New Book Examines “Same-Sex Marriage in Renaissance Rome”

A new book by a University of Virginia history professor makes the claim that same-gender marriages existed in the city of Rome during the Renaissance.

Gary Ferguson, the  Douglas Huntly Gordon Distinguished Professor of French at the Charlottesville school, recently published  Same-Sex Marriage in Renaissance Rome: Sexuality, Identity and Community in Early Modern Europe  (Cornell University Press, 2016) in which he displays evidence that, while not commonplace and not legal, the idea of marriages between two men or two women did exist in 16th century, just under the shadow of the Vatican.

In an essay for The Daily Beast, Ferguson begins by noting some literary evidence for the practice of same-gender marriages:

“In the late 16th century, the famous French essayist Michel de Montaigne wrote about two marriages between people of the same sex. The first involved women in eastern France, the second a group of men in Rome. At the time, same-sex marriages were not recognized by religious or civil law, and sodomy—a term that included a wide range of sexual acts—was a crime. As a result, when those involved were discovered they were usually brought to trial and punished, sometimes by death.”

Ferguson’s thesis is that even in the Renaissance, “marriage was a highly contested issue.”  He explains:

“Marriage between two men or two women might seem like a concept that has emerged only in recent decades. For centuries, however, same-sex couples have appropriated marriage in their own ways.”

Using one of Montaigne’s examples as a case study, Ferguson examines the French writer’s story by exploring  “several sources—diplomatic dispatches, newsletters, fragments of a trial transcript, and brief wills. . . ”   The result is a description of a planned marriage, thwarted by authorities:

“On a Sunday afternoon in July 1578, a sizable group of men gathered at Saint John at the Latin Gate, a beautiful but remote church on the outer edge of Rome. Many of them were friends who had met there on previous occasions. They were mostly poor immigrants from Spain and Portugal but included several priests and friars. They ate and drank in an atmosphere that was festive, yet strangely subdued. It turned suddenly to confusion and fear with the arrival of the police, who arrested 11 of those present. The rest fled.

“The Roman authorities had been tipped off about the group’s plans to celebrate a marriage, perhaps not for the first time, between two of its members. In the end, the wedding between Gasparo and Gioseffe hadn’t taken place: The latter—reportedly ill—failed to appear. But Gasparo was among those taken prisoner, and, following a trial that lasted three weeks, executed.”

Ferguson reveals that the marriage which was to have taken place would not have been a traditional one for many other reasons besides gender, including the fact that it may not have been intended as a sexually exclusive arrangement.  But the fact that such ritual practices is still significant, he claims:

“The evidence, then, points to a handful of motivations behind the Roman weddings. Since the friends took the ceremony seriously enough to put themselves at considerable risk, it very likely served to recognize and sanction Gasparo and Gioseffe’s relationship, claiming that such a union should be possible. At the same time, it may also have had a playful element, parodying and subtly criticizing elements of a traditional wedding.”

In fact, because of the greatly different historical situations,  Ferguson says that these unions are not identical to modern same-sex marriages:

“. . . [T]he context for extending marriage rights to same-sex couples today is very different from the 16th century, when most marriages weren’t based primarily on love and didn’t establish legal equality between the spouses.

“It was after the changes effected by the women’s rights movement in the second half of the 20th century to make the institution more equitable that gay and lesbian activists adopted marriage equality as their major goal.”

Yet, their historical significance must still be considered for another reason:

“. . . [T]he stories from the 16th century show that marriage has never been a universal and fixed phenomenon. It has a contested history, one that both excludes and includes same-sex couples, who have claimed marriage on their own terms.”

Ferguson’s case brings to mind John Boswell’s 1994 Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe which made the case that union ceremonies, equivalent to marriage, between two men or two women took place, often in religious settings, during the medieval era.  Some critics of Boswell claimed that the texts he had which described union ceremonies were not analogous to marriage, but represented other forms of friendship.  Boswell, unfortunately, died shortly after the book’s publication so he could not defend his thesis against such attacks.

I hope to get a chance to read Ferguson’s book in the coming months and provide a full review in a later post here at Bondings 2.0.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 17,  2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit http://www.Symposium2017.org.

 

Rejection of LGBT Student Group Raises Problems at Catholic H.S.

Following a Missouri Catholic high school’s rejection of a proposed LGBT student group, community members are asking questions about how and why this decision was made. So far there are few clear answers.

kuzp-ldkAt Nerinx Hall Catholic High School, in Webster Groves, near St. Louis, School President John Gabriel said the Archdiocese of St. Louis directed him to reject a request from students for an LGBT club, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In a response to concerned alumna, Jill Allen, Gabriel explained that the archdiocese mandated any student LGBT group at the all-girls school follow “a carefully charted course of action that includes conversion therapy.” He would later say he misread this archdiocesan directive.  He also told Allen:

“Nerinx Hall believes that we can best minister to our LGBT students through our Loretto charism and the Loretto school values of faith, community, justice, and respect.”

But, Allen wrote in her initial letter to the school president, that rejecting an LGBT group “doesn’t reflect my experience of Nerinx,” and is not consistent with Loretto values. And Allen is not alone. Within a day, more than 600 people joined a Facebook group protesting the rejection. Beth Schumacher, class of 2001, told the Post-Dispatch:

“‘There are a lot of alumnae out there who are really, really disappointed both with the decision and with the direction it might be going in right now. . .There are young people at risk. If someone is asking for a club of that nature, then there are definitely individuals who can use that level of support.'”

The school was founded and is currently sponsored by the Sisters of Loretto.  It an independent institution not formally affiliated with the Archdiocese.  On the school’s website, the statement of philosophy says that the school believes “educated, caring, and empowered young women are essential to our world.” It shares in the Loretto School Values, which include:

“Community: Building relationships that are affirming, inclusive, empowering, and compassionate

“Justice: Promoting changes to eliminate oppression, and creating systems and relationships in which people, especially women, are treated fairly and impartially

“Respect: Being open to differences, and believing in each person’s potential. Promoting the dignity of individuals and protecting the sacredness of all creation.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder and lifelong Catholic advocate for LGBT people provided the following comment to Bondings 2.0 about this decision made at a school that is sponsored by her religious community:

“As a Sister of Loretto, I am embarrassed and ashamed by the stance taken by Mr. John Gabriel. Such a posture does not reflect the Loretto values of inclusion, diversity, and care for all. The students and alumnae of Nerinx deserve leadership that displays these Gospel-based values.”

The story of the school’s decision became even more complex when later in the day, in a letter to parents after news of the rejection broke, Gabriel retracted his claim about “conversion” therapy, writing:

“Today, a Post-Dispatch reporter reached out to Nerinx Hall and the Archdiocese. In preparing my response to the reporter, I also spoke with Archdiocesan Superintendent Dr. Kurt Nelson. It was during my conversation with him that I realized I had misunderstood the Archdiocesan position on conversion therapy within school LGBTQ+ groups.”

Responding to the Post-Dispatch, Gabriel simply “sent a reporter a list of Nerinx Hall’s initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion, which include training for teachers on ministry to LGBT individuals and diversity forums for students.” He commented only that Nerinx Hall would be consulting with the Archdiocese on next steps.

Unfortunately, it is not merely Gabriel and Nerinx Hall administrators who are involved, as they may be more willing to listen to alumnae. Gabe Jones, an archdiocesan spokesperson, said Archbishop Robert Carlson is responsible for all Catholics, and “[w]hen it comes to Catholic teaching, the archdiocese is the arbiter of what is Catholic and what is not.”

At issue in this debate are guidelines on LGBT ministry published by the Archdiocese last year. Titled “Hope and Holiness: Pastoral Care for Those with Same-Sex Attraction,” these guidelines include a “triage checklist” for dealing with LGBT people, and discourage people from publicly coming out. The guidelines also mandate that the Archdiocese be consulted if an LGBT group is being considered at a school or parish.  The guidelines express concern about how adolescents are considered in such groups:

“[T]he boundaries between transitory same-sex attraction and more deep-seated tendencies are not always clear. It is not unusual for a young person to experience attraction to a person of the same sex. It is important not to assume that such experiences are the result of a deep-seated tendency.”

