Catholics Plan Sunday Rally to Support Fired Gay Cantor

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Catholics near Washington, D.C. will rally this weekend in support of fired church worker Jeffrey Higgins, whose dismissal has stimulated reflections from Cardinal Donald Wuerl and others on the crisis with LGBT church workers. Michael O’Loughlin of Crux reported:

“For nearly two years, Jeffrey Higgins led parishioners in song at Mother Seton Catholic Church in Germantown, Maryland, at three or four Masses each weekend. But this Sunday, he’ll find himself outside, joining protesters upset about his firing as a part-time cantor following an anonymous complaint that he married his longtime partner.”

You can read about Higgins’ firing by clicking here. The fired cantor is strong in his Catholic identity. He told Crux:

” ‘I was baptized Catholic, I was confirmed Catholic, and I’m still Catholic. I don’t think this will affect my relationship with the Church. . .I’m hoping the Church will someday be a more welcoming and accepting place.’ “

The rally, scheduled for Sunday, January 10, 2016, 8:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m,, across the street from Mother Seton Catholic Church, where Higgins worked, located at 19951 Father Hurley Boulevard Germantown, Maryland, is organized by DignityUSA and Dignity/Washington,  You can get more information by clicking here.

Cardinal Wuerl, recently called “The Pope’s Man in Washington” by Religion News Services’ David Gibson, defended Higgins firing in a recent blog post. Wuerl said that while the “outcome is unfortunate,” it is not discrimination and explained:

“However, if one persists or effectively insists that they are right and the Church is wrong, in the face of such irreconcilable differences it is not discrimination or punishment to say that continued ministerial service is not possible. It is not a question of personal private activity, but the social consequences of conduct which undermines the Church’s ability to fulfill her mission. When there is the potential for scandal that might lead people astray regarding the Catholic faith, continued service becomes untenable.”

Citing his own pastoral letter, “Being Catholic Today,” he added that “when we give bad witness, we can lead people away from Christ.” Absent is any pastoral concern for Jeffrey Higgins, his husband, the affected parish community, or Catholics generally who are hurt by discrimination in our church.

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter commented on Wuerl’s post and, more broadly, the firing of LGBT church workers. Winters’ comments are not quite positive for LGBT church workers, but there are some notable points. First, he questioned the scope of what constitutes “bad witness,” to quote Cardinal Wuerl, and concluded:

“If we are going to require all ministers to be upstanding Catholics, it would be good to know that this requirement applies to those who dissent on non-pelvic issues too.”

Second, Winters also picked up on why Higgins was fired, namely stalking by anti-gay parishioners who researched the cantor online after seeing Higgins and his husband at a movie together. Winters wrote:

“This is important because the Church does not want to give a heckler’s veto to anti-gay vigilantes who might comb through court records at the marriage bureau and crosscheck them with parish rolls. . .We are the Catholic Church in 2016 not Salem, Massachusetts circa 1692.”

Winters cited the case of Rick Estridge, a former vice president at Catholic Relief Services who resigned after a right wing activist outed by posting Estridge’s marriage license online. These cases are not isolated incidents, and many of the firings that have happened over the past seven years have been because of “vigilante” snooping. (For all known cases of firings and other employment disputes because of LGBT issues since 2008, you can click here to find New Ways Ministry’s resource page on the issues.)

Third, Winters commented on the ministerial exemption by stating the church leaders should not simply call all employees ministers “in hopes of increasing legal wiggle room to terminate employees as needed.”  Catholics can expect that the church expands its theological and pastoral understandings of ministry without demanding expansions in unrelated legal matters.

Where Winters falls most short is his belief that a case-by-case handling of church worker issues is the right solution to respecting their dignity. Nondiscrimination policies applicable to LGBT and Ally church workers should become standard, so space for discretionary discrimination by a particularly zealous pastor or principal is eliminated.

These firings are now a “major scandal” in the words of Loretto Sr. Maureen Fiedler, who included a condemnation of them from Pope Francis as one of her “Catholic Dreams in 2016,” writing:

“[W]hile 2016 may be a bit early for him to change his views on same-sex marriage, he could make clear that he does not agree with firing personnel in Catholic institutions because of their orientation, or because they married someone of the same sex. These discriminatory firings have become a major scandal.”

Cardinal Wuerl did get one truth (mostly) correct, writing in his conclusion:

“The Church we serve is not ours, but Christ’s. The greatest mercy of the Church is to be faithful witnesses of his truth and love.”

Jeffrey Higgins and other fired LGBT church workers served the church in their positions and they serve the church in protest, as well. The Catholics standing outside Mother Seton Church on Sunday are demanding that the church be a faithful witness to Christ’s truth and love, rather than ceding our institutions to discrimination and prejudice.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

DignityUSA National Convention Focuses in on Justice

DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics, met in convention last weekend in Minneapolis to reflect on the theme of “Let Justice Flow Like a River.”

Sister Maureen Fiedler at Dignity convention.
Sister Maureen Fiedler at Dignity convention.

Convention keynoter and National Catholic Reporter blogger, Sister Maureen Fiedler, SL, recently wrote about how the “justice” theme was woven throughout the meeting:

“This year, the planners clearly wanted members to connect the quest for LGBT justice and other struggles for justice. Thus, I was invited to keynote the conference by speaking on the social teaching of the church, raising themes of economic justice, world peace, nondiscrimination, the rights of immigrants, gender equality and respect for Earth.

“Jaime Manson (of NCR fame!) gave a marvelous address on the ‘intersections of justice.’ The idea is that issues of justice cannot be separated; they must “roll down like a mighty stream.” She joined everyone at the conference in cheering the Supreme Court decisions overturning DOMA and Prop 8 in California. But she said she did so with a heavy heart because of the SCOTUS decision the day before that gutted a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. She praised DignityUSA groups in Minnesota who realized in November they had to oppose not just an amendment to their state constitution that would have banned same-sex marriage but another amendment also on the ballot restricting voting rights. For the record, both amendments lost, a victory for justice.”

As part of the justice theme,  New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo and DignityUSA’s Program Manager Jim Smith presented a workshop on how to organize Catholics on justice issues.

Jim Smith
Jim Smith

In an article in Lavender Magazine preceding the convention, Smith explained a dilemma that many Catholics face:

“GLBT Catholics and progressive Catholics in general get hassled from both sides of the holy water font. One one side, from some non-Catholics and former Catholics who wonder aloud–quite reasonably enough–why queer and progressive people would keep the ‘Roman Catholic’ when it appears Rome and its local representatives would rather they take up space in somebody else’s church. On the other side, from many within the Catholic church hierarchy and some in the pews who in fact do want the queers gone for good.

“But whose church is it anyway? Many Roman Catholics, including scores of thousands in Minnesota, understand that when they first got their head wet at that above-mentioned font, they were baptized to one day own their faith, follow the Jesus of the Gospels, and let a well-informed conscience be their guide. Sometimes that means  keeping the “Catholic” while standing up and speaking truth to power.  And that they did, in Minnesota last year and this, and in very Catholic states like Rhode Island, Maryland, and Delaware.”

Martin Grochala
Martin Grochala

In the same article,  Convention Chair Martin Grochala explained the organization’s hopes for the meeting:

“Attendees will return home with skills for addressing injustice in their communities and with a clear understanding of what have been proven to be successful advocacy strategies.  The work at this conference will be rooted in an understanding of Catholic social justice teaching through the lens of the LGBTQ experience. We will ask attendees to look seriously at justice issues in their communities -in both the LGBTQ and broader civic and religious communities.”

Fr. Roy Bourgeois
Fr. Roy Bourgeois

At the convention’s dinner dance,  DignityUSA honored Fr. Roy Bourgeois with their “Risk Taker and Justice Maker Award.” Bourgeois, the founder of  School of the Americas Watch was ejected from the Maryknoll community because of his strong suppport for the ordination of women.

The convention received sad news on its third day when members learned that a past president of DignityUSA, James Bussen, had died of cancer. A long-time national and local leader in Chicago,  Bussen had served as president from 1985-1989.  A Windy City Times obituary recounted his many accomplishments,  and offered the following praise from Chris Pett, president of Dignity/Chicago:

James Bussen
James Bussen

“He was a prophet and courageous presence who could effectively challenge and demand accountability from Catholic church leadership to recognize the dignity and inherent blessedness of God’s LGBT people. But he also could, with gentleness and prayerful discernment, call the local and national Dignity communities, and others who share our mission, to claim respect for our lives and loves, while remaining faithful to God’s call for us to live generously, justly and with total love for one another. We can only hope and trust that his legacy will continue to inspire people of faith within our movement, and those around us, to seek justice and continually speak truth into action.”

The next DignityUSA convention, which is held every two years, will be in July 2015 in Seattle.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Let Us Know: What Qualities Do You Seek in the Next Pope?

A week from today, Pope Benedict XVI will resign. Already speculators have saturated Catholic conversations with who the next pope will be. Bondings 2.0 wants to know what qualities, visions, and backgrounds our readers desire in this person. For your reflection, we’ve excerpted from pieces by Catholic writers on their ideas about the next pope. After reading, we hope you will add your thoughts in the comments section below.

Sr. Maureen Fiedler, host of the radio program Interfaith Voices, writes at National Catholic Reporter:

“We also need someone who accepts and preaches the Gospel value of human equality for women and men, people of all races and ethnicities, and people of all sexual orientations.

“So we need a ‘gutsy’ pope: someone who would open up all roles in the church to anyone who qualifies spiritually and would not rule anyone out based on gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Such changes would likely mean standing up to lots of Vatican bureaucrats…

“But you know, most of all, we need someone who can relate to people so well that he is willing to host a picnic in Vatican Square, or maybe a potluck somewhere. I’d bring some great hors d’oeuvres.”

Maryland parish priest, Fr. Peter Daly, also writing at National Catholic Reporter about his desire for a pope with experience as a parish priest:

“The Benedictines have a saying about the selection of a new abbot: The abbot should be ne numis sapiens, ne nimis sanctus, et ne nimis sanus — not too healthy, not too wise and not too holy. In other words, they should select a regular guy. That’s what I hope for: a regular guy…

“I hope he has a lot of nieces and nephews who have challenged him around the dinner table and in family gatherings…Perhaps one of those nieces and nephews has come out to him as gay and he has had to love them still.

“I hope we get somebody who is in touch with his own humanity. It would be nice if he was a man who admits that he, too, is a sexual being who has struggled with human desires and impulses like everybody else.”

Lastly, E.J. Dionne writing in The Washington Post calls for a nun to be elected pope (and we at New Ways Ministry heartily echo his sentiments):

“It is time to elect a nun as the next pontiff…

“Matthew 25:40 contains what may be the most constructive words ever written: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brethren, you did for me.’ More than any other group in the church, the sisters have been at the heart of its work on behalf of compassion and justice…

“The church needs a leader who has worked closely with the poor and the outcast, who understands that battling over doctrine is less important for the church’s future than modeling Christian behavior — and who sees that the proper Christian attitude toward the modern world is not fear but hope.”

What do you seek in the next pope? What qualities does that person need to lead the Catholic Church forward on LGBT issues?  Is there a particular person who models for you what a good pope should be?  Who would be your choice from the current College of Cardinals? Please leave your thoughts, idealistic ones and practical ones alike, in the ‘Comments’ section of this post.  We will try to follow-up on  our readers’ input in a future post.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Midwest Bishops’ Political Letters Cite Marriage Equality as a Litmus Test Issue

Bishop David Ricken

Catholic parishioners in the Diocese of Green Bay received a letter last week from their bishop, David Ricken, warning them against voting for positions he claims are “intrinsically evil.” The letter included five non-negotiable issues, including what Ricken referred to as “homosexual ‘marriage,’” that made candidates ineligible for Catholics voters. reports Ricken also told those in his diocese voting for candidates who support those five issues would make them complicit and jeopardize their souls.

Bishop David Kagan

After a similar letter was released by Bishop David Kagan of the Diocese of Bismarck claiming Catholics could not vote for anyone supportive of marriage equality, North Dakotan Catholics reacted against what they saw as electioneering. National Catholic Reporter reports that Tim Mathern, a state senator from Fargo, replied to the bishop’s letter by emphasizing the primacy of conscience in Catholic morality and the by questioning the Church’s tax-exempt status if bishops engage in explicit partisanship. Mathern writes:

“To direct parishioners toward or away from one particular political party is a misuse of faith and trust. Sitting in the pews, parishioners have every reason to expect that the message will be relevant to current events and issues of conscience. However, endorsement of a political candidate, either by inference or direct statement, serves to disenfranchise, discourage, and even,to some, harm. Such an act bends religious faith toward service of a political party.”

With Catholics playing central roles in political races from presidential down to ballot questions, the bishops continued partisanship, including against marriage equality, will continue to divide Catholics nationwide.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Catholic LGBT Calendar Features “Queer Catholic Faith” Series

A little-known feature of Bondings 2.0 is our “Catholic LGBT Calendar” page (click the tab above) which lists events and happenings across the country and around the world that focus on Catholic LGBT issues.

If you have events that you think might be of interest to others, please send information to

Just added to this calendar is Dignity USA‘s new season of their highly successful “Queer Catholic Faith” webinar series.  The program features live web-interviews with guests, with real-time questions and conversation from attendees, who participate via their computers. For 2012-2013, the program has expanded from four to six segments.  Each Tuesday night segment begins at 9:00 pm, Eastern Time, and you can register for them by clicking here.

The line up for 2012-2013:

October 23rd:  Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, Co-founders of Fortunate Families

November 20th: Sr. Maureen Fiedler, Host and Producer of NPR’s Interfaith Voices radio show

December 18th: Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder of New Ways Ministry

January 29th: Victor Postemski, DignityUSA Young Adult Caucus Co-Facilitator

February 26th: Fr. Robert Pierson, OSB,  Minnesota Advocate for LGBT equality

March 19th: Delfin Bautista, Member of DignityUSA’s TransCaucus

Be sure to tune in for these informative and inspiring sessions!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

LGBT Injustices Central at Loretto Community 200th Jubilee Celebration in DC

Loretto Sisters, Co-members and Friends at the USCCB

LGBT issues were front and center when 40 people gathered in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the Loretto Community’s 200th Jubilee.

Planned on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the DC gathering included visits to seven sights of injustice where the group prayed and sang a litany of saints and heroes. Sites visited were the US Supreme Court, the US Capitol, the DC Jail, the Vietnam War Memorial, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the Vatican Embassy, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) headquarters.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a Sister of Loretto and co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and Matthew Myers, a co-member of Loretto who currently chairs New Ways Ministry’s Board of Directors, joined Sr. Maureen Fiedler of the Sisters of Loretto and Eileen Harrington, a co-member, in leading the afternoon’s celebrations.

Amongst the injustices called to mind were those committed against the LGBT community. These included the exclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons from equal protections under the law at the Supreme Court and the campaign against marriage equality launched by Catholic bishops that makes LGBT persons objects of discrimination.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry and Sr. Maureen Fiedler

In the Loretto tradition of  ‘working for justice and acting for peace,’ the saints and heroes who struggle for equality and conscience were called to mind as well.

In the political and legal realm, those gathered sang the names of John Lawrence, plaintiff in the case that decriminalized same-gender consensual sex, as well as President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, who have refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act.

In the ecclesiastical realm, theologians Hans Kung, Charles Curran, and Margaret Farley were sung at the Vatican Embassy for their progressive views on human sexuality and the Vatican censures that followed. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton was intoned at the USCCB for his outspoken voice for LGBT rights within the Catholic Church.

Fittingly, Sr. Jeannine was included in the litany, along with several other women religious. The program described Sr. Jeannine in the following way:

“Loretto Sister who advocates for LGBT persons in the face of continual Vatican opposition.”

In 1992, after the Vatican had directed U.S. bishops to pull back from their support of civil rights’ legislation for lesbian and gay people, the Loretto General Assembly issued a statement in support of lesbian and gay civil rights which included the following:

“. . . as U.S. citizens, we believe that our constitutional tradition–properly understood and interpreted–ought to guarantee basic civil rights and equal protection of our laws to all citizens regardless of sexual orientation. It saddens us that the Vatican would enter the U.S. political arena by encouraging a departure from the finest ideals of our political tradition, ideals which promote equality and basic civil rights for everyone.
“Consequently, we call upon our political leaders to guarantee the civil rights of lesbian and gay persons in the law of our land. We call upon the U.S. Catholic Bishops to support such legislation as an authentic expression of the gospel call to respect the intrinsic human rights and dignity of all persons.”

New Ways Ministry applauds Loretto for 200 years of powerful witness to working for justice and acting for peace because of the Gospel’s urgent call.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Radio Series Explores LGBT Issues from a Range of Religious Traditions

A unique and comprehensive series on a public radio program is exploring LGBT issues from a variety of faith traditions.

Interfaith Voiceshosted by Loretto Sister Maureen Fiedler, is offering “Gay in the Eyes of God:  How 12 Traditions View Gay and Lesbian People,”  a 12-part look at theology, spirituality, and lived reality of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and issues.

Sister Fiedler describes the program on a National Catholic Reporter  blog:

Sister Maureen Fiedler

“Public opinion about homosexuality is changing rapidly, and civil law is not far behind. Gays and lesbians are increasingly open about their relationships and accepted. In some states, they now can marry legally and adopt children.

“But among those who are people of faith — with a few exceptions — gay men and lesbians wrestle with how to be faithful to their religious traditions while living fully the human reality in which they discover themselves. . . .

“This series offers much more than scriptural or theological conversations, although those are included. We hear the often poignant stories of gay and lesbian people struggling with who they are as they try to stay faithful to their respective traditions.”

Catholics are represented by four different people and perspectives:

Celestine and Hilary Ranney-Howes

“When we deal with Catholicism, we hear the story of Hilary and Celestine Ranney-Howes. This couple was heterosexually married — one man and one woman. . .  [Hilary, who married as a man, came to understand her] true identity was female, and she became a transsexual woman. Normally, such a change would lead to divorce, but Hilary’s wife, Celestine, realized she loved the person, not the gender, so they stayed together as a lesbian couple. Today, they worship in an “intentional eucharistic community” in the Washington, D.C., area where they feel accepted. [Hilary and Celestine led a focus session at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in Baltimore this past March; some of their interview was conducted at that conference.]

Sister Jeannine Gramick
Eve Tushnet

“For our Catholic segment, I also interviewed Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a founder of New Ways Ministry, and Eve Tushnet, a young lesbian who believes she must remain celibate to be a faithful Catholic. Gramick explained the range of Catholic theological views on this subject, including the official view, and Tushnet said that she turned to works of Catholic mysticism for support in her lifestyle. Gramick noted that change is possible in Catholicism, but she does not expect it any time soon.”

The series also includes segments on evangelicalism (airing this week), the Black Church,Islam, Judaism, origins of the LGBT religious movement, Eastern religions, and other topics.

The series, which was made possible by a grant from the Arcus Foundation, began earlier this summer.  Each installment can be listened to on the radio show’s website.  Additional installments will be added to the archive as the series progresses.

Interfaith Voices is heard on 62 public radio stations across the nation, so check your local listings for when the program airs in your area.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry