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teaching does not support the criminalization of sexual orientation/gender identity and all such laws should be repealed;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

Not All Synod Bishops Agree That a Change in Language Would Be Helpful

October 21, 2015

Below is the next installment of Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.

As I review the blog entries I have posted from here in Rome, I’m afraid that I might be giving folks too positive a view of the synod, especially about discussions around LGBT issues.  There have been a lot of positive messages coming from the synod fathers, no doubt, but I hope I am not giving the impression that those are the only messages that have been expressed here.


Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier

For example, while I  have presented some proposals for making language about sexual ethics and marriage rules more pastoral and inclusive,  that doesn’t mean that all bishops agree with those proposals. At yesterday’s press briefing, Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, OFM, of Durban, South Africa, was asked a pointed question from a reporter who obviously disagreed with any language changes:  “Can you tell me what specific wording, if any, has been suggested for replacing the term ‘intrinsically evil’ [in regard to homosexual acts]?”

Napier’s direct answer was that he couldn’t give any specific wording, particularly because the official synod report will be issued in Italian.  But, then, he went further:

“I think when we look at the problems that we have been studying during these two weeks, there are two possibilities.  The one is to look at it from the pastoral point of view where you are trying to reach out to people and to minister to them.  The other one which has been de-emphasized during this time, even at the synod last year, is the prophetic, where like John the Baptist you say “You’ve got to repent and these are the sins,” and you name them as they are. I think that’s the difference.  This has certainly been a very much more pastoral synod, looking at how can the Church be a servant, a minister to those people in difficult situations. There’s been a lot of emphasis on using language that doesn’t offend, politically correct language, if you like.  I’m not sure that that’s the best way to be prophetic. It is certainly a way of trying to be more pastoral.”

Napier’s answer indicates that he is not happy with a language that is weighted to the pastoral, and has a preference for including language that is more judgmental, which he sees as prophetic.

How many other synod bishops agree with Napier?  Now, that’s a good question!  It’s hard to say since not many have spoken out about the language issue.  But, especially since Napier is a vice-president of the synod, it would seem likely that he has some followers for his ideas.

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, seems to be in line with Napier’s approach of wanting to maintain a strict judgmental dimension to the way bishops approach family issues. In his official intervention at the synod, he stated:

“Too many have lost confidence in Jesus’s doctrines and doubt or deny that mercy is found in his hard moral teachings. The crucified Jesus was not afraid to confront society, and he was crucified for his pains, teaching his followers that life is a moral struggle that requires sacrifices, and his followers cannot always take the easy options. He did not tell the adulterous woman to continue in her good work, but to repent and sin no more. The Prodigal Son acknowledged his sins before he returned home.”

Both stress the difficulty of following Jesus.  Though didn’t Jesus say, “My yoke is easy and my burden light” ?

A more middle-ground position on the use of a more pastoral approach to language came from Washington, DC’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl.  Although not addressing the topic of changing terminology, Wuerl did discuss the need for church leaders to be more sensitive with their communication style. In a National Catholic Reporter interview, Wuerl laid out his views about language and accompaniment:

” ‘The church’s teaching is quite clear,’ said Wuerl. ‘But the church’s pastoral life is the application of the teaching to where people are. And that’s always been the pastoral challenge of the church.’

” ‘You have to speak with clarity, but then knowing what the fullness of the teaching is, you go out and meet people where they are,” he continued. “And the Holy Father keeps saying to us, “Accompany them.” ‘

” ‘You don’t go out to meet people where they are to scold them,” he said. “You go out to bring them the truth but sometimes to be heard you have to let the person know you know their struggle if you’re going to accompany them at all.’ . . .

” ‘You have to listen in order to know how to say what you want to say so that you’ll be heard,’ said Wuerl.

