Another Teen Can’t Bring Her Female Date to Catholic H.S. Prom

As we enter the thick of the high school prom season, news comes of yet another same-gender couple not being allowed to attend a Catholic high school’s big dance.  This trend is becoming larger and larger, and soon Catholic schools are going to have to face the reality that more and more of their students will be seeking to attend with an escort of the same-gender.

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Paula Goodgame, left, and her girlfriend, Anjali Persad

Buzzfeed reported that Paula Goodgame, a 17-year old student at St. Petersburg Catholic High School, Florida, “had discovered she wouldn’t be allowed to take her girlfriend, Anjali Persad, to the big dance as her date, according to an email she received from her school guidance counselor.” 

The guidance counselor told her that school rules required “escorts must be of the opposite gender.”  In an email the counselor gave her an alternative suggestion, but one that falls short of the mark:  “. . . [I]f you could have one of your male friends ask her as his date that would probably work.”

However well-intentioned the guidance counselor is, that solution is not satisfying.  If anything, such a suggestion teaches students to find a way around an unjust rule, rather than confronting the injustice that exists.  It sends the message that this student must find underhanded ways of living out her relationship.  Neither of these lessons expresses Catholic values.

As Bondings 2.0 has reported, while this trend of barring same-gender couples from proms is growing, there have been some instances where Catholic leaders have taken a more enlightened approach to the issue.  In 2013, McQuaid Jesuit H.S., Rochester, an all-boys school allowed a same-gender couple, and the school’s president used concepts from Pope Francis to defend the decision.  In Australia, an archbishop made a blanket decision that all Catholic high school students should be allowed to take to the prom whoever they want.

The whole controversy raises a number of questions and puzzled expressions.  For one thing, girls dancing with girls, and women dancing with women, has been a socially acceptable practice for decades even in the most heterosexual of environments.   What’s the big deal here?

More importantly, do Catholic school officials assume that all of their heterosexually-coupled prom dates are going to engage in sexual activity on the big night?  Of course, the answer is no. So where is the problem in allowing a same-gender couple to attend the event, using the same assumption that sexual contact is not a foregone conclusion?

If Catholic schools justify their bans on same-gender prom couples by saying they are upholding church teaching on sexuality, the question needs to be asked, why aren’t they doing the same thing with the way proms celebrate conspicuous consumption.  Catholic high school students will sometimes spend way beyond their means for dresses, tuxedos, flowers, limousines, tickets, after-parties.  Why are school officials only concerned about one part of church teaching–sex–and not the more socially justice oriented values of modest and moderate use of financial resources.

Finally, what is the purpose of such bans on same-gender couples except to exclude?  Do school officials believe that such rules will discourage gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens from acknowledging their orientations and from seeking relationships that are honest and personally fulfilling to them? All these rules do is create bad feelings–and not least among the majority of heterosexually-oriented ally students who are friends with their LGB peers.

Just as with the terrible scourge of Catholic institutions firing LGBT and ally employees,  the Church is soon going to learn that this strategy is not only unjust but unsustainable.  As more and more LGB students step up and seek to attend proms with their special guests, schools are going to find that the institution of prom will have to start accommodating them or risk becoming an outdated tradition.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 6, 2017

Related articles:

South Florida Gay News:  Catholic High School Bans Lesbian Couple From Attending Prom Together

Gay Star News: “Gay girl was told she can’t bring her girlfriend to prom, and the internet is outraged”

Michael Maher, a researcher on Catholic youth and LGBT issues be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Three Bishops Speak Out on Pastoral Inclusion

“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Three Bishops Speak At New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium, 1992

As I hope you know by now, New Ways Ministry will be hosting its Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” on the weekend of April 28-30, 2017, in Chicago.   Thus, it seems an appropriate time to turn our clocks back 25 years and look at the Third National Symposium, back in March 1992, which also took place in Chicago.

At New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium: Bishop Kenneth Untener; Bishop William Hughes; Sister Helen Marie Burns, RSM, Chair of New Ways Ministry’s Board; Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

The Third National Symposium was historic in that it was the first time that three Catholic bishops came to a forum to speak about what was then understood as lesbian and gay issues in the Church.  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, auxiliary of Detroit, Bishop William Hughes, diocesan bishop of Covington, Kentucky, and Bishop Kenneth Untener, diocesan bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, all were there to present “his viewpoint on the pastoral reality of the church’s ministry to members of the gay and lesbian community, ” according to a news report by Ed Stieritz, printed in the April 5, 1992 edition of The Messenger, the Catholic newspaper of Davenport, Iowa.

It was at that symposium where Bishop Gumbleton first told the story of his and his family’s response to learning that his brother Dan is gay, which began the bishop’s career of public advocacy for LGBT equality.  The Messenger reported:

“Bishop Gumbleton shared, poignantly, how he had reacted when his brother told members of his family of his homosexual orientation.  He admitted he had the same difficulty that most family members have when faced with such a revelation.  Now, he said, he has come to appreciate the great gifts his brother brings to both the family and the Church as well as the lessons of tolerance and understanding that they have all learned as a result of his brother’s ‘coming out.’ “

Bishop Hughes acknowledged that the Catholic Church had been remiss in affirming lesbian and gay people.    The newspaper quoted from his talk:

“. . . [W]e’re in a period of change when the Church is recognizing more and more the need to deal with people primarily as ‘persons.’ We are all part of the Body of Christ, and if one suffers–all suffer.”

In a sidebar story, Bishop Hughes was asked why he decided to attend the symposium.  His answer:

“I felt that when I am invited to go to any people who are hurting or suffering in their relationship with the church, I am going to make sure I am present to say ‘the church cares about you.’ We are an inclusive church, which means we reach out to everybody.”

Bishop Untener also stressed the theme of inclusivity, but also took a look at what he believes God uses to judge us.  He said:

“Since I am a theologian, I don’t say this lightly, but I have come to truly believe that when we die the only thing that will matter in the end will be how we have treated one another.”

In Voices of Hope,  a collection of church statements on lesbian and gay issues edited by New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent (out of print, but used copies may be found online), a very insightful passage of Bishop Untener’s talk was cited:

“We need to take seriously the evaluation that homosexuality is a complex question, yet I do not believe we always do.  We have to be careful not to make life too simple.  The Pharisees made that mistake.  They made religion very complex, but treated life as though it were simple.  They had complex rules about what one could or could not do and thought these could apply very simply to life.  The complexity of their religious formulations took care of everything, and the rest, they thought, was simple.

“Jesus did exactly the opposite.  His religious teachings were very simple.  He said that all the commandments of the law came down to two: love of God and love of neighbor.  When they asked Him enormously complex questions, he would say, ‘Let me tell you a story. . . ‘

“On the other hand, Jesus treated life as very complex, as His parables show.  For example, the parable of the prodigal son was so simple until He introduced the last scene with the complexity of the older brother.  And Jesus left it there. The parable ends with the older brother and the father still arguing out in the yard.”

The Third National Symposium was an exciting event at a time when lesbian and gay issues were just being brought into the mainstream of the Catholic Church’s life.   The upcoming Eighth National Symposium promises to be just as exciting.  In fact, Bishop Gumbleton will again be at the meeting to share his powerful reflections with the participants.  And although Bishop Hughes has since passed on, another Kentucky church leader, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. will be there to offer inspiration.

For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.  Register before March 27th to avoid paying an additional $50 late fee.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 23, 2017

 

“The Benedict Option” and LGBT People, Part I

A controversial new book comes out this week, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, which claims so-called orthodox Christians (including those defined, in large part, by a commitment to heteronormativity) should be prepared to withdraw from Western culture.

That proposed withdrawal, in the style of St. Benedict’s 6th-century withdrawal from a collapsing Roman Empire, is due largely to Western societies’ liberalizing views on gender and sexuality. The book’s description calls the social context today “a new, post-Christian barbarism.”

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Katie Grimes

Theologian Katie Grimes, who teaches at Villanova University, Pennsylvania, anticipates the book with an analysis of the very communities Dreher’s Benedict Option would leave behind, namely LGBT people.

Writing at the blog Women in Theology, Grimes said she neither wants to neither weigh-in on Dreher’s specific vocation nor review the yet unpublished book. Instead, she wants to “alleviate the fears that Dreher has expressed in blog posts and interviews,” where he has suggested LGBT rights threaten the religious liberty of orthodox Christians. Grimes described the author’s  fears:

“Dreher fears that someday Christians who express public opposition to gay marriage will encounter ‘hostile work conditions, including dismissal from your job.’ . . . that someday Christians who express public opposition to gay marriage will incur ‘all the legal sanctions that now apply to people who openly express racist views.’ . . . that orthodox Christians will not be allowed to own businesses unless they submit to serving LGBT customers. . . that someday progressive Christians ‘far in the future [will turn in orthodox Christians who have had to go into hiding].'”

Grimes points out that those very fears expose “the reality that LGBT people have already lived. . . proves much worse than the future Dreher fears.” Grimes continues:

“In addition to being fired, ridiculed, and hunted by state agents, LGBT people continue to endure evils that do not appear even in Dreher’s worst nightmares such as being beaten and killed, ostracized from and even kicked out of their families of origin, denied housing, unable to visit sick partners in hospitals, and disinherited. . .If LGBT people in this country experience less mistreatment today than in years past, it is in large part because they both need less protection from the culture and receive more protection from the state.”

Grimes is clear she does not want Dreher’s Christians, “should they become an endangered minority,” to face such discrimination and violence. They should be, in her words, treated as any other human being “in all its messy and beautiful complexity.”

Thus, she makes a series of solidarity commitments that include protesting if  “an employer fires you upon discovering that you are married to one woman and intend to remain so until death parts you” and defending them if “members of your same sex unleash a campaign of corrective rape aimed at changing your sexual orientation.” But, Grimes continued:

“Of course, Dreher does not fear that orthodox Christians will be in any way harmed for selecting a spouse in accordance with their sexual orientation or participating in a heterosexual, monogamous, and lifelong marriage. He fears only that orthodox Christians will somehow be punished for expressing their opposition to gay marriage in public. Put another way, Dreher resists a future in which orthodox Christians will have to selectively hide their true identity from certain employers, family members, and neighbors like LGBT people do.”

Using divorce and remarriage as an example, Grimes said liberalizing laws on these issues did not threaten Christians because divorced persons were assumed to be safe. Lack of discrimination and violence against them has meant they are not a protected class, unlike LGBT people, and meant further there has not been sharp pushback from divorced persons against Christians with differing views.

But for LGBT people, Grimes said Dreher “implies that orthodox Christian liberty necessarily would come at the expense of LGBT people’s lives. . .that the gay rights movement will inflict a mortal wound upon orthodox Christianity.” This is, however, not the case because “most people have turned towards LGBT people” rather than first rejecting heteronormative claims.

Finally, Grimes affirmed a way forward in which LGBT equality is ensured while right-wing Christians are respected:

“If orthodox Christians begin to treat LGBT people the way they currently treat divorced people, then it seems likely that progressives would treat orthodox Christians the way they currently treat people who condemn divorce.

“Dreher can do even more to secure the liberty of orthodox Christians living in parts of the world in which they no longer comprise the political or cultural majority by working to awaken the consciences of those who still do.  Orthodox Christianity ought to “own up” not just to its anti-gay past, but to its anti-gay present as well. The historical injustices Dreher laments continue to occur still today.  Dreher encourages other orthodox Christians to disengage/pull away from a society that will not let them speak freely, but what about those LGBT people who cannot hide from the orthodox Christians who remain in control?”

Grimes asked in conclusion, “Will orthodox Christians like Dreher pledge to do for LGBT people of all religious backgrounds what I have pledged to do for orthodox Christians?”

41qy2bzzazfl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Rod Dreher’s drastic proposal that Christians withdraw from Western society primarily over LGBT rights is understandably disputed. It will be interesting to see how reactions and responses evolve. But Katie Grimes’ anticipatory article does a good job of grounding the conversation in history and in the realities of LGBT people’s lives.

Later this week, Bondings 2.0 will continue this conversation. In the meantime, whether you have read Dreher’s book or not, let us know what you think about the “Benedict Option” idea or Grimes’ response in the “Comments” section below.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 21, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Dutch Bishops’ Statement Critiques Negative Approach to Lesbians and Gays

History-Option 1“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Dutch Bishops’ Homosexuality Document Released in English by New Ways Ministry

On February 20, 1980, which was Ash Wednesday that year, New Ways Ministry published an English translation of the Dutch bishops’ recently published document, Homosexual People in Society, a groundbreaking text, which strongly critiqued the way Catholic leaders had traditionally approached lesbian and gay issues.

