Catholic Priest: Church Cannot Abandon Transgender Catholics

August 13, 2016
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Fr. Bryan Massingale

The church must not abandon transgender Catholics. This is Fr. Bryan Massingale’s message in his new column published by U.S. Catholic, and it is a poignant message in view of Pope Francis’ recent remarks about gender identity.

Massingale. a professor of theology at Fordham University, New York, begins his essay by referencing a transgender panel discussion in which he participated earlier this year. Hosted by the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the largest annual gathering of Catholics in North America, that panel featured to young trans Catholics sharing their stories. Massingale commented on it:

“I was struck by their heartfelt conviction that accepting their true gender identities led them to a deeper and more authentic relationship with God. Hearing their stories of pain and triumph was one of the most privileged moments I have had in 33 years of being a priest.”

But Massingale notes that he questioned his own participation in the event, especially when friends and family asked him about the risks that identifying with LGBT people can have in the church. He explained:

“Space does not allow me to give my full response. But one reason why I chose to be present is because I have a lot to learn. To be blunt, I was at the panel precisely because of my ignorance and discomfort. Transgender issues were never addressed in either my moral theology courses in the seminary or in my graduate studies in Christian ethics. I—and most priests—have not been trained to specifically minister to transgender members of our parishes or to the concerns of their families.

“My personal ignorance is also shared by the church as a whole. There is much that we do not understand about what is technically called ‘gender dysphoria,’ or the lack of congruence between one’s physical body and gender identity. This ignorance leads to fear, and fear is at the root of the controversies in today’s so-called ‘bathroom wars.’ And there lies a major challenge that transgender people endure and that the faith community has to own: the human tendency to be uncomfortable and fearful in the face of what we don’t understand. It’s easier to ridicule and attack individuals we don’t understand than to summon the patience and humility to listen and to learn.”

The church cannot abandon trans Catholics because, Massingale explains, “Jesus would be present to, among, and with transgender persons.” His table ministry with society’s outcasts teaches Christians that we will be judged on “our compassion for the despised and disdained.” Lack of understanding of or comfort with people does not mitigate the obligation the church has to include them and minister to them.  Massingale also cited the compassionate side of Pope Francis:

“During Pope Francis’ visit last fall, he repeated on at least five occasions: ‘Jesus never abandons us.’ This is the deepest reason why I chose to be with Anna and Mateo, who spoke so eloquently for so many of our transgender fellow Catholics. Jesus does not abandon us. If we claim to be his followers, we cannot abandon them.”

You can read Fr. Massingale’s full essay by clicking here.

Fr. Massingale has himself not abandoned LGBT Catholics. While at Marquette University, he celebrated monthly Masses for members of the LGBTQ communities on campus because, he says, it is important they “have a Mass where they feel welcome and that God does love them.” He challenged Pax Christi USA members at their 2013 annual conference to increase the organization’s defense of LGBT rights, as both a human rights concern and a necessary part of attracting younger Catholics. Massingale also joined other Catholic theologians and officials in condemning proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda.

Fr. Massingale will continue his call for inclusion and justice in the church when he will be a keynote speaker for New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” Early registration has now opened if you are interested in attending, and you can find more information by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Italy Is a Case Study for How the Church Can Build Up a Marriage Culture

August 9, 2016
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Deborah Piccini and Elena Vanni celebrating their civil union in Italy

Civil unions by same-gender couples have begun in Italy, implementing a law passed earlier this year against the Catholic hierarchy’s objections. But a new study suggests that church weddings, already in great decline, may disappear altogether in Italy in 15 years.  These two facts make Italy a case study for how the church can actually build up a healthy and positive culture around marriage.

It is not clear which couple was the first to be legally joined in Italy, but it is clear that couples have rushed to get their relationships legally recognized. Malay Mail reported one couple entered a union early in Milan because, after 28 years together, one partner was terminally ill. Gay Star News reported that Elena Vanni and Deborah Piccini were among the first couples, celebrating their union at the City Hall of Castel San Pietro near Bologna. Vanni said of their decision to be united under the law:

“‘Desires are the engine that leads us to be happy. . .Not that we were in a hurry, but at some point, our union [became] a discourse about justice.'”

Italy’s national conversation about same-gender relationships has been contentious, and much of the debate has been framed around the issue of justice. Both sides rallied hundreds of thousands to their cause, resulting in massive demonstrations in the lead-up to the law’s passage last May. Lay Catholics were split on the civil unions question, though Italians overall support expanding LGBT rights.  Italian church leaders substantively supported anti-equality efforts, though the Italian Episcopal Conference and some bishops practiced more distance than they had before Pope Francis’ election. For its part, the Holy See avoided the debate in Italy. Still, church leaders were overwhelmingly clear they did not support the law and the Conference’s president called the law’s passage “a loss for everyone.

Contrasting this rush by couples to enter civil unions is a report which suggested that Catholic sacramental weddings in Italy may end altogether by 2031. The study was done by CENSIS, the Center for Social Investment Studies, and analyzed marriage trends from the last two decades. Crux reported that the numbers of Italians entering into sacramental marriages were “in free fall” despite 95% of the nation’s residents still identifying as Catholic. Religious weddings fell by an average of 6,400 annually, and civil ceremonies are holding steady, but show little to no growth.

CENSIS director Massimiliano Valerii said the study indicates the “dissolution of this institution [of marriage],” which the Center attributed in part to legislative trends “including the fact that children born outside of marriage are now recognized as equally legitimate as those born to married couples, and also the civil recognition of de facto couples in addition to those who are married.” Civil unions for lesbian and gay couples are too new to have been factored into any calculations.

The phrasing, “culture of marriage” is used mostly by conservative opponents of marriage equality who claim that the expansion of LGBT rights undercuts the institution of marriage and family life. But Italy reveals that the culture of marriage is not defended, and certainly not strengthened, by denying LGBT people their human rights. If this were the case, marriage should be flourishing in Italy, the last Western European nation (aside from the Holy See) to grant rights to same-gender couples. It is not.

Whether or not sacramental marriages in the Catholic church will cease by 2031 is uncertain. Trends provide guidance, but do not predict the future. What is certain is that the debate over LGBT rights in Italy will continue. Civil unions are progress but are not equivalent to equal marriage rights. Adoption rights for same-gender partners were stripped from the civil unions law to ensure its passage. While employment non-discrimination protections exist, these protections do not extend to other areas like public accommodations. Between now and 2031,  Italian church leaders have an opportunity to shift their strategy on marriage equality, and, in the process, save the nation’s culture of marriage.

Until now, bishops’ engagement with marriage policy in many Western nations has almost exclusively existed of their public condemnations of marriage equality, divorce and remarriage, or contraception. They have failed to offer a compelling, positive, and hopeful vision of marriage and family life that the Catholic tradition possesses. The synodal process and Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, attested to the institutional church’s deficiency in preaching and cultivating this vision.The generally conservative Italian episcopacy has been a prime example of this approach.

But if the bishops would listen to the LGBT people and their loved ones, who are actually defending marriage and family, they might actually build up the culture of marriage that they seek. Where the bishops have failed, lay people have led the way. It is no coincidence that marriage equality, and LGBT rights overall, frequently advance first in regions which are predominantly Catholic. The faithful, driven by a sense of justice for people who are marginalized, have championed equality under the law precisely to strengthen all couples and their families. Catholic loved ones of LGBT people, particularly parents, have passionately affirmed not only the goodness of same-gender relationships but demanded equal protections for them. These Catholics understand that all love is good before God, and it should be affirmed and protected by society because marriage and family are indeed essential goods for human flourishing.

As Italians keep addressing LGBT rights, the nation’s bishops should stop resisting LGBT rights as if equality’s progress is anti-marriage and anti-family. They have done tremendous damage to the institution of marriage by claiming some love is second class, and that some families should not be recognized as such. Bishops should instead listen to the many faithful Catholics in Italy and around the world whose advocacy for equality has done more to build up a culture of marriage.

Foremost among these leaders is the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, who has to some extent undertaken this positive reclamation of marriage and family.  Unfortunately, he has done so by promoting heterosexuality as the norm for these institutions. If he cannot affirm marriage equality, he could at least affirm publicly  the love and commitment which exists between same-gender couples and the legal protections their families deserve.   That would do wonders for the culture of marriage in Italy and around the world.

 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Lesbian Student Ejected from Catholic Prom Welcomed by Neighboring School; More Updates on Previous Stories

July 26, 2016
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Aniya Wolf, left, and her date at prom

At Bondings 2.0, we often find that there are almost always too many Catholic LGBT news stories and perspectives to cover.   Not to mention the fact, that some of the best stories often have important follow-ups.  Today’s post covers developments in stories which our blog has previously covered.

Lesbian Student Ejected from Prom Welcomed by Neighboring School

Aniya Wolf, a lesbian student ejected from her Catholic school’s prom for wearing a suit, was welcomed by William Penn Senior High School in York, Pennsylvania, suit and all. Principal Brandon Carter said the school does “embrace all” students and had welcomed its own students many times in attire which was comfortable for them.

Wolf had been removed from the prom of Harrisburg’s Bishop McDevitt High School because, school officials claimed, female students were required to wear a dress. Wolf showed up in a suit purchased for the occasion, which she was finally able to wear to Penn’s prom. Her mother, Carol, told The Washington Post:

” ‘This is Aniya. . .This is who Aniya has been since she’s very young. And she would not look right in a dress. She looks great in a suit.’ “

This is not the first instance where gendered clothing in Catholic education has caused tremendous pain and public controversy, but it hopefully might be one of the last.

Bolivia Passes Transgender Law Against Bishops’ Opposition

Despite heavy opposition from Catholic bishops, Bolivian legislators passed a transgender rights bill in late May that President Evo Morales then signed into law.

The law affords transgender people the right to alter government records in accordance with their gender identity, reported TeleSurReuters reported that a recent study shows that Bolivia becomes now only one of five nations in the world to constitutionally protect the rights of LGBT people, the others being Britain, Fiji, Malta, and Ecuador. Legislators had been pressured by some Bolivian Catholics to reject the law, according to The Washington Post:

“Predictably, the gender identity law has met with stiff resistance, not least from the Catholic Church. There have been protest marches, particularly in Santa Cruz, the conservative city that is Bolivia’s economic motor. Writing in Bolivian newspaper El Diario, theologian Gary Antonio Rodrígues Alvarez even warned that the concept of ‘hate,’ as used to define crimes committed against gays because of their sexuality, is ‘highly dangerous.’ “

Bolivia’s bishops specifically criticized the law, according to Crux, because it “wasn’t publicly debated, and didn’t receive the necessary consensus.” It did not, in their opinion, “solve the underlying problems.” The bishops did affirm the church’s opposition to discrimination.  This recent response from the bishops softens slightly language from Bishop Aurelio Pesoa, president of the nation’s episcopal conference, who said in December that the law “aims to subvert one of the foundations of our human lifestyle” and was “a clear attempt of cultural colonization.”

Florida Implements LGBT Youth Protections Opposed by Bishops 

A policy which bans the bullying and harassment of LGBT foster children in group homes has finally been reinstated by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), after it was withdrawn for a time as a result of religious opposition, reported the Orlando Sentinel.

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said the process was “basically just listening to all involved,” and the decision had now been made about “how you best protect young people who have already been abused and neglected and who are the most vulnerable in our system.” An ombudsperson position has been created to monitor discrimination. The new policy explicitly bans “reparative therapy.”.

This policy was again criticized by the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops who said in a statement the policy “goes too far” and does not consider other children’s well-being if they must share space “with someone who ‘identifies’ as the same gender, but remains biologically different.” The Conference, in conjunction with partner religious organizations, had successfully had the policy reversed late last year. Bondings 2.0 said, at the time, that the Conference’s treatment of this issue was “misguided and ill-informed.

