DignityUSA Calls for “Sacramental Equality” at National Convention

July 8, 2015

DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBT and Ally Catholics, held their biennial convention in Seattle this past weekend, where they unanimously passed a resolution calling for “sacramental equality” in the Catholic Church.

The resolution states:

“DignityUSA and its members call on the leaders and members of our Roman Catholic Church to ensure that all of the sacraments of our Church be administered regardless of the gender identity, sexual orientation, or relational status of the person(s) seeking the sacrament.”

In a press statement accompanying the resolution DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke explained the need for such a resolution:

“We [LGBT Catholics] can’t be fully equal if we are barred from any of our Church’s sacraments.

“Right now, we are officially banned from marriage and ordination, and often denied other sacraments, as well.

“We hear stories all the time of people told they cannot have Communion because they are gay, in a same-sex relationship, or civilly married. Many priests refuse to baptize the children of same-sex couples. A gay man in Washington, DC was denied ’last rites’ after suffering a heart attack. These incidents cause pain and alienation for us, and for our families, and create division within our Church.”

Duddy-Burke acknowledged that the hope for sacramental equality may take a while and a lot of effort to achieve.  She stated:

“We know that it is going to take a lot of work, and probably many years, to achieve this goal. But having gained civil marriage equality in the US, we know that the miraculous is possible. We believe that rethinking how sacraments are administered will be good for everyone in the Catholic Church, because it will help us to live our belief in the intrinsic dignity and equality of every person as created and loved by God.  This broadened understanding of the sacraments would apply not just to LGBT people, but to everyone, including women and married men and women seeking ordination, for example.”

The Dignity convention in Seattle, which had as its theme “God’s Love: Enduring as the Mountains, Endless as the Sea,” took place July 2-5, 2015, and attracted members and supporters from across the nation. Convention participants listened to plenary talks from Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, executive director of NETWORK and the organizer of “Nuns on the Bus” campaigns; Paul Coutinho, a scholar and international speaker on spirituality; and Dan Savage, nationally syndicated sex advice columnist and author.

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick participated in the convention as a breakout session leader, discussing the topic “Loving Our Opponents Without Losing Our Ground.”  She also hosted a caucus session on current events in the Catholic LGBT world, and a small reception for convention participants who had been past pilgrims on New Ways Ministry’s LGBT-friendly Catholic pilgrimages around the globe.

The next Dignity convention will take place July 6-9, 2017, in Boston, under the theme “A Place at the Table.”

New Ways Ministry heartily supports DignityUSA’s quest for sacramental equality, and we will continue working to help make that dream a reality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Widen the Synod Circle with Diverse Voices

January 30, 2015

“WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?” is  Bondings 2.0′s series on how Catholics–the hierarchy and laity–can prepare for the Synod on Marriage and Family that will take place at the Vatican in October 2015. If you would like to consider contributing a post to this series, please click here

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Since before the synod in 2014, New Ways Ministry, along with other Catholic reform organizations, has been calling for Vatican leaders to include diverse families, including those headed by LGBT people, to offer testimony about their faith journeys and relationships to the bishops assembled at these important meetings. Now, New Ways has joined with 31 other national and international Catholic organizations to encourage Catholics around the U.S. and the globe to sign an online petition asking the Vatican “to widen the circle of people invited to participate in the upcoming Family Synod 2015.”

The petition states:

“We urge the Vatican Synod office to make every effort to include a wide diversity of Catholics, especially those from the constituencies being discussed including divorced and remarried people, co-habitating couples, interfaith families, impoverished families, single parents, families with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members, same-sex couples, and families torn by the violence of war and abuse. These women and men can share their lives and stories in a way that creates greater understanding among the bishops who will, in the end, make critical recommendations about the Church’s priorities and pastoral practices for years to come.”

The deadline for signing the petition is March 3, 2015.     In addition to mailing and emailing  the petition, a representative of the coalition of endorsing groups will hand deliver the petition to Cardinal Baldisseri at the Office of the Synod of Bishops in Rome.   The list of the 32 endorsers can be found at the end of the petition.

The coalition has a website, OurCatholicFamily.org, which includes other ways that people can influence the synod organizers to plan a more open synod:

  1. Host a listening and discussion session at your parish or faith community to examine the issues that members face concerning marriage, family, and sexuality.  The website has resources for facilitating such a meeting.
  2. Meet with your local bishop.  The website offers a template of a letter requesting such a meeting, as well as a list of tips for speaking with your bishop.
  3. Contact the synod delegates and share your family’s story with them. The names of the U.S. delegates, along with some background on them, can be found by clicking here.  Their addresses, as well as addresses for Vatican officials, can be found by clicking here.

A press release from the coalition offered the following perspectives:

“Pope Francis wants a synod that is characterized by a ‘culture of encounter.’” said Sheila Peiffer, Coordinator of Catholics Organizations for Renewal, a leadership forum of US organizations inspired by Vatican II.  “He wants the synod fathers to recognize ‘the Lord’s gratuitous work, even outside customary models, ’” she said.  “That is a powerful mandate that is only achievable if Catholics whose experience has a direct bearing on the issues being discussed are invited and heard at the synod.”

Listening to Catholics who know the issues being discussed from the inside, from experience, is essential for meaningful dialogue,” said Deborah Rose-Milavec, Executive Director of FutureChurch, an organization promoting the rights and responsibilities of all Roman Catholics.  “That kind of listening and dialogue will create greater understanding among the bishops whose final recommendations to Pope Francis will likely impact our Church’s pastoral practice for years to come,” she said.

The coalition is also maintaining a list of potential speakers that are being recommended to the synod.  Those which have New Ways Ministry connections are:

Reverend Joseph A. Brown, S. J., a professor of Africana Studies at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and a speaker on African-American Catholics and LGBT issues at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in 2012.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity/USA, a speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Fourth National Symposium in 1997. She is being recommended with her wife, Becky Duddy-Burke.

Deacon Ray Dever of St. Paul parish, Tampa, Florida, who recently penned a Bondings 2.0 blog post about his family’s acceptance of his transgender daughter.

Hilary Howes, a transgender woman, who with her wife, Celestine Ranney-Howes, spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in 2012 about their Catholic marriage, before, during, and after Hilary’s gender transition.

Mary Hunt, a feminist theologian, who co-founded and co-directs the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual. Mary served on New Ways Ministry’s Board in the 1980s. She is being recommended with her wife and ministry partner, Diann Neu.

Tom and Linda Karle-Nelson, parents of gay sons, who helped establish Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents of LGBT children.  The Karle-Nelsons are frequent participants at New Ways Ministry programs.

If you choose to write to your bishop, or to synod delegates and Vatican officials, you might consider sending your own recommendations for who would be a good speaker.  If you have some suggestions you would like to share with our readers, please post them in the “Comments” section of this post.

New Ways Ministry is proud to support all these efforts, and we hope and pray that the synod in the fall of 2015 will be much more representative of the Church than the synod in 2014 was.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



Was Synod 2014 a “Turning Point” or “Clash of Factions”? What Will Synod 2015 Be?

December 13, 2014

The upcoming synod on marriage and family to take place at the Vatican in 2015 was in the news this week because the discussion document was released, and bishops around the world were once again asked to consult with the laity about matters pertaining to the synod’s topic.

Pope Francis

But this week there was also a looking back towards the October 2014 synod.  At his general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke about the recent meeting and said that the meeting did not include a “clash of factions,” as media reports indicated.  Religion News Service provided excerpts from the pope’s comments on the past synod:

“ ‘Some of you have asked me if the synod fathers fought,’ Francis said. ‘I don’t know if they “fought,” but they spoke forcefully. This is freedom. This is just the kind of freedom that there is in the church.’

“In a bid to set the record straight, the pope acknowledged the extensive media coverage of the global gathering in October and likened it to ‘sports or political coverage.’

“ ‘They often spoke of two teams, pro and con, conservatives and liberals,’ the pope told thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.

“ ‘There was no clash between factions … but a dialogue between the bishops, which came after a long process of preparation and now continues, for the good of the family, the church and society. It’s a process.’ ”

Jesuit commentator Father Thomas Reese had a different interpretation of the meeting.  He stated that differences of opinion clearly existed among the synod participants, making this synod very different from those in recent memory.  Reese said:

“Rather than advising the pope, these earlier synods often simply quoted the pope to himself. They were a way of bishops showing their loyalty. Francis gave the bishops freedom to speak.”

Indeed, in the document that was released this week, that landmark meeting in October was described as a pastoral “turning point” for the Church, the Associated Press noted.

Both New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA criticized this week’s document because of using the term “homosexual tendencies,” and because of lack of focus on families headed by gay and lesbian couples. In addition to each group’s statements, an Advocate.com article contained additional comments from the leaders of these two organizations.


Ryan Denson, writing at AddictingInfo.com has a different point of view, though, about the document and the upcoming synod.  He sees the identification of a “turning point” as significant, and that the Catholic Church may be on the road to becoming more open to LGBT people and those who are divorced and remarried.  Denson wrote:

“Baby steps are turning into leaps as Pope Francis and the Vatican urge the world’s bishops to be guided, not just by doctrine, but by the Pope’s compassionate message which includes a ‘turning point’ inspired by meetings at the Vatican. The new message seeks to provide better pastoral care for gays and divorcees across the globe . . . .

“[I]n other words, the Vatican is asking the bishops and other clergy members to act like Jesus, who loves and respects all, and not act like arrogant, judgmental religious zealots. Instead of focusing on outdated dogma, Pope Francis is truly teaching the Gospels, and with the ousting of several prominent homophobic priests, the Vatican is starting to realize that he means business.

“The bottom line is this: the Pope is currently facing vocal opposition from those who view the church as an exclusive club where the unsaved and unworthy are not welcomed. He wants to change this. And he has made it very obvious that he does.”

ThinkProgress.com also looked on a more positive side to the survey released.  They quoted several progressive Catholic leaders, who have a more optimistic view of the synod, the questionnaire, and the process.  Bob Shine of New Ways Ministry was one of those more optimistic voices:

“ ‘Language about tendencies is problematic,’ Shine, who oversees young adult ministries for New Ways, told ThinkProgress in an email. ‘That said, I think the intentions of reaching out to and providing pastorally for LGBT people and their families is what is really guiding this process … Pope Francis has encouraged genuine dialogue during this whole synodal process.’ ”

Other Catholic leaders said likewise:

“ ‘Regardless of the wording, the survey itself is a step in the right direction towards providing better pastoral care of LGBT people, as is the Vatican asking for wider inputs from ‘all levels’ for the 2015 synod on the family,’ Stephen Seufert, state director of the progressive Catholic group Keystone Catholics, told ThinkProgress. ‘Both the survey and the Vatican document released yesterday relating to the 2015 synod are indications of a church that wants to focus less on rigid, uncompromising doctrine and more on providing greater pastoral care.’

“James Salt, executive director of the left-leaning advocacy group Catholics United, echoed Seufert.

“ ‘The fact that they are explicitly asking this question is a sign of progress,’ he said. ‘Rather than retreating to a position of doctrine, they are reflecting the changing world that we live in.’ ”

Clearly, marriage and family are high on Pope Francis’ agenda.  This week, he announced that he will be speaking on these topics in a series of talks at his weekly general audiences at the Vatican.  Bondings 2.0 will keep an eye on important messages, especially those relating to LGBT people.

So, what do you think?  Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the upcoming 2015 synod?  What did you think of the document that was released this week?  Are you surprised to hear Pope Francis say that the 2014 synod was not a contentious discussion?  Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Religious Leaders, Including Catholics, Call on Obama to Oppose Religious Exemption in Upcoming Executive Order

July 9, 2014

President Barack Obama’s expected executive order barring federal contractors from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has sparked a controversy because some religious leaders have asked him to include a broad religious exemption in the order.

But, yesterday, Obama heard from a different group of religious leaders, this one asking him not to inscribe discrimination into his executive order by including a religious exemption.  Over 100 diverse clergy, academic, and lay leaders wrote to the president asking him to truly protect LGBT people by not providing language that would exempt religious institutions.

At least seven Catholics were among the letter’s signers:  Francis DeBernardo, executive director, New Ways Ministry; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, Dignity/USA; Jim FitzGerald, executive director, Call To Action; Sister Jeannine Gramick, executive coordinator, National Coalition of American Nuns; Mary Hunt, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual; Jon O’Brien, President, Catholics for Choice; Deb Word, President, Fortunate Families.

The letter argues the case against religious exemptions from a variety of perspectives.  First, there are practical considerations:

“Requiring all federal contractors to operate according to the same set of non-discriminatory hiring practices is more than fair; it is a critical safeguard that protects all parties. If contractors were allowed to selectively follow employment or other laws according to their religious beliefs, we would quickly create an untenable morass of legal disputes. Furthermore, if selective exemptions to the executive order were permitted, the people who would suffer most would be the people who always suffer most when discrimination is allowed: the individuals and communities that are already marginalized.”

There is also the religious perspective:

“Increasing the obstacles faced by those at the margins is precisely the opposite of what public service can and should do, and is precisely the opposite of the values we stand for as people of faith.”

The letter also argued from logic:

“An executive order that allows for religious discrimination against LGBT people contradicts the order’s fundamental purpose, as well as the belief shared by more and more Americans every day, which is that LGBT people should not be treated as second-class citizens. An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.”

The letter also argued from the perspective of American cultural values:

“In a nation as diverse as the United States of America, it is critical that the federal government be trusted to follow—and indeed, to role-model—equitable employment practices. We believe that our mutual commitment to the common good is best served by policies that prohibit discrimination based on factors that have no relationship whatsoever to job performance. We are better and stronger as a nation when hiring decisions are made based on professional merit   rather than personal identity.”

You can read the entire text of the letter, with a list of all signers, here.

In addition to the letter, more than 30,000 U.S. Christians have signed a grassroots petition urging President Obama to oppose those who would use their faith to justify anti-gay discrimination. The petition, organized by Faithful America, reads, in part:

“There’s nothing Christian about firing someone just because they’re gay or lesbian. Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t fund discrimination.”

The letter from faith leaders and the Faithful America petition were in part a response by last week’s Hobby Lobby decision, which many feared would become a slippery slope to expand religious exemptions.

As a person of faith, what are your thoughts about religious exemptions?  Offer your ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

National Catholic Reporter: “Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over religious exemption for anti-gay discrimination”

ThinkProgress.com: 100 Faith Leaders To Obama: Religious Liberty Shouldn’t Be Used To Discriminate Against LGBT People

New York Times: “Faith Groups Seek Exclusion From Bias Rule”

On Independence Day, Remembering the Global Struggle for LGBT “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness”

July 4, 2014

In the United States, today is Independence Day, when we commemorate the establishment of our democratic nation which allows people to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” to quote the Declaration of Independence.

Amid the celebration, we might take a moment to remember LGBT people around the globe who do not enjoy these blessings due to restrictive and oppressive laws.  As we do so, it is good to note that the United States government is trying to promote LGBT human rights around the globe.

While Catholic bishops in Uganda have supported that nation’s new law which promotes harsh punishments for homosexuality, a Catholic lay person here in the United States has recently spoken out strongly against this measure, and others like it which are springing up around the globe.

Vice President Joseph Biden

United States Vice-President Joseph Biden, a practicing Catholic, did not mince words recently when he addressed a “Forum on Global LGBT Human Rights” which he hosted at his residence.   Huffington Post reported:

“Seeking to mobilize a global front against anti-gay violence and discrimination, Vice President Joe Biden declared Tuesday that protecting gay rights is a defining mark of a civilized nation and must trump national cultures and social traditions.

“Biden told a gathering of U.S. and international gay rights advocates that President Barack Obama has directed that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women around the world

” ‘I don’t care what your culture is,’ Biden told about 100 guests at the Naval Observatory’s vice presidential mansion. ‘Inhumanity is inhumanity is inhumanity. Prejudice is prejudice is prejudice.’ “

Vice President Biden is largely credited with moving the Obama administration to much more progressive policies in regard to marriage equality and LGBT rights.

Marianne Duddy-Burke at the forum.

In attendance at the forum was Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity/USA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics.

Buzzfeed reported that days before the Vice President’s statements, President Obama instituted new directives towards Uganda because of the anti-gay law:

“The White House announced . . . that it would cancel a U.S.-funded aviation exercise with Uganda and impose a visa ban on officials involved in human rights abuses and corruption as part of a package of steps in response to enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in February.

“ ‘As President Obama has stated, the Government of Uganda’s enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) runs counter to universal human rights and complicates our bilateral relationship,’ said the NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden in a statement.

“In addition to the travel ban and the cancellation of the aviation exercise, the White House also announced that it is ‘redirecting funds for certain additional programs involving the Ugandan Police Force, Ministry of Health, and National Public Health Institute.’ ”

MSNBC.com has reported on the deteriorating quality of life that lesbian and gay Ugandans have experienced since the law as enacted:

“Some gays and lesbians have decided to flee; others are choosing to stay, trapped indoors and inside a prison of fear.

“ ‘Before, we were an underground community, but at the same time we were vibrant, we were engaged,’ photographer Aldo Soligno recalls a woman telling him while shooting in Kampala.

“ ‘Since the law passed, everything has changed,’ she said to him. ‘Now we are scared to go out from our homes.’

“The situation is far worse for lower-income gays and lesbians, Soligno told MSNBC. Wealthier people can take cabs and spend their weekends at country clubs, free from the threat of violence and police raids that often accompany public transportation trips. ‘But if they don’t have this money,’ Soligno said, ‘they can’t go outside.’ ”

Uganda, a heavily Catholic nation, has very strong anti-gay cultural values.  The Catholic heritage is, in some ways, responsible for this reality.  Kittredge Cherry, who blogs at Jesus In Love Blog, has written about how the nation’s religious heritage influenced its homophobia:

“Forty-five Ugandan male pages refused to have sex with their king after they converted to Christianity — so he executed them. Many were burned to death on June 3, 1886. These boys and young men were canonized by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, leaving some truths hidden by their halos.”

But Cherry refuses to buy into the traditional anti-gay spin that this story often carries.  She asks the following questions:

“Does the experience of the Ugandan martyrs illustrate a gay king being oppressed and demonized by conservative Christians? Or does it exemplify Christians heroically trying to rescue boys from sexual abuse by a pedophile king? Did Christians teach young African men shame about their own same-gender-loving desires? Or did Christians give the pages a way to refuse rape by a ruler with absolute authority? Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between? How can the story be interpreted so that LGBT Ugandans have equal access to justice… and to God? “

Cherry’s answers to these questions are too expansive to reproduce here.  I recommend reading her entire blog post on the subject for a very interesting analysis.  (A “hat tip” to highly respected Catholic gay blogger Michael Bayly for alerting me to Cherry’s post.”)

New Ways Ministry continues to encourage Catholics and others to tweet to Pope Francis to denounce anti-gay laws such as the one in Uganda.  For information on the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Religious and Political Leaders Ask Archbishop to Stay Away from NOM

June 15, 2014

Today, Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco will be visiting several parishes to ask them to sign a petition asking that city’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone not to speak at an anti-marriage equality rally in Washington, DC, later this month.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

The petition (organized by Faithful America) is a part of a campaign to ask Cordileone to stay away from the National Organization for Marriage’s (NOM) rally on Thursday, June 19th.  The event is being supported by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Cordileone is the chair of the conference’s Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.  The rally is co-sponsored by the anti-gay Family Research Council.

A separate part of the campaign was a letter sent to the Cordileone signed by over 80 California politicians and national religious and community leaders, asking him to refrain from participating in the event.  The Los Angeles Times reported on some of the substance of the letter:

“If he attends as scheduled, they [the letter signers] noted, he will be ‘marching and sharing the podium’ with individuals who ‘have repeatedly denigrated lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.’ . . .

“By standing alongside those participants and organizers, ‘you appear to be endorsing their troubling words and deeds, which directly contradict the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral teaching that “God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual. God’s love is always and everywhere offered to those who are open to receiving it,” ‘  they wrote.”

Among the Catholic signers of the letter are Francis DeBernardo, executive director, New Ways Ministry; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, DignityUSA, Jim FitzGerald, executive director, Call To Action; Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry and coordinator for the National Coalition of American Nuns; Jody Huckaby, Executive Director, PFLAG National; Mary E. Hunt, Co-Founder/Director, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER).

The entire text of the letter can be read here.

At the USCCB’s national meeting this week, Cordileone re-affirmed his commitment to anti-marriage equality work and to participation in the conference.  According to The National Catholic Reporter:

“Pointing to the recent string of state same-sex marriage bans struck down by federal judges, Cordileone said the country was at a ‘critical point.’

” ‘An amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the only remedy in law against judicial activism,’ he said.

“The San Francisco archbishop also announced he would be attend the second annual March for Marriage in Washington, D.C., June 19. The march is organized by the National Organization for Marriage, a group advocating for legal recognition for marriage as only between one man and one woman.”

The letter to Cordileone also appeals to the example of Pope Francis:

“While not all of us agree with official Catholic teaching on marriage and family, we appreciate the many statements from Catholic leaders defending the human dignity of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, especially the recent words of Pope Francis: ‘If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?’

“Pope Francis words echo the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that lesbian and gay people ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’ “

If Archbishop Cordileone does decide to speak at this event, he would do well to distance himself from the negative rhetoric of NOM by speaking up for the Catholic principles of “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” for lesbian and gay people.  While it might be best if he avoided the event, if he speaks forthrightly for the human dignity and equality of lesbian and gay people, he can turn this potentially negative event into a positive one.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

LGBTQ Nation: “Calif. officials, community leaders urge Archbishop not to attend anti-gay rally.”

Sister Maureen Fiedler, National Catholic Reporter blog: “San Francisco archbishop under fire for plan to speak at March for Marriage”

Huffington Post: “San Francisco Archbishop Outrages Community With Plans To Join Anti-Gay Rally”

San Diego Gay and Lesbian News: “Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone petitioned to not march with anti-gay hate groups”

Fortunate Families Founders Feted for Ministry to Catholic Parents of LGBT People

May 11, 2014

Happy Mothers Day!

When the history of the Catholic LGBT movement is written, a major chapter of it must be devoted to Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, a pair of Catholic parents of a gay son, whose journey of understanding and acceptance led them to ministry with other parents, and eventually the founding of a national network called Fortunate Families. Last weekend, Catholics from around the country gathered in the Lopatas’ hometown of Rochester, New York, for a dinner celebrating their retirement from leadership in Fortunate Families, as well as the 10th anniversary of this network of Catholic parents of LGBT people.

Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata peruse a memory album presented to them by Fortunate Families Board President Deb Word at their retirement dinner.

Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata peruse a memory album presented to them by Fortunate Families Board President Deb Word at their retirement dinner.

During the event, the history of the Lopatas’ ministry was recounted, going back to 1992 when they attended New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium on Lesbian/Gay Issues and Catholicism, in Chicago.  The couple attended the meeting with six other pastorally involved people from Rochester, and they returned home fired with enthusiasm to start pastoral outreach to LGBT people, and particularly, their parents.   Their efforts eventually led to the establishment of the Diocese of Rochester’s Catholic Gay and Lesbian Family Ministry.

A few years later, the Lopatas were instrumental in helping to establish the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian/Gay Ministries (NACDLGM), and in 1998 they organized and hosted the group’s national conference in Rochester, one of the most successful meetings the organization has ever had.  (NACDGLM is now known as the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry.) Throughout the 1990s, the Lopatas were tireless in their education, support, and advocacy ministry for families.  They served as consultants on the U.S. bishops’ 1997 pastoral letter, Always Our Children.

They published several resources including a book, Fortunate Families: Catholic Families with Lesbian Daughters and Gay Sons, and a manual entitled Seeds of Hope: Compassionate Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Catholics and Their Families. In 2004, they established Fortunate Families as a nationwide resource and networking ministry to, for, and with Catholic parents of LGBT people.  In the following year, New Ways Ministry presented them with its Bridge Building Award, “for compassionate ministry, personal witness, and national leadership to promote justice for lesbian/gay Catholics, their parents, and families.”

Fortunate Families is a member of the Equally Blessed Coalition, which also includes Call To Action, DignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry.  Representatives from each of these three other coalition partners were on hand in Rochester to praise and thank the Lopatas at their retirement party.  Jim FitzGerald, executive director, represented Call To Action; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, represented DignityUSA; Francis DeBernardo, executive director, represented New Ways Ministry.  Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and Father James Schexnayder, founder of NACDLGM were unable to attend in person, but they each sent video testimonials about the Lopatas’ contributions to the Catholic LGBT movement.  You can view Sr. Jeannine’s video here:

Emails and letters from parents and pastoral ministers, as well as testimonies from Fortunate Families board members, were also part of the evening’s festivities.  Fortunate Families Board President Deb Word presented the Lopatas with a memory book, and New York State Assemblyman Harry Bronson gave them a resolution from the legislature in honor of their contributions.

The Lopatas are leaving an indelible mark on our church because they have helped to affirm and empower so many parents, and LGBT people, as well. Catholic parents are among the most passionate and persuasive advocates for LGBT people in the church. Their natural love for their LGBT children motivates them to work to make sure that they are treated in the same way as their heterosexual children are treated.

For some parents, it takes some time to adjust to the new information that their children are LGBT.  Support from other parents who have gone through the same experience is often the biggest help for those who are just learning about a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Parents of LGBT children are a true gift  to the church. The journey of love and acceptance that Catholic parents go on is the same journey that the entire church eventually will need to go experience.  So, all in the church, particularly pastoral ministers and bishops, can learn a lot from these people that God has made so fortunate.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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