Filipino Bishops Reverse Position on LGBT Non-Discrimination Bill

March 25, 2015

Archbishop Socrates Villegas in preparations for the papal visit

In a reversal from their earlier position, the Catholic bishops of the Philippines have endorsed an LGBT non-discrimination bill, with only one reservation.

Earlier this month, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines sent a pastoral guidance letter to dioceses endorsing non-discrimination as a “Christian imperative,” reports Gay Star News. Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the conference’s president, said further:

” ‘Insofar as the proposed piece of legislation renders illegitimate the relegation of persons with sexual orientation and gender identity issues to citizens of a lower category enjoying fewer rights, the CBCP cannot but lend its support to this proposed legislative measure.’

” ‘We must however reiterate that none must be demeaned, embarrassed, or humiliated for reasons of sexual orientation and gender identity.’ “

This support comes as legislators are about to pass a Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity bill, which the bishops opposed in 2011. During a committee hearing earlier this year, a representative of the conference actually opposed this current bill saying some forms of discrimination were acceptable. The only caveat desired by the bishops now is that they retain full control of who is admitted into the priesthood, reserving the right to discriminate including due to sexual orientation.

The bishops’ initial opposition to protecting the rights of all people has clearly changed.  Perhaps it is due to Pope Francis’ recent visit and his ongoing emphasis on mercy and the dignity of all persons: the Francis Effect. Now, Archbishop Villegas is telling Filipino Catholics that sexual orientation and gender identity are gifts from God and, as such, are not chosen. What other fruits can we expect for LGBT equality in this heavily Catholic nation?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


What Are We to Make of Pope Francis’ Inclusive Prison Visit?

March 24, 2015

Pope Francis preaches at a Naples mass on the day he visited a prison in that city.

Pope Francis joined 90 prison inmates for lunch during his visit to Naples last Saturday, including 10 from the ward which houses those who are gay, transgender, or have HIV/AIDS. They were among the 1,900 inmates who participated in the lottery for a chance to eat with the pope.

The pope did not address LGBT issues specifically in his talk to the prisoners, but stuck to general themes about God’s love for those incarcerated.  In his talk, he stated:

“Sometimes it happens that you feel disappointed, discouraged, abandoned by all: but God does not forget his children, he never abandons them! He is always at our side, especially in trying times; he is a father ‘rich in mercy’ who always turns his peaceful and benevolent gaze on us, always waits for us with open arms. This is a certainty that instills consolation and hope, especially in moments of difficulty and sadness. Even if we have done wrong in life, the Lord does not tire of showing us the path of return and encounter with him. The love of Jesus for each one of us is a source of consolation and hope. It’s a fundamental certainty for us: nothing can ever separate us from the love of God! Not even the bars of a prison.”

The inclusion of the prisoners who are trans, gay, and HIV+ was not a special outreach by Pope Francis, but it is significant that their identities did not prevent the pope from meeting with them.  A Washington Blade article quoted New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo about the importance of this papal gesture:

“This is another example that Pope Francis does not consider sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status as something that should prevent him from engaging them in dialogue and conversation. Under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, these same personal characteristics were causes for the popes to shun and ignore people, much to the discredit of the church.”

The Washington Blade story also cited Andrea Miluzzo, director of LGBT News Italia, who said that there was an additional positive LGBT angle to the pope’s visit to Naples:

“Members of the local affiliate of Arcigay, an Italian LGBT advocacy group, were among those who were allowed to stand along the streets of Scampia, a poor Neapolitan neighborhood overrun with crime, earlier in the day as Francis passed through in his open-air car known as the pope-mobile.”

Pope Francis’ willingness to include trans, gay, and HIV+ prisoners in his luncheon and to allow an LGBT advocacy group on the parade route, but not mentioning either of them in his talks, shows the complicated approach he is taking to LGBT issues, and perhaps to other issues, too.  In an editorialThe National Catholic Reporter analyzed what they see as the pope’s strategy:

“Francis perplexes Europeans and North Americans who have split the analysis along a liberal-conservative axis, writes [Austen] Ivereigh, ‘because he uses a lens and a language that come from outside those categories.’

“Francis wades into slums, embraces those who otherwise might inspire revulsion, refuses to draw boundaries so rigidly as to exclude anyone, welcomes all questions and robust debate, and leads with the God of mercy.

“He preaches ‘the art of encounter,’ which requires moving beyond the safety of the church building and walking with the people. It is an approach schooled in the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the norm is broken lives, messy, stressed and needy.

