NEWS NOTES: September 6, 2016

News NotesHere are some news items that you might find of interest:

  1. Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, made headlines last month when he officiated at a same-gender wedding.  Several church officials criticized him for the action. reports that a small group of Catholics staged a protest at the Diocese of Wilmington’s (Delaware) chancery, calling on Bishop Francis Malooly to “repudiate Joe Biden or resign.”  Biden is from Delaware.
  2. Bondings 2.0 blog post by Cristina Traina about Pope Francis’ comments on the “ideological colonization” of gender was picked up and re-distributed by Religion News Service.  Traina revised the article for the new publication.
  3. Diane DeBernardo, who has participated in several New Ways Ministry pilgrimages, was the subject of a National Catholic Reporter personality profile that examined, among other things, her involvement in starting her parish’s LGBT outreach ministry.  She is also the sister of New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo.
  4. DignityUSA, an organization of LGBT Catholics, recently called on U.S. Senator Marco Rubio not to appear at an Orlando conference of anti-LGBT groups, which took place on the two-month anniversary of the Orlando nightclub massacre, reported Miami New Times.
  5. Fr. Mike Tegeder, a Minnesota priest who was a strong supporter of LGBT rights, has passed away from lung cancer.  The Minneapolis Star-Tribune said he was “a vocal critic of former Archbishop John Nienstedt and the church’s attempts to block gay marriage, opposition that threatened Tegeder’s status as priest at his two Minneapolis churches, St. Frances Cabrini and Gichitwaa Kateri. He kept his bus driver’s license up to date in case he was dismissed from the priesthood.”

Bishops Criticize Vice President Joe Biden for Officiating Same-Gender Marriage

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 4.13.20 PM
Tweet from Vice President Biden of the wedding ceremony

Vice President Joe Biden has been criticized by U.S. bishops for officiating at a same-gender wedding last week.

On Friday afternoon, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops  (USCCB) published a blog post about public officials who officiate at same-gender marriages. Written by three bishops, the post does not mention the Vice President by name but, given the post’s timing, he is most likely one of its targets.

The bishops who authored the post are Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, the USCCB president; Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chair of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth; and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. They wrote:

“When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics. What we see is a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth.”

The bishops said that faithful witness “will only grow more challenging in the years to come,” alluding to their claims that expanded LGBT rights threaten their religious liberty. They cited both Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia and the pontiff’s address to the U.S. Congress last fall to support their negative position on same-gender marriage. When it comes to marriage equality, it seems some U.S. bishops are willing to reverse their general silence about Francis to use the popular pontiff in their opposition to LGBT rights.

Conservative Catholics have criticized Biden as well, reported Brian Roewe of the National Catholic Reporter. The Lepanto Institute, an ultra-conservative watchdog group, wrote letter to Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. asking whether Biden has  excommunicated himself by his action.  Yet, Edward Peters, a conservative canonist, acknowledged that canon law does not provide for excommunication in such a case.  Peters did suggest, however, that he thought that there are grounds to deny Communion to the Vice President.  So far, Wuerl has not responded, at least publicly, to either charge.

Last Monday, Biden officiated his first wedding, conducted for White House staffers Brian Mosteller and Joe Mahshie. The Vice President, who is Catholic, has a long record of supporting LGBT rights and is credited with pushing President Barack Obama to endorse marriage equality.

Marriage equality is an irreversible given in the United States now. Why do the bishops keep expending their energy and resources fighting this new reality which protects families and expands love? Their opposition to LGBT rights is well-known, as is their public feud with the Obama administration. It is unclear what impact the bishops had hoped for with this blog post–especially since it seems that they took a swipe at the Vice President without directly confronting him. These bishops need to read a little more of Pope Francis’ writings, and reflect a little more on his witness of living out a church that is “home for all.”

I would point them specifically to Amoris Laetitia’s line that church ministers are called to form consciences, not replace them. Like many Catholics who affirm LGBT people and their relationships, Biden seems to have properly formed his conscience and then acted upon it by choosing to officiate this wedding ceremony. And like so many other Catholics, he is witnessing to God’s expansive and ever-present love.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, Officiates Same-Gender Marriage

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 4.13.20 PMVice President Joe Biden, who is Catholic, officiated a same-gender marriage this week.  just as electoral politics, and Catholic engagement of them, heat up. Biden tweeted a picture of the ceremony, commenting:

“Proud to marry Brian and Joe at my house. Couldn’t be happier, two longtime White House staffers, two great guys.”

That photo has been retweeted over 38,000 times, including by Jill Biden who commented, “Love is love.”

The Washington Post reported that the couple, Brian Mosteller and Joe Mahshie, both work at the White House. Mosteller oversees Oval Office operations while Mahshie is a trip coordinator for First Lady Michelle Obama. The intimate ceremony at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., where the Vice President resides, was the first wedding at which Biden had ever officiated.

Vice President Biden has, however, been a longtime supporter of marriage equality and LGBT rights. He endorsed equal marriage rights in 2012, suggesting then that the criteria for marriage should be, “Who do you love?” That comment is credited with helping speed up President Barack Obama’s “evolution” on the issue, so he could then offer his own endorsement. Biden has also advocated for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, challenged the international community to address LGBT human rights, and said transgender equality is “the civil rights issue of our time.

For his decades of public service as a faithful Catholic, this spring Biden was awarded the University of Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal alongside former Speaker of the House John Boehner.  Yet, Biden has also taken heat from the Catholic hierarchy, on a number of occasions, for holding views inconsistent with magisterial teaching.

Looking to November, disputes about the actions of a vice president who is Catholic may not end. Indeed, they have already begun. Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee. Kaine, a Catholic who has said his faith is “central to everything I do,” has a positive record on LGBT rights.

But his support for marriage equality, in addition to being pro-choice, led Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence to suggest “[Kaine’s] faith isn’t central to his public, political life,” according to the Providence Journal. Since his nomination, Kaine has received public criticism from Virginia’s bishops, as well as from a priest in Washington, D.C. who tweeted, “Do us both a favor. Don’t show up in my communion line.” Faithful America has launched a petition calling upon Catholic leaders to stop questioning Kaine’s faith.

Tobin’s and other bishops’ suggestion that Catholics who support LGBT rights are not fully Catholic is troublesome. Recent data from the Pew Forum revealed 42% of Catholics considered that the treatment of LGBT people is “very important” in the upcoming election, the highest of any Christian denomination and two points higher than the average for all voters. The bishops deny the reality that, like Joe Biden and Tim Kaine, many Catholics support LGBT rights because of, and not in spite of, their faith.

That denial causes unnecessary controversy for the church, and further harm to LGBT Catholics and their families. Thankfully, lay Catholics act daily for inclusion and justice. To Brian and Joe, and Joe Biden, Bondings 2.0 says congratulations!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

The Huffington Post, “Why Joe Biden’s Blessing of a Gay Wedding Matters

On Independence Day, Remembering the Global Struggle for LGBT “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness”

In the United States, today is Independence Day, when we commemorate the establishment of our democratic nation which allows people to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” to quote the Declaration of Independence.

Amid the celebration, we might take a moment to remember LGBT people around the globe who do not enjoy these blessings due to restrictive and oppressive laws.  As we do so, it is good to note that the United States government is trying to promote LGBT human rights around the globe.

While Catholic bishops in Uganda have supported that nation’s new law which promotes harsh punishments for homosexuality, a Catholic lay person here in the United States has recently spoken out strongly against this measure, and others like it which are springing up around the globe.

Vice President Joseph Biden

United States Vice-President Joseph Biden, a practicing Catholic, did not mince words recently when he addressed a “Forum on Global LGBT Human Rights” which he hosted at his residence.   Huffington Post reported:

“Seeking to mobilize a global front against anti-gay violence and discrimination, Vice President Joe Biden declared Tuesday that protecting gay rights is a defining mark of a civilized nation and must trump national cultures and social traditions.

“Biden told a gathering of U.S. and international gay rights advocates that President Barack Obama has directed that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women around the world

” ‘I don’t care what your culture is,’ Biden told about 100 guests at the Naval Observatory’s vice presidential mansion. ‘Inhumanity is inhumanity is inhumanity. Prejudice is prejudice is prejudice.’ “

Vice President Biden is largely credited with moving the Obama administration to much more progressive policies in regard to marriage equality and LGBT rights.

Marianne Duddy-Burke at the forum.

In attendance at the forum was Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity/USA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics.

Buzzfeed reported that days before the Vice President’s statements, President Obama instituted new directives towards Uganda because of the anti-gay law:

“The White House announced . . . that it would cancel a U.S.-funded aviation exercise with Uganda and impose a visa ban on officials involved in human rights abuses and corruption as part of a package of steps in response to enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in February.

“ ‘As President Obama has stated, the Government of Uganda’s enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) runs counter to universal human rights and complicates our bilateral relationship,’ said the NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden in a statement.

“In addition to the travel ban and the cancellation of the aviation exercise, the White House also announced that it is ‘redirecting funds for certain additional programs involving the Ugandan Police Force, Ministry of Health, and National Public Health Institute.’ ” has reported on the deteriorating quality of life that lesbian and gay Ugandans have experienced since the law as enacted:

“Some gays and lesbians have decided to flee; others are choosing to stay, trapped indoors and inside a prison of fear.

“ ‘Before, we were an underground community, but at the same time we were vibrant, we were engaged,’ photographer Aldo Soligno recalls a woman telling him while shooting in Kampala.

“ ‘Since the law passed, everything has changed,’ she said to him. ‘Now we are scared to go out from our homes.’

“The situation is far worse for lower-income gays and lesbians, Soligno told MSNBC. Wealthier people can take cabs and spend their weekends at country clubs, free from the threat of violence and police raids that often accompany public transportation trips. ‘But if they don’t have this money,’ Soligno said, ‘they can’t go outside.’ ”

Uganda, a heavily Catholic nation, has very strong anti-gay cultural values.  The Catholic heritage is, in some ways, responsible for this reality.  Kittredge Cherry, who blogs at Jesus In Love Blog, has written about how the nation’s religious heritage influenced its homophobia:

“Forty-five Ugandan male pages refused to have sex with their king after they converted to Christianity — so he executed them. Many were burned to death on June 3, 1886. These boys and young men were canonized by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, leaving some truths hidden by their halos.”

But Cherry refuses to buy into the traditional anti-gay spin that this story often carries.  She asks the following questions:

“Does the experience of the Ugandan martyrs illustrate a gay king being oppressed and demonized by conservative Christians? Or does it exemplify Christians heroically trying to rescue boys from sexual abuse by a pedophile king? Did Christians teach young African men shame about their own same-gender-loving desires? Or did Christians give the pages a way to refuse rape by a ruler with absolute authority? Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between? How can the story be interpreted so that LGBT Ugandans have equal access to justice… and to God? “

Cherry’s answers to these questions are too expansive to reproduce here.  I recommend reading her entire blog post on the subject for a very interesting analysis.  (A “hat tip” to highly respected Catholic gay blogger Michael Bayly for alerting me to Cherry’s post.”)

New Ways Ministry continues to encourage Catholics and others to tweet to Pope Francis to denounce anti-gay laws such as the one in Uganda.  For information on the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Imagining Hope

President Obama delivering his inaugural address.
President Obama delivering his inaugural address.

Inauguration times are truly times of hope and joy.   Yesterday, I was down on the National Mall in Washington, DC, to see President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden take the oaths of office once again.

The hope and joy in the crowd was palpable.  Bursts of applause broke out after every few sentences during the President’s inaugural address.   Perhaps no applause was greater (especially from me) especially when Obama uttered the following words:

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”

I have been working in the field of Catholic LGBT ministry for over 20 years, and it dawned on me yesterday, that 20 years ago, even in my wildest dreams, I would never have guessed or even hoped  that I would hear a reference to Stonewall in a presidential inaugural address.  But, there it was: the first time ever that LGBT people or issues were mentioned in such a speech.

But it got better.

A short time after the Stonewall reference, Obama added the following words:

“It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began … Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

Not only a second reference to LGBT equality, but a specific, supportive message of marriage equality!  I could hardly believe my ears.

All of this was on top of the well-publicized fact before the inauguration that Richard Blanco, the poet chosen to write verse for the occasion, is an openly gay man.

As I reflected last night on the day’s events,  I thought of how much hope such milestones provide.   What is most important for me is that such moments help to fill our imaginations with hope.  As Catholics who work for LGBT justice and equality, it may seem far-fetched to imagine a bishop or the pope saying such things as Obama did yesterday.  But 20 years ago, it was equally unimaginable that we would hear what we heard yesterday.  And 40 years ago, one would have probably been thought insane to imagine such a prospect.

So, let’s pray in gratitude today for the hope that Obama’s message gives us as Catholic advocates for LGBT people.  Let’s give our hope a chance to be renewed and provide our imaginations a chance to be expanded to include impossible dreams.  And let’s pray for the courage to work to make those impossible dreams come true.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Gaining Inspiration from Martin Luther King, Jr. as Obama/Biden Inauguration Is Celebrated

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today our nation observes the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a great religious leader who worked and struggled for civil rights, equality, and justice.

His model of non-violent action and resistance, of loving one’s enemy, is a model for Catholics who work for equality and justice for LGBT people in our church and society.

Here are some quotes from the great leader for your reflection and inspiration today:

  • Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
  • I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. 
  • In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. 
  • A man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent.
  • Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. 
  • Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.
  • Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.
  • Only in the darkness can you see the stars.
  • We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
  • The time is always right to do the right thing.

Let us also remember in prayer today President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden,  whose inauguration we celebrate today in the U.S.  President Obama was the first president to endorse marriage equality.  He did so after Vice President Biden, a Catholic, first announced his support for marriage equality on national television.  Vice President Biden is also on record saying that transgender equality is the civil rights issue of our time.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

The Best of 2012 in Catholic LGBT News

Thumbs_upYesterday, we posted our list of the worst of 2012 in Catholic LGBT news.  Today, as promised, we end the year on a positive note by presenting our list of the BEST of the previous year.  Much good has happened in 2012, with Catholics at all levels of the church speaking out for justice and equality for LGBT people.

Thanks to the 286 of you who voted in our poll to determine the selection and ranking of these best news stories.  The percentage following each story is the percentage of people who chose this item as one of their top five.

The Top Ten

1. Catholic lay support aids marriage equality victories in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State. 23.08%

2. Priests in Minnesota and Maryland publicly counter the local hierarchy’s opposition to marriage equality. 14.69%  

3. Berlin’s Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki suggests that the church should treat gay and straight couples similarly9.09%  

4 & 5.  TIE                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Bishop Richard Malone in Maine announces that the diocese will not take an active political role against the state’s marriage equality referendum. 8.39%                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Surveys show increase in support for LGBT issues among Hispanics, especially Catholics. 8.39%

6. At New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, Australia’s Bishop Geoffrey Robinson calls for the church hierarchy to re-think its sexual ethics teachings8.04% 

7 & 8. TIE                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The University of Notre Dame gives official recognition to a gay-straight alliance after years of student activism. 5.24%                           Austrian Cardinal overturns a pastor’s decision to bar a gay man from serving on a parish council. 5.24%

9. Catholics in Media Associates gives its top award to TV’s Modern Family, a show featuring a gay family. 3.85%  

10. Maryland priest who denied communion to a lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral is removed from pastoral ministry. 3.5%  

Editor’s Note:  One item which we neglected to add to the list for voting was that Vice President Joe Biden, a  Catholic, endorsed marriage equality, paving the way for President Barack Obama to do the same.  Biden also referred to transgender equality as “the civil rights issue of our time.”  We feel these should deserve some mention on the list of the best Catholic news of 2012.  We regret that we didn’t include them for voting.  Mea maxima culpa.

Other items

Cardinal Francis George apologizes for comparing the LGBT community to the Ku Klux Klan. 2.45%  

Ontario requires all schools, including state-supported Catholic schools, to institute gay-straight alliances. 2.1%  

Jesuit author James Martin endorses Spirit Day, a national program to end bullying of LGBT youth. 2.1% 

Pastor at Most Holy Redeemer parish in San Francisco reverses his earlier decision to ban drag queens from parish events. 1.75%

Students at Stonehill College, a Catholic campus in Massachusetts, win a new and improved non-discrimination policy. 1.4%  

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry