Priest Marches in Pride, Shares His Story of Being Gay and Faithful

August 31, 2016
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Fr. RJ at Manila Pride 2016

A gay Catholic priest in the Philippines marched at Pride this year, and recently shared his story about being gay, being ordained, and being faithful.

Fr.  RJ, a pseudonym, marched in Manila’s LGBT Pride Parade earlier this year, reported Rappler. Joined by family and friends, the priest told those celebrating:

” ‘I am gay. . .Homosexuality it is not an issue anymore within the Catholic clergy. . .Why should I be ashamed? My sexual preference never hindered my mission as a Catholic priest.

” ‘Since the day I understood my real identity and fully embraced my sexuality, I also got to understand how to serve God with everything I have, without pretending to be someone I am not.’ “

Ordained four years ago, Fr. RJ knew he was gay in adolescence, but, at the time, this knowledge was worrisome and confusing. The priest’s family was conservative, and the Philippines is a very traditionally Catholic nation. For several years, he kept quiet about being gay and focused on his studies. Then, he fell in love at college. Rappler reported his description of the experience:

” ‘I fell in love with a man who taught me how to accept my true identity,’ RJ said.

“RJ was swept into a year of ‘firsts.’ His first bouquet of roses, first time to hold hands while walking, first time to hear and get notes with ‘sweet nothings,’ his first kiss, and his first gay sexual encounter.

” ‘Our days were among the happiest moments of my life. I felt I belonged and recognized. I was freer; I didn’t have to hide my fears. I was me whenever I was with him.’ “

That relationship eventually ended, but Fr. RJ said he learned to “accept my true self and sexuality” through the experience. And soon after, he realized the call to priestly life.  Rappler’s report continued:

“The priest remembered how he prayed that pain and hatred leave his heart. The scars of his first agony were still there. . .Staring at the Paschal candle as it flickered in the cold afternoon breeze, the priest began to realize that his first love was not the man who broke his heart. It was Christ.”

Fr. RJ would begin formation a year later, and he has been in religious life since then, saying he has “never felt different or discriminated.” He commented:

” ‘I don’t know if they are aware that I am gay, but I believe, even if they do, they will not judge me. . .homosexuality is common within the organization of the priests.’

” ‘We crack jokes about it. We talk serious matters concerning sexuality and there are a lot of priests who are vocal they are homosexuals. . .[while others hide] inside the closet because of fear or confusion or guilt.”

Fr. RJ’s story has helped initiate a conversation about gay priests, and LGBT rights more broadly, in the Philippines. Professor Jayeel Serrano Cornelio of Ateneo de Manila University, a Catholic school where he directs the Development Studies Program, said “a priest who is gay is not unusual” and further:

” ‘For me, the bigger issue is whether many other Catholics still find it problematic. There are so many young people now who do not find it a problem at all. And maybe they are ‘freer’ because they are not priests. . .[the church should send] a stronger message of compassion and inclusion.’ “

Obstacles for gay priests remain, as the church has offered mixed messages about homosexuality and the priesthood. The Rappler news article quoted Fr. Eduardo Apungan of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines as saying openly gay men should not be admitted to the priesthood, but if a priest comes out as gay after being ordained, he should not be condemned. This stance was backed by Bishop Broderick Pabillo, auxiliary of Manila, an archdiocese led by the pastorally-oriented Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.

Pope Francis, himself, has weighed in about gay priests, which were the object of his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment that he has since expanded to include all LGB people. Recent gay controversies at Ireland’s national seminary and  resigned Archbishop John Neinstedt reveal the issue of gay men and the priesthood is far from settled, to the detriment of gay priests and the People of God they faithful serve alike.

But Fr. RJ is contributing what he can to promote inclusion of LGBT people in the church. Last year, he wrote about baptizing the child of a same-gender couple and challenged Filipino bishops on their anti-marriage equality stand which Fr. RJ said was “wrong and hurtful and a far cry from the Gospel.” Bearing witness by sharing his story of coming out and coming to religious life is another step in that work.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Philippines Abp. Says It’s Okay for a Gay Man to Marry a Lesbian Woman. Huh?

June 26, 2013
Archbishop Oscar Cruz

Archbishop Oscar Cruz

Sometimes it is difficult to imagine what a bishop was thinking when he makes a statement that is so incorrect and irrelevant.  A case in point is the news from the Philippines that retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz recently said that it would be permissible for a gay man and lesbian woman to marry because procreative possibility would be present.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer quotes the archbishop’s statement, made during a meeting of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal:

“May a lesbian marry a gay man? My answer is ‘yes’ because in that instance the capacity to consummate the union is there. The anatomy is there. The possibility of conception is there.”

Archbishop Cruz, who has served as an auxiliary bishop in Manila, the nation’s capital, and as head of the Archdiocese of San Fernando, was also a Judicial Vicar for the nation’s bishops’ conference.  Despite his education and experience, his remarks reveal an amazing lack of knowledge about the dynamics involved in intimate sexual relationships.  A Filipina LGBT activist was quick to respond with statements that reflected not only a more humane approach, but one that is also more in line with what the Catholic church really teaches about sexual relationships.  Gay Star News reported:

Angie Umbac

Angie Umbac

“Filipina LGBT rights activist Angie Umbac told Gay Star News she is ‘speechless’ at the comments of the Archbishop. . .

“Umbac, who campaigns for Filipino LGBT rights organization Rainbow Rights, said that people should marry ‘not because their parts “fit”‘ but ‘for the right reasons’.

‘I’d like to believe that human beings are more than the sum of their parts,’ said Umbac. ‘How about the brain? The heart? The soul? At what point do love, free will, and self-respect come in? They are important components of marriage that the Archbishop’s careless statement choose to ignore.’

The archbishop’s comments didn’t stop there, though.  He went on to acknowledge that homosexuality is a permissible reason to receive a marriage annulment from the church.  While this is true, this statement also highlighted the illogic of his statement about a gay man marrying a lesbian woman.  Salon.com writer Mary Elizabeth Williams was quick to point out this problem:

“But if the Catholic Church can sanction marriage between lesbians and gay men, Cruz also acknowledges it can also retroactively declare that it was never even legitimate in the first place. In the same speech, the Archbishop admitted that homosexuality was valid grounds for annulment, though he added it is rarely invoked.”

The Philippines is currently considering a proposal to legalize marriage for lesbian and gay couples, and the Catholic hierarchy is, predictably, opposed to it.   Despite the hiearchy’s opposition to LGBT equality, a recent Pew poll showed that the Philippines population, overwhelmingly Catholic, is very accepting of LGBT people.

An incident such as this is a reminder that our church leaders are in deep need of education about sexuality and human dynamics.  One can try to think of reasons why Archbishop Cruz made such a wrongheaded statement:  Did he let personal homophobia get the best of him?  Was he caught up in some sort of political fervor to try to block the nation’s marriage proposal?  Is he so totally removed from the lives of real people that he is unaware of the many elements that are involved in relationship-building?

Whatever the reasons, the best thing he can do now is to apologize and promise to educate himself better not only about LGBT people, but about basic Catholic teaching about sexuality and relationships.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Pop Singer, Comic Strip, and Bishops All Make Headlines in Philippine News

June 9, 2013

It’s been a busy week in the Philippines for Catholic LGBT news, with three big stories making headlines there and around the globe:  1) the top female singer in the nation came out as a lesbian, though a Catholic official was critical of her announcement;  2) a newspaper apologized for printing an anti-Catholic cartoon that had a lesbian theme;  3) the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines predicted that marriage equality would face strong opposition in that nation.  We will report on all three in this post.

1) Top Singer comes out as a lesbian

Charice Pempengco

Charice Pempengco

Charice Pempengco, a top Filipino singer who at one time played an exchange student on the popular American television show, Glee, came out as a lesbian this week in a television interview.

According to an Associate Press story in the Washington PostPempengco apologized for any hurt her announcement might cause her mother and brother:

“ ‘I don’t know what the problem with that is because for me, that isn’t a problem,’ Charice said, adding, ‘To all those who will accept me, thank you very, very much.’ ”

Yet she also expressed pride and relief:

“Charice said that after her public coming out, she could now ‘leave my house without hiding anything.’ ”

Reverend Melvin Castro, a high-ranking Catholic Church official, had criticism for the announcement:

“Castro, the executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, asked the public not to judge the singer while she is still trying to ‘discover her real feelings.’

“With spiritual counseling, she may still realize she is really heterosexual, he said.

“ ‘If her situation is really same-sex attraction, then we have to help her live a life that is celibate and pure,’ Castro told The Associated Press.”

2. Comic Strip Controversy

The Philippine Daily Inquirer, one of the nation’s leading newspapers, apologized for printing a comic strip in which it suggested that the nuns and students at Manila’s all-girls St. Scholastica College are lesbian.

The offending comic strip.

The offending comic strip.

In addition, the newspaper suspended the comic strip, Pugad Baboy, (Nest of Pigs), and the cartoonist Apolonario Pol Medina, Jr., until an investigation is conducted, according to The Bangkok Post.

The Wall Street Journal provided a description of the offending cartoon:

“In the controversial June 4 strip, a new character, lesbian atheist Coleen Tang,  accused Catholics of being hypocrites because, she says, all-girl schools run by nuns condone lesbian relationships of students even as the Church condemns homosexual activity. Another character said that at a school in Manila, which is run by the Benedictine Sisters, you wouldn’t find a pretty student without a girlfriend. ‘Could it be that nuns are also lesbians,’ asked another character in the strip. (Remark is translated into English.)”

The Wall Street Journal  also reported that he school’s administrators are considering a law suit:

“But St. Scholastica’s College, the exclusive school specifically mentioned in Pugad Baboy strip, isn’t laughing. It’s considering suing. Meanwhile, alumni of the all-girl school in Manila took to social media to complain, running a Twitter thread #RespectScholasticans. The school wants to talk with the Inquirer and Mr. Medina.

“On its official Twitter page,  St. Scholastica’s published a letter from school President Sr. Mary Thomas Prado explaining what happened. It also quoted a portion of the letter sent to the Inquirer to protest ‘in the strongest possible terms the way the school was singled out and our Sister-administrators accused of allowing homosexual relationships between its female students.’ ”

3. Catholic Bishops’ Conference on Marriage Equality

ABS-CBNnews.com reported that an official at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines are predicting a tough battle for any news laws that would legalize both divorce and marriage equality:

Archbishop Jose Palma

Archbishop Jose Palma

“The head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) believes any proposal to legalize divorce and gay marriage in the Philippines will not come easy.

“In a CBCPNews report, CBCP President and Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma said any proposed legislation to legalize divorce or gay marriage will experience the same fierce opposition posed against the controversial Reproductive Health Law. The RH Law was passed by Congress last year but its implementation has been delayed by the Supreme Court.”

It will be interesting to see what Philippine lay Catholics think, since a recent report shows that they are strongly supportive of LGBT people and issues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


“All We Want For Christmas Is Our Human Rights”

December 15, 2011

To protest the Philippines Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s “move to ask for the removal of sexual orientation and gender identity in the list of punishable forms of discrimination under Senate Bill 2814 (The Anti-Ethnic or Racial Profiling and Discrimination Act of 2011),” an LGBT rights group there went Christmas caroling in front of the  bishops’ conference office in Manila today.

This creative form of protest included among other songs with changed lyrics, “All We Want For Christmas Is Our Human Rights.”  A full description of the protest can be read in this news story.

Anger over the bishops’ conference position was inflamed when it was reported that a lawyer for the conference, Jo Imbong,  said that LGBT people  “should not be protected from discrimination”  because they had the power to choose their sexual orientation.

It sounds like the Filipino bishops are having the same problem that the U.S. bishops had recently when their adviser on marriage issues, Daniel Avila, suggested in a column in a Catholic newspaper that homosexuality was caused by the devil.  Under pressure, Mr. Avila resigned.

Let’s hope and pray that Jo Imbong either resigns or is dismissed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry