topics. How then, can Amoris Laetitia, become a starting point for LGBT equality that leads to progress and not simply more of the same? I offer two thoughts.

First, the exhortation’s deficiencies must be admitted and addressed. Notably absent in the document, and the Synod deliberations preceding it, are the lives and experiences of LGBT people. Michael Bayly of The Wild Reed, citing the many testimonies which LGBT faithful have offered before, wrote:

“Do I expect the Vatican to share these types of testimonies, word-for-word, in official church documents? No. But I do expect those who claim to be leaders and teachers within our Catholic tradition to be open and responsive to the transforming presence of God within all people’s relational lives (including the lives of LGBTQ people) and to be committed to ensuring that our statements of collective wisdom (i.e., our church teachings) actually reflect the diverse nature of the beautiful gift of sexuality. . .Is that too much to ask?”

Sr. Christine Schenk added similar criticism in the National Catholic Reporter, writing:

“The most distressing aspect of Amoris Laetitia is that it fails to incorporate the experiences of LGBT Catholics who also live deeply loving, holy and committed family lives. . .Instead of pastorally validating that great goodness exists in these relationships, the exhortation simply repeats condemnations of same-sex unions and adoptions by same-sex couples.”

Schenk said LGBT people are “among the most committed of Catholics” and “wrote the book about how to love and stay with a church whose hierarchy would often prefer that they go away.”

Second, LGBT advocates must be wary of how others in the church may use Pope Francis’ emphases on conscience and decentralization. Writer Kaya Oakes suggested in Foreign Policy that these emphases could potentially backfire:

“Handing this measure of flexibility to the clergy is a risky way of bringing about reform. The clergy are, after all, as diverse in their opinions about family life as the people they serve. . .It could, theoretically, also cause local church leaders to act more independently and harshly toward LGBT Catholics as a result of that independence — as the bishops in Malawi recently did when they denounced the government for failing to imprison LGBT citizens.”

More generally, Peter Steinfels wrote in Commonweal about the threat that mercy misused could pose to reform and renewal in the church:

“It is hard to say this, but the availability of mercy can be a tool of the powerful, an excuse for not reforming unjust laws or harsh practices, an alibi for skirting uncomfortable questions, a sop for those injured, a safety valve for discontent. Granting mercy can be an exercise in domination, a means for officeholders to demonstrate their power. This is not the mercy of God, not the mercy of love.”

Many Catholics, myself included, are still undertaking slow and thorough readings of Amoris Laetitia, as Pope Francis has advocated. With time and discussion, its wisdom and its failings will become clearer, as will its implications. But there is one clear starting point from which Catholics can begin right now. It is pointed out by Quest, a UK organization for LGB Catholics, in their statement:

“Everything that Pope Francis has said to change the criteria for moral judgements, and in challenging the competence of others to pass judgement in the first place, our people have been saying, for years. Buried in the lengthy text, are many other details of established but neglected doctrine that too, our people have been saying for years. . .The challenge now, is to continue saying these things, louder and more insistently than ever, but for the first time, with authoritative papal backing.”

Your faithful bloggers have been buried by reactions to and analyses of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ exhortation on family. And they keep coming and we will keep reporting. But what is important for LGBT Catholics and advocates to remember amid this buzz about the exhortation is that our stories, our faith journeys, our witnesses must continue to be shared. There is no starting point from Amoris Laetitia on LGBT issues in the church without all of us contributing to the conversation and keeping institutions accountable.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Theologians: Catholics Have “Civil Rights Imperative” to Seek LGBT Protections

April 22, 2016
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Todd A. Salzman

Two theologians from Creighton University have called for Catholics to support LGBT non-discrimination protections in a new essay published in the National Catholic Reporter. In it, they specifically target the ill-founded opposition of U.S. bishops to such protections.

Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler provide an in-depth response to Catholic bishops’ repeated claims at local, state, and federal levels that expanding LGBT protections will infringe on religious liberty. The theologians disprove these claims and conclude further:

“[L]egislation protecting LGBT people from discrimination is a civil rights imperative that the Catholic church is obligated to support in a pluralist society.”

How did they arrive at this conclusion?

Salzman and Lawler begin by noting just how many controversies there presently are over LGBT protections, and that the bishops’ engagement thus far has been inadequate. The theologians identify the bishops’ 2012 statement on religious liberty, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” as a key reason for the bishops’ present failings, and they critique it on three major points.

First, Salzman and Lawler address the bishops’ treatment of secularism and relativism, which they identify as “the basis for both the bishops’ claims that religious freedom is under attack and for their resistance to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA].” This concern has deep roots in the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but is not well understood or engaged by the magisterium, the theologians assert.