” ‘I think that’s what the tension is between those who put the greatest emphasis on simply saying it — and saying it over and over again — and those who are saying if it’s not being heard, we have to go out and begin to listen so that we know how to say this in a way it will be heard,’ he said. ‘That’s the difference. In neither case are we changing the teaching.’ “

While certainly not in the same camp as Napier,  Wuerl’s approach also differs substantially from the one described by Archbishop Mark Coleridge, outlined in yesterday’s Bondings 2.0 blog post.  Wuerl has a much clearer stand about holding onto the teaching. He strikes me as someone who just wants church ministers to be more welcoming, but he doesn’t seem ready to me to give up the terminology and categories that official doctrine uses.

Along the same lines as Wuerl is the opinion of Archbishop Thomas Msusa, of Malawi’s Blantyre archdiocese.  In a National Catholic Reporter interview, he stated:

” ‘Pastorally, we have to be very sympathetic with them,’ said Msusa. ‘But according to the teaching of the church, we don’t see us blessing’ same-sex unions.

” ‘In our Christian heritage we received from the missionaries, there is nothing of that inclusive language,’ said the archbishop. ‘And there’s a proverb in Africa that says we have to really be careful because they say: “We shouldn’t be so quick to destroy the fence before understanding why that fence was constructed.” ‘”

” ‘We shouldn’t be afraid to tell the truth, even if sometimes it is painful,’ said Msusa. ‘That is what St. Paul tells Timothy: Tell them, whether they accept it or not. But you have to tell them.’ “

So, the discussion on language and communication has actually been quite wide-ranging, surfacing a variety of opinions.  Cardinal John Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, was one of the first people to raise the issue, calling for less judgmental terminology, and he serves on the commission to write the synod report. We will have to see if his ideas gt translated into the report’s recommendations, and, if they do, if they will be voted for by a majority of the bishops.  As a synod document is only consultative, not definitive, it will then remain up to Pope Francis whether to institute any of the recommendations.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry





Ignorance of Catholic Teaching Warps Cardinal’s Comments on Homosexuality

September 7, 2014

Cardinal Onaiyekan

A recent interview with Nigeria’s Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja, illustrates one important reason why LGBT people still do not have full equality in the Catholic Church:  Church leaders do not know their own teaching and they publicly speak mistakes about it.

The cardinal was interviewed recently by The Sun, a national newspaper in Nigeria.   During the interview, the reporter asked:

“Do you foresee the Catholic Church sustaining its stance on gay marriage in the future?”

The cardinal’s complete answer to the question was:

“Unfortunately, we are living in a world where these things have now become quite acceptable but for the fact that they are acceptable doesn’t mean that they are right. The Catholic Church considers itself as carrying the banner of the truth in the world that has allowed itself to be so badly deceived.

“On gay marriage or homosexuality in general, everybody knows that the Catholic Church is about the only group that among the Christian groups that has stood very firmly against it and we insist that it is against God’s will. Therefore, it is not a question of something for us to discuss and decide whether we shall accept it or not. Even if people don’t like us for it, our church has always said homosexuality is unnatural and marriage is between a man and a woman. There is no such thing as marriage between two men or marriage between two women. Whatever they do among themselves should not be called marriage. There is no question of the Catholic Church changing its positions on this matter.”

What’s wrong with that statement?  Well, for one thing, church teaching does not state that homosexuality is “unnatural.”  In one of the earliest Vatican statements on homosexuality in the modern era, 1975’s Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethicsthe Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) wrote:

“A distinction is drawn, and it seems with some reason, between homosexuals whose tenecy. . . is transitory or at least no incurable; and homosexuals who are definitively such because of some kind of innate instinct. . . “

The particular term, “innate instinct,” indicates that the Vatican does not label a homosexual orientation as “unnatural.”   In The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which appeared almost two decades later, the Vatican discussed homosexuality, saying, in part:

“Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained.”


“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible.”

While the CDF also used the term “objective disorder” to describe a homosexual orientation, it is important to underline that the term does not refer to a medical or psychological condition, but to moral evaluation.  In the 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, the CDF wrote:

“Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”

Moreover, Church teaching never makes a blanket against “homosexuality,” as Cardinal Onaiyekan does.  Church teaching makes a distinction between homosexual people and homosexual acts.  As the above quotation indicates, the Church does not morally disapprove of homosexual people (“not a sin”), but it does not morally approve of homosexual activity.   Lumping both people and acts under the title “homosexuality” is not responsible use of language, and neither does it show a careful awareness of Church teaching.

Thus, though Church teaching, based on natural law philosophy, does not approve of any sexual activity between people of the same gender, it does not describe either the act or the person as “unnatural.”   I grant that this is a very fine, nuanced distinction, and, even at that, is still problematic.   But it is important to make the distinction to see that someone like Cardinal Onaiyekan either does not understand the Church’s official position or is describing this position carelessly, perhaps influenced by his own prejudiced opinions on the matter.

Personally, I do not like splitting hairs like this theologically, but it is important to do so because of the tremendous harm that the cardinal’s words can have, especially in a nation like Nigeria where homosexuality is criminalized.  Such ignorance or carelessness on the part of a Church official fuels the homophobia that causes violence.

Finally, some comments in regard to the cardinal’s statement:

“On gay marriage or homosexuality in general, everybody knows that the Catholic Church is about the only group that among the Christian groups that has stood very firmly against it and we insist that it is against God’s will.”

First of all, in Africa, as elsewhere, the Catholic Church is not the only religious institution which opposes same-gender marriage, and, as we saw above, the Church does not condemn “homosexuality in general.” More importantly, though, using language to describe homosexuality as “against God’s will” again strengthens negative attitudes which often lead to physical and emotional harm.  In fact, the Catechism says of homosexual people:

“These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives. . . ”


“They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Cardinal Onaiyekan, and, indeed, other Church leaders, have expressed statements that reveal more ignorance than wisdom on the topic.  For an earlier post about this topic, click here.

It is astonishing that someone in Cardinal Onaiyekan’s position would be so ignorant or careless regarding Church teaching.  To me, it is an indication that cultural attitudes and personal biases, unfortunately, creep into our church’s official rhetoric.  Such mis-education is harmful to LGBT people, the wider Church, and Cardinal Onaiyekan himself.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related post

Bondings 2.0:  “Nigerian Bishops Support Anti-Gay Law; Help Get the Pope to Speak Out



Cardinals’ Ignorance of Homosexuality Will Lead to Violence and Human Rights Abuses

January 21, 2014

Sometimes ignorance on a topic is to be pitied, and the best response to it is not anger, but an effort to educate the person with more accurate information.  But we must not forget that ignorance can cause great damage because it can blossom into attitudes and policies which lead to violence and human rights abuses.  The public statements of two Catholic leaders recently illustrate these principles.

Cardinal Fernando Sebastian

In Spain, Cardinal Fernando Sebastian, who is the retired archbishop of Pamplona, gave an interview to Diario Sur newspaper in which he called homosexuality a “defect” that can be cured. [Note: the previous link will bring you to the original Spanish-language interview.]  New York’s Daily News reported on the Spanish interview:

” ‘Homosexuality is a defective manner of expressing sexuality, because this has a structure and a purpose, which is procreation,’ he said in an interview to Diario Sur.

” ‘A homosexual who can’t achieve this (procreation) is failing,’ he added, before saying, ‘Our bodies have many defects. I have high blood pressure.’

Sebastian said it was ‘a defect I have to try and correct in whatever way I can.’

” ‘To say that homosexuality is a defect is not an insult: it helps because in many cases of homosexuality it is possible to recover and become normal with the right treatment.’ “

Such comments betray the depth of the ignorance which is obviously at work in the minds of many church leaders.  It is shocking and pitiable, and it helps us to see why church teaching and practice is so harsh on LGBT issues.  This ignorance needs to be corrected, not only for the cardinal’s sake, but for the sake of LGBT people throughout the world.

Cardinal John Oniyekan

A case which shows how lack of understanding LGBT issues can be harmful came out in the headlines in the African nation of Nigeria, which last week enacted a law which outlawed same-sex marriage and also outlawed the establishment of gay and lesbian organizations.Soon after the law was signed, Nigeria’s Cardinal John Oniyekan stated that he supported the measure.  According to

The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, has commended Nigeria’s Federal Government for its uncompromising stand on the anti-gay law in spite of criticisms from a section of the international community.

“Onaiyekan, briefing newsmen on activities to mark his 70th birthday in Abuja on Friday, said Nigeria, being an independent country, should stand firm on its culture, tradition and morals.

“ ‘The church accepts people as they are, we condemn homosexuality, Nigeria is an independent country and we do not beg for food.’ “

The cardinal, like many in Nigeria, have framed the issue of homosexuality as one where Western liberal nations are trying to impose their values on African culture, hence his comment about not begging for food.  But the cardinal seems ignorant of the basics of Catholic social teaching which respects the dignity, equality, and liberty of all people–even those with whom one might disagree.  While he certainly has an obligation to respect Nigerian culture, he also has an obligation to defend Catholic principles on basic human rights.

Bishop Hassan Kukah of Nigeria’s Sokoto Diocese also publicly supported the new anti-gay law.

One needs to ask if these bishops have learned nothing from history.  Whenever laws have restricted people’s freedoms or viewed certain groups as second class citizens, it doesn’t take long for violence and human rights abuses to occur. Nazi Germany and Jim Crow America spring quickly to mind.  Laws which restrict freedom or create second class categories give people permission to enact hateful acts.  When religious leaders voice their support of such laws or promote misguided theories about people’s lives, they not only give permission for people to commit hateful acts, but, in fact, they encourage such behavior.

Pope Francis has indicated a more respectful attitude toward LGBT people than any of his predecessors had ever done.  Some people have wondered how he will put that attitude into practice.  One way he can begin is by educating bishops, cardinals, and other church leaders about the basic facts of sexual orientation and the basic principles of Catholic social teaching.  Without such education, their ignorance will fuel violence and human rights abuses against LGBT people.

Ignorance may be pitied, but it cannot be tolerated.  Too many lives hang in the balance.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Catholic Hierarchy Is a Shining Light in Dark Moment for LGBT Rights in India

December 16, 2013

Cardinal Oswald Gracias

India’s Supreme Court reinstated a law that bans homosexuality as a “crime against nature” earlier this week, intensifying divisions between LGBT advocates and the religious communities they blame for this development. Catholic leaders have varied in responding to the Court’s decision, but there are hopeful signs as at least one bishop spoke out against the law.

Outlawing homosexuality in India dates to British colonial rule more than a century ago. Recent legal debates began after a New Delhi court overturned the law in 2009. Anti-LGBT organizations, including faith-based ones, have sought to re-criminalize homosexuality since then. The Supreme Court’s ruling now says it is up to the nation’s legislators to repeal the law if that is what is desired.

The Times of India reports that religious groups have welcomed the ruling, with leaders using extremely homophobic language and advocating “ex-gay therapy” in their statements. Relative to these, Catholic leaders’ remarks have seemed muted and even positive. Archbishop Anil J T Couto of Delhi merely reaffirmed the hierarchy’s position on marriage equality and a spokesperson stated the archdiocese opposed any law that would criminalize homosexuality. Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai is quoted by as saying:

“[T]he Catholic Church has never been opposed to the decriminalisation of homosexuality, because we have never considered gay people criminals. As Christians, we express our full respect for homosexuals. The Catholic Church is opposed to the legalisation of gay marriage, but teaches that homosexuals have the same dignity of every human being and condemns all forms of unjust discrimination, harassment or abuse.”

Two interesting notes in this story. First, in addition to heading up the Mumbai Archdiocese and India’s bishops’ conference, Gracias is also a member of the eight member Council of Cardinals formed to advise Pope Francis. The pope has been noted for his pastoral tone when speaking about LGBT people and his emphasis away from social issues.

Second, India’s Christians are a minority struggling for recognition of their own rights. In the same week that homosexuality was criminalized, police injured Catholic demonstrators, including ten nuns, and arrested Archbishop Couto. Relations between the government and the Catholic Church are contentious, as reports. Defending all minority rights, including LGBT equality aside from marriage, is seemingly a position with which leading Catholic voices seem comfortable.

With elections about to occur in the coming week, and conservative nationalist politicians gaining popularity, it seems unlikely India’s government will act to decriminalize homosexuality. That said, the Catholic Church in India now has a concrete opportunity to act upon oft-stated teachings against LGBT discrimination and continue to speak out and work against this law.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

The Complex and Layered Meanings in Pope Francis’ New Document

November 27, 2013

Pope Francis

As more people begin to scrutinize Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), new details emerge which show that in regards to LGBT issues, the new document shows a complex picture.

The New York Times reports that buried in a footnote to the document is a reference to the U.S. bishops’ 2006 document, Ministry to Persons with Homosexual Inclinations:  Guidelines for Pastoral Carewhich promoted the traditional definition of a homosexual orientation as an objective disorder.  The Times reports:

“Nowhere in the document did Francis speak explicitly of homosexuality or same-sex marriage. However, he said the church should not give in to ‘moral relativism,’ and cited with approval a document written by the bishops of the United States on ministering to people with ‘homosexual inclination.’ The pope said the American bishops are right that the church must insist on ‘objective moral norms which are valid for everyone’ — even when the church is perceived by supporters of gay rights as promoting prejudice and interfering with individual freedom.”

This detail is a clearer indication that Pope Francis does not seem inclined to change the teaching on homosexuality.  That notion had been clear since he first started speaking about gay and lesbian issues back in July with his “Who am I to judge?” interview, in which he also did uphold the Catechism’s teaching on homosexuality.  I’ve noted before that it looks like Pope Francis’s road to change in the church won’t be a straight one.

But while in content Pope Francis remains traditional, many people, including myself,  perceive he is opening up a process that will eventually lead to positive developments in church teaching.  For example, Martin Pendergast, a long-time Catholic advocate for LGBT equality in the United Kingdom, offered what he saw as two important selections from the document which point to the possibility of change in the Church, which I had overlooked in yesterday’s post on this topic.

In the first selection, the pope is calling for decentralization of authority in the church:

“Countless issues involving evangelization today might be discussed here, but I have chosen not to explore these many questions which call for further reflection and study. Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization.’ ”  (Introduction, section 16)

In the second selection, the pope acknowledges that not all Church teachings hold the same weight:

“All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel. In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead. In this sense, the Second Vatican Council explained, ‘in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or a ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith’.[38] This holds true as much for the dogmas of faith as for the whole corpus of the Church’s teaching, including her moral teaching.” (chapter 1, section 36)

What gives me hope from this document, despite the fact that it does not challenge the traditional teaching on homosexuality, is that there is an openness and humility that seem to get at the core of the Christian message.  Having a pope who is interested in the opinions of the laity, who stresses dialogue and the possibility of change, who stresses diversity and decentralization, who acknowledges the role of science, who seeks to update old traditions can only mean that the road ahead is filled with possibilities.  (All of the items mentioned in the previous sentence were included in yesterday’s blog post on excerpts from the papal document.)

John Allen, writing in The National Catholic Reportersummarizes what he sees as Pope Francis’ outline for reform, which includes many of the items mentioned above.  Allen writes:

  • He calls for a “conversion of the papacy,” saying he wants to promote “a sound decentralization” and candidly admitting that in recent years “we have made little progress” on that front.
  • He suggests that bishops’ conferences ought to be given “a juridical status … including genuine doctrinal authority.” In effect, that would amount to a reversal of a 1998 Vatican ruling under John Paul II that only individual bishops in concert with the pope, and not episcopal conferences, have such authority.
  • Francis says the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” insisting that “the doors of the sacraments” must not “be closed for simply any reason.” His language could have implications not only for divorced and remarried Catholics, but also calls for refusing the Eucharist to politicians or others who do not uphold church teaching on some matters.
  • He calls for collaborative leadership, saying bishops and pastors must use “the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear.”
  • Francis criticizes forces within the church who seem to lust for “veritable witch hunts,” asking rhetorically, “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”
  • He cautions against “ostentatious preoccupation” for liturgy and doctrine as opposed to ensuring that the Gospel has “a real impact” on people and engages “the concrete needs of the present time.”

