Catholics Recommit to Bridge Building after Orlando Tragedy

July 25, 2016
Australians Hold Candlelit Vigils For Victims Of Orlando Nightclub Shooting

Memorial for Pulse Nightclub victims

Many bridges still need building when it comes to LGBT people, their families, and the Catholic Church. Where can Catholics turn for models of bridge building, especially after the mass shooting in Orlando which left 49 people dead and 53 more wounded?

Lay people and religious have offered some compassionate models of how this reconciling work can be done. For instance, the Sisters of St. Agnes in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin organized a vigil shortly after Orlando. Sister Sally Brickner told the Fond du Lac Reporter that 150 vigil attendees “really do feel that discrimination is wrong . . . hate crimes are wrong.” This vigil was the most well attended of any which the sisters have held for other causes, revealing both the deep need for such an action by a Catholic group.

The Orlando incident and the sisters’ response helped to shine the spotlight on two Wisconsin parishes that offer welcoming ministries. The same article which reported the sisters’ vigil took a look at the week-to-week ministry that goes on in Catholic parishes that welcome LGBT people. At Holy Family Catholic Community in Fond du Lac, a group called All God’s Family meets every couple of months. There, according to pastor Fr. Ryan Preuss, lesbian/gay people and their families share their stories and discuss how they engage church teaching. Barbara Lent, the group’s coordinator, told the Reporter:

” ‘Everyone’s the same. . .It’s just who you love. You really have a right to love who you want to love. . .Sometimes [change] takes time, but you got to keep doing it.’ “

Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Menomonee Falls hosts Gay and Straight in Christ, about which founder Ann Castiglione said:

” ‘It’s just important that everyone be welcome in our church. . .[LGBT people don’t] feel welcome, so we’re trying to do something about that in our little corner of the world.’ “

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, explained to the news reporter the background motivation that inspires such groups:

“Catholic support of LGBT people is done because the people are Catholic, not in spite of being Catholic.”

DeBernardo, however, was critical of bishops who “have been very negative in their approach to LGBT issues.”

The majority of U.S. bishops’ responses to Orlando seriously challenges their claims of engaging LGBT people with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” Just a handful of bishops acknowledged the targeting of an LGBT nightclub, and even fewer admitted the church’s complicity in encouraging anti-LGBT prejudices. In its editorial on the mass shooting, the National Catholic Reporter stated:

“The massacre in Orlando was a heinous hate crime, a moment screaming out for moral outrage, for the words to match the horrific reality. What the Catholic community in the United States received from the president of its bishops’ conference was a three-sentence serving of sanctimonious boilerplate that, except for the use of the term ‘violence,’ might have been referring to a natural disaster or a plane crash. . .

“It is good to have the language of a few members of the hierarchy who understand that intolerance breeds contempt and violence, but we can’t and don’t need to wait for bishops to speak. The laity are leading the bishops on this issue, and with a strong, persistent voice, we can and must advocate against discrimination based on sexuality and gender in society and in our church.”

It is not too late for more bishops to engage positively with LGBT people and their families, in the church and outside of it. Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden wrote about Orlando in the Catholic Herald, saying:

“Just as heart wrenching as the deaths themselves, I am troubled that the victims were specifically targeted because of their sexual orientation. No human being should ever suffer the hate of others. Hate is an affront to God.

“As Christians we are subject to the Law of Christ. “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is His new commandment. ‘One another’ includes gay people. A Catholic who demonstrates hate toward a person — because of his or her sexual orientation, religion, or the color of his or her skin — needs to seek the forgiveness of God. From where does such hate originate? And, why are homosexual persons too frequently its victims?

“Our LGBT sisters and brothers are as much made in the image of God as I am. Their sexual orientation does not make them less in the eyes of God. As someone who is loved by gay relatives and friends, and who loves them equally, I fear that they too could be victims of such hatred.”

In a letter to those Catholics who gathered for prayer about Orlando, Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver expressed particular sadness because the victims were “targeted for being identified with the LGBT community.”

The lesson about building bridges after Orlando may be that acts are more necessary than words if the church is going to be in real solidarity. This is a point driven home by Caitlin Opperman, a queer Latina student at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, who write in campus newspaper The Hoya:

“We cannot forget Pulse was an LGBTQ club. We cannot forget it was Latin night. We cannot forget Latinxs, specifically Puerto Ricans, were most affected by this tragedy. We cannot let people use this massacre as an excuse to engage in Islamophobia. We cannot stay silent on the issue of gun control. We have to acknowledge that masculinity is toxic. We have to accept that queer people of color need safe spaces. But most of all, we need to act. Silence and inaction perpetuate violence against members of my communities and other oppressed groups. We are living in fear. We are out of safe spaces. We need more than thoughts and prayers.

“To the 49 beautiful queer folks whose lives were taken on June 12, rest in power. Que en paz descansen [Rest in peace]. I hope wherever you are, you keep dancing.”

The National Catholic Reporter’s editorial emphasized that lay people need to lead the way if church leaders remain unresponsive.  The editors said that Catholics do not “have to wait for approval or direction from on high to know what to do in this extreme circumstance.” They continued:

“The Catholic community knows a hate crime when it sees it and should do all it can to promote understanding and tolerance. . .The Catholic community, making the case from the church’s social justice tradition and the inherent Christian concern for the common good, can become a formidable influence in challenging the status quo. Standing together, we can say no to a culture of gun violence. We can say yes to gender justice and inclusivity.”

How have you or your faith community responded with a yes to justice and inclusivity after Orlando? How have you witnessed bridges being built between LGBT people and church leaders? Please let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Cardinal Schönborn: “Amoris Laetitia” Evolves Catholic Doctrine on Family Life

July 8, 2016
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Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, right, holding Amoris Laetitia when it was announced in April

A top cardinal who was closely connected to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, has again affirmed the exhortation’s authoritative status, and said it evolves understandings and expressions of Catholic doctrine.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, a Dominican, made these remarks and others in an extensive interview with Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro of the Vatican-reviewed Italian journal, La Civita Cattolica. Excerpts, available here, have been translated into English.

Amoris Laetitia is “the great text of moral theology” the church has awaited since Vatican II, America quoted Schönborn as saying. It is moving the church from ” ‘a defensive pastoral style in which evil becomes an obsession’ toward one that focuses on recognizing the value of encouraging what is good.” Asked about the exhortation’s authority and the exhortation’s relation to Catholic doctrine–in light of criticisms that it is a minor document, or even only the pope’s opinion, as Cardinal Raymond Burke claimed–Schönborn said:

“It is obvious that this is an act of the magisterium. . .I have no doubt that it must be said that this is a pontifical document of great quality, an authentic teaching of sacra doctrina, which leads us back to the contemporary relevance of the Word of God. . .

“In this sphere of human realities, the Holy Father has fundamentally renewed the discourse of the Church – certainly along the lines of Evangelii gaudium, but also of Gaudium et spes, which presents doctrinal principles and reflections on human beings today that are in a continuous evolution. There is a profound openness to accept reality.”

Schönborn said Pope Francis rejected doctrine which is “abstract pronouncements that are separated from the subject who lives,” saying the exhortation’s “bedrock” is understanding that families are not ideals but rather are journeying. He continued:

“The complexity of family situations, which goes far beyond what was customary in our Western societies even a few decades ago, has made it necessary to look in a more nuanced way at the complexity of these situations. To a greater degree than in the past, the objective situation of a person does not tell us everything about that person in relation to God and in relation to the Church. This evolution compels us urgently to rethink what we meant when we spoke of objective situations of sin. And this implicitly entails a homogeneous evolution in the understanding and in the expression of the doctrine.”

In short, Schönborn clarified, “There is no general norm that can cover all the particular cases.”

Other bishops have affirmed Amoris Laetitia‘s authority as they consider how it should be implemented. Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo, Malta, called church ministers to exercise “cautious discernment and respect” when encountering people in irregular situations, reported the Independent. Naming LGBT Catholics in civil unions, Grech said:

“Our pastoral activity should be based on four actions – accepting, accompanying, discerning and integrating. The Pope tells us it is important that we help divorced people who are in a new relationship to feel part of the church, that they are not excommunicated or regarded as such, because they also form part of the ecclesiastical communion.”

Grech, whose record on LGBT issues is generally positive, encouraged church ministers not to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation a “torture chamber.” Instead, he said the church must engage people as people, not situations, and to “[be] mindful of the language you use.”

Yet despite Schönborn and others’ insistence that Amoris Laetitia represents a development of doctrine, especially in its respect for the complexities of family life today, not all bishops have treated it as such.

Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday on new guidelines from Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput establishing general norms in the archdiocese that ban LGBT people from parish ministries and seek to deny Communion to Catholics in non-traditional families. You can read New Ways Ministry’s statement on these guidelines here.

Debates about Amoris Laetitia will certainly continue for months, if not years. What is important for LGBT Catholics and their advocates, however, is the growing admission by church leaders that doctrine can and has developed when it comes to family life. Opponents of same-gender sexual activity, relationships, and marriage equality frequently say church teaching is unchanging. But Cardinal Schönborn’s interview makes clear such a view is false, and that beyond the clear pastoral recommendations there are doctrinal implications, too. His voice possesses tremendous weight. He was the spokesperson at the April press conference that made Amoris Laetitia available to the public.  He appeared alongside a married Italian couple and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldiserri, the Synod of Bishops’ secretary general.  In the 1990s,  Schönborn oversaw publication of the most recent edition of the Catechism.

The progressive changes sought by many Catholics on gender and sexuality issues were not accomplished in or by Amoris Laetitia. And Archbishop Chaput’s guidelines are evidence the document can and will be misinterpreted by church leaders who wish to suppress pastoral and doctrinal evolution. But there is tremendous hope in the reality that a growing number of church leaders are admitting change is possible, and even needed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


New Guidelines Ban LGBT People from Parish Ministries

July 7, 2016
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Archbishop Charles Chaput

In new guidelines, Philadelphia’s archbishop has banned people in same-gender relationships from pastoral or liturgical roles.

Archbishop Charles Chaput’s guidelines are a response to Amoris LaetitiaPope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on family, and the synodal process preceding the exhortation’s April publication. The guidelines, which became effective July 1, instruct church ministers involved with marriage and family life, or the church’s sacramental life on handling Catholics in diverse family arrangements.  In addition to restrictions on same-gender couples, the guidelines also tell pastors not to distribute communion to couples who are divorced and civilly remarried, as well as couples who are cohabitating.

(For New Ways Ministry’s response to the guidelines, click here.)

Addressing the pastoral care of people in same-gender relationships, Chaput wrote that pastors must prudentially judge an appropriate response to couples who “present themselves openly in a parish.” He continued:

“But two persons in an active, public same-sex relationship, no matter how sincere, offer a serious counter-witness to Catholic belief, which can only produce moral confusion in the community. Such a relationship cannot be accepted into the life of the parish without undermining the faith of the community, most notably the children.

“Finally, those living openly same-sex lifestyles should not hold positions of responsibility in a parish, nor should they carry out any liturgical ministry or function.”

Under a section titled “For persons who experience same-sex attraction,” Chaput said lesbian, bisexual, and gay Catholics should “struggle to live chastely” and celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently.

Michael Rocks, president of Dignity/Philadelphia, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was “not surprised” by Chaput issuing such harsh guidelines, but questioned them nonetheless:

” ‘But I wonder how they tell if straight people are following the sexual rules of the church. . .How do they tell if the president of the parish council isn’t into child pornography or having a sexual relationship?’ “

Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, said that instead of acknowledging the fullness of marriage and family, “in Philadelphia, it is all about the genitalia.” He continued:

“So intent are prelates like Archbishop Chaput in refusing to think there is anything really worth discussing here, they wish to shut down and foreclose the pope’s obvious invitation to discussion and adult decision making. . .

“When Archbishop Chaput gets to the situation of gay and lesbian Catholics, he declines to even show the simple respect of referring to gays and lesbians as they refer to themselves, adopting the awkward, and rude, circumlocution “those who experience same sex attraction. . .When such respect is seen to coincide with even the tiniest possibility that an opportunity to denounce homosexual relations as sinful will be missed, too many prelates follow Archbishop Chaput and decline the respect and seize the opportunity.”

Archbishop Chaput acknowledged part of the guidelines as a “hard teaching,” but insisted on these guidelines in the archdiocese. His record on LGBT issues had been already quite troubling before these guidelines were announced. He previously ejected LGBT organizations from hosting programs at a Catholic parish, and he warned LGBT Catholics against protesting ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. Locally, he implemented a morality pledge for parents of Catholic schoolchildren that includes non-support of LGBT equality, dismissed the concerns of a Catholic mother with gay sons, and said he was “very grateful” lesbian educator Margie Winters had been fired by the Sisters of Mercy. This list of problematic statements and actions against LGBT people goes on.

Even with this record, banning Catholics in loving, fruitful same-gender relationships from all parish and liturgical ministries is notable. This exclusionary stance not only harms LGBT people and their families, but hinders the church’s mission too by depriving it of the many gifts and talents that faithful LGBT people offer the People of God.

Unfortunately, the archbishop’s merciless stance may not be limited to Philadelphia. Chaput, who participated in the 2015 General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, was appointed by U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ President Archbishop Joseph Kurtz to head a working group tasked with “furthering the reception and implementation of” Amoris Laetitia. He chairs, too, the Conference’s Committee on Family Life, and was elected to the Synod of Bishops’ 12-member permanent council.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: Gay Priest’s Orientation a ‘Blessing from God’

May 31, 2016

computer_key_Quotation_MarksAs part of Sr. Camille D’Arienzo’s regular interviews with extraodinary “ordinary” Catholics in the National Catholic ReporterFr. Ron Cioffi reflected upon his 47 years as an ordained priest. He spoke about being raised Catholic, his call to ordained ministry, connections with the Catholic Worker movement, and most of all the parish in New Jersey where he has served for many years. Then, asked if there is anything else readers should know, the priest came out, tying together beautifully his sexual identity with his vocation:

“Yes, I am a gay person whose self-identity includes an abiding call to ministry in our church. I wish to testify that there is nothing in seriously living out my life as a priest that dissuades me from any other conclusion than that my orientation is a blessing from God for use in and for the church that is called to help each of us discern and celebrate the good and always affirming love of God for all persons.”

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Fr. Ron Cioffi

Earlier in the interview, Fr. Cioffi said he had an as yet unrealized goal of establishing an outreach committee with a “focus on welcoming and credibly supporting” LGBT people. He explained at the interview’s end how his coming out as a gay priest might advance that welcome and support:

“In sharing this deeply personal fact, I hope it will give courage and hope to so many people who find their minority status a deeply wounding and unrelieved burden that too few religious leaders have moved to redress with a healing that acknowledges one’s full human dignity.”

Despite research suggesting that a high percentage of Catholic priests are gay, there are very few priests who are out publicly. Like other out gay priests before him, Fr. Cioffi provides an example which helps combat the stigma that keeps too many clergy silenced.  Such an example can heal the wounds of exclusion that too many LGBT people bear because of church ministers. This witness is, most certainly, a blessing from God!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Irish Synod Approves Outreach Proposal to LGBT People, Others Hurt by Church

April 11, 2016
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Synod delegates listen to a speaker

Today, Catholic LGBT and ally pilgrims from the U.S. are bound for Ireland, sponsored by New Ways Ministry.   Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, will be the spiritual leader of this pilgrimage group traveling to the “land of rainbows and wedding bells.” Once there, we will celebrate Ireland’s successful referendum last year that legalized marriage equality, as well as meeting with two Irish Catholic LGBT groups along the way.

We will arrive to good news out of Limerick, where Catholics just concluded a diocesan synod last night after 18 months of listening and of dialogue. Last weekend, 400 delegates gathered for the synod, which was described by Bishop Brendan Leahy as the “distilling of the wisdom of the listening that has gone on across the 60 parishes of our diocese of Limerick.”

Delegates considered 100 proposals about church teaching and practice that emerged from a listening process, which included meetings with 1,500 people and other input from more than 5,000 people. The Irish Times reported on one proposal related to LGBT Catholics:

“A proposal to reach out to those hurt by the church including women who have had abortions, members of the LGBT community and people who have spent time in church institutions was overwhelmingly supported on the first day of the synod.

“Some 52 per cent of the delegates ‘strongly supported’ the proposal with 38 per cent expressing more general support.”

Fr. Eamon Fitzgibbon, synod director, commented afterwards about the importance of recognizing the harm church leaders have caused LGBT people:

” ‘We are all too well aware of people who have been hurt by the church in the past. I suppose even most recently with the marriage equality referendum, a lot of people voiced hurt and concern, for example with how the LGBT community might have felt alienated.’ “

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Bishop Leahy, center, speaking with delegates

Before the synod met, Bishop Leahy acknowledged that the church must admit its wrongs in order to do “our part to repair and remedy.” He told The Irish Catholic:

“We need to acknowledge the failure and disappointment we see in our own wounds, those at the heart of the Church, in all that has not been right in the Church, in the complex situations of the world around us.”

Leahy told the Limerick Post that the synod was an opportunity to apologize to those hurt by the church and to reach out out them “as much as we can.” You can read more of the bishop’s worthwhile thoughts about why he called this synod and what impact it could have by clicking here.

This gathering was the first diocesan synod in Limerick in 80 years and the first in Ireland in 50 years. Beyond the six themes around which delegates conversed (Community & Sense of Belonging; Faith Formation; Pastoral Care of the Family; New Models of Leadership; Liturgy and Life; Young People), “universal issues” were considered such as LGBT issues and even the ordination of women.

Most delegates were lay Catholics, including a significant number of women, with clergy and religious numbering about 100. Bishop Charles John Brown, papal nuncio to Ireland, who bore an Apostolic Blessing for the event from Pope Francis, also attended. Synod Director, Fr. Fitzgibbons, noted that besides parish delegates, representatives from “education, healthcare, communities within the city, inter-faith delegates – Polish community, immigrant delegates” were included. Bishop Leahy described the process to the Limerick Leader:

“It was launched in 2014, and then opened up a whole journey of contacting and building bridges with all kinds of people, to discuss the future directions of our Diocese. That was step one. We now actually have the event itself, which will be for three very full days of deliberations, discussions, and that will be a very, very important moment.

“After that comes the actual making up of all that policy as it were; once the decisions are taken and recommendations are given to me, then I have the task of producing a programme for government – somebody used that image and there is an element of that about it – I have the task to make that policy and implement it basically.”

Bishop Leahy seems to respect Catholics’ voices, as he called this synodal process a “people-led journey” because the “the people decided what would be on the agenda and the people voted.”

The people of God in Limerick, led by Bishop Leahy, have offered a living witness for dioceses worldwide about how to listen to victims of the church’s violence, how to learn from the wisdom of Catholics’ lived realities, how to dialogue about sharp differences, and how to move forward in faith as one Body in Christ. More synods should begin this lengthy, but meaningful process by calling diocesan and national synods and enacting the localized governance called for by Pope Francis.

As Frank DeBernardo and I, your faithful bloggers, join other pilgrims in our journey across Ireland, celebrating equality and praising God in prayer, we will give thanks for the people of God in Ireland who have expanded LGBT rights in society and sought justice in the church. In a special way, we carry in our hearts and our minds all of you, our blog readers and New Ways Ministry supporters, who faithfully work each day for LGBT equality!

If you would like information about future pilgrimages, please send an email request, containing your postal address to info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Priest Who Denied Communion to Same-Gender Couple Now Disrupts Parishioner’s Funeral

March 22, 2016
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St. Leo’s Catholic Church

A Montana priest’s disruption of a parishioner’s funeral recently has its roots in his denial of communion to a same-gender couple in the parish in 2014.

Almost two years ago, Fr.  Spiering, 29, denied Communion to Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick because the two men had recently married. The pastor expelled them from parish ministries in which they had been active. Fellow parishioners at St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Lewistown protested the priest’s act at the time, including resignations by the church choir’s director and several members.

Earlier this month, at least three of those former choir members and director Janie Shupe were invited by the Valach family to sing at the funeral of Pearl Valach, a parishioner at the church for all of her 92 years. Ms. Valach had disagreed at the time with the priest’s decision to deny Communion to Huff and Wojtowick but remained in the church. Her daughter-in-law, Susan Valach, explained to the Great Falls Tribune:

“She was upset when the decision was made. . .She continued to be faithful to the church, but with pain in her heart.”

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Pearl Valach

Greg Clark, partner of Pearl’s son Frank Valach Jr. for twenty-plus years, said Pearl was so pained by the priest’s actions that she never spoke about it. But Greg, Frank, and other members of the Valach family left the parish after the communion denial. They said the decision to hold the funeral at St. Leo’s was painful, but did so to respect Pearl’s wishes.

When Valach’s loved ones and parishioners–more than 300 people–gathered for the funeral on the morning of March 8, he told Shupe she could not join the singers, but she could only participate at the funeral from her pew. Shupe explained:

” ‘It was mortifying. It was the most embarrassing thing. I could have stepped down, but at the same time I thought, “That’s ridiculous “. . .I can’t believe anyone in the right mind, let alone anyone who professes to love God, could do this.’ “

Fr. Dan O’Rourke, the parish’s former pastor who was invited to celebrate the funeral, defended Shupe’s right to lead singing. After he argued with Spiering about the decision, Spiering threatened to prevent O’Rourke from presiding at the funeral, and threatened to ban him from the parish. The family, however, refused to let their mother’s funeral be tarnished by Spiering’s continued exclusion. When Spiering informed Valach’s widower, Frank Valach, that the he would now celebrate the funeral Mass, the family rejected that offering and demanded Fr. O’Rourke. Susan Valach explained:

” ‘We immediately said, “Absolutely, no”. . .I went up to the choir and said we would cancel. Our family was so upset and finally (Spiering) agreed to leave. . .

” ‘As a family, we would like to let this go, but it isn’t right. . .It hurts all Christians because it’s not compassionate.’ “

Fr. Jay Peterson, vicar general for the Great Falls-Billings Diocese who was in attendance, presided at the funeral Mass. Peterson invited the women, including Janie Shupe, to lead the singing. Greg Clark said all involved were able to put aside the pre-funeral antics of Spiering for a “reverent, celebratory, and beautiful” liturgy. Clark wrote on his blog [editor’s note: he uses strong language in the blog post]:

“For the balance of the day our family basked in her glow. And there was no doubt that God was with us. Hence against all odds, our love for her conquered all. It wasn’t until later that evening that our angst and frustration over the morning’s events arose again. All must be told about the sins of that Father.”

But the incident — and the harm done — has not ended. This controversy continued to play out in the following weeks. Spiering commented on the incident before his homily at Mass on March 22, stating the he does not regret the decision he made but only the manner in which he made it. He attacked Fr. O’Rourke in his statement and promised St. Leo’s parishioners a new funeral policy to “prevent such problems” in the future. Spiering apologized to the Valach family in a one-liner at the end, but the family said neither the priest nor Bishop Michael Warfel had reached out to them since the funeral.

Fr. O’Rourke released his own statement, explaining that Spiering would not let the matter drop even though the funeral was set to begin in fifteen minutes and had threatened to ban him from the parish. The former pastor’s statement ended positively: “The singer/musician sang her heart out.”

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Tom Wojtowick and Paul Huff

Fr. Peterson, in his position as diocesan vicar general, defended Spiering’s actions as an exercise of his “canonical rights” despite it not being “the right pastoral decision.” Peterson said Bishop Michael Warfel was “very concerned” about the incident, which was described as an “unfortunate conflict.” Peterson, a longtime friend of the Valach family, said despite it being Holy Week he hoped “things can be dealt with sooner than later to bring healing and unity and peace” and would be involved if he could help, reported the Independent Record.

In the words of a Billings Gazette reporter:

“It was supposed to be a simple funeral for a woman who was a lifelong Catholic and a lifetime member of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Lewistown. . .Instead, it devolved into a disagreement that nearly derailed the rite and left family and friends confused and angry.”

Few incidents in the church hurt more than sacramental exclusion and interference. These incidents cause tremendous pastoral damage to those targeted  and those witnessing these The tragic nature of this funeral incident speaks for itself. Coupled with Spiering’s denial of Communion to a same-gender couple, this funeral fiasco should be enough for Bishop Warfel to question Fr. Spiering’s ministerial competencies and role in active ministry and in the priesthood altogether.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


L.A. Religious Education Congress Hosts Workshop on Transgender Catholics

March 10, 2016

religiousedcongress20161Nearly 40,000 people attend the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress each year, and this year two transgender Catholics were among those attending after being invited to share their stories. Crux reported:

“. . . [E]vent organizers this year took a cue from popular culture and included a new session, one that attracted a standing room only crowd of 750 people, nearly all of whom jumped to their feet for a sustained round of applause after talks from two young, committed Catholics.”

The two Catholics who spoke during the workshop, titled “Transgender in the Church: One Bread, One Body,” were Matteo Williamson and Anna Patti.

Williamson, 24, spoke about being raised Catholic and the mixed experiences he has had in the church. But under Pope Francis’ leadership, Williamson believes “there’s been a change among people in general to understand something that they maybe haven’t encountered before.”

Patti, 23, spoke too about being trans and Catholic, too. You can read a transcript of her remarks by clicking here. She told Crux afterwards:

” ‘Catholic spirituality and the Catholic tradition can provide more nourishment, and also more sense into the trans experience, than anything else I’ve encountered.’ “

The problem, in her estimation, is that the church in the U.S. is too invested in politics, specifically anti-LGBT work, which turns an ideal setting “into the worst place imaginable.” Too many LGBT people have been hurt by the church or understand it to be a transphobic institution, so they refuse to explore faith. But the session at the L.A. Congress was an “unexpectedly affirming experience” for Patti, who told Crux:

” ‘I hadn’t realized how silenced I felt within the Church. . .At Mass I always sit in the back row in the back corner, making myself as visibly small as possible. Here was the opposite, where people wanted to learn about an issue that is so often immediately condemned.’ “

Explaining the decision to host a session on gender identity, Fr. Christopher Bazyouros who directs the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ office of religious education, which is the sponsor of the Congress, said:

” ‘There aren’t many places for Catholics to discuss these things that are thoughtful, intentional, and that gathers people who have had this experience. . .Many Catholics want information about this topic, they want things to help them understand this situation.’ “

Bazyouros also cited Pope Francis’ desire for people to encounter one another, saying conversations begin more easily from the sharing of personal stories. Based on responses, it seems the session received widespread approve. Laura Wagner, who works at a Catholic high school, said she attended to learn more, and the session gave her “a lot of hope for the future of the Church.” Kevin Stockbridge, a graduate student, said it was good for trans Catholics to speak out because too often the issue is silenced.

Williamson and Patti were clear that, moving forward, no one is expecting that people become experts on gender identity. Instead, they called for a focus on acceptance and love, with Patti saying that “it comes down to, are you willing to accept another human being, a child of God?”

As the church grapples with gender identity issues in their many facets, this conversation at the L.A. Congress is a major step forward towards building up faith communities inclusive of people of all genders.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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