Saint of 9/11: Remembering Fr. Mychal Judge as a Gay Priest

September 11, 2016

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which took the lives of 2,996 people. Catholics remember in a special way the life of victim No. 1, Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM.

Judge, frequently referred to as the “Saint of 9/11,” was not only a chaplain for the New York Fire Department and a beloved (and busy) pastoral minister.He was a gay priest. This last identity is sometimes ignored or even left out intentionally when he is remembered, but it should not be.

As we pray for the victims of 9/11, for those persons who inflicted such pain, and for peace in our world today, we would do well to consider Judge in his fullness, for the lessons he taught and the witness he provides for our church even now. Focusing on his death could obscure his life, as a 2011 feature article in New York Magazine cautioned:

“As it happens, the unembellished story of Mychal Judge’s death is just as moving — and an even more telling tribute to the chaplain, as well as to the men he served.”

Part of his busy life included ministry to LGBT people who were on the margins of the church and of society in the 1980s and 1990s.  The same article quoted above explained:

“Back in the early eighties, Judge was one of the first members of the clergy to minister to young gay men with AIDS, doing their funeral Masses and consoling their partners and family members. He opened the doors of St. Francis of Assisi Church when Dignity, a gay Catholic organization, needed a home for its AIDS ministry, and he later ran an AIDS program at St. Francis. [In 1999], he marched in the first gay-inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade, which his friend Brendan Fay, a gay activist, organized in Queens.”

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Firefighters carrying Judge’s body from the World Trade Center rubble

Fay said that in Judge “there was a core of sadness or vulnerability in him” that made him a good minister because he “was very in touch with human vulnerability.” The priest had an apartness from it all, though, which helped him minister, too, said Fay:

” ‘He recognized the tension between the worlds he lived in. . .He’d be honored by these members of the far right, and yet at the same time he felt he had to constrain himself. There was a certain sadness about that.’ “

Judge never came out publicly, especially to the firefighters at Engine 1-Ladder 24, near his residence. But he came out selectively to many people, including gay advocates, New York City officials, and the Catholics to whom he ministered. Franciscan Fr. Brian Carroll told New York Magazine:

” ‘Mike taught me how to come out as a young man. . .And how to see sexuality as an important part of who I am. He took away the shame. For some people, sexuality is a part of their shame. Or homelessness is a part of their shame. Or addiction is a part of their shame. Mychal helped people embrace all the shame parts of themselves and turn them into something good.’ “

Judge still struggled with the church, even while he himself was quite peaceful about his sexuality, writing once from the Marian shrine at Lourdes that he felt as if he was in a “different kind of church.” Many of his brother Franciscans were surprised when it became public after his death that Judge was a gay man.

 

But Judge’s sexual orientation, for him, was an integrated part of his being and even a gift. An autobiography of the priest, written by Michael Ford, quotes Judge as saying, “Look at who we are as gay people at this moment in history, being a gift for the church, being agents of change in both church and society.”

Popular devotion to the “Saint of 9/11” is growing, as a fast-growing  website about the priest’s legacy attests. There are documentaries and biographies, including Brendan Fay’s film, “Remembering Mychal,” which was shown at World Youth Day in Poland this past July and has been screened at parishes, too. His burial site in New Jersey has become a place of pilgrimage for many people. The cause for Judge’s formal canonization is gaining steam,reported The Record, but it also has little backing from the Archdiocese of New York or the Franciscan community.

Today’s Gospel, part of the same readings proclaimed the Sunday after September 11th, 2001, includes the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son. They are readings about going out to the margins to find people, and about rushing out to welcome those who have come home. This Gospel seems particularly fitting for Fr. Mychal Judge, a gay man who, in his priestly ministry, rushed to the margins and welcomed home the many people he served in so many ways. Fr. Michael Duffy, OFM, concluded the homily at Judge’s funeral with the following words (you can listen to the audio version at NPR by clicking here):

“And so, this morning we come to bury Myke Judge’s body, but not his spirit. We come to bury his voice, but not his message. We come to bury his hands, but not his good works. We come to bury his heart, but not his love. Never his love.”

Fr. Mychal Judge was, and is, a gift for Catholics. Gay men in the priesthood still have to deal with structural homophobia, and disputes about priests who have come out as gay are not infrequent. Judge’s life reveals how wrong it is to reject or repress gay priests. His life is a witness to the broader truth that there are many gay priests who lead holy lives of humble service. That is why, in remembering him and learning the lessons he teaches, we must never forget that his sexual orientation was a fertile source for his ministry and his love. We must always honor the fullness of Fr. Mychal Judge’s person–the full person that God created him to be.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Article

National Catholic Reporter, “The joys of Mychal Judge, fallen 9/11 chaplain”


Priest Who Blessed Lesbian Couple’s Love Now Facing Church Sanctions

September 8, 2016
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Fr. José García with Carmen and Lucia

A Spanish priest is facing disciplinary sanctions after blessing a same-gender couple the day before their civil marriage.

Fr. José García held a “blessing of love” for Carmen and Lucia at Saint Bartholemew Church in Onda, Spain. The July 30th ceremony was attended by their family and friends. García explained the women sought to “celebrate the love they have for God and the love which exists between them,” according to the blog Dos ManzanasThe couple was married in a civil ceremony the next day.

This blessing became public in late August when a conservative Spanish new outlet posted about it, eliciting a response from the Diocese of Segorbe-Castellón. Acknowledging first that lesbian and gay people should not be discriminated against, the diocese’s statement quoted Pope Francis in saying “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family [Amoris Laetitia, no. 251].”

According to the statement. Fr. García was then visited by both the diocese’s Vicar General and Bishop Casmiro López Llorent who demanded an explanation from the priest. The diocese said Fr. García admitted to the bishop the “grave error” of his actions, saying they were motivated by “an erroneous application of mercy” that “did not distinguish the welcome and pastoral accompaniment of persons” from what may seem like approval of same-gender marriage.

The statement reported that the priest apologized to people who considered the blessing scandalous, and he promised not to act similarly in the future. But recanting is seemingly not enough for Bishop López, reported Euro Weekly. The diocese has opened a canonical investigation against Fr. García to see whether formal sanctions should be applied for blessing the love between two people.

Critics of the diocese’s actions have noted the differing speeds with which this case and clerical sexual abuse allegations have been dealt with. Loottis, a Spanish LGBT blog, wrote:

“What is amazing is the speed with which the diocese of Segorbe-Castellón has reacted to this case and in contrast to other scandals which starred members of the Church as happened with the scandal of ‘The Romanones’ in Granada in which several priests were accused of abusing minors for years and the Spanish hierarchy hurried from the first moment to preserve the innocence of the priests involved.”

Loottis noted, too, that Bishop López has made LGBT-negative remarks in the past. In 2013, he said marriage equality had led to a “significant increase in children with severe personality disturbances” and that families led by lesbian and gay people created environments that “frequently ends in violence.”

It is quite sad that the diocese has punished Fr. García so severely, and that more sanctions may be coming. Media reports have been limited to the diocese’s account as the priest has either largely chosen to keep quiet or been silenced. But the limited statements he has made, explaining this incident as a blessing that celebrates love of God and between two people speaks volumes.

If the church blesses animals, ships, church vestments, eggs, and so much more, why are ministers barred from blessing the holy love that exists between two people? The hierarchy’s opposition to same-gender marriages is well known. But blessing love and supporting couples is precisely the type of pastoral accompaniment to which Pope Francis has called the church, even if such relationships do not conform to the heteronormative standards of the Magisterium. There is no love which is wrong, and there is no love outside God’s embrace.

The good news is that God clearly blesses the love between Carmen and Lucia, and their desire to have that love blessed in the church acknowledges their reciprocal love for God. Priests should not be punished for recognizing these realities, and being good pastoral ministers to LGBT people who have been marginalized. The only “grave error” in this incident will be if the canonical investigation now underway were to imperil Fr. García’s priesthood because he was simply a good priest.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Priest Marches in Pride, Shares His Story of Being Gay and Faithful

August 31, 2016
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Fr. RJ at Manila Pride 2016

A gay Catholic priest in the Philippines marched at Pride this year, and recently shared his story about being gay, being ordained, and being faithful.

Fr.  RJ, a pseudonym, marched in Manila’s LGBT Pride Parade earlier this year, reported Rappler. Joined by family and friends, the priest told those celebrating:

” ‘I am gay. . .Homosexuality it is not an issue anymore within the Catholic clergy. . .Why should I be ashamed? My sexual preference never hindered my mission as a Catholic priest.

