Where Do You Find Hope for the Church in 2015?

January 6, 2015

As many of you may know, I am currently pursuing graduate studies in theology at Boston College. Last semester, a professor framed an entire course as a way of answering 1 Peter 3:15 which says:

“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”

That question sticks with me as the new year begins. With 2015 underway, Bondings 2.0 wonders what sources of hope Catholic LGBT advocates look to for the coming year. What is the reason for our hope?

One possibility is the church’s bishops, whose corporate identity is shifting under Pope Francis. He recently announced twenty new cardinals to be incardinated in February, whose names you can find here. Of this Joshua McElwee writes at the National Catholic Reporter:

“Continuing to diversify global representation in the most select body of Catholic prelates, Pope Francis announced Sunday that he will be creating 20 new cardinals from 18 different countries — with several from places never before included in the elite group…

“While historically cardinals have come from certain larger cities known for their Catholic populations or global importance, Francis has sought to diversify representation in the group — choosing men from places long underrepresented or even not represented in the College of Cardinals.”

Beyond the global diversity, John Allen of Crux notes these cardinal-designates include “a couple of high-profile moderates but no one with a clear reputation as a doctrinal or political conservative.” None of those named have been featured on Bondings 2.0 since we began in 2011, which is to say their records on LGBT issues specifically may be sparse. Additionally, no Americans were named and only one was a Vatican official. Clearly, Pope Francis’ choices reinforce his preference for bishops who are foremost pastors rather than hardened cultural warriors on LGBT rights and other sexual issues.

As 2014 ended, several church leaders were sources of hope for LGBT advocates. For example:

Perhaps your source of hope does not depend on clerical leaders. You may feel like Heidi Schlumpf who says she has “stopped pinning my hopes on prelates.” Writing in the National Catholic Reporter about the transition in the Archdiocese of Chicago from Cardinal Francis George, who “inspired fear,” to Archbishop Blase Cupich, who is being celebrated in progressive circles, she explains:

“The reporter in me should have been more excited when the announcement came in September that Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., would be the next archbishop of Chicago. But I stopped pinning my hopes on prelates a long time ago…I’m not pessimistic, but neither am I hopeful. I have learned the hard way not to put my faith in church leaders. I prefer good ones to bad ones, but they are not the most important people in the church to me.”

Instead, Schlumpf would likely consider herself among the many Catholics whose hope for the church rests in the laity

Since December began, Catholics laity in the U.S. and other parts of the world have stirred our hopes by standing up for LGBT justice as a constitutive part of Christian faith. This witness includes:

  • An Indiana Knights of Columbus council’s decision to welcome a same-sex couple to their banquet facilities after pro-LGBT voices, including Knights, protested initial discrimination;
  • Gay Catholic Voice Ireland and others mounting a pro-equality campaign as that nation considers a referendum on marriage;
  • Students teaching adults about LGBT justice — from 6th grade through college, and being sure to include trans* rights in these efforts;
  • LGBT Catholics in New York who spearheaded efforts to save one parish amid that archdiocese’s massive closings.

So where are you placing your hope for 2015? Is it in Pope Francis and church leaders who are becoming more pastoral and merciful? Is it in the lay people who continue witnessing to an inclusive Gospel? Is it a combination of the two or something else entirely? Let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


When Advent Hopes Collide with Christmas Surprises

December 24, 2014

We are on the brink of Christmas. Advent is coming to a close.  How has this season of expectation, preparation, and hope been for you? For me, it has been a bit of a roller-coaster.

After an autumn of lots of traveling for New Ways Ministry, I was preparing for a rare—nay, unprecedented—month-long vacation, visiting India and Bangladesh with a Franciscan friend of mine. He used to minister there educating Franciscan novices and leaders, and we were going to visit his friends.  Christmas would be spent in a contemplative Poor Clare convent in the hills of Bangladesh.  Just what I needed at the end of an extremely hectic year. Pure bliss.

So, my Advent was filled with travel preparations and expectations:  visa applications, immunizations, finding the right electrical adapters, worrying about wi-fi connections and cell phone service.

And then it ended.  A serious, unexpected health problem in the family of my traveling companion arose just two weeks before our scheduled departure.  We would have to postpone, perhaps until the spring, perhaps indefinitely.  Sadness and disappointment were mixed, I must admit, with a bit of selfish relief that I could stop the worried and frenzied travel preparations, and that I now had some unexpected “found time.”

Well, the “found time” evaporated very quickly.  I soon realized I now had to “shift gears” and start Christmas preparations.  Gifts that I had planned on buying in Asia, now had to be bought at the local mall. Christmas cards needed to be filled out and mailed.  Decorations had to come down from the attic. And what about baking the Christmas cookies?   What I usually rush to do in four weeks now was going to have to be done in two.

Needless to say, not everything got done.

But enough about my tale of woe.   The point is that I learned an Advent lesson from this experience which I think might be pertinent for those Catholics who work for LGBT equality and justice.

Advent is a time of expectation, preparation, and hope.  But what we expect, prepare, and hope for may not arrive as we have planned it.  And it may not arrive on our schedule. God works in mysterious ways, and, often, in more mysterious time frames.  I’ve learned that it is important to expect, prepare, and hope, but that we also need to be open to surprise.

That was my greatest lesson from all of 2014.  Many of us had great hopes for the October synod on marriage and family.  We spent months in anticipation, buoyed by Pope Francis’ positive messages signaling openness to change, by the Vatican’s call for greater discussion by the entire church, and by greater openness from bishops around the world to recognizing the positive gifts of lesbian and gay couples.

We prayed and prepared and hoped.  And as the synod opened, we started hearing positive messages from participants and observers.  And then came the mid-term report, with its strongly worded affirmations of lesbian and gay people.  Our hopes, it seemed, were being realized. I even toyed with the idea that the work of Catholic LGBT advocacy would soon be waning, that our hopes and dreams were now being realized at last.

Then the final report came out, and we found ourselves in the same position that we had always been in.  No positive message.  Was all the expectation, preparation, and hope for naught?

One of my favorite spiritual writers, José Antonio Pagola, in a homily on the fourth Sunday of Advent in his book, Following in the Footsteps of Jesus: Meditations on the Gospel, Year B, notes that the coming of Jesus was also seen as a disappointment for many.  Born in the backwater of Bethlehem, in a stable, in the midst of Roman occupation, to unknown, powerless parents, Jesus certainly did not have any of the earmarks of a Messiah that Israel expected.

But God works in mysterious ways.  And on a mysterious time schedule.  Our expectations, preparations, and hopes are never in vain.  They just may not receive their fruition in the way we expect them and in the time that we expect them.  We have another synod, a more definitive one coming up in November 2015.  And we need to work and pray with the hope that that one will be better than this past year’s.

More importantly, we must learn to be surprised by God.  Isn’t surprise what our secular tradition of Christmas gift-giving and even decorations are all about? Advent is about expectation, preparation, and hope, but Christmas is about surprise, about finding God, love, and joy in the most unexpected of places. Who knows what surprises God has in store for the 2015 synod?  I know that no one I know was prepared for the surprises that came at this past year’s meeting.

I won’t be in India and Bangladesh this Christmas season, and I don’t have all my decorations up, presents bought, or cookies baked.  But, nevertheless, I plan on being surprised, once again, as I always am, by the love of my family and friends, in ways that I never expect. I can’t wait to see what God has in store!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


On Spirit Day, Catholics Chart New Course for LGBT Youth

October 17, 2013

SpiritDay13_Graphic_FinalToday is Spirit Day. Millions across the nation will wear purple as a sign of their of their love and support for LGBT youth and for their opposition to bullying. We join GLAAD, the main sponsoring organization, in spreading this message of inclusion and well-being.

