The Wolf and the Lamb: Coming Out and the Promises of Advent

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 is featuring lectionary Scriptural reflections by LGBTQ theologians and pastoral ministers studying at Boston College.  The liturgical readings for the Second Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8,12-13, 17; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

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John Winslow

Today’s reflection is from John Winslow, a former Jesuit Volunteer and current M. Div. student at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

In Advent, we do not only reflect on the coming of Christ in the Incarnation as a historical moment but also as a contemporary reality. We reflect on how Christ is being made manifest to us and for us in the present moment.

We hear today, in a passage from the prophet Isaiah, that the “wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,” that “the leopard shall lie down the kid;” and that “the calf and young lion shall browse together.” We hear the message that a relationship paradigm based on a never-ending cycle of violence and exploitation will end. Christ’s coming undoes one of nature’s most fundamental relationships: that of predator and prey. In Christ, the life of one will no longer depend upon the death of another. In Christ, all of creation “shall be glorious.”

As LGBTQ Catholics, the relationship between the wolf and the lamb is one we know intimately. Growing up, the only feeling I associated with my sexuality was fear: overwhelming, mind-numbing, constant fear. It was closer to me than my bones. It was woven into every word I spoke, like a second language I never knew I was learning but woke up speaking fluently one day.

As LGBTQ Catholics, we often feel pulled in at least two different directions. We do not fit neatly into any of the boxes or categories that contemporary society has created for us. To those who support our God-given LGBTQ identities, our Catholicism is often seen as backward and inexorably tied to cultural conservatism. Meanwhile, our LGBTQ identities are often demeaned and demonized by our faith communities – sometimes the very faith communities that raised us.

And the struggle is not simply instigated by groups external to ourselves. For many of us, the struggle is also a constant, exhausting war of self-attrition: sometimes feeling at peace with ourselves as queer, and sometimes feeling at peace with ourselves as Catholic, but rarely feeling completely at peace with both.

For many people – especially those in the LGBTQ community – the idea that a Roman Catholic priest would somehow be anything other than condemning of my sexuality, much less actually compassionate and helpful, is baffling. Most people laugh when I tell them that the best coming out advice I ever received was from a priest. To be fair, I, too, never imagined I would say, “I came out to my family on Holy Thursday via email because a priest told me to.”

And yet, it is true. I would never have come out without the ongoing love, support, and counsel of many Catholics – women religious, seminarians, lay people, and, yes, priests. The night before Holy Thursday of my junior year of college, I stayed up reading through the journal I had been keeping on and off since age fourteen. I read through accounts of family vacations, and memories of adventures during my semester abroad. I read through my list of firsts: my first kiss with a boy, my first time telling someone I was gay, my first sexual experience. I read through the manic biblical scribblings, the raging prayers and questions. I touched fingers to the tear stains on the poem I wrote about my first crush.

I thought about how desperately I longed for peace–a peace the world seemed incapable of giving.

Of things that would surprise me, receiving “peace” was not at the top of the list. Quite frankly, it’s not something that I ever thought I would find – certainly not after coming out.

And yet, reading through my life, with that priest’s advice on coming out dancing through the back of my head, I realized that coming out was not about doing anything. Rather, coming out was like the wolf and the lamb embracing one another in love, letting something seemingly impossible simply happen the way it was always meant to. And when I did come out, it was the most profound experience of peace that I had ever known.

This Advent is an opportunity for us to remember that Christ’s peace is not just one that will come at the Parousia, the Second Coming. No, Christ’s peace is offered to us daily, a peace that can give us rest. Regardless of the condemnations of the Magisterium, or the sudden emboldening of homophobia and transphobia spreading across the United States after the election, or the vitriol of our families, we are in fact loved in all that we are. When we embrace ourselves in all of our integrity, we find Christ embracing us, too. And it is this embrace that will give us peace.

–John Winslow, December 4, 2016

Priest Bans Gay Man from Singing at Grandmother’s Funeral

When Connor Hakes’ grandmother died, he wanted to honor her with a song at the funeral. But because he is a gay man, the parish priest denied Hakes’ request to sing, adding more pain to an already painful time.

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Connor Hakes

Hakes’ family are longtime parishioners at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Decatur, Indiana. Generations of the family, including his grandmother, were part of the community there, and Hakes had even sung at the church before, reported WANE.

But Fr. Bob Lengerich, pastor, banned Hakes from singing at the parish until the “present situation” was resolved, though he did not, in the letter explain what the “present situation” is.  One of the issues mentioned in the letter that would ban people from liturgical roles was “openly participating in unchaste same-sex relationships.”

Father Lengerich made his thoughts known in a letter to the grieving grandson. The letter also said that scandal is caused by someone “openly advocating” for same-gender relationships. He claimed there were “several LGTB parishioners who have openly declared their intentions to embrace a homosexual lifestyle” and therefore do no receive communion at Mass, nor serve in any parish liturgical ministries.

The priest told Hakes that he could sing to honor his grandmother “as long as it is outside of the Mass and outside of the Church,” even suggesting the post-burial luncheon as a possible moment. He concluded the letter saying the parish did want Hakes present and did “want to enter into a real dialogue and conversation.”

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Fr. Bob Lengerich

Hakes claimed that Fr. Lengerich based his claims about the gay man’s sexual life on a picture posted to Facebook several years ago of Hakes celebrating Pride. The grandson told WANE that Lengerich “had judged me and really formed an opinion about me without ever communicating with me. . .All of a sudden I felt very ostracized” from the parish that had always welcomed him.

The family has filed complaints with the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, which is now involved to seek healing after the divisive incident. Hakes said he prays that Lengerich’s heart will soften to allow the priest to become “a better leader for the Catholic Church.” Hakes is also very clear about where his grandparents would stand on the matter and what Christian discipleship entails, reported PinkNews:

“Both my Grandma and Grandpa would be disgusted by their parish. Their compassion and empathy was abundant, no matter who you were. They saw beyond race, religion, sexuality, and social class. They loved everyone. That is what [it] means to be a Christian. That is what it means to be Catholic.”

Whatever his intention, Fr. Lengerich’s offer of dialogue and conversation falls flat when framed wihin the context of the priest denying Hakes the opportunity to honor his deceased loved one. Why didn’t he enter into dialogue and conversation before making a decision? It  is particularly disturbing that Lengerich somehow dug up a years-old photo of Hakes, and then seems to have inferred from it that Hakes was in a same-gender relationship. Certainly, there are more productive uses for Lengerich’s time and energy as a priest.

Once again, a priest who should be a source of consolation and unity has added to a grieving family’s pain and divided a parish community. Denying LGBT people the ability to participate in mourning rituals or denying them Communion at a funeral Mass are not infrequent events sadly. If church ministers cannot even be merciful and welcoming in these most painful moments, how can the church expect LGBT people and their families to show up at any other moment?

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 30, 2016

 

 

Are Synods Actually Helpful for LGBT Catholics and Their Families?

Following the Vatican’s 2015 Synod on the Family, a handful of dioceses worldwide have convoked their own local synods to discuss issues in and plans for their local church. These gatherings have been heralded for advancing episcopal collegiality and participation of the laity, parts of Pope Francis’ vision for the church.

But while that may be so, the Synod on the Family was described as a “disappointment” by some LGBT advocates and local synods’ treatment of sexuality has been mixed. It is therefore a live question in the church whether these synods are actually helping LGBT Catholics and their families.

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Participants conversing at Detroit’s synod.

The Archdiocese of Detroit held its “Synod ’16: Unleash the Gospel” last weekend, part of its evangelization efforts in which thousands of Catholics have participated through some 240 Parish Dialogue Gatherings and nights of prayer.

More than 11,000 responses were distilled into 46 propositions for the consideration of the synod’s 400 delegates, reported the National Catholic Reporter. Top priorities included lifelong faith formation, building parishes marked by loving encounters, empowering Catholics to live active faith lives, and, according to diocesan newspaper The Michigan Catholic:

“Build a framework for mutual accountability between pastors, parishes, schools and the Central Services. To build a foundation for this, heal wounded relationships, build trust and practice transparency. . .

“Build cultural competency among individuals, parishes and archdiocesan leadership to acknowledge and break down barriers that divide us — including race, ethnicity, sex and socioeconomic status.”

The Archdiocese has faced financial and organizational difficulties in recent years, including a declining Catholic population, difficulties in many ways tied to Detroit’s citywide troubles. But the synod also acknowledged the splits within the church community. Auxiliary Bishop Michael Byrnes, who oversaw synod preparations, told NCR:

“‘I’m really, really grateful to build within our parishes a capacity to welcome the other. . .I mean we were naming things of ethnicity, of race, gender and sexual orientation. . .It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’re dealing with. And now this is going to take a while to grow but that was named in the last session and got a lot of support. . .

“‘[Archbishop Allen Vigneron has] a huge vision, this isn’t just about becoming more pious, this is really about taking action for social, neighborhood transformation. . .We can’t just stop at “Jesus save me, so that I can go to heaven.” It has to be “Jesus, save me, so that I can help heal the world.”‘”

Themes of healing and reconciliation where divisions exist in the church and with the surrounding community were prominent at the gathering. While LGBT issues were not specifically mentioned in news reports, it would be surprising if these topics were not raised at Saturday morning’s session on the family.

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Archbishop Vigneron at Mass during the Synod

But what is perhaps most remarkable are the statements from Archbishop Vigneron, a conservative bishop with an anti-LGBT record that includes remarks which compared breaking up a same-gender relationship to the Exodus liberation, seeking to deny Communion to Catholics who support marriage equality, and banning a Fortunate Families event  from church property.

Vigneron told the National Catholic Reporter the synod sought “a radical overhaul of the Church in Detroit” to “transform the very culture of our Archdiocese — how we work, how we pray, how we minister, everything — so that in everything we do, we are more effective witnesses to the Gospel.” Citing the writings of Pope Francis as the inspiration, the archbishop said he would be “listening and contributing and being part of this whole process.” Afterward, he commented to The Michigan Catholic:

“‘We talked a lot about hospitality and about how we need to be welcoming to them, but also about reconciliation. . .There are people who are hurt, and we need to work together to heal those hurts.'”

These statements from Vigneron have a strikingly different tone from his previous statements and, while they do not address LGBT issues specifically, they seem to hint at a new understanding on his part of the ways the church has excluded and even hurt Catholics.

Archbishop Vigneron should now take the next step of sitting down with LGBT Catholics and the Catholic parents of LGBT children to hear their stories and be open to the ways the Spirit speaks through them to him and to the Archdiocese. Doing this before he releases a pastoral statement on the synod, expected Pentecost 2017, could greatly improve what will likely become a guiding document in Detroit. Including sexual orientation and gender identity in the synod’s commitment to accountability and cultural competency on the part of church ministers is one way he could be tremendously helpful.

So while issues of gender and sexuality were not explicitly addressed or reported in Detroit last weekend, unlike the diocesan synod in San Diego under Bishop Robert McElroy where LGBT topics came up organically, they will likely be affected by the synod.

Just how that happens, however, is unclear. Could the synod’s findings reinvigorate attention to a heteronormative and nuclear understanding of family or will other family arrangements including same-gender relationships be pastorally accompanied?

And the larger question remains: are these synods helping LGBT people and their families, indifferent about them, or even pastorally damaging?

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 25, 2016

 

 

Is the Church Complicit When Bias Incidents Occur on Catholic Campuses?

While Catholic higher education often leads the church’s efforts to be more inclusive of LGBT people, as Saturday’s post about gay college athlete Chase Boyle explored, several incidents this fall reveal that campuses are not without LGBT-related problems. And the institutional church may be complicit.

Fordham University Heals After LGBT Harassment

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A sign near gathered Fordham University students

In September, students at Fordham University rallied at the “Speak-Out Against Homophobia,” a response to anti-LGBT comments written on the dorm room door of three LGBTQ students.

According to campus newspaper The Fordham Ram, the speak-out allowed students to not only show solidarity but share their negative experiences on campus. Junior Gina Foley addressed the impact that the University’s Catholic identity has had on her:

” ‘It feels like Fordham doesn’t want us here. . .I know that I belong in the LGBTQ community and at Fordham. I know that I belong in the Catholic community, but they don’t want me here. I see this all the time, and it hurts.’ “

Sarah Lundell, a senior with Progressive Students for Justice: Women’s Empowerment, said the student body largely “has remained apathetic,” and this has contributed to policies that harmful to LGBTQ students remaining in place. Lundell said that “although Fordham claims to be a welcoming Jesuit university, it fails to uphold cura personalis [sic] for LGBTQ students and other marginalized identities.”

While progress can be made, a recent piece on Fordham’s Rainbow Alliance displays some of the positive work and community building already underway. You can read more in campus newspaper The Fordham Observer.

Students Push for GSA at Newman University

After a proposed gay-straight alliance (GSA) was rejected by Newman University administrators two years ago, students are again seeking its establishment on at the Wichita, Kansas, school. Student Lauren Spencer wrote in campus newspaper The Vantage that such a group was needed because homophobia is present on campus:

“Last year I was told by a friend that as they were passing through the Student Center they heard a classmate say something along the lines of, ‘Now they’re letting gay people get married. What’s next? Are they gonna let people marry animals?’ “

Spencer said uninformed statements like these prove that a GSA is needed not only to support LGBTQ students, but to educate other students on issues of sexuality and gender and, she concluded, “what is more Catholic than putting an end to the hating of thy neighbour?”

Outside Groups Protest at Marquette’s Campus

Problematic actions have come not only from within campus communities, but from outside groups intent on disrupting policies supportive of LGBTQ people. Ten people from the ultra-right-wing organization American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property protested at Marquette University about the school’s support for transgender students.

Enrique Tejada III, a student who coordinates the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, organized a counter protest because, he told The Marquette Wire:

” ‘We align with Christ-like ideals of respect, support and compassion and we hope we can be a light for the community. We are charged to be the difference and we want to be that everyday for faculty, staff and students.’ “

Administrators, including Provost Dan Myers and Dr. William Welburn, who directs the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, lent their support. Welburn said the protestors should read Marquette’s values and “respect our position on human dignity and what we teach our students.”

Pride Week Starts at Stonehill College

Finally, a bit of positive news from Stonehill College, Massachusetts, which celebrated its first ever PRIDE Week in mid-October, hosting events that recognized and affirmed LGBTQ+ persons in the community and provided a space for allies to show solidarity.

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These stories from Catholic campuses across the United States are reminders that despite the positive steps of establishing resource centers and allowing LGBT student groups, colleges and universities affiliated with the church still face some of the same challenges any institution faces when it comes to prejudices and fears. But it is worth reflecting, too, on the ways which LGBT-negative church teaching and a less affirming ecclesial culture impair Catholic higher education from offering a more robust and unequivocal embrace of LGBT community members.

Catholic education should aid all students in coming to know God’s love by living into their authentic self, so the question worth asking is whether schools doing enough to curtail ignorance and hate so this flourishing becomes possible for every student?

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.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 22, 2016

Santa Clara University Responds to Anti-LGBT Slurs, Swastikas

Santa Clara University experienced multiple hate crimes last month, including messages against LGBT people, incidents which have energized members of the campus community to express their solidarity and demand change.

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Student vandalizing a poster at SCU

Vandals struck the California Jesuit school twice this past October, reported campus newspaper The Santa Clara:

“Over the weekend in Casa Italiana Residence Hall, a swastika was drawn in blood in an elevator and derogatory messages aimed at the LGBTQ community were written on a fourth floor hallway bulletin board. These acts came just two weeks after the 43 Students Memorial was defaced.”

