Are Civil Unions Coming to Italy? Pope Francis & Bishops Hope Not

January 30, 2016
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Pope Francis

Italy’s Parliament began debating civil unions for same-gender couples this week. Whatever the outcome of a vote expected next Tuesday, Catholics have and will continue to play an essential role in the debate. In a two-part story (today and tomorrow), Bondings 2.0 will highlight Catholics’ varying responses to the potential for same-sex unions being recognized next door to the Vatican.

First, and inevitably, there is speculation about how Pope Francis will engage civil unions in Italy. In a speech to the Roman Rota last week, the pope rejected any legal recognition of same-gender relationships, using his strongest language to date. How to interpret his remarks remains disputed and some have suggested, according to The Washington Post, that his comments had nothing at all to do with Italy’s current debate. Theologian Massimo Faggioli, writing in Commonweal, commented that the pope’s address was notably different from his predecessors who would explicitly comment on Italian politics and reference “non-negotiable values.”

In The Washington Post story, Anthony Faiola compared Francis’ approach to Benedict XVI’s response to a civil unions proposal in 2007:

“As Italy now undertakes its most serious effort yet to legalize civil unions, the more nuanced response of the Vatican in its own back yard is turning the bill into a test case for whether Francis’s inclusive tone can translate to change on the ground.

” ‘My impression is that the pope is determined not to be confrontational and fight this law,’ said Massimo Franco, a Vatican watcher and columnist for Italy’s Corriere della Sera.”

Faggioli also sees a distinct difference, noting that Pope Francis was “not directly endorsing the upcoming Family Day [protests],” not appealing to Italian politicians or Catholics directly on the matter, and emphasizing repeatedly that the matter is “in the hands of the Catholic laity.”

Faggioli also identified a split in Italy’s Church between “Pope Francis Catholics” and “those who favor a more muscular response.” In Faggioli’s analysis, Francis’ foremost aim here is “protecting the authority of the pope from any attempt to manipulate it” by Italy’s bishops. He wrote:

“Italian bishops are divided, and the once-powerful lay movements are divided between progressives afraid to go on the record in favor of legislation on same-sex unions or same-sex marriage, and those who continue to use the rhetoric of the culture war and plan to descend on Rome for the rally. The paradox is that the only Catholics who are responding to Francis’s call for the engagement of the laity in public issues are those who use the bellicose language that Francis makes a point of eschewing. Catholics who welcome Francis’s style and ecclesiology are now less organized and less motivated to stake out visible positions in the church and in politics.”

Less nuanced, but still changing, is the response from Italy’s bishops who “have largely sided with the opposition” and helped rally anti-LGBT support. The Post noted, however, that the Italian Episcopal Conference “is not directly sponsoring” a planned protest against civil unions this weekend.

Bishop Nunzio Galantino, the Conference’s general secretary, told Corriere della Sera that society must acknowledge somehow the “growing presence of unions of a different kind” becaue “the state has a duty to give answers to everyone, respecting the common good first.” The newspaper also noted another important fact:

“The Italian news media took note when Francis abruptly canceled a meeting with Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, the president of the Italian bishops conference, after he publicly backed the Family Day protest.”

What impact is all this having on the civil unions debate? Gabrielle Piazzoni of ARCIGAY, an Italian LGBT equality organization, said Pope Francis has had “a meaningful influence” because:

” ‘It’s clear to everyone that the Holy See does not intend to openly support the call to arms coming from other Catholics in Italy.”

If civil unions are approved, Italy will be the last nation in Western Europe (minus Vatican City) to extend legal rights to same-gender couples. The nation faces increasing European pressure to recognize same-gender couples. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italy violated LGB human rights by not doing so. Some LGBT advocates say civil unions are a compromise, but admit marriage equality remains unrealistic in a country where ecclesial politics are intimately tied to civil politics.

Though the Parliament’s house will likely pass the bill, it is unknown whether there will be enough support in the Senate, particularly if a clause allowing adoption of children biologically tied to one partner is included.