” ‘Since the day I understood my real identity and fully embraced my sexuality, I also got to understand how to serve God with everything I have, without pretending to be someone I am not.’ “

Ordained four years ago, Fr. RJ knew he was gay in adolescence, but, at the time, this knowledge was worrisome and confusing. The priest’s family was conservative, and the Philippines is a very traditionally Catholic nation. For several years, he kept quiet about being gay and focused on his studies. Then, he fell in love at college. Rappler reported his description of the experience:

” ‘I fell in love with a man who taught me how to accept my true identity,’ RJ said.

“RJ was swept into a year of ‘firsts.’ His first bouquet of roses, first time to hold hands while walking, first time to hear and get notes with ‘sweet nothings,’ his first kiss, and his first gay sexual encounter.

” ‘Our days were among the happiest moments of my life. I felt I belonged and recognized. I was freer; I didn’t have to hide my fears. I was me whenever I was with him.’ “

That relationship eventually ended, but Fr. RJ said he learned to “accept my true self and sexuality” through the experience. And soon after, he realized the call to priestly life.  Rappler’s report continued:

“The priest remembered how he prayed that pain and hatred leave his heart. The scars of his first agony were still there. . .Staring at the Paschal candle as it flickered in the cold afternoon breeze, the priest began to realize that his first love was not the man who broke his heart. It was Christ.”

Fr. RJ would begin formation a year later, and he has been in religious life since then, saying he has “never felt different or discriminated.” He commented:

” ‘I don’t know if they are aware that I am gay, but I believe, even if they do, they will not judge me. . .homosexuality is common within the organization of the priests.’

” ‘We crack jokes about it. We talk serious matters concerning sexuality and there are a lot of priests who are vocal they are homosexuals. . .[while others hide] inside the closet because of fear or confusion or guilt.”

Fr. RJ’s story has helped initiate a conversation about gay priests, and LGBT rights more broadly, in the Philippines. Professor Jayeel Serrano Cornelio of Ateneo de Manila University, a Catholic school where he directs the Development Studies Program, said “a priest who is gay is not unusual” and further:

” ‘For me, the bigger issue is whether many other Catholics still find it problematic. There are so many young people now who do not find it a problem at all. And maybe they are ‘freer’ because they are not priests. . .[the church should send] a stronger message of compassion and inclusion.’ “

Obstacles for gay priests remain, as the church has offered mixed messages about homosexuality and the priesthood. The Rappler news article quoted Fr. Eduardo Apungan of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines as saying openly gay men should not be admitted to the priesthood, but if a priest comes out as gay after being ordained, he should not be condemned. This stance was backed by Bishop Broderick Pabillo, auxiliary of Manila, an archdiocese led by the pastorally-oriented Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.

Pope Francis, himself, has weighed in about gay priests, which were the object of his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment that he has since expanded to include all LGB people. Recent gay controversies at Ireland’s national seminary and  resigned Archbishop John Neinstedt reveal the issue of gay men and the priesthood is far from settled, to the detriment of gay priests and the People of God they faithful serve alike.

But Fr. RJ is contributing what he can to promote inclusion of LGBT people in the church. Last year, he wrote about baptizing the child of a same-gender couple and challenged Filipino bishops on their anti-marriage equality stand which Fr. RJ said was “wrong and hurtful and a far cry from the Gospel.” Bearing witness by sharing his story of coming out and coming to religious life is another step in that work.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Gay Priests Have a Place in the Catholic Church, Says Irish Senator

August 21, 2016
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Senator Jerry Buttimer

An Irish legislator has affirmed a place for openly gay priests in the Catholic Church, comments made as discussion continues about an unhealthy sexual atmosphere at the country’s national seminary.

St. Patrick’s College Maynooth is in the spotlight after Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin decided to withdraw the archdiocese’s seminarians from the school. As Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday, he cited as his reasons an alleged “gay culture” and questioned whether the seminary was a “good place for students.”

This archbishop’s decision has elicited many responses, including that of Irish Senator Jerry Buttimer who, according to the Evening Echo, said he was unsurprised that gay men would be in formation for the priesthood

Buttimer, an openly gay Fine Gael legislator from Cork and a faithful Catholic, said church leaders should welcome this reality rather than regard it as a problem. He said the church has failed to respect people of all sexual identities, and Archbishop Martin’s decision “exposed the hypocrisy of the Church around its teachings on sexuality, celibacy and attitude towards gay people.” This case highlights for the senator “the need for the Irish hierarchy to embrace LGBT people of faith and make them part of our church,” adding:

” ‘Many of these [LGBT] people are already making a huge contribution in parishes across Cork. The Church is nothing without its people, all of its people. Many of us pray for a Church that is inclusive, welcoming, accepting, open and transparent. We are fortunate that in many parishes across Cork and around the country a vibrancy does exists and liturgies are participative, led by good men. However, unfortunately, we could do a lot better.’ “

Buttimer studied at Maynooth for five years, and spoke highly of his time there which left a “lasting impression” upon him, saying he never regretted studying there. But he continued:

” ‘I disagreed with them at times about issues surrounding formation and teachings of the Church, but I still believe today that they were, in the main, interested in developing and educating young men to be good priests. As a person of faith, I pray and yearn that my Church and its leaders would move to be more progressive, open and transparent around the teaching on sexuality.’ “

Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, founder of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), concurred in a piece for The Independent  where he called on Irish Catholics to use this controversy as a time for re-imagining ministry. Flannery suggested that most applicants to seminary today were either gay men (or at least men confused about their sexuality) and traditionalist men. He wrote:

“There is absolutely no reason why a gay man should not be a priest, but if a particular profession is attracting a far higher percentage than is present in the general population, then questions need to be asked about the nature of the profession. . .what type of priest is needed in today’s world, and what type of spiritual and theological formation should they be given?

“I believe that the present malaise has much deeper roots. The solution would have to involve a radical revision of our understanding of ministry and the requirements necessary to become a priest. So, rather than just tinkering around with Maynooth, the Catholic Church needs to initiate a process of discussion at all levels to discern what type of ministry is best suited for the Church of the future.”

Flannery said beyond affirming gay men in the priesthood, the church must critically examine the issues of women in ministry, clericalism, and Roman interventionism.

Fr. Brendan Hoban, himself a member of ACP, said Martin’s decision amounted to “moving deck chairs on the Titanic” because the larger question behind the Maynooth happenings is the crisis of priestly vocations. He told The Irish Times:

” ‘[In seminary] you are always going to have a mixture of gay and heterosexual candidates, that has always been the case, and there will be – from time to time, incidents that people would prefer didn’t happen. But they do happen, human nature being what it is.’ “

Hoban said despite allegations, “there doesn’t seem to be anything substantially proven.” ACP’s statement defended Maynooth, and claimed criticisms were coming from disgruntled former students, traditionalist Catholics, and “right-wing commentators who are unhappy with the focus on the theology of the Second Vatican Council and suspicious of modern psychological and other insights.”

Several commentators have also said that homosexuality is, perhaps unfortunately, a feint to hide the real and much larger problems at Maynooth and beyond. Irish Times columnist Una Mullally said hypocrisy was the real scandal in this incident, writing:

“The immature, archaic and coded language clergy members and others have used to describe the Maynooth story – ‘gay subculture’ ‘strange goings on’ ‘quarrelsome’ ‘not the healthiest place’ – belongs in the past, and compounds homosexuality as something to joke about or be scandalised by. Across social media, the temptation for crass jokes and wink-wink-nudge-nudge comments was too much for many. Unfortunately, all this does is re-enforce an attitude towards homosexuality that is crude and childish. . .

“The church still views homosexuality as a ‘problem’, inside and out of its organisation. But the real scandal at Maynooth isn’t about gay priests. Of course there are gay priests. Tonnes of them. The real scandal is the church’s addiction to secrecy, arrogance, and its hierarchy of hypocrisy.”

Colum Kenny, also writing in the Irish Timessaid the Maynooth controversy has nothing to do with sex or theology at all. Ireland’s hierarchy has again proven itself  not to be credible, Kenny said, and so the Irish church must use this opportunity to renew itself:

“It is a question of the spirit, a challenge to be converted to a new order of witness and theology – one that can help Irish people of Catholic background who have rejected outdated dogma and practice as empty forms to live spiritually in the modern world.”

Allegations of sexual relationships, harassment, and mishandling at Ireland’s national seminary will assuredly keep provoking conversations. Archbishop Martin’s decision to withdraw his seminarians remains controversial. This incident is immensely painful for an Irish church already in crisis and surely so for the seminarians and staff of Maynooth.

The responses to this case show the necessity and the increasing willingness of many Catholics to have extremely hard conversations about ministry, sexuality, ecclesial power, and the intersection of these issues. If done well, this moment of pain and scandal could lead to a time of renewal and flourishing.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Archbishop Withdraws Students Over “Gay Culture” at Irish Seminary

August 20, 2016
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St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth

A leading Irish archbishop has withdrawn his diocese’s students from an embattled seminary, citing allegations of a “gay culture” there which led to sexual activity.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin removed the three archdiocesan seminarians from St. Patrick’s College Maynooth, the country’s national seminary, reported Crux. Martin, initially quiet about his reasons, has now explained:

“There are allegations on different sides. One is that there is a homosexual, a gay culture, and that students have been using an app called Grindr [which] would be inappropriate for seminarians, and not just because they are training to be celibate priests, but (because) an app like that would be something that would be fostering promiscuous sexuality, which is certainly not in any way the mature vision of sexuality one would expect a priest to understand.”

The archbishop will instead send seminarians to the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, at least until the matter at Maynooth is resolved and structural reforms have been implemented.

Martin also criticized the anonymous nature by which complaints had been filed, saying it eliminated due process and created a “poisonous” culture.

Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of Waterford and Lismore withdrew his diocese’s seminarians from St. Patrick’s, too, but other Irish bishops are publicly supporting the seminary. College President Monsignor Hugh Connolly said since no complaints had been publicly filed, there could be no investigation. He defended the seminary environment as “a wholesome, healthy one.”

Rumors about sexual relationships and administrative problems are not new for Maynooth, which hosts about 55 students currently, reported America:

“One former seminarian last week testified to its so-called gay culture, one that was widely known about but not addressed. Another former seminarian claims he was expelled from the college after he failed to report two colleagues for engaging in sexual activity. The reports revealed a deep disconnect between church authorities and the experience of some seminarians, along with the challenges the Irish church is struggling to address: homosexuality as a reality in the church, celibacy, accusations and secrecy and a formation process that is quickly becoming antiquated.”

But America’s coverage also noted further reasons why Archbishop Martin is removing his seminarians, stemming from the Apostolic Visitation to Ireland initiated by Pope Benedict and overseen by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. That Visitation, which Martin has criticized, “resulted in greater separation between the seminarians and lay students in Maynooth, with barriers erected and separate eating quarters introduced.” The article continued:

“It created a more isolated formation process for seminarians, one that has been criticized for being at odds with Pope Francis’ vision for a more inclusive, open and integrated church. . .Indeed, it was claimed that six seminarians were held back from ordination and told to take time out last year because they were ‘too theologically rigid.’ “

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Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

Though reported as a scandal about homosexuality, Archbishop Martin seems less concerned with whom seminarians may potentially be in sexual relationships, and more focused on the idea that seminarians would be in any sexually compromising situation at all. He used the words “gay culture,” but nothing he mentioned about the seminary’s culture is uniquely gay. There may, perhaps, be an unintegrated or immature culture around sexuality in the seminary, but there would seem to be no difference whether seminarians were using the gay dating app Grindr or its heterosexual counterpart, Tinder.

Martin seems equally concerned that this incident revealed an unhealthy atmosphere of secrecy and anonymous accusations at Maynooth. He questioned if seminarians would be better educated beyond the “closed, strange world of seminaries” in new programs of formation more grounded in the real world.

In short, I do not believe Martin’s evaluation of Maynooth as not being “a good place for students” hinges upon seminarians being gay or in same-gender relationships. In general, he has evidenced a more positive approach to LGBT issues than most bishops. His positive approach is particularly distinctive, given the ugly history after the clergy sexual abuse crisis emerged in Ireland in the early 2000s, and gay priests and seminarians were frequently scapegoated.

Archbishop Martin’s decision to withdraw Dublin’s seminarians has provoked good conversations throughout Ireland about the priesthood, celibacy, and indeed homosexuality. His is a credible voice for an Irish public skeptical of the church, and he was described as a “maverick” among other clergy in a recent Irish Times profile. He cooperated fully with civil authorities in clergy sexual abuse investigations, and he has been pastoral in his treatment of LGBT issues. The conversations which Martin has initiated are important and ongoing, and they are applicable not only for Ireland but for the church universal. Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will cover more of those Irish conversations.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Church Must Change “Deficient Mindset” on Homosexuality, Says German Jesuit

June 5, 2016
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Fr. Klaus Mertes

Appealing to lesbian and gay Catholics to remain in the church, a German priest said the church must change its “deficient mindset” on homosexuality and must defend human rights.

Jesuit Fr. Klaus Mertes was interviewed by the German newspaper Taz [Editor’s note: Translations based upon Google Translate and the National Catholic Reporter article linked below]. Asked why lesbian and gay Catholics should remain in the church, especially after Pope Francis’ disappointing exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the priest replied:

” ‘I know many Catholic gays and lesbians who refuse to be ostracized and who remain in the church despite what they have had to and are having to suffer. . .This helps me to see that the church has a great deal to offer. Every Catholic who leaves the church at the same time loses contact with their spiritual home in the church community, with their weekly encounter with the Gospel, the Eucharist and the Sacraments. That is a big loss.”

Mertes was clear, however, that he respected people who choose to leave the church. He also noted the many Catholic parents he has met seek greater solidarity from the church for their LGBT children.

Mertes condemned present church teachings on homosexuality, saying the “deficient mindset” about them must be reformed. Noting that sexual morality is indivisible from reproduction in present church teaching, he said the church should instead consider sexual morality in view of charity and relationship, rather than “a concept of nature which views the sexual act in isolation.”

Speaking about the struggle for human rights, the priest criticized the hierarchy’s inaction on defending LGBT people from discrimination and violence. With its global influence, the church should be ensuring their basic rights are protected, including the ability to be openly gay without being ostracized. Mertes said vocally opposing the death penalty for homosexuality would “at least be a beginning” from church leaders, adding:

” ‘I am appalled that the church is so silent on this issue. It saddens me to see that in some African countries where homosexuals can be imprisoned or even put to death for holding hands in public, the church does not demand that homosexuals at least be given the most elementary human rights.’ “

Mertes called upon Catholics to work actively for such LGBT reforms in church teaching and practice, stating:

” ‘All of us [Catholics] — homosexuals and heterosexuals — must join together to get the church to give up its deficient mindset on homosexuality. . .The Catholic Church is a world church. In Europe it took us 200 years to get as far as we are at present on this issue. Africa and Southeast Asia are still miles from where we are, but the struggle to achieve for gay rights the world over is worth staying in the church for. . .

” ‘[Ireland’s passage of marriage equality by referendum in 2015 is an] example of how, after decades of struggle from inside a predominantly Catholic culture takes place an opening for the rights of gay people. That’s how it goes. Processes must come from within, because only then they are sustainable.’ “

Fr. Mertes is known as a church whistleblower in Germany, having published letters in 2011 from students who survived teachers’ abuse at a Jesuit school in the country. His latest interview, while not whistleblowing, retells a truth about the church and LGBT issues that many people already know but that must keep being proclaimed as loudly and boldly as possible.

   *     *     *     *     *     *     *

For those who are interested in the topic of why LGBT Catholics stay in the Church, tune into Call To Action’s webinar entitledHome Is Where the Heart Is: Being LGBTQI & Home in the Catholic Church,” led by Owen Borda, a professor of interdisciplinary studies at Keuka College, New York.   The webinar takes place Wednesday, June 22, 7:00 pm.  You can register by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Article:

National Catholic Reporter, “Whistleblower: Catholics must work together to change church’s mindset on homosexuality


Australian Students Demand Greater LGBT Respect from Catholic Institutions

May 4, 2016
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Advocates rally in defense of Australia’s Safe Schools Program

College students in Australia are protesting an upcoming lecture by a of a Catholic man who claims “reparative therapy” successfully changed his sexuality, the latest dispute about LGBT issues as they relate to Catholic education  in that nation.

The University of Sydney’s Catholic Society will host James Parker tonight to speak about his experiences with “reparative therapy.” Parker is linked to People Can Change, a UK group which administers gay “conversion” programs, and he authored a 2014 piece about his own experience, reported Buzzfeed.

