Letter Asks Pope Francis to Encounter LGBT Catholics During U.S. Visit

July 31, 2015

A coalition of Catholic, LGBT, and Hispanic groups have invited Pope Francis to meet with LGBT Catholics during his U.S. visit in September, contrasting with the more cautionary policies of Archbishop Charles Chaput and the 2015 World Meeting of Families. The New York Times reports:

“In a formal letter sent to Pope Francis at the Vatican, groups representing gay and transgender people, Catholics, and Hispanics said the church in America was in the midst of a ‘pastoral crisis’ over gay issues and asked to meet with him while he was in the United States. While some American conservatives are eager to see Pope Francis make use of his popularity on this trip to advance the fight against abortion and same-sex marriage, gay Catholics want him to acknowledge their rejection by the church, and to welcome them as full members with equal access to sacraments like baptism and marriage.”

Signatories included church reform groups (including Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry), gender justice projects, academic figures, LGBT advocates, national Hispanic organizations, and Catholic parents of LGBT children. Their call is for Francis to listen to LGBT Catholics’ stories, too often marked by intolerance and injustice. DignityUSA’s Marianne Duddy-Burke told the Times reporter:

“We see so many people we love abandoning the church because of the kinds of indignities and pain that they’re subjected to…whether it’s being denied a kid’s baptism or hearing a priest make horrible comments during a homily. Everybody’s got stories of pain and alienation, and those things do real harm to people. And it needs to end.”

The Times coverage includes the story of Lui Akira Francesco Matsuo, a transgender Catholic who was rejected from his Detroit parish a few years ago. Matsuo, who is originally from Japan, says Pope Francis “lost my trust” when the pontiff compared gender theory to nuclear weapons, but has hopes for the upcoming visit:

“I want him to extend his hand openly, especially to the transgender community…I am a practicing Catholic. I just don’t have a parish I can call home.”

Nicole Santamaría, an intersex woman from El Salvador, shared her own desires for Pope Francis’ visit:

“To families who are different, let him speak out and say that we are beloved human beings, that we are beloved of God…I don’t want another teenaged boy or girl to take his or her life because they thought that not even God loves them.”

Santamaría and her mother are among fourteen LGBT Catholic families participating in Equally Blessed’s pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families. These families will share their stories and represent the religious experience of Catholic families with LGBT members from around the world. You can lend your support to this effort with a donation here.

Deb Word, the Catholic mother of a gay man who did not come out until he was 23 for fear of going to hell, said she would tell Pope Francis:

“We don’t need to put this kind of trauma on a child’s soul.”

Word works closely with Catholic parents through Fortunate Families, as well as having provided a home for more than 17 LGBT youth experiencing homelessness over the years. The letter calls particular attention to to the plight of LGBT youth who experience elevated levels of bullying, discrimination, self-harm, suicide attempts, substance abuse, homelessness, and family rejection. The letter stated:

“This is a crisis that the church can help to address through effective pastoral care and programs that provides love and support for these youth.”

Initially considered as a speaker at the World Meeting of Families, Word was rejected after acknowledging the harm church teaching has caused LGBT people. Fortunate Families’ application to exhibit was rejected in addition and the only LGBT session at the Meeting will be by a celibate gay man and his mother.

Pope Francis, who has stressed “encounter” as an important part of ministry, should listen to these faith-filled yet pained stories Outreach to LGBT Catholics by the pontiff will be doubly meaningful in Philadelphia, where Archbishop Charles Chaput has helped lead the American bishops’ crusade against many LGBT equality measures. He recently expressed gratitude that a lesbian teacher was fired and said the school exhibited “character and common sense” in being discriminatory.

The archbishop’s actions have prompted Joel Mathis, a Philly-area columnist, to ponder whether Chaput is intentionally opposing Francis’ more merciful and welcoming style, writing in Philadelphia Magazine:

“Chaput seems to have a specific mission in mind — to lay down a marker for what the church’s teachings on gay relationships and should be — and he doesn’t have time to wait until after the pope’s visit to begin making his case. . .The difference between the two men, then, might be one of tone more than substance — but it’s such a difference of tone that it has substance.”

Mark Segal, in a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer , also suggested Chaput should with LGBT Catholics and their families to hear their stories because “Your Archbishop is not a popular man in your Church or the city.”

Even with negative responses from Archbishop Chaput and the World Meeting of Families thus far, those involved with the letter believe Pope Francis has charted a different course on LGBT issues that could allow progress. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told the Times the pontiff was “at least willing to have conversation and interaction” and LGBT issues are no longer a “litmus test” for ecclesial exclusion. He added:

“I don’t think he’s going to be the pope that makes the changes we want…But he’s already taken a number of important steps that will, I think, pave the way for future changes.”

HalltoFrancis_FinalThis record includes meeting with an LGBT advocate during his recent trip to Paraguay, his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment, inviting LGBT pilgrims to VIP seating during an audience in Rome, and welcoming a transgender man rejected by his Spanish parish to the Vatican for a meeting. Francis’ record has prompted other letters and calls for meetings with the U.S. LGBT community, including a recent letter by fired gay priest Fr. Warren Hall.

Whether Pope Francis meets with LGBT Catholics during his U.S. visit, they and their loved ones will be visible and participating in the World Meeting of Families and other events. The pilgrimage is not the only way that LGBT issues will be present in Philadelphia during the WMF. Groups are sponsoring events and programs “outside the walls” of the WMF, but nearby in Philly.

All are welcome to hear and to be heard, an invitation hopefully Pope Francis will take up and be transformed by his encounters with faithful Catholics who love their church while knowing LGBT people are sacred and equal in God’s eyes.

For the latest news regarding the 2015 World Meeting of Families, visit the appropriate category on the right hand side of this page or click here for all the Bondings 2.0 posts covering the preparations for this event.

During the World Meeting of Families, New Ways Ministry will host a half-day workshop on gender diverse families entitled TransForming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholics Perspectives, on Saturday, September 26, 2015, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at St. John the Evangelist Parish Center, 1212 Ludlow Street, Philadelphia.  For more information, click here.

For more information about New Ways Ministry events at WMF, please send inquiry emails to: info@NewWaysMinistry.org. For more information about the Equally Blessed Coalition’s pilgrims to WMF, please click here.   You can donate financially to support these pilgrims’ work by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Transgender Godparent-To-Be Calls Diocesan Rejection a “Kick in the Stomach”

July 30, 2015

Alex Salinas

A transgender Catholic is not allowed to be a godparent, says a Spanish bishop, who further denied any discrimination in the case.

Alex Salinas, 21-year old trans man who describes himself as a “firm believer,” sought to be his nephew’s godfather. The parish priest involved with the baptism accepted him initially, but reversed the welcome after the diocese became involved in the decision. No other parish in the area would perform the baptism.

Bishop Rafael Zornoza of Cadiz and Ceuta personally endorsed Salinas’ rejection and, according to Pink News insisted:

“that the parish priest was ‘kind and understanding’ in conveying to Mr Salinas that he ‘cannot serve as a baptismal sponsor because of canonical requirements that a sponsor live in accordance with the faith.’ “

According to  The Local, the priest told Salinas he could “spiritually encourage and help the child in living the faith” and offered him a role as “spiritual godparent” instead. Salinas was outed because church documents proving he is baptized and confirmed identify him as female, of which Salinas said, “in the church’s eyes, I was still a woman, even though my documents of identification have changed.”

Even while Salinas describes this rejection as a “kick in the stomach,” Bishop Zornoza and the diocese deny any discrimination because such acts happen “frequently.” The diocese said Salinas does not fulfill the requirements according to the Code of Canon Law, which mandate godparents be:

“…be Catholic, be confirmed, have received the holy sacrament of the Eucharist and, at the same time, live a life congruent with faith and the mission they are assuming.”

It is Salinas’ gender identity that is, apparently, incongruous with being a good godparent for he fulfills the rest with vigor according to the Huffington Post. But a closer look at Canon Law, alongside church teaching, reveals the diocese’s reasoning is faulty.

First, the requirements for a godparent, referred to as “sponsor” are set out in Canon 874 §1 which stipulates among other items the item about living “life of faith in keeping with the function.” Salinas fulfills all of the requirements, including leading a “life of faith in keeping with the function.” Indeed, children growing up in the church today could benefit greatly from LGBT Catholics who teach all about living as one’s authentic self, the path to holiness, and witness what it means to remain faithful to Christ and to the People of God in a church plagued by internal injustices.

Second, trans and gender diverse identities are not a doctrinal matter, a point recently reiterated by England’s top Catholic official for LGBTQI outreach, Msgr. Keith Barltrop. Indeed, he added the church should be “fully supportive” of those who decide, after careful discernment, to transition. The pastoral response to Alex Salinas was anything but supportive or welcoming, stemming from a harmful medley of clerical ignorance and prejudice.  At the very least, the pastoral leadership in this case should give the benefit of any of their doubt to the parents of the child.

Thankfully, Salinas plans to appeal to the discriminatory decision to both church and civil authorities for the injustice committed against him. “Oversight Against LGBTfobia,” a Spanish advocacy group, admitted that even if it is not legally discriminated, the exclusion of transgender people from the church’s sacramental life is “ethically reprehensible.”

Church officials in Rome should pay attention to this case. Pope Francis personally welcomed a trans man and his fiancee to the Vatican, following their rejection at the Spanish church where they were longtime parishioners. A repeat effort, perhaps including a baptism at St. Peter’s Basilica, would be a clear sign that Catholic ministers must welcome trans and gender diverse persons into the full life of the church.

The incident should also be a wake-up call for church ministers worldwide to get educated on gender identity topics and not misuse Canon Law or church teachings to harm a very marginalized community.

For those attending the World Meeting of Families, or anyone who wants to come to Philadelphia at the end of September, consider attending New Ways Ministry’s half-day workshop on gender diverse families entitled TransForming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholics Perspectives, on Saturday, September 26, 2015, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at St. John the Evangelist Parish Center, 1212 Ludlow Street, Phialdelphia.  For more information, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Bishops Down Under Offer Over-the-Top Rhetoric as Marriage Equality Approaches

July 28, 2015

Australia’s marriage equality campaign logo

Australia’s political leaders are slowly moving towards marriage equality, prompted by successful developments in Ireland and the United States. The political movement has prompted aggressive action from the nation’s Catholic bishops.

Brisbane’s Archbishop Mark Coleridge attacked marriage equality proponents in a piece for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, saying there is “violence” in alleged attempts to discredit and silence those who oppose equality.

Using the language of “same-sex attracted,” Coleridge argued that civil equality already existed, and the push for marriage rights is pure ideology. He called it “a dramatic form of the Western myth of progress which the facts of history have never confirmed,” reported The Tablet.

Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher used equally harsh language during a Marriage Mass, reported The Catholic Herald. His told those in attendance that LGBT advocates:

“…are determined to silence any alternative to the politically correct position in this matter; to bully us all into accepting the deconstruction and redefinition of a fundamental institution; and to relegate questions of what marriage is and is for as secondary to an homogenising ‘equality.’ “

The Archdiocese of Sydney also criticized those responsible for a full-page pro-marriage equality ad published in June, questioning whether corporations should be involved in the debate at all. In a letter sent to the ad’s more than 150 corporate supporters, the archdiocesan business manager Michael Digges claims they “are publicly supporting a strategic, political and well-funded campaign” to change Australian marriage law.

Elsewhere, Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart, who distributed an anti-marriage equality pamphlet by sending it home  with students in Australia’s Catholic schools, has admitted it has not been well received.

That is an understatement given the concerns expressed by many when it was first announced that the bishops were using schoolchildren as young as 6 or 7 for the anti-equality campaign. Rodney Croome, director of Australian Marriage Equality, condemned making these children “couriers of prejudice,” urging parents to report the material to the Office of Anti-Discrimination Commissioner. One letter to the archbishop claims a formal complaint was filed, reported The Australian, and the Office does not deny this.

Still, Porteous defended the “Don’t Mess with Marriage” pamphlet as a “positive contribution” and part of his duties as bishop in teaching the faith, reports SBS.

A former teacher in Melbourne also wrote recently about Archbishop Denis Hart’s 2007 refusal to implement Jesuit Social Services’ Not So Straight report, “aimed at helping teachers respond to the needs of gay teens in Catholic schools. Michael Kelly wrote in The Age:

“I wonder how many students in Catholic schools have spent anguished hours coping with abuse and bullying, how many have secretly hated themselves, how many have attempted suicide since Hart buried that report in 2007. . .The Jesuits’ programs would not have solved everything, but they would have shown a church, and a hierarchy, that cared more for the mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health of young people than for rigid doctrinal purity.”

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

The Australian bishops should follow the lead and example of one of their own brethren, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, retired Auxiliary from Sydney, who has spoken rationally and compassionately on the need for the hierarchy to reform Catholic sexual ethics in such a way that allows for the equality of lesbian and gay relationships.

Politically, Australian legislators will introduce a cross-party bill equalizing marriage rights in August. This has a fairly good chance of passage, though it is uncertain. Either way the bishops need to shift course towards a more pastoral and reconciliatory approach.

Australia’s bishops should start putting the best interests of young people, and all Australians, before their campaign against LGBT legal rights. The heavy-handed and hyperbolic strategies of previous papacies must be put to rest, and the only overreactions now acceptable are unconditioned displays of love to those the church has harmed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Ireland’s Top Bishop Meets with Gay Advocates, Withdraws Marriage Boycott Threat

July 27, 2015

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh

Ireland’s leading archbishop met with faith-based LGBT advocates last week, with the focus of the discussing being on his participation at the Synod of Bishops this fall, and keeping Ireland’s marriage referendum clearly as a backdrop for the conversation.

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the Primate of Ireland, met with representatives from Faith in Marriage Equality (an ecumenical group) and We Are Church (a Roman Catholic church reform group) organizations at his residence last Wednesday. The meeting was requested by the groups before the May referendum in which equal marriage was approved by nearly two-thirds of Irish voters.

At the October synod in Rome, Martin will represent the Irish church alongside Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. The LGBT advocates at the meeting with Eamon Martin asked him to raise the pastoral care of gay and lesbian persons, sharing some of their own stories which were well received.

Brendan Butler of We Are the Church, a Catholic reform organization, highlighted the harm the church’s language inflicts on LGBT people.  He singled out for particular mention, the language in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1986 letter, which described a homosexual orientation as “an objective disorder and ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil.”   Butler stated:

“If the Catholic Church is to regain credibility not only with the gay and lesbian community but also with the wider Catholic community then existing Catholic teaching needs to change.”

Jim O’Crowley, a gay Catholic, also shared stories in the meeting, following up on a booklet, “To Have and To Hold: Stories and Reflections of LGBT People, Their Families, and Friends,” the archbishop was sent. According to Irish Central, Martin said “he found it helpful to read this book and also to listen to accounts by gay Catholics.”

Faith in Marriage Equality’s Richard O’Leary affirmed the meeting as a “positive step to open dialogue,” building upon Diarmuid Martin’s call for a “reality check” by church leaders in the wake of Ireland’s referendum. O’Leary added:

“We were positively received by Archbishop Martin who said he was committed to continuing dialogue and that he was particularly concerned about the pastoral care of gay persons.”

Martin’s record is increasingly positive on LGBT issues. He publicly criticized Cardinal Raymond Burke’s characterization of the Irish as “worse than pagans” for voting for marriage equality, saying he “wouldn’t use that language.” Preceding the vote, his record was more mixed having said religious liberty was being threatened but also publicly critiquing a fellow bishop who compared homosexuality to Down’s Syndrome.

In addition, the Irish bishops had threatened that priests would no longer grant civil marriages if the referendum passed. Now, Archbishop Martin is second-guessing that stance, reported The Independent, saying church leaders would “monitor the situation to see if it’s possible for us to continue.”

The Association of Catholic Priest’s Fr. Gerry O’Connor said ending priests’ role in marriage was always a “false threat” used against voters. He noted that it would be deeply troubling to do so because it would curtail one of the church’s limited avenues with younger Catholics who comprise the majorities of weddings, while also being largely absent from churches otherwise.

After the Irish referendum in May, commentators from all quarters speculated about the impact the vote had and would continue to have on not only the Irish Church, but the Catholic Church globally.

Archbishop Martin’s meeting may be a first fruit, incarnating the culture of encounter called for repeatedly by Pope Francis but which is still too often denied to LGBT Catholics. Sharing stories and personal relationships have been instrumental in advancing equality, inside the church and out, and their importance will remain to keep shifting culture even as legal rights advance.

Let us pray that Archbishops Martin and Martin will listen attentively to the voices of Irish Catholics, bearing their desires for greater justice and inclusion to the synod in Rome for all the church to hear!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Teacher Resigns Over San Francisco Contract Proposals Which California Lawmakers Are Investigating

July 25, 2015

Abi Basch, left, with other supporters of the #TeachAcceptance movement

Another teacher is leaving San Francisco’s Catholic school system due to proposed contract changes targeting LGBT and ally employees, a resignation coming at the same time California’s legislature holds hearings on the controversy.

Abi Basch is leaving Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory School (SHC), announcing her departure, as well as coming out, in a Facebook announcement posted Friday. Basch, who teaches social studies, explained that she was seeking nondiscrimination protections unavailable at the Catholic school. She wrote:

“Now that I do not work for Archbishop Cordileone, I can say to my students, their families, my colleagues – without fear of losing my job: I am not only your ally. I understand your magic queer powers and the dangers you face when others fear their might – because I have them too.”

Basch also commended those involved with the #TeachAcceptance movement (comprised of those who oppose the new restrictive contract clause proposals), and she noted the high school’s defense of its LGBT community against the Archdiocese, saying she learned “integrity and strength, and made me a better, fiercer, more compassionate human.”

Hugh McNeill, a gay senior at SHC, expressed his gratitude for Basch in a note which was posted on Facebook. He highlighted the teacher’s support for #TeachAcceptance, including proofreading student speeches and painting rally posters. McNeill concluded:

“I hope that you spread all the joy, empowerment, and hope at your new school that you have shared with mine. You have given our school and our community so much. You have given ME so much.”

Indeed, Basch was a celebrated educator such that the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s diocesan newspaper profiled her in February after four years at SHC and more than a dozen in teaching. In the article, Basch says the school’s focus on social justice had been meaningful for her and added:

“In a city like San Francisco, the church’s teaching on tolerance and acceptance of the marginalized has been especially powerful in creating a safe space for a diverse student body.”

The contract clauses introduced by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone threaten such safe spaces by banning teachers from publicly expressing certain forms of support for LGBT equality,  and attempting to reclassify employees as ministers, which would significantly widen religious exemptions to nondiscrimination laws. Jesuit Father Jim McDermott offered a well-articulated explanation of these exemptions in America, who noted:

“. . . [T]o Catholic teachers in San Francisco the archdiocese’s decision to use the term ‘minister’ in their contract looks like a move meant to enable the archdiocese to fire any teacher for any reason without threat of legal recourse. The teachers’ union (also the city’s Board of Supervisors and a number of state lawmakers) immediately contested the change in language, and the archbishop quickly agreed to remove the word ‘minister.’ But every subsequent revision has continued to push that way of thinking. ‘The terms are gone, but the concepts still remain,’ says [union rep Gina] Jaeger. ‘The issue of ministerial exception still exists in the current proposal, and that’s what we’re struggling with. There’s no way we can agree to that.’

This threat has triggered Bay Area protests for more than six months now. Catholics have organized against Archbishop Cordileone’s approach to LGBT issues, even calling for his resignation in a full-page newspaper ad signed by more than 100 of San Francisco’s most influential Catholics.

The controversy finally caught the attention of the California State Assembly, which held a hearing last Thursday on the proposed contract changes. Phil Ting, an assembly member from San Francisco, called the hearing, reported the National Catholic Reporter. The discussion featured four lawyers from multiple perspectives, including:

“[Kathleen] Purcell, a former teacher at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif., and a constitutional lawyer, said the schools ‘have to decide who they are.’ Are they religious institutions that cater to students of a particular faith and teach according to that faith, or are they private schools that adhere to state standards and welcome students of all religions?”

Purcell then pointed out that Catholic schools, including those under review frequently welcome students of many religious traditions with no expectation of conversion. University of Nevada law professor Leslie Griffin called the ministerial exemption a “silver bullet” for employers, adding that “Contracts that ask people to give up their constitutional rights are problematic.” Two dozen audience members added their own concerns at the hearing’s end.

Aside from the legal battles, Abi Basch’s resignation reveals the most profound loss from these proposed teaching contracts: the expulsion of committed, talented LGBT and ally educators from Catholic schools. The note from Basch’s student,Hugh McNeil, echoes the cries of protestors nationwide who turn out by the thousands in defense of their beloved teachers. These church workers have given so much to their communities, to the world, and to the church.

It will be sad if state intervention is required to preserve employees’ rights, particularly given the church’s longstanding solidarity with workers, but if that is what it takes to stop wounding Catholic education, then so be it. The losses in our schools are simply too great to continue, and it is past time to change the conversation on church workers.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the almost 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Historically Catholic Nations Lead on Transgender & Intersex Civil Rights

July 25, 2015

Italy’s Palace of Justice

UPDATE: Poland’s parliament passed a bill allowing easier gender identity changes, though these still require “confirmation” from two external sources. Still, it is being hailed as a positive step by advocates. It needs to pass the Senate and receive the President’s signature for it to be enacted, reports PinkNews.

Transgender Italians can now self-declare their gender identity on government records following a recent court ruling.

This progress is yet another sign of how historically Catholic nations are increasingly leading the expansion of rights for trans and intersex communities, as well as gay, lesbian and bisexual ones.

Italy’s Supreme Court ruled that a person may amend their gender identity on records without medical intervention, saying the “right to self-determination is inviolable.” The ruling recognizes the complexities in each person’s life according to Gay Star News, stating:

“The desire to align body and spirit is, even in the absence of surgical intervention, the result of a very personal journey to gender identity, supported by a range of medical and psychological treatments that will vary according to individual personality and need.”

Ireland’s parliament acted similarly in June passing a bill that affords citizens to self-determine their gender, coming only weeks after Irish voters passed marriage equality according to Buzzfeed. Momentum from the marriage referendum caused legislators to remove a clause in the bill that would have required medical permission for any gender marker changes. GLAAD reports the bill should be active by summer’s end.

Malta’s legislature unanimously passed a trans rights law this spring. The Gender Identity, Gender Expression, and Sex Characteristics law is considered a gold standard by many LGBT advocates, as it includes nondiscrimination protections and defends intersex children by allowing delayed gender identification on birth records. Dr. Helena Dalli, minister for civil liberties, said the law is “for knowledge to reign over ignorance, for justice to reign over injustice and to build a society on the respect of human rights.”

Italy, Ireland, and Malta join only Denmark, Colombia, and Argentina in allowing transgender citizens to self-determine their gender identity on government records. That five of these nations are heavily Catholics proves again what has been witnessed in the expansion of lesbian and gay civil rights, including marriage: where there are Catholics, there’s a strong likelihood for more justice for LGBT communities.

Regarding transgender justice, which is rapidly emerging in social consciousness in the United States and elsewhere, much work remains.

Most nations which allow gender changes require proof of gender confirmation surgery and there are still plenty of hierarchs, like San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone or Bishop-Elect Robert Barron of Los Angeles, making highly prejudiced comments. Even Pope Francis’ record is unclear, though some trans advocates see more signs for hope than previously thought.

One more sign of hope are church leaders like Msgr. Keith Barltrop who come out supportively for trans identities. Barltrop, who is London Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ point person on LGBTQI outreach recently said the church should be “fully supportive” of those who decide to transition and there is nothing doctrinal involved with trans identities.

For more updates on trans Catholic issues, check out our “Transgender” category in the column to the right.  New Ways Ministry will be hosting a workshop about Catholic perspectives on trans and intersex issues in Philadelphia during the World Meeting of Families in September.  For more information, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Sister of Mercy Joins Parents in Protests Against Firing of Lesbian Educator

July 24, 2015

Margie Winters (in white) and her wife, Andrea (in yellow), at a rally with supporters.

A prominent Sister of Mercy has joined parents in criticizing a lesbian teacher’s dismissal from her Catholic school employment, setting her apart from Mercy leadership which expressed its support for the decision by school leadership to fire the teacher.

Sister Mary Scullion joined parents Joan McCannon and James J. Maguire in piece published by the Philadelphia Inquirer that criticizes Waldron Mercy Academy’s decision to expel longtime religious educator Margie Winters for being in a same-gender marriage.

The authors say the church is at a “critical moment,” a moment intensified by the firings of Winter which has “personal ramifications” for each of them. They continued:

“But we believe that the Church’s truest integrity is at risk when it emphasizes orthodoxy and doctrine without meaningful engagement with human and historic realities. We love the Church: We draw deeply from its rich traditions of spirituality, compassion, service, and justice. But we also recognize (and need to take responsibility for) our many historic blind spots — persecution of heretics, oppression of indigenous peoples in the name of ‘mission,’ and second-class status for women.

“While it is painful for us to have to publicly dissent, we are convinced that this is a moment when insistence on doctrinal adherence is clashing with what we believe the Spirit is unfolding in our history — just as it has in the past. . .The Church is at its best when it listens to the Spirit speaking in our times and through human experiences.”

Scullion is a noted advocate for those experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia. Dominic Preziosi, a blogger with dotCommonweal, reported the Mercy sister “received Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal in 2011″ and was “named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2009.” McCannon works closely with Scullion at Project H.O.M.E., a homelessness group they co-founded together, and Maguire heads the scholarship-focused Maguire Foundation.

All of them say the Spirit is speaking through the “hundreds of parents and former students” standing with Margie and through Pope Francis who upholds church teaching but with openness and an engagement of lived experience. They concluded:

“We believe the controversy surrounding Margie Winters is the Spirit inviting us to reflect. . .May we come to a deeper and richer understanding of love, a more fervent commitment to justice, and a fuller spirit of community.  In doing so, we learn more profoundly what it means to be Church, and how the Church can truthfully, faithfully, and prophetically serve and heal our society.”

That desire to heal was expressed by Waldron Mercy trustees president Andrew McCloskey, who invited concerned parents to a series of meetings. In an email reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, McCloskey called the firing “heartbreaking” and added:

” ‘It’s hard for many to understand how an institution that Margie so selflessly served for eight years could dismiss a wonderful educator and woman of mercy.’ “

Parents have led protests on social media and in person, demanding answers from the school about the firing of Winters and the ensuing handling of this situation. 27 alumni joined these protests, threatening to withhold donations unless the fired educator regained her job. Jake, an eight-year-old current student at Waldron Mercy Academy, wrote to Pope Francis, saying:

“Ms. Winters got fired from my school because she is married to a women. . .If you are not busy please write me a letter back . . . this is so unfair and I can’t understand it at all.”

Others outside the school community are echoing the thirst for justice in this case. One columnist with the Philadelphia Inquirer said there is “No Mercy at Waldron Mercy,” while another at Philebrity.com pointed out that Philadelphia Catholic schools “are today and have always been staffed by many, many gay persons who also happen to be fine educators.” The blogger continued:

“All of them are people of faith — they believe deeply not just in the catechism of the schools but also in the kids they educate. And all of them have to play this horrible game where they have to hide who they are because the governing body of the faith is built on a shame-based theory of sexuality that is wholly corrosive.”

Though Archbishop Charles Chaput has said he is “grateful” that Winters was dismissed, and Mercy superior Sr. Patricia Vetrano affirmed the firing, for most Catholics the logic of this action is incomprehensible.

Winters’ wife, Andrea Vettori, who wrote a letter to Pope Francis about the incident, is among those Catholics who cannot understand the Waldron Mercy’s actions outside discrimination and exclusion, telling an interviewer:

“I love this church. I think this has made me realize how much I want to fight for it because there are some who want me to be excluded from the faith. And I don’t want to be excluded…When Christ walked the earth, he railed against the hierarchy for trying to exclude people, by using the laws of the faith at that time to exclude people. If that’s not happening now, I don’t know what else this is.”

Indeed, this firing, and so many others just like it, clashes with Christ’s inclusive witness. They cause deep fissures in school communities, the wider church, and, as is now apparent, in the sponsoring religious communities as well.

Mercy sisters are longtime advocates for social justice, including LGBT equality, so it is troublesome and puzzling as to why their leadership defended the firing. Debates about how to live out our Catholic identity are not easy. Winters spoke about this difference in vision in an interview with CNN last weekend:

“Waldron Mercy Academy is a wonderful community filled with faith-filled parents and children and teachers who are committed to mercy and justice…There was never a conflict with my job…The conflict is with the understanding of the teachings of the Church. For me it’s a conflict of vision of who we are as Church. The marriage issue goes to who I am as a person, and who God made me as.”

The community is organizing under “Stand with Margie,” launching a Facebook page with more than 11,000 likes and the #StandWithMargie hashtag on Twitter. A GoFundMe page has raised $16,000 to help support Winters and her wife. There is also a blog with some updates at standwithmargie.wordpress.com. Please stand with Margie in whatever ways you are able, and let us all pray that these firings, and the divisions they cause, may end so we can work towards increasing reconciliation within the church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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