The anti-LGBT messages appeared days before National Coming Out Day, when students on campus expressed their solidarity by affixing supportive fabric signs to their backpacks and coming out on social media. But LGBT programming and a generally affirming campus environment do not preclude prejudice said some students. Alaina Boyle, a senior who directs the Santa Clara Community Action Program and is queer, told The Santa Clara:

” ‘I have experienced discrimination and words of persecution from people on our campus before. . .I’m not surprised to hear that this is how some people really feel. . .I think there’s this overarching atmosphere of it being okay to put down certain groups and to speak out about how you feel about minority groups. I think that’s normalizing the hatred.’ “

Students and several offices on campus organized a march in which 70 students, staff, faculty, and administrators participated. Marchers changed “We are one” and “Love not hate” during the witness, about which the Multicultural  Center’s director Isaac Nieblas explained to The Santa Clara:

“We want to be loud and we want to be proud and we want to showcase that regardless of the symbols of hate and undertone of racism and misogyny and bigotry that exists here on this campus. . .We are not going to stand for it and we are going to start moving forward hand and hand.”Fr. Michael Engh, SJ, the University’s president, participated in the march and explained that he was there because “it is important that the administration

Fr. Michael Engh, SJ, the University’s president, participated in the march and explained that he was there because “it is important that the administration demonstrate that all students are welcome here.” Engh said the acts had violated a “sense of home” on campus.

Administrators hosted a community forum shortly after the acts of vandalism to address students’ questions, and the Multicultural Center facilitated restorative circles to help students process the incidents.

The forum was tense, according to The Santa Clara, as students asked whether the perpetrators would remain on campus and administrators refused to give details citing confidentiality requirements and the involvement of the Santa Clara Police Department. Students also questioned why administrators had used terms like “bias incident” and “act of discrimination” instead of “hate crime” to describe the events.

A statement from 25 LGBTQ community members was subsequently released, condemning the acts and naming four demands:

“The document contains four core demands, including that the acts be called hate crimes rather than acts of discrimination and that a full description of the vandalism be released to the Santa Clara community.

“The statement also demands that the university increase the security of campus surveillance footage to prevent images of hate crimes from circulating around the university and ‘re-traumatizing’ affected communities.

“The joint statement also calls for using a ‘transformative justice’ approach in order to hold the perpetrators accountable. This would allow those affected to address the perpetrators directly.”

The topic of hate crimes targeting LGBT people and other marginalized communities is quite present in the U.S. today after the presidential election. Though these incidents at Santa Clara happened in October, the negative effects such crimes cause are harm more than just the campus community. What should not be lost is that not only tragedy occurred at Santa Clara, but solidarity from church leaders and an appeal for transformative justice by campus groups.

Clearly, the teachings of the church on justice, solidarity, and reconciliation are foremost considerations for the community at Santa Clara University. The rest of us would do well to keep these teachings at the forefront of our lives, too, in these coming months and years when it seems hate is poised to raise its ugly head.

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.

 

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 21, 2016

Top Vatican Official for Family Life Rebukes U.S. Bishops

Pope Francis’ top official for marriage and family issues criticized his U.S. colleagues this week for their failure to engage the pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia during their meeting. His criticism comes as larger questions are raised anew about the ongoing divide between bishops in the U.S. and the pope, and what the bishops’ direction will be these next few years.

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Archbishop Kevin Farrell

Archbishop Kevin Farrell, the cardinal-designate tasked with leading the Vatican’s new Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, made his remarks during the fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) this week.

Farrell directly rebuked Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and other bishops who have released pastoral guidelines on the exhortation, without broader consultation, telling Catholic News Service:

“I think that it would have been wiser to wait for the gathering of the conference of bishops where all the bishops of the United States or all the bishops of a country would sit down and discuss these things. . .[to ensure] an approach that would not cause as much division among bishops and dioceses, and misunderstandings.”

Farrell said that even though bishops must respond to their local contexts, “they need to be open to listening to the Holy Spirit and open to what the bishops of the world” discussed during the Synod on the Family. Asked specifically about Chaput’s restrictive guidelines, which, among other sanctions, ban gay and lesbian people in relationships from parish ministries and seek to deny Communion to some Catholics, Farrell said:

” ‘I don’t share the view of what Archbishop Chaput did, no. . .I think there are all kinds of different circumstances and situations that we have to look at — each case as it is presented to us.

” ‘I think that is what our Holy Father is speaking about, is when we talk about accompanying, it is not a decision that is made irrespective of the couple.’ “

Farrell said the church cannot be “closing the doors before we even listen to the circumstances and the people,” but must rather say the church will work and walk with couples outside a heteronormative framework “to bring them into full communion.”

There was almost no other mention of Amoris Laetitia during the USCCB meeting which concluded yesterday, reported the National Catholic Reporter. Incoming Conference president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, confirmed in a press conference that no national conversation or Conference initiative was planned for implementing the exhortation’s vision. He assured reporters that conversations and local programs were, however, happening.

An ad hoc committee headed by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia compiled a four-and-a-half page report on such diocesan-level responses, in which he includes, as a resource, his own highly-criticized guidelines.  The report will receive no formal attention during the meeting, said Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, a member of the Communications Committee.

At a recent speech delivered at the University of Notre Dame, Chaput presented a vision of the church which is very much at odds with Pope Francis’ more expansive vision. He told attendees they should “never be afraid of a smaller, lighter church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness,” reported the National Catholic Reporter. Chaput continued:

” ‘Losing people who are members of the church in name only is an imaginary loss. . .It may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay. We should be focused on commitment, not numbers or institutional throw-weight.’ “

Chaput targeted Democratic politicians for, in part, their support of LGBT rights, suggesting that Vice President Joe Biden and others were “cowards” promoting “silent apostasy.” He praised now President-elect Donald Trump’s “gift for twisting the knife in America’s leadership elite and their spirit of entitlement, embodied in the person of Hillary Clinton.” Chaput also subtly attacked Islam, the accompaniment model for ministry preferred by Pope Francis, and even just being inclusive which he said was “not just lying but an act of betrayal and violence” if church teaching is not first upheld firmly.

Pope Francis himself provided a message to the USCCB meeting via video message which emphasized his more expansive vision for the church. Though ostensibly about the Fifth National Hispanic Pastoral Encuentro beginning January 2017, the pope’s words are applicable broadly for the Conference’s work if only the bishops would hear them. The pope said, in part:

“Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter, which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experiences, to break down walls and to build bridges.  The Church in America, as elsewhere, is called to “go out” from its comfort zone and to be a leaven of communion. Communion among ourselves, with our fellow Christians, and with all who seek a future of hope.”

Observers of the USCCB have noted for several years how distant mostU.S. bishops are from the pastoral vision of Pope Francis, championing opposition to abortion and LGBT rights above a more consistent ethic of life and the pastoral accompaniment of Catholics. Michael Sean Winters commented in the National Catholic Reporter about the Conference’s failed religious liberty campaign:

“In his update to the body on the work of the ad hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, Archbishop William Lori said they were making a difference. Are they? The centerpiece of their campaign, the ‘Fortnight for Freedom,’ garners little attention. In the popular press, religious liberty is now usually accompanied by scare quotes. In the popular mind, the cause of religious liberty is linked to discrimination against gays and lesbians, and not without reason. If that will be the faultline for religious freedom litigation in the years ahead, I shudder at the prospects for religious freedom.”

It is less clear what message the election of Cardinal DiNardo as USCCB president and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles as vice president sends about this divide between Rome and Baltimore. As Bondings 2.0 noted yesterday, they are more moderate choices from the given slate of candidates but they are certainly not positive voices for LGBT people.

But DiNardo told Crux that the election of a bishop who oversees a largely immigrant diocese and a bishop who is Hispanic, might be sending a message that the U.S. church stands with immigrant communities under a Trump administration. If this is true, we can hope it suggests a shift in the Conference away from its fixation on stopping LGBT rights to a much-needed focus on defending vulnerable populations who are far less safe than they were November 7.

Finally, activists have shown they will not stop pushing the USCCB on gender and sexuality issues. Earlier this week, DignityUSA members held a vigil outside the Conference to remember victims of the Orlando massacre this past June and call on bishops to use proper language for LGBT people. Elsewhere, former Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois raised a banner during the opening Mass, calling on the bishops to stop persecuting gay people. Bridget Mary Meehan described the action on her personal blog, writing:

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Rev. Roy Bourgeois protests U.S. bishops treatment of gays, and he is joined by Rev. Janice Sevre-Duszynska, a Roman Catholic Woman Priest, who supported women’s ordination.

“[Roy’s face] looked angelic. He felt led by the Spirit, he said, to proclaim the message on his banner to the leaders of the US Church: ‘Bishops, Stop Persecuting Gays.’ He said he had to pull himself and the banner away from a security guard before making his way to the altar. There he bowed down and kissed it before holding up the banner to the bishops and turning it to the people of God. Then, he said, two priests tried to pull the banner away from him and he felt like they attacked him. He was surprised because they were priests. He had expected them to just allow him to walk out.”

From the Vatican (via Farrell) and the pews, it seems bishops in the U.S. are being asked to be more faithful to their office as shepherds and less eager to be politicians whose actions are corrosive to both ecclesial unity and people’s wellbeing.

Later this week, Bondings 2.0 will explore further responses which Catholic bishops have offered to Amoris Laetitia beyond the United States.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 17, 2016

 

How USCCB Leadership Candidates Have Approached LGBT Issues

UPDATE:  The election results are in:  Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston was elected president and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles was elected vice president. It looks like the bishops chose the most moderate leaders from the slate of ten described below.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) elects its new leadership for the next three years this morning, and will discuss as well its strategic plan for implementing priorities adopted last November. Each time the USCCB has met since Pope Francis’ election in 2014, observers have wondered when U.S. bishops would come around to the pope’s more pastoral vision for the church. Today’s post focuses in on the slate of ten presidential/vice-presidential candidates and their record on LGBT issues.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond
Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans is considered among the more pastoral candidates, including his approach to LGBT communities. In 2013, he announced a new outreach initiative in the archdiocese, and apologized to the LGBT community for the Church’s silence in 1973 when 32 people were killed and dozens wounded in an arson fire at a New Orleans gay bar. Aymond encouraged Catholic parishes to maintain affiliations with the Boy Scouts after the organization accepted openly gay leaders in 2015. That same year, the archbishop personally apologized to a gay man denied Communion at his parent’s funeral. Aymond was a candidate in the last USCCB election at which point he told the media, “I think that there are really people who believe, unfortunately, that the church is against people who are [gay and lesbian] or we don’t honor or give dignity to people who are of same sex orientation, and that is not true.”

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Archbishop Charles Chaput

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia just last month called for a “smaller, lighter” church of those he deems orthodox, and he issued pastoral guidelines this summer barring several categories of people from public ministry. One gay man has already been banned from being a lector under these guidelines, and other church workers have been sanctioned in the archdiocese in recent years. Chaput is no fan of Pope Francis and was a detractor of the Synod on the Family, along with ejecting LGBT groups from holding workshops on Catholic property during the 2015 World Meeting of Families. He is noted for ejecting children with same-gender parents access from Catholic school and voicing the antipathy of right-wing Catholics towards Pope Francis’ more welcoming style, even as a Villanova University study (in his own archdiocese) identified LGBT issues as a leading cause of declining Church attendance.

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Cardinal Daniel DiNardo

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston was elected by his peers in the Conference to participate in the 2015 Synod on the Family. While there, he was among thirteen cardinals who signed a letter to Pope Francis essentially criticizing the pope’s handling of the 2014 synodal assembly. The Associated Press reported that DiNardo commented on Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” comment by saying it is really just what would be said about anyone. Last year, the cardinal opposed changes to the USCCB’s document on elections which had been criticized for its fixation on opposing marriage equality and a handful of other issues.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez
Archbishop José Gomez

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles is a leading Hispanic Catholic figure and presides over one of the US’ largest archdioceses.  Gomez opposed the teaching of LGBT history in California state education and signed onto a letter by several bishops opposing the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act because it now includes ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as protected classes.

Archbishop William Lori
Archbishop William Lori

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore criticized President Barack Obama’s executive order in 2014 to protect LGBT employees from discrimination. Lori led the USCCB’s religious liberty efforts, including the “Fortnight for Freedom,” which claimed the Catholic Church’s freedom was being attacked in part because of expanding LGBT equality. After moving to Baltimore, he opposed marriage equality in Maryland. He initially tried to downplay Pope Francis’ gay-friendly comments, but, in a hopeful sign, he said he will now rethink statements on LGBT and other controversial matters to see if they truly bring people to the Gospel.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron
Archbishop Allen Vigneron

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit has compared breaking up same-gender relationships to the Exodus where Moses led the Hebrews to freedom. In 2015, he attempted to ban Catholics who support marriage equality from Communion. His comments prompted outcry from Catholic parents in Michigan, and from Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton (links here and here) and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson. He also banned Fortunate Families from using church property because of their speaker, Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry.

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Archbishop Thomas Wenski

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami criticized Vice President Joe Biden earlier this year for officiating at a same-gender wedding, and has been quite critical of LGBT rights. This summer, Wenski even so far as to attack publicly his brother bishop, Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, for saying the church’s rhetoric had a role in the Orlando massacre. After marriage equality became legal in 2015, Wenski warned church workers in a letter that they would lose their jobs if they supported LGBT equality. Previously, Wenski wrote a letter to Catholics in which he opposed marriage equality by saying that it would open  up the path to polygamy.  Prior to being made archbishop of Miami, he was bishop of Orlando, Florida, where he closed down a well-established diocesan ministry to lesbian and gay people.

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Archbishop John Wester

Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe has a more moderate record than most other candidates when it comes to LGBT issues. Last year, he supported non-discrimination legislation in Utah (where he was formerly bishop). Wester said the law  “honored the rights of both the LGBT community as well as the religious community. It allowed us to have our beliefs in the public square and to have people in the LGBT community not being discriminated against in such basic things as housing and employment. We felt it was in line with our Catholic social teaching.”

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City criticized a court ruling that legalized marriage equality in Oklahoma in 2014. Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville has no strong record on LGBT issues.

Essentially unrepresented on the slate of presidential candidates are any true “Francis Bishops,” like Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, who will be made a cardinal later this month, or Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego. John Gehring of Faith in Public Life commented to the National Catholic Reporter:

” ‘There are bishops who recognize the pope’s pastoral approach and priorities are exactly what’s needed to begin recalibrating the church’s voice in the public square. . .Other bishops seem more comfortable doubling down on an approach that hasn’t been successful at inspiring people.’ “

Later today, the USCCB will also consider a strategic plan for its priorities adopted last November. These priorities were criticized by observers and even some bishops for not reflecting Pope Francis’ vision for the church. Archbishop Joseph Tobin, who was recently appointed to lead the Newark Archdiocese and who will be elevated to the College of Cardinals later this month, was among the critics. He said while there are no real problems with the priorities, they did not reflect the “newness that Pope Francis is bringing to the church universal.”

Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese said it was “too late and too embarrassing” to revise the priorities, but suggested that a resolution endorsing Pope Francis’ major documents — Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si, and Amoris Laetitia — as guidelines for their strategic plan would help. The bishops need to practice “more dialogue, more pastoral sensitivity, and more compassion,” said Reese who also commented in the National Catholic Reporter:

“Such a resolution would put a different spin on the meaning of ‘evangelization’ and ‘marriage and family’ in the USCCB priorities. It would mean that evangelization programs in the U.S. should reflect in content and tone Evangelii Gaudium. It would mean that programs on marriage and family should reflect the content and tone of Amoris Laetitia. All old programs and policies would have to be reexamined to see if they reflect these documents. . .How the church approaches and accompanies divorced Catholics, gays, and those who disagree with the bishops would therefore have to change.”

Failing to shift their work will only perpetuate the harm already done. Michael Sean Winters wrote in the National Catholic Reporter:

“The conference has continued to make their priority a crusade for religious freedom that has damaged the brand in ways their enemies could not do. . .They have since wedded the fight for religious liberty to efforts to discriminate against LGBT Americans, further damaging the cause by associating it with bigotry and alienating millions of young Catholics in the process.”

Winters concluded by asking whether the bishops would follow Pope Francis or “continue to let their actions and views be informed by the Catholic alt-right?”, and continued:

“No one should be sanguine about the [bishops’] antipathy towards Pope Francis. Electing culture warriors to leadership of the conference is a direct refutation of the guidance offered by Pope Francis and we all know it.”

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that many bishops in the United States are still clearly opposed to the vision of a church that is inclusive and merciful so frequently promoted by Pope Francis. For bishops like Charles Chaput and Allen Vigneron, when it comes to LGBT people this opposition to the pope’s outreach is doubly true.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 14, 2016