“Those who came to the Chicago symposium brought with them both ‘hope and frustration,’ Massingale said: hope that more understanding and acceptance of gays and lesbians was on its way into the church and frustration because that time has not yet arrived.
“The priest, who left Marquette last year to teach theology at Fordham University, pointed to a new tone in the church toward gays, a tone he characterized as ‘cautious, tentative, tense, at times ambiguous and contradictory, and yet nevertheless real.'”
Massingale affirmed that beneath the rhetorical shifts, there is genuine doctrinal development happening. Church officials’ “hesitant, resistant and even hostile stance” to LGBT rights comes from their fear that legal protections would lead to approval of sexual behavior they deem immoral. Their deeper fear is the impact such acceptance would have on youth. NCR reported:
“The situation leaves the church in an often contradictory corridor or ‘open closet,’ Massingale said, one in which gays ‘are to be accepted sensitively and compassionately, as long as there is little or no public acknowledgment of their sexual identity, “lifestyle” or “culture.”‘. . .
“Massingale, a priest of the Milwaukee archdiocese, shared a note he had received in 2002 from Rembert Weakland, who earlier that year had resigned as archbishop of Milwaukee after a man he’d had an affair with two decades earlier and he had paid to $450,000 to keep it quiet made the relationship public. Weakland wrote: ‘On the gay issue, the level of fears is so high that the official teaching of the church skates so very close to the edge of a new ‘theology of contempt.'”
Against the “open closet” and Magisterium’s troubled approach to lesbian and gay people, Massingale said Pope Francis was focusing on LGBT people’s personhood, not their sexual conduct. Massingale added his own commentary, saying, “[LGBT people] are equally redeemed by Christ and radically loved by God.”
As an ethicist, Massingale affirmed the right LGBT people have to participate fully in society in and the church, and the necessity for the Magisterium to extend its existing support for human rights to include LGBT communities:
“To insist on private acceptance and compassion for LGBT persons – that is, saying “I love the sinner” – without a commitment to defending LGBT human rights and creating a society of equal justice for all, is not only contradictory; it is inherently incomprehensible and ultimately unsustainable.”
A vibrant question and answer period followed Massingale’s address, during which he shared a story from his own life. After the U.S. bishops released “Always Our Children,” he called his mother. She asked Massingale for his thoughts on the document, and he replied by asking her what she thought, as it was addressed to her. She answered quickly, “I don’t need permission to love my child.”
Massingale closed with a powerful call for LGBT Catholics and their families to keep working for equality:
“Refuse the refusal. Refuse to be silenced. Continue to speak our truth even when we know it’s not going to be welcome.”
Fr. Massingale has himself been increasingly outspoken for LGBT inclusion and human rights. While at Marquette University, he celebrated monthly Masses for members of the LGBTQ communities on campus because, he says, it is important they “have a Mass where they feel welcome and that God does love them.” He challenged Pax Christi USA members at their 2013 annual conference to increase the organization’s defense of LGBT rights, as both a human rights concern and a necessary part of attracting younger Catholics. Massingale alsojoined other Catholic theologiansand officials in condemning proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda. Most recently, he has said the church cannot abandon transgender Catholics.
If there is one word that best describes the reactions of LGBT and ally Catholics towards Pope Francis, I think it is “controversial.” I use this word in its traditional usage meaning that there are two sides to the issue. For some LGBT Catholics and supporters, he has been a savior and messiah, opening a new era in the church’s approach to issues of sexuality and gender. For others, Pope Francis is simply, “more of the same,” not changing anything, and, in some cases, because his appearance is “kinder and gentler,” he may actually be making things worse.
And, of course, between these two poles, there are a variety of middle positions. Some are happy with the pope’s calls for mercy towards LGBT people. Others want him to also call for justice for LGBT people.
If you are a regular reader (or even a casual one) of Bondings 2.0, then you know that Pope Francis raises more questions than provides answers in regard to LGBT issues. The symposium will be an event where participants can gain information and perspectives to begin to form some of those answers for themselves.
Are you interested in how Pope Francis is affecting the Church’s social ethics in regard to LGBT issues? Come to the symposium to hear Fr. Bryan Massingale, Fordham University theologian.
Will Pope Francis make a change to Catholic sexual ethics? Listen to the ideas of Lisa Fullam, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley theologian. The question of religious liberty, especially in regard to LGBT employees of Catholic institutions, has a lot of people wondering.
The question of religious liberty, especially in regard to LGBT employees of Catholic institutions, has a lot of people wondering. Leslie Griffin, University of Nevada at Las Vega legal scholar, will provide some insight into these dilemmas.
Why hasn’t Pope Francis spoken out on the terrible scourge of laws which criminalize LGBT people around the globe? You’ll get a first-hand answer to that from Frank Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, who is at the center of this struggle.
Transgender and Intersex Identities and the Family
LGBT Parish Ministry
Lesbian Nuns: A Gift to the Church
Challenges of LGBT Church Workers
The symposium experience is not all about the intellect. Unique prayer opportunities will also be available:
Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, the “Nun on the Bus,” will lead a pre-symposium retreat day on Friday, April 28th, on the theme of the spirituality of justice and mercy.
Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv, diocesan bishop of Lexington, Kentucky, will offer scriptural reflections during two of the symposium’s prayer services.
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, retired auxiliary bishop of Detroit, will lead a special Saturday afternoon prayer service.
Perhaps the most valuable experience of the symposium is the opportunity to network with other Catholics who are working for a church and society that are more inclusive of LGBT people. In addition to meeting people informally, the symposium also provides the opportunity for “Open Space,” where participants can suggest and plan a gathering time/space for particular topics. Let’s have an Open Space session as a meet-up for Bondings 2.0 readers! For more information, click here.
Who should attend?
Everybody! Well, as long as you have an interest in Catholic LGBT discussions, you will find the symposium to be a rewarding event. New Ways Ministry has designed it to be accessible and relevant particularly to pastoral ministers, LGBT persons, leaders of men’s and women’s religious communities, families and other allies, and others involved in church ministry either as a volunteer or a professional.
Can I afford it?
Yes! Though the time for early-bird registration is over, you can still get the discounted early-bird rate if you put four registrations in one envelope and mail them, with payment, to New Ways Ministry by March 27, 2017. Additionally, discounted hotel rooms and airfares are available.
What will I gain from the experience?
Over the years, we’ve learned that everyone’s symposium experience is unique. For some, it is a starting point on a new direction in ministry or advocacy. For others, it is an opportunity to affirm their sexuality and gender identity in a Catholic context. Many people have developed lifelong friendships at symposiums. Many others have experienced the event as a further step on their spiritual and intellectual journeys.
What if I don’t know anyone else who will be going?
No worries! Symposiums are friendly, communal events. Those who have taken part in past symposiums are quick to welcome “first-timers” and those who are attending on their own. You will not be alone at the symposium!
Where can I get more information like rates, deadlines, schedule? How can I register?
The symposium website, www.Symposium2017.org, has all the information that you will need. You can even register there online, as well as click through to reserve a hotel room and make a plane reservation. If you have any further questions, feel free to call New Ways Ministry, phone:201-277-5674, or email us, info@NewWays Ministry.org.
How can I help spread the word about the symposium?
Share the website link with your friends on email and social network sites! Or share the link to this blog post with them! Contact New Ways Ministry if you would like to receive paper copies or a PDF copy of the symposium brochure.
See you in April at the Symposium! You won’t want to miss it!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 15, 2017
Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder of New Ways Ministry, was featured by the Catholic reform organization FutureChurch as their Woman Witness of Mercy for October. The following reflection by Bondings 2.0’s Associate Editor Bob Shine was included in a resource packet on Jeannine. For more information, and to purchase the packet, click here.
After fifty -plus years in religious life, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL has encountered numerous people and touched many lives in her ministry of justice and reconciliation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the Catholic Church. I first met Jeannine a few months after college and in this reflection, I share a little of how she has impacted my own life and what I know younger Catholics can learn from this holy and humble person.
I began at New Ways Ministry during a service year with the Loretto Volunteers. The first evening at the Volunteers’ opening retreat, held at the Sisters of Loretto’s motherhouse in Kentucky, we watched a documentary about Jeannine’s life and ministry. I lay in bed that evening and, quite overwhelmed, questioned myself on how I had jumped into such deep waters. Sisters had shared their stories with us over meals and in side conversations. Theirs were stories of integrating schools and accompanying communities, of artistry and feminist witnesses, of poetry and anti-war protests. Theirs was a mission, to paraphrase their famed former superior Sr. Mary Luke Tobin, of going out to the ends of the branches of our world because that is where the fruit resides. And I had committed to wandering out an ecclesial branch with a sister who was taking on the Catholic Church.
Events that fall would not, at first, quiet the questions from that opening retreat. Within a few weeks, I had spent a Saturday witnessing at various sites in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the Loretto Community’s 200th anniversary and helped organize Catholic events for the marriage equality campaign in Maryland. I had discovered that even the enthusiasm and energy I had at 22 could not keep pace with Jeannine and the other sisters.
With time, working alongside Jeannine and Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, I have learned much. Four years on, Jeannine and I now teach one another. It is not quite equal – I help her navigate Facebook and she helps me navigate the complexities of being a disciple of Christ – but it is a friendship I cherish. The following are four lessons Jeannine has taught me, lessons which can aid younger Catholics like myself as we find our way in the troubled church we love.
“What is the Catholic Church doing for gays and lesbians?” A young gay man named Dominic posed this question to Jeannine in 1971, and it would be this question that radically transformed her life. Jeannine began organizing home liturgies for gay people in the Philadelphia area, educating herself on homosexuality, offering some workshops, and, in just a few years, launched New Ways Ministry with Fr. Robert Nugent. Being open to Dominic’s question and tender to the pain of gay people excluded from the church led Jeannine down a path she never expected, but which came to define her life. I was not there, but I believe it was the Spirit speaking through Dominic when he asked that question. This story is a reminder that we, as Christians, must be ever present to the people around us, ever listening to voices at the margins, and ever willing to let the Other make claims on our life that may have profound consequences.
Don’t say the church when you mean the hierarchy. Jeannine lives committed to Vatican II’s teaching that the church is fundamentally the People of God, and that community is essential for Christian life. Before I knew Jeannine well, I thought she was a rogue figure who alone had challenged the Vatican, yet this narrative is not accurate. Her decades of ministry would not be possible without the people and communities that support her and work with her – the congregations to which she has belonged, other women religious, LGBT Catholics and their families, supporters of New Ways Ministry, theologians and scholars, and more. And Jeannine is not only supported by, but actively contributes to the communities she is in. For younger Catholics in the United States, we cannot forget how essential community will be for our journeys even if parish pews are thinning out and the hair of fellow believers’ greys. Enacting the church’s evangelical mission is not possible unless we live as the People of God: baptized as priests, called to holiness, and supporting one another whatever may come.
The envelopes need stuffing. On Tuesday evenings, you will find Jeannine with the New Ways Ministry volunteers who prepare the organization’s bulk mailings and then gather for pizza and camaraderie. Jeannine models what it means to be a leader who serves. Even though she is quite busy, she attends to people with kind notes and small loving acts. She willingly does the tedious but necessary tasks with everyone else. She works long hours to ensure every detail is correct, and exhibits a persistence in ministry possessed by few (and the teacher in her never wastes an opportunity to teach me a grammar lesson). Jeannine teaches younger Catholics that seeking ecclesial reform and renewal means hard work that is hardly glamorous. We must resolve each morning to seeking a just church, steadily running the race Christ has set before us that is not even a marathon but an ultramarathon.
“I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression.” These words, with which Jeannine responded to the Vatican’s attempt at silencing her, are a haunting reminder to me of what being Christian entails. Being part of the church means calling the church to live more fully the Gospel that we proclaim, but people will resist this threatening call. Jeannine endured two decades of degrading investigations and punitive sanctions by church leaders because she refused to believe LGBT people are anything less than wonderfully made by God. She challenges even today the church she loves and the communities to which she belongs, exercising the prophetic office which we all share through baptism as she invites all people to be reconciled. To be Christian is to prioritize Christ against all else, and there will be times when following the decisions we make in conscience leaves us isolated, rejected, and deeply pained. But we should never collaborate in our own oppression or the oppression of others, especially when it is the church for which we are responsible that is inflicting wounds.
The widespread acceptance of LGBT people among Catholics in the United States and growing acceptance internationally can largely be attributed to Jeannine’s tireless labors. She is an incarnation of these words from Blessed Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger, foundress of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, words which Jeannine introduced me to (they hang in a frame over her desk) and which are so powerful for Catholics who seek a reformed and renewed church:
“All the works of God proceed slowly and in pain; but then their roots are the sturdier and their flowering the lovelier.”
Holy people are holy not because of their greatest flowering acts, but because of their quietest habits which create sturdy and deep roots. Jeannine Gramick has acted greatly in listening to Dominic’s voice and being faithful to her response even when the Vatican bore down. Yet, the person I know Jeannine to be is a person whose quietest habits in daily life are what have most catalyzed the reception of Vatican II and renewal of the Catholic Church on matters of gender and sexuality. Honored to know Jeannine as a colleague and as a friend, I conclude with this prayer:
Radiant colors stretched across the sky,
the rainbow is your sign of loving covenant,
after flood waters bathed the earth, O Divine Creator.
From You, creation is breathed into being,
from chaotic waters, infinite diversity rises,
every person reflecting You, wonderfully made,
every creature beloved by You, wonderfully made.
Arms stretched to the ends of the Cross’ beam,
Jesus is your sign of lasting covenant,
after we forget how to love, O Divine Redeemer.
Slowly, creation seeks Your embrace by
our daily labors and our bread broken,
yet imperfect lives keep restrained the love
You poured into our beings, love to pour out.
With lives stretched outward from within,
we are your sign of liberating covenant,
after we encounter the Other, O Divine Healer.
Pierced by the Other’s inquiry of “Will you love?”
our reconciling hopes foundations for new bridges,
creating a church where God’s queer people
from margins to center come, radiant people,
lives echoing Jesus’ prayer to be One.
We are the People of God, invoking your creative breath,
as a sacrament in the world, as an outstretched rainbow
proclaiming anew in our renewing witness,
Your loving, lasting, liberating covenant.
May this be so; may we be one. Amen.
Nearly four months ago, Pope Francis inaugurated, to much excitement and anticipation, the Jubilee Year of Mercy now underway. He has called for this to be a time to remind ourselves that the church to be a “home for all,” a place “where everyone is loved, welcomed, and forgiven.” Catholics worldwide are participating in many ways and Malta’s Bishop Mario Grech even expressed his hope that the year would “start a new era for the Church.”
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, it is worth inquiring about what impact the Year of Mercy is actually having for LGBT Catholics, their loved ones, and their allies.
Positive moments of expanding mercy and inclusion have occurred. In several instances, bishops have used the Year of Mercy to extend special welcomes to LGBT communities.
For instance, Bishop Terry Steib, SVD of Memphis, in his letter titled A Compassionate Response, called on Catholics to tightly link mercy with humility and to be open to encounter and dialogue in ways which can move LGBT issues forward. Two bishops even apologized for the church’s mistreatment of marginalized people. In his Lenten message on mercy, Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, sought forgiveness from those whom the church had hurt, including LGBT people. In New Orleans, Archbishop Gregory Aymond is hosting a Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday that includes a ritual of forgiveness and resurrection which acknowledges:
“[That] we as individuals, as members of the archdiocese and society as a whole have let people down. . .This rite seeks forgiveness and reconciliation with those who have been hurt or alienated by the church either through institutional or individual offenses.”
While no communities were specified, LGBT people are clearly included among those hurt by the church and Aymond has spoken in more positive terms about issues of sexuality in the past.
Lay Catholics are participating in the Year of Mercy, too. Many call for a more just and inclusive church and society. As a way to mark this special year, Kentucky Catholics marched through downtown Louisville and rallied outside the cathedral to foster support for LGBT non-discrimination protections. U.S. Catholics elsewhere, including at least two governors, are actively resisting “license to discriminate” bills now under consideration in state legislatures across the country. And two transgender Catholics shared their stories during a workshop at L.A. Religious Education Congress, the largest Catholic gathering in North America.
Despite these items of good news, negative moments have also occurred.Too many church officials are either avoiding the Year of Mercy or it seems they do not quite understand mercy. Malawi’s bishops used a pastoral letter on mercy to call for the government to jail LGBT people. A pastor disrupted a funeral because of his opposition to LGBT issues. Another pastor closed a parish LGBT ministry. The Vatican has thus far refused to intervene to stop Dominican Republic church leaders’ increasing attacks on gay U.S. Ambassador James Brewster. For church leaders whose hearts remained hardened to LGBT people, we can pray these words taken from Pope Francis’ prayer for the Year of Mercy:
“You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error: let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.”
When it comes to LGBT concerns, Pope Francis’ own involvement in the Year of Mercy is ambiguous. The million-dollar question right now is what impact his upcoming apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, will have for LGBT Catholics. The pope consistently preaches mercy during his Wednesday audiences, his foreign travels, and everything else in between. But he lodged his harshest criticism of marriage equality yet in January, and his involvement in Italy’s debate over civil unions has been unclear.
The jury is still out on whether the Year of Mercy, viewed as a whole, will be good or not good for LGBT people and other Catholics who support equality. There are signs of hope among the people of God but plenty of intransigence in ecclesial institutions too.
What do you think? Has the Year of Mercy benefited LGBT Catholics? If not yet, do you think it still might? What would be ways of showing greater mercy to those the church excludes and harms? You can leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.