Perhaps this is what confused President Gabriel into citing conversion therapy as a reason for the rejection. It is troubling that a lack of clarity still exists about how, why, and by whom the decision was made. This haze is similar to other LGBT controversies at Catholic institutions where culpability for unpopular decisions is treated as hot potato, passed around by church officials.

But this is a prime moment in which a Catholic high school can assert its independence and take a firm stand for its LGBTQ students. As a former Loretto Volunteer and friend of some Sisters of Loretto, I have come to know well the values of the Loretto Community, with which Nerinx Hall is affiliated. The Sisters “work for justice and act for peace because the Gospel urges us,” and have done so with a pioneer mentality for over two centuries. President Gabriel and Nerinx Hall administrators should tap into the Community’s rich Catholic roots to find a way forward consistent with this history and these values.

What would be best at this moment is for administrators at Nerinx Hall and Archbishop Carlson to share transparently what happened: Did the Archdiocese demand the group be rejected? Are Nerinx Hall administrators hiding their decision under the Archdiocese’s umbrella? Was conversion therapy a relevant aspect in the rejection? And what happens now? Nerinx Hall students, alumnae, teachers, parents, and Catholics in St. Louis generally deserve nothing less than honest and clear answers to these questions.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 16, 2017

Malta’s Rapid Shift on LGBT Rights Is Case Study for Other Catholic Nations

Malta has elected the nation’s first transgender politician, a sign of just how far on LGBT rights a country where Roman Catholicism remains the state religion has come. A closer analysis of this shift could help Catholics in other regions in their own journeys towards equality.

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Crowds in Malta celebrating Pride Week

Alex Mangion became Malta’s first transgender politician when he won a local election as the Partit Nazzjonalista (Nationalist Party) candidate, reported The Independent. But support for LGBT rights in the conservative party that had controlled Malta’s government since the late 1990s is a recent development, and came only after its 2013 defeat to the Partit Laburista (Labor Party) who had made LGBT rights a major platform item.

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Alex Mangion

Though the Nationalist Party had abstained from a successful vote on civil unions in 2014, Mangion said that presently “having a transgender person in the party made people realize it’s not conservative.” And by 2015, the Nationalist Party had joined the Labor Party in passing a groundbreaking transgender rights law. (It is worth noting that, under that very law, Mangion became “the first person in this tiny nation to be able to update the gender on his official documents without undergoing surgery or hormone treatment.”)

The Independent noted that this shift in a political party is “a microcosm of the evolution underway in Malta,” a traditional Catholic country which outlawed divorce as late as 2011. But where LGBT people once hid, rejected by church leaders and stigmatizing social norms, a married same-gender couple, Steve and Manuel Aquilina, now hosts and produces a leading cooking show. A colleague of theirs, Victor Anastasi, said:

“‘They’re accepted like everyone else. . .We’re a Catholic country. But eventually the church has to come to terms [with society changing].”

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Joseanne Peregin

Joseanne Peregin, the Catholic mother of a gay son, recalled a bishop once saying, “If you’re gay, excommunicate yourself. Go, there is no place for you in the church.” But then in 2011, she said, the Catholic Church’s control over Maltese politics was undercut sharply when divorce was legalized through a popular referendum.

Now it must be acknowledged,, said Fr. Rene Camilleri, that Catholics in Malta “are not taking a package deal.” Camilleri, who is Episcopal Vicar for Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Malta and a lecturer at the University of Malta, has previously described church teaching on homosexuality as “nonsensical.” He also said Catholic ministers “cannot deprive [same-gender couples] of the blessing for which they ask.”

Today, other nations seek to learn from and even copy Malta’s LGBT laws. Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs, and Civil Liberties Helena Dalli said that “what we have done here is serving as a model to other countries, and, in a good way, because more people are leading better lives.” And The Independent continued:

“Kyle Knight, a New York-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that what’s particularly admirable about Malta’s LGBT rights laws is ‘not just the result as much as the process’ that led to their creation.

“Members of the LGBT community, other advocates and a local human rights group served on a council set up in 2013 to advise the government. Legislation was accompanied by directives that covered how LGBT people in prison should be treated and how schools should deal with bullying of transgender or gay students.

“When Knight was recently asked in Japan how schools should handle anti-LGBT bullying, ‘We copied and pasted these (Maltese) guidance documents and we said, “Look, this is how you do it,”‘ he recalled.”

While marriage equality is not legal yet in Malta, same-gender couples are recognized through civil unions, there are extensive non-discrimination protections, so-called “conversion therapy” is banned with harsh penalties in place, and a 2015 law on transgender and intersex persons is considered the gold standard in Europe.

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The island nation of Malta

How does a country where Roman Catholicism is named in the constitution as the state’s religion and where 95% of its citizens identify as Catholic become so progressive in a short time? Some observers might consider Malta a paradox, understanding LGBT equality and the Catholic Church to be opposites. Yet, there is a very plausible explanation for what has happened.

First, it is an oft-repeated but worth reiterating truism: Catholics support LGBT equality because of, not in spite of their faith. Key tenets like social justice, human dignity, and non-discrimination have informed the faithful’s engagement in civic matters, and this includes working for the rights of sexual and gender minorities. It makes sense the citizens of Malta who practice, or even are simply informed by, Catholic faith would vote for equality.

Second, it has to be admitted that there are non-ecclesial matters influencing this shift. In Western contexts, homosexuality has been largely de-stigmatized and neighboring countries in Europe have been moving forward on LGBT rights. Some have credited Malta joining the European Union as an impetus for catching up to their neighbors, and now taking the lead. As in other Western contexts, Mass attendance and the moral authority of bishops have declined in recent years. Some people leave, or are pushed out of, the church, and there is a certain amount of secularizing that happens. These factors and more, as in other regions, contribute to the rapid pace of the shift.

2b5de-drachmabloglogoBut third, many Maltese remain practicing Catholics and this has made the biggest difference. A few weeks ago, I highlighted the positive outreach of the country’s bishops to LGBT communities . In fact, Malta’s leading gay rights group gave the bishops an award in 2014. Here are other important examples of positive Catholic moments on LGBT issues:

  • Drachma and Drachma Parents are both Catholic organizations engaging LGBT issues in the church, and they have made an impact. They helped consult on the civil unions law, pushing back against a bishop’s criticism, They hosted Sr. Jeannine Gramick in 2011 to educate about LGBT equality in the church. They also hosted theologians Sr. Margaret Farley, RSM, and James Alison.) They were credited by Bishop Mario Grech as helping him to understand the need and urgency for new pastoral care of LGBT people;
  • A priest who blessed a same-gender couple’s rings was not punished by the bishop; indeed, Archbishop Charles Scicluna affirmed the priest’s outreach efforts to LGBT people;
  • After releasing a harsh position paper opposing the government’s efforts to ban “conversion therapy,” a paper in which homosexuality was compared to pedophilia, Archbishop Charles Scicluna listened to Catholics’ criticism and then apologizedsaying the church was “dead set” against such programs.

Though I have never experienced the Church of Malta firsthand, I sense a serious Christian community of mature and critically engaged Catholics. Lay Catholics, and clergy like Fr. Camilleri, have grappled with not only church teaching, but the realities of their context.And, quite notably, the country’s bishops have been willing to affirm LGBT people as beloved by God and to listen to their people. They have even been willing to acknowledge where the hierarchy had it wrong, and to apologize to those whom they have harmed.

In under a decade, Malta went from being socially conservative to a world leader on LGBT rights. Maltese Catholics are a shining example of what can happen when the faithful really listen to the Gospel and live their faith in public life. Let us hope more and more historically-Catholic regions follow this path, especially in areas like Latin America and Africa where the church is rapidly growing and yet LGBT rights remain limited.

If you would like to read reflections from members of Drachma Parents, you can find Louise Laferia’s reflection on the call of being a parent to an LGBT person here and Joseanne and Joseph Peregin’s reflection on what makes a family holy here. For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of LGBT Catholic issues in Malta, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 13, 2017

 

Catholic College Football Player Finds Strong Support As He Comes Out

In a society which is becoming increasingly accepting of LGBT people, the two arenas where coming out as gay is still a major hurdle are sports and religion. For gay male athletes, the more macho the sport, the more difficult the coming out can be. And for those who are people of faith, the more doctrinaire a religion is, the challenge to be out also gets increasingly harder.

So, when an athlete comes out, especially one who is Catholic and attends a Catholic college, there’s hope that even these two last arenas where the closet is strong may finally be liberated.

Kyle Kurdziolek

Kyle Kurdziolek, a sophomore at St. Francis University, Joliet, Illinois, and a linebacker on the school’s football team,  recently told his personal story to Outsports.com,  a website where other Catholic college athletes have shared their coming out experiences.   He is the first scholarship athlete to come out.

Kurdziolek grew up in rural Illinois, and noted that “It wasn’t very accepting in my area.”  He said that he often heard other parents at football events say that if their son was gay, they’d force him to be straight.  Still, his own Catholic family was headed by parents who taught him to be respectful of a gay neighbor who lived nearby.

One remarkable detail of his story is that Kurdziolek acknowledges that while he was extremely worried about revealing his orientation in high school, he found the Catholic college campus to be a welcoming place to LGBT students. (The school is on New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBT-friendly Catholic colleges and universities.)  Although he enrolled in 2014, he waited until 2016 to reveal his orientation to teammates, friends, and coaches, wanting to prove himself as a football player first.  In his first season of play, he achieved 33 tackles.

Once he felt accepted as a student and an athlete, Kurdziolek felt he could be totally honest, saying:

“Everything in life was going good. It felt like there was one piece missing, and that one piece, personally for me, it was me coming out.”

He received support from family, friends, and teammates.  Perhaps most interesting is that a fellow Catholic teammate who was not accepting of gay issues still accepted Kurdziolek.  The Outsports article states:

“St. Francis running back Jordon Smith considers Kurdziolek a close friend, but he grew up Catholic and believes those philosophies. ‘I’m going to support my friend no matter what,’ Smith said. ‘I’m not really for the whole gay rights thing, but I’m working on evolving. I’m trying to accept it more.’

Smith’s response proves what many in the Catholic LGBT movement have witnessed for decades: the power of personal relationship in overcoming strongly held negative ideas about LGBT topics.

Kurdziolek rests during a game.

Kurdziolek’s coaches were also strongly supportive, responding in ways that show the best of Catholic educational philosophy. Josh Mander, assistant coach, told Outsports:

” I told him, ‘I love you no matter what. It doesn’t matter. I tried to just be comforting and let him know that he had my support.”

Head coach Joe Curry was similarly strong in support:

“I was happy that he told me. I always tell the guys, ‘We want to build a relationship with you and not just be a coach.’ … I don’t treat Kyle any different. He is part of the program … and I’m extremely happy for him.”

One teammate’s sign of support was particularly important to Kurdziolek:

“Kurdziolek turned 21 on Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving, and to celebrate the milestone, he planned a trip to Chicago’s gay neighborhood, Boystown. Kurdziolek made the trip with a few non-football friends and offensive lineman Tyler James.

” ‘I had a blast,’ said James, who had never been to a gay bar before Kurdziolek’s birthday. ‘I did something that I wouldn’t have done normally because of my friend Kyle, and I got to experience this whole new, cool atmosphere.’

“Because of Thanksgiving, many of Kurdziolek’s teammates were with their families and unable to attend, making James’ attendance meaningful.

” ‘Having him come along, it just made me feel confident about myself and the people I have around me that love me for me,’ Kurdziolek said.”

Coming out stories are wonderful tales of liberation, but, equally important, they serve as guides to others who are struggling with revealing who they are. Kurdziolek noted that the example of Michael Sam, a college athlete who went on to the National Football League, and who came out before he was drafted by a team, was a major exemplar for him.   St. Francis assistant coach Mander also remarked on the power of role-models:

“A gay man playing college football, something that you don’t hear or see ever, it’s one of those taboo things within the football world. You wouldn’t expect a gay player to be here, but … maybe we start something that shows kids that it’s fine. You’re OK to be out and be a member of a football team.”

Kyle Kurdziolek is now certainly one of those role models for young football players and Catholics.  And St. Francis University is a role model for Catholic colleges who are looking for ways to support LGBT students.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 11, 2017

 

Bishop Robert Barron Criticizes “Preoccupation with Pelvic Issues”

Bishop Robert Barron has said he does not believe the church should seek to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision that legalized marriage equality in the United States. Barron, an Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, also criticized an obsessive focus on “pelvic issues” because it diminishes Christianity and undermines evangelization.

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Bishop Robert Barron, right, with Dave Rubin

Interviewed by Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report, Barron answered questions about many topics. including homosexuality and marriage equality. Barron began his response to a question on these topics with the following:

“I said this one time, I was in New York with Cardinal Dolan actually, and we were talking to reporters. And I said, if the only thing a gay person hears from the Catholic Church is, ‘you’re intrinsically disordered,’ we’ve got a very serious problem on our hands, if that’s what the message has become. . . If that’s is the way our message is coming out, we [the church] are disordered. We had a problem in the way this message was being conveyed.”

Instead, the bishop said “message one” to gay people from the church should be:

“You are a beloved child of God, who has been embraced by the mercy of Jesus Christ and invited to a full share of the divine life. You’re a son of God, called to eternal life.”

Barron continued to say that, like everyone, the moral lives of gay people are complex, but reiterated that the starting point for the church’s engagement with gay people should be inclusion. This approach, he said, is the approach being modeled by Pope Francis.

Rubin, a married gay man, then asked Barron about marriage equality and the bishop’s “personal feelings” about the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision. Rubin inquired, “I assume you felt it was a wrong decision by the court?” Barron responded:

“I do. But I don’t think I want to press it further. I think where we are right now in the States, I’ll apply the Aquinas principle. I think it would probably cause much more problem and dissension and difficulty if we keep pressing it. . .

“I wouldn’t want to fully just say, that’s great, off you go. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to get on a Crusader’s tank and try to reverse that [decision].”

Barron clarified that he believes marriage equality does have “a negative impact on the wider society” and compromises marriage. Rubin asked him if, on marriage equality, his “heart and spiritual self aren’t quite matched up” because while the bishop wasn’t expressing judgment, he clearly did not approve of a same-gender marriage. The bishop described this characterization as “probably right.”

[NOTE:  You can view the relevant parts of the interview by clicking here.]

The interview comments are noteworthy, but more so because of later comments Barron made in a blog post published after the interview. There, he expressed gratitude for the friendly interview with Rubin, adding that he hoped viewers will understand “there is a lot more to Christianity than the ‘pelvic issues'” and that “this preoccupation with ‘the pelvic issues’ has served to undermine the work of evangelization.” Barron continued:

“When you read the great evangelizing texts of the New Testament—the Gospels, the Epistles of Paul, the book of Revelation, etc.—you don’t get the impression that what their authors wanted you primarily to understand is sexual morality. Rather, they wanted you to know that the great story of Israel had come to its highpoint and that God, in the person of the crucified and risen Messiah, had come to reign as king of the world. God, redemption, the cross, the resurrection, Jesus the Lord, telling the Good News—these are the master themes of the New Testament. Again, please don’t misunderstand me: God impinges upon all aspects of life and therefore placing our sex lives under the Lordship of Jesus matters. But I fear that for so many people in the secular world today, religion is reduced to the policing of sexual behavior, and this is massively unfortunate.”

