A Look Into What Drives the Conservative Public Policy of the USCCB

May 6, 2016

Tony Spence’s forced resignation from his position as editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service is indicative of a greater disturbing trend at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  That’s the claim made by John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life. In a Commonweal article, Gehring lays out the USCCB’s recent trend of digging deeper into culture war battles, just at the time when Pope Francis has been calling church leaders to put aside such strident partisan involvement in favor of a method which engages culture and differing opinions.

Tony Spence

Spence left his job a little over two weeks ago, primarily because tweets he sent out from his personal Twitter account in which he criticized some state legislative battles involving LGBT issues and religious liberty.  The USCCB, which owns Catholic News Service, forced him to submit a letter of resignation.

Gehring spoke with Spence after his sudden departure and reported that the former editor has observed much anxiety and tension among Catholic leaders.  Spence told Gehring:

“I think it’s a very tense time in the American church and some things are off limits for discussion in any kind of rational way. It’s difficult to talk about religious liberty, sexuality, women’s issues. But we don’t live in a Catholic bubble. We’re a country of 320 million people.”

Spence observed that the USCCB’s agenda would often creep into the editing of Catholic News Service pieces, which traditionally had editorial independence from the bishops.  Spence said:

“When you reported on positions that politicians took on health care or issues of sexuality even neutrality was seen as an implied endorsement. We really had to be careful about the language we used and how we wrote things. Eventually you start to do that so much you look up and you’re self-censoring and you almost don’t realize how you got there. There was never any direction from the leadership of the conference not to report on something. We had editorial freedom, but there were a lot of battles fought over it.”

Through research for his book The Francis Effect, Gehring interviewed a number of high-ranking conference staff members who gave him a picture of what he calls “the larger, systemic changes at the USCCB in recent years.”  Moreover, many of those interviewed “lamented the all-consuming focus on religious liberty fights, and expressed concern that a hunkered-down approach is limiting the bishops’ effectiveness.”  Not surprisingly, LGBT issues are often at the center of these battles:

“Whether it’s decrying as “extreme” President Obama’s 2014 executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, comparing American disputes over religious liberty to the persecution of Christian martyrs, or publicly opposing the bipartisan reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act for including LGBT protections, the conference often seems determined to box itself into a corner.”

Citing Cathleen Kaveny, a legal scholar, Gehring notes that the U.S. bishops agenda is in opposition to the new agenda which Pope Francis is trying to set for the church, described as “a clear desire to recalibrate the Catholic public voice in a way that doesn’t reduce those moral teachings to a short list of hot-button sexual issues.”

John Gehring

One of those interviewed was Dolores Leckey, the first head of the Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women and Youth.  Leckey told Gehring:

“There is now a kind of unspoken test, and if anyone has a perceived taint of not being on target with every single element of Catholic doctrine, it just doesn’t fly. The church gets cut out of all kinds of effective partnerships. It’s crimping our ability to make a difference.”

Gehring also examines the handful of conservative Catholic websites who have had undue influence on the USCCB, including prompting the ouster of Spence.  Among those mentioned is “Church Militant,” anchored by Michael Voris, who has been notoriously anti-gay in many of his commentaries.  Gehring points out an interesting development about Voris’ personal life:

“. . . [Voris] last week acknowledged for the first time that in the past he had been in sexual relationships with men. He accused the Archdiocese of New York of preparing documents to publicly discredit him, a claim the archdiocese denies.”

Spence acknowledged that these conservative groups often have an immense amount of influence at the USCCB and on individual bishops.  He told Gehring:

“What blows my mind is these groups are given so much credibility and have influence. They are destructive. We’re only talking about a few hundred people in a very big church, but church leadership sometimes doesn’t have confidence in its own voice and these shrill challenges make them jump for cover.”

Gehring’s article is well worth reading in its entirety, and you can do so by clicking here.  He offers many more examples of the culture war mentality at the USCCB.  The stories show that it will take much work and prayer for Pope Francis’ proposed reforms to take root in this institution.

Still, of all the chilling examples he offers, for me the idea that I find the most dangerous is the one that Spence himself warned against:  “self-censorship.” In days gone by, silencing by the Church was accomplished by imprisoning people, exiling them, and, in the worst cases, execution.  Today, silencing is achieved by instilling an atmosphere of fear in church officials, lay leaders, and people in the pews.  The best way to prevent such self-censorship is through overcoming the fear that motivates it.  The best way to overcome fear is through contemplative prayer.

In order to change the culture of the USCCB, we need to keep speaking out truthfully and courageously, and we need to continue to pray to overcome our own fear and to ask that others are able to overcome theirs, too.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: IgnatianQ Again Gathers Jesuit Students for LGBTQ Solidarity–And Other Campus News

May 5, 2016

12771924_1081553981909058_7175108364027864592_oIt should be surprising to regular readers of Bondings 2.0 to learn that Catholic higher education is leading our church towards more supportive and affirming LGBT practices. Today’s post highlights several developments concerning LGBTQ issues which happened this spring across the U.S.

Jesuit Students Again Gather for LGBT Conference

Students, faculty, and staff from Jesuit colleges gathered in April for the third annual IgnatianQ conference, organized under the theme “Celebrating Identities: Queer Solidarity at Jesuit Schools.”

The conference, facilitated this year by students at Seattle University, received support from many offices and organizations on campus including Campus Ministry, reported student newspaper The Spectator. Keynote speaker Kathy Talvacchia, a religion scholar who is Associate Dean of Academic and Student Affairs at New York University Graduate School of Arts and Science, spoke about the influence Ignatian spirituality has had in her life as a lesbian Catholic woman. Workshop presenters included staff members at Jesuit institutions and outside LGBT organizations.

The annual conference aims to “promote LGBTQ solidarity, leadership & advocacy among US Jesuit institutions and the larger church. This year’s conference included more programming related to transgender issues and intersectional identities.  The 2015 conference took place at Georgetown University, Washington, DC.

Lavender Graduations Increase at Catholic Campuses

Lavender graduation ceremonies, which celebrate LGBTQ graduates and their allies, are happening at Catholic colleges across the U.S. this spring. Ceremonies will be held at:

The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY; DePaul University in Chicago, IL; Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.; Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA; Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga, CA; Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, CA; Seattle University in Seattle, WA; University of San Francisco in San Francisco, CA.   If you know of a Catholic campus that is hosting a lavendr graduation ceremony, please share that information in the “Comments” section of this post.

Drag Shows Premiere on More Campuses

Drag performances hosted on Catholic campuses are increasing, too. Gonzaga University in Washington State hosted its first ever drag performance as part of LGBT+ Pride Week festivities. Other Catholic schools continued performances, including the fifth annual show at the University of San Diego, the seventh annual show at DePaul University in Chicago, and the tenth annual show at Seattle University.

Ending Commencement Controversies

Finally, Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese questions whether controversies about commencement speakers and honorees at Catholic colleges are finally ending. Many times these controversies are tied to a speaker’s support for LGBT equality and provoked by forces in the church which seek to ban free inquiry and dissent. Reese wrote in the National Catholic Reporter:

“It is time to admit that these policies were foolish from the beginning and ought to be a dead letter today. Colleges and universities in good conscience can ignore these failed rules and use their own judgment in the selection of commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients. If their judgment is faulty, they can certainly be criticized, but not simply because they broke an inappropriate rule.”

Reese noted that “censorship is an admission of failure” that church leaders have not convinced Catholics of their positions. Regardless, he continued, the era of banning persons who question church teaching or advocate positions at odds with the bishops is dead. Whether this will be true is unknown, but the University of Notre Dame’s decision to honor Vice President Joe Biden and former Speaker of the House John Boehner with minimal criticism is certainly progress for LGBT advocates and for the church.

Know more good news happening for LGBT inclusion in Catholic higher education? Let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below or send a tip to info@newwaysministry.org.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right hand corner of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Australian Students Demand Greater LGBT Respect from Catholic Institutions

May 4, 2016
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Advocates rally in defense of Australia’s Safe Schools Program

College students in Australia are protesting an upcoming lecture by a of a Catholic man who claims “reparative therapy” successfully changed his sexuality, the latest dispute about LGBT issues as they relate to Catholic education  in that nation.

The University of Sydney’s Catholic Society will host James Parker tonight to speak about his experiences with “reparative therapy.” Parker is linked to People Can Change, a UK group which administers gay “conversion” programs, and he authored a 2014 piece about his own experience, reported Buzzfeed.

Georg Tamm, a gay Catholic student, said student objections were not to discussions about divergent views on sexuality, but specifically about the harm reparative therapy has caused. Tamm said:

” ‘I would have been OK with them inviting a priest, discussing why men and women are made for each other according to the Catholic scripture. . .But I don’t see the pertinence of inviting someone who is supposedly a patient of successful ex-gay therapy, when it has no scientific merit and is actually quite dangerous.’ “

Tamm said the Catholic Society’s invitation to Parker did not seem “to care about the welfare of those students” who are LGBT or questioning. Such talks, he added, defeat evangelical efforts “at a time when we need people to take the religion seriously and do good things with it.” The Catholic Society denied claims the event promoted prejudice against LGBT people.

Concerned students have appealed to the Student Union to prohibit, or at least refuse to fund, future events promoting reparative therapy. University of Sydney administrators are inquiring into whether restrictions can be placed on campus speakers, too.

Such LGBT controversies in Australian education are increasingly frequent. Last month, St. Francis Xavier College in Melbourne censored a sexual health workbook by requiring students to rip out a page about homosexuality and premarital sex. The Age reported:

“[Y]ear 9 students were called into the hall and told they could not leave until they had thrown a page of the textbook in the bin. . .

“[The [page] included a photo of two men hugging and smiling, and listed different sexual preferences including heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality.”

The workbook asked students age-appropriate questions about sexuality and relationships, but Principal Vincent Feeney explained such questions should be addressed in religious education classes rather than health classes. He defended St. Francis Xavier College further by saying it was inclusive of LGBT students and even allowed same-gender couples to attend formal dances. Students remained critical, however, with one calling the ripping of pages a “medieval weak response.” Others refused to tear the page out.

In another story, the Safe Schools Program in Australia, which educates against bullying, has come under fire after four successful years. Conservative politicians have attacked the Program, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic, has conceded to their demands. Following a government review, Safe Schools Programs, will be limited to high schools and have their content curtailed. A coalition under the name Save Safe Schools has organized rallies and campaigning to ensure funding is sustained and the Program keeps expanding.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a Catholic, described the Program as “social engineering” in his call for its defunding, reported Buzzfeed. Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, herself a lesbian Catholic, said such comments were “negative and unconstructive” because you cannot engineer a person’s lived reality.

Just two Catholic schools participate in the Safe Schools Program: St. Joseph’s College, a Christian Brothers school; and St. Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre, both in Victoria. St. Joseph’s College Head Paul Tobias said the Safe Schools debate “put people like me in a particularly difficult position” because of conservative attacks then lodged against the schools. Those pressures do not mean he or the school would be less supportive, however. He told The Age:

” ‘But I don’t believe there is anything in the Catholic faith that should stop us from promoting inclusiveness, diversity, and tolerance. . .

” ‘Every student who attends this school, irrespective of their sexuality, is entitled to be part of a safe environment. We need to accept that there are some kids who are heterosexual and there are some that are LGBTI.’ “

St. Joseph’s College under Tobias’ leadership established a homophobia task force as early as 1997 in response to an alum’s letter about anti-gay bullying. Tobias wrote to federal and state officials supporting the program, but he questioned whether the focused had shifted from promoting diversity and acceptance to focusing on the minutiae of gender and sexuality issues, which he felt would be detrimental to the Safe Schools Program’s mission.

Elsewhere in Australia, students in Catholic schools have challenged their institutions to participate. A gay student at St. Joseph’s College in Queensland asked Principal Michael Carroll for support, but the student’s testimony of intense bullying, but was met with a curt “no.” The student felt betrayed by administrators and teachers whom he admired, reported The Brisbane Times, and he added:

” ‘I hope that it is not the will of the Catholic Church that this group of young Australians, which are 14 times more likely to end their own lives, are not protected. . .All I can do is hope that they do not want to see me being abused, being made to feel uncomfortable and being separated from society, made to feel like a second-rate citizen.’ “

There is nothing in Catholic teaching which endorses marginalization of or discrimination towards LGBT people, particularly youth who are vulnerable and entrusted to the church for their education. Each of these controversies is rooted in flawed Catholic understandings of gender and of sexuality. These understandings refuse to prioritize social justice teachings about LGBT people’s rights and dignity, instead relying upon pseudo-science to validate outdated, but ideologically convenient ideas. As Australian Catholics reckon with how to protect LGBT people and expand their rights, including the question of marriage equality, a dose of honesty and an attentiviness to reality would be most healthy.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Iowa Catholic School Will Not Recognize Student for LGBT Scholarship

May 3, 2016
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Liam Jameson

A Catholic high school in Iowa which previously fired a gay teacher is now refusing honors to a graduating senior who is also gay.

Officials at Dowling Catholic High School, West Des Moines, have said senior Liam Jameson may not receive an LGBT scholarship from the Eychaner Foundation during the school’s awards ceremony this Thursday. Jameson is asking school officials to reverse their decision, so that he can be recognized equally for his accomplishments, reported OutSports. A Change.org petition, which you can sign here, has more than 1,000 signatures already. The student wrote an open letter explaining his appeal, stating in part:

“I’ve worked hard to prevent suicides, and having this scholarship presented allows other students to learn that LGBTQ students are valued in society, not shunned. That’s why the Committee presents the scholarships at Senior Awards Programs, to try and help save other young lives who feel isolated and worthless, like I once did. . .Bishop Pates, President Deegan, Principal Meendering, please choose life and demonstrate that all lives are worthy of ‘wholeness and dignity’. Doing so shows the entire Dowling Catholic student body that they are truly valued and loved regardless of who they are.”

The Eychaner Foundation describes itself as a “non-profit organization committed to promoting tolerance and non-discrimination,” and notes that it is “dedicated to anti-bullying.” Jameson was awarded the $40,000 Matthew Shepard Scholarship, named after hate crime victim whose 1998 murder in Wyoming sparked a national call to end violence against LGBT people.  The scholarship recognizes Jameson’s leadership as a gay student at Dowling Catholic where he helped organize a 250-student walk-out last year protesting the firing of gay teacher Tyler McCubbin. He also led efforts to found an LGBT club, called One Dowling Family, which provides a safe space at the school. Of this latter work, Jameson shared:

“I wanted to leave Dowling a better place, one worthy enough to educate all the brave souls who have had lives far better and far worse than mine. A space for all. A space that valued the few just as much as it valued the many. That space is now called One Dowling Family, formerly One Human Family. . .I can leave Dowling knowing that I made it a better place, one that provides students a place where they can be free.”

Dowling Catholic administrators released a brief statement yesterday, stating that scholarship organizations are not allowed to present awards during the ceremony, and thus Jameson would be honored in a manner consistent with his peers. The statement reads:

“At Dowling Catholic High School we are proud of all of our senior students who have received awards and scholarships to further their education. All scholarship recipients are honored during the Scholastic Award Assembly. Each senior selects up to two scholarships to be read out loud when a slide that includes their name and picture comes up on the screen. We do not allow organizations who are awarding the scholarship to attend and individually present the scholarship to the student. This policy was shared in writing with the Eychaner Foundation regarding the Matthew Shepard Award. We are pleased one of our students received the Matthew Shepard Award and he will be honored in the same manner as his classmates.”

The Eychaner Foundation refuted this claim with their own statement from Rich Eychaner, which said Dowling Catholic “misrepresents the efforts the efforts the school has gone to in dishonoring Iowa’s Matthew Shepard Scholarship.” The statement continued, noting the scholarship had been presented at Dowling Catholic in 2014 without problem:

“Since then, Dowling constructed and then revised a policy to limit scholarships presented to their students. Dowling further tightened their policy to specifically target the Matthew Shepard Scholarship by writing in ‘rules’ that the school could deny the student’s choice of scholarships that were publicly read under criteria that targeted our scholarship. . .

“After Principal Meendering became aware that Liam intended to apply for Iowa’s Matthew Shepard Scholarship Program the policy was revised to state. . .’Students may choose to accept any award; however Dowling Catholic High School reserves the right to not acknowledge any award.’ (emphasis added)”

Other Iowa Catholic schools have welcomed the Foundation, though not without some controversies. In 2012, a student at Prince of Peace Catholic High School was also the recipient of the Matthew Shepard scholarship from the Eychaner Foundation.  Bishop Martin Amos of the Diocese of Davenport originally denied permission for the scholarship to be announced at graduation, but he reversed the decision and allowed the presentation to go forward. The bishop also congratulated the student, and re-affirmed the diocese’s support of anti-bullying and anti-discrimination principles.

In a related note, there are questions about the safety of One Dowling Family as a space inclusive of all students. Fr. Zach Kautzky, the school’s chaplain whose oversight of the safe space group had been mandated by the school, tweeted a link a news story which denigrates transgender identities. Though students have requested Kautzky be replaced, Principal Matt Meendering “downplayed the group’s LGBT focus” and said the matter was being discussed, wrote a columnist for the Des Moines Register.

It is inexplicable why Dowling Catholic administrators will not allow a graduating gay student to be honored alongside his peers, and why rules have been repeatedly revised. Jameson has contributed greatly to the school community, testifying to the power of being one’s authentic self, and to helping his peers do likewise. He should be celebrated not only for receiving this scholarship, but for modeling the type of student that Catholic education seeks to form when it is at its best. School officials will hopefully find a wisdom and courage similar to their student’s and reverse their discriminatory decision. Regardless, Jameson will surely excel at Iowa State next year and then wherever life takes him.  Congratulations, Liam!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Priest Comes Out, Only to Be Barred from Celebrating LGBT Welcome Mass

May 2, 2016

Two Sundays ago, Bondings 2.0 reported on a homily given at a London-area Mass to welcome the LGBT community during the Year of Mercy.  Since that posting, some new information has been brought to our attention concerning another aspect of that Mass.

Thanks to Martin Pendergast, a UK Catholic advocate for LGBT people, we’ve learned that on the morning of the Mass, a Franciscan priest who had been scheduled to concelebrate at the liturgy came out publicly as a gay man on BBC radio during a segment about the special liturgy.  After his announcement, Fr. Kieran Fitzsimons, OFM, was told by the dean of the Brentwood Cathedral, the host of the liturgy, that he would not be able to concelebrate the Mass.

Fr. Kieran Fitzsimons, OFM

The Tablet (March 17, 2016) reported on the incident (though the story about it is behind a paywall, so we cannot link to it).  The news article explained the decision of the dean:

“Fr Martin Boland, said he asked Fr Fitzsimons not to concelebrate ‘because of the nature of him coming out on radio that day’ and because he didn’t want him to detract focus from the Mass. ‘He was playing a very public role and the whole focus would be very much on him and that’s not what these Year of Mercy Masses are about.’ The Dean said he ‘could not imagine’ Fr Fitzsimons not being invited back to celebrate Mass, but ‘he needs to speak to Bishop Alan [Williams] and his Superior.’ “

Fitzsimons response to the decision expressed disappointment at the decision, but also affirmation of the Cathedral’s outreach:

“When word leaked out somehow, I was asked by the cathedral administrator not to concelebrate. I’d routinely concelebrated at two previous Masses as part of the Year of Mercy. I challenged him, but I was obliged to accept the situation. I was not surprised, but I was disappointed. It gives a mixed message.

“However I want to endorse what the diocese and cathedral administrator have done with this Mass. They are good people at the cathedral and I applaud what they are doing.”

Boland’s worry that Fitzsimons’ presence would have made the Mass a media circus seems a bit unwarranted.  The evidence is that Fitzsimons’ announcement of his sexuality did not make headlines in other publications.   It is good to hear that Boland would invite the Franciscan back to the Cathedral to celebrate Mass, but it is curious that he said approval from the local bishop and community superior would be needed.  Why would a priest in good standing, who had previously been welcome to celebrate Mass at the Cathedral, now need special permission because he announced that he is gay?  That is another very mixed message Boland is sending.

Boland’s judgment error may have been caused by the time pressure he faced and the uniqueness of the situation.  Yet, he can correct that error by inviting Fr. Fitzsimons to return to the Cathedral to be the main celebrant at another Mass for LGBT people.  How inspiring and welcoming it would be for the LGBT Mass participants to see one of their own serving openly at the altar!

In the BBC interview, Fitzsimons commented on the fear that many gay priests–as well as many lesbian nuns and LGBT lay workers in the Church–face:

“In recent history there was a fear of being identified in society, workplaces and communities and there were negative repercussions, and I think the same sadly has applied to the church and there is a fear of what may or may not happen.”

At the Queering the Church blog, Terence Weldon commented on Fr. Fitzsimons’ dedication to ministry with LGBT people.  He offered the following memory about him, which also indicates that the local bishop may indeed be supportive of the Franciscan:

“[Fr. Fitzsimons]accompanied the first Quest [Catholic LGBT pastoral care organization in UK] pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, in 2014.  At that time, the director of the shrine was Fr Alan Williams SM. Reports I had from those attending the pilgrimage, were that Fr Williams had been extremely supportive of this group of LGBT pilgrims. Since then, Fr Williams has been appointed Bishop of Brentwod – and so, is now Fr Kieran’s diocesan bishop.”

It seems like the stage is set for a wonderful moment of reconciliation and welcome for Fr. Fitzsimons and the LGBT community in the Brentwood diocese.  With a supportive bishop, and a cathedral which has already offered a welcoming gesture, it seems like welcoming Fr. Fitzsimons to celebrate another Mass for the LGBT community is a logical and pastoral next step.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Catholic Officials Condemn LGBT Murders in Bangladesh, Call for Justice

April 29, 2016
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Xulhaz Mannan, left, and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy

Catholic officials in Bangladesh have condemned the brutal murders of two LGBT advocates, criticizing too the discrimination that sexual and gender diverse communities face in a nation which still criminalizes homosexuality.

Four days ago, Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were killed by militants affiliated with Ansar Al Islam. Mannan founded and edited Roopbaan, the nation’s first and only LGBT magazine, and worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Tonoy was an actor who advocated for gay rights.  Both were hacked to death by machete

Mannan and Tonoy’s murders add to a spree of targeted killings by militants against liberal figures and intellectuals. Al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates are seeking to grow in the majority Muslim nation, and their campaign includes targeting LGBT advocates.

The brutality of these murders by machete, coupled with the victims’ gay identities, has propelled the story into the international spotlight. Two Catholic officials in Bangladesh have reacted forcefully against the murders.

Fr. Albert Thomas Rozario, head of the Archdiocese of Dhaka’s Justice and Peace Commission and a Supreme Court lawyer, told UCA News that justice must be ensured for the two gay men murdered:

” ‘The church always supports the demands of LGBT people for equal rights and opportunities as ordinary citizens. . .We call on the authorities to ensure justice is meted out for the killings, and also to take steps to end discrimination against this community.’ “

Rosaline Costa, a Catholic who is Executive Director of Hotline Human Rights Trust Bangladesh, said the government must do more than just investigate these killings:

” ‘God has given us freedom of choice and nobody is allowed to persecute people for their sexual orientation because of so-called traditional values based on conservative religious norms. A truly democratic society can’t accept abuse in the name of religion. . .

” ‘A proper probe and justice for the killings won’t do much protect the community. The government must ensure that the discrimination of LGBT people ends in this country even though the so-called protectors of Islam might not like it.’ “

The situation for LGBT people in Bangladesh is highly oppressive. Being gay is criminalized with sanctions including life imprisonment. While the law criminalizing homosexuality is a leftover from British penal laws, strong current prejudices lead to cultural disapproval and discrimination. Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim nation, is highly religious, though there are only about 300,000 Catholics or 0.2% of the population. An anonymous advocate with the gay rights group Boys of Bangladesh told UCA News that being LGBT “can result in the denial of every opportunity and rights” and that they are considered “dreadful sinners.”

The deep tragedy of these murders is shining light on the suffering of Bangladesh’s LGBT communities, both in country and abroad. Fr. Rozario and Rosaline Costa countered the idea that religious belief entails LGBT condemnation, and they rejected violence in the name of religion. They acted because of their Catholic faith, not in spite of it, to not only seek justice for Mannan and Tonoy but to demand government action against anti-LGBT discrimination and violence. In this way, where fundamentalist religion and anti-LGBT hate had culminated in the brutality of these murders, Catholics found a way to mediate God’s love and cry out for God’s justice.

But the church’s response must move beyond reactive calls for justice when LGBT people are attack to a proactive solidarity which seeks protections before tragedy occurs. Words from Pope Francis condemning LGBT criminalization would go a long way towards this goal, but he has remained silent. Thankfully, clergy like Fr,. Rozario and lay people like Rosaline Costa are not waiting, but immediately standing with marginalized communities to demand justice and fair treatment.

If Pope Francis would condemn criminalization against LGBTQI people, he would clarify a sometimes ambivalent Catholic stance regarding violence against sexual and gender minorities. Catholics across the world have asked Francis to send a clear message through the #PopeSpeakOut campaign – and you can add your voice by clicking here and learning about a variety of ways that you can contact the pontiff!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Bishop Seeks Release from Performing Civil Marriages in Norway

April 28, 2016

The debate about whether Catholic clergy should serve as agents of the state to perform civil marriages has arisen again, this time because of a bishop in Norway has asked the Vatican to release his diocese from such an obligation.

Premier reported:

“Bishop Bernt Eidsvig of Oslo (below), one of the country’s top Catholic clerics, said the Church would ask the Vatican for permission to stop performing state weddings to avoid confusion and opposition against it in the future.

“It’s after the Lutheran Church in Norway voted overwhelmingly to recognise and begin performing same-sex marriages earlier this month. It rejected a similar proposal in 2014.”

Bishop Bernt Eidsvig

Eidsvig explained his request:

“It’s clear we must distinguish our own Church marriages from others.

“This is a matter of liturgy, so it doesn’t necessarily reflect broader change in our society’s moral values.

“But politicians may now get aggressive toward churches who resist these weddings, so the best option is for us to stop conducting marriages on the state’s behalf.”

Same-gender marriage has been legal in Norway since 2009.  Catholics make up less than 3% of the heavily Lutheran nation of Norway.  The Catholic Herald reported that Pope Francis will visit there on October 31, 2016, to take part in an ecumenical celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, though “Bishop Eidsvig said it was unlikely the same-sex marriage controversy would be mentioned during the one-day event. . . ”

It is curious that the bishop says he is afraid that “politicians may now get aggressive toward churches” who won’t perform same-gender marriages.  The 2009 law which made the nation’s marriage laws gender-neutral does not require that any religious group perform same-gender marriages, so it appears that Catholic marriages will not be affected.  So one wonders what sort of “aggressive” tactics he fears.

Yet, the bishop’s desire to separate church marriage from civil marriage is one that has come up before, and seems to have proponents on both ends of the progressive-conservative spectrum in the Catholic Church.  Back in 2013, Bondings 2.0 carried two consecutive posts in which a progressive priest-advocate and a conservative priest-advocate both argued that it was time for church and state to separate their marriage ceremonies.

Fr. Frank Brennan, SJ, an Australian law professor, argued a progressive position that separating civil and sacramental marriages would be a way to make room for lesbian and gay couples to marry legally.   He stated:

“It is high time to draw a distinction between a marriage recognised by civil law and a sacramental marriage. In deciding whether to expand civil marriage to the union of two persons of the same gender, legislators should have regard not just for the well-being of same sex couples and the children already part of their family units, but also for the well-being of all future children who may be affected, as well as the common good of society in setting appropriate contours for legally recognised relationships. . . .

“It would be just and a service to the common good for the State to give some recognition and support to committed, faithful, long-term relationships between gay couples deserving dignity, being able to love and support each other in sickness and in health, until death they do part.”

Msgr. Charles Pope, a pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, argued the conservative position that civil and sacramental marriage have grown so far apart that they no longer belong in the same category:

“It is a simple fact that word ‘marriage’ as we have traditionally known it is being redefined in our times. To many in the secular world the word no longer means what it once did and when the Church uses the word marriage we clearly do not mean what the increasing number of states mean. . . .

“The secular world excluded every aspect of what the Church means by marriage. Is it time for us to accept this and start using a different word? Perhaps it is, and I would like to propose what I did back in March of 2010, that we return to an older term and hear what you think.”

By 2014, the idea began to gather up more proponents from various ecclesial perspectives.  First Things, a conservative Catholic journal; Bryan Cones, then a columnist for the moderately progressive U.S. Catholic magazine; Bishop Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal prelate, and Len Wooley, a Mormon essayist.  Their opinions can be found in a previous Bondings 2.0 posting by clicking here.

Before marriage equality was legalized across the U.S., in some states clergy members who supported marriage equality took a pledge that they would not sign marriage licenses for the heterosexual couples they married, until the state extended marriage to lesbian and gay couples, too.  In effect, these clergy members (mostly Protestant and Jewish, and no Catholics) were doing exactly what the Norwegian bishop is recommending, though for exactly the opposite reason.

When opposite sides of a debate end up supporting the same position, though for different reasons, it seems like we should stop, take notice, and perhaps delve further into the idea. The issue of whether we should separate civil from sacramental marriage certainly deserves wider discussion and examination.  No U.S. bishop that I know of has yet to propose a solution such as the Norway bishop did, yet their opposition to the current definition of marriage in the nation differs greatly from their own view.

What do you think?  Would separating the civil marriage ceremony from the religious marriage ceremony be a benefit for the Church?  for LGBT people? for the state?  Offer your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Queering The Church:  “Gay Marriage, in Church:  Norway”

Religion Dispatches:  “Norwegian Catholic Church May Stop Civil Marriages”

Pink News: “Catholic Church in Norway to stop performing civil weddings to make a point against ‘sorrow’ of gay marriage”


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