Philly Archbishop Evicts LGBT Events Scheduled for World Meeting of Families; New Ways Ministry and Equally Blessed Respond

August 18, 2015

New Ways Ministry’s workshop,  “Transforming Love:  Gender Identity from Catholic Perspectives” workshop, which was scheduled to take place at St. John the Evangelist parish, Philadelphia, on September 26, 2015, has been evicted from the space by Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Philadephia Archdiocese.

The Moderator of the Curia of the archdiocese phoned the parish’s pastor, Fr. John Daya, OFM Cap, to tell him that the archbishop had seen a brochure for the program and did not want it to take place. Fr. Daya informed New Ways Ministry of the decision.

Additionally, programs that were also scheduled at the parish by the Equally Blessed coalition have also been cancelled.  The parish was to be a hospitality center for the Equally Blessed pilgrims, 14 families with LGBT members, who are attending the week-long World Meeting of Families.   The Equally Blessed coalition consists of Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.

Organizers are working on re-scheduling both the New Ways Ministry and Equally Blessed programs to the nearby Arch Street United Methodist Church, Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Inquirer carries a news story today about the cancellations, and you can read that account by clicking here.  The following are two statements, one from New Ways Ministry and one from Equally Blessed, in response to the cancellations.

Statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry

nwm-logo-highres.jpgNew Ways Ministry is very disappointed that our workshop, “TransForming Love:  Exploring Gender Identity from Catholic Perspectives,” was removed from St. John the Evangelist parish, Philadelphia.  We were informed about the decision by the pastor, Fr. John Daya, after he had been told by the Moderator of the Curia of the Philadelphia Archdiocese that Archbishop Charles Chaput was not allowing the workshop to take place.

I am very sorry that Archbishop Chaput did not seek to speak with New Ways Ministry about the nature of the program, which consists of transgender and intersex persons and a family member telling their personal and faith journeys.  There is a lack of information in the Catholic Church about gender identity, and this workshop was designed to provide information based on personal experience.  There was no plan to have a theological discussion about gender identity.

The workshop fills a void at the World Meeting of Families, which comes to a close just before New Ways Ministry program is scheduled, Saturday, September 26, 2015.  No speakers at the World Meeting will address the topic of gender identity, yet this is an issue that is being faced by more and more Catholic families and communities in the U.S. 

St. John’s parish had seen fit to offer space for the program based on their pastor’s and community’s belief that “All are welcome” in the parish.  It is very disappointing that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia did not have the same spirit of Christian hospitality.   

How are LGBT people supposed to feel welcome in the Catholic Church when church officials will not allow them to speak?

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 Statement of the Equally Blessed coalition

Equally Blessed LogoEqually Blessed, a coalition of Catholic organizations committed to equality for LGBT Catholics and their families, is saddened, frustrated, and deeply disappointed not to be able to host our educational and outreach events at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church during the upcoming World Meeting of Families. Archbishop Chaput’s order that a New Ways Ministry workshop on gender identity not be held at the church, creating a subsequent need to relocate Equally Blessed’s activities which were also scheduled to be held there, run contrary to Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” and the belief most Catholics have that our Church must embrace LGBT people and families.

Unfortunately, this is yet another instance of the kind of exclusion LGBT Catholics and supporters have endured for decades. Bishops have refused to allow us to meet in our own Churches, retreat centers and colleges. In every instance, we have been blessed to find gracious welcome from members of other denominations and communities, just as we have from Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. The Spirit has provided for us and will continue to lead us forward.

While we know the Church is the people of God and not a building, it is still very painful to be told we or our loved ones are not welcome in our own home. Actions like the Archbishop’s strengthen our resolve to keep working for the day when Catholicism is truly a Church for all people. We are excited that our pilgrimage will move forward as a witness to a Church where all are welcomed, valued, and empowered.

The official World Meeting of Families program provides no realistic presentation about the reality of LGBT Catholics and our families. In step with the intentions of the upcoming Synod on the Family, we believe Catholics need space and time to talk openly and honestly about how to reconcile Church teaching and the need of our LGBT family members to live full, authentic lives. The upcoming Equally Blessed pilgrimage will provide avenues for this dialogue.

As Catholics who love our Church and our families, we appreciate the support we’ve received and look forward to giving witness to a church for everyone at the 2015 World Meeting of Families.

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–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Awkward Walks: The Transfiguration, Coming Out, and Pope Francis

March 16, 2014

Periodically in Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for the Second Sunday of Lent are  Genesis 12:1-4; 3:1-7; Psalm 33: 4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; 2Timothy 1: 8-10; Matthew 17:1-9.

The walk down Mount Tabor must have been awkward.

Scripture does not record what Peter, James, and John were thinking after the Transfiguration.  Perhaps they were edified by the mystical experience of God’s favor resting upon Jesus, alongside Moses and Elijah.  Or, more likely, I think they probably felt confused, frightened, and a bit distrustful of Jesus.  And that’s the real Transfiguration story – how the disciples struggled in their relationships with Jesus after the revelatory mountaintop experience – not the revelation itself.

Peter, James, and John ascended Mount Tabor with their own clear ideas of who Jesus was – friend, teacher, and fellow Galilean.  But now he’s suddenly different.  Whatever happened on that mountain, their perception of Jesus was changed in a profound way.  Jesus was still the same person as before the Transfiguration experience, but he was something more in their eyes as well — something which they had not known previously.

In their struggle to understand the Transfiguration, I wonder if the disciples felt a bit betrayed by Jesus, as if Jesus had intentionally withheld some big part of himself for all the time they had known him.  Maybe Peter, James, and John looked at Jesus and wondered with a certain sense of disbelief, “I thought I knew this guy.”  Perhaps they questioned, “Why didn’t he tell us sooner?” or “What else is he hiding from us?”  Or maybe, “Gee, this is more than I can handle.  I should go back to my fishing nets!”  These thoughts are why I imagine the walk down Mount Tabor was pretty awkward and filled with long silences.

I can think of two contemporary examples that illustrate transfiguration experiences – and the over-riding importance of a revelation’s impact on relationships compared to the revelation itself.

First, “coming out” by LGBT people to family and friends can be a transfiguration experience.  Disclosure of one’s own sexual orientation and/or true gender identity to loved ones is a big revelation.  However, it does not change the individual, but rather how others perceive and relate to them.  Like Peter, James, and John, family members and friends might experience feelings of confusion and mistrust.  They may experience similar questions as the disciples.  But, like the disciples, they must find ways to understand and incorporate this “coming out” revelation into their own perception of their loved one if the relationship is to continue.

Second, institutions can have transfiguration moments in the same way as individuals.  The first year of Francis’ papacy has been a transfiguration experience for me.  Pope Francis has revealed to me a new way of being pope that is profoundly different from his recent predecessors.  Now I find myself in the role of the apostles – afraid and distrustful – because I am not sure how to relate to this new Pope.  I love Pope Francis and want to be his cheerleader, but my negative experiences of previous popes have made me wary of religious authority figures.  It is taking me time to sort my own feelings between what I thought the papacy was and what Pope Francis is showing us it can be. 

The time following a transfiguration experience can be confusing and awkward – like the long walk of the disciples down Mount Tabor.  We may not be sure how to respond or how to relate to new revelations.  But it is important that we keep walking, keep talking, and remain open to see what happens next.    

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry

Theologian Challenges Pax Christi to Embrace LGBT Equality and Justice

June 20, 2013

This past weekend, my New Ways Ministry colleague Bob Shine and I attended the national conference of Pax Christi USA, the Catholic organization which promotes peace, justice, and non-violence.  We had an exhibit booth there for New Ways Ministry, distributing our materials about LGBT ministry and equality.

Father Bryan Massingale

Father Bryan Massingale

With Bishop Thomas Gumbleton as the opening keynoter and Father Bryan Massingale, a Marquette University theologian who specializes in social ethics, as the closing plenary speaker, the three days of meetings were book-ended by great inspiration.

