Cardinal Schönborn Offers Model for Pastoral Outreach to Lesbian and Gay Couples

September 12, 2015

For several years now, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna has spoken acted very forthrightly in support of lesbian and gay couples.  In his latest interview with an Italian Catholic magazine, Schönborn continued his advocacy for greater recognition of same-gender couples, while at the same time tempering his recommendations by stating his adherence to the magisterium’s heterosexual norm for sexual expression. [For a list of Schönborn’s previous statements on lesbian and gay couples, see the end of this post.]

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn

In an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica‘s editor, Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ, Schönborn enunciated both one of his strongest statements of support for lesbian and gay couples, as well as one of his strongest statements of support for the hierarchy’s view of sexual ethics. The interview was conducted in Italian, but excerpts from it were included in a news article in the United Kingdom’s Catholic Herald:

“Cardinal Schönborn spoke in the interview about a gay friend of his who, after many temporary relationships, is now in a stable relationship. ‘It’s an improvement,’ he said. They share ‘a life, they share their joys and sufferings, they help one another. It must be recognised that this person took an important step for his own good and the good of others, even though it certainly is not a situation the Church can consider “regular.” ‘

“The Church’s negative ‘judgment about homosexual acts is necessary,’ he said, ‘but the Church should not look in the bedroom first, but in the dining room! It must accompany people.’ “

The cardinal gave a description of how he understands what it means to pastorally accompany gay and lesbian couples:

“Pastoral accompaniment ‘cannot transform an irregular situation into a regular one,’ he said, ‘but there do exist paths for healing, for learning,’ for moving gradually closer to a situation in compliance with Church teaching.

” ‘We are not at risk of diluting the clarity [of Church teaching] while walking with people because we are called to walk in the faith,’ he said.

Though his comments about gay and lesbian relationships are not the most positive that they can be, there is a hopeful message in the methodology that Schönborn lays out.  His pastoral methodology seems very close to ideas offered by Pope Francis:

” ‘We are all called to observe the situation, not gazing from above and beginning with abstract ideas, but with the gaze of pastors who scrutinise today’s reality in an evangelical spirit,’ the cardinal said . . .

“The approach the bishops are called to take, he said, ‘is not first of all a critical gaze that highlights every failure, but a benevolent gaze that sees how much good will and how much effort there is even in the midst of much suffering.’

“The next step, he said, is not to pretend that everything in all those situations is fine, but to help Catholics build on what is good, growing in holiness and faithfulness to God and to each other.”

Perhaps I am too optimistic, but I tend to think that if such an approach were actually practiced by bishops and other pastoral ministers, these church leaders would also be changed by the encounter they experience.  In giving up their harsh judgmental stance, bishops and pastoral ministers will be opening their hearts to seeing goodness and holiness, and I can’t help but think that this new vision will change their own hearts and minds.

How did Cardinal Schönborn develop such an open approach to these pastoral situations?  Perhaps the detail of his biography that he mentioned in the interview holds a clue:

“Cardinal Schönborn said that being a child of divorced parents – and of a father who remarried – he knows what it is to grow up in a ‘patchwork family.’ And despite it not conforming fully to the Church’s ideal, ‘I also experienced the radical goodness of the family’ with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who helped out.

In 1999,  Detroit’s Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a great advocate for LGBT Catholics, was asked a question at a talk he gave, “How can more bishops become like you?”  Gumbleton, whose eyes were opened about LGBT people because of having a gay brother, answered, “Tell the bishops to find the gay and lesbian members in their families.”

I strongly suspect that the reason Cardinal Schönborn has such an open view about what the church would call an “irregular” relationship is that he experienced these realities in his own family.  And he is courageous enough–and vulnerable enough–to face those facts, reflect on his experience, and share those thoughts publicly.  I’m not sure enough church leaders are willing to be so vulnerable.

If you can read Italian, you can read the entire interview with Cardinal Schönborn in La Civiltà Cattolica by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Previous posts about Cardinal Schönborn’s statements on lesbian and gay couples:

April 3, 2012: “Austrian Cardinal: Gay Man Can Stay on Parish Council”

April 12, 2013: “Two More Cardinals on the Record Endorsing Civil Unions

February 11, 2014: “Signs of Openness on LGBT and Marriage Issues from Two European Church Leaders”


Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Missing LGBT Webpage Mystery Is Partially Solved, But Questions Remain

July 20, 2015

In the Bondings 2.0 post on July 19, 2015, we described a communion denial near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and in the course of the story, we provided a link to the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ webpage of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on LGBT issues and the Catholic Church.  We commented that it was one of the best resources on LGBT issues coming from a website of the institutional Church.

One of our readers, however, informed us that by the afternoon of July 19th, the FAQ webpage was no longer active.  Indeed, the entire webpage for the LGBT ministry that the archdiocese had set up was also taken down.

Bondings 2.0 was able to obtain a copy of the page’s text from the morning of July 19th, and it contained a wealth of information from authoritative Catholic sources on issues directly affecting LGBT ministry, presented in a pastorally sensitive way, which is why we had recommended it.  You can read the material by clicking here.

Today, the Archdiocese of New Orleans posted the following statement on their main website concerning why the LGBT webpage was deactivated:

“The website and Facebook page for the Pastoral Care of Persons with Same-Sex Orientation, also known as LGBT, have been deactivated. An unauthorized person was able to access the website and post information that contradicts the teaching of the Catholic Church. We deeply regret that this has happened and are taking steps to secure the websites. Our mission is to represent accurately the teaching of the Bible and the Catholic Church and to provide ministry with integrity.

“We are very sorry that this misleading information has been posted and has caused confusion.”

The mystery of this story lies in what the definition of “unauthorized person” is.  Does this mean that someone hacked into the website?  Or does it mean that someone from the archdiocese had posted the information without getting clearance from higher sources?

It’s very sad that this information has been taken down because it actually explained the full teaching of the Catholic Church on lesbian and gay issues, including teaching on conscience, biblical interpretation, the evaluation of the sinfulness of sexual activity, civil rights, and the development of doctrine.

The archdiocese has said that it is unknown as to when the webpages will become active again.

It will be interesting to see which of the explanations that were on the site on the morning of July 19th will re-appear when the page comes up–particularly those sections which come from authoritative church documents and leaders.

For example, in answer to the question “What about conscience?” the webpage yesterday included the following quotations:

  • “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his [sic] conscience. If he were to deliberately act against it, he would condemn himself.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1790
  • “If a man [sic] is admonished by his own conscience—even an erroneous conscience, but one whose voice appears to him as unquestionable—he must always listen to it. What is not permissible is that he culpably indulge in error without trying to reach the truth.” John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 1994, p. 191
  • “Deep within a person’s conscience one discovers a law which one has not laid upon one’s self but which one must obey. Its voice, ever calling the person to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in that person’s heart at the right moment. . . . For one has in his or her heart a law inscribed by God. . . . One’s conscience is one’s most secret core and one’s sanctuary. There one is alone with God whose voice echoes in that person’s depths.” Gaudium et spes, par 16; also Catholic Catechism, #1776
  • “Above the pope as an expression of the binding claim of Church authority, stands one’s own conscience, which has to be obeyed first of all, if need be against the demands of Church authority.” Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI); from a commentary on “Gaudium et Spes” (“The Church in the Modern World”); Published in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II (Vorgrimler, Herbert – Ed, Burns and Oats, 1969), p. 134.

It will be a shame if this sound Catholic doctrine on conscience is not included in the new page.  It should be included in every discussion about LGBT issues.

On the topic of development of doctrine, the page contained opinions of some leading theologians and church figures, as well as this excerpt from the Code of Canon Law:

  • No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless it is clearly defined as such. Code of Canon Law, 1983, Canon 749 §3.

In the section on the evaluation of sexual sins, a passage from an official document from the Bishops of England and Wales was cited:

  • Pastoral care does not consist simply in the rigid and automatic application of objective moral norms. It considers the individual in his (or her) actual situation, with all his (or her) strengths and weaknesses. The decision of conscience… can only be made after prudent consideration of the real situation as well as the moral norm… the pastoral counselling of homophile persons cannot ignore the objective morality of homosexual genital acts, but it is important to interpret them, to understand the pattern of life in which they take place, to appreciate the personal meaning which these acts have for different people…” Catholic Bishops of England and Wales Catholic Social Welfare Commission, An Introduction to the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People, 1979.

Too often, people think of Church teaching on LGBT issues as narrowly focused on sexual matters.  They also forget that teachings on conscience and evaluation of any act’s morality must also be considered in these discussions.  Let’s pray that the new webpage will keep these important topics as part of their explanation of the Catholic Church’s view on LGBT topics.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Now’s the Time to Reflect on “What Makes a Family?”

July 16, 2015

With marriage equality now legal across the United States, but yet with so many debates and controversies, particularly Catholic ones, still raging about the issue, it might be good to step back a second and reflect on the question “What makes a family?”

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder, did exactly just that recently in a National Catholic Reporter essay with a title that is the very question  “What Makes A Family?”

Honour Maddock and Kathleen Kane

Sister Jeannine reflects on this question by examining the lives of a Catholic lesbian couple that she encountered this year, Honour Maddock and Kathleen Kane.  In one sense, the essay begins on the note of what does not make a family, exemplified by Kathleen’s marriage to an emotionally possessive man:

“Kathleen loved being a mother, but her husband wanted her entire attention and resented the time she spent with their children. Their relationship grew strained, and they became increasingly quarrelsome with each other. . . .”

After her husband left the family, without letting anyone know he was doing so, Kathleen met Honour, who became an emotional support to her and her three children after divorce.  They eventually come to recognize a new dimension in their lives:

“Throughout this time, Honour was her lifeblood. Kathleen felt joy whenever Honour was around and missed her when they were apart. After some time they both came to realize that their companionship had blossomed into something deeper.

“ ‘Our wonderful friendship evolved into the beautiful love we’ve now shared for over 30 years,’ Kathleen told me. Although neither Kathleen nor Honour had ever been in a lesbian relationship, they wanted to be committed to each other.”

Because of concern for how people would treat their children if the two women moved in together, they waited until the last went off to college to do so.  But when they did, their home became

“not an exclusive one; [it] was always open to others in need.”

They took in a teenage granddaughter who had been sexually abused and helped her recovery and adjustment to adult life.  They took in Kathleen’s mother for ten years when she had become unable to live on her own.

And at the heart of their relationship is their faith:

“ ‘I’ve always had a deep, visceral connection with my Catholic faith,’ Kathleen said. ‘I’m not sure that the church will ever change its views about lesbian and gay people, but I firmly believe my relationship with Honour is a blessing God bestowed on me. All the opposition we encountered from society and church teachings could never shatter my trust that our love is a gift from God.’ “

For Sister Jeannine,  reflecting on the life of Kathleen and Honour helped her understand what is at the essence of family:

“I think about [Kathleen’s] life with Honour and their time with Kathleen’s mother and granddaughter. For most of their years together, Kathleen and Honour had no marriage license and they had no biological children from their union. What they did have was the deepest kind of love I have encountered — the love of sacrifice for each other, for those they care about, and for those in need, the love of putting the other’s happiness and welfare first, the love of common spiritual values, the love of feeling uniquely blessed by God because of the other.”

There is a lot more to this lovely story, and so I recommend reading the entire essay, which can be found by clicking here.

I pray that our Catholic leaders will open their minds, hearts, eyes, and ears to receive stories like this one–especially as they prepare for the fall’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and the Synod on Family in Rome.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



Two Catholic Schools Approach Employees’ Same-Gender Marriages Very Differently

July 15, 2015

While Philadelphia becomes a new focal point in the continuing story of lesbian and gay employees in Catholic schools being fired for marrying, a Catholic university in New York City has shown that it is very possible for Catholic institutions to accept, and even celebrate, that a gay employee who recently tied the knot.

Archbishop Charles Chaput

The latest development in the case of Margie Winters, a married lesbian teacher fired from Waldron Mercy Academy in suburban Philadelphia, is that the local leader of the Catholic Church there, Archbishop Charles Chaput, has made a statement praising the school’s leaders for firing the teacher.

In a statement released Monday, and quoted on Philly.comChaput said:

“Schools describing themselves as Catholic take on the responsibility of teaching and witnessing the Catholic faith in a manner true to Catholic belief. There’s nothing complicated or controversial in this. It’s a simple matter of honesty. I’m very grateful to the Religious Sisters of Mercy and to the principal and board members of Waldron Mercy for taking the steps to ensure that the Catholic faith is presented in a way fully in accord with the teaching of the Church. They’ve shown character and common sense at a moment when both seem to be uncommon.”

Yet, in New York City, another Catholic educational institution, Fordham University, was recently faced with a similar situation. The chair of the theology department, J. Patrick Hornbeck, recently married Patrick Berquist, in an Episcopal ceremony.  The marriage was announced in The New York Times, and several conservative Catholic bloggers jumped on this item, criticizing Fordham for not taking action against Hornbeck or making a statement about the wedding.

Patrick Berquist and J. Patrick Hornbeck

This week, Fordham did make a statement:

“While Catholic teachings do not support same-sex marriage, we wish Professor Hornbeck and his spouse a rich life filled with many blessings on the occasion of their wedding in the Episcopal Church. Professor Hornbeck is a member of the Fordham community, and like all University employees, students and alumni, is entitled to human dignity without regard to race, creed, gender, and sexual orientation. Finally, same-sex unions are now the law of the land, and Professor Hornbeck has the same constitutional right to marriage as all Americans.”

What a contrast to the statement made by Philadelphia’s archbishop or even the regional head of the Sisters of Mercy, who operate the school from which Margie Winters was fired.  NBC Philadelphia quoted from a statement by Sister Patricia Vetrano, president of the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Mercy Sisters:

” ‘When a school is called to make a decision such as this, it challenges us as a faith community at the deepest levels. . . . The leadership of Waldron Mercy has acted in accord with the school’s fundamental Catholic identity.’

“Vetrano called the decision to let go of Winters ‘final, although very painful’ and said the Sisters respect that not everyone agrees with the firing.”

The Fordham statement, while clearly not sanctioning same-gender marriage, is gracious and life-affirming.  It is not based on laws and rules.  It is a statement that is confident of the institution’s Catholic identity.  It is one that affirms the people involved in the situation and doesn’t shame them.

The statements by Archbishop Chaput and Sister Vetrano are statements based on the logic that the Church’s teaching on marriage is fundamental to an institution’s identity–which it is not.  The teaching on marriage is not at the same level of teaching as the basic principles of faith such as the nature of God, salvation, the Incarnation, the Resurrection.

On the other hand, Fordham’s statement grounds itself in Catholic identity based on respecting  “human dignity without regard to race, creed, gender, and sexual orientation.”  It is one that recognizes that Hornbeck’s and Berquist’s marriage has a civil dimension to it that is separate from religious identity, that they have exercised “the same constitutional right to marriage as all Americans.”

While it is true that Fordham is a nationally recognized university and Waldron Mercy is a small, local elementary school, both institutions value their Catholic identity.  Fordham seems to have done it in a way that does not see that Catholic identity threatened by the changing world, whereas Waldron Mercy seems to think that their school’s Catholic identity is a fragile house of cards that can crumble easily.

In truth, Catholic identity is a big term that encompasses so many facets of an institution’s life.  Narrowing it to accordance with the Church’s teaching on marriage significantly demeans such an identity.  In trying to save their religious identity, the leaders of Waldron Mercy have actually significantly harmed it.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles: “Chaput says ‘nothing controversial’ about dismissal of lesbian teacher”

ABC News: “Archbishop: School That Fired Gay Teacher Showed ‘Character’ “


Should Catholics Opposed to Marriage Equality Use Civil Disobedience?

July 14, 2015

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling, some government officials and religious leaders who oppose the decision have been calling for citizens and congregants to actively protest the advent of marriage equality.  Some are using the language of conscientious objection and civil disobedience.

Is it proper to use such descriptions?  Is preventing a marriage for a gay or lesbian couple justified by moral principles?  Should government officials who, because of religious principles, disagree with the Court’s decision on marriage, be allowed not to issue licenses or perform ceremonies?

Questions like these are going to be debated hotly in the coming months,  The Catholic community will not be exempt from such discussions either.  At least two Catholic bishops have already used such language in their reaction statements to the court’s decisions. Yet, a religious ethics scholar has also recently showed why the use of “conscientious objection” and “civil disobedience” are totally incorrect for the question of marriage equality.

Bishop Joseph Strickland

First, let’s look at what the two bishops have said.  Bishop Joseph Strickland, Diocese of Tyler, Texas, in a June 26th statement said the Court’s decision was

“unjust and immoral, and it is our duty to clearly and emphatically oppose it.”

Later in the statement, Strickland goes on to say:

“We know that unjust laws and other measures contrary to the moral order are not binding in conscience, thus we must now exercise our right to conscientious objection against this interpretation of our law. . . “

Bishop Thomas Tobin

The Providence Journal reported on Rhode Island’s Bishop Thomas Tobin, who, on July 1st, posted an encouraging statement on Facebook for a Texas court clerk who, at first, refused to issue marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples. (She has since relented.) Tobin’s statement said, in part:

“We need many more conscientious objectors – public officials, private businesses, advertisers, religious leaders, and family members, people of courage who will abide by their conscience, protect their religious rights, and not support or enable the furtherance of this moral aberration – so called, ‘same-sex marriage.’ “

David Gushee

But a Christian ethicist has recently refuted such dramatic calls to civil disobedience and conscientious objection in the face of marriage equality by noting that the response does not fit the situation.  Rev. Dr. David Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, Georgia, penned an an essay for Religion News Service entitled “Why civil disobedience is irrelevant to gay marriage.”

Here’s the gist of Gushee’s analysis of civil disobedience:

Here’s a good definition: If a government mandates what religious people believe God forbids, or forbids what religious people believe God mandates, civil disobedience may be required. . . .

The federal government has not mandated that houses of worship or clergy perform gay marriages. Nor has it forbidden congregations or clergy from performing such nuptials. Government has permitted gay marriages — and thus the solemnization of these marriages by whoever is authorized to offer it.

Therefore, those who wish to perform gay weddings are free to do so, and those who do not wish to perform them are free to decline. There are no legitimate grounds for civil disobedience here.

Gushee also takes on the more particular case of government officials who oppose marriage equality on religious grounds:

“In my view, regardless of whether state officials like a particular law, they are required to submit to it in the performance of their duties — or should resign from office.

“Government clerks are not religious officials. Nor are they simply individual citizens who might find a government’s law to be a violation of conscience. They are on the state payroll. Refusal to adhere to or enforce the law on the part of a government official is dereliction of duty, not civil disobedience.”

And he doesn’t shy away from perhaps the thorniest church/state question regarding marriage equality:  will the government require religious institutions to adopt policies which treat all married couples–gay, lesbian, heterosexual–equally?  Gushee does not mince words in his answer:

“It seems very unlikely that government would simply mandate that religious organizations change such policies. It might, however, withdraw tax-exempt status, not from congregations, but from religious organizations.

“Or it might ban federal funds, such as government social-service contracts, research grants or student loans, from going to such organizations. This is not the same thing as simply banning such organizations from adhering to their preferred policies, but for many organizations it remains a nightmare scenario.”

There will be consequences for religious institutions if they do not honor the marriage laws, but they will not be anywhere near the imagined threat that some leaders are describing.  Instead, the consequences will be more practical.  Gushee writes:

“. . . [N]o organizational leader will be arrested or imprisoned if these organizations stick to their policies, and if government withdraws financial assistance (by no means a certainty).

“No organization will be raided and padlocked. No civil disobedience strategy will be relevant.

“Instead, such organizations essentially will be shut out from using government dollars, with predictably scary effects on their bottom lines and reputations.”

But losing government money is not their only option.  Gushee suggests other alternatives:

“They could change the relevant policies, perhaps under protest, while claiming no change in their values. They could do this because they decide that their organizational mission is too important to let it wither because of its LGBT policies.

“Or, of course, they could take this as an opportunity to dig deeper and actually reconsider their beliefs about LGBT people and their relationships, as some of us have already done.”

Civil disobedience and conscientious objection give a moral gravity to a religious person’s objections to marriage equality law.  But as strategies to oppose them, they are not practical or appropriate.

As I’ve argued before here on Bondings 2.0, people with religious objections to civil laws have several options to respond in religious ways.  Sacrificing something, like government grants, may be involved, and sacrifice is a treasured religious response. Peace activists have endured jail and other sacrifices for resisting war taxes.  Why aren’t religious opponents against marriage equality advocating such sacrifices instead of arguing for discrimination?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related post

Bondings 2.0: Sacrificing Profits to Avoid Discrimination and Protect Religious Freedom



Paraguayan LGBT Rights Leader Attends Papal Meeting, But Not All Are Happy

July 13, 2015

Paraguyan billboard of Pope Francis’ famous 2013 quote. Translation: “If they accept the Lord and and they have good will, who am I to judge?”

The leader of Paraguay’s national LGBT-rights organization is very pleased at the way his inclusion in a meeting of other civic leaders with Pope Francis has gone.  Simón Cazal, the director of SOMOSGAY (“W,e Are Gay”), was invited by the Paraguayan bishops’ conference to be part of a papal audience of 1,600 leaders from Paraguayan organizational leaders when Pope Francis visited the capital city of Asunción this weekend.

Yet opinion seems divided among some LGBT leaders in Paraguay and abroad over whether it was a good thing for Cazal to agree to participate in the meeting.

According to The Washington Blade, Cazal, who married his husband in Argentina after it became legal because of a law which then-Cardinal Bergoglio [Pope Francis] opposed, offered a very positive and hopeful response to the pope’s address to the selected civic leaders:

“Cazal told the Washington Blade during a Skype interview after the meeting that Francis did not “directly” refer to LGBT-specific issues, but ‘he did mention others in which they are included.’ Media reports indicate the pontiff was sharply critical of Paraguayan Catholic officials.

“ ‘There are no people of first, of second or third class,’ said Francis, according to a tweet that Cazal posted to his Twitter account after the meeting. ‘Dignity is for everyone.’

“ ‘The local church insisted on talking about the family and other conservative issues,’ Cazal told the Blade, referring to Francis’ visit to the South American country. ‘He distanced himself from this discourse and highlighted diversity in its place.’

“ ‘The pope’s speech was very productive,’ added Cazal.”

At least two other LGBT rights groups in Panama received the same invitation, which came from Paraguay’s bishops, not the Vatican, as had been reported earlier. Cazal was the only one who accepted. He explained his decision to The Washington Blade:

“ ‘I am not worried about the opinion of the other activists,’ Cazal told the Blade, responding to a question about any potential backlash his organization could face from other Paraguayan LGBT rights advocates over his decision to attend the meeting with Francis. ‘I think that each person in their context should be able to have the freedom to adopt what they believe are the best strategies. In our case, we are very satisfied with ours.’ “

In an interview with Reuters for their story on the Paraguayan audience,  Cazal made this remark about the pope:

“I left with the impression that the pope really wants to change things.”

The Wall Street Journal also quoted from the prepared text of the speech at this meeting which the Vatican released to the press:

“Pope Francis refers to the need for dialogue among people in general ‘as a means to advance the project of a fully inclusive nation.’ He advocates ‘a culture of encounter’ that ‘acknowledges that diversity is not only good, it is necessary.’ “

Cazal and SomosGay do not seem blinded by this kind gesture, though.  According to a report in Crux:

“The group released a statement saying the invitation ‘symbolizes an openness and progress towards the LGBT community, remembering the ultraconservative context that has always characterized the Vatican.’ “

The Crux article provided the responses of the two LGBT rights groups which turned down the invitation:

“Rosa Posa, head of the lesbian rights activist group Aireana, said she received the same invitation but rejected it because, ‘There is a lot of marketing around the pope.’

“Referring to Cazal and SomosGay, she told local media that ‘If they think he’s going to listen, well, good luck.’

“Mariana Sepúlveda of Panambi said she rejected the invitation because it goes against the organization’s fight to promote a secular state.

“Cazal said he was happy to attend the meeting, even though he doesn’t expect much doctrinal change.”

In an interview with CNNCazal revealed some of what went into his decision to participate in the meeting, and some of his hopes that the meeting could achieve:

” ‘We have to go. Ninety percent of the country is Catholic; they all love the Pope,’ Cazal said. ‘We have to take this step because otherwise we are the ones who are closing the doors.’

“Cazal said he also realized Pope Francis could be a powerful tool in the fight to stop violence against young gays and lesbians.

” ‘We need his strong voice on the side of defending the life and integrity of LGBT people,’ he said.”

Some other international LGBT rights leaders had differing opinions on the invitation to Cazal.  The Wall Street Journal reported:

“Helen Kennedy, co-secretary general of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, the world’s largest gay human-rights organization, said the invitation to SOMOSGAY was significant even if Mr. Cazal doesn’t actually get to meet or speak with the Holy Father face to face.

” ‘They may not have access to the Pope directly, but the fact that they were even invited is very, very symbolic,’ Ms. Kennedy said. ‘I think the local LGBT community can use this as a conversation-starter with respect to anti-discrimination laws in that country.’

“That such an encounter would occur in Paraguay is surprising, said Pedro Paradiso Sottile, secretary general of Comunidad Homosexual Argentina, one of the region’s oldest gay-rights groups.

“While the invitation to Saturday’s meeting was welcome, Mr. Paradiso Sottile said, it would be more significant if the Church were to back measures protecting gay people against violence and discrimination. ‘Until now there have been only gestures but not a concrete action against the horrible things happening every hour, every day, against LGBT people all over the world,’ Mr. Paradiso Sottile said.”

I think it’s important to remember a few facts about this meeting:  the Vatican did not issue the invitation; Cazal was one of a large group of people at the meeting (estimates vary from hundreds to 4,000; we reported 1,600 because that figure appears to have come from Cazal himself);  the pope did not address LGBT issues directly at all.

So, was this meeting important?


Even though the Vatican did not issue the invitation, it did come from Paraguayan bishops, among the most conservative in Latin America.  They must have sensed that this was an invitation that the pope would have wanted to extend.

Even though the meeting was large and not personal, we need to remember that the news coverage on Cazal’s participation has enlarged his presence there significantly, so it could not be lost on the pope and his entourage that a married LGBT rights leader was in attendance.  And yet Cazal’s orientation and marital status did not exclude him from the event, which surely would have happened under the two previous popes.

Even though the pope did not address LGBT issues directly, his message was so absolute in its welcoming and inclusive tone, that people, particularly church leaders, will have the ability to interpret it favorably.

While I acknowledge that Pope Francis has not said enough directly regarding LGBT inclusion, and that he often speaks pointedly in favor of marriage only for heterosexual couples,  I think we need to build on these small steps to help the Church, which is the entire People of God, become more inclusive and egalitarian.

A tip to Pope Francis and his event planners:  The next step is to meet with Catholic LGBT people at the World Meeting of Families, and he can start with Margie Winters, recently fired from a Catholic school for being married to a woman.  Margie and her wife, Andrea, will be right there in Philadelphia when the pope comes there in September, and have already requested that he meet with them..

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Fusion: “He’s the first gay activist to get a public sit-down with the pope”

U.S. News and World Report: “Paraguayan gay rights activist says some opposed him attending papal gathering”




Wife of Fired Teacher Appeals to Pope Francis for Reinstatement

July 11, 2015

The wife of Margie Winters, who was fired from a Philadelphia-area Catholic elementary school because of her marriage, is appealing to Pope Francis to rectify the injustice that the former director of religious education experienced from the school’s administration.

Margie Winters and Andrea Vettori

The New York Daily News reported that Andrea Vettori sent a letter to the pontiff in which she appealed to him to reinstate her wife, Margie, to the job she held at Waldron Mercy Academy for eight years.  The news article quoted excerpts from the letter:

“I ask you, I beg you, I implore you to ask God to reveal to you the next steps. Not just for Margie and myself, but for the injustices that have been done in the name of our faith against gay and lesbian members of the Church throughout the United States and the world whose only ‘sin’ was to be true to the love God placed within them.”

The entire text of Vettori’s three-page letter can be found at the end of the Daily News article.   In it, she describes the couple’s faith life, relational commitment, and community involvement, noting that one is a lay Associate and one is a Companion of the Sisters of Mercy who operate the school. Indeed, the letter states that it was their involvement with the Mercy Sisters where

“we fell in love–with God, with our sisters, with one another.”

Vettori pleaded with Pope Francis

“to intervene on our behalf and countless other faithful Catholics so that we may not be condemned to live a life exiled from a Church that we so love and want to serve.”

In conclusion, she asked for the pope to allow the couple to meet with him when he visits Philadelphia at the end of September for the closing of the World Meeting of Families.

Meanwhile,  responses to the Winters’ firing have begun to proliferate.  An online GoFundMe appeal with a goal or raising $25,000 has raised $9,000 already.  In addition to the Stand With Margie Facebook page, a Twitter hashtag, #StandWithMargie, has been established. reported that more than 200 parents from the school met this past week to show support and gratitude for Winters and to discuss ways to respond effectively.  The news article also states that it was a disagreement with a parent about whether to teach Pope John Paul’s “Theology of the Body” to the elementary school students.  While the parent proposed this work, Winters felt that it was too mature for younger children, and in fact the principal agreed with her.

Weighing in on the firing was Benjamin Brenkert, who last year resigned from the Jesuits to protest the unjust firings of LGBT people from Catholic institutions.  In a Daily Beast essay which explores some of the philosophical assumptions of magisterial teaching on sexuality, Brenkert said that in firing Winters, the school was

“unequivocally informing LGBTQ persons that they cannot under any circumstances contribute to the spiritual or intellectual formation of children.”

Additionally, the Human Rights Campaign spoke out in support of Winters.  Lisbeth Melendez-Rivera, director of Latino/a and Catholic Initiatives stated:

“We call on the school to reinstate Margie Winters, and look to the day when Catholic leaders like [Archbishop] Chaput have the strength and courage to embrace our lives, to allow us to earn an honest living, and to participate in the education of our children.For guidance, [Archbishop] Chaput should look to the pews, where there’s more support for LGBT non-discrimination laws and marriage equality than even among the general public.”

As these cases multiply and become more frequent, church leaders will soon have to see how, just on a practical level, this policy is unsustainable.  Instead of increasing love and justice, these firings cause people to become further alienated from Catholic Church structures.

In their efforts to promote a narrow vision of church teaching, focused solely on sexuality, Catholic leaders are forgetting the wider picture of the love and justice which the church should be promoting.

In the words of Andrea Vettori in her letter to Pope Francis:

“Jesus said ‘you will know my disciples by the fruit.’ I would say look at the fruit of our lives.”

For the recent history of this terrible trend of firing, click here for Bondings 2.0’s chronicle.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Related articles:

NBC Philadelphia: “Community Rallies Behind Beloved Educator Fired for Same-Sex Marriage” “Supporters Of Fired Gay Catholic School Teacher Raise $5K” “Philadelphia educator, fired from Catholic school because she’s gay, appeals to Pope Francis for audience during his upcoming visit to the City of Brotherly Love”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,850 other followers