Catholic Scouting’s Response to BSA Policy Does Not Bode Well for Scouting

July 29, 2015

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS ) has responded to the decision by the Boy Scouts of America to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and also to allow local troops to decide, based on religious principles, if openly gay men would be allowed to serve as leaders. Their response. which is not affirmative, could harm the future of Catholic scouting.

In a letter to Catholic Scout leaders from NCCS National Chairman Edward P. Martin and National Chaplain Father Michael P. Hanifin that was published by the website, the two leaders offered a mixed message about the decision:

“It is not entirely clear how these rights will be squared with previous policy changes the Boy Scouts have made, or how they will work in practice, but it appears that the resolution respects the needs of Catholic-chartered organizations in the right to choose leaders whose character and conduct are consistent with those of Catholic teaching. At the same time, we express strong concern about the practical implications of this resolution, especially for our young people in Scouting, and whether the term ‘sexual orientation’ will be correctly understood and applied only in reference to sexual inclination and not to sexual conduct or behavior. We also express concern that the resolution articulates a position on adult sexual conduct that does not make clear that sexual behavior should be reserved to a husband and a wife in marriage.”

It is unfortunate that this statement confuses “sexual orientation” with “sexual conduct or behavior.”  “Orientation” has been used popularly for many decades now, and it has always clearly meant a person’s interior constitution, not a decision to be involved in sexual activity.  Even the U.S. bishops, in their 1998 letter Always Our Children, offered this understanding of the term:

“. . . [I]t seems appropriate to understand sexual orientation (heterosexual or homosexual) as a deep-seated dimension of one’s personality and to recognize its relative stability in a person. A homosexual orientation produces a stronger emotional and sexual attraction toward individuals of the same sex, rather than toward those of the opposite sex. It does not totally rule out interest in, care for, and attraction toward members of the opposite sex. Having a homosexual orientation does not necessarily mean a person will engage in homosexual activity.”

Do the leaders of the NCCS not know this understanding of the term?  Why would they think it would be incorrectly applied to sexual behavior?  I don’t know of any policy situation in any field of endeavor where these two terms have been confused–except for the fact that many anti-gay people assume that “orientation” guarantees behavior, which, of course, is not true.

Most importantly, framing the discussion strictly between the terms “sexual orientation” and “sexual behavior” disregards an important quality of gay men that is germane to this debate:  the ability to enter into loving and committed sexual relationships.   As long as people keep using the orientation vs. activity dichotomy, they make invisible the real lives of lesbian and gay people, who for the most part, are interested in relationship and love.

The NCCS letter does not state directly whether they will discourage local BSA troops to allow openly gay men serve as leaders, but the last sentence in the paragraph quoted above, which deals with a definition of marriage, seems to indicate that at the very least, they will not welcome openly gay men who are civilly married.

Time and again over the past few years, the U.S. Catholic Church has witnessed how Catholic parents, educators, and students have risen up in protest against the unjust firing of gay and lesbian Catholic school teachers who have legally married.  It should be clear to the leadership of the Catholic Church that Catholics are not tolerating this kind of discrimination.

So, what will happen to Catholic scouting if gay men–single or married–are not accepted as leaders in their local troops?  As most troop leaders are parents of scouts, what will happen when a scout’s gay dad is not allowed to be a leader? In both these cases, I predict that parents and youth will vote with their feet and join another troop which does not discriminate.

We already saw something like this in 2013 when the BSA lifted its ban on openly gay youth becoming scouts. When one pastor in Illinois tried to separate the parish’s troop from the BSA, the parishioners and scouting parents strongly protested.

In 2013, the NCCS and many diocesan bishops, supported the policy change to welcome gay youth.

The recent 2015 NCCS statement gay men as scout leaders stated:

“Our youth don’t want to leave Scouting.”

I agree. But I think that youth today want Scouting that is discrimination-free.  And as the years go by, more parents and youth will be joining that belief, too.

The NCCS has an opportunity to encourage and promote a discrimination-free Catholic Scouting by encouraging their troops not to ban gay men from leadership.  It has the opportunity to promote a realistic view of gay men that is rooted in the desire for relationship and love.  NCCS can help today’s Catholic youth develop a healthy respect for gay men by allowing these men to serve openly and freely.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles and posts:

The New York Times: Catholic Panel Urges Churches to Continue Sponsoring Scout Troops

The New York Times: “Boy Scouts Are Poised to End Ban on Gay Leaders”

The National Catholic Reporter: “Religious groups weigh support for Boy Scouts after vote to end ban on gay leaders”

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting:  FAQs Regarding BSA’s Youth Membership Standard”

On 2013 BSA decision to accept openly gay youth as scouts:

Bondings 2.0: National Catholic Committee on Scouting Supports Boy Scouts’ Inclusive Policy

Bondings 2.0: National Committee and Local Dioceses Begin to React Boy Scouts’ Decision

Bondings 2.0: Boy Scouts Inclusivity Could Signal End of Catholic Scouting

 

 

 


Bishops Down Under Offer Over-the-Top Rhetoric as Marriage Equality Approaches

July 28, 2015

Australia’s marriage equality campaign logo

Australia’s political leaders are slowly moving towards marriage equality, prompted by successful developments in Ireland and the United States. The political movement has prompted aggressive action from the nation’s Catholic bishops.

Brisbane’s Archbishop Mark Coleridge attacked marriage equality proponents in a piece for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, saying there is “violence” in alleged attempts to discredit and silence those who oppose equality.

Using the language of “same-sex attracted,” Coleridge argued that civil equality already existed, and the push for marriage rights is pure ideology. He called it “a dramatic form of the Western myth of progress which the facts of history have never confirmed,” reported The Tablet.

Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher used equally harsh language during a Marriage Mass, reported The Catholic Herald. His told those in attendance that LGBT advocates:

“…are determined to silence any alternative to the politically correct position in this matter; to bully us all into accepting the deconstruction and redefinition of a fundamental institution; and to relegate questions of what marriage is and is for as secondary to an homogenising ‘equality.’ “

The Archdiocese of Sydney also criticized those responsible for a full-page pro-marriage equality ad published in June, questioning whether corporations should be involved in the debate at all. In a letter sent to the ad’s more than 150 corporate supporters, the archdiocesan business manager Michael Digges claims they “are publicly supporting a strategic, political and well-funded campaign” to change Australian marriage law.

Elsewhere, Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart, who distributed an anti-marriage equality pamphlet by sending it home  with students in Australia’s Catholic schools, has admitted it has not been well received.

That is an understatement given the concerns expressed by many when it was first announced that the bishops were using schoolchildren as young as 6 or 7 for the anti-equality campaign. Rodney Croome, director of Australian Marriage Equality, condemned making these children “couriers of prejudice,” urging parents to report the material to the Office of Anti-Discrimination Commissioner. One letter to the archbishop claims a formal complaint was filed, reported The Australian, and the Office does not deny this.

Still, Porteous defended the “Don’t Mess with Marriage” pamphlet as a “positive contribution” and part of his duties as bishop in teaching the faith, reports SBS.

A former teacher in Melbourne also wrote recently about Archbishop Denis Hart’s 2007 refusal to implement Jesuit Social Services’ Not So Straight report, “aimed at helping teachers respond to the needs of gay teens in Catholic schools. Michael Kelly wrote in The Age:

“I wonder how many students in Catholic schools have spent anguished hours coping with abuse and bullying, how many have secretly hated themselves, how many have attempted suicide since Hart buried that report in 2007. . .The Jesuits’ programs would not have solved everything, but they would have shown a church, and a hierarchy, that cared more for the mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health of young people than for rigid doctrinal purity.”

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

The Australian bishops should follow the lead and example of one of their own brethren, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, retired Auxiliary from Sydney, who has spoken rationally and compassionately on the need for the hierarchy to reform Catholic sexual ethics in such a way that allows for the equality of lesbian and gay relationships.

Politically, Australian legislators will introduce a cross-party bill equalizing marriage rights in August. This has a fairly good chance of passage, though it is uncertain. Either way the bishops need to shift course towards a more pastoral and reconciliatory approach.

Australia’s bishops should start putting the best interests of young people, and all Australians, before their campaign against LGBT legal rights. The heavy-handed and hyperbolic strategies of previous papacies must be put to rest, and the only overreactions now acceptable are unconditioned displays of love to those the church has harmed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Ireland’s Top Bishop Meets with Gay Advocates, Withdraws Marriage Boycott Threat

July 27, 2015

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh

Ireland’s leading archbishop met with faith-based LGBT advocates last week, with the focus of the discussing being on his participation at the Synod of Bishops this fall, and keeping Ireland’s marriage referendum clearly as a backdrop for the conversation.

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the Primate of Ireland, met with representatives from Faith in Marriage Equality (an ecumenical group) and We Are Church (a Roman Catholic church reform group) organizations at his residence last Wednesday. The meeting was requested by the groups before the May referendum in which equal marriage was approved by nearly two-thirds of Irish voters.

At the October synod in Rome, Martin will represent the Irish church alongside Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. The LGBT advocates at the meeting with Eamon Martin asked him to raise the pastoral care of gay and lesbian persons, sharing some of their own stories which were well received.

Brendan Butler of We Are the Church, a Catholic reform organization, highlighted the harm the church’s language inflicts on LGBT people.  He singled out for particular mention, the language in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1986 letter, which described a homosexual orientation as “an objective disorder and ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil.”   Butler stated:

“If the Catholic Church is to regain credibility not only with the gay and lesbian community but also with the wider Catholic community then existing Catholic teaching needs to change.”

Jim O’Crowley, a gay Catholic, also shared stories in the meeting, following up on a booklet, “To Have and To Hold: Stories and Reflections of LGBT People, Their Families, and Friends,” the archbishop was sent. According to Irish Central, Martin said “he found it helpful to read this book and also to listen to accounts by gay Catholics.”

Faith in Marriage Equality’s Richard O’Leary affirmed the meeting as a “positive step to open dialogue,” building upon Diarmuid Martin’s call for a “reality check” by church leaders in the wake of Ireland’s referendum. O’Leary added:

“We were positively received by Archbishop Martin who said he was committed to continuing dialogue and that he was particularly concerned about the pastoral care of gay persons.”

Martin’s record is increasingly positive on LGBT issues. He publicly criticized Cardinal Raymond Burke’s characterization of the Irish as “worse than pagans” for voting for marriage equality, saying he “wouldn’t use that language.” Preceding the vote, his record was more mixed having said religious liberty was being threatened but also publicly critiquing a fellow bishop who compared homosexuality to Down’s Syndrome.

In addition, the Irish bishops had threatened that priests would no longer grant civil marriages if the referendum passed. Now, Archbishop Martin is second-guessing that stance, reported The Independent, saying church leaders would “monitor the situation to see if it’s possible for us to continue.”

The Association of Catholic Priest’s Fr. Gerry O’Connor said ending priests’ role in marriage was always a “false threat” used against voters. He noted that it would be deeply troubling to do so because it would curtail one of the church’s limited avenues with younger Catholics who comprise the majorities of weddings, while also being largely absent from churches otherwise.

After the Irish referendum in May, commentators from all quarters speculated about the impact the vote had and would continue to have on not only the Irish Church, but the Catholic Church globally.

Archbishop Martin’s meeting may be a first fruit, incarnating the culture of encounter called for repeatedly by Pope Francis but which is still too often denied to LGBT Catholics. Sharing stories and personal relationships have been instrumental in advancing equality, inside the church and out, and their importance will remain to keep shifting culture even as legal rights advance.