For me, and for many of the participants, the highlight of the weekend came during Fr. Massingale’s talk in which he laid out a number of ways that Pax Christi USA can become more relevant to today’s Catholics, and more effective in church and society.  His final recommendation was that Pax Christi USA needed to start addressing LGBT equality and justice if they want to remain a credible and vibrant voice for peace and justice.  He stated:

“If Pax Christi USA is to remain relevant and on the frontier as a Catholic movement of peacemaking with justice, it must intentionally welcome people of all gender identities and sexual orientations.”

Massingale acknowledged that this might be a “neuralgic and sensitive” issue for some in the organization, but he offered two reasons why he recommended it.  The first was demographics:

“For the young people I teach, equality for gays and lesbians is their civil rights issue.”

He noted a survey of young people from 2009 in which the four top descriptors of religious institutions were:  “intolerant,” “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and “homophobic.”   He added:

“For young people, the litmus test of the credibility of a religious institution is their stances on LGBT rights.”

The second reason, Massingale suggested, was the justice and human rights argument:

“Around the world, people are humiliated, tortured, raped, exiled, imprisoned, and executed for who they are and how they love.  The most notorious case is going on in Uganda with the so-called ‘Kill the Gays’ bill. . . In South Africa, women who identify as lesbian are subjected to a practice called  ‘corrective rape’ where they are gang raped by men in order to change them from their ‘sinful tendencies.’ “

Massingale added that “we don’t need to go overseas,” mentioning the series of murders classified as gay hate crimes in New York City during May 2013.  He noted mournfully:

“And these hate crimes, these brutal murders were met by a deafening, appalling silence from Catholic leaders.”

Massingale summed up this section of his talk with moral principles that are deep in Catholic theology:

“Whatever disagreements one may have with someone’s conduct, their fundamental human rights are inalienable and God-given.

“These human rights must be protected and defended without compromise or ambiguity.  This is not political correctness.  This is the Gospel.”

An audio recording of Fr. Massingale’s entire talk is available on the Pax Christi USA website.  A news story about the entire conference can be found on The National Catholic Reporter website.

My experience at the weekend conference tells me that Pax Christi members were well-disposed to receive Fr. Massingale’s challenge.  The part of his talk that dealt with LGBT issues was interrupted several times by loud, approving applause.   At New Ways Ministry’s exhibit table, we were busy all weekend talking with Pax Christi members who are extremely supportive of LGBT issues.  Indeed, we returned home practically empty-handed, having distributed almost all of our materials.  We were afraid we would run-out!

Pax Christi USA already has a precedent for taking on LGBT issues.  In 1998, the organization partnered with New Ways Ministry to produce a full-page signature advertisement in the New York Times, in response to the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man in Wyoming.  Close to 2,000 Catholics, including nine bishops, signed the statement entitled, “A Catholic Pledged to End Violence Against Lesbian and Gay People.”

But, of course, Fr. Massingale’s message is one that not only needed to be delivered to Pax Christi, but to the entire church.

New Ways Ministry thanks PaxChristiUSA for hosting us at their conference and for providing a platform for Fr. Bryan Massingale’s passionate and prophetic talk.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry





Catholic Bishops Oppose Violence Against Women Act Because of LGBT Protections

March 8, 2013

After a lengthy political battle centered around specific LGBT, American Indian and migrant protection, President Barack Obama finally signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act yesterday, but not before five Catholic bishops announced their opposition to the legislation in a statement released Wednesday.

Lauren Markoe writes in The Washington Post about the bishops’ rejection of this legislation that strengthens and funds federal initiatives to further protect domestic violence and human trafficking victims. The 2013 re-authorization added explicit protections for victims regardless of their “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” which is the source of Republican legislators, as well as the bishops’, concerns. Markoe writes:

“[The bishops] are opposing the newly authorized Violence Against Women Act for fear it will subvert traditional views of marriage and gender, and compromise the religious freedom of groups that aid victims of human trafficking…

“That language disturbs several bishops who head key committees within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that deal with, among other issues, marriage, the laity, youth and religious liberty.”

The bishops signing the statement include Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. Several of these bishops previously opposed marriage equality and LGBT civil rights in prominent ways, making this letter only the latest in the narrative against full equality.

In 2010, during the last re-authorization vote in the Violence Against Women Act, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supported the legislation as an effective measure to reduce gender-based violence. At that time,  emphasis on Catholic teachings around human dignity, justice, and non-violence played a central role in the decision to support the legislation. The recent action of these five bishops re-orients episcopal judgement on the bill to sexual ethics exclusively.

Will the bishops continue to make their view on sexual ethics the only litmus test for all social policy?  Such a position would be socially disastrous.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Phoenix Diocese Opposes Non-Discrimination Expansion for LGBT Individuals

February 27, 2013

Mayor Greg Stanton of Phoenix, AZ

The Diocese of Phoenix publicly announced on Monday its opposition to proposed expansions in that city’s non-discrimination laws to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under protected categories. On Tuesday, the Phoenix City Council approved the expansion in a 5-3 vote after a heated five-hour hearing that displayed the best and worst of Phoenicians, reported at

A statement from the Diocese echoes the message that Catholic teaching opposes discrimination against LGBT individuals, but concerns over religious liberty lead the bishops to oppose basic civil protection. The statement was released to coincide with Phoenix City Council hearings yesterday afternoon on the proposed changes, with an expected vote that same day. LGBT advocates and supportive government officials do not seem to pay much attention to the Diocese’s remarks. reports that a Catholic mayor is seeking LGBT non-discrimination protections:

“Mayor Greg Stanton has pushed to amend the ordinance to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. City law currently offers few such protections for gay residents.

“Stanton, who is Catholic, said he respects the Diocese’s position but believes the city has an obligation to provide protections for LGBT residents. He added that welcoming diversity has economic benefits for the city.

“The changes would prohibit discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, such as restaurants and hotels. Businesses and individuals that don’t comply could be criminally prosecuted and face a misdemeanor charge, punishable by a $2,500 fine.”

It is hard to believe the bishops’ argument for religious liberty in the marriage equality debate when such arguments surface in any matter of advancing LGBT equality. The Diocese of Phoenix’s statement replaces Catholic understandings of human dignity with sexual ethics more appropriate to individual consciences and pastoral settings.  The statement puts any potential religious liberty conflict above protection of humans’ needs.

It is only a few generations removed from an era when Catholics, and the immigrant populations to which most belonged, suffered discrimination for their religious and ethnic identities. Legislation protecting individuals from discrimination based on anything, including sexual orientation or gender expression/identity, should always and everywhere be championed by the Catholic hierarchy. Persistent failures to endorse even the most basic LGBT-friendly legislation is isolating the bishops from fruitfully engaging on vital issues like poverty reduction and immigration reform where powerful Catholic voices for justice are sorely needed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

A Catholic Introduction to Transgender Issues

January 12, 2013

transgender triangle symbolAs we close out the week that began with the celebration of the Epiphany, we do so by offering a reflection on transgender issues by James and Evelyn Whitehead which appeared in The National Catholic Reporter.  The authors, whose lifetime of work on sexuality and relationships has been a gift to the chruch,  reflect that in the past year they have had their own “epiphany” about transgender people:

The past year has brought us deeper appreciation of the experience of transgender members of the human community. Mentored by a Catholic sister who has dedicated her life to ministry among transgender persons, we have been instructed by the witness of these often vulnerable members of the body of Christ. Their life stories carry a common theme: an abiding sense of “disconnect” between their inner sense of self and the evidence of their body. In their deepest awareness, gender identity (who I know myself to be) has been in conflict with the social role their physical anatomy suggests (who others expect me to be).

Their essay is a good introduction to some of the issues that transgender people face, which are often remarkably similar to those that lesbian and gay people face because of the common thread of feeling pressure to conform to an identities which are not their true ones:

“In attempting to conform to the expectations of their parents, spouses and children, transgender persons often struggle to override this sense of disconnect. Some enter into marriage, hoping this will suppress the daily reminders that they are not as they appear. Many more put effort into presenting a ‘false self’ to the world, to protect against being discovered for who they really are. But the price of this unnatural effort is high. Alcohol and drugs offer false comfort along the way; suicide begins to appeal as an exit from this distress.”

And like many lesbian and gay people, many transgender people experience their transition to their true selves as a spiritual journey:

“. . . [M]any report a profound shift in their spiritual lives, as they turn from the condemnation of a judging God (‘You are going to hell’) to the embrace of a God of paradox and extravagant love. This harrowing transition leads many to a confident embrace, at last, of  ‘the person God always intended me to be.’ “

The Whiteheads point out that unfortunately many church leaders do not have the knowledge–or the motivation to acquire knowledge–about transgender people:

“Many Catholics regret that official statements of the Catholic church continue to support rigid notions of human nature, especially in regard to male and female gender. Here church leaders, consciously or not, continue a strategy that distances them from the genuine experience of many active church members. Official statements often mention the extravagant conduct of sexual exhibitionists or drug-addicted sex workers as typical of transgender persons. Hiding in plain sight are the many mature transgender Catholics in our own parishes. To remain willfully ignorant of, or contemptuous toward, this part of the human community exhibits a startling lack of compassion.”

They close with a prayer that should be offered by all Catholics:

“Let us pray that in the months ahead each of us — whether transgender or otherwise — may experience the grace of epiphany. May we meet one another in shared humanity, ready to move beyond hesitancy and suspicion on all sides. In the grace of these encounters we are likely to be surprised; we may at first feel uncomfortable. But these, perhaps, are marks of an epiphany. And if we stay alert, we may soon recognize here the splendid diversity of the body of Christ.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Pope Criticizes Marriage Equality and Transgender Identity; Equally Blessed Responds

December 22, 2012
Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

For the third time in just about a week, the Vatican has offered negative comments about LGBT issues.  Yesterday’s remarks came from Pope Benedict himself, in his annual Christmas speech to the Vatican staff.

An Associated Press account reports:

“The pope took his opposition to gay marriage to new heights Friday, denouncing what he described as people manipulating their God-given gender to suit their sexual choices — and destroying the very ‘essence of the human creature’ in the process. . . .

” ‘People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being,’ he said. ‘They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.’ “

” ‘The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned,’ he said. . .

” ‘When freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God,’ Benedict said.”

Though stated in the context of an argument against marriage equality, these remarks also comment on the issue of transgender identity.

Major excerpts from the address can be read in this synopsis by Vatican Radio.

Equally Blessed LogoEqually Blessed, a coalition of four Catholic organizations (Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry) working on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families responded to the pope’s speech:

“Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican bureaucracy have released a number of troubling statements in recent days disparaging lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and speaking against their right to be treated fairly in civil society.

“In L’Osservatore Romano, historian Lucetta Scaraffia compared proponents of marriage equality to 20th-century communists who wooed millions with their promise of perfect social and economical equality.

“In an address released earlier this week, the pope labeled same-sex marriage as a threat to world peace.  Yesterday, in a speech to Vatican bureaucrats he denounced what he described as people who manipulate their God-given gender to suit their sexual choices — and destroying the very ‘essence of the human creature’ in the process.

“These harsh statements are particularly dispiriting at this sacred time of year when families that include LGBT children, parents and grandparents gather to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. We could find fault with Ms. Scaraffia’s historical comparison, or the pope’s rigid and outmoded understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman. Instead we remember that Jesus, when asked by messengers from John the Baptist whether He was the Messiah, told them to go back and tell John about what they saw happening all around them:  the sick were being healed, the lame made to walk and good news was being proclaimed to the poor.

“What we see when we look around us are heterosexual parents loving their LGBT children and advocating for their dignity and equality; same-gender couples creating safe and happy homes for their children; and transgender people like those whom the pope criticizes living healthy, mature, and generous lives.

“Increasingly Catholics in the United States and around the world see what we see. Catholics, following their own well-formed consciences, are voting to support equal rights for LGBT people because in their churches and communities they see a far healthier, godly and realistic vision of the human family than the one offered by the pope. We commend it to him for his consideration.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Recent Comments from the Vatican on LGBT issues:

December 21, 2012: Vatican Journalist Compares Marriage Equality to Communism

December 17, 2012: World Day of Peace Message and Meeting with Ugandan Parliamentary Leader Cause Controversies for Pope Benedict


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