Earlier this week, Pope Francis gave a surprise TED Talk on “Why the Only Future Worth Building Includes Everyone.” The pope covered many topics in the seventeen-minute address, including appeals for inclusion and love. Francis said “we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone,” and continued:
“How wonderful would it beif the growth of scientific and technological innovationwould come along with more equality and social inclusion.How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets,to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.How wonderful would it be if solidarity,this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word,were not simply reduced to social work,and became, instead, the default attitudein political, economic and scientific choices,as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries.”
Pope Francis also called for a “revolution of tenderness,” which is “the love that comes close and becomes real.” He explained what this revolution will require of people:
“In order to do good,we need memory, we need courage and we need creativity. . .Yes, love does require a creative, concreteand ingenious attitude.Good intentions and conventional formulas,so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough.Let us help each other, all together, to rememberthat the other is not a statistic or a number.The other has a face.The ‘you’ is always a real presence,a person to take care of.”
LGBT Catholics, their loved ones, and allies may experience a dissonance reading these words. Pope Francis’ mixed record on issues of gender and sexuality may weaken his strong call for inclusion. But this address could also be the foundation from which Catholics can build greater inclusion of LGBT people. Catholics, especially church leaders should apply the pope’s principles to the ways they approach LGBT people and topics.
Is Pope Francis’ call for inclusion and equality harmful or helpful? What would you like to see from him on LGBT issues? Leave your reactions in the “Comments” section below.
We have a great line-up of plenary and focus session leaders, plus two bishops and an inspirational nun to lead us in prayer. And, most importantly, we have the energy of the hundreds of LGBT and Ally Catholics who will be attending the event, discussing the topics, sharing opinions, and networking with one another.
Your faithful bloggers, Francis DeBernardo and Robert Shine, are, of course, here at the event. Over the next few days, we will be busy with symposium activities, so we won’t be posting blogs about the event–yet. However, have no fear! Bondings 2.0 will continue through the weekend with posts on other topics.
Starting next week, we will begin posting information from the symposium itself, so stay tuned! For more information about the program, click here.
And if you are a member of the Bondings 2.0 community who is attending the symposium, please introduce yourselves to us at the event. We love to get real-time, in-person feedback from readers!
—Francis DeBernardo, Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 28, 2017
This weekend, Catholics are gathering in Chicago for New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” Today’s post reflects on Sister Margaret Farley’s groundbreaking work, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. Farley, whose justice-oriented sexual ethic has greatly advanced the conversation on LGBT issues in the church, addressed Symposia in 1992, 1997, and 2007. She also received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award in 2002.
Unsurprisingly, the 2010 Notification that Margaret Farley received from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about her book, Just Love, missed not only the forest for the trees; it missed the trees for the minutiae of their bark.
Far from engaging Farley’s vision, intentionally laid out as she weaves tradition with contemporary knowledge, the Notification issued is a poor, proof-texted engagement. But a reader more receptive to Farley’s work easily sees not only the forest, but the horizon to which this theological giant is leading, and gratefully joins the path towards it.
Questions of sexuality and gender have progressed rapidly in the decade or so since Just Love was published. Yet Farley’s insights, deeply drawn from her first section on traditions, still speak to new and emerging issues. [To read a summary of Just Love’s ethical principles, click here.]
One example of these issues is the Synod on the Family. The synod process made clear how inexperienced many Catholic bishops are at negotiating cross-cultural ethics.The Synod also raised an old question in a new way: In a truly global church, can the Vatican really pronounce on universal norms beyond the most fundamental of principles? In other words, are issues of family life, sexuality, and society today too complex and diverse for a one-size-fits-all approach?
Emerging churches, particularly in Africa, have resisted more permissive stances on sexuality with claims of “ideological colonization,” a term notably used by Francis, the church’s first pope from the Global South. Farley identifies the troubling dynamic driving many such claims: sexual control has been central to Western colonization and postcolonial regions are still grappling with this damaging legacy. Acknowledging these traumas is absent from magisterial discourse today, even as theologians have welcomed such necessary dialogue through international conferences such as Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church.
Another emerging issue is gender and its relation to sexuality, now hotly contested in many contexts due to the expansion of transgender rights. Farley’s technical treatment of intersex and trans identities needs some updating given new research in this area, but, more significantly, she remains open to the realities of such persons, writing that “[n]o one ought to pass judgement on any configurations of gender [emphasis added].” This outward-looking stance paired with compassion means her larger points retain their integrity.
No statement of Farley’s is more relevant for today, when “gender wars” are rapidly and harmfully intensifying, than when she observes that “[g]ender wars would cease if we saw that we are not ‘opposite’ sexes but persons with somewhat different (but, in fact, very similar!) bodies.” Farley’s sexual ethic, with its roots in justice, is wonderful for slowly shifting the conversation beyond a primary concern with whom one has physical intimacy (raising questions of sexual and/or gender identity) to a primary concern about how one has sexual intimacy (raising questions of bodies, abilities, pleasures, and participants).
Finally, though Just Love can and should speak to many emerging questions, conversations about consent could benefit greatly from her just sex framework. To the detriment of healthy sexual relationships, consent has been reduced to saying “no,” or under affirmative consent thinking, the absence of an active and enthusiastic “yes.” While such models are being used to educate youth and young adults, particularly in higher education, as correctives against society’s historical failure to address sexual violence, they are not adequate.
Despite their good intent, such models are actually doing harm because they employ a mechanical understanding of sexual acts that excludes context and relationality. Farley is clear that free consent and respect for bodily autonomy are minimal norms for just sex, but she is equally clear that sexual justice means more. She insists that sexual acts cannot be separated from the contexts in which they happen, and the foremost context is relationality. Incorporating Farley’s theory of sexual justice into understandings of consent would both help curb sexual violence and promote healthier relationships.
Ten years on, it is clear that Just Love’s relevance has only grown, and that Christian ethical reflection has yet to receive fully its wisdom. Farley’s writing is precise and thorough, reflecting the years she spent laying the foundations for her sexual ethic. Behind her clear argumentation are complex layers of meaning with which the reader must repeatedly grapple. Her closing section on contexts for just love, addressing matters like same-gender relationships and persons who are divorced and/or remarried, is really the springboard Farley provides for Christians to employ her framework in their own research, contexts, and lives.
But what may be most clear of all is that Vatican’s fears were, in one way, fully warranted. Just Love is a truly radical text, which, received more and more fully by Christians, has and will continue to alter radically our lives and the life of our churches. It lays before us a road to full equality for LGBT people, one recognizing the beauty of diverse sexual and gender identities, the goodness of same-gender sexual intimacy, and the gift that every family is to our church.
A sad pastoral story in the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois, illustrates the tension that exists in the Catholic Church on LGBT issues in the age of Pope Francis.
Kate and Ann Bloomfield, a Catholic lesbian couple, planned to send their adopted sons to school at St. Peter’s Cathedral, where Kate herself had attended. But when she went to enroll him, she was told that because she and Ann were a married lesbian couple the school would not accept their two-year-old son for pre-school.
As it turns out, however, the Diocese of Rockford overturned the school principal’s decision and apologized to the couple for the way they were treated. According to a news story in The Rockford Register:
“[Penny Wiegert, a diocesan spokesperson said] the diocese has a protocol for enrollment inquiries from non-traditional families, including same-sex couples, divorced parents and nonpracticing Catholics. The principal should have invited the parents to meet, Wiegert said, at which time the principal or a priest could talk with the family about any concerns instead of telling the parents they can’t enroll.
” ‘That did not happen in this case,’ Wiegert said. ‘And we apologize.’ “
But for the Bloomfield family, the harm caused was already too devastating, and they have decided not to enroll their children in the school, and have also said they are looking for a new church.
Two opposing quotations from this news story highlight the tension of LGBT issues in Pope Francis’ papacy. Kate Bloomfield said:
“How can the Catholic pope teach acceptance, yet a small, Catholic school in Rockford teach just the opposite?”
And Wiegert offered an opposite view:
“Pope Francis has said a lot about how we see each other and deal with one another. But Pope Francis has not changed one single teaching of the Catholic faith. . . .The teaching [about marriage] is clear.”
And there’s the point of conflict: Which value is more important–acceptance or doctrine? This point gets even more complicated because part of the church’s doctrine is acceptance.
The Bloomfields were certainly aware of the teaching on marriage, and they even told the Register their attitude towards it:
” ‘It’s not like we expected them to teach some sort of agenda that included us,’ Ann said. ‘I think it says a lot that we wanted to send our kids to Catholic school.’
” ‘Even if it goes against us,’ Kate added. “We were willing to put all of that aside because we care more about these kids than we do us. . . . I think they’re picking and choosing who they accept. You can’t tell me they make this big of a deal about divorced couples.’ “
On the diocese’s side, the spokesperson acknowledged that the Church has to learn to approach these situations better:
“Wiegert said the diocese must work on how it communicates on sensitive subjects such as gay marriage and whether children of gay couples are welcome at diocesan schools.
” ‘Some situations are not as common to us,’ she said. ‘Everyone is human. People make mistakes.’ “
Wiegert is correct that the Diocese of Rockford, and indeed all dioceses, need to get up to speed fast on LGBT issues. For too many decades, church officials have simply ignored LGBT people, and in the process caused untold harm to both the church and the individuals. Now that LGBT issues are part of the common social discourse, church leaders need to educate themselves–and fast!–before more pastoral harm is done.
As we’ve said many times in the past, part of that education must be dialogue with LGBT individuals. Even though the Bloomfields seem to have decided to leave Catholicism, the diocese should reach out to them to learn how this terrible situation could have been avoided. Without feedback and input from LGBT people themselves, any attempt to educate church leaders on LGBT issues will be doomed to failure because it will simply be an echo chamber of what officials already know–and that is precious little.
It’s true that Pope Francis has not changed any doctrine, but he has encouraged dialogue, openness, and accompaniment–all of which help not only LGBT people, but also help church leaders to be more educated, aware, and sensitive. There really is no excuse for another situation like what happened to the Bloomfields to happen to another Catholic family. Opportunities for dialogue abound. Church leaders need to start taking advantage of them.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry April 27, 2017
New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. For more information, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
These questions are not just similar: they are deeply interrelated. Indeed, the cause of women’s equality in the church is inextricably linked to the cause of LGBT equality, and vice versa.
DeGeorge described the genesis of the book and its title:
“[Wexler] is not a theologian or historian, she writes, nor does she intend the book to be a definitive work about the views of Catholic women. She seeks instead to inspire conversations among women who, like her, are ‘torn between the faith they love and the institutional church that often sets their teeth on edge.’ . . .
“There is a reason, Wexler says, that she titled the book CatholicWomen Confront Their Church rather than their ‘faith.’ For these women and so many others, it’s not a matter of confronting their faith, but rather confronting an institution that is led exclusively by men.”
Among the nine Catholic women that Wexler profiled are two involved with LGBT advocacy: Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of DignityUSA, and Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK who is most known for her leadership of “Nuns on the Bus.”
Other women in the book include: Teresa Delgado, a Latina feminist theologian; Frances Kissling, founder of Catholics for Choice; and Diana L. Hayes, a theologian who was the first African American woman to earn a pontifical doctorate.
The chapter on Marianne Duddy-Burke follows the contours of her journey as a devout Catholic and lesbian woman. Wexler explained at one point:
“Catholicism is just too important to Duddy-Burke to abandon. So she’s found a different space to practice her faith, a space outside the norms of the institutional church. The Catholicism she practices, she contends, more authentically follows the gospel. . .
“Whatever steps Pope Francis may take to soften the church’s position on same-sex marriage and LGBT issues, she believes that real change has to come from the people in the pews, not the church hierarchy. And she continues to immerse herself in a Catholicism that embraces the sacraments and service to the poor and marginalized.”