Salzman and Lawler point out theological implications of new sociological data.  Specifically, they cite the facts that 73% of U.S. Catholics support LGBT protections and that there is “a growing disconnect between what the Catholic faithful believe about sexual morality and official Catholic moral teaching,”

One implication is that what the bishops call “relativism” is actually “differing perspectives with respect to the definition of human dignity and to what norms facilitate or frustrate its attainment.” Another implication is that sociological data helps to discern the sensus fidelium. About these implications, Salzman and Lawler conclude:

“To present official Catholic teaching on sexual ethical issues as if it were the only morally legitimate perspective, to use that teaching to claim violation of religious liberty if and when legislation conflicts with it, and to discount those Catholic perspectives that disagree with official teaching as manifestations of relativism discount also the rich diversity of the Catholic tradition and the contemporary sensus fidelium.”

Such a dismissal by church leaders threatens ecclesial and societal peace and thereby the common good, which is the theologians’ next area of critique against the U.S. bishops. About the common good, the theologians ask:

“How are we to realize the common good in the public realm, given pluralism within and without the church? What is the church’s proper role for engaging with the public realm to promote its vision of the common good?”

They also question how civil legislation relates to morality, and how to understand this dynamic in a pluralistic society, which Salzman and Lawler called “a hugely complex endeavor.” There are questions of prioritizing competing goods:

“Which is a higher value, respecting human dignity and ensuring non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, or attempting to block or repeal legislation that might allow homosexual actions the church deems immoral?”

They also raise the issue of whether LGBT issues are matters of public or private morality, a distinction which will have implications for how these issues relate to the common good:

” If they are about private morality, the church can both teach the possibility of just discrimination based on homosexual orientation and gender identity and can also support laws that prevent discrimination on the basis of homosexual orientation and gender identity.

“If they are about public morality, the church needs to balance its sexual teachings with teachings on nondiscrimination, and grasp the impact of pluralism on definitions of public morality.”

Salzman and Lawler explain that when marriage equality became legalized in 2015,  there needed to be “a corresponding shift in the perception of religious freedom in relation to this evolution” by the church.

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Michael G. Lawler

Finally, the theologians take up the question of just and unjust law in relation to the U.S. bishops’ document. By opposing ENDA, Salzman and Lawler write,  “the bishops’ conference has shifted its religious liberty claims from exemptions from a just law on the basis of conscience to prevention or repeal of an unjust law.”

But how the bishops’ come to define ENDA as an unjust law is flawed itself, say the theologians. Their opposition is rooted in the law’s alleged failure to differentiate between sexual orientation and sexual expression; the bishops desire an allowance of just discrimination based upon the latter. Salzman and Lawler write that the bishops should have argued for religious exemptions to discriminate against heterosexual people who use artificial contraceptives or have premarital sex, too, if that was truly their concern. Having not done so, the theologians conclude:

“The conference has not made this logical argument, which would indicate that its objection is not to immoral sexual acts but simply to homosexual orientation.

“By rejecting the federal non-discrimination legislation, the bishops’ conference is violating the common good, the protection of individual human dignity, on the basis of a generalization that homosexuals might engage in immoral sexual activity, and it is promoting unjust discrimination against even celibate homosexuals performing no homosexual acts.”

Citing Catholic moral principles, Salzman and Lawler also clarify that a moral end, such as protecting religious liberty, can never justify an immoral means, the discrimination of LGBT people, and that, according to double-effect principle:

“The direct consequence of the federal legislation is the protection of LGBT individuals against discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. An indirect consequence is that homosexual persons might engage in what the bishops deem immoral homosexual acts.”

Such principles are cited to reveal why Catholic support for ENDA is not only permissible, but should be encouraged. Yet Salzman and Lawler do not stop there, writing that a “more fundamental response. . .challenges the very claim that homosexual activity is intrinsically immoral and destructive of human dignity.” They continue, acknowledging Catholics’ widespread disagreement with the bishops over matters of sexuality:

“The burden of proof is on the church to demonstrate that homosexual acts are destructive of human dignity and cannot serve'”the good of the person or society.’ So far, it has not offered a compelling argument. An unproven assertion should not be advanced as the basis for an abusive use of religious freedom aimed at preventing or repealing nondiscrimination legislation and imposing the church’s morally questionable doctrine on the broader society.”

In short, the bishops “do not have the right to impose their moral teachings legislatively in a pluralistic society.” Salzman and Lawler convincingly argue that, not only should U.S. bishops not act thus, but they and the church actually have “a civil rights imperative” to advocate for LGBT non-discrimination protections. Their essay is well argued and grounded in reality, worth reading in full which you can do here. And there is one final note with which Salzman and Lawler, and now this post, conclude:

“The bishops should be ashamed of themselves for citing Martin Luther King Jr., the genuine and undisputed ‘conscience of the state’ for civil rights, to trample on the equal civil rights of homosexual, bisexual and transgender citizens.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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