“It is in those circumstances, he preaches, in the irrational embrace of the prodigal, that grace abounds. In a recent visit to a parish in Rome, he instructed its leaders to avoid telling people where they were wrong, but to ‘get closer’ to the people, walking with them and respecting their needs.”

The power in Pope Francis’ symbolic gestures lies in the hope that other church leaders will soon imitate him, thus opening up greater possibility for encounter and discussion on LGBT and other important issues, too.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Dublin Archbishop: I’m No Expert on Family; Anti-Gay Groups’ Language is “Obnoxious”

March 23, 2015

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin displayed a humility rarely seen by someone of his office, admitting last week he knew little of the realities of family life today. He also criticized the language used by anti-marriage equality campaigners in Ireland, saying plural societies must respect gay and lesbian people.

Speaking on “The Teaching of the Church on Marriage Today,” at the Iona Institute, Martin answered critics who question the bishops’ credentials in pronouncing on marriage and family life, reports The Independent. These critics, including former Irish president Mary McAleese, doubt “rightly” because, Martin continued:

“I have no experience and understanding…I must be honest and say that I am also lacking in knowledge of more fundamental day-to-day realities of the sexual, marital or parental experiences in a family.”

The Iona Institute is a think tank actively involved in the ‘No’ campaign against marriage equality in Ireland.

Elsewhere in his talk, the archbishop criticized anti-LGBT groups during his speech . PinkNews quotes Martin as saying:

” ‘I have consistently said that the debate must be carried on respectfully without the use of intemperate language…

” ‘I do however feel obliged to say that I have received in recent time correspondence from people who support a “no” vote in the referendum in which the language used is not just intemperate but obnoxious, insulting and, unchristian in regard to gay and lesbian people.

” ‘If people use such language to support a position they feel is Christian, then all I can say is that they have forgotten something essential about the Christian message.’ “

While opposed to marriage equality, Martin said society must ensure equality before the law. The Independent reported:

“Dr. Martin suggested that a pluralist society could be creative in finding ways in which people of same-sex orientation had their rights and their loving and caring relationships recognised and cherished in a culture of difference.

” ‘I’m not saying that gay and lesbian people are unloving or that their love is somehow deficient compared to others, I am talking about a uniqueness in the male-female relationship,’ he said.”

Archbishop Martin has also called for a “conscience clause,” should the referendum pass, to allow lay people who are opposed to marriage equality to express objections, such as denying business services for lesbian and gay weddings, without breaking equality laws. LGBT organizations are calling such clauses a “license to discriminate,” reports Yahoo News.

Though opposed to marriage equality, Martin has also made a name for positive statements on LGBT issues. Just last week he and another archbishop openly condemned Irish Bishop Kevin Doran’s comparison of homosexuality to Down’s syndrome and spina bifida. He has previously said church teaching is “disconnected from real experiences of families” and had been used “in a homophobic way” to do great harm. There are also no reports that he sacked a Dublin priest for coming out and openly endorsing marriage equality during Mass a few months back.

Criticism of anti-LGBT voices from any church leader is rare and this is not Archbishop Martin’s first time calling for a more respectful tone from the church on LGBT civil rights. Rarer still is the humility displayed by Martin that he is no expert on marriage and family. That is unprecedented in all of the discussions during last year’s synod and those that are leading up to this year’s meeting. The archbishop seems to be willing to follow Pope Francis’ requests to bishops to be close to their flocks.

This latest admission of non-expertise will hopefully allow for a greater opening space for those with expertise in family life — like married couples and LGBT people — to speak their truths during next fall’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Following Jesus by Bringing Beauty Into the World

March 22, 2015

On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent are: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51: 3-4, 12-15; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33. You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.

“The world will be saved by beauty.” Several years ago I saw this quote on a poster at a Catholic Worker house. I’m told that it’s from The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I think he’s on to something.

There’s something transcendent when you’re in the presence of beauty. Imagine the last time you experienced an epic natural landscape, admired a skillful work of art, or were in the presence of a lovely person. How did you feel? In the presence of such beauty, I sometimes feel like my soul is opened up and overwhelmed by the sight, blurring the edges between myself and the universe, making me feel a little intoxicated… it’s like briefly touching the infinite with my finite senses, if such an experience could be adequately expressed. And I think that gives us some insight into today’s Gospel.

Beauty is the key to understanding Jesus’ statement: “I will draw everyone to myself.” Jesus lived a profoundly beautiful life — perhaps not in a visual sense of beauty, but insofar as he showed us how to live a fully human life. He demonstrated compassion to the most vulnerable and marginalized members of society. He affirmed the best in people while encouraging them to overcome the worst. He shared and forgave and laughed and loved. The beauty of Jesus’ life attracts and amazes us, just as a mountain landscape or piece of timeless artwork does. That beauty inspires us to imitate his example because we too wish to be beautiful. That means overcoming our frailties and limitations, and claiming our shared identity as beloved sons and daughters of God. And that’s how beauty saves us.

To follow Jesus is to know and imitate the beauty of his life. Good disciples are signposts along the way who point others to Jesus. They are like Phillip and Andrew who, when approached by the foreigners in today’s Gospel, show the way to Jesus. As LGBT Catholics and allies, do our own actions point others to Jesus or away from him? Do we bring beauty into the world by imitating the example of Jesus? Do we practice compassion and forgiveness? Seek out the most marginalized and vulnerable?

The struggle for LGBT equality in our church and society can be disheartening at times. But you have an opportunity right now to inspire and encourage fellow blog readers by answering one or both of these two questions:

1) How do you, like Jesus, bring beauty into the world?
2) How do you see others following Jesus by bringing beauty into the world?

Write your response in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry


Catholics Leave Mass Over Bigoted Homily, but Not All Priests Oppose Marriage Equality

March 21, 2015

Gaelic footballer Eámon McGee, left, supporting the ‘Yes’ campaign

Catholics in Ireland walked out of Mass recently after a priest made prejudiced and personal attacks during a homily against marriage equality, about which the Irish are set to vote in a referendum later this spring.

Fr. John Britto, a Carmelite from India, encouraged parishioners at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Annagry, County Donegal, to deny same-gender couples the right to marry by voting ‘No.’ He also attacked local Gaelic footballer Eamon McGee, who has publicly supported the ‘Yes’ campaign, recently telling the Irish Examiner:

” ‘I don’t know would I be more ashamed that I didn’t vote or the fact I voted against it. It comes down to equality and one less difference in society…It’s not that I have any friends who are gay or any close family members but it’s a social issue.’ “

In response to Fr. Britto’s homily, more than a dozen attendees stood up and walked out, including family members of the woman for whom Mass was being offered on the first anniversary of her death. One parishioner who left told The Independent:

” ‘He (the priest) is entitled to his view but it didn’t go down well. After the Mass some members of the congregation approached the family of the woman being remembered to say they only stayed because of them, otherwise they would have walked out too.’ “

Former altar boy and longtime parishioner Noel Sharkey, who assists the ‘Yes’ campaign there also commented:

” ‘As a Catholic and a gay man from the area, I think it’s essential that we engage on this issue in a respectful and tolerant way, and I ask people to avoid using hurtful or upsetting language. Yes Equality Donegal asks people to focus their attention on the key principles of love and equality as they make their mind up on this important issue.’ “

Fr. Britto, however, denies these claims and refuses to clarify what happened, saying only:

“I didn’t see anybody leaving. I didn’t see that…I won’t talk to the media because the media will only twist what I have to say; I speak to the people in church and I only the speak the truth and the Word of God.”

It was reported that the priest issued an apology to McGee, but Fr. Britto denies apologizing for any of his homily, reports The Independent.

Fr. Iggy O’Donovan

On a slightly more positive note, an Augustinian priest from County Limerick announced he would vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum. Fr. Iggy O’Donovan wrote an op-ed for the Irish Times in which he stated:

” ‘It is possible to have deep and passionately-held convictions without seeking to have those convictions imposed by the State on fellow citizens who do not share them…respect for the freedom of others who differ from us is part and parcel of the faith we profess. For these and for other reasons I will be voting Yes.’ “

In a later radio interview, Fr. O’Donovan clarified that he does not endorse marriage equality and would never preside at a same-gender wedding, but he could not judge others and how they choose to live their lives. He ventured that other priests would likely vote ‘Yes,’ too.

With about ten weeks until Irish polls open, the ‘Yes’ campaign is launched and the debate over marriage equality is intensifying.

The damage by negative statements from church leaders such as Fr. John Britto or Bishop Kevin Doran, who said gay couples were not parents and compared homosexuality to Down syndrome, is enormous. Catholic clergy would do well to temper their anti-LGBT viewpoints, which are increasingly not accepted by an Irish Church already devastated due to the sexual abuse crisis and other problems, and keep these thoughts out of Mass. If they wish to make their opinions known on the issue, like Fr. Iggy O’Donovan, doing so in another venue, and in a way that is respectful of and sensitive to LGBT people, should be the foremost considerations.

Marriage equality coming to Ireland could be a moment of renewed belief in marriage, love, and family in this traditionally very Catholic nation. Church leaders should choose to prevent divisive pastoral harm in the lead up to the referendum.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Challenging the Basis for Catholicism’s Sexual Ethics

March 20, 2015

A University of Notre Dame philosophy professor has challenged the reasoning that church officials use to dismiss church employees because of LGBT issues, in particular, for marrying a same-gender partner.

Professor Gary Gutting

In a blog post on The New York Times website, Professor Gary Gutting says that it is time for church leaders to

“undertake a thorough rethinking of its teachings on sexual ethics, including premarital sex, masturbation and remarriage after divorce. In every case, the old arguments no longer work (if they ever did), and a vast number of Catholics reject the teachings. It’s time for the church to realize that its sexual ethics are philosophically untenable and theologically unnecessary.”

Gutting’s argument goes to the central part of what underlies the church’s opposition to same-gender sexual relationships and marriages: natural law theory.  His explanation is one of the clearest and simplest that I have read, so I will excerpt it here, but also recommend that those interested read his entire essay.

Gutting begins with a short description of natural law theory and shows how it actually can support same-gender relationships:

“The primary arguments derive from what is known as the ‘natural-law tradition’ of ethical thought, which begins with Plato and Aristotle, continues through Thomas Aquinas and other medieval and modern philosophers, and still flourishes today in the work of thinkers like John Finnis and Robert George. This tradition sees morality as a matter of the moral laws that follow from what fundamentally makes us human: our human nature. This is what the archbishop was referring to when he said that homosexual acts are contrary to natural law. This has long been a major basis for the church’s claim that homosexual acts are immoral — indeed ‘gravely sinful.’

“The problem is that, rightly developed, natural-law thinking seems to support rather than reject the morality of homosexual behavior. Consider this line of thought from John Corvino, a philosopher at Wayne State University: “A gay relationship, like a straight relationship, can be a significant avenue of meaning, growth, and fulfillment. It can realize a variety of genuine human goods; it can bear good fruit. . . . [For both straight and gay couples,] sex is a powerful and unique way of building, celebrating, and replenishing intimacy.’ The sort of relationship Corvino describes seems clearly one that would contribute to a couple’s fulfillment as human beings — whether the sex involved is hetero- or homosexual. Isn’t this just what it should mean to live in accord with human nature?”

Sister Margaret Farley, a Catholic moral theologian, has made the same argument from an ethical point of view, pointing out that the goodness of a relationship should be judged by its relational qualities, not on the basis of any particular sexual act which may occur between two people.

Gutting doesn’t stop there, however, but goes on to critique natural law theorists’ rejection of the morality of same-gender relationships by showing that they do not provide a “satisfactory response” to two critical questions:

“First, why, even if nonreproductive sex were somehow less ‘natural’ than reproductive, couldn’t it still play a positive role in a humanly fulfilling life of love between two people of the same sex? Second, why must nonreproductive sex be only for the selfish pleasure of each partner, rather than, as Corvino put it, a way of building, celebrating, and replenishing their shared intimacy?”

Most importantly, he points out an assumption about lesbian and gay sexuality that seems to be underlying natural law theory:

“The natural-law argument might make some sense to those who see homosexuals as dominated by an obsessive desire for pleasure, to which they subordinate any notion of fidelity or integrity. The courageous uncloseting of many homosexuals has revealed them as people like most everyone else, searching for and sometimes achieving a fulfilling human life through rich and complex relationships. Since the official church, under Pope Francis, is more than ever open to this sensible view, the time is overdue for a revision of its philosophical misunderstanding of homosexual acts.”

Turning to Scripture and revealed truth, Gutting examines the natural law premise that both reason and revelation must agree with one another.  This kind of thinking usually requires reason to submit to revelation, but Gutting points out that this has not always been the case, and does not have to be the case when discussing homosexuality.  For example, in the cases of Galileo, Darwin, and the abolition of slavery, the Church accepted the testimony of reason, thus requiring new understandings or interpretations of Scripture.  Gutting concludes:

“The condemnation of homosexuality could plausibly be treated in the same way. The argument would then be that rational reflection strongly supports the claim that homosexual acts are not in general immoral, while there’s no need to conclude that God’s revelation says otherwise. This points the way to the church’s acceptance of homosexual acts as part of a morally fulfilling human relationship.”

Gutting began his essay by talking about how Archbishop Cordileone (and others) are using natural law theory to defend the firing of employees who support or are part of committed lesbian and gay relationships.   The fact that natural law is now affecting not just moral judgments, but is influencing the practical realm of employment, raises the urgency to review these types of arguments and to find ways that they can be life-giving, not damaging, to all people.

I’m thankful that Professor Gutting has started the discussion to help find those new ways.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


St. Patrick’s Day Parades Increasingly Inclusive, But Still Controversial

March 17, 2015

Protesters at NYC’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade

If you haven’t already done so, please answer our ten-second poll on Pope Francis’ LGBT record by clicking here

Amid St. Patrick’s Day festivities this week, three cities’ parades made headlines in the ongoing debate over whether LGBT groups should be allowed to march in these traditional events. Here are three updates from this year’s celebrations.

New York City

The parade in New York City included an openly LGBT contingent , a move which left many still dissatisfied.  The group from “Out@NBCUniversal” included about 100 LGBT and ally employees of the network which broadcasts the parade, and they were the only group welcomed after last September’s decision to make the event more inclusive.

Boycotters of New York’s festivities included Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and other local politicians as well as LGBT advocates. De Blasio explained his reasons at an inclusive parade in Queens earlier this month:

” ‘A lot of people feel, I think rightfully, that that is too small a change to merit a lot of us participating who have wanted to see an inclusive parade.’ “

Irish Queers member John Francis Mulligan told The New York Times:

” ‘This is only significant in that it’s a back-room deal between NBC and the parade’s organizers…There’s no transparency about how this decision was made, no one ever responded to our application to march, and Out@NBCUniversal isn’t even an Irish group.’ “

The first LGBT contingent in NYC’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

The Irish Queers were among groups protesting the parade. Reuters reported that they held signs with messages such as “Who said St. Patrick was straight?” and “Let Irish Gays Into Irish Parade.”

NBCUniversal chief diversity officer Craig Robinson was sympathetic to these concerns, saying they were “sad not to be marching with our gay brothers and sisters today” but that if they refused, no LGBT groups would be marching. He added that “It was never our goal to the the only group marching.”

In response to critics, the vice chairman of the parade’s organizing committee, John Lahey, gave a press conference, about which The Christian Science Monitor reports:

“The inclusion of the LGBT group from NBC was a ‘gesture of good will of historic proportion’…He added that the parade had always included gays and lesbians, however, as they participated freely with other groups.

” ‘The purpose of this parade is not inclusiveness as an end, it’s a parade to celebrate St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.’ “

Grand Marshal Cardinal Timothy Dolan said he hoped the parade could continue to be a source of unity, even while facing harsh criticism for participating from anti-gay groups.

Perhaps the best perspective from New York, however, comes from annual attendee Joseph Bertuglia who said,

” ‘I think St. Patrick would love everyone and would be happy…Even Pope Francis said, “Who am I to judge?” So why should anybody else?’ “

Boston

Boston’s parade last Sunday included two LGBT contingents, but lacked the Knights of Columbus. Last Friday, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, which is the parade’s organizer, announced that Boston Pride would be allowed to march in addition to the already accepted group, OutVets, reported Boston.com.

For the first time in several years, the parade included Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, and other politicians who had boycotted the event for its exclusive policies, reported The Chicago Tribune. However, a Catholic school with a 25-year history in the parade withdrew. In addition, the Knights of Columbus’ State Council  eventually announced their own boycott in a statement, which called the parade “politicized and divisive.”

Norfolk, Virginia

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe leads the Norfolk St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

In Virginia, a Knights of Columbus council, which organizes the annual Norfolk parade, also became a focus of controversy, but for an opposite reason:  they decided to include a pro-LGBT politician. Local leaders were criticized for selecting Governor Terry McAuliffe as grand marshal. His support for same-sex marriage was a key reason why local groups, the Virginia Catholic Conference, and the Knights’ national organization all released public criticism.

Virginia’s bishops released a statement condemning the local council’s decision, and the state level Knights of Columbus promised an investigation into how McAuliffe was chosen.

In a letter to parishioners at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Fr. Dan Beeman, pastor, said he was “shocked and saddened” at the McAuliffe choice, so he withdrew the parish from celebrations. The local Ancient Order of the Hibernians and several Catholic schools also withdrew in protest, reported The Washington Post.

Though this year’s parades show signs of progress in welcoming openly LGBT marchers, the celebrations of the holiday still remains controversial. National Catholic Reporter columnist Ken Briggs offers a third way with his suggestion that it is time for St. Patrick’s Day to become a private affair, writing:

“St. Patrick’s Day, therefore, serves no significant purpose in its present form, except for profits, whether or not gays and lesbians march in the big parades. Keep it where there is real passion for things Irish, where it may still have meaning as something other than superiority, but let it become an ordinary occasion for leveling the playing field.”

For Bondings 2.0‘s ongoing coverage of St. Patrick’s Day parade controversies, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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