Vatican Nuncio and Mexican Cardinal Strike a Different Note on LGBT Issues

Throughout the past autumn, Bondings 2.0 has been reporting on the same-sex marriage debate in the heavily Catholic nation of Mexico.  As we reported,  Mexican bishops, supported by Pope Francis,  led the opposition to the campaign for making marriage equality, which already exists in several Mexican states, a reality throughout the entire nation.

Earlier this month, the proposal for marriage equality was defeated with a vote of 18-9 by the Commission on Constitutional Matters in the lower house of the Mexican legislature. Yet, despite the loss, the experience may be a positive turning point for the Mexican Catholic hierarchy in terms of taking steps, however small, towards respect for LGBT people.

Archbishop Franco Coppola

Key to this change is the Vatican’s nuncio to Mexico, Archbishop Franco Coppola, appointed in July 2016 by Pope Francis .  In response to the marriage equality proposal,  Coppola called for a more civil discussion of this, and other controversial topics.  The Catholic Herald  reported:

“Amid the activism, comments on same-sex marriage from the new apostolic nuncio to Mexico appear to suggest the Vatican would prefer a less confrontational approach.

” ‘Mexicans, rather than confronting each other, making proclamations or marching, have to sit down at the table and talk to each other,’ Archbishop Franco Coppola told reporters.

” ‘When we are speaking of the constitution, it has to become something that all Mexicans, or at least a great majority of Mexicans, can share.’ “

The Pilot reported that some observers see the archbishop’s comments as a Vatican decision to soften anti-gay rhetoric:

“Some media, such as the Spanish newspaper El Pais, interpreted the remarks as the Vatican ‘de-authorizing the anti-gay marches.’ “

Earlier in the marriage equality debate, Coppola also spoke words of reconciliation and outreach to gay and lesbian people.  The Yucatan Times reported:

“. . . [T]he apostolic nuncio, Franco Coppola, said it is necessary to recognize gay rights as any other citizens’ rights.

” ‘The doctrine of the Church is the doctrine of the Church, but we have to adapt it so we can offer answers to men and women of different times,’ the new representative of the Vatican in Mexico told reporters.”

Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera

Coppola is not the only Catholic leader in Mexico who has softened his rhetoric.  Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, Archbishop of Mexico City and Primate of Mexico, recently apologized for negative comments he made about the sexual acts of some gay men, and he invited “people attracted to the same sex” to meet with priests, acknowledging that church ministers need education.

The PanAm Post reported:

“In the past, Cardinal Carrera maintained that he would not apologize for his rhetoric toward the LGBT community even if it was considered offensive by some people, but something seems to have changed in him, as he recently came out on behalf of the Archdiocese of Mexico and asked for forgiveness if at any moment they had used ‘inadequate expressions’ to refer to the gay community, saying ‘you should know that it was never my intention to offend anyone.’  “

The cardinal also stated:

” ‘You have asked me about people attracted to the same sex coming to the vicarage to discuss the subject, and I not only see it as an agreeable idea, but as a necessary one,’ he said. ‘Priests shouldn’t be expected to know all that there is to know; many times, they must also be taught about a topic.’ “

The statements made by Coppola and Rivera Carrera are good first steps.  Perhaps the extremism of the Mexican debate on marriage equality made them realize that the hierarchy’s rhetoric was too heated and pastorally harmful.  Perhaps the example of Pope Francis has awakened them.  At a minimum, let’s hope that Rivera Carrera learned his lesson not to be so focused on particular sexual acts, as if they defined the totality of a person or a relationship.

These small steps of openness need to be built upon, and the next time Mexico looks at a marriage equality proposal, perhaps the nation’s bishops will conduct themselves more civilly. If they don’t these recent statements will sound like a noisy gong and clanging bell.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 29, 2016

Related article:

PinkNews.co.uk: “Catholic Church in Mexico apologises after saying ‘man’s anus is not designed to receive’ “

Catholic LGBT History: 30th Anniversary of the “Ratzinger Letter”

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 ofBondings 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. 

Thirty years ago today,  the Vatican released a document entitle “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” This document is probably the most influential piece of church teaching on the topic of homosexuality, and debates about it still continue among theologians, lay people, pastoral ministers, and bishops.  It set the tone for most of the very harsh messages about gay and lesbian people that emerged from Catholic leaders over the past three decades.

Because the news of this letter made headlines on the following day, October 31st, (and probably also because of the harsh content of the document) it is sometimes referred to as the “Halloween letter.”  (In fact, the Letter was actually promulgated on October 1st, but not made public until the 30th.)

Because the document was authored by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (which was the Vatican office which released it), it is also sometimes referred to as the “Ratzinger letter” or “CDF letter.”

It’s official Latin title is perhaps the most telling about the document’s contents.  Latin titles of church documents are always the first two or three words of the document itself.  In this case, the Latin title is “Homosexualitatis probelma” or “the problem of homosexuality.” From the very first words of the document, the author understood the issue in negative terms, as a problem.  The introductory paragraphs explain that the letter was written in response to a growing acceptance of homosexuality, not only in society, but in the church too:

“The issue of homosexuality and the moral evaluation of homosexual acts have increasingly become a matter of public debate, even in Catholic circles.”  (section 1)

Reading between the lines, and remembering the historical context of this document, it’s important to point out that this Letter was, in fact, a reaction to many positive developments concerning lesbian and gay persons that were occurring in Catholicism.  The 1970s and early 1980s were a rich time for discussion and initiatives in the Church around lesbian and gay issues. This Letter was designed to shut down those projects, as we shall see later in this post.

A more proximate cause of the Letter’s origin was the fact that in 1975, in the Vatican’s “Declaration on Sexual Ethics,” homosexual orientation was recognized as not a sinful state, though homosexual activity or relationships were still considered immoral.  So, in this new document, the CDF set out to clear things up:

“In the discussion which followed the publication of the Declaration, however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” (section 3)

Those last two words, “objective disorder,” were the ones which launched the major battles of the next thirty years.  Although theologians explained that it was not intended to refer to a medical or psychological disorder, but instead was a philosophical term to describe heterosexuality as part of the natural moral order,  the term has caused great pain and harm to people.  Only a few understand the philosophical nuances of it, and many who proclaim it are likely intending people to accept its very negative connotations.

In addition to the theological content of the letter, a significant feature of it was how it tried to close down any positive discussion of  lesbian and gay issues in the church.  The letter contains many references to Catholics who question or challenge the church’s teaching on homosexuality.  Some examples from the Letter:

“Nevertheless, increasing numbers of people today, even within the Church, are bringing enormous pressure to bear on the Church to accept the homosexual condition as though it were not disordered and to condone homosexual activity. Those within the Church who argue in this fashion often have close ties with those with similar views outside it. . . . The Church’s ministers must ensure that homosexual persons in their care will not be misled by this point of view, so profoundly opposed to the teaching of the Church. But the risk is great and there are many who seek to create confusion regarding the Church’s position, and then to use that confusion to their own advantage.”(section 8)

“The movement within the Church, which takes the form of pressure groups of various names and sizes, attempts to give the impression that it represents all homosexual persons who are Catholics. As a matter of fact, its membership is by and large restricted to those who either ignore the teaching of the Church or seek somehow to undermine it.” (section 9)

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

“. . . [T]his Congregation wishes to ask the Bishops to be especially cautious of any programmes which may seek to pressure the Church to change her teaching, even while claiming not to do so. A careful examination of their public statements and the activities they promote reveals a studied ambiguity by which they attempt to mislead the pastors and the faithful. For example, they may present the teaching of the Magisterium, but only as if it were an optional source for the formation of one’s conscience.” (section 14)

“The Bishops are asked to exercise special care in the selection of pastoral ministers so that by their own high degree of spiritual and personal maturity and by their fidelity to the Magisterium, they may be of real service to homosexual persons, promoting their health and well-being in the fullest sense. Such ministers will reject theological opinions which dissent from the teaching of the Church and which, therefore, cannot be used as guidelines for pastoral care.” (section 17)

“All support should be withdrawn from any organizations which seek to undermine the teaching of the Church, which are ambiguous about it, or which neglect it entirely. Such support, or even the semblance of such support, can be gravely misinterpreted. Special attention should be given to the practice of scheduling religious services and to the use of Church buildings by these groups, including the facilities of Catholic schools and colleges. To some, such permission to use Church property may seem only just and charitable; but in reality it is contradictory to the purpose for which these institutions were founded, it is misleading and often scandalous.” (section 17)

So, far from being a document which was theological in nature, the Letter had a strong emphasis on trying to repress discussion of homosexuality and in the church and to silence any and all forms of openness towards lesbian and gay people and their concerns.

The Letter had some seemingly positive statements, but these statements were always undercut by other messages in the text.  Section 10 of the Letter is a classic case of this phenomenon:

“It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.”

Yet the next paragraph undercuts any positive message from the one above:

“But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.”

In terms of pastoral care, the Letter offered similarly mixed messages. For example, in section 17 the Letter stated:

“. . . [W]e would ask the Bishops to support, with the means at their disposal, the development of appropriate forms of pastoral care for homosexual persons. These would include the assistance of the psychological, sociological and medical sciences, in full accord with the teaching of the Church.”

Yet, earlier in the Letter, they warned against scientific understandings:

“The Church is thus in a position to learn from scientific discovery but also to transcend the horizons of science and to be confident that her more global vision does greater justice to the rich reality of the human person in his spiritual and physical dimensions, created by God and heir, by grace, to eternal life.” (section 2)

And earlier on , the Letter described what an appropriate pastoral program would look like, and it was one which assumed that gay and lesbian people were always tempted towards sexual activity:

“No authentic pastoral programme will include organizations in which homosexual persons associate with each other without clearly stating that homosexual activity is immoral. A truly pastoral approach will appreciate the need for homosexual persons to avoid the near occasions of sin.” (section 15)

We are still living with the effects of the 1986 Letter, but there may be signs that some leaders in the church are moving away from it’s negative message.  During the 2015 synod, we heard many bishops state that the language of “objective disorder” and “intrinsic moral evil” needed to be scrapped.  We also see that some bishops are willing to open discussions about homosexuality, and to listen to voices which disagree with the Church’s teaching.  We see  gay-friendly parishes and diocesan programs which do not see avoidance of sexual activity as their prime focuses.

The 1986 Letter did an enormous among of pastoral harm and damage to lesbian and gay people.  Many people,  straight and gay, left the Church because of its message, and many more continue to do so when they hear its message proclaimed.

But perhaps, 30 years later, we are starting to see that the criticisms that theologians and lay people have leveled against this document are starting to reach the highest levels of the Church.

Whenever I read the Letter, I always end up having an idea that the author imagined the Church being besieged from inside and outside by people who had a positive view of lesbian and gay people.  I always imagine that the authors imagined that this Letter was building a fortress wall around the Church.  Perhaps, thirty years later, we are seeing that wall begin to crumble at least a bit.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 30, 2016

Lessons from Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Woman of Mercy

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder of New Ways Ministry, was featured by the Catholic reform organization FutureChurch as their Woman Witness of Mercy for October. The following reflection by Bondings 2.0’s Associate Editor Bob Shine was included in a resource packet on Jeannine. For more information, and to purchase the packet, click here.

home-page-slide-jeannine-gramickAfter fifty -plus years in religious life, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL has encountered numerous people and touched many lives in her ministry of justice and reconciliation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the Catholic Church. I first met Jeannine a few months after college and in this reflection, I share a little of how she has impacted my own life and what I know younger Catholics can learn from this holy and humble person.

I began at New Ways Ministry during a service year with the Loretto Volunteers. The first evening at the Volunteers’ opening retreat, held at the Sisters of Loretto’s motherhouse in Kentucky, we watched a documentary about Jeannine’s life and ministry. I lay in bed that evening and, quite overwhelmed, questioned myself on how I had jumped into such deep waters. Sisters had shared their stories with us over meals and in side conversations. Theirs were stories of integrating schools and accompanying communities, of artistry and feminist witnesses, of poetry and anti-war protests. Theirs was a mission, to paraphrase their famed former superior Sr. Mary Luke Tobin, of going out to the ends of the branches of our world because that is where the fruit resides. And I had committed to wandering out an ecclesial branch with a sister who was taking on the Catholic Church.

Events that fall would not, at first, quiet the questions from that opening retreat. Within a few weeks, I had spent a Saturday witnessing at various sites in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the Loretto Community’s 200th anniversary and helped organize Catholic events for the marriage equality campaign in Maryland. I had discovered that even the enthusiasm and energy I had at 22 could not keep pace with Jeannine and the other sisters.

With time, working alongside Jeannine and Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, I have learned much. Four years on, Jeannine and I now teach one another. It is not quite equal – I help her navigate Facebook and she helps me navigate the complexities of being a disciple of Christ – but it is a friendship I cherish. The following are four lessons Jeannine has taught me, lessons which can aid younger Catholics like myself as we find our way in the troubled church we love.

Jeannine Gramick Photo
Sister Jeannine Gramick

“What is the Catholic Church doing for gays and lesbians?” A young gay man named Dominic posed this question to Jeannine in 1971, and it would be this question that radically transformed her life. Jeannine began organizing home liturgies for gay people in the Philadelphia area, educating herself on homosexuality, offering some workshops, and, in just a few years, launched New Ways Ministry with Fr. Robert Nugent. Being open to Dominic’s question and tender to the pain of gay people excluded from the church led Jeannine down a path she never expected, but which came to define her life. I was not there, but I believe it was the Spirit speaking through Dominic when he asked that question. This story is a reminder that we, as Christians, must be ever present to the people around us, ever listening to voices at the margins, and ever willing to let the Other make claims on our life that may have profound consequences.

Don’t say the church when you mean the hierarchy. Jeannine lives committed to Vatican II’s teaching that the church is fundamentally the People of God, and that community is essential for Christian life. Before I knew Jeannine well, I thought she was a rogue figure who alone had challenged the Vatican, yet this narrative is not accurate. Her decades of ministry would not be possible without the people and communities that support her and work with her – the congregations to which she has belonged, other women religious, LGBT Catholics and their families, supporters of New Ways Ministry, theologians and scholars, and more. And Jeannine is not only supported by, but actively contributes to the communities she is in. For younger Catholics in the United States, we cannot forget how essential community will be for our journeys even if parish pews are thinning out and the hair of fellow believers’ greys. Enacting the church’s evangelical mission is not possible unless we live as the People of God: baptized as priests, called to holiness, and supporting one another whatever may come.

The envelopes need stuffing. On Tuesday evenings, you will find Jeannine with the New Ways Ministry volunteers who prepare the organization’s bulk mailings and then gather for pizza and camaraderie. Jeannine models what it means to be a leader who serves. Even though she is quite busy, she attends to people with kind notes and small loving acts. She willingly does the tedious but necessary tasks with everyone else. She works long hours to ensure every detail is correct, and exhibits a persistence in ministry possessed by few (and the teacher in her never wastes an opportunity to teach me a grammar lesson). Jeannine teaches younger Catholics that seeking ecclesial reform and renewal means hard work that is hardly glamorous. We must resolve each morning to seeking a just church, steadily running the race Christ has set before us that is not even a marathon but an ultramarathon.

“I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression.” These words, with which Jeannine responded to the Vatican’s attempt at silencing her, are a haunting reminder to me of what being Christian entails. Being part of the church means calling the church to live more fully the Gospel that we proclaim, but people will resist this threatening call. Jeannine endured two decades of degrading investigations and punitive sanctions by church leaders because she refused to believe LGBT people are anything less than wonderfully made by God. She challenges even today the church she loves and the communities to which she belongs, exercising the prophetic office which we all share through baptism as she invites all people to be reconciled. To be Christian is to prioritize Christ against all else, and there will be times when following the decisions we make in conscience leaves us isolated, rejected, and deeply pained. But we should never collaborate in our own oppression or the oppression of others, especially when it is the church for which we are responsible that is inflicting wounds.

CTA_GramickShine
Jeannine Gramick, SL & Bob Shine

The widespread acceptance of LGBT people among Catholics in the United States and growing acceptance internationally can largely be attributed to Jeannine’s tireless labors. She is an incarnation of these words from Blessed Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger, foundress of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, words which Jeannine introduced me to (they hang in a frame over her desk) and which are so powerful for Catholics who seek a reformed and renewed church:

“All the works of God proceed slowly and in pain; but then their roots are the sturdier and their flowering the lovelier.”

Holy people are holy not because of their greatest flowering acts, but because of their quietest habits which create sturdy and deep roots. Jeannine Gramick has acted greatly in listening to Dominic’s voice and being faithful to her response even when the Vatican bore down. Yet, the person I know Jeannine to be is a person whose quietest habits in daily life are what have most catalyzed the reception of Vatican II and renewal of the Catholic Church on matters of gender and sexuality. Honored to know Jeannine as a colleague and as a friend, I conclude with this prayer:

Radiant colors stretched across the sky,
the rainbow is your sign of loving covenant,
after flood waters bathed the earth, O Divine Creator.

From You, creation is breathed into being,
from chaotic waters, infinite diversity rises,
every person reflecting You, wonderfully made,
every creature beloved by You, wonderfully made.

Arms stretched to the ends of the Cross’ beam,
Jesus is your sign of lasting covenant,
after we forget how to love, O Divine Redeemer.

Slowly, creation seeks Your embrace by
our daily labors and our bread broken,
yet imperfect lives keep restrained the love
You poured into our beings, love to pour out.

With lives stretched outward from within,
we are your sign of liberating covenant,
after we encounter the Other, O Divine Healer.

Pierced by the Other’s inquiry of “Will you love?”
our reconciling hopes foundations for new bridges,
creating a church where God’s queer people
from margins to center come, radiant people,
lives echoing Jesus’ prayer to be One.

We are the People of God, invoking your creative breath,
as a sacrament in the world, as an outstretched rainbow
proclaiming anew in our renewing witness,
Your loving, lasting, liberating covenant.
May this be so; may we be one. Amen.

–Bob Shine,  New Ways Ministry, October 29, 2016

Court Says Case of Fired Lesbian Teacher Can Go Forward–for Now

For the second time, a New Jersey judge has ruled that the employment discrimination suit of a lesbian teacher fired from a Catholic school can go forward, despite motions by the school and archdiocese attorneys to get it dismissed.  But because the judge’s decision was based on a very specific legal technicality, the possibility that the teacher will be victorious in the case still remains highly uncertain.

Kate Drumgoole

Kate Drumgoole, a former guidance counselor and basketball coach at Paramus Catholic H.S., in the Archdiocese of Newark, is suing because she was fired from her job when administrators learned that she was married to a woman.

Judge Lisa Perez Friscia denied the request by the school and archdiocese, the defendants, to reconsider her August 22nd decision to dismiss the case, saying that no new facts were presented by the institutions’ lawyers.

According to NorthJersey.com:

“Friscia ruled in August that the case should go to the discovery phase, which would end Sept. 3, 2017.

“ ‘Only after discovery is complete, can the court review each claim to determine whether the religious organization exception, grounded in the First Amendment applies,’ Friscia wrote.”

So, the defendants’ request for a religious exemption from New Jersey Laws Against Discrimination (NJLAD) may yet be allowed to proceed.  The judge’s ruling stated only that the religious exemption could not apply at this stage of the case.

According to the news article:

“Friscia ruled that the defendants ‘have not established, at this early juncture,’ that the school can apply religious tenets to employees not engaged in ministerial duties and she said that by merely claiming the religious exemption the school is not necessarily entitled to it.”

It looks like the case is going to turn on the court’s understanding of the definition of a minister and ministerial work.    According to a news report, the attorneys for the school and archdiocese point out:

“Drumgoole signed an acknowledgement that she received the Archdiocese’s ‘Policies on Professional and Ministerial Conduct’ and a ‘Code of Ethics.’ The school’s faculty handbook also says that all teachers must comply with the code of ministerial conduct policies. Her collective bargaining agreement allows for tenured teachers to be terminated for ‘violating accepted standards of catholic morality as to cause public scandal,’ according to the written ruling this week.”

However, the other side sees the situation differently:

“Drumgoole’s attorneys, Eric Kleiner and Lawrence Kleiner, have argued that Drumgoole’s job did not include ministerial duties and that the school uses some of the NJLAD in its faculty handbook, making it liable to all of the laws against discrimination.”

Drumgoole also claimed in her suit that she thinks her firing may be related to her raising charges against two school employees in the recent past:

“Drumgoole, in her certification, said she also believes her firing may have been retaliatory. Drumgoole had alerted school officials to an incident involving two Paramus Catholic employees who allegedly had sex with students during a school trip to Germany.

“In late 2011, two male former employees of the high school were indicted on charges of having sex with at least three female students during a school trip to Germany.

“The state Supreme Court in March 2015 threw out all the overseas sex charges involving Artur Sopel, the school’s vice president of operations at the time of the trip, and Michael Sumulikoski, a substitute teacher. The court ruled local prosecutors had no jurisdiction to charge the two, who were chaperones for the February 2011 school trip.”

Drumgoole’s case has already sparked a number of controversies in the local church.  Fr. Warren Hall, an archdiocesan priest, was suspended from priestly duties in part because of his support for the teacher.  The school’s principal was suspended from work for a few days, and the school’s president still remains suspended. their jobs for a while. Over 3000 school community members have signed a petition protesting Drumgoole’s firing.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 25, 2016

 

The Pope’s Reaction–Maybe–to Two Former Nuns Marrying

By Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 19, 2016

Two weeks ago, Bondings 2.0 reported on the story of two former nuns in Italy who joined together in a civil union, noting that the lesbian couple expressed their commitment not only to one another, but to their Catholic faith.   A few more details have emerged from that story which make it even a more poignant tale.

The headline -grabbing follow-up was that the pope has seemingly expressed some sadness about the couple.  London’s Daily Mail reported that a Vatican official disclosed in a tweet that the pope was was downcast when told the news about the women.     Vatican Deputy Secretary of State Archbishop Angelo Becciu tweeted:

“How much sadness on the pope’s face when I read him the news of the two married ‘nuns’!’ ”  (This is a translation of the tweet which was originally written in Italian:  “Quanta tristezza sul volto del Papa quando gli ho letto la notizia delle due ‘suore’ spose!”)

The news story further explained that it was the pope’s famous “Who am I to judge?” remark which inspired the two women (for privacy’s sake, known only by their first names Federica and Isabel) to see their feelings from one another as a graced phenomenon, or, in their words “a gift from God.  The story reported:

“The couple revealed they decided to act on their feelings when Pope Francis encouraged those in the Catholic Church not to judge others. . . .

“The two nuns said: ‘That phrase has opened our hearts.’

“They took advantage of a law passed this year that offers homosexual couples legal recognition in Italy – one of the last countries in the West to do so.”

The tweet from Becciu is irresponsible because of the vagueness of the message.  Did the pope speak any words?  Was he sad because the women had left religious life? Because they were lesbians? Because they entered a civil union? Because their union was public?

Was Becciu counting on the fact that his audience would “know” why the pope’s face showed sadness?  Was he counting on relying on his followers’ negative opinions about civil unions for lesbian and gay people?  Why did he call them “nuns,”  and put that word in scare quotes, when it was obvious that they were former nuns?

If the pope had something to say on the matter, why didn’t he do so in an official statement instead of through ambiguous facial expressions?  If his facial expressions were not an official statement, why did the Vatican Deputy Secretary of State feel empowered to suggest that they might be by tweeting such news?

Our Church really needs better communications.

On a happy note, though, it is so nice to hear that among the many things that the “Who am I to judge?” remark has prompted, it has also prompted a faith-filled, committed love between two women.

 

 

Catholic LGBT History: Archdiocese of Baltimore Establishes a Ministry to Gays and Lesbians

By Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 9, 2016

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 ofBondings 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. 

Archdiocese of Baltimore Establishes Lesbian and Gay Ministry

An article in the October 16, 1981 edition of the Baltimore Archdiocese’s newspaper, The Catholic Review, carried the headline:  “Fr. Hughes heads new team ministry to lesbians, gays.” The article reported the appointment of Fr. Joseph B. Hughes, a priest with experience in counseling, being named the coordinator of the newly-formed ministry to lesbians and gays. The article explained:

“The appointment of Father Hughes follows several months of discussions between archdiocesan officials and members of the lesbian and gay communities in Baltimore.  The homosexual communities had requested the establishment of a special ministry which would work with them and serve their needs as Catholics.

“A task force created by Archbishop Borders, consisting of local clergy and religious studied the issues involved recommended that he appoint a coordinator for a team ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics.  Father Hughes is expected to establish such a team in coming weeks.”

The article explained that Hughes had been working with gay and lesbian Catholics in the archdiocese for eight years by that point.

To establish this ministry, the Archdiocese of Baltimore issued a pastoral plan for ministry to lesbian and gay Catholics.  Entitled “A Ministry to Lesbian and Gay Catholic Persons:  Rationale for Ministry,” and dated October 5, 1981, the document explained:

“…[T]he Church finds it necessary at times to formalize and make public its ministry to certain groups within society.  Whenever a particular group of people are denied their basic human rights and suffer violence to their human dignity because of prejudice or misunderstanding, there is injustice.  IN the face of that injustice, the Church cannot remain silent and still be true to its mission…Such is the situation of people in our society known as ‘homosexual.’ …

“Because of prejudice and misunderstanding, men and women with a homosexual orientation (more properly spoken of as gays and lesbians) have suffered public ridicule, social exclusion and economic hardship, thereby denigrating their human dignity by denying them respect, equality and full participation in society.  Therefore, the Roman Catholic Church of Baltimore is setting up a formal and public ministry to gay and lesbian people to bear witness to its opposition to the injustice they have suffered and are suffering. “

While sympathetic to social pressures gay and lesbian people experienced, the document acknowledged the archdiocese’s support of the magisterial disapproval of sexual expression, stating:

“…[T]he homosexual orientation is in no way held to be a sinful condition.  Like heterosexuality, it represents the situation in which one finds oneself, and so the starting point for one’s response to Christ’s call to perfection.  Responding to this call does not mean that one must change this orientation.  Rather it entails living out the demands of chastity with that orientation.”

But the document did not end there.  Immediately following that section is an amazing description of the role and dynamics of conscience, one of the best I have ever read:

Archbishop William Borders

“In setting before gays and lesbians Christ’s call to perfection the Church also reminds them that they are to respond personally to this call, that central to this response is conscience:  i.e., a properly formed conscience.  Such a response involves more than merely the learning or internalization of moral rules.  Proper formation of conscience requires that an individual make an integral part of himself or herself the ‘Christian principles inherent in the truths that Christ revealed,’ Archbishop [William] Borders [the then archbishop of Baltimore] wrote. As such, they are part of who one is and what one stands for when an individual confronts a concrete situation within which a moral decision must be made.  In making such a decision, ‘the role of the conscience is that of a judge, not a teacher,…conscience does not teach what is good or evil, nor does it create good or evil.  It weighs accumulated data, makes a judgement in very concrete, not theoretical, situations, the concrete situations’ one one’s life, Archbishop Borders continued.

“The ministry of the Roman Catholic Church to gays and lesbians which finds expression in the call to perfection and in the challenge to respond out of a properly formed conscience is always a pastoral ministry.  It is a ministry which is not content merely to repeat the challenge Christ sets before each generation:  it seeks to work with each individual, taking into account that person’s particular strengths and weaknesses, and helping that person make the fullest response possible at this moment in his or her life.”

I’d like to offer a few reflections on these passages.  First,  while I recognize the sympathy and understanding about the social pressures that gay and lesbian people experienced back then, I’ve noticed that such an approach, 35 years later, now seems condescending.  While no doubt gay and lesbian people still experience oppression and marginalization, their consciousness also recognizes and values the gifts they have to offer.  The do not need to be the objects of pity.

Second, I think it is remarkable that an archdiocese was promoting such a realistic view of conscience as an important element of pastoral ministry.  It is a theme that I see emerging in some of the ways that Pope Francis is now talking about pastoral ministry, most recently last week when he encouraged pastoral ministers working with LGBT people to take each situation on a case by case basis.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore’s document went on to suggest additional approaches to gay and lesbian ministry:  treating gay and lesbian people “in a way that communicates a respect for and a valuing of them as persons;”

  • treating gay and lesbian people “in a way that communicates a respect for and a valuing of them as persons;”
  • establishing structures  “to which the families of gays and lesbians can turn for support and counsel, and which the families of children struggling with their sexual identity can contact for information and guidance.
  • establishing “regular lines of communication by which gays and lesbians can make their voice heard by the Chruch at large.”
  • “…[T]he Church must listen to gays and lesbians to learn what they have to teach about the saving presence of Christ among us….God not only takes the side of the poor and the oppressed, he makes Himself known through them.  Thus, as a people who hunger for the Word of God, we must open our ears to His every message.”

While it is sad to see that during the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, approaches such as the ones that the Archdiocese of Baltimore proposed were quashed and silenced, it is hopeful that perhaps we are seeing a resurrection of these values in some of the methods of pastoral ministry which Pope Francis is proposing for all ministries, not just those to LGBT people.

It’s refreshing to know that, 35 years later, parishes in the Archdiocese of Baltimore are still carrying out the vision of this 1981 document.  Your can find some of these parishes on New Ways Ministry’s “Gay-Friendly Parish List.”

 

 

 

 

Catholic Lesbian Author Describes the Beauty of Incarnational Faith and Love

By Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 7, 2016

Catholic writer Kaya Oakes has done a wonderful service to the readers of U.S. Catholic in her recent article on women authors who are not often recognized for their Catholic identity.  What caught my eye was that one of those authors happens to be one of my all-time favorites: Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize winner.  Though it has been years since I read her astonishing Song of Solomon and her monumental Beloved, I still gasp when I pick up my well-worn copies of both books and read selected passages.  Though I have read a lot about Morrison, until Oakes’ article, I had not known she was Catholic, and a convert to the faith, to boot.

Toni Morrison

But Oakes’ article also introduced me to someone I had never heard of before:  Rebecca Brown, a novelist and essayist who happens not only to be a Catholic and a convert, like Morrison, but a lesbian, too.   Brown’s personal story is a powerful one, especially since she joined the Catholic Church as an adult, well after she had recognized herself as a lesbian.   Oakes’ article quotes other interviews with Brown, in which the author describes some of her faith journey:

“Brown was received into the Catholic Church in 2012. In an interview with Moss magazine in 2015, she reflected that there had always been “a real sense of dark and light” in her writing. ‘There’s a real sense of someone dying, and then getting to live again,’ she said. Prior to becoming Catholic, because of the sex abuse scandal and the church’s historical treatment of women, Brown had a sense of Catholicism as ‘the worst.’ But ‘something drew me—and keeps me drawn to it. Some longing, hunger, draw, whatever, to the mystery of incarnation, redemption, mercy.’ She adds, as many Catholics would, ‘I can’t explain or justify it.’

It is ironic that Catholic teaching frowns upon the physical love of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, because it is often Catholicism’s valuing of the physical, through its incarnational theology, that draws people, including LGBT people, to the faith.  Brown explains her own attraction:

Rebecca Brown

“As an out lesbian, Brown would seem to occupy a marginalized place in the church, but, as she told Fact/Simile magazine in 2012, her Catholicism, like much of her writing, is embodied. ‘I’m drawn to passion and to the elemental physicality of it—the rituals of standing, kneeling, sitting, the laying on of hands, the bending of the head in prayer, the baptism by water, making the sign of the cross, the Sacraments as signs of divine presence.’ In her most recent book of essays, American Romances, her essay ‘Priests’ describes childhood reenactments of communion using Necco wafers.”

Perhaps it is no surprise that Brown’s best-known work is entitled The Gifts of the Body, a novel about caring for people with HIV/AIDS, which won the 1995 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction.

Brown also is aware that Catholic means ‘universal,’ which in a big sense, means diversity:

“In 2013, Brown wrote an essay for the Stranger about her hopes for Pope Francis as a ‘super-feminist, gay, lefty Catholic.’ A friend’s question about what kind of Catholic she wanted to be helped Brown understand that there was no such thing as a Catholic. ‘There were,’ she writes, ‘as there are in most large groups of people, clueless, terrified fundamentalists, but there are also struggling, hopeful, trying-to-be-decent slobs like me.’ “

And Brown also seems to have gotten to the heart of Pope Francis’ message about the gospel, inferring a message of welcome and new life:

“As she parsed the complexities of Pope Francis’ journey and his attitudes toward LGBT people, Brown also came to understand that ‘Jesus didn’t come here to condemn us human lumps; he came to show us mercy and forgiveness and the goodness of the just and loving heart. He came to show there can be life even after you feel like you’ve been dead, and that even after someone’s been horrible or had horrible things done to them, they can have another chance.’ “

Brown’s musings are perfect answers for LGBT people when they are asked why they remain in the Catholic Church.  They describe sentiments I have heard over my two decades working with LGBT Catholics.  As marginalized people in the institution, LGBT Catholics are often made to feel second-class, but Oakes points out that the writers she profiled, while on the margins of the Church, have embodied the message of the faith.  Oakes concludes her article:

“Brown, Morrison, and [Fanny] Howe are all risk takers. They write books that challenge readers intellectually and emotionally, that center marginalized characters—people like women, single mothers, people of color, or LGBT people. The Catholicism that runs through their work is one of deep empathy for the struggle of others, of ritual, and of redemption. But it is also countercultural, in the manner of Dorothy Day or mystics like Hildegard and Julian of Norwich: It pushes back against the dominant structures of greed, the refutation of mystery, and the insistence that being Catholic simply means following a set of rules. For all three of these authors, Catholicism is an intellectual negotiation as much as it is a spiritual one. It is, in many ways, the Catholicism of our time: a faith of heart and mind, but also of gut instinct.”

I know I want to run out and read one of Brown’s novels and essays right away!  Does anyone have any recommendations?