To keep current on all the latest Catholic LGBT news and information, subscribe to Bondings 2.0 by entering your email in the box you can find in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholics Recommit to Bridge Building after Orlando Tragedy

July 25, 2016
Australians Hold Candlelit Vigils For Victims Of Orlando Nightclub Shooting

Memorial for Pulse Nightclub victims

Many bridges still need building when it comes to LGBT people, their families, and the Catholic Church. Where can Catholics turn for models of bridge building, especially after the mass shooting in Orlando which left 49 people dead and 53 more wounded?

Lay people and religious have offered some compassionate models of how this reconciling work can be done. For instance, the Sisters of St. Agnes in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin organized a vigil shortly after Orlando. Sister Sally Brickner told the Fond du Lac Reporter that 150 vigil attendees “really do feel that discrimination is wrong . . . hate crimes are wrong.” This vigil was the most well attended of any which the sisters have held for other causes, revealing both the deep need for such an action by a Catholic group.

The Orlando incident and the sisters’ response helped to shine the spotlight on two Wisconsin parishes that offer welcoming ministries. The same article which reported the sisters’ vigil took a look at the week-to-week ministry that goes on in Catholic parishes that welcome LGBT people. At Holy Family Catholic Community in Fond du Lac, a group called All God’s Family meets every couple of months. There, according to pastor Fr. Ryan Preuss, lesbian/gay people and their families share their stories and discuss how they engage church teaching. Barbara Lent, the group’s coordinator, told the Reporter:

” ‘Everyone’s the same. . .It’s just who you love. You really have a right to love who you want to love. . .Sometimes [change] takes time, but you got to keep doing it.’ “

Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Menomonee Falls hosts Gay and Straight in Christ, about which founder Ann Castiglione said:

” ‘It’s just important that everyone be welcome in our church. . .[LGBT people don’t] feel welcome, so we’re trying to do something about that in our little corner of the world.’ “

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, explained to the news reporter the background motivation that inspires such groups:

“Catholic support of LGBT people is done because the people are Catholic, not in spite of being Catholic.”

DeBernardo, however, was critical of bishops who “have been very negative in their approach to LGBT issues.”

The majority of U.S. bishops’ responses to Orlando seriously challenges their claims of engaging LGBT people with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” Just a handful of bishops acknowledged the targeting of an LGBT nightclub, and even fewer admitted the church’s complicity in encouraging anti-LGBT prejudices. In its editorial on the mass shooting, the National Catholic Reporter stated:

“The massacre in Orlando was a heinous hate crime, a moment screaming out for moral outrage, for the words to match the horrific reality. What the Catholic community in the United States received from the president of its bishops’ conference was a three-sentence serving of sanctimonious boilerplate that, except for the use of the term ‘violence,’ might have been referring to a natural disaster or a plane crash. . .

“It is good to have the language of a few members of the hierarchy who understand that intolerance breeds contempt and violence, but we can’t and don’t need to wait for bishops to speak. The laity are leading the bishops on this issue, and with a strong, persistent voice, we can and must advocate against discrimination based on sexuality and gender in society and in our church.”

It is not too late for more bishops to engage positively with LGBT people and their families, in the church and outside of it. Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden wrote about Orlando in the Catholic Herald, saying:

“Just as heart wrenching as the deaths themselves, I am troubled that the victims were specifically targeted because of their sexual orientation. No human being should ever suffer the hate of others. Hate is an affront to God.

“As Christians we are subject to the Law of Christ. “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is His new commandment. ‘One another’ includes gay people. A Catholic who demonstrates hate toward a person — because of his or her sexual orientation, religion, or the color of his or her skin — needs to seek the forgiveness of God. From where does such hate originate? And, why are homosexual persons too frequently its victims?

“Our LGBT sisters and brothers are as much made in the image of God as I am. Their sexual orientation does not make them less in the eyes of God. As someone who is loved by gay relatives and friends, and who loves them equally, I fear that they too could be victims of such hatred.”

In a letter to those Catholics who gathered for prayer about Orlando, Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver expressed particular sadness because the victims were “targeted for being identified with the LGBT community.”

The lesson about building bridges after Orlando may be that acts are more necessary than words if the church is going to be in real solidarity. This is a point driven home by Caitlin Opperman, a queer Latina student at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, who write in campus newspaper The Hoya:

“We cannot forget Pulse was an LGBTQ club. We cannot forget it was Latin night. We cannot forget Latinxs, specifically Puerto Ricans, were most affected by this tragedy. We cannot let people use this massacre as an excuse to engage in Islamophobia. We cannot stay silent on the issue of gun control. We have to acknowledge that masculinity is toxic. We have to accept that queer people of color need safe spaces. But most of all, we need to act. Silence and inaction perpetuate violence against members of my communities and other oppressed groups. We are living in fear. We are out of safe spaces. We need more than thoughts and prayers.

“To the 49 beautiful queer folks whose lives were taken on June 12, rest in power. Que en paz descansen [Rest in peace]. I hope wherever you are, you keep dancing.”

The National Catholic Reporter’s editorial emphasized that lay people need to lead the way if church leaders remain unresponsive.  The editors said that Catholics do not “have to wait for approval or direction from on high to know what to do in this extreme circumstance.” They continued:

“The Catholic community knows a hate crime when it sees it and should do all it can to promote understanding and tolerance. . .The Catholic community, making the case from the church’s social justice tradition and the inherent Christian concern for the common good, can become a formidable influence in challenging the status quo. Standing together, we can say no to a culture of gun violence. We can say yes to gender justice and inclusivity.”

How have you or your faith community responded with a yes to justice and inclusivity after Orlando? How have you witnessed bridges being built between LGBT people and church leaders? Please let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


University of Notre Dame Reportedly Denies Safe Housing to Transgender Student

July 24, 2016
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Eve on Notre Dame’s campus

The University of Notre Dame reportedly failed to provide a transgender student with housing, the latest incident as many Catholic colleges and universities grapple with gender identity issues.

Ronan Farrow of NBC’s “Today Show” reported in June about Eve, a transgender Notre Dame student, in a segment following up the show’s 2015 report about her.

Eve, who just finished her junior year at the South Bend, Indiana, school, began transitioning while in college. This positive step in her life has made campus life difficult for her when it comes to housing, restrooms, and other issues.

Regarding housing, Notre Dame has only single-sex dormitories. The news piece claimed the University has not supported Eve as she seeks to move from the all-male dorm in which she had lived to an all-female dorm.

Eve said in the 2015 report that, for the most part, other residents referred to her by her new name and “treated [her] exactly the same as before.” Still, the all-male dorm is not ideal for her. Her former Resident Assistant said compassion is many people’s priority.  Still some residents had come to him with questions about a woman living in their dorm.  Some saw Eve as simply a man dressing as a woman who was living in their dorm. As for the administration’s response, Eve told NBC:

“I expect, honestly, that the University is hoping that as soon as I leave, no one will ever try this again.”

Eve’s mother, Teresa, like many parents of LGBT children, said she simply wants “what’s best for” her child. And an all-female dorm would be significantly safer.

Safety is a question, too, when it comes to restroom use. Eve stated, “I am safer using a women’s restroom.” But beginning to use women’s restrooms has been”really scary,” she told NBC, because if she is reported, she could be expelled. But, Eve said, “people don’t even consider the safety of the [transgender] individuals.”

Eve said socializing is incredibly difficult, and, with no support system on campus, she has caused experienced depression. She told NBC in the 2015 report, “being trans is a small part of who I am” and there is far more to her life.

Eve will be entering her senior year this fall, finishing her degree in math and aspiring to be a teacher. After repeated requests for safer housing were ignored, she will be living off campus. According to NBC, officials at Notre Dame declined to comment,which host Matt Lauer said was a surprising response. But the University of Notre Dame is not the first, nor the only Catholic institution responding to increased transgender visibility and awareness.

A number of Catholic schools refuse to support LGBT students and even oppose protections for them. At least five Catholic schools have sought religious exemptions from federal Title IX protections which ban LGBT discrimination. Colleges approved for exemptions by the Department of Education are  Belmont Abbey College, North Carolina, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, St. Gregory’s University, Oklahoma, and John Paul the Great Catholic University, California. The University of Dallas, Texas, has a pending application.

On the positive side, as Bondings 2.0 has reported in the past, many schools have proactively sought to support transgender students. Gender-neutral housing options have been implemented at some schools, such as the College of the Holy Cross , Massachusetts. Gender-neutral restrooms exist at some schools, such as Fordham University, New York. And transgender student Lexi Dever said that even though the Catholic Church nearly killed her, Georgetown University had saved her.

Greater awareness and more legal protections mean gender identity issues on Catholic campuses will not be going away any time soon. Education officials should not ignore or oppose the well-being of transgender students. All students in Catholic education deserve to feel safe, welcomed, and affirmed.

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Vatican Accepts Resignation of Dominican Cardinal Infamous for Anti-Gay Remarks

July 6, 2016
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Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez

The Vatican has accepted the resignation of a cardinal in the Dominican Republic whose anti-gay record has sparked repeated controversies on the island nation and beyond.

Like every bishop, Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of Santo Domingo submitted his letter of resignation on his 75th birthday five years ago. Pope Francis has just accepted it and named his successor. Catholics and LGBT advocates alike have made repeated calls for the cardinal to retire since he began his high-profile anti gay remarks in 2013.

López has attacked LGBT communities, and specifically gay U.S. Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, on multiple occasions. He used an anti-gay slur to refer to the ambassador in 2013 and said Brewster should “take his gay pride elsewhere.”  Last December the cardinal said that Brewster was “wife to a man” and should stick to housework. The Washington Blade reported that López once described LGBT tourists as “social trash” and “degenerates.”

López’s visibility has diminished since late 2015, referenced in Dominican media as “the cardinal’s lone silence.” His resignation now comes a day after Santo Domingo Pride celebrations concluded, and many LGBT advocates expressed relief. Cristian King of Trans Siempre Amigos told the Washington Blade“I feel a great piece of mind.”

López will be succeeded by Archbishop-elect Francisco Ozoria Acosta of San Pedro de Macorís. Austin Ivereigh of Crux noted that, with this move, Pope Francis has appointed a “low-profile pastor from a small diocese” into the symbolically powerful position of Primate of the Americas.

Archbishop-elect Francisco Ozoria Acosta

Ozoria is not well known, even in the Dominican Republic. He acknowledged this fact to the media, saying “I’m sure this has been a surprise to you all. . .most surprised of all was me.” But he is above all a pastor, reported Ivereigh. He studied and then taught pastoral theology before becoming a parish priest and, later, a pastorally-oriented bishop. Ozoria identified himself as a “passionate follower of the Second Vatican Council, above all of the ecclesiology of communion” and invoked the Council’s affirmation of the universal call to holiness to stress how all baptized Catholics should participate in the life of the church. Leslie Torres, director of Televida, a Catholic television channel in the Dominican Republic, offered this description:

” ‘He’s a pastor who’s approachable, humble and straightforward, with a great capacity for listening and dialogue. . .[he is] able to look at his people with a big heart.’ “

LGBT advocate and politician Deivis Ventura also praised Ozoria. He called the archbishop-elect “a man who is known for his moderation and prudence in the management of religious and social issues,” reported the Washington Blade. Ozoria reflects the mixed-race identities of most Dominicans, and has controversially championed migrants’ rights. Ventura was certain the archbishop-elect “will show a distinct vision of the church.”

This shift in pastoral priorities is significant in at least three ways for LGBT Catholics in the Dominican Republic and abroad.

First, in accepting his resignation, the Vatican did not acknowledge the harm that Cardinal López has caused. There is no evidence this move is linked to his anti-LGBT behavior, a notable omission given its pattern and severity.  It is especially disappointing given Pope Francis’ expressed desire for the church to apologize to lesbian, bisexual, and gay people it has harmed.

Second, Pope Francis’ appointment of Archbishop-elect Ozoria emphasizes the pope’s commitment to church leaders who are foremost pastors serving God’s people, with love through dialogue. That Ozoria has a reputation for listening and dialogue, and was even welcomed by a prominent LGBT advocate are hopeful signs.  We hope this is another sign that the pope is intent on replacing hard-line conservatives with pastoral listeners.

Third, López’s resignation and Ozoria’s succession are positive steps, but they do not eliminate a Dominican hierarchy whose alienation of LGBT people, and specifically Ambassador Brewster, has been deeply problematic. Bishop Victor Masalles, an auxiliary of Santo Domingo, recently led protests against the Organization of American States’ meeting for its alleged promotion of “ideological colonization.” He said previously that Ambassador Brewster was “abusing power,” sentiments echoed in the Dominican Episcopal Conference’s letter against the diplomat. A Catholic school in the capital posted three signs just before Holy Week this year announcing it had banned Brewster and his husband from campus.

These incidents reveal the deep wound that López’s lengthy tenure has afflicted on LGBT people and on the Dominican church. Thankfully, he has been removed from leadership, even though it could have been done sooner. Archbishop-elect Ozoria should begin a reconciliation process after being installed in September. He might start by listening to Pope Francis’ recommendation and offer an apology to those people the church under Cardinal López had hurt.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Fired Lesbian Teacher Wins Discrimination Case Against Catholic School in Italy

June 28, 2016
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Students at L’Istituto Sacro Cuore

A Catholic school in Italy has been found guilty of discrimination for firing a teacher based on speculation about her sexual orientation.

A labor court fined L’Istituto Sacro Cuore (The Sacred Heart Institute) in Trent 25,000 euros, reported Religion News Service (RNS), payable to the former teacher. The Institute must pay an additional 1,500 euros to both a labor union and civil rights association. Alexander Schuster, the anonymous teacher’s lawyer, celebrated the ruling as protecting church workers’ rights to privacy, saying:

” ‘The use of contraceptives, choices such as cohabitation, divorce, abortion, are among the most intimate decisions a person can make and must not concern an employer.’ “

The teacher, for whom reports used the pseudonym “Silvia,” claimed that, in a meeting with Sister Eugenia Libratore, the school’s headmistress and mother superior of the religious order which runs the Institute, Silvia was asked about her relationship with a woman with whom she lives. The headmistress said she had heard rumors about Silvia being a lesbian woman, and sought to clarify the teacher’s relationship in the interests of ‘protecting the school environment.’

Under scrutiny, Silvia refused to answer any questions in that meeting and rejected Libratore’s suggestion that the headmistress could “turn a blind eye if [Silvia] was willing to ‘solve the problem.'”

Silvia later came out as a lesbian women who is in a partnership after her teaching contract was not renewed by the school. Thoughs Silvia was a veteran teacher whose job performance was deemed “adequate and professional,” Libratore defended the firing on the grounds that Catholic identity “must be defended at all costs.” At the time, Silvia described her firing as “medieval.”

The labor court ruled that assuming a church worker’s sexual orientation in an  employment evaluation is discrimination. RNS noted:

“Going further, the court argued it was a case of collective discrimination, because the incident would have a damaging effect on anyone potentially interested in working at the school.”

Italy made employment discrimination based upon sexual orientation illegal in 2003. When Silvia was fired in 2014, the Italian government’s Education Minister Stefania Giannini became involved in the case. Some 20 senators supported Silvia.

Victories in cases of discrimination against LGBT church workers and their allies are rare. Of the more than 60 church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes since 2007, only a handful have won legal cases, had church institutions reverse their decision, or had church institutions defend LGBT employees.

Silvia’s win in Italy is a positive step, especially in a country where the Catholic hierarchy still heavily influences politics. This year, despite ecclesiastical opposition, Italian legislators advanced LGBT rights by passing a civil unions law. More firings could be on the horizon as more couples enter legal partnerships and marriage.  Church leaders could end this firing scourge by prioritizing the gifts and contribution that these church workers bring, and by respecting the privacy of their lives outside the workplace.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of 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 more than 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


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