LGBT teens and young adults suffer greatly from bullying by peers in person and, increasingly, on the internet. Homo- and trans-phobic harassment against youth leads to vastly higher rates of substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide than the general population.

Rejection from their faith community and religious-based discrimination only compound these problems. For Catholics, Spirit Day is also prime moment for reflection on our Church’s progress and where we are now headed in ministering to younger people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

Last October, . Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s piece on Spirit Day was considered a bold statement, when he reminded Catholics of a prevalent negativity around Catholic LGBT issues from some quarters of the church:

“Many gay and lesbian Catholics have told me (in person, in emails, in notes and letters and in Facebook messages) how alienated they have felt from the church lately.  Perhaps as a result of some of the rhetoric that has been used recently, an increasing number of gay and lesbian Catholics, and gay and lesbian youth in particular, feel marginalized from the church in which they were baptized.”

Fear, hurt, and isolation persist for many LGBT Catholics who experienced decades of damaging language and actions.  Pope Francis, though, has prompted a spirit of renewal that blows through our communities which demands that we act against anti-gay discrimination, especially when it targets youth.

One bright initiative is called Anti-Bullying Learning and Teaching Resources (ALTER), sponsored by the Diocese of Wollongong, Australia. Responding to the rapid rise in bullying through cell phones and social media, the diocese’s Catholic Education Office produced a video (which you can view below) and a resource kit for adults in leadership.

Of note is the use of the word “gay” in the video, revealing an openness to the realities of the students it hopes to help. The Office explains:

“Fix You was deliberately designed to include significant contribution from Diocesan primary and secondary students. To maintain the integrity of this concept, when asked to list words commonly used to bully and to hurt, students were adamant the word ‘gay’ be included. In explanation, it was our students’ reality that this word was often used as a weapon and that verbal bullying was an experience known to most students. Consequently, this term has been included in the sequence of words depicting how bullying brands someone and how this can leave lifelong scars.”

The Office provides an improved commentary on homosexuality that focuses on respecting people’s dignity and ending injustice. They recommend that educators use the word “gay” in their classroom discussions.

This Spirit Day, Pope Francis’ handful of olive branches to the LGBT community has changed the tone by his comment “Who am I to judge?“, his America interview, or his handwritten note to gay Catholics in Italy. Leaders in the American hierarchy have been slow to follow his lead, but the Catholic laity  continue to advance into greater inclusion.

As Catholics, we at New Ways Ministry support Spirit Day, compelled by our faith to end bullying and sustain LGBT youth as they come to know themselves, their community, and God.  We’ve changed our profile picture on Facebook to purple in honor of Spirit Day, and we invite you to do the same as a sign of support.  If you use Twitter, consider using #SpiritDay in your tweets about support for LGBT youth today.

Why not share the graphic above with your friends on Facebook? You can copy and paste it from this post or you can find it on the New Ways Ministry Facebook page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis’ Welcome Signals a New Dawn of Hope for LGBT People and Allies

September 19, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ interview in America magazine signals a new dawn of hope and promise for LGBT Catholics and their supporters.  Pope Francis’ words and example have opened up new opportunities for the Catholic Church to welcome and dialogue with LGBT people.  His words will give courage and hope to thousands of pastoral ministers and Catholic faithful who have been doing this work for many decades, but who have often received penalties and discouragements from church leaders who did not share this pope’s broad vision.  His message initiates a new day for a Catholic Church that is welcoming  to all.

In the interview, Francis answers one of the most vexing questions since he was elected to the Catholic church’s highest office:  Has his positive attitude toward LGBT issues and his penchant for not mentioning them controversially been intentional or circumstantial?

In the interview, released today, he has let the world know that his approach has definitely been intentional, signaling a new direction in the way the papacy addresses these topics.

His direct response to that question was answered by him:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

““The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things. . . . We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

This answer reflects not only good theology, but it reflects the pastoral wisdom that countless priests, nuns, deacons, and lay people have been practicing for decades in terms of their outreach to LGBT people.  In parishes, college campuses, and faith communities, outreach to LGBT people has always been done in noting the full context of their lives, not just the sexual arena.  Pastoral ministers have realized that focusing on the sexual arena was not only demeaning, but was spiritually deadening to both LGBT people and the entire faith community.

But the pope went further in his interview, too. The pope was asked how the Church can respond pastorally to marginalized groups, including same-sex couples.  What is remarkable about his answer is that it is the first time that a pope has offered direction on pastoral care of LGBT people that did not focus solely on sexual behavior. The pope said:

“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” the pope says, “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.”

The pope’s interview, which should be read in its entirety, did not focus on LGBT issues.  Instead it presents a beautiful picture of a humble, pastoral leader who seems willing to learn from all members of the Church.  In a discussion on the nature of the Church, he referred to it in the way that Vatican II did, as not just the hierarchy but the entire people of God:

“The image of the church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God. This is the definition I often use, and then there is that image from the Second Vatican Council’s ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the Church’ (No. 12). Belonging to a people has a strong theological value. In the history of salvation, God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships.

“The people itself constitutes a subject. And the church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. . . . When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit. So this thinking with the church does not concern theologians only.”

And he emphasized that the church is big enough to welcome ALL kinds of people.  This is directly opposite from Pope Benedict XVI’s approach when he said that he wanted to purify the church, even if that meant having a much smaller institution.  Pope Francis said:

“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity. And the church is Mother; the church is fruitful.”

Millions of Catholics, and many others, are eager to be part of such a church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

New York Times: Pope Bluntly Faults Church’s Focus on Gays and Abortion

New Ways Ministry Says “#FollowFrancis”


Catholics Leave Over LGBT Issues, As Bishops Redouble Anti-Equality Work

July 2, 2013

Archbishop Charles Chaput denies Communion to parish activists

A new poll conducted at a Philadelphia-area parish by Villanova University’s Center for the Study of Church Management reveals that LGBT issues are rising in prominence as a reason Catholics leave the Church. Yet, at the same time, members of the hierarchy double-down on their efforts to oppose equality for sexual minorities.

The survey asked 189 non-practicing and former Catholics about their reasons for leaving, producing instructive results for Catholic bishops and clergy struggling to retain parishioners. Scandals around sexual abuse and mishandling of cases was the primary reason, at about seventeen percent of respondents, but this does not reveal current trends. NewsWorks interviewed the poll’s director, Charles Zech of Villanova University, who said:

” ‘People who are going to leave the church over the scandal and the church’s handling of it have already left. So people leaving the church today are leaving for other reasons…A growing reason we found out was the church’s attitude toward homosexuals and gay marriage. A lot of younger people object to the church’s teaching on that.’ “

Catholic support of LGBT rights, especially for equal marriage, is well-documented, but there is little hard data on what the practical implications of this split between Catholics in the pews and their anti-gay leaders. This study suggests not only are the bishops’ policies against marriage equality and LGBT rights harming the directly affected communities, but have wider implications which undermine parish communities. Most leaving do not quit organized religion, but transfer to Protestant communities.

As this new polling is released, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is preparing anew to oppose anti-discrimination legislation that would include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. Pennsylvania is the sole northeast state without LGBT protections written into law on such things as employment and housing, and equality advocates are hoping to change this legislation. NewsWorks reports that representatives of the Conference base their objections in a fear that the Catholic Church would be forced to contradict its beliefs in social services, hospitals, and other institutions.

The Villanova parish study, which will not be made public, names both local issues as well as problems with the Vatican and US bishops as reasons for leaving the Catholic church. Polling director Zech believes local changes, like improved liturgies, could stem the losses. Many troubles are occurring in Philadelphia over parish-based issues, like closures and clustering, that even lead to protests at an immigration Mass recently–and saw Archbishop Charles Chaput deny Communion to three people.

Philadelphia Catholic leadership could withdraw their opposition to simple anti-discrimination legislation that protects the rights of LGBT people to their jobs, homes, and public services. Protecting the dignity of every person, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, is well-rooted in the Catholic tradition and it is why so many Catholics support equality. It is time to focus on creating welcoming communities and building up strong parishes, instead of opposing anti-discrimination laws and denying Communion.   The new polling data show that the bishops’ current course on LGBT issues is a losing proposition.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


‘Courageous Conversation’ Effort Seeks Change in Parishes

June 30, 2013

Courageous Conversations imageThe struggle for LGBT legal equality advances in the wake of the Supreme Court’s two decisions this week and yet, for Catholics, creating equality in our Church remains unachieved. Equally Blessed, a coalition that works for equality and justice for LGBT people in church and society, is asking Catholics to engage in ‘Courageous Conversations’ to create such change.

Catholics are routinely identified in polling as supportive of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people because of a deep commitment to justice. Support comes because of Catholic faith, not in spite of it and the ‘Courageous Conversation’ effort aims at breaking the silence around issues of sexual orientation and gender identity within Catholic communities. To quote Equally Blessed:

“As Catholics, we continue to take an active role in our communities, creating the kind of parishes and schools that we feel nurtured in and called to. This involves cultivating relationships by reaching out to those around us and illustrating why our faith calls us to tell our stories and those of our loved ones.

“Opening up in your community can be intimidating. Catholic institutions are often seen as unwelcoming to people who support the rights and dignity of LGBT people, but we know that many parishes and Catholic schools of all levels are supportive of LGBT Catholics and allies.”

New Ways Ministry strongly urges participation in having a ‘Courageous Conversation’ this week to break the silence. Engage with those in the pews next to you, your pastor, parish leaders and staff, school administrators, land others. If you are unsure where to start, Equally Blessed provides a few tips and a resources page available here. Start with those you already have a relationship with, be honest and personal with them, and above all make a concerted effort to listen.

What might be the outcome of these conversations? Equally Blessed provides a few words about the impact a ‘Courageous Conversation’ can have:

“ ‘Sometimes when we share stories, we do see an “Ah Ha” moment or a change of heart, sometimes it is not a complete turnaround but just a willingness to reconsider because they see the whole person.’ –Rosa

“ ‘[When we began our ministry] two and one half years ago, we could not have held a Pride weekend at St Matthew. But over these 2 1/2 years, we have taken many small steps to get where we are today. Just this past weekend, it was PRIDE weekend at our parish. Rainbow flags welcomed you, an 11′ banner announced the Pride Parade date, we sold Pride T Shirts, and members spoke after Communion asking all St Matthew parishioners to walk with us.’ – Ryan”

You can also become involved on social media by sharing this campaign on Facebook, Twitter (use the hashtag #CourageousConversation), etc. For a graphic and link to Equally Blessed’s resources, visit the New Ways Ministry Facebook page here or the Twitter profile here.

The member organizations of Equally Blessed are Call To ActionDignityUSAFortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: Finding Hope in Overcoming Ugliness

June 16, 2013

computer_key_Quotation_MarksA few weeks ago, Bondings 2.0 reported on Australia’s Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s call for a new Vatican Council to address the sex abuse crisis and sexuality generally.   Bishop Robinson led the investigation of Australia’s clergy sex abuse crisis, and the experience transformed his views on sex and power in the Catholic church.  Recently, Jamie Manson interviewed Bishop Robinson for The National Catholic Reporter.   At the close of the interview, Manson asked Robinson, “What keeps you hopeful?”  His answer:

‘Cardinal John Henry Newman, before he became a Catholic, wrote to a friend, ‘There is nothing on this earth so ugly as the Catholic Church and nothing so beautiful.’ We’ve all seen the ugliness, and abuse is one of the ugliest chapters of all, but I’ve also seen the beauty, mostly in all of the good people I’ve worked with over the years. I don’t want to just walk away and leave that beauty behind. So I’ll work to overcome the ugliness wherever I can.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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