Pope Francis may not be the radical reformer that many have hoped for.  But for those who trust that the Holy Spirit is moving among the laity of the church and who have longed for the possibility of discussion of diversity of opinions, Pope Francis’ project seems to open up a new possibility of hope.

Clearly, this is not the kind of pope that we had gotten used to over the last four decades. And clearly, this new document is complex and layered.  Bondings 2.0 will continue to provide analysis and commentary of this document, especially as it relates to LGBT issues, as we become aware of them.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry




CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Comparing Universities Minimizes the Extent of LGBT Welcome

November 11, 2013

Georgetown U. Students during “Coming Out Day”

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly,  a PBS show, recently produced a segment with the provocative title “What does it mean for a school to be Catholic?” Heavily focusing on LGBT issues as a means of discussing religious identity, the segment contrasts Georgetown University, Washington, DC,  and Ave Maria University, Florida. However, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly ultimately portrays a false image of how Catholic higher education is integrating LGBT matters as part of their Catholic identities today by comparing the institutions.

The segment begins with Georgetown, showing students celebrating “Coming Out Day” and interviews Kevin O’Brien, SJ, vice president for Mission and Ministry. Of the University’s religious identity when welcoming LGBTQ students with extensive resources, O’Brien says:

Kevin O’Brien

“To quote something Father Hesburgh from Notre Dame would often say, ‘The Catholic university is a place where the church does its thinking.’ And if that is to be the case, then we have to permit this free exchange of ideas.

“The purpose of the [LGBTQ] center is not to undermine the church’s teaching. It is a center for education. We try to teach our students and faculty and our alumni about issues of sexuality, of sexual identity and gender. That’s an expression of our Jesuit tradition of cura personalis, caring for each person mind, body, and spirit, in their unique individuality.”

This pastoral concern for the well-being and success of LGBT students at Georgetown, which this year has openly welcomed two transgender students, is sharply contrasted by the president of Ave Maria University, Jim Towey. Bordering on fundamentalism, Towey attacks institutions like Georgetown for being accepting of students’ varying sexual orientations and gender identities. Joining Towey are two students from Georgetown displeased with their university’s LGBT outreach.

Thomas Lloyd

Also speaking out for Georgetown students is Thomas Lloyd, president of the campuses’ LGBT organization. Lloyd speaks to the convergence of Jesuit and Catholic traditions meeting LGBT equality:

“By recognizing pride, Georgetown has become more true to its Jesuit values. Commitments to social justice are some of the most important and historically grounded parts of Catholic doctrine.

“I wouldn’t even think about how to reconcile my queer identity with my Catholic faith identity if I hadn’t come to Georgetown. What does it mean to be gay and Catholic? Can those two go together? And my experience at Georgetown with Jesuits and with other people who are Catholic and identify as queer on campus show me that you can.”

Where Religion and Ethics Newsweekly ultimately falls short is in equalizing the voices of those who support LGBT people and those who seek Catholic institutions which shun such topics. Of nearly 220 Catholic colleges and universities in the US alone, more than half are listed by New Ways Ministry as gay-friendly campuses for allowing gay-straight alliances, staff resources devoted to LGBT students, and/or  policies or programming which educates and affirms on issues of gender and sexuality.  It makes it seem that there is an even split of pro-gay and anti-gay Catholic campuses, when the reality is that more and more Catholic campuses are, in fact, becoming more pro-gay.

In short, Ave Maria’s president and students interviewed are not indicative of where Catholic higher education stands on equality. Progress remains, but each week there are advances made as students, faculty, and staff advocate for and implement changes to make campuses more inclusive. Perhaps more telling than this contrast is the piece reported on earlier this fall that said: “Forget the Pope: Catholic Universities are the Future of the Church.”

For more information on what is happening in regard to LGBT issue at Catholic colleges and universities, go to the “Categories” tab in the right-hand column of this page and search “Campus Chronicles,”  our blog’s series which follows the news on these developments.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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