The document, which had been published in the Netherlands in August 1979 by the Catholic Council for Church and Society, an official agency of the Dutch hierarchy comparable to a committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was intended to promote discussions in parishes and Catholic groups in Holland.  New Ways Ministry said that it reprinted the document in English to be “a tool for discussion among grassroots people and hopefully as a spur to larger study” on gay and lesbian issues. The National Catholic Reporter announced the English translation in the pages of its March 7, 1980 issue.

As its title suggests, the document was primarily concerned with the social effects that gay and lesbian people experienced, particularly as a result of Church doctrine and practice.  In its introduction, the Council stated:

“In light of the Church’s traditional views of sexuality, this position of excluding homosexual persons from Church life causes even further discrimination.  Singling people out within the Church community can tend to foster social discrimination.  Consequently, it is not surprising the the Church’s pronouncements about rejecting social discrimination do not always sound very credible.”

One of the important points of the document was its critique of traditional Scripture interpretations which were used to condemn lesbian and gay people.  In some of its strongest language, the Council observed:

“First, a direct biblical basis for judgment on a homosexual orientation as such is absent; the Scripture writers were not aware of a constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation.  This means that any appeal to the Scriptures in order to condemn a homosexual orientation and to transfer that condemnation into social discrimination must be rejected as an abuse of Scripture.

“Secondly, when the Scriptures speak disapprovingly about homosexual acts, the main emphasis appears to be on the condemnation of abuses in which homosexual acts play only a part.  Most often these abuses are mentioned very explicitly: violation of hospitality, blackmail, prostitution, and especially idolatry. . . .

“There seems to be insufficient grounds for justifying discrimination against homosexual persons by appealing to those texts.”

Also, significant for its time, was an openness to critique natural law by appealing to new scientific research.  The Council wanted to examine

“. . . the problem of how an appeal to the natural law can be convincing in those cases where homosexual behavior can not be shown to be an expression of arrested development or perversion of a heterosexual orientation from personal or social pressures, but is understood and experienced as a natural expression of a homosexual orientation. This problem is even more urgent since, even in the sciences, a consensus is growing about the constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation.”

In a certain respect, the Dutch document was promoting similar ideas of non-judgmentalism that we have seen advocated by Pope Francis.  In one section, the document states:

“. . . [F]rom the moral judgment on homosexual behavior one cannot derive automatically a total condemnation of someone who behaves homosexually, let alone relegate him or her to the position of a social outcast or second-class citizen.”

These words are extremely important for Church leaders and pastors to pay heed to before excluding LGBT Catholics from sacraments, volunteer ministries, or employment.

 The document continued in the vein of Pope Francis.  In the following section, we read a forerunner to the pope’s complaint that Church leaders overemphasize sexuality issues. The document condemns “all too one-sided and exaggerated attention to sexual behavior.”  It continued:

“This overemphasis plays a role in another way in the problems of homosexual people in society, since this overemphasis can itself be a source of discrimination.  The Council wants to call attention emphatically to this.  Respect or personal freedom and conscientious striving for a just society exclude a position on sexuality which identifies orientation and behavior too closely together.  This creates a danger of shortsightedness and one-sidedness in judging people.  It can easily lead to an excessive attention to sexual behavior especially in its strict expressions of genital sexuality.”

The document does not challenge the prohibition of sexual activity between persons of the same sex, though it does acknowledge at one point that “the rejection of homosexual behavior embarrasses the Church precisely because some successful homosexual love relationships do exist.”

The more important emphasis in this document, however, is its insistence that Church leaders and pastors should not become condemnatory of lesbian and gay people. The authors were aware that the Church’s prohibition on same-sex activity could be inflated and destructive.  They warned that the prohibition “should certainly not be viewed as any indication of silent support for discrimination,” noting:.

“For that would be a sad caricature of Christianity.  In fact, the destructive results of this caricature are already being felt.  There is evidence of this, for example, in the fact that the self-acceptance of the homosexual person, which is often the result of a difficult struggle, frequently leads to an automatic break with the Church.  This is understandable within the framework of that caricature.  But in our opinion, it is a sad state of affairs both for the Church and the homosexual person.”

For its time, the Dutch document spoke truths that were hard for people to accept.  I think that even today, unfortunately, some Church leaders would be uncomfortable with some of the idea that the document expressed.  But in many quarters of the Church, including in the papacy, we are seeing some of their ideas finally taking root.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 22, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

New Book Examines “Same-Sex Marriage in Renaissance Rome”

A new book by a University of Virginia history professor makes the claim that same-gender marriages existed in the city of Rome during the Renaissance.

Gary Ferguson, the  Douglas Huntly Gordon Distinguished Professor of French at the Charlottesville school, recently published  Same-Sex Marriage in Renaissance Rome: Sexuality, Identity and Community in Early Modern Europe  (Cornell University Press, 2016) in which he displays evidence that, while not commonplace and not legal, the idea of marriages between two men or two women did exist in 16th century, just under the shadow of the Vatican.

In an essay for The Daily Beast, Ferguson begins by noting some literary evidence for the practice of same-gender marriages:

“In the late 16th century, the famous French essayist Michel de Montaigne wrote about two marriages between people of the same sex. The first involved women in eastern France, the second a group of men in Rome. At the time, same-sex marriages were not recognized by religious or civil law, and sodomy—a term that included a wide range of sexual acts—was a crime. As a result, when those involved were discovered they were usually brought to trial and punished, sometimes by death.”

Ferguson’s thesis is that even in the Renaissance, “marriage was a highly contested issue.”  He explains:

“Marriage between two men or two women might seem like a concept that has emerged only in recent decades. For centuries, however, same-sex couples have appropriated marriage in their own ways.”

Using one of Montaigne’s examples as a case study, Ferguson examines the French writer’s story by exploring  “several sources—diplomatic dispatches, newsletters, fragments of a trial transcript, and brief wills. . . ”   The result is a description of a planned marriage, thwarted by authorities:

“On a Sunday afternoon in July 1578, a sizable group of men gathered at Saint John at the Latin Gate, a beautiful but remote church on the outer edge of Rome. Many of them were friends who had met there on previous occasions. They were mostly poor immigrants from Spain and Portugal but included several priests and friars. They ate and drank in an atmosphere that was festive, yet strangely subdued. It turned suddenly to confusion and fear with the arrival of the police, who arrested 11 of those present. The rest fled.

“The Roman authorities had been tipped off about the group’s plans to celebrate a marriage, perhaps not for the first time, between two of its members. In the end, the wedding between Gasparo and Gioseffe hadn’t taken place: The latter—reportedly ill—failed to appear. But Gasparo was among those taken prisoner, and, following a trial that lasted three weeks, executed.”

Ferguson reveals that the marriage which was to have taken place would not have been a traditional one for many other reasons besides gender, including the fact that it may not have been intended as a sexually exclusive arrangement.  But the fact that such ritual practices is still significant, he claims:

“The evidence, then, points to a handful of motivations behind the Roman weddings. Since the friends took the ceremony seriously enough to put themselves at considerable risk, it very likely served to recognize and sanction Gasparo and Gioseffe’s relationship, claiming that such a union should be possible. At the same time, it may also have had a playful element, parodying and subtly criticizing elements of a traditional wedding.”

In fact, because of the greatly different historical situations,  Ferguson says that these unions are not identical to modern same-sex marriages:

“. . . [T]he context for extending marriage rights to same-sex couples today is very different from the 16th century, when most marriages weren’t based primarily on love and didn’t establish legal equality between the spouses.

“It was after the changes effected by the women’s rights movement in the second half of the 20th century to make the institution more equitable that gay and lesbian activists adopted marriage equality as their major goal.”

Yet, their historical significance must still be considered for another reason:

“. . . [T]he stories from the 16th century show that marriage has never been a universal and fixed phenomenon. It has a contested history, one that both excludes and includes same-sex couples, who have claimed marriage on their own terms.”

Ferguson’s case brings to mind John Boswell’s 1994 Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe which made the case that union ceremonies, equivalent to marriage, between two men or two women took place, often in religious settings, during the medieval era.  Some critics of Boswell claimed that the texts he had which described union ceremonies were not analogous to marriage, but represented other forms of friendship.  Boswell, unfortunately, died shortly after the book’s publication so he could not defend his thesis against such attacks.

I hope to get a chance to read Ferguson’s book in the coming months and provide a full review in a later post here at Bondings 2.0.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 17,  2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit http://www.Symposium2017.org.

 

Rejection of LGBT Student Group Raises Problems at Catholic H.S.

Following a Missouri Catholic high school’s rejection of a proposed LGBT student group, community members are asking questions about how and why this decision was made. So far there are few clear answers.

kuzp-ldkAt Nerinx Hall Catholic High School, in Webster Groves, near St. Louis, School President John Gabriel said the Archdiocese of St. Louis directed him to reject a request from students for an LGBT club, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In a response to concerned alumna, Jill Allen, Gabriel explained that the archdiocese mandated any student LGBT group at the all-girls school follow “a carefully charted course of action that includes conversion therapy.” He would later say he misread this archdiocesan directive.  He also told Allen:

“Nerinx Hall believes that we can best minister to our LGBT students through our Loretto charism and the Loretto school values of faith, community, justice, and respect.”

But, Allen wrote in her initial letter to the school president, that rejecting an LGBT group “doesn’t reflect my experience of Nerinx,” and is not consistent with Loretto values. And Allen is not alone. Within a day, more than 600 people joined a Facebook group protesting the rejection. Beth Schumacher, class of 2001, told the Post-Dispatch:

“‘There are a lot of alumnae out there who are really, really disappointed both with the decision and with the direction it might be going in right now. . .There are young people at risk. If someone is asking for a club of that nature, then there are definitely individuals who can use that level of support.'”

The school was founded and is currently sponsored by the Sisters of Loretto.  It an independent institution not formally affiliated with the Archdiocese.  On the school’s website, the statement of philosophy says that the school believes “educated, caring, and empowered young women are essential to our world.” It shares in the Loretto School Values, which include:

“Community: Building relationships that are affirming, inclusive, empowering, and compassionate

“Justice: Promoting changes to eliminate oppression, and creating systems and relationships in which people, especially women, are treated fairly and impartially

“Respect: Being open to differences, and believing in each person’s potential. Promoting the dignity of individuals and protecting the sacredness of all creation.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder and lifelong Catholic advocate for LGBT people provided the following comment to Bondings 2.0 about this decision made at a school that is sponsored by her religious community:

“As a Sister of Loretto, I am embarrassed and ashamed by the stance taken by Mr. John Gabriel. Such a posture does not reflect the Loretto values of inclusion, diversity, and care for all. The students and alumnae of Nerinx deserve leadership that displays these Gospel-based values.”

The story of the school’s decision became even more complex when later in the day, in a letter to parents after news of the rejection broke, Gabriel retracted his claim about “conversion” therapy, writing:

“Today, a Post-Dispatch reporter reached out to Nerinx Hall and the Archdiocese. In preparing my response to the reporter, I also spoke with Archdiocesan Superintendent Dr. Kurt Nelson. It was during my conversation with him that I realized I had misunderstood the Archdiocesan position on conversion therapy within school LGBTQ+ groups.”

Responding to the Post-Dispatch, Gabriel simply “sent a reporter a list of Nerinx Hall’s initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion, which include training for teachers on ministry to LGBT individuals and diversity forums for students.” He commented only that Nerinx Hall would be consulting with the Archdiocese on next steps.

Unfortunately, it is not merely Gabriel and Nerinx Hall administrators who are involved, as they may be more willing to listen to alumnae. Gabe Jones, an archdiocesan spokesperson, said Archbishop Robert Carlson is responsible for all Catholics, and “[w]hen it comes to Catholic teaching, the archdiocese is the arbiter of what is Catholic and what is not.”

At issue in this debate are guidelines on LGBT ministry published by the Archdiocese last year. Titled “Hope and Holiness: Pastoral Care for Those with Same-Sex Attraction,” these guidelines include a “triage checklist” for dealing with LGBT people, and discourage people from publicly coming out. The guidelines also mandate that the Archdiocese be consulted if an LGBT group is being considered at a school or parish.  The guidelines express concern about how adolescents are considered in such groups:

“[T]he boundaries between transitory same-sex attraction and more deep-seated tendencies are not always clear. It is not unusual for a young person to experience attraction to a person of the same sex. It is important not to assume that such experiences are the result of a deep-seated tendency.”

Perhaps this is what confused President Gabriel into citing conversion therapy as a reason for the rejection. It is troubling that a lack of clarity still exists about how, why, and by whom the decision was made. This haze is similar to other LGBT controversies at Catholic institutions where culpability for unpopular decisions is treated as hot potato, passed around by church officials.

But this is a prime moment in which a Catholic high school can assert its independence and take a firm stand for its LGBTQ students. As a former Loretto Volunteer and friend of some Sisters of Loretto, I have come to know well the values of the Loretto Community, with which Nerinx Hall is affiliated. The Sisters “work for justice and act for peace because the Gospel urges us,” and have done so with a pioneer mentality for over two centuries. President Gabriel and Nerinx Hall administrators should tap into the Community’s rich Catholic roots to find a way forward consistent with this history and these values.

What would be best at this moment is for administrators at Nerinx Hall and Archbishop Carlson to share transparently what happened: Did the Archdiocese demand the group be rejected? Are Nerinx Hall administrators hiding their decision under the Archdiocese’s umbrella? Was conversion therapy a relevant aspect in the rejection? And what happens now? Nerinx Hall students, alumnae, teachers, parents, and Catholics in St. Louis generally deserve nothing less than honest and clear answers to these questions.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 16, 2017

Catholic Scouts in Ireland Working on Policy to Welcome Transgender Children

A Catholic scouting organization in Ireland is developing a policy about transgender girls that looks like it will be accepting them.

cgi20logo20hi20resWhile the Catholic Girl Guides of Ireland (CGI) does not currently accept openly transgender children, the group’s leader told the Irish Independent that they are working to develop a policy:

“Linda Peters, chief executive officer of the Irish Girl Guides, said in yesterday’s Irish Independent that ‘our policy is that anyone who lives their life as a female is welcome to join our organisation’.

“However, when asked if she would presently accept a boy identifying himself as a girl, she said: ‘I don’t know. It’s a hypothetical question, so I’m not going to answer it or comment further. We’ll be in a better position to go into more detail when we finalise our guidelines on this topic.’ “

Peters’ words that they would like to welcome “anyone who lives their life as a female” seem to indicate that their new policy will be welcoming.

CGI spokesperson Michelle Finnerty explained that the group would not currently accept a transgender girl but that the organization feels this is “in the best interests of everyone, and especially for that child, until a policy is developed.” CGI, she said, did not want to make trans children’s’ lives “any more difficult.”

The policy in development, which Finnerty said can be expected “very soon,” was sparked by a CGI volunteer who is interested in transgender issues.Finnerty explained:

” ‘One of our members has a special interest in this area and had gathered a lot of useful information on this topic while she was over there [at a recent round-table discussion in Sweden on gender and membership with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts].’

” ‘Putting together a policy on this is going to take a long time, because it will need a lot of consultation. We have to listen to the views of our youth members and parents’ opinions, along with expert advice, too.’ “

The organization is also consulting a CGI volunteer who has a transgender child who is not a member of the group.

Reading this news story, I thought back to a similar response offered last year by a Catholic school in Rhode Island. Administrators at Mount Saint Charles Academy had implemented a ban on transgender students, the reasoning for which is that the school did not provide sufficient resources to support trans youth. Administrators retracted the policy quickly after alumni organized, and the school instead undertook made efforts to expand its supports for LGBT students while concurrently welcoming all applicants.

Interestingly, Alan Matthews, a scouting leader for boys in Dundalk, Ireland, offered some wisdom to the Independent on how he would react to a trans boy seeking membership:

” ‘I don’t see why we wouldn’t let them join. If they want to identify themselves as a boy, fair enough. I suppose it’s their human right and we’re not going to stand against them. I’m sure six- and seven-year-olds wouldn’t notice the difference.'”

Societies tend to discount the agency of children, and in doing so, we too frequently miss the lessons they offer the rest of us. But I think Matthews is correct that answers to questions about gender and Catholic organizations may be found in the wisdom of young children, to which Jesus himself exhorted us to listen. If children are seeing each other as another person first, rather than as a gender, then we should make that our starting point for any policy: always welcome the persons before you, and then figure out how to accompany them.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 26, 2017