Taiwanese Catholic Candidate Endorses LGBT Rights–and Other Political News

Philip Chen Chien-jen

A Catholic vice presidential candidate in Taiwan’s upcoming elections this week offered a general endorsement of LGBT rights, though hesitated on the question of marriage equality. Below are three recent instances where Catholic politicians have advanced equality.

Taiwanese Candidate Expresses LGBT Support

Philip Chen Chien-jen is the Democratic Progressive Party’s vice presidential nominee in Taiwan’s general elections scheduled for January 16. Chen, who is Catholic and holds knighthoods in the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and the Order of St. Gregory the Great, was asked about marriage equality at a press event. According to UCA News, he replied:

” ‘God loves everyone and so he also loves gay people. . .Therefore, I also believe that gays have the right to pursue happiness and we should respect that right. . .But since same-sex marriage involves a change in society’s system, it needs more in-depth discussion before a decision is made.’ “

Presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen, alongside whom Chen is running, favors marriage equality which is widely supported by the public. They are favored to win and, if they do, Chen will likely be involved in efforts to equalize marriage rights.

Chen considers his candidacy a calling from God and consulted with Taipei’s Archbishop John Hung Shan-chuan before announcing. The archbishop said Chen’s participation “would be a model for the 270,000 Catholics in Taiwan,” commenting to UCA News that Vatican II called Catholics into political participation. It is worth noting, too, that Chen’s candidacy is seen as a possible step toward better developments in Vatican-China relations. Unlike Catholic politicians elsewhere, whose relationship with the hierarchy is strained due to their LGBT support, Chen’s seems positive.

John Bel Edwards

Governor-Elect Promises Non-discrimination Order

Governor-Elect John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, who is Catholic, has promised LGBT employment non-discrimination protections, reported The Times-Picayune. Edwards will announce an executive order barring firing, discrimination, and harrassment against LGBT state employees and contractors when he takes office. Though limited in scope, it would be the first statewide non-discrimination protections in Louisiana.

Edwards is replacing short-lived presidential candidate and fellow Catholic, Governor Bobby Jindal, whose record is quite negative on LGBT issues.

Patrick Wojahn, right, and husband Dave Kolesar

Marriage Equality Plaintiff Elected Mayor

Patrick Wojahn was elected the first openly gay mayor of College Park, Maryland, reported The Diamondback.

Wojahn and his husband, Dave Kolesar, were plaintiffs in a lawsuit which was an important step in the struggle for marriage equality in the state. He continued to have a leadership role in the marriage equality movement when it passed on to legislative and referendum debates.

The couple were married in a non-legal religious ceremony at Dignity/Washington, an LGBT Catholic group, where they are members, and then later in a civil ceremony after marriage equality passed in the state in 2012.

In eight years on the City Council, Wojahn also helped pass nondiscrimination protections based on religious, gender, and sexual identities among other categories.

In increasing numbers, Catholic politicians are supporting full legal equality for LGBT constituents. This blog frequently features the good works towards LGBT inclusion being done by Catholics in the church, but Catholics’ work inspired by their faith in civil society should not be forgotten.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Louisiana Archbishop Stresses Pastoral Over Political in Marriage Case

A reporter once asked me what I thought of bishops who protest that their statements against marriage equality were not homophobic.  I answered that I thought the bishops sometimes don’t realize how demeaning their statements about marriage are to gay and lesbian people.  Because they often don’t know the experience of gay and lesbian couples, they often make vicious statements about marriage equality, and often make legal and political statements and not pastoral ones.  I think that many of them don’t even recognize how damaging their words and thoughts are.

Last week in Louisiana, a federal judge upheld the state’s definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman, thus ruling out any possibility of marriage equality (without changing that law first).  While Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage,  gave a response based on legality, it is interesting that Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans instead used the opportunity to stress the idea of pastoral ministry to LGBT people.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Although Aymond supported the decision, in an interview he stated that

“It is my hope that through our pastoral ministry to the Catholic LGBT community we can minister to their spiritual needs and walk with them through their life journeys because as our brothers and sisters and children of God they must be loved and respected and always treated with dignity.”

What’s remarkable about this statement?  Well, first of all Aymond refers to “LGBT Catholics,” a term that few bishops would even dare breathe.  Instead of “LGBT,” they usually say “those with same-sex attractions.”   That, in itself, is a step forward.

Second, he stresses the idea of pastoral ministry focusing on spiritual needs and accompaniment, not on requiring celibacy.  That, too, is a step forward.

Aymond seems to have an awareness that there is more to LGBT people’s lives and experiences than just sexual matters.  He also seems more concerned about pastoral ministry than about politics.

The archbishop did support the decision, but he did so using very low-key rhetoric:

“The redefinition of marriage is a moral one for us as Catholics. We as Catholics believe marriage is defined in the Bible and through our Catholic Church teaching as a union between a man and a woman.”

My sense is that Archbishop Aymond has had some pastoral experience with LGBT people, and that he recognizes the consequences of any language that he might use.  It is not the first time since he has been archbishop of New Orleans that he has done something positive in regard to LGBT issues.  In 2013, he apologized for the Church’s silence in 1973 after 32 people were killed and dozens wounded in an arson fire at a New Orleans gay bar.  Also that year, he expressed openness to welcoming all to the Church, noting: “Part of respecting people is respecting their freedom.”

The U.S. bishops should learn from Aymond’s example, which seems to be very much in the mold of Pope Francis.  Yet, just recently the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops joined with other religious organizations to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to make a decide against the states’ constitutional right to enact marriage equality laws. According to an Associated Press story:

“The religious groups urged the Supreme Court on the basis of tradition and religious freedom to uphold a state’s right to disallow gay and lesbian couples to wed.”

The Supreme Court has not said yet if it would hear the case or not.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


PFLAG’s Executive Director Discusses His Catholic Roots

Jody Huckaby, the Executive Director of PFLAG (Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), is profiled in The Advocate, the national LGBT news magazine.

A native of the heavily Catholic state of Louisiana, Huckaby’s profile begins with a familiar story:

“Jody M. Huckaby grew up Catholic, went to Catholic schools and was raised by devout Catholic parents in Eunice.

“So when Huckaby, 47, told his parents while he was in college that he is gay, it was “tough” to do, he recalls.

“ ‘It’s very hard when your religion tells you something is wrong but then you are talking about your child’” Huckaby said recently.

“Still, his parents, who were both raised in Church Point, eventually accepted Huckaby for who he is.

“ ‘They started out rejecting it. Then they moved to tolerance and then went to acceptance and finally they celebrated it,’ Huckaby said.

“The personal journey Huckaby and his parents went through was one of the big reasons Huckaby took a job more than seven years ago as executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays National, also known as PFLAG National.

“PFLAG is a family and straight ally organization that helps to advance equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals through support, education and advocacy.”

Jody Huckaby

The article notes that PFLAG is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.  Begun in 1972, the organization now has over 350  chapters across the country.  Huckaby will be visiting one of the newest chapters in Baton Rouge, the capital of his native state, as this local group celebrates their first anniversary:

“Huckaby said he is excited to speak in Baton Rouge next month not only because of his family ties to Louisiana — he has a sister living in the capital city who is a Catholic nun — but because of the population growth the city has experienced since Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005.

“The Baton Rouge chapter president, Carol Frazier, said the organization has achieved steady attendance at its monthly meetings at the Unitarian Church on Goodwood Boulevard.

“ ‘We have between 25 and 35 attendees each month. I think that’s good compared to other chapters that are only a year old. We do see new people each month,’ Frazier said.

“The Baton Rouge meetings usually feature a guest speaker as well as breakout sessions enabling small groups of members to talk about “whatever comes up,” Frazier said.

“ ‘The parents meet in their own group. They don’t always feel comfortable with the younger people,’ Frazier said.

“Varied reactions, feelings and emotions frequently arise in those smaller sessions, Frazier said, ranging from tears and laughter to silence, she said.

“ ‘You can see an interesting growth in people. I remember a mom who came and she didn’t say a word. She didn’t accept her child’s news. Now she speaks freely and is very accepting,’ Frazier said.”

Huckaby offers advice based on his own family’s experience:

“ ‘You can’t preach. People will just walk away. A big message we have is you do not have to throw out your faith to be accepting and loving,’ Huckaby said.

“Although Huckaby and his parents had no experiences with PFLAG when he confided back in college that he is gay, his mother’s turning point to acceptance and understanding of her son came from another, more traditional source.

“Huckaby said his mother read the ‘Dear Abby’ column in the Eunice News religiously throughout her life.

“One day, she read a letter in the column from the mother of a lesbian who asked how she was supposed to deal with the news.

“ ‘The advice was, you still need to love your child just like you did the day before. The second piece of advice was to go find PFLAG and get more information,’ Huckaby said.”

At New Ways Ministry, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, we have witnessed the good work of PFLAG for most of its history.  Although not a religious organization, PFLAG’s simple example of listening, solidarity, and support is a model for the way ministry to parents of LGBT people should flourish.

Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents with LGBT sons and daughters, provides just this type of ministry from a Catholic perspective, in the form of their Listening Parents network:  parents who have been through the experience of their child’s coming out who are available to listen to and be supportive of parents who are just learning such news. (The founders of Fortunate Families, Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, have contributed two blog posts to Bondings 2.0 on family ministry.  You can access those here and here.)

New Ways Ministry salutes PFLAG on their 40th anniversary and prays in thanksgiving for all they have done to make the world a better place for LGBT people!  We wish them every success in the future!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Remembering Fr. Howard Hall, Pioneer of Catholic LGBT Ministry

Fr. Howard Hall

Father Howard Hall, one of the pioneers of LGBT ministry in the Catholic church, has passed away from pancreatic cancer.  Fr. Hall was instrumental in developing diocesan ministry to LGBT people in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and he was involved in the work of so many of the national Catholic organizations that work for justice and equality for LGBT people:  Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry, New Ways Ministry, Fortunate Families, and Dignity.

I had the pleasure of meeting Howard on several occasions over the years, and he was always a gentle and joy-filled presence.  My greatest memory of him comes from the summer of 2000 when I spent two weeks doing New Ways Ministry workshops in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.  Howard was instrumental in helping us set up and promote the workshop I conducted in his hometown of Baton Rouge.  It is a testimony to the great groundwork that he did there that this workshop was one of the best attended that I have conducted in 18 years of this ministry.

Like many people, I will remember Howard for his great kindness and generosity.  While I was planning that trip to the Gulf Coast, Howard realized that it would be a grueling schedule for me, as I spent each day traveling and doing a program for almost two weeks straight.  To alleviate the stress, Howard offered me use of his small cabin in the countryside not far from Baton Rouge for two days of solitude and silence.  It was a modest, cozy place, and I’ll never forget the peace that I experienced there or the generosity of the priest who provided it.

Howard’s accomplishments in LGBT ministry are many.  He helped establish a Dignity chapter in Baton Rouge in 1973, one of the first chapters outside of California.  He served on the board of CALGM in the early years of its formation when it was known as the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian/Gay Ministries (NACDLGM).  In 2005, when the Vatican advised against accepting gay candidates to seminaries, Howard wrote to the directors of clergy formation and education in every U.S. diocese, urging them to practice caution in applying this hurtful directive.

A long list of his involvements and accomplishments can be read on his profile on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Religious Archives Network website.

Howard will be greatly missed by all who have worked in LGBT ministry in the Catholic church. We are comforted knowing that we now have a new saint in heaven to whom we can pray for justice and equality in our church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry