Play Starring Transgender Jesus Draws Catholic Protests

November 24, 2015

Jo Clifford as Jesus in the play

Catholics in Northern Ireland protested a play performed this month which portrays Jesus as a transgender woman, but the playwright defended it as an attempt to make audiences “think again” about faith and gender.

The play, titled “The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven,” was most recently performed at Outburst Queer Arts Festival in Belfast just weeks after the nation’s legislature failed to advance marriage equality legislation.

Writer and actor Jo Clifford described it as a “very important, very intimate show,” explaining to BBC:

” ‘Obviously being a transgender woman myself it concerns me very greatly that religious people so often use Christianity as a weapon to attack us and justify the prejudices against us. . .

” ‘I wanted to see if we could move away from that and make people think again.’ “

Audience members are quite moved, said Clifford, including Christians. The writer has repeatedly reinterpreted biblical stories to generate new ideas, suggesting the overall message of this play is clear:

” ‘I think it’s very important to get across the message that Jesus of the gospels would not condone or want to promote prejudice and discrimination against anybody and to try to convey a message of compassion and love and understanding of everybody. . .No matter what their belief, no matter what their gender, orientation or sexuality.’

Not all welcome that message as a small Catholic group protested in Belfast, as has at previous performances. Former Glasglow Archbishop Mario Conti once said that it is hard to imagine “a more provocative and offensive abuse of Christian beliefs” than this play.

Clifford, however, said protesters have generally not seen the play and that it seeks neither to offend nor blaspheme because she is a Christian herself. Her point is rather to reflect on Jesus’ ministry through this “work of devotion”:

” ‘I simply want to assert very strongly, as strongly as I can that Jesus of the gospels would not in anyway wish to attack or denigrate people like myself.’ “

Clifford made a similar point in another interview, available on YouTube:

“He was talking to the victims of persecution, to the victims of prejudice and he would speak to them in a very accepting way, as one human being to another.”

In this, Clifford is correct. The Gospels reveal a Jesus who elevated people’s dignity and specifically sought out those who had been marginalized.

Catholic tradition has long embraced the arts as a means for spiritual nourishment and divine revelation, opening up the human person to themselves, to others, and to God. While I have not viewed Clifford’s play, her interviews suggest she is someone committed to creating art with devotional ends. The protesters would have benefited more by attending a show and seeing what came up in their inner life, instead of casting stones from afar.

For more information on The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, visit the play’s website here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Africans Ask Pope Francis to Preach Tolerance

November 23, 2015

LGBT folks are asking Pope Francis to preach tolerance during his upcoming Apostolic Voyage to Uganda, Kenya, and Central African Republic beginning Wednesday.

Frank Mugisha

Frank Mugisha

Frank Mugisha, who directs Sexual Minorities Uganda and is himself Catholic, understands Pope Francis may be constrained but said speaking out could do much good. He told Reuters:

” ‘If [Francis] starts talking about rights, then Ugandans are going to be very defensive. . .But I would think if the Pope was here and talking about love, compassion and equality for everyone, Ugandans will listen.’ “

Simply affirming that LGBT people should be “treated like any other children of God” would signal progress in nations where homosexuality is criminalized and the death penalty for those convicted has even been suggested in recent years.

David Kuria

Kenyan advocate David Kuria, who was raised Catholic, echoed those sentiments:

” ‘I hope the Pope would say, “Love everyone,” especially those who are still coming to church.’ “

Kuria is particularly concerned for Catholic parents of LGBT children who often face pressures in their local churches and communities. These social mores cause faithful parents to “doubt themselves as parents or as Christians,” noting his own mother’s expulsion from her village prayer group after Kuria came out.

Jackson Mukasa

Jackson Mukasa, also known as Princess Rihanna, was jailed in Uganda last year on “suspicion of committing homosexual acts,” though not convicted for lack of evidence, according to Reuters. Mukasa’s message for the pope is clear:

” ‘I would like the Pope to at least make people know that being LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) is not a curse. . .Being a gay in Uganda is a challenge. You expect mob justice, you expect to be killed, you expect to be arrested.’ “

Being openly LGBT in Uganda is dangerous, but equality advocates have made strides, Repeated attempts to pass “Kill the Gays” legislation have been suppressed. The situation in Kenya is better, though still oppressive. While homosexuality is illegal, wider tolerance means the law goes unenforced. Indeed, there are some 500 LGBT refugees from Uganda there.

What is significant is that both nations are highly Catholic, with 40% (Uganda) and 33% (Kenya) of their populations identifying as Roman Catholic. Much of the harshly anti-gay rhetoric comes from evangelical churches. Catholic leaders have been silent, vague, and sometimes supportive of oppressive measures, especially in Uganda. If Pope Francis leads and they follow, they could be critical voices for moderation and even tolerance.

The pope has called for bishops to be close their people, to be shepherds who smell of their sheep and who listen closely. Frank Mugisha, David Kuria, and Jackson Mukasa, on behalf of LGBT communities in their countries, make simple and direct appeals. Will Pope Francis listen?

Their appeals, affirmed by Catholics worldwide through the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, call the pope to the margins of his own church where sexual and gender identities remain marginalized. Will he choose to be close?

Exhorting Italy’s bishops a few weeks ago, Pope Francis asked them to begin “a creative movement” to put into practice the welcoming attitude of his apostolic exhortation,Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel).  Clearly condemning anti-LGBTQI laws and violence is a prime opportunity for Pope Francis to be creative in making real the joy of the Gospel — and to save LGBT lives. Will he speak out and preach tolerance?

Pope Francis has an opportunity to condemn LGBTQI criminalization and clarify a sometimes ambivalent Catholic stance regarding violence against sexual and gender minorities. Catholics across the world are asking Francis to send a clear message with the #PopeSpeakOut campaign.

To send a message to Pope Francis and add your voice to the many Catholics openly critical of institutionalized homophobia, visit the campaign’s website by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Church Workers Speak Out, Backed by 1,000+ Catholics at Call To Action Meeting

November 17, 2015

Church workers present Declaration at Call to Action’s conference

At the Call To Action conference in Milwaukee earlier this month, more than 1,000 Catholics affirmed a Catholic Church Worker Declaration, standing with church workers who have lost their jobs in employment disputes, many of them centered on LGBT topics.

The Declaration, which you can read here, affirmed both the good work that LGBT church workers do, and it condemned the injustices they and the communities they serve experience when discrimination occurs.

The Declaration listed expectations of the church and its leaders when it comes to employment in Catholic institutions. These included:

“We expect that dealings with Church workers be conducted with transparency and due process in accordance with canon and civil law. . .

“We expect Church leaders to uphold non-discrimination policies and to treat all employees equitably, even if the employer is exempt from such laws. . .

“We expect Church leaders to respect the primacy of conscience. . .[and] to acknowledge that people are capable of forming virtuous consciences with the guidance of Holy Spirit.”

Catholics are now being invited by Call To Action, a national Catholic justice organization, to join terminated church workers and those who gathered at the Milwaukee conference by signing a petition to be sent to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, and to Pope Francis. You can add your name by clicking here.

This Declaration is the latest step by Catholics and those affiliated with ecclesial institutions to respond to church worker discrimination. More than 50 employees have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes alone since 2008, according to New Ways Ministry.

A recent series in The Huffington Post features six such church workers telling their stories, specifically how they remained faithful despite being expelled. An introduction noted:

“Increasingly, American Catholics are finding it hard to believe that the options the church gives LGBT people are moral or just. . .Perhaps the most stunning aspect of these dismissals is the faith journey that begins after these LGBT Catholics have been turned away from their church.”

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, affirmed the commitment even fired church workers have to their faith and told The Huffington Post:

” ‘Lesbian and gay people involved in these issues have really had to come to a deeper understanding of their spirituality and their relationship with God. From the get go, these are very spiritual people.’ “

Indeed, these church workers are very spiritual people, and their stories reveal just how deeply faithful and committed to the Gospel they are. Below is a sampling, but I encourage you to click the provided links and read more.


Colleen Simon

Colleen Simon, fired from a Jesuit parish in Kansas City after her marriage to another woman inadvertently became public, wrote about a loving God, a God who is love itself, and a God who does not discriminate:

“The Catholic Church has left behind people like me, labelling [sic] us ‘intrinsically disordered.’. . .I should not have shame about who I am. I am made wondrously in God’s image. I should not feel guilty about who I love, as God loves everyone.”


Michael McMahon

Michael McMahon, fired as a parish music director for being married to another man, is now employed by the National City Christian Church. He affirmed that loving God is what is most important for ministers, wherever they do their work:

“After I left my job at my local Catholic Church, I thought my ministry career was over. But what’s happened since then has probably reaffirmed my ministerial calling more than ever before. . .

“I still feel the wounds of it. But I’ve picked myself up and I’m ready to go and do the work before me. My hope comes from my long career in ministry that’s taught me that in the end, the love of God is the most important thing.”

margie winters

Margie Winters

Margie Winters, fired from her religious education position at a Philadelphia-area Catholic school for marrying her wife, wrote about a freedom that comes with loving God and being loved by God openly:

“God created me, accepts me, and wants me to be a whole person, integrating my sexuality, just like my spirituality, into my person. This rejection comes from a Church hierarchy that clings to a teaching formed without the lens of current scholarship in scripture, psychology or sociology.

“Instead of feeling alienated from God, I recognize how much God has given me. Freedom is the greatest gift. Freedom to speak the truth that I have known for so long. My partner, Andrea and I, can be a married couple without fear.”


Kristen Ostendorf

Kristen Ostendorf, fired from a Catholic high school for her relationship with a woman, is unapologetic in being both gay and Catholic, but she is clear there can be consequences for those who openly claim both identities:

“I am done with bringing less than my full self to my work. Unfortunately, that means I am also done working for the Catholic Church and done being able to do the work to which I believe I am called.

“Some days, it is enough to know that I stood up for my authentic self. . .Some days I am flattened by the rejection from my Church — I am not welcome to be my full self and in a loving relationship if I want to be a member of the Church that has given me life, the Church I gladly served for 21 years.”


Sam Albano

Sam Albano, expelled from volunteer parish ministries for social media advocacy for LGBT equality, wrote about another vocation LGBT Catholics witness to:

“After 11 years of prayer and careful discernment, I experienced a moment of clarity in 2013. My primary vocation in this life is a simple one: to be a living witness to a gay life lived in Jesus Christ — and to carry that witness to the church and to the LGBT community. . .

“Whatever injustice I faced at the hands of church leaders, I had an early awareness that God was prepared to use this experience in a powerful and life-giving way.”


Colin Collette

Colin Collette, fired from his position as music director at a Chicago-area parish for being engaged to a man, wrote about being stuck in the back of the pews, even as Pope Francis seeks more inclusion:

“How I long for the opportunity to sit with the Holy Father and tell him about my life in the church, and ask him why I still sit in only the back pews of the church.”

Collette is one of two church workers (the other is Sandor Demkovich) who have filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming discrimination against the Archdiocese of Chicago.

In her homily at Call to Action’s conference, theologian MT Dávila affirmed the idea that God’s Kin-dom (a less hierarchical term than “kingdom”) is on the move. When it comes to church worker justice, the Catholic Church Worker Declaration and LGBT church workers’ sharing of their faith stories are certainly signs of God’s radical presence in our movement for LGBT justice and equality. The Kin-dom is, indeed, on the move!

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 more than 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

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In #PopeSpeakOut, Catholics Ask Pope Francis to Save LGBT Lives

November 16, 2015
Pope Francis on plane

Pope Francis

In just over one week, Pope Francis will begin an apostolic voyage to Uganda, Kenya, and the Central African Republic.  where homosexuality is culturally disapproved, and, in the first two nations, is illegal.

New Ways Ministry is relaunching our #PopeSpeakOut campaign to encourage Francis to publicly oppose  the criminalization of, discrimination towards, and violence against LGBT communities.  His pastoral visit is the perfect opportunity to do so.

#PopeSpeakOut was initially launched in 2014, following Pope Francis’ appeal for solidarity in his World Day of Peace message, to save LGBT lives. This campaign uses Twitter to send messages (tweets) to the pope (his Twitter handle:  @pontifex) to speak out for LGBT human rights.  More information on how to send tweets and other electronic messages, with samples of what to say, can be found by clicking here.

Pope Francis’ voice and moral authority on a global level have only grown in the time since. A clear condemnation of social and legal structures which harm LGBT people across the world and especially in Uganda and Kenya which criminalize homosexual people, would send a clear message that the Catholic Church truly does not approve of or tolerate discrimination and violence against sexual and gender diverse minorities. The pope should affirm the following:

  • Catholic teaching does not support the criminalization of sexual orientation/gender identity and all such laws should be repealed;
  • Each and every instance of discrimination and violence against LGBTQI people is morally wrong and should be opposed vigorously;
  • Western nations are not withholding foreign aid based on a recipient nation’s recognition of same-sex relationships, despite what the Synod on the Family’s final report claims.

Already, a multilingual petition has generated 100,000 signatures asking Pope Francis to condemn homophobia and transphobia. You can sign it at by clicking here.

Despite the dangers that being openly gay or lesbian entails in Uganda, and despite rumors that this nation’s Parliament is considering new legislation to stifle human rights work, a Pride celebration in went on as planned there this summer.  You can view images of it here.

Despite the bleak picture, there are some signs of  progress , too. A Ugandan presidential candidate, while clearly opposing same-sex marriage, did attack homophobia as wrong earlier this year. Advocates like Dr. Frank Mugisha, a Catholic who is executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda whose work you can read about in a PinkNews article, are continuing to seek justice and equality. International allies must add our voices to these efforts by encouraging  Pope Francis’ to speak out against repression.

Pope Francis’ agenda during his first African excursion is packed. Central African Republic is engulfed in a brutal civil war, and a refugee camp is on the pope’s itinerary, which will surely be a moving experience to witness. Questions of inter-religious cooperation, regional security, and human development will be at the forefront of discussion since they strongly affect a continent where Christianity is growing rapidly.

That said, for a pope exhorting the church to go to the margins, LGBT lives should not be negligible. Even a brief remark during his several planned speeches would go a long way to doing some good.  Even better would be a call for sexual and gender human rights during a homily at Mass.  Most importantly, he needs to educate the bishops in these countries that it is their obligation as pastors and leaders to protect the rights and lives of LGBT people. Anything the pope says positively would reverberate around the globe.  Francis has been too silent on this issues. It is time for the pope to speak out!

Pope Francis touches down in Kenya in less than ten days, which is enough time for you, other Catholics, and others concerned with LGBT human rights to appeal to Pope Francis for a message of solidarity–and more than that, an appeal to save LGBT lives. To take action with #PopeSpeakOut and add your voice, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Will U.S. Bishops Finally Affirm Pope Francis’ Agenda This Week?

November 15, 2015

Pope Francis arriving at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Washington, D.C. before his address to U.S. bishops

U.S. bishops will gather for their fall plenary this coming week, the outcomes of which will clearly indicate whether they are finally ready to affirm Pope Francis’ agenda or pursue more of the same. Either way, decisions made in Baltimore will impact LGBT Catholic issues in this country for the next several years. So what is at stake?

Strategic Priorities

First, bishops will vote on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ strategic priorities through 2020.

The discussion around these goals may be the “most explosive” debate of the entire meeting, observed Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter. The current five priorities are: family and marriage; evangelization; religious freedom; human life and dignity; vocations.  In one sense,  all of these topics touch, in varying degrees, upon LGBT issues.

A draft of new priorities during their June meeting received heavy criticism, with Burlington’s Bishop Christopher Coyne saying it was “the same thing we’ve always done” and other Pope Francis appointees–Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago and Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego–added their own sharp criticisms.

With marriage equality a settled matter politically, will the bishops keep this issue and potential opposition to other LGBT advances, like nondiscrimination protections, at the top of their priorities? With a refugee crisis abroad and economic injustices rampant at home, will bishops continue prioritizing opposition to LGBT rights? Answers to these questions and the broader agenda-setting conversation will have a major impact, directing the USCCB’s significant resources and setting a public tone for ecclesial leadership.


Second, the bishops will vote on key positions in committee leadership.

There is “a real choice” in these races, according to Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese of the National Catholic Reporter. Four of Pope Francis’ personal appointees are in races and almost all contests are between a bishop more in the style of Francis and a bishop who is less so.

Most relevant is the election for chair of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth between Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput and Bridgeport’s Bishop Frank J. Caggiano. Chaput is a noted culture warrior, whose city hosted the World Meeting of Families in September and who is fresh off the Synod on the Family where he showed few signs of prioritizing mercy and inclusion. Alternatively, Caggiano believes “that which unites us is greater than that which divides us.”

The chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development is contested between Venice’s Bishop Frank J. Dewane and San Diego’s Bishop Robert W. McElroy. Dewane has been publicly criticized by his own priests, while McElroy has been hailed as a leader of a more welcoming Catholic Church. Other elections include the chairs for committees tasked with Catholic Education, Divine Worship, and Clergy, Religious Life, and Vocations.

With LGBT issues rapidly increasing their visibility in the church as well as the world, these committees could impact how the U.S. bishops respond to the persecution of LGBT people globally, the firing of LGBT church workers, or the acceptance of openly gay priests. Who is elected will, ultimately, be a referendum on whether the U.S. episcopacy wants leaders focused on mercy and encounter or those focused on legalism and confrontation.

Faithful Citizenship

Third, the bishops will vote on minor revisions to their document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which outlines political engagement for Catholics and is released before major elections.

This document has been criticized for its overemphasis on “culture war” issues, including opposition to marriage equality, while downplaying more pressing social justice issues. Unfortunately, the expected changes to this document will be minimal, according to Stephen Schneck of U.S. Catholic. Noting this document was last revised in 2011 before Pope Francis was elected, Schneck wrote:

“Faithful Citizenship, as it has come to be called, reads like something from another age. . .Its tone is juridical, and does not convey the merciful and pastoral message of His Holiness. In form, it is an un-Francis-like assemblage of pronouncements for judging citizens, politicians, and officeholders. . .

“Our bishops should be reminding Catholic voters and officeholders of the church’s insistence that government itself (and not just charitable individuals) has a responsibility to address poverty, injustice, environmental degradation, and to provide for a moral economy. Our bishops do a disservice to their flock if American Catholics imagine that the church’s teachings for citizenship and government are restricted to matters like abortion, marriage, or religious liberty.”

From his earliest interviews, Pope Francis has criticized certain Catholics’ “obsession” with issues like same-sex marriages. Marriage equality is now legal nationwide without any realistic challenges for its reversal. The U.S. bishops should not just make limited changes, but totally overhaul Faithful Citizenship to reflect both Pope Francis’ agenda and the political realities of the nation in which they minister–particularly climate change.

Were the Bishops Listening to the Pope in D.C.?

Finally, there is the broader question of how the U.S. bishops will relate to Pope Francis and his agenda moving forward. Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter recalled Pope Francis’ words addressing the U.S. bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Washington, DC, during his papal visit, writing:

“There, [Francis] confronted the dominant culture warrior approach the USCCB too often has displayed, most notably this year in their reaction to the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage. The pope said, ‘Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.’ “

Pope Francis added a strong appeal for dialogue, and at this upcoming meeting, in Winters’ estimation, the U.S. bishops have an “opportunity to demonstrate that they heard the Holy Father” or choose to remain “out of touch with their own flocks” about which Winters wrote:

“The sad and regrettable fact is that the USCCB of late has acquired only the smell of the neo-conservative, upper middle class Catholic sheep and the Republicans for whom they vote.”

But Pope Francis’ criticism of the U.S. bishops, and his call for them to restructure their priorities, did not end in September. The pontiff’s particularly strong words about change in the Catholic Church earlier this week make the U.S. bishops’ choice next week all the more meaningful. Winters suggested:

“When the session opens on Monday morning, the bishops should set aside the agenda, read this entire talk, pray over it, maybe have small group discussions of it, and then return to their agenda in the afternoon. How do they evaluate their ministry, individually and as a conference, in the light of the pope’s remarks? The Holy Father said this morning, ‘We are not living an era of change but a change of era.’ Will that change of era be manifest in Baltimore next week?”

In recent weeks, both at the Synod and and in the wake of Vatican financial scandals, Pope Francis has made clear that little will stop his reform agenda for the Catholic Church. He has said, “Today is a time of mercy!” and that he wants a church that is “home for all.” The question in Baltimore next week is whether U.S. bishops will agree with these words and evolve, or clarify their resistance to Pope Francis and double down on their anti-LGBT obsessions.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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Church Worker Firing Challenges Chicago’s Archbishop Cupich to Practice What He Preaches

November 14, 2015
Sandor Demkovich (left) and Frank Hattula

Sandor Demkovich (left) and Frank Hattula at their wedding ceremony in an Episcopal Church.

A second church worker in Chicago has claimed he was fired for being gay, according to a legal complaint filed against the archdiocese. This firing challenges the Pope Francis-like record of Archbishop Blase Cupich, but presents an opportunity for Cupich to respond well, and lead a new way of being church.

Sandor Demkovich claims he was terminated as St. Andrew the Apostle parish’s music director in 2014 after marrying his male partner, reported The Chicago TribuneAccording to Demkovich’s lawyer, Kerry Lavelle, the pastor, Fr. Jacek Dada, was initially accepting of the relationship though mindful that any “union” opposed church teaching.

Four days after the wedding, described by husband Frank Hattula as a “very spiritual event. . .filled with love and music,” Dada’s thinking shifted and Demkovich was fired during a meeting with the pastor. The music director explained his reaction to the Chicago Sun-Times:

” ‘It’s hurts so deeply. . .I can’t tell you how difficult getting through Christmas and Lent and Easter this past year has been. It’s just been horrible. . .I love the church. I love the music. I love the spirituality.”

Attorney Lavelle summarized the case thus:

” ‘We once again see a pattern of acceptance and inclusion by the parish pastor, and the parish congregation in general, of an openly gay qualified employee suddenly reversed as soon as he enters into a legal marriage.’ “

Demkovich is now appealing to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Illinois Department of Human Rights, in the hopes of regaining his job even with the Archdiocese. The Tribune explained:

“Demkovich alleges in his complaint that the church’s pastor said his ‘union’ was against the teachings of the Catholic Church and also told a choir member that he thought Demkovich and his partner ‘were going to keep this quiet and not make it public.’ In addition, Demkovich said he was harassed about his weight, obesity and diabetic condition to the point that it created a ‘hostile and intimidating work environment.’ “

Another Chicago church worker, Colin Collette, who is also represented by Lavelle, has filed with the EEOC as well. Collette was fired in 2014 as Holy Family Church’s music director (in suburban Inverness) after seventeen years because he became engaged to a male partner. His discrimination filing with the EEOC will proceed to an administrative investigation because the Archdiocese of Chicago has refused mediation and is also refusing to comment on the matters. Collette previously met with former Chicago Cardinal Francis George and received a standing ovation during a parish town hall held to discuss his termination.

Demkovich joins more than 50 church workers who have lost their job since 2008 over LGBT issues, a tragic trend which Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley “needs to be rectified.” You can access a full listing of these church workers here.

O’Malley is the only U.S. prelate to question the discrimination against LGBT church workers, but the two firings in Chicago provide an opportunity to Archbishop Cupich to practice the mercy and inclusion he preaches.

At the recent Synod on the Family, the archbishop spoke forcefully in favor of respecting people’s consciences, saying in part:

“The conscience is inviolable. And we have to respect that when they make decisions and I’ve always done that. . .We can’t just refer to doctrines as though they’re syllogisms that we deduce a conclusion to. . .There has to be that integration of a person’s circumstances, case by case in their life.”

Cupich’s record affirms that his actions often match these beliefs. While on CBS’ Face the Nation last year, he affirmed the need for same-sex couples and their families to be legally protected , and he called for a tempered response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2015 decision to legalize marriage equality across the nation. Most recently, Cupich sought “new avenues and creativity” in the church’s pastoral care of non-traditional families.