Let us pray that Archbishops Martin and Martin will listen attentively to the voices of Irish Catholics, bearing their desires for greater justice and inclusion to the synod in Rome for all the church to hear!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Teacher Resigns Over San Francisco Contract Proposals Which California Lawmakers Are Investigating

July 25, 2015

Abi Basch, left, with other supporters of the #TeachAcceptance movement

Another teacher is leaving San Francisco’s Catholic school system due to proposed contract changes targeting LGBT and ally employees, a resignation coming at the same time California’s legislature holds hearings on the controversy.

Abi Basch is leaving Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory School (SHC), announcing her departure, as well as coming out, in a Facebook announcement posted Friday. Basch, who teaches social studies, explained that she was seeking nondiscrimination protections unavailable at the Catholic school. She wrote:

“Now that I do not work for Archbishop Cordileone, I can say to my students, their families, my colleagues – without fear of losing my job: I am not only your ally. I understand your magic queer powers and the dangers you face when others fear their might – because I have them too.”

Basch also commended those involved with the #TeachAcceptance movement (comprised of those who oppose the new restrictive contract clause proposals), and she noted the high school’s defense of its LGBT community against the Archdiocese, saying she learned “integrity and strength, and made me a better, fiercer, more compassionate human.”

Hugh McNeill, a gay senior at SHC, expressed his gratitude for Basch in a note which was posted on Facebook. He highlighted the teacher’s support for #TeachAcceptance, including proofreading student speeches and painting rally posters. McNeill concluded:

“I hope that you spread all the joy, empowerment, and hope at your new school that you have shared with mine. You have given our school and our community so much. You have given ME so much.”

Indeed, Basch was a celebrated educator such that the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s diocesan newspaper profiled her in February after four years at SHC and more than a dozen in teaching. In the article, Basch says the school’s focus on social justice had been meaningful for her and added:

“In a city like San Francisco, the church’s teaching on tolerance and acceptance of the marginalized has been especially powerful in creating a safe space for a diverse student body.”

The contract clauses introduced by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone threaten such safe spaces by banning teachers from publicly expressing certain forms of support for LGBT equality,  and attempting to reclassify employees as ministers, which would significantly widen religious exemptions to nondiscrimination laws. Jesuit Father Jim McDermott offered a well-articulated explanation of these exemptions in America, who noted:

“. . . [T]o Catholic teachers in San Francisco the archdiocese’s decision to use the term ‘minister’ in their contract looks like a move meant to enable the archdiocese to fire any teacher for any reason without threat of legal recourse. The teachers’ union (also the city’s Board of Supervisors and a number of state lawmakers) immediately contested the change in language, and the archbishop quickly agreed to remove the word ‘minister.’ But every subsequent revision has continued to push that way of thinking. ‘The terms are gone, but the concepts still remain,’ says [union rep Gina] Jaeger. ‘The issue of ministerial exception still exists in the current proposal, and that’s what we’re struggling with. There’s no way we can agree to that.’

This threat has triggered Bay Area protests for more than six months now. Catholics have organized against Archbishop Cordileone’s approach to LGBT issues, even calling for his resignation in a full-page newspaper ad signed by more than 100 of San Francisco’s most influential Catholics.

The controversy finally caught the attention of the California State Assembly, which held a hearing last Thursday on the proposed contract changes. Phil Ting, an assembly member from San Francisco, called the hearing, reported the National Catholic Reporter. The discussion featured four lawyers from multiple perspectives, including:

“[Kathleen] Purcell, a former teacher at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif., and a constitutional lawyer, said the schools ‘have to decide who they are.’ Are they religious institutions that cater to students of a particular faith and teach according to that faith, or are they private schools that adhere to state standards and welcome students of all religions?”

Purcell then pointed out that Catholic schools, including those under review frequently welcome students of many religious traditions with no expectation of conversion. University of Nevada law professor Leslie Griffin called the ministerial exemption a “silver bullet” for employers, adding that “Contracts that ask people to give up their constitutional rights are problematic.” Two dozen audience members added their own concerns at the hearing’s end.