All of these remarks have a different tone than other LGBT-related statements Barron has made, including through his role as founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. For instance, in 2015, responding to the coming out of transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, Barron posted on Facebook that transgender identities were a modern form of Gnosticism, an ancient Christian heresy, and analogized transgender people to pedophiles.

At this point, and especially when so many vulnerable populations are threatened by the Trump administration, the bishop’s resistance to use church resources in a futile fight against marriage equality is common sense. More bishops should make similar public statements. I hope Barron’s prominence, and his membership in the growing number of ‘Francis Bishops,’ will cause his resistance to become commonplace.

To Barron’s references about “pelvic issues” reducing the Christian message and undermining evangelization, I suggest a mirror. Barron framed this discussion as a general societal obsession with sexuality, perhaps implying that, as other bishops have said, it is the media or society which obsessed with such matters, not the church. But Barron needs to be more specific for his words to really have weight; he should admit that church leaders, too, often obsess about sexuality.

Similarly, while Barron suggested that the church’s teaching on homosexuality has been mistakenly conveyed as condemnation, I think he is mistaken that there’s been a mistake in communication.  Actually, the language of teaching is very harsh and has regularly been used to condemn.  Barron and other church leaders need to admit this reality.

Many other Catholics have found integrated ways to engage sexuality. For instance, Catholic families have often responded to a member’s coming out with the ability to both acknowledge and affirm that member’s sexual orientation, and to understand them as a whole person for whom sexual identity is but one essential part. These families began with a message of inclusion that their gay, lesbian, or bisexual member was a beloved child of God invited to life with Christ. And any navigation of morality was done with love, concern, and respect for the person’s conscience.

Such an approach seems to elude many bishops in the United States.   Barron correctly noted that, often today, Christianity has been reduced to a system of belief whose central tenets are prohibitions on sexual activity. What he needs to say further is that it is in large part the bishops who have created such a situation.

Bishop Barron has started to acknowledge what most bishops refuse to admit.  Both he and they now need to take further steps to building a more honest and forthright Catholic Church.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 7, 2017

 

 

Gay Alum Thanks Catholic School for Being “A Haven” for Him

National Catholic Schools Week begins today in the United States, a celebration of the church’s educational programs. In past years during this week, I have written about the need for Catholic schools to increase their supports of LGBTQ youth. You can read those commentaries here, here, and here. But this year, I want to highlight an Australian writer’s story about the good an inclusive Catholic school can do for LGBTQ students.

13-1420csw_logo_circle_cmykIn The Sydney Morning Herald, Joel Meares wrote about a new movement in Australia, Equal Voices, in which Christians are apologizing for the harm done by churches to LGBT people.of his gratitude for the Catholic school he attended, a place he called “a haven.” He elaborated on this topic by describing his childhood experiences with the people of faith:

“And yet the apology comes as no surprise to me. The Christians in my life – those in the pews who don’t make, nor seek, headlines – have been some of the most supportive people I’ve known. Of course they want to say sorry: it’s the Christian thing to do. . .As some of them get ready to say sorry this March, I’d like to take a moment to say thank you.”

Meares shared about his time at the Catholic school, a place he landed because his parents did not want to send their children to public schools but could not afford more elite private schools. While the family was not religious, Meares said, “from Monday to Friday I was an evangelistic little Tracy Flick, biro in hand and halo on head.” He continued:

“I was also very gay. I didn’t realise this at the time – I was quite late to my own coming-out party – but I already ticked all of the cliche boxes. . .If my teachers had eyes and ears, they knew I was different. And these same teachers – not members of the clergy, but many of them laypeople of deep faith – were profoundly nurturing of that difference. . .And I was always protected.”

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Joel Maeres

No longer a practicing Catholic, except for “when I have to get up for the Eucharist at a wedding,” Meares remains grateful for the way he was educated by the church. He wrote:

“But I’ve always liked core Christian values, particularly the simple ‘golden rule’ I was taught back in [kindergarten]: ‘Treat others the way you like to be treated.’

“I know it’s not everyone’s story – and I know others whose time at religious schools was far less rosy – but I was able to grow up different and safe and proud because the people around me also subscribed to that idea.

“I don’t see much of that sentiment when I scan the statements of church leadership when it comes to LGBTQI issues today. But the Equal Voices apology is a reminder of the kinds of Christians who helped shape me growing up. These people put into quiet practice so much of what is beautiful about the religion, and did very little preaching as they went.”

These last words mirror a statement made recently by the head of Scotland’s Catholic school system, who said the church’s educational programs were to “propose the gospel, not impose the gospel.” Sadly, for too many LGBTQ students, faith-affiliated schools are places where they experience the Gospels being preached more than practiced. Either through direct harm or not providing adequate supports, Catholic schools have too often failed to be safe places.

This year’s theme for National Catholic Schools Week is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.” Joel Meares’ positive story gives educators a source of inspiration for what can be achieved when Catholic education is done well and inclusively, inviting students to faith, educating them well, and instilling in them Christian values.

Ultimately, the goal should be for every LGBT student who passes through the Catholic education system to be able to offer a story of gratitude similar to Joel Meares’ experiences.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 29, 2017

Catholic Scouts in Ireland Working on Policy to Welcome Transgender Children

A Catholic scouting organization in Ireland is developing a policy about transgender girls that looks like it will be accepting them.

cgi20logo20hi20resWhile the Catholic Girl Guides of Ireland (CGI) does not currently accept openly transgender children, the group’s leader told the Irish Independent that they are working to develop a policy:

“Linda Peters, chief executive officer of the Irish Girl Guides, said in yesterday’s Irish Independent that ‘our policy is that anyone who lives their life as a female is welcome to join our organisation’.

“However, when asked if she would presently accept a boy identifying himself as a girl, she said: ‘I don’t know. It’s a hypothetical question, so I’m not going to answer it or comment further. We’ll be in a better position to go into more detail when we finalise our guidelines on this topic.’ “

Peters’ words that they would like to welcome “anyone who lives their life as a female” seem to indicate that their new policy will be welcoming.

CGI spokesperson Michelle Finnerty explained that the group would not currently accept a transgender girl but that the organization feels this is “in the best interests of everyone, and especially for that child, until a policy is developed.” CGI, she said, did not want to make trans children’s’ lives “any more difficult.”

The policy in development, which Finnerty said can be expected “very soon,” was sparked by a CGI volunteer who is interested in transgender issues.Finnerty explained:

” ‘One of our members has a special interest in this area and had gathered a lot of useful information on this topic while she was over there [at a recent round-table discussion in Sweden on gender and membership with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts].’

” ‘Putting together a policy on this is going to take a long time, because it will need a lot of consultation. We have to listen to the views of our youth members and parents’ opinions, along with expert advice, too.’ “

The organization is also consulting a CGI volunteer who has a transgender child who is not a member of the group.

Reading this news story, I thought back to a similar response offered last year by a Catholic school in Rhode Island. Administrators at Mount Saint Charles Academy had implemented a ban on transgender students, the reasoning for which is that the school did not provide sufficient resources to support trans youth. Administrators retracted the policy quickly after alumni organized, and the school instead undertook made efforts to expand its supports for LGBT students while concurrently welcoming all applicants.

Interestingly, Alan Matthews, a scouting leader for boys in Dundalk, Ireland, offered some wisdom to the Independent on how he would react to a trans boy seeking membership:

” ‘I don’t see why we wouldn’t let them join. If they want to identify themselves as a boy, fair enough. I suppose it’s their human right and we’re not going to stand against them. I’m sure six- and seven-year-olds wouldn’t notice the difference.'”

Societies tend to discount the agency of children, and in doing so, we too frequently miss the lessons they offer the rest of us. But I think Matthews is correct that answers to questions about gender and Catholic organizations may be found in the wisdom of young children, to which Jesus himself exhorted us to listen. If children are seeing each other as another person first, rather than as a gender, then we should make that our starting point for any policy: always welcome the persons before you, and then figure out how to accompany them.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 26, 2017