Archbishop Cupich should weigh carefully his response to the firings. Admitting the injustice of these firings and apologizing is a first step, which would reveal a respect for the men’s consciences and the need for tempered responses now that marriage equality is the law. Seeking ways to welcome them back as church workers, if either so desired (Demkovich has expressed interest), would allow him to model new avenues of being church and pursuing healing in the parish communities so deeply wounded by discriminatory acts allows for Spirit-driven creativity drawn from all.

Archbishop Cupich’s vision for the church and his nuanced approach to controversial pastoral issues has been impressive and refreshing. Talk is good, but insufficient unless it translates into real change. Responding to the firings of Sandor Demkovich and Colin Collette are prime opportunities for Archbishop Cupich to lead with his actions, too.

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 more than 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

LGBT Pilgrims Reflect on World Meeting of Families; Others Question Meeting’s Impact

November 13, 2015

As a busy fall for Catholic LGBT advocates winds down, its time for reflecting about what happened–and forecasting what might come. This post focuses in on World Meeting of Families (WMF) and Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. as they related to LGBT issues, looking both back at the past and what these actions might mean for the future.

Equally Blessed Pilgrims Reflect on Experiences

Several members of the families with LGBT members who participated in Equally Blessed’s pilgrimage to WMF (and to concurrent “outside the walls” LGBT-related events) have shared their experiences and reflections from the week-long even on video.

The Equally Blessed coalition, which includes, Call to ActionDignityUSA,  Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry, produced a series of videos from the pilgrimage, one of which you can view below and you can find the others here.

Ryan Hoffman of Call to Action wrote in the National Catholic Reporter about the exclusion pilgrims experienced having been “dismissed from giving workshops, rejected from having a presence in the exhibit hall, relegated to a Methodist church across the street, and nearly shut out of the one presentation on ‘same-sex attraction’.”

These acts impeded “authentic dialogue and genuine encounter,” but did not stop such moments. Hoffman observed:

Ryan Hoffman

“Francis has asked Catholics to work on the margins.  Equally Blessed boldly occupies this space, on the periphery and in the field hospital of the Catholic church. Once again, we found ourselves on the front lines of compassion and justice. . .The pilgrims’ prophetic ministry was not in what they were able to say, but in who they were able to be — their whole and holy, complete and healthy selves — amidst a backdrop of hierarchical control tactics and fear.”

LGBT pilgrims and their families prophetically witnessed to their faith, despite Meeting organizers’ best attempts to shut them out. Catholics at the event, overall, noticed the pilgrims and many affirmed them. Indeed, WMF participants overwhelmingly agreed that openness, honesty, and safe spaces for dialogue were desired by WMF attendees, regardless of where their positions on gender or sexuality.

Absent, too, at WMF were discussions about institutional matters in the church. Fired lesbian educator Margie Winters identified a hoped-for conversation that was not included on the agenda.  She told the National Catholic Reporter:

margie winters

Margie Winters

“We ask the church to reflect on its own identity, an identity now associated with the discriminatory treatment of the LGBT community. We are your sisters and brothers in faith.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Winters reiterating this sentiment at an LGBT Family Papal Picnic held in Philadelphia, saying the exclusion of people “impacts the integrity of the church as a whole.”

Equally Blessed partners hosted events where more inclusive and honest conversations could happen. Writing at the Human Rights Campaign’s blog about New Ways Ministry’s workshop on gender identity, Lisbeth Melendez Rivera said:


Lisbeth Melendez Rivera

“Their stories were heartbreaking and hopeful. Contrary to the tone of sanctioned workshops, these messages were ones of inclusion and acceptance. They represented the success of our work.”

Stories shared included those of Nicole Santamaria, an intersex woman from El Salvador, and her mother, Vilma. Nicole noted that rather than condemn intersex people, the Catholic Church is entirely silent on this community, and silence is problem for intersex people in heavily-Catholic nations like hers. An asylum seeker to the U.S. after she suffered multiple physical attacks, Nicole told NewsWorks:

” ‘The point of having the Lord’s love in our life is to create the space for people to be [themselves]. . .If people believe that they have the Lord’s right to attack you, they are going to attack you and they are going to be celebrated.”

You can read more about Nicole’s story in an interview she offered to  The Washington Post.

WMF pilgrims also shared their experiences on an installment of DignityUSA’s “Queer Catholic Faith” webinar series last month, which you can view here.

Lingering Questions About the World Meeting of Families

Those involved with Equally Blessed’s pilgrimage were not the only voices questioning and even critical of the World Meeting of Families.

Jake Kohlhaas, a theologian at Loras College, Dubuque, Iowa, who attended WMF, wrote at Daily Theology about an “exclusivist tone” which marked the Meeting’s programming that “works against even legitimate diversity and complexity within the accepted moral tradition of the church.”

In Kohlhaas’ estimation, WMF speakers appealed to inclusivity only in instances where it strengthened their position, while jettisoning it for rigid exclusivism when their perspective on church teaching was challenged, such as being faced with U.S. Catholics overwhelming support of marriage equality. He questioned whether the use of dubious social science findings by WMF presenters is analogous to intelligent design theorists’ discussing evolutionary biology:

Jake Kohlhaas

Jake Kohlhaas

“That is, while the approach in general presents itself as receptive to the findings of non-theological disciplines, when the data challenges basic commitments it is glossed over with affirmations of Catholic teaching. . .Selective uses of observed data undermine this commitment by allowing a prevailing hermeneutic of fidelity to church teaching to obstruct legitimately challenging questions.”

More fundamentally, Kohlhaas expressed concern about WMF’s failure to acknowledge the realities of Catholic families in their diversity today, and he concluded with an important question:

“This is not simply a question about the possibility of certain strategic reforms, it is a question about how we balance a commitment to inclusivity with the specific moral teachings of the Church. If simply acknowledging legitimate diversities and challenging realities proves difficult for many Catholic leaders, how are we as Catholics to respond mercifully to the world’s needs?”

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, summarized the approach of WMF organizers and the U.S. bishops in this way, reports KEPRTV:

“They see LGBT issues as a problem to contain rather than to explore. . .The entire Catholic community in the U.S. is having a discussion on this now. Why can’t the World Meeting of Families?”

Papal Visit Generally Praised

Pope Francis’ visit, despite the Kim Davis controversy which erupted shortly afterwards, has generally been praised. Denise Hinds, a self-described “Catholic-nun-turned-lesbian-mom,” wrote in The Huffington Post about seeing the pontiff at the White House. Describing the scene as “electric,” she explained:


Denise Hinds

“[Pope Francis] spoke of family and marriage, and his comments were heard by some LGBT advocates as opposing my family and those like mine. But I heard them differently. In the context of the long hard walk to equality and justice for so many people, this pope chose not to defame me. He chose to honor family and marriage, not limit which families and which marriages. And for this church, in the context of this pope’s choices, that is progress. . .

“I felt happy and overwhelmingly proud of the pope, being Catholic and being gay all at the same time. I think his words and deeds will also give my daughter hope that she can have a place in a church that welcomes, accepts and respects her family.”

Victoria Brownworth, a Catholic lesbian as well, also wrote about the papal visit for The Huffington Post and said:

Victoria Brownworth

Victoria Brownworth

“If I have learned anything from watching Pope Francis up close and personal in Philadelphia over his two days here, it is that my Catholic faith and my lesbian identity are inextricable from each other. I have been reminded that I am uniquely blessed to be a Catholic lesbian and that my lesbianism and my faith are gifts. . .

“And so I come away from Pope Francis’s visit not embittered by his failure to speak to me, a lesbian Catholic, but assured by every action and speech of his that I witnessed, that he is more human than God, more conflicted than sure, more searching than settled.

“That reaffirmed for me what I have always known to be true: That I am no less a member of my Church than anyone else, that being a lesbian requires no imprimatur from the Church, because I am, according to the Church’s own theology, made in God’s image.”

Much has happened since the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ visit: the Kim Davis controversy, news of the pope’s meeting with a gay couple, and the Synod on the Family. Yet the good news shared by Equally Blessed’s pilgrims and the encounters they experienced should not be forgotten in the near future. Indeed, their example of dialogue and witness, accompanied by Pope Francis’ vision for the church, constitute a path forward for U.S. Catholics when it comes to LGBT issues.

To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Equally Blessed pilgrimage, the World Meeting of Families, and/or Pope Francis visit to the U.S., you can click here

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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