Aside from the legal battles, Abi Basch’s resignation reveals the most profound loss from these proposed teaching contracts: the expulsion of committed, talented LGBT and ally educators from Catholic schools. The note from Basch’s student,Hugh McNeil, echoes the cries of protestors nationwide who turn out by the thousands in defense of their beloved teachers. These church workers have given so much to their communities, to the world, and to the church.

It will be sad if state intervention is required to preserve employees’ rights, particularly given the church’s longstanding solidarity with workers, but if that is what it takes to stop wounding Catholic education, then so be it. The losses in our schools are simply too great to continue, and it is past time to change the conversation on church workers.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the almost 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Historically Catholic Nations Lead on Transgender & Intersex Civil Rights

July 25, 2015

Italy’s Palace of Justice

UPDATE: Poland’s parliament passed a bill allowing easier gender identity changes, though these still require “confirmation” from two external sources. Still, it is being hailed as a positive step by advocates. It needs to pass the Senate and receive the President’s signature for it to be enacted, reports PinkNews.

Transgender Italians can now self-declare their gender identity on government records following a recent court ruling.

This progress is yet another sign of how historically Catholic nations are increasingly leading the expansion of rights for trans and intersex communities, as well as gay, lesbian and bisexual ones.

Italy’s Supreme Court ruled that a person may amend their gender identity on records without medical intervention, saying the “right to self-determination is inviolable.” The ruling recognizes the complexities in each person’s life according to Gay Star News, stating:

“The desire to align body and spirit is, even in the absence of surgical intervention, the result of a very personal journey to gender identity, supported by a range of medical and psychological treatments that will vary according to individual personality and need.”

Ireland’s parliament acted similarly in June passing a bill that affords citizens to self-determine their gender, coming only weeks after Irish voters passed marriage equality according to Buzzfeed. Momentum from the marriage referendum caused legislators to remove a clause in the bill that would have required medical permission for any gender marker changes. GLAAD reports the bill should be active by summer’s end.

Malta’s legislature unanimously passed a trans rights law this spring. The Gender Identity, Gender Expression, and Sex Characteristics law is considered a gold standard by many LGBT advocates, as it includes nondiscrimination protections and defends intersex children by allowing delayed gender identification on birth records. Dr. Helena Dalli, minister for civil liberties, said the law is “for knowledge to reign over ignorance, for justice to reign over injustice and to build a society on the respect of human rights.”

Italy, Ireland, and Malta join only Denmark, Colombia, and Argentina in allowing transgender citizens to self-determine their gender identity on government records. That five of these nations are heavily Catholics proves again what has been witnessed in the expansion of lesbian and gay civil rights, including marriage: where there are Catholics, there’s a strong likelihood for more justice for LGBT communities.

Regarding transgender justice, which is rapidly emerging in social consciousness in the United States and elsewhere, much work remains.

Most nations which allow gender changes require proof of gender confirmation surgery and there are still plenty of hierarchs, like San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone or Bishop-Elect Robert Barron of Los Angeles, making highly prejudiced comments. Even Pope Francis’ record is unclear, though some trans advocates see more signs for hope than previously thought.

One more sign of hope are church leaders like Msgr. Keith Barltrop who come out supportively for trans identities. Barltrop, who is London Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ point person on LGBTQI outreach recently said the church should be “fully supportive” of those who decide to transition and there is nothing doctrinal involved with trans identities.

For more updates on trans Catholic issues, check out our “Transgender” category in the column to the right.  New Ways Ministry will be hosting a workshop about Catholic perspectives on trans and intersex issues in Philadelphia during the World Meeting of Families in September.  For more information, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Sister of Mercy Joins Parents in Protests Against Firing of Lesbian Educator

July 24, 2015

Margie Winters (in white) and her wife, Andrea (in yellow), at a rally with supporters.

A prominent Sister of Mercy has joined parents in criticizing a lesbian teacher’s dismissal from her Catholic school employment, setting her apart from Mercy leadership which expressed its support for the decision by school leadership to fire the teacher.

Sister Mary Scullion joined parents Joan McCannon and James J. Maguire in piece published by the Philadelphia Inquirer that criticizes Waldron Mercy Academy’s decision to expel longtime religious educator Margie Winters for being in a same-gender marriage.

The authors say the church is at a “critical moment,” a moment intensified by the firings of Winter which has “personal ramifications” for each of them. They continued:

“But we believe that the Church’s truest integrity is at risk when it emphasizes orthodoxy and doctrine without meaningful engagement with human and historic realities. We love the Church: We draw deeply from its rich traditions of spirituality, compassion, service, and justice. But we also recognize (and need to take responsibility for) our many historic blind spots — persecution of heretics, oppression of indigenous peoples in the name of ‘mission,’ and second-class status for women.

“While it is painful for us to have to publicly dissent, we are convinced that this is a moment when insistence on doctrinal adherence is clashing with what we believe the Spirit is unfolding in our history — just as it has in the past. . .The Church is at its best when it listens to the Spirit speaking in our times and through human experiences.”

Scullion is a noted advocate for those experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia. Dominic Preziosi, a blogger with dotCommonweal, reported the Mercy sister “received Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal in 2011″ and was “named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2009.” McCannon works closely with Scullion at Project H.O.M.E., a homelessness group they co-founded together, and Maguire heads the scholarship-focused Maguire Foundation.

All of them say the Spirit is speaking through the “hundreds of parents and former students” standing with Margie and through Pope Francis who upholds church teaching but with openness and an engagement of lived experience. They concluded:

“We believe the controversy surrounding Margie Winters is the Spirit inviting us to reflect. . .May we come to a deeper and richer understanding of love, a more fervent commitment to justice, and a fuller spirit of community.  In doing so, we learn more profoundly what it means to be Church, and how the Church can truthfully, faithfully, and prophetically serve and heal our society.”

That desire to heal was expressed by Waldron Mercy trustees president Andrew McCloskey, who invited concerned parents to a series of meetings. In an email reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, McCloskey called the firing “heartbreaking” and added:

” ‘It’s hard for many to understand how an institution that Margie so selflessly served for eight years could dismiss a wonderful educator and woman of mercy.’ “

Parents have led protests on social media and in person, demanding answers from the school about the firing of Winters and the ensuing handling of this situation. 27 alumni joined these protests, threatening to withhold donations unless the fired educator regained her job. Jake, an eight-year-old current student at Waldron Mercy Academy, wrote to Pope Francis, saying:

“Ms. Winters got fired from my school because she is married to a women. . .If you are not busy please write me a letter back . . . this is so unfair and I can’t understand it at all.”

Others outside the school community are echoing the thirst for justice in this case. One columnist with the Philadelphia Inquirer said there is “No Mercy at Waldron Mercy,” while another at Philebrity.com pointed out that Philadelphia Catholic schools “are today and have always been staffed by many, many gay persons who also happen to be fine educators.” The blogger continued:

“All of them are people of faith — they believe deeply not just in the catechism of the schools but also in the kids they educate. And all of them have to play this horrible game where they have to hide who they are because the governing body of the faith is built on a shame-based theory of sexuality that is wholly corrosive.”

Though Archbishop Charles Chaput has said he is “grateful” that Winters was dismissed, and Mercy superior Sr. Patricia Vetrano affirmed the firing, for most Catholics the logic of this action is incomprehensible.

Winters’ wife, Andrea Vettori, who wrote a letter to Pope Francis about the incident, is among those Catholics who cannot understand the Waldron Mercy’s actions outside discrimination and exclusion, telling an interviewer:

“I love this church. I think this has made me realize how much I want to fight for it because there are some who want me to be excluded from the faith. And I don’t want to be excluded…When Christ walked the earth, he railed against the hierarchy for trying to exclude people, by using the laws of the faith at that time to exclude people. If that’s not happening now, I don’t know what else this is.”

Indeed, this firing, and so many others just like it, clashes with Christ’s inclusive witness. They cause deep fissures in school communities, the wider church, and, as is now apparent, in the sponsoring religious communities as well.

Mercy sisters are longtime advocates for social justice, including LGBT equality, so it is troublesome and puzzling as to why their leadership defended the firing. Debates about how to live out our Catholic identity are not easy. Winters spoke about this difference in vision in an interview with CNN last weekend:

“Waldron Mercy Academy is a wonderful community filled with faith-filled parents and children and teachers who are committed to mercy and justice…There was never a conflict with my job…The conflict is with the understanding of the teachings of the Church. For me it’s a conflict of vision of who we are as Church. The marriage issue goes to who I am as a person, and who God made me as.”

The community is organizing under “Stand with Margie,” launching a Facebook page with more than 11,000 likes and the #StandWithMargie hashtag on Twitter. A GoFundMe page has raised $16,000 to help support Winters and her wife. There is also a blog with some updates at standwithmargie.wordpress.com. Please stand with Margie in whatever ways you are able, and let us all pray that these firings, and the divisions they cause, may end so we can work towards increasing reconciliation within the church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Fired New Jersey Priest Asks Pope Francis to Defend LGBT Church Workers

July 23, 2015

HalltoFrancis_FinalA priest fired for opposing anti-gay bullying has written to Pope Francis, asking the pontiff to stem the expulsion of LGBT church workers which has harmed the U.S. Catholic Church for the past several years.

Fr. Warren Hall’s letter comes two months before Pope Francis makes his inaugural visit to the United States, where more than fifty church workers have lost their jobs in LGBT-related public incidents since 2008. In the July 14th letter, reported on by Religion News Service, Hall writes:

“I ask that…you find time to listen to the challenges faced by LGBT people, especially those who are Catholic and wish to remain part of the Church they have grown up in, which they love, and yet which it seems is alienating them more and more. Good teachers are being fired, pastoral and compassionate priests and religious women are being silenced and accept it out of fear of being disciplined by their superiors, and good, faith-filled people are leaving the Church as they witness to all of this happening. As a gay priest, I am personally experiencing all of these things.”

Hall himself was fired as the chaplain at Seton Hall University in New Jersey for posting a photo of himself with the “NOH8″ logo on Facebook. He later came out as gay himself, saying he had to be honest with himself and with others, especially his students. Newark’s Archbishop John Myers has not reassigned Fr. Hall, leaving the priest without an income and “unduly punished,” according to Hall.

But Hall is hopeful that Pope Francis, famous for his “Who am I to judge?” comment might create change during his visit and stop LGBT people from being forced out of the church by the decisions of some leaders:

” ‘He could more strongly offer the message that this is your church, too. You are welcome here . . .He could at least help to slow down the firings. . .and help everyone sit back and take a breath. Perfection is our goal, but no one’s there. How can we move forward together for the kingdom?’ “

When Pope Francis visits Philadelphia, he will visit a local church wounded by the recent firing of lesbian minister Margie Winters. Archbishop Charles Chaput said he is grateful that Winters was expelled by the Sisters of Mercy, but Catholics nationwide have expressed their widespread disagreement with the discriminatory act. Winters’ wife has written to Pope Francis herself.

Another Philadelphia area gay teacher, Michael Griffin, was fired in 2014.

Pope Francis’ agenda will be exceedingly full as he addresses Catholics gathered for the World Meeting of Families, in addition to the United Nations, and the U.S. Congress. Yet, two years after his much celebrated “Who am I to judge?” remark about gay priests, it is time for the pontiff to act on his words.

The U.S. visit is a perfect opportunity for Pope Francis to demonstrate that he does not judge and that he stands with Fr. Warren Hall and the many good, faithful, and committed LGBT church workers who are facing discrimination. To remain silent about these church worker firings is to remain silent in the face of scandalous injustice, a silence undercuts the sincerity of Pope Francis’ previous words.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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