Georg Tamm, a gay Catholic student, said student objections were not to discussions about divergent views on sexuality, but specifically about the harm reparative therapy has caused. Tamm said:

” ‘I would have been OK with them inviting a priest, discussing why men and women are made for each other according to the Catholic scripture. . .But I don’t see the pertinence of inviting someone who is supposedly a patient of successful ex-gay therapy, when it has no scientific merit and is actually quite dangerous.’ “

Tamm said the Catholic Society’s invitation to Parker did not seem “to care about the welfare of those students” who are LGBT or questioning. Such talks, he added, defeat evangelical efforts “at a time when we need people to take the religion seriously and do good things with it.” The Catholic Society denied claims the event promoted prejudice against LGBT people.

Concerned students have appealed to the Student Union to prohibit, or at least refuse to fund, future events promoting reparative therapy. University of Sydney administrators are inquiring into whether restrictions can be placed on campus speakers, too.

Such LGBT controversies in Australian education are increasingly frequent. Last month, St. Francis Xavier College in Melbourne censored a sexual health workbook by requiring students to rip out a page about homosexuality and premarital sex. The Age reported:

“[Y]ear 9 students were called into the hall and told they could not leave until they had thrown a page of the textbook in the bin. . .

“[The [page] included a photo of two men hugging and smiling, and listed different sexual preferences including heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality.”

The workbook asked students age-appropriate questions about sexuality and relationships, but Principal Vincent Feeney explained such questions should be addressed in religious education classes rather than health classes. He defended St. Francis Xavier College further by saying it was inclusive of LGBT students and even allowed same-gender couples to attend formal dances. Students remained critical, however, with one calling the ripping of pages a “medieval weak response.” Others refused to tear the page out.

In another story, the Safe Schools Program in Australia, which educates against bullying, has come under fire after four successful years. Conservative politicians have attacked the Program, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic, has conceded to their demands. Following a government review, Safe Schools Programs, will be limited to high schools and have their content curtailed. A coalition under the name Save Safe Schools has organized rallies and campaigning to ensure funding is sustained and the Program keeps expanding.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a Catholic, described the Program as “social engineering” in his call for its defunding, reported Buzzfeed. Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, herself a lesbian Catholic, said such comments were “negative and unconstructive” because you cannot engineer a person’s lived reality.

Just two Catholic schools participate in the Safe Schools Program: St. Joseph’s College, a Christian Brothers school; and St. Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre, both in Victoria. St. Joseph’s College Head Paul Tobias said the Safe Schools debate “put people like me in a particularly difficult position” because of conservative attacks then lodged against the schools. Those pressures do not mean he or the school would be less supportive, however. He told The Age:

” ‘But I don’t believe there is anything in the Catholic faith that should stop us from promoting inclusiveness, diversity, and tolerance. . .

” ‘Every student who attends this school, irrespective of their sexuality, is entitled to be part of a safe environment. We need to accept that there are some kids who are heterosexual and there are some that are LGBTI.’ “

St. Joseph’s College under Tobias’ leadership established a homophobia task force as early as 1997 in response to an alum’s letter about anti-gay bullying. Tobias wrote to federal and state officials supporting the program, but he questioned whether the focused had shifted from promoting diversity and acceptance to focusing on the minutiae of gender and sexuality issues, which he felt would be detrimental to the Safe Schools Program’s mission.

Elsewhere in Australia, students in Catholic schools have challenged their institutions to participate. A gay student at St. Joseph’s College in Queensland asked Principal Michael Carroll for support, but the student’s testimony of intense bullying, but was met with a curt “no.” The student felt betrayed by administrators and teachers whom he admired, reported The Brisbane Times, and he added:

” ‘I hope that it is not the will of the Catholic Church that this group of young Australians, which are 14 times more likely to end their own lives, are not protected. . .All I can do is hope that they do not want to see me being abused, being made to feel uncomfortable and being separated from society, made to feel like a second-rate citizen.’ “

There is nothing in Catholic teaching which endorses marginalization of or discrimination towards LGBT people, particularly youth who are vulnerable and entrusted to the church for their education. Each of these controversies is rooted in flawed Catholic understandings of gender and of sexuality. These understandings refuse to prioritize social justice teachings about LGBT people’s rights and dignity, instead relying upon pseudo-science to validate outdated, but ideologically convenient ideas. As Australian Catholics reckon with how to protect LGBT people and expand their rights, including the question of marriage equality, a dose of honesty and an attentiviness to reality would be most healthy.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry