Mexican Bishops Warn of “Gay Dictatorship;” Defend Reparative Therapy

Members of the Mexican episcopate

Tensions over LGBT rights have been increasing in Mexico over the past two months, with Catholic bishops there taking a strong stand against marriage equality. The debate in that nation has elicited some strident rhetoric from both sides, with strong charges of persecution by their opponents from each side.  And, Catholic bishops have received the endorsement of a powerful Catholic voice in their anti-marriage equality campaign: Pope Francis.

The rhetoric of persecution has now enjoined the bishops in a battle about the much-disproven field of reparative therapy, which the bishops have endorsed.

Mexico’s National Council to Prevent Discrimination (Conapred), a governmental agency, recently denounced reparative or “ex-gay” therapy, responding to an article in Catholic media titled “No one is born gay.”

The country’s bishops reacted negatively to Conapred’s denunciation, reported Pink News. Fr. Hugo Valdemar, a spokesperson for the bishops, said:

“There is persecution against the Church. . .It is something very serious, the state now determines the sexual behavior of citizens and forbids any attempt to return to normalcy.

“The state prohibits parents from helping their children to solve their sexual doubts and prohibits homosexuals from changing, but if they want to change their sex they fund that atrocity, it’s something diabolic.”

Valdemar said there would be a “gay dictatorship” soon under which people who disagree with LGBT rights would be imprisoned.

Debates over LGBT rights have intensified in recent weeks after President Enrique Peña Nieto said in May that he would push Congress to pass marriage equality, adoption rights for same-gender partners, non-discrimination protections, and allowances for people to self-identify their gender on official documents. Just ten of Mexico’s 31 states do not have bans on same-gender marriages in place. Peña Nieto’s federal effort seeks to override such bans, and implement LGBT protections universally.

However, LGBT advocates have challenged the president’s commitment, suggesting that his announcement in May might have caused more harm then good. After Peña Nieto’s party suffered losses in June elections, LGBT issues have been sidelined by parrty leaders. But his announcement did stir intense opposition from the Catholic hierarchy and other groups opposed to LGBT rights.

The anti-equality group National Front for the Family has organized dozens of rallies across Mexico, according to Animal Politico. Reports from ABC News said about 215,000 people turned out for anti-marriage equality rallies this past weekend, following up on earlier protests on September 10th. The National Front is primarily supported by the Catholic hierarchy in Mexico with key bishops offering their support in an August 12th letter.

Fr. Valdemar attempted to withdraw such direct support by the bishops later in August, saying moral support for the marches offered by church leaders was in favor of marriage and family, not opposed to any specific legislation or community of people. Church leaders have led marches or rallies in at least eleven states between the September 10th and September 24th demonstrations.

Following the September 10th rallies, TeleSur reported that Conapred released a statement implicitly critical of the bishops’ involvement, saying the denial of equal marriage rights is “an affront to [gay couples] dignity and their integrity.” The statement said further:

” ‘Encouraging discrimination against people because of their sexual and gender orientation or status, as well as trying to exclude families that do not replicate the traditional nuclear model, through expressions and speeches that may incite hatred and violence, as has happened in recent months, violates the human rights of all people.’ “

Pro-equality organizations have organized their own rallies, including one on September 11th which ended at the cathedral in Mexico City. There the National Pride Front of Mexico, an umbrella group for 70 LGBT organizations, launched a campaign calling for the removal of the city’s archbishop, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera. Spokesperson Patria Jimenez explained the Front was appealing to Pope Francis because, TeleSur reported:

” ‘We want to stop the speeches of violence. We respect freedom of expression and we have open arms. The Church says that it preaches love for your neighbor, but today we see that it promotes hatred.’ “

Rhetoric about marriage equality LGBT rights has been heated and hyperbolic from both sides. Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo of Cancun said he would “go to prison to defend the family” where he said “some charitable soul would go to visit me, especially in this year of mercy.”

On the other side, La Jornada reported a national strategy put forth by the group Equality Mexico to file discrimination complaints against the Catholic Church in multiple regions. For instance, LGBT coalition Red Positiva filed a discrimination complaint with Conapred against Bishop Elizondo. Crux reported:

“The complaint filed also claimed the bishop was opposing article 130 of the Mexican Constitution, which dictates that religious ministers can’t oppose the law nor call the faithful to do so in any public event or religious ceremony.”

Victor Aguirre Espinoza and Fernando Urias Samparo, the first same-gender couple to marry in the state of Mexicali, filed a complaint against the Catholic Church with the governor there. They claim church leaders have violated Article 8 of the Law of Religious Associations, which the plaintiffs allege means religious organizations cannot intervene in politics and must the respect human rights of all people, reported La Voz de La Frontera.

Elsewhere, two LGBT groups filed a complaint against the Archdiocese of Tijuana, specifically alleging that Archbishop Francisco Moreno Barrón had incited hate speech. Equality Mexico filed a complaint against the Archdiocese of Mexico City with the Ministry of the Interior. Complaints are expected in Chihuahua, Yucatán, Hidalgo, and Sinaloa as well.

Finally, Crux reported that Pope Francis offered support for Mexico’s bishops following the Angelus yesterday, saying

” ‘I join willingly the Bishops of Mexico in supporting the efforts of the Church and civil society in favor of the family and of life, which at this time require special pastoral and cultural attention worldwide.’ “

Francis has refrained from entering debates about legal protections for same-gender couples in many countries, including the United States and Italy. But he involved himself when LGBT issues were being debated in Slovakia and Slovenia. This bifurcated response is puzzling.

Mexico is the world’s second largest Catholic nation with nearly 100 million people, or more than 80% of the population, identifying as Catholic. But opinions are equally divided on marriage equality. 40% of Mexicans support equal rights, 40% oppose them, and 10% have no opinion per polling in early September, reported Vanguardia.

When considering what is happening in the country on LGBT rights, one must be keep in mind that Mexico has a troubled and violent history between the church and secular government, including anti-clerical laws in the early 20th century which led to many churches being closed and the oppression and even murder of priests. While laws have changed and tensions lessened, the legacy of these decades lingers. Furthermore, church ministers are targeted today as part of the country’s drug-related violence.

These realities may cause prelates to make extreme claims like the church is being persecuted or suggestions they would be jailed. But church leaders should be more responsible in their rhetorical actions, instead of using hyperbolic and inflammatory terms like “gay dictatorship.” Actual violence in the past and today makes it especially troubling that church leaders and LGBT advocates have both used such charged language in this debate. Where the church should be a unifying force for the promotion and expansion of human rights for all people, including LGBT communities, it is instead acting as a source of unnecessary pain and conflict.

De-escalation from both sides would be advisable, as it would likely allow dialogue to replace divisive tactics. Dialogue could produce laws which are respectful of every person’s dignity and the rights of religious institutions. Such laws would ultimately advance the common good, and that is the cause to which all sides should ultimately commit themselves.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


VP Candidate Tim Kaine Says Catholic Church Will Accept Marriage Equality

New Ways Ministry heartily thanks Vice Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine for speaking with hope about the Catholic Church’s eventual acceptance of same-gender marriage. Kaine, a practicing Catholic, spoke the truth when he said that we should “celebrate” and not “challenge” God’s “beautiful diversity of the human family.”

According to Michael O’Loughlin of America magazine, Kaine, who describes himself as “a traditional Catholic,” addressed the Human Rights Campaign gala dinner, telling them “his support for same-sex marriage is driven in part by his Catholic faith, and that he expects the church could change its views like he did.”  O’Loughlin quoted the relevant parts of Kaine’s speech, in which the politician recounted how he changed his view to come to accept marriage equality.  Starting from a position of opposition, Kaine emerged as one of the Senate’s first supporters of same-gender marriage:

Tim Kaine speaking at Human Rights Campaign dinner

“Part of that reasoning came from his lifelong Catholic faith, which teaches that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. But Kaine’s opposition to same-sex marriage was challenged by relationships with friends and pressure from his children.

” ‘I knew gay couples as friends,’ he said. ‘I knew them to be great neighbors, I knew them to be great parents to beautiful kids.’

” ‘But I had a difficult time reconciling that reality with what I knew to be true from the evidence of my own life, with the teachings of the faith that I had been raised in my whole life,’ he said.

“Kaine said his family also helped convince him to back same-sex marriage, and he became one of the first U.S. senators to lend his support to the cause.

” ‘My three children helped me see the issue of marriage equality as what it was really about, treating every family equally under the law,’ he said.

But Kaine also had to wrestle with faith questions, but he noted that he believes that the Catholic Church will eventually come to embrace marriage for lesbian and gay couples:

“Kaine, who attends a primarily African-American Catholic parish in Richmond, Virginia, acknowledged that his “unconditional support for marriage equality is at odds with the current doctrine of the church I still attend.”

” ‘But I think that’s going to change, too,’ he said to applause, invoking both the Bible and Pope Francis as reasons why he thinks the church could alter its doctrine on marriage.

” ‘I think it’s going to change because my church also teaches me about a creator in the first chapter of Genesis who surveys the entire world including mankind and said it is very good, it is very good,’ he said.

” ‘Pope Francis famously said, “Who am I to judge?” ‘ Kaine continued, referencing the pope’s 2013 comment when asked about gay priests in the church.

” ‘To that I want to add, who am I to challenge God for the beautiful diversity of the human family?’ Kaine asked. ‘I think we’re supposed to celebrate it, not challenge it.’ “

Kaine’s sentiments are shared by millions of Catholics across the U.S. who heartily support marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples, as poll after poll continues to show, including a recent Pew Research Center poll showing 70% of U.S. Catholics support marriage equality. As Kaine’s statement illustrates, Catholics support marriage equality because they are Catholic, not in spite of being Catholic. Their training in the Catholic faith has taught them to respect difference and diversity, to value love and commitment, and to support and strengthen strong family ties.

Church history has shown time and again that important changes in the Church have always arisen from the bottom to the top, and not the other way around. So, it is only a matter of time before the church hierarchy begins to accept and affirm what Catholics like Tim Kaine already know: that love is love, and that all love is holy, for God is love.

Kaine’s candid admission that his own acceptance of marriage equality has been a journey for him was a courageous statement.  His experience of knowing families headed by lesbian and gay couples helped him see that they deserved equal treatment. This pattern of acceptance has been true for many Catholics, as they come to be aware of their gay and lesbian family members, co-workers, neighbors, and friends.

Catholic bishops and other church leaders need to follow Kaine’s example by opening their eyes, ears, minds, and hearts to the experiences of lesbian and gay couples and their families. Instead of being locked in an ivory tower, Catholic bishops need to do what the rest of the country and the world has been doing for decades: dialogue with lesbian and gay people so they can see they are not an enemy to be fought, but children of God, as are all human beings.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles: “Tim Kaine: Donald Trump Is ‘No Friend’ of LGBT Community” “Tim Kaine says Catholic Church may change same-sex marriage stance”


How Important Is It to Know If an Archbishop Is Gay?

It always makes me uncomfortable when I read a news story which alleges or reveals the homosexuality of a church leader who has a particularly nasty record on LGBT issues.  Not because I don’t believe that these stories are possibly true.  It’s more because such stories often seem to have a not-so-subtle message of “Aha!  We always knew it! What a hypocrite!”

Archbishop John Nienstedt

Such a story emerged this past week. carried an essay by Tim Gihring with a title which explains the situation: “Does it matter whether Archbishop John Nienstedt is gay?”  Nienstedt is the retired archbishop of St. Paul, Minnesota, who, in addition to having a very strong stand against marriage equality and other LGBT issues, was forced to resign when his gross mishandling of clergy sex abuse cases was revealed.  Rumors have also circulated for a long time that Nienstedt himself is gay, and that he was sexually active in secret.  He has denied these rumors.

Gihring’s article differs somewhat from the usual form these stories take, though.  In the conclusion of his essay, Gihring writes about the “trap” in which Nienstedt seemed to be caught:

“By closing the door to homosexuality, marking its expression as the work of Satan and the most aberrant of sins, Nienstedt had nowhere to go with his own desires. He left himself no way out.”

That, to me, is such a sad set of sentences.  They describe to me a gay man who did not learn to accept himself, and whose lack of self-esteem provided him no opportunity than to act out sexually in unhealthy ways, and to project his own self-hatred onto others.

Gihring’s “trap” in which he believes Niensteedt was caught is bigger than just his denial of homosexuality.  Gihring speculates that Nienstedt made a deal with church officials that if he covered up sexual abuse cases, they would cover up his homosexual liaisons.  Gihring writes:

“For pushing back on gays in the church, among other issues, Nienstedt would be promoted and promoted and promoted again. He would also be protected: Among the revelations in the documents unsealed last month is that the Vatican envoy to the United States quashed an investigation into Nienstedt’s homosexual activity and ordered evidence destroyed.

“The evidence that exists, in the form of corroborated witness accounts, suggests that Nienstedt spent his time in Minnesota, from 2001 to 2015, living a precarious double life: indulging his homosexual tendencies, even as he railed against them. . . .

“. . . .[T]he deal that Nienstedt long ago made for the benefit of his career — to follow the church into conservatism — now seems a kind of ecclesiastical quid pro quo: if he covered for the sins of the church, the church would cover for his. The internal investigation of him, reportedly quashed by the Vatican, had been his idea — he was that confident that his name would be cleared.”

Gehring is skating on thin ice here.  He has made it seem like an agreement was made by the Vatican and Nienstedt.  Unfortunately, his case is built totally on speculation.  If, in fact, the Vatican did quash an investigation of Nienstedt, it is a huge leap of inference to claim that this was connected to any kind of “deal” that was arranged.

I am not defending Nienstedt’s actions, either in his mishandling of sex abuse cases or his possible homosexual liaisons.  But let’s remember that these two different types of actions are qualitatively different.   In the sex abuse cases, his actions did terrible harm to vulnerable people, and to the Church community. If he engaged in promiscuous, casual, or anonymous sexual encounters, any potential harm would have affected only himself and his partners, who presumably were consenting adults.

Neither am I excusing Nienstedt’s terrible record of opposing LGBT equality.  He has spent an inordinate amount of energy and church money to deny LGBT people their civil rights, and as this blog’s archives show, New Ways Ministry has opposed him on all these matters.

In the case of his sexual behavior, the real culprits here are the structures of the church which actually promote such behavior:  clericalism and homophobia. The privilege that clerics receive and the fear and silence that surround any discussion of homosexuality in the church create a toxic atmosphere, even for those who supposedly “benefit” from these structures.

So what’s the answer to the question of Gihring’s title question: “Does it matter whether Archbishop John Nienstedt is gay?”  I think the answer is yes, it does matter because it is an integral part of who he is.  I think, though, that the answer is not just important for the public to know, but, more importantly, for Nienstedt himself to know.  Part of the great tragedy here is that a church system has let a man get to Nienstedt’s place in life without allowing him the freedom and security to know and accept who he is.

If any definitive evidence emerges that Nienstedt is, in fact, gay–and the only solid evidence of that would be his own admission–then I don’t think that would be an occasion to gloat over hypocrisy.  It would be an occasion first to lament the pain that he must have experienced as a terribly closeted gay man. It should also be an occasion to reinvigorate our efforts to end clericalism and homophobia in the church, and all the myriad personal and structural ills they bring.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts and articles:

For all Bondings 2.0 posts about Archbishop Nienstedt’s connections with LGBT issues, click here.

Bondings 2.0:  “Minneapolis Archbishop Nienstedt: “I’m not gay…I’m not anti-gay.”

Minnesota Public Radio: Archbishop authorized secret investigation of himself”

Star Tribune: Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt faces new sex claims”

National Catholic Reporter: Report: Minnesota Archbishop Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships” “Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships, ex-official says”

The Wild Reed: “Has Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Shadow” Finally Caught Up With Him?”

Bishops Criticize Vice President Joe Biden for Officiating Same-Gender Marriage

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 4.13.20 PM
Tweet from Vice President Biden of the wedding ceremony

Vice President Joe Biden has been criticized by U.S. bishops for officiating at a same-gender wedding last week.

On Friday afternoon, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops  (USCCB) published a blog post about public officials who officiate at same-gender marriages. Written by three bishops, the post does not mention the Vice President by name but, given the post’s timing, he is most likely one of its targets.

The bishops who authored the post are Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, the USCCB president; Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chair of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth; and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. They wrote:

“When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics. What we see is a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth.”

The bishops said that faithful witness “will only grow more challenging in the years to come,” alluding to their claims that expanded LGBT rights threaten their religious liberty. They cited both Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia and the pontiff’s address to the U.S. Congress last fall to support their negative position on same-gender marriage. When it comes to marriage equality, it seems some U.S. bishops are willing to reverse their general silence about Francis to use the popular pontiff in their opposition to LGBT rights.

Conservative Catholics have criticized Biden as well, reported Brian Roewe of the National Catholic Reporter. The Lepanto Institute, an ultra-conservative watchdog group, wrote letter to Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. asking whether Biden has  excommunicated himself by his action.  Yet, Edward Peters, a conservative canonist, acknowledged that canon law does not provide for excommunication in such a case.  Peters did suggest, however, that he thought that there are grounds to deny Communion to the Vice President.  So far, Wuerl has not responded, at least publicly, to either charge.

Last Monday, Biden officiated his first wedding, conducted for White House staffers Brian Mosteller and Joe Mahshie. The Vice President, who is Catholic, has a long record of supporting LGBT rights and is credited with pushing President Barack Obama to endorse marriage equality.

Marriage equality is an irreversible given in the United States now. Why do the bishops keep expending their energy and resources fighting this new reality which protects families and expands love? Their opposition to LGBT rights is well-known, as is their public feud with the Obama administration. It is unclear what impact the bishops had hoped for with this blog post–especially since it seems that they took a swipe at the Vice President without directly confronting him. These bishops need to read a little more of Pope Francis’ writings, and reflect a little more on his witness of living out a church that is “home for all.”

I would point them specifically to Amoris Laetitia’s line that church ministers are called to form consciences, not replace them. Like many Catholics who affirm LGBT people and their relationships, Biden seems to have properly formed his conscience and then acted upon it by choosing to officiate this wedding ceremony. And like so many other Catholics, he is witnessing to God’s expansive and ever-present love.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, Officiates Same-Gender Marriage

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 4.13.20 PMVice President Joe Biden, who is Catholic, officiated a same-gender marriage this week.  just as electoral politics, and Catholic engagement of them, heat up. Biden tweeted a picture of the ceremony, commenting:

“Proud to marry Brian and Joe at my house. Couldn’t be happier, two longtime White House staffers, two great guys.”

That photo has been retweeted over 38,000 times, including by Jill Biden who commented, “Love is love.”

The Washington Post reported that the couple, Brian Mosteller and Joe Mahshie, both work at the White House. Mosteller oversees Oval Office operations while Mahshie is a trip coordinator for First Lady Michelle Obama. The intimate ceremony at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., where the Vice President resides, was the first wedding at which Biden had ever officiated.

Vice President Biden has, however, been a longtime supporter of marriage equality and LGBT rights. He endorsed equal marriage rights in 2012, suggesting then that the criteria for marriage should be, “Who do you love?” That comment is credited with helping speed up President Barack Obama’s “evolution” on the issue, so he could then offer his own endorsement. Biden has also advocated for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, challenged the international community to address LGBT human rights, and said transgender equality is “the civil rights issue of our time.

For his decades of public service as a faithful Catholic, this spring Biden was awarded the University of Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal alongside former Speaker of the House John Boehner.  Yet, Biden has also taken heat from the Catholic hierarchy, on a number of occasions, for holding views inconsistent with magisterial teaching.

Looking to November, disputes about the actions of a vice president who is Catholic may not end. Indeed, they have already begun. Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee. Kaine, a Catholic who has said his faith is “central to everything I do,” has a positive record on LGBT rights.

But his support for marriage equality, in addition to being pro-choice, led Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence to suggest “[Kaine’s] faith isn’t central to his public, political life,” according to the Providence Journal. Since his nomination, Kaine has received public criticism from Virginia’s bishops, as well as from a priest in Washington, D.C. who tweeted, “Do us both a favor. Don’t show up in my communion line.” Faithful America has launched a petition calling upon Catholic leaders to stop questioning Kaine’s faith.

Tobin’s and other bishops’ suggestion that Catholics who support LGBT rights are not fully Catholic is troublesome. Recent data from the Pew Forum revealed 42% of Catholics considered that the treatment of LGBT people is “very important” in the upcoming election, the highest of any Christian denomination and two points higher than the average for all voters. The bishops deny the reality that, like Joe Biden and Tim Kaine, many Catholics support LGBT rights because of, and not in spite of, their faith.

That denial causes unnecessary controversy for the church, and further harm to LGBT Catholics and their families. Thankfully, lay Catholics act daily for inclusion and justice. To Brian and Joe, and Joe Biden, Bondings 2.0 says congratulations!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

The Huffington Post, “Why Joe Biden’s Blessing of a Gay Wedding Matters

Church Should Apologize to Gay People, Says Top Adviser to Pope Francis

Cardinal Reinhard Marx

The Catholic Church should apologize to lesbian and gay people for the harm it has caused to them, said a top cardinal and close advisor to Pope Francis.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, speaking to the Irish Times after his address at a Dublin conference, said:

” ‘The history of homosexuals in our societies is a very bad history because we’ve done a lot to marginalise [them]. . .As church and society, we’ve also to say “sorry, sorry.”

“Until ‘very recently’, the church, but also society at large, had been ‘very negative about gay people . . .it was the whole society. It was a scandal and terrible.’ “

Marx was in Dublin at Trinity College for the Loyola Institute’s conference, “The Role of Church in a Pluralist Society: Good Riddance or Good Influence?” He called for the church to engage positively with the world, acknowledging historical periods when “Christian faith wasn’t on the right side” of societal developments.

Addressing specifically civil rights for lesbian and gay people, the cardinal said governments should “make regulations for homosexuals so they have equal rights or nearly equal.” He explained his “nearly equal” qualification is because church teaching opposes marriage equality, describing heterosexual marriage as a “special relationship.” But Marx followed up by affirming the legal recognition of same-gender relationships, reported Catholic Philly:

” ‘We have our moral position [on marriage] and that is clear but the secular state has to regulate these [same-gender] partnerships and to bring them to a just position.’ “

Marx, who is a member of the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis, also commented about the two-year Synod on the Family process. According to the Irish Times, he expressed shock that some bishops could dismiss the commitment and service revealed in same-gender relationships:

” ‘We have to respect the decisions of people. We have to respect also, as I said in the first synod on the family, some were shocked but I think it’s normal, you cannot say that a relationship between a man and a man and they are faithful [that] that is nothing, that has no worth.’ “

Marx, the president of the Commission of the Bishops Conferences of the European Community, has a generally supportive record on LGBT issues in the church. Most recently, he attended Germany’s Catholic Day gathering which draws more than 30,000 people and, for the first time, this year welcomed LGBT organizations.

During the 2015 Ordinary Synod of Bishops, Bondings 2.0’s Francis DeBernardo, who covered the meeting from Rome, described Marx as “one of the strongest pro-gay voices.” The German working group which he moderated acknowledged the harm that “hard and merciless attitudes” in the church have harmed marginalized communities that include gay people and urged bishops to seek forgiveness.

In interviews during and after the Synod, Marx said God would not focus solely on a person’s sexual orientation, but on whether people in same-gender relationships were “faithful, care for one another and intend to stay together for life.” The church must begin its sexual ethics from “love, fidelity and the search for a life-long relationship” and not merely see a person “from only one point of view, without seeing the whole situation of a person.”

Cardinal Marx’s record on LGBT issues is not entirely positive. He maintains a heteronormative defense of marriage and, in response to the lay-led Central Committee of German Catholics’ call for the church to bless same-gender partnerships, called some of their proposals “theologically unacceptable.

His latest remarks in Ireland are, nonetheless, a positive and welcome development. An apology by the Catholic Church for its part in discrimination and violence that LGBT people have faced would be a major step toward reconciliation.  This step would be especially strong if it came from Pope Francis, whose condolences after the massacre in Orlando would not acknowledge the LGBT victims targeted, just as he neglected LGBT issues during his 2015 trip to two nations in Africa which criminalize homosexuality. Church leaders should listen to Cardinal Marx’s wisdom and consider how their words and actions could advance reconciliation with LGBT people and their families.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Priest Leads Opposition to Queensland’s “Gay Panic” Defense

Fr. Paul Kelly

A Catholic priest in Australia has been leading efforts to eliminate the “gay panic” defense in his state.  The “gay panic” defense, which allows defendants to claim that a victim’s sexual advances motivated a criminal violence, is responsible for letting two men escape murder charges in a 2008 killing.

Fr. Paul Kelly launched an online petition in 2012 to repeal the “gay panic” defense law, which is still allowed in the states of Queensland and South Australia. In that petition, which now has nearly 248,000 signatures, Kelly explained his powerful reason for being involved:

“I’m a Catholic Priest and 8 years ago a man called Wayne Ruks was bashed to death in my Brisbane churchyard. Unbelievably, his killer’s convictions were downgraded to manslaughter, using ‘gay panic’ as a defence. . .

“I’ve made it my mission to see this revolting law abolished – it belongs in the dark ages. I have no words to describe how offensive, harmful and dangerous it is that two of our governments uphold that a person can be panicked enough by gay people to justify murder.”

Wayne Ruks was killed by John Meerdink and Jason Andrew Pearce in July 2008, his body found at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Maryborough. Extensive video evidence revealed the assailants beat Ruks for fifteen minutes, leaving him to die from internal bleeding. They avoided murder charges by claiming Ruks made sexual advances on them.

Father Kelly renewed efforts around the petition because the “leisurely pace” of change had been so slow.  He told that eliminating this legal issue is “such a no brainer. . .It should’ve changed with one signature, not [240,000].”

Thanks to the efforts of Fr. Kelly and others, Australian government officials have finally promised to act. Premier of South Australia Jay Weatherill replied to the petition, describing the “gay panic” defense as an “outdated and offensive notion.” He promised legal reforms to remove it. Yvette D’Ath, attorney-general for Queensland whose government promised to eliminate the defense in 2015, said change was forthcoming so that the state’s criminal code would not be perceived to “condone violence against the gay community, or indeed any community.”

Fr. Kelly’s activism show how Catholic thought can help bring about justice for LGBT people.  Unfortunately, not all church leaders in Australia are standing with the LGBT community, though. The nation’s bishops have chosen the occasion of upcoming elections to reiterate their opposition to marriage equality proposals.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 12.43.47 PMThe Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) released a two-page statement in advance of federal elections to be held July 2. The statement included two paragraphs about marriage that imply expanded LGBT rights would victimize marriage and family in the “throwaway culture” criticized by Pope Francis. The bishops wrote that political decisions can end up “undermining marriage” and, alluding to a proposed plebiscite on marriage equality, said future decisions could further undermine marriage:

“Support for marriage and the family does not look a big vote-winner, so that even the most basic human institution, upon which the health of a society depends, can become part of the throwaway culture or at best an optional extra.”

These remarks intensify the Australian bishops’ collective opposition to marriage equality, as political reporter James Massola wrote in the Brisbane Times

“The remarks about same-sex marriage are significantly stronger than in the 2013 statement – which simply stated there ‘must be legal recognition of the unique nature of marriage between a man and a woman’ and 2010, when the issue was not mentioned and underscores concern in the Church.”

Whichever party wins in the July elections, it appears marriage equality is an inevitability for Australia. The nation’s residents overwhelmingly support it, with recent polls showing approval ratings above 60%. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic supportive of LGBT rights, said a plebiscite on the issue first proposed by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a Catholic who opposed marriage equality, would proceed if his Liberal party is re-elected. The opposition Labor party has promised to pass marriage equality in its first hundred days.

In a final related note, a discrimination complaint against the Australian bishops over an anti-marriage equality booklet they published last year has been withdrawn. Transgender advocate and politician Martine Delaney voluntary withdrew her complaint against ACBC and Archbishop Julius Porteous of Hobart after mediation efforts by the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner in Tasmania ended in futility. She explained to 9 News:

” ‘My primary reason [for withdrawing the complaint] is the tribunal process is a very long and drawn out process and during that time the message of this booklet is going to continue to be spread. . .My intention was to force (the church) to understand the gravity of their actions, but they refuse to do so and the damage has been done.’ “

The booklet, titled “Don’t Mess with Marriage,” was released last year to widespread criticism. In the Diocese of Hobart schoolchildren were controversially used as couriers to bring it to their parents. LGBT advocate Michael Bayly even called booklet and its dissemination a “new low” for the Australian bishops.

Australia’s bishops should reconsider how invested they will be in opposing the seemingly inevitable passage of marriage equality when real and pressing issues of justice beckon. They could learn well from Fr. Paul Kelly’s example, and focus instead on how they can help protect the lives and well-being of sexually and gender diverse people.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Posts

August 17, 2012: “Australian Priest Meets with Attorney General to End ‘Gay Panic’ Defense

July 13, 2012: “Australian Catholic Priest Re-Launches Campaign to End ‘Gay Panic’ Defense

January 26, 2012: “News Notes: January 26, 2012

January 2, 2012: “Catholic Priest Speaks Out for Equality in the Law