Sr. Simone Campbell’s advocacy for LGBT people has increasingly been a part of her larger efforts for social justice. Her organization, NETWORK, is linked with New Ways Ministry in a particular way: the two organizations were singled out by the Vatican in its 2012 investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for allegedly promoting “radical feminism.” Campbell offered the following wisdom, as reported by Wexler:
“One might have thought that the public denunciation. . .would have signaled to the sisters to lie low until the flap blew over. But Campbell did not express any sense of remorse. ‘When you don’t work every day with people who live at the margins of our society, it’s so much easier to make easy statements about who’s right and who’s wrong.’ Campbell said, ‘Life is way more complicated in our society, and its probably way easier to be eight thousand miles away in Rome.’ . . .
“‘I wish I knew what was in their [the Vatican leaders’] brains. . .The leadership doesn’t know how to deal with strong women.'”
In her latest supportive act for LGBT Catholics, Campbell will lead “Justice and Mercy: Our Faith Challenge?“, a retreat preceding New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium this week. For information, please click here.
Teresa Delgado is a feminist theologian who is both Puerto Rican and a survivor of sexual violence, influenced by liberation and womanist theologies. These aspects of her identity have, in her words, “allowed me to speak in a way that is authoritative around issues of sexuality and faith.” While not explicitly focused on LGBT issues, her work to integrate sex and faith has obvious implications. Wexler wrote:
“Delgado has remained a Catholic despite her deep reservations about the church’s approach to sexual issues, and its misogyny. She regrets that an institution that developed a nuanced ethical position on the concept of a ‘just war’ has failed to explore the nuances of sexual ethics. Within her classroom, where she teaches Christian sexual ethics, she faces students deeply confused about how to apply Catholic principles to their sex lives. Her goal, she says, is to offer them a safe place to discuss their feelings, and to share her own insights about navigating these moral dilemmas.”
Reading the stories of these nine Catholic women is moving, and Wexler’s advice, especially for younger women, is compelling by the end: “Don’t give up on Catholicism just yet. Make it work for you. Fight for it.” DeGeorge’s concluding words will ring true for readers:
“In conclusion, she notes the dangers facing a church that is unwilling to allow women a greater role and voice. . . .[The reader will] come away with a deeper conviction that there is a place for visionary feminist women in the church. Wexler’s book deserves to be read widely, especially among parish-based women’s groups and young women who struggle with their Catholic faith.”
To read Gail DeGeorge’s full review inthe National Catholic Reporter, please click here.
In a ruling released last week, a federal judge has said a Catholic parish was legally justified in firing a gay church worker. The Washington Blade reported:
“In a seven-page decision, U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras determined Tuesday the Holy Family Parish, which is under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Chicago, had the right to terminate Colin Collette because the worker’s position was ministerial in nature.
“‘By playing music at church services, Collette served an integral role in the celebration of mass,’ Kocoras said. ‘Collette’s musical performances furthered the mission of the church and helped convey its message to the congregants. Therefore, Collette’s duties as Musical Director fall within the ministerial exception.'”
Collette sued Holy Family and the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2015 claiming employment discrimination under federal, state, and county laws. It was hoped Collette’s case would add to the small, but growing number of legal victories for church workers who have lost their jobs over LGBT issues.
Judge Kocoras did not, however, rule on whether Collette was discriminated against by the parish; he ruled on whether the firing was protected under the so-called “ministerial exemption.”
According to the Blade, the judge’s actions preceding the ruling show he “entertained the idea Collette’s position wasn’t ministerial in nature and therefore protected under the civil rights law.” But that was not where Kocoras ended up, as he explained in the ruling:
“[A] position can be found to be ministerial if it requires the participant to undertake religious duties and functions. . .Here, Collette worked with church volunteers to choose the music that would enhance the prayer offered at mass. Choosing songs to match the weekly scripture required the group, including Collette, to make discretionary religious judgments since the Catholic Church does not have rules specifying what piece of music is to be played at each mass.'”
Collette was fired in 2014 as Holy Family’s music minister because his engagement to longtime partner and now husband, Will Nifong, became known to church officials. The firing was traumatic for the parish, where Collette had served for 17 years. Some 700 parishioners attended a town hall about it and there welcomed Collette with a standing ovation. One parishioner expressed anger and disappointment at the treatment of Collette, saying: “Everybody was welcome…That’s become a lie.”
The firing is problematic not only for the parish, but for the Archdiocese as well. Archbishop Blase Cupich has said the consciences of LGBT people must be respected, and even endorsed legal protections for families headed by same-gender partners. Yet, the Archdiocese has continued to defend the firings of Collette and another gay church worker, Sandor Demkovich.
This latest ruling should not be celebrated by church officials because, while it may be legal justice, it has not advanced social justice. Archbishop Cupich could, however, freely choose to act for the common good by apologizing to Collette and taking the lead in reconciliation efforts at Holy Family.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 25, 2017
If you would like to learn more about the issue of LGBT church workers in Catholic institutions, consider attending
Leslie Griffin, a professor of law, will give a plenary session talk on “Religious Liberty, Employment, & LGBT Issues” at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. During one of the focus sessions, three people affected by the firings, Colleen Simon, Margie Winters, and Andrea Vettori will give personal testimony about “The Challenges of LGBT Church Workers.” For more information, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
Too often lately, there have been too many stories of LGBT people and allies being fired from Catholic institutions because of their identities, marriages, or support of LGBT equality. So, it’s a refreshing change to report on a case where an out gay man is serving safely and successfully at a Catholic school and has only positive things to report about his experience.
Outsports.com recently published a reflective essay by Keith Johnston, the marching band, pep band, and concert band director at Sacred Heart University, Bridgeport, Connecticut. Johnston reports that he has worked at the school for the past 14 years, and that “I’ve been an out gay man for the last 20 years, and have been married to the same man for 17 years.”
Johnston reports that his positive experience at the school has changed his perception of Catholic institutions:
“When I started at Sacred Heart University 14 years ago, despite having been out for a lot of years, I came in with a pre-conceived notion of how my Catholic college students would react to a gay director. While the administration that hired me was aware I was gay, I’m not Catholic, and I wasn’t experienced enough at that time to know how – or even if – I should integrate the personal side of who I am as a person into my teaching.
“I’ve learned much since starting here at SHU, an institution steeped in the Catholic Intellectual tradition, and more progressive than many would suspect.”
Johnston’s example as a successful, out gay man certainly has some impact on the students with whom he works. He reflects on the experiences that his musically talented young people often face:
“Take the usual uncertainty that many young gay men and women have, add in a few comments about “band geeks” and “band nerds” (often coming from a high school sports team), and you have a recipe for stunting the emotional and personal growth of thousands of kids – harsh words and sentiments that could set them back for years.
And he notes the importance for teachers to be role models for them:
” The biggest thing I’ve learned, however, has been from my students. Yes, they’re in band to play music. But what they really want to learn is how to become who they really are, and who they have the potential to be. The only way they can learn that is for their teachers to be unafraid to share with them who they are, regardless of their sexuality.”
Johnston is explicit in his support:
“At the start of each year at band camp, I tell my students that if you’re gay, straight, bi, transgender, or you don’t know what you are, you’re welcome in the band. If, like me, you’ve heard the voices screaming inside of your head saying “you’re gay”, and you don’t know how to make the noise stop…come and talk with me.”
In the essay, Johnston recounts his own tumultuous coming out experience in which his own physical health was put in peril. He survived the ordeal, and he has come out stronger on the other side:
“. . . [E]very day I look at myself in the mirror and am reminded of the physical damage that can happen by trying to be someone we’re not. It was not long after that I decided it was time to start accepting who I was, and if anyone had a problem with it, it was indeed their problem, not mine.”
The band director at this Catholic school, though not a Catholic himself, certainly has values that reflect the Catholic tradition. At the end of his essay, he states:
“Each of us has worth and dignity, and that worth includes our gender and our sexuality. My door is always open to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
“Sexuality and gender is a spiritual gift.
“All of who you are is sacred.
“All of who you are is welcome.”
I can’t think of any better expression of Catholic values about humankind, identity, and hospitality. I think Pope Francis has, in other ways, expressed those same values.
I also can’t think of a better argument for why Catholic institutions, especially schools, should continue to employ LGBT people. The gifts they bring from their personal struggle and growth are a blessing to all they serve.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 23, 2017
New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. For more information, visit www.Symposium2017.org.