Tomorrow’s post will look more closely at Italian Catholics have been involved in the civil unions debate.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Dominican Catholic Officials Again Attack Gay U.S. Ambassador

January 13, 2016
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Ambassador James Brewster, left, and husband Bob Satawake

Church leaders in the Dominican Republic have issued an open letter against LGBT human rights efforts, and they included an attack on openly gay U.S. Ambassador James Brewster.

The letter, whose two dozen signatories includes Catholic and Evangelical leaders, is written to the nation’s president and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It claimed the United States and the United Nations seek to invite Dominican children “to begin practicing gay and lesbian practices” through educational literature on sexuality and gender. It said further:

” ‘This initiative to turn our adolescents gay early on is an initiative of the U.S. government that is run by a homosexual and represented by another homosexual in the Dominican Republic.’ “

That second figure is Ambassador Brewster, whom the letter criticized for participating in Pride celebrations last year and further slandered, reported The Washington Blade.

Brewster has faced repeated attacks from Catholic officials since his appointment, particularly by Santo Domingo’s Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus López Rodriguez. The cardinal most recently said Brewster was “wife to a man” and should stick to housework. López used an anti-gay slur to refer to the ambassador in 2013 and said Brewster should “take his gay pride elsewhere.”  The Washington Blade reported that López once described LGBT tourists as “social trash” and “degenerates.” Cardinal López’s remarks made Bondings 2.0’s lists of Worst Catholic LGBT News in both 2013 and 2015.

Despite these attacks, the State Department is standing beside Ambassador Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake. Spokesperson Pooja Jhunjhunwala said they “disagree in the strongest terms” with the letter’s claims and that Brewster advances U.S. policy on LGBT human rights “like all U.S. ambassadors.” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois appealed to Pope Francis on behalf of Brewster, asking the pontiff to curtail Cardinal López and the severe homophobia he pronounces in the church’s name.

When Catholic leaders attacked Ambassador Brewster last December, it was pointed out that Cardinal López was 79 years old, four years past 75, the church’s official retirement age for bishops.  Vicious attacks on any person should be grounds for such a dismissal; his prominence only augments their damage. It is far past time for Cardinal López to resign.

More action is needed, however. Intervention by Pope Francis in this severe case would not undermine his efforts towards decentralization. It would, rather, send a clear global message that such overt prejudice by Catholic officials will not be tolerated.  Words from Pope Francis’ latest interview are also instructive:

“[P]eople should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love.”

Somewhere, along the way, it seems a handful of Catholic clergy in the nation lost that message (they are not the first, nor likely last). This development does not mean Dominican Catholics cannot use the Year of Mercy to promote greater respect for and inclusion of LGBT communities and undo some of the damages so far inflicted.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Concerns Included in University of San Diego Student Demands

January 10, 2016

usdAs the new year gets underway,  college campuses will soon be in full swing.  Here are stories from three Catholic schools that are working for greater LGBT equality for their students.

USD Students’ Demand LGBTQ Justice

University of San Diego (USD) students have released a list of equality demands for marginalized students–including LGBTQ students–to kick off the spring semester. Uniting under “Concerned Students @ USD” and led by the Black Student Union, student groups and activists at the school are seeking a number of critic al campus reforms.

The 22 demands ask “that the university stand by its professed values now” to critically examine and change those aspects of campus life which are “exclusionary, alienating, and invalidating to its marginalized students.”

Though primarily focused on matters of racial justice, the intersectional approach means Concerned Students @ USD forcefully includes queer and transgender communities in their efforts. Related demands include:

  • Gender-neutral restrooms in every campus building;
  • Greater representation in administration and student leadership of “people of color, queer-identified people and women”;
  • Creation of a new Gender and Queer Studies department with a minimum of 12 full-time faculty;
  • A mandatory orientation program comprehensive of race, gender, and sexual identity;
  • Intentional inclusion of “cultural, LGBT and feminist student organizations” in campus programming;
  • A ban on Yik Yak, an anonymous social media application, where hate speech, including homophobic and transphobic remarks, are quite prominent.

USD President James Harris responded to the students’ demands in the campus newspaper The Vista at last semester’s end, calling upon all students to become involved with a newly begun strategic planning process where matters of justice and equality could be taken up.

University spokesperson Peter Marlow confirmed that Harris had met with involved students to help them participate in the planning process, though he added that “any fringe ideas that may be contrary to our Catholic identity would be vetted by a broad audience and even broader perspectives and priorities.”

DePaul University Considering Preferred Name Policy

Officials at Chicago’s DePaul University, the U.S.’ largest Catholic college, are considering a Student Preferred Name and Gender Policy. This proposed policy would allow students to identify their “preferred name” rather than legal name in university systems, as well as leave their gender “unspecified.” Katy Weseman, who coordinates LGBTQA Student Services, told campus newspaper The DePaulia this change is:

“Very much in line with DePaul’s mission, part of honoring a person’s human dignity is honoring and respecting how they identify and how they refer to themselves. . .this is very much a social justice issue.”

Marquette University Implements Gender-Neutral Restrooms

Students returning to Marquette University in Milwaukee this semester will have access to gender-neutral restrooms on the ground floor of all residence halls, reported campus newspaper Marquette Wire. The restrooms, labeled “All Gender,” are being welcomed by students. Marquette becomes the eighth Jesuit college in the U.S. to offer more transgender-inclusive restrooms.

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What is particularly impressive in all three stories is that it is both students and staff have been working, independently and in collaboration, for LGBT justice. Radical efforts from the grassroots, like Concerned Students @ USD, continue pushing already inclusive schools even further. Institutionalized reforms, like at DePaul and Marquette, ensure that students’ efforts become protected and permanent.

As another semester begins, Catholic higher education in the U.S. continues to lead the broader church in how we can improve LGBT acceptance and inclusion in our communities.

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


Fordham Student’s Coming Out Sparked by Nun’s Anti-Gay Lecture

January 7, 2016

 

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Connor Griffin

A new column in OutSports reveals the silver lining in one nun’s homophobic remarks, as well as the contrasts that remain in Catholic education when it comes to LGBT issues.

In the column, Connor Griffin explained his coming out during as a high school junior. His personal process was sparked by a homophobic lecture, given by Dominican Sister Jane Dominic Laurel at Charlotte Catholic High School, North Carolina.  Sr. Laurel’s talk, which you can read about here, relied upon pseudo-science and prejudice. It understandably drew strong protests from the school community; nearly 1,000 parents attended a town hall to discuss the incident. The nun is a member of the Nashville Dominicans, a community of traditionalist members.

For Griffin, the talk had a personal effect.  He said that it forced him “to realize things about myself I was not ready to accept.” Griffin’s attention drifted during the lecture, but when he listened, what he heard was cruel:

 “Being gay was completely a choice, she said, and no one was born that wayYou have decided to be a victim of your parents’ abandonment and that is the reason you have made the conscious decision to be gay.

Distressed, Griffin recalled thinking “Could I be gay?” and realized:

“Yes. Yes, I could. It was in that moment, sitting in that assembly listening to that speaker, that I realized my own truth. I quietly got up from my seat, not to draw any attention, and walked out of the gym. I felt a rush of emotions hit me as if the gym was suffocating me.

“I erupted in tears. What made me cry that day I still don’t know. Maybe it was the fact that I believed what this woman was saying, or maybe it could have been the fear that I had after finally realizing that I am gay.”

The following days were, in Griffin’s word, the toughest of his life as he came out to friends and family while “not yet ready to accept being gay.” Eventually, he wrote:

” It became so empowering to share my truth with people in my life. I felt I was caged for so long, and every time I told someone I felt as if I was breaking a link in the chain that was holding me down.”

Griffin, then on his high school’s swim team, decided to remain closeted to his team and even considered not swimming in college. But after visiting New York’s  Fordham University, Griffin found a campus – and a swim team – that not only welcomed him but respected and support him. He even cited a recent comment by University President, Fr. Joseph McShane, in the Outsports essay:

” ‘I make no apologies for…homophobia, nor indeed any kind of bigotry nor act that devalues another person or group.’ “

Charlotte Catholic High School officials–and indeed all Catholic school administrators–should take follow Fr. McShane’s lead.

Thankfully, Connor Griffin has now found a Catholic campus that welcomes him as a gay student and athlete. He is no longer subjected to homophobia sanctioned by administrators, but many students in Catholic high schools still suffer. It should be a baseline principle in Catholic education that every student at every school feel safe and respected concerning their sexual and/or gender identity. While there is now a silver lining to celebrate regarding Sr. Laurel’s anti-gay address, the reality is it should have never happened in the first place.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


LGBTQ Children in Catholic Families: A Deacon’s View of Holy Family Sunday

December 28, 2014

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Today’s post is written by a guest blogger: Deacon Ray Dever of St. Paul Catholic Church, Tampa, Florida.

On this first Sunday after Christmas, the Church observes the feast of the Holy Family.  And with that observance inevitably comes reflection on the nature and meaning of the Catholic family today.  Many within the Church still seem to hold an idealized and increasingly inaccurate vision of what a Catholic family looks like, in spite of the growing diversity of the families that comprise the people of God.  As one who would count my own family among that diversity, the topic of Catholic family holds considerable personal interest for me.

In the fall of 2013, at the beginning of our son’s sophomore year at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, he came out as transgender.  In doing so, she became one of only three openly trans* students at Georgetown at the time.  This happened just a few weeks after the now famous Pope Francis interview that made “Who am I to judge?” part of our vernacular.  And with those events, my family found ourselves plunged into all the questions and issues that Catholic families with LGBTQ children face. [Editor’s note:  The term “trans*” is used as a “catch-all” word for the diverse forms of gender identities (other than the traditional male/female binary) that exist in humanity.]

In our case, there was at least one notable difference.  Besides being a husband, father, and professional engineer, I’m a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church, having been ordained in 2009.  When the topic of married clergy comes up, many Catholics are taken aback when they’re told that the Church already has married clergy, mostly in the person of the approximately 18,000 permanent deacons in the US.  I can’t imagine what they would think if they realized there are Catholic clergy whose families include LGBTQ children!

Our journey has probably not been very different than the journey of any family with an LGBTQ child.  It really began with our daughter descending into a deep depression during high school.  We would learn more about depression and mental illness, about suicidal ideations and self-injurious behavior, about therapists and anti-depressant medications than we ever could have imagined or wanted.  That journey would eventually lead to questions of gender identity that were intimately connected with her mental health struggles.

When our daughter came out, my wife and I experienced the full range of thoughts and emotions that any parents do in that situation – shock at the news, a lack of understanding of gender issues, conflict with what the Church teaches about human sexuality, confusion and guilt about what we should do as parents, profound sadness at what felt like the loss of our son, fear and worry for what the future would hold for her.  There were arguments, sleepless nights, and prayers – lots of prayers.

We slowly came to the realization that we hadn’t lost the person who had been our son.  In fact, in many respects we got our child back, as she embraced her gender identity and emerged from the depths of depression.  All the creativity, humor, empathy, and intelligence that make her an exceptional person are still there and are shining through stronger than ever.  And I’d like to think that the acceptance of her immediate and extended Catholic family have played some part in that positive transformation.

However, family support for LGBTQ children is obviously not the rule, and is often problematic for Catholic families in particular, given the mixed and often confusing messages they hear from the Church regarding LGBTQ issues.  A few months ago I had the privilege of visiting with the LGBTQ Resource Center and the Catholic chaplain’s office at Georgetown.  While I was surprised and gratified by the warm welcome that I received as an interested, supportive parent of an LGBTQ student, I was saddened to hear that I was the exception and that there were far too many stories of families rejecting their LGBTQ children and of causing tremendous pain and family divisions.

While I am certainly not qualified or authorized to speak for the Church on LGBTQ issues, I have been commissioned by the Church through ordination to proclaim and to preach the Gospel.  And if one thing is crystal clear in the public ministry and teachings of our Lord, it is that everyone is included in His love and mercy and forgiveness, and that we are all called to do the same.  For those Catholic families with LGBTQ children that are struggling with what they should do, I would suggest that they look to the Holy Family.  Look to the love embodied in the Incarnation, a love like no other, and embrace your children.  As the Church calls us to do first and foremost, follow your conscience, love own another, and especially love your children.

–Deacon Ray Dever, St. Paul Catholic Church, Tampa, Florida

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CAMPUS CHRONICLES: LGBTQ Resources Expand at University of Notre Dame & Elsewhere

September 14, 2013

Classes are underway at over two hundred Catholic colleges and universities in the US, and with the new academic year comes expanded awareness of and resources for LGBT students at these schools, including celebrated developments at the University of Notre Dame.

Already, leading Catholic schools like Georgetown University, DePaul University, and Loyola Marymount University host LGBT resources and programming led by full-time staff, reports USA Today. Many others allow gay-straight alliances and other supportive student-run initiatives, especially colleges rooted in the Jesuit tradition. New Ways Ministry lists more than half of the US’ Catholic colleges and universities on their Gay-Friendly listing, and Catholic campuses become better on LGBT issues every year.

Staff members point out that merely allowing a resource center or student group is not an end though, given the Catholic context they work within, and tensions remain that require greater resolution. Several staff people spoke with USA Today on this matter, saying:

“Although Georgetown’s center has the largest endowment of any LGBTQ resource center in the country, director Sivagami Subbaraman says the programming’s legitimacy in a Catholic university is constantly questioned…

“Since moving into her new position, Maureen Doyle is still determining what her role will be as Notre Dame’s first assistant director of LGBTQ concerns. She plans to improve perceived tensions between Catholic teachings and sexual orientation through campus education.

” ‘I think a lot of it comes in with a misunderstanding of what the Catholic Church’s teachings are…What we’re doing actually doesn’t counter or go against any of the Catholic Church’s teachings. ‘

“Georgetown’s center aims to meet students where they are, rather than take theological positions or attempt to change Catholic teachings, Subbaraman says.”

At Notre Dame last week, over 140 students celebrated the launch of a new student group, PrismND, that was the culminating product of two decades of campus advocacy regarding a group for LGBTQ students. This fall will be a formative time for the group, and is a first step in implementing the University’s pastoral plan released in December 2012. Students and staff spoke with the campus newspaper, The Observer, about the group’s name and launch:

“Student body president Alex Coccia [who led the 4 to 5 Movement for an LGBTQ group] said…

“The fact that [the name] reflects quite a spectrum and a range of interests and passions and identities, I think is something that people will identify with and appreciate when the group gets off the ground’…

“Sophomore Connor Hayes, who helped to launch PrismND, said the name is intended to be all-inclusive, instead of specific to people who identify as LGBTQ.

“ ‘I think relating to the Catholic identity of [Notre Dame] and backgrounds of people coming from religious environments, [some] people don’t really want to identify as gay or lesbian, so … we were just going for a name that was very inclusive…We wanted this name to be one that can last and kind of become a brand.’ “

Christine Caron Gebhardt who heads up the University’s Gender Relations Center told The Observer:

“We realize this is about who we are as a community, and [PrismND is] one facet in which students can feel welcomed and loved and supported on this campus and that we will all work together to try to create the community that Notre Dame can be and I hope will be…“We want the student organization … to emerge from the ideas and the interests and the hopes and dreams of the students in collaboration with all of us across campus.’ “

Elsewhere this summer, members of the University of San Francisco’s LGBTQ Caucus joined in San Franciso’s Pride festivities with t-shirts sponsored by several campus departments (USF is a Jesuit school). In a piece discussing Christian higher education in Pennsylvania, that state’s Catholic colleges such as Villanova University, St. Joseph’s University, and Chestnut Hill College were depicted as  LGBT-friendly Christian campuses for not specifically targeting same-gender relationships in their student handbooks. Benedictine College in Kansas welcomed an openly gay student who was a star athlete, as well.

All of these moments are signs that Catholic higher education increasingly welcomes all students for who they are as God created them. However, challenges remain within Catholic higher education for LGBT students and their allies who will spend another semester this fall meeting with administrators, organizing students, and support one another on more hostile Catholic campuses. As the new academic year begins, it is a fitting moment to offer thanksgiving for advances made, prayers for those still needed, and a renewal by every Catholic to impact Catholic higher education in LGBT-positive ways.

For more information on PrismND, you can view their website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry



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