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?



Former Nuns Celebrate Civil Union in Italy, as Ousted Priest Marks Anniversary of Coming Out

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 3, 2016

Two women in Italy who had formerly been in religious life celebrated their civil union last week,  just about a year after a priest working in the Vatican  publicly came out as gay.

screen-shot-2016-01-20-at-6-01-42-pmFederica and Isabel celebrated their civil union in the city hall of Pinerolo, where they live, reported The Guardian. The ceremony was held a day early because “the media were alerted to the story and the couple wanted to avoid a media frenzy.” Mayor Luca Salvai, who officiated for the couple, said the town respected the couples’ desire for discretion and a simple ceremony. Theirs is only the second civil union in Pinerolo, a town near Turin in the north of the country.

The couple met while they were Franciscan sisters working at a rehabilitation center with people suffering from addiction. They left religious life, critical of the church’s teaching on homosexuality, and have entered not only a legal partnership, but will make their marriage vows in an unofficial religious ceremony. Franco Barbero, a resigned priest and friend of Frederica and Isabel, will preside at a religious service for the couple. He commented, reported The Irish Times:

“They are two lovely people, of intense faith and with serious studies behind them. . .They prayed a lot about this and they reflected at length during a difficult process.  In the end, they took their decision knowing that not many would approve….

“Mind you not everyone in the church disapproves…. They were criticised but also understood by their fellow nuns. Just like there are many decent priests who do not condemn this type of choice. I can also tell you too that this is not the first time that I have married two nuns.”

Having exercised their civil rights, the couple affirmed that they remain faithful believers and called publicly for greater respect from the Catholic Church, according to The Telegraph. Isabel said, “God wants people happy, to live the love in the light of the sun,” and Federica added, “We call upon our church to welcome all people who love each other.”

A year ago yesterday, former priest Krzysztof Charamsa came out as a gay man with a similar message. He has offered thoughts on the church in a new book, The First Rock. A Vanity Fair report on the book says the former priest criticizes a culture at the Vatican which “built the perception that homosexuals are sick and pedophiles” as a “move that serves to maintain homophobia within the Church.” Charamsa claimed further that allegations of a gay lobby were false, but propped up by ranking church leaders who “favored a corrupt system that allowed them to hide any suspicion of sexual abuse.”

CharamsaStonewallA former Vatican theologian and professor in Rome, Charamsa announced his coming out just days before the 2015 Synod on the Family, a moment that was a “big step for himself and the Church” according to New Ways Ministry. He has since moved to Barcelona with his partner, having been suspended from priestly duties.

In the interim, Charamsa has lectured and written widely, including an appeal to Pope Francis to end the “immeasurable suffering” the Catholic Church inflicts on LGBT people. He has said, “Today, I am a better priest. . .The paradox is that today, I cannot exercise my being a priest,” and that, “The church needs a Stonewall.” To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of Krzystof Charamsa’s journey, click here.

Charamsa said in October 2015 that he hoped to be “free, happy, out of the closet, and serving the same ideals and the same values for which I became a priest” in a year. As he celebrates today the anniversary of his coming out, and as Federica and Isabel celebrate their love, may we echo their joy, the joy which comes from living as one’s authentic self, as one is created by God to be.

New #LGBTmercy Campaign Focuses on LGBT Catholics’ Good Works

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 2, 2016

LGBT Catholics, their families, and their allies are gathering in New York City today for a “Pilgrimage of Mercy.” And around the world every day, LGBT Catholics perform works of mercy for the needy in their communities.  These works sometimes get overlooked by church leaders who don’t take notice of the good that LGBT people do. #LGBTmercy, a new campaign by New Ways Ministry, highlights the many ways by which LGBT Catholics and those who support them act mercifully.

Today’s Bondings 2.0 post invites readers to participate in this campaign, while also highlighting one lesbian woman whose Catholic roots have propelled her to do good.


Building on the Vatican’s #BeMercy initiative in early September, which asked Catholics to share information about the works of mercy they perform, #LGBTmercy recognizes the many gifts and contributions which LGBT Catholics, their families, and their allies offer to the church and to the world.

You are invited to participate in this campaign in three ways:

  1. Post on social media the acts of mercy yourself or others have done and use the hashtag #LGBTmercy
  2. Submit photos and/or text about the acts of mercy yourself or others have done to
  3. Send this blog post to your family and friends, and ask them to help spread the good news of #LGBTmercy

New Ways Ministry will begin posting photos, videos, and text submissions in early November, leading up to  Christ the King Sunday, November 20th,  when the Year of Mercy concludes.

One Lesbian Woman’s Story

Covenant House, a leading non-profit with Catholic roots that aids youth experiencing homelessness, has named a lesbian woman as interim director of its newest shelter, which is located in Chicago, reported the Windy City Times.

Teresa Cortas

Teresa Cortas, who herself has Catholic roots, began working with Covenant House after graduating college. She spent a year in Anchorage, Alaska, and then Los Angeles, before eventually ending up in Chicago. There, she worked with homeless populations and with HIV-positive women and children for nearly two decades.

Early on, Cortas worked with youth around her age who were questioning their sexual identity and some who had suffered for coming out. She had journeyed herself, and explained that in adolescence church teachings had “essentially ‘shut down’ the exploration of her own sexuality.” Cortas grappled with questions of faith and sexuality while attending The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC,saying:

” I was sorting out what my attachment was to the faith. . .as opposed to ‘is there a faith separate from the church and, if so, what does that look like?’ I lived a lot in my head. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I really began to realize who I was. Prior to that, even though I was approached by many women, it never really occurred to me.

“Then it was conversations of ‘God punishing drug addicts and homosexual men’. . .At the time, I was confused because you could have said the same thing about God giving a person cancer to punish who they were. I was also intrigued to find out more about the [HIV/AIDS] epidemic.”

Cortas eventually came out to her traditionally Catholic family, her parents expressing concern she would get HIV/AIDS or be damned for leaving the church. While she no longer identifies as a practicing Catholic, Cortas still struggles with being forced to leave because “the church has asked me not to be” a member.

Years later, Cortas’ connections with the church have made possible a Covenant House shelter in Chicago. She knew President Kevin Ryan from college and had connected with former president Sr. Mary Rose McGeady. DC, in her earlier work. Cortas pushed them to bring a shelter to Chicago, and now that it has finally happened, she expressed hope and readiness about this new venture:

“Is it going to be an easy process? Not at all. . .I think Chicago has extraordinary youth agencies. My experience with them has been phenomenal. The problem is there is not enough. There is not enough space. The number of homeless kids . . . is astonishing and unacceptable and we have to do something about that.”

Cortas added that it “takes a lot of courage for us to be something other than our families. . .I don’t think enough LGBT [people] realize that. But when you do, you can really begin to fight.”


‘Homosexuality and Social Justice’: Archdiocese Listens to Gays and Lesbians

“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s series 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. 

1982: San Francisco’s “Homosexuality and Social Justice” Report

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

In September 1982,  a group working for the Archdiocese of San Francisco released a major report entitled “Homosexuality and Social Justice” which proposed many progressive policies, including the idea that the Roman Catholic disapproval of gay sexual relationships was itself a social justice issue.

The 150-page report was prepared by the Task Force on Gay/Lesbian Issues of the Commission on Social Justice of the archdiocese, offered 54 recommendations and insights for church leaders.  According to the September 16, 1982 edition of The Monitor, the archdiocesan newspaper, Task Force Chairperson Kevin Gordon commented on the historical significance of the report, saying:

“This is a moment of incredible opportunity or incredible vulnerability, especially since this report comes out of San Francisco.  If not here, then where?

“We have before us a real critical moment.  We should seize the moment now.”

Indeed words like “critical” and “incredible” were not overstated.  According to The Monitor, the Commission on Social Justice began the deliberations on the report in May 1981 “to respond to an increase of anti-gay/lesbian assaults in San Francisco, and tensions within the predominantly Latino Mission District and the predominantly gay/lesbian Castro District–which border each other.”  The Commission unanimously accepted the report, which covered topics such as:  “homosexuality, social justice, and violence,”  “language–moral and political dimensions,” “spiritual lives of homosexuals,” “family,” and “homosexuals in priesthood and religious life.”

The report made 54 recommendations, some which were controversial then, and some which would still be controversial.  One significant feature of the report was that it did not accept the magisterial distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior, seeing such a distinction as irrelevant to the lives of gay and lesbian people.  The report stated:

“In listening to and learning from the real voices and real experiences of the lesbian women and gay men of San Francisco, the present Task Force did not find any sizeable population espousing an orientation/behavior distinction, that is, holding to lifelong venereal abstinence outside of marriage as being a particular value.  The values were more often attested to were the courage to search for meaning , and to report on that search.

“The Task Force heard people say over and over:  we do not experience our active sexual lives as evil, but as good, worthy of human beings, and often beautiful.  Like anything human, they are imperfect, with ambiguous and demonic aspects, selfishness, dishonesty, etc.  But our active sexual lives and loves stand out in our experience as essentially good and spirit-filled.”

But perhaps the most controversial aspect of the report was its introductory section, of which The Monitor said:

“In an introductory section subtitled, ‘The Church as Oppressor,’ the Report states that the Roman Catholic Church does not have a viable sexual ethic, not only regarding homosexuality, but also regarding contraception, divorce and remarriage and premarital sexuality.

“It says: ‘. . . the question is whether the Roman Catholic Church really has a viable and embodied sexual theology to begin with.  If the Roman Catholic Church is ever to regain credibility in matters sexual, it will need to develop an appropriately sophisticated sexual ethic beyond what it has at present.

” ‘At present its positive ethical guidance is essentially fashioned for sacramentally married people in procreative unions.  For all the others, for instance, the 50 million single people in the United States over 18, sexual options are few, if any.”

The Monitor  highlighted some of the key recommendations:

  • that Archdiocesan agencies examine how Roman Catholic agencies themselves might be conduits of oppression to lesbian women and gay men through their own attitudes and practices in parishes, schools, diocesan offices, chanceries, seminaries, religious communities and in the Catholic media.
  • that Catholic agencies develop internal programs to combat homophobia and sexism.
  • that Catholic agencies both critique and work with the criminal justice system to eliminate anti-gay/lesbian violence.
  • that organizations such as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gay (PFLAG) be given space and welcome within a parish community.
  • that the Archdiocese in concert with parish churches and other community agencies assist lesbian/gay parents and their children in working through the split-up of marriages, the restructuring of family units. . ..
  • the end of sexual orientation screening for parochial school jobs, adoption, and foster care.
  • the encouragement of gay student groups at parochial schools.
  • the admission of “self-accepting” gay and lesbian people to the priesthood and religious life.

Dr. Thomas Ambrogi, the director of the Archdiocesan Commission on Social Justice, explained that the report was “not an official statement of the Archdiocese itself, ” and that the Commission had “semi-autonomous status and . . . acts on its own initiative and conscience in studying issues in the light of the Catholic social tradition.”  Still, a Time magazine article dated October 11, 1982, had this to say about the archdiocese’s response to the report:

“Though Archbishop [John] Quinn] remained silent, the first reaction from the archdiocese emphasized the task force’s good intentions rather than accusing it of doctrinal errors or sins of naiveté. Said an editorial in the archdiocesan newspaper The Monitor: “We do not agree with many of the report’s findings and recommendations.  On the other hand, we respect the report for what it is–a working document, voicing the real feelings of real people who have had the courage to speak out.’ “

Some of the other Task Force members offered their reflections on the publication of the report:

Sister Frances Lombaer, OP:  “I previously had little knowledge of the concerns of the gay/lesbian community.  Now I’ve had the chance to hear the voices of faith-filled lesbian women and gay men and to learn of the violence that they have experienced on so many levels.  So I feel the document is important if it can contribute to the dialogue within the Archdiocese.

Father Jack Isaacs: “It’s important for the Church to be there –to listen to people directly–not be outside saying things about people.  Usually, we jump immediately to a conclusion that blots out what people are really saying instead of working it out with them.  Much in the area of homosexuality needs to be rethought.  The Social Justice Commission likes to think of itself as prophetic but it is part of the institutional Church.  The Report is one of the first papers on this topic accepted by an official Church body–an accepting f a prophetic statement by the institution.

    *     *     *     *     *     *

Editor’s reflection:

As I sifted through the news articles about this historic Report, I was struck by a few things: 1) the courage of the Task Force to speak so honestly, courageously, and boldly; 2) that an archbishop and archdiocese were courageous enough to listen to criticism; 3) that what we think of as Pope Francis’ new openness to listen, encounter, and dialogue, was actually alive and well over 30 year before he arrived in Rome.  Wouldn’t it be great if more dioceses and archdioceses would today commission similar reports on ministry and responsiveness to the LGBT community?



Alberta’s Catholic Schools Receive Poor Grades on LGBT Policies

Results from “Making the Grade” report

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 18, 2016

Catholic school districts in Alberta received poor grades for their LGBT policies, according to a new report from the organization “Public Interest Alberta.”

Professor Kristopher Wells authored the report, “Making the Grade,” after conducting an analysis of the LGBT policies for four school districts. Wells, who directs the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, studied the Grand Prairie Catholic Schools and the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools as part of the report. The Edmonton Journal reported further:

“Wells evaluated four policies based on six criteria, including whether it complied with provincial legislation, protected students and staff members’ privacy, and spelled out how schools will support transgender and non-binary people.

“He said shortcomings include apparent restrictions on requesting gay-straight alliances in some Catholic school districts. Grande Prairie and St. Albert Catholic districts both have policies saying the groups will ‘normally’ be established at the Grade 7-to-12 levels, that the principal has to agree to the club’s name, and must approve any material going before the group.

“The report also said some districts did not include protections for students’ families or staff who are gender diverse, and failed to spell out how transgender people will be directed to bathrooms or change rooms, and join sports teams.”

Both Catholic districts received a D, but have pushed back against Wells’ report. Karl Germann, superintendent of Grand Prairie Catholic Schools, said the provincial Ministry of Education had approved its policies on inclusion. Germann said students are “loved and cared for,” in addition to legal compliance. David Keohane, superintendent of Greater St. Alberta Catholic School District, claimed the report was incomplete.

Professor Kristopher Wells

Wells criticized the lack of a unified policy in the province, which makes finding and understanding a given district’s policies on gender and sexuality confusing. He told the Edmonton Journal:

” ‘Unequivocally, any student who walks through any school in this province should be entitled to the same supports, the same resources, the same protections regardless of where they go to school.’ “

Joel French, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, suggested the Ministry of Education post every district’s policies in a central and accessible place.Every school system in Alberta had to submit their LGBT policies for review last March. Thus far, the Ministry and Minister David Eggen have not released which districts have LGBT policies which are legally compliant and which are insufficient.

In related news, the leader of Alberta’s Liberal Party, David Swann, has said school districts which do not meet new LGBTQ standards should potentially have their funding and charters withdrawn. He told CBC:

” ‘The legislation, supported by every provincial party, and the policies set forth by the government, were created to provide kids with the right to be who they are. . .No organization, especially a school, should have the ability to take those rights away.’ “

Swann also said reparative therapy should be banned. His comments come after a Baptist leader said LGBTQ policies should and would be refused as they violate religious freedom.

Disputes about implementing policies supportive of LGBTQ students in Alberta have been ongoing for two years now. All 61 districts in the province submitted draft policies last March, but preceding these submissions there were debates in several Catholic systems. Particularly intense were disputes among the Edmonton Catholic School Board, whose meetings erupted in shouting and eventually necessitated outside mediation.

Alberta’s bishops weighed in, too, with one describing the LGBT guidelines as “totalitarian,” though the bishops eventually met with Minister Eggen. It should also be noted that the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District has spent nearly $400,000 defending its discriminatory firing of transgender teacher Jan Buterman.

The disputes in Alberta have been detrimental to students, faculty, parents, the church, and the wider community. Wells’ failing grades for these two districts may be deserved, but they should not be the case. Catholic education should receive straight A’s when it comes to welcoming and supporting its students–especially LGBTQ students. The good news is that it is never too late to reverse bad policies and renew a commitment to ensuring every student can flourish in Catholic schools.