Married Gay Catholics Chosen as “Persons of the Year”

Michael DeLeon and Greg Bourke

Married gay Catholics Greg Bourke and Michael DeLe­on were chosen as Persons of the Year by the National Catholic Reporter for their role in the U.S. Supreme Court case which led to marriage equality’s legalization across the nation last June.

Bourke and DeLeon were plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that marriage rights should be extended to lesbian and gay couples.

NCR‘s editors said this ruling was among the “truly important, history-changing events, events that will touch future generations intimately and profoundly.” Catholic responses have ranged from some bishops who decried the decision, to some bishops made welcoming statements to lesbian and gay people, to exuberant LGBT advocates who had worked for years for this outcome. But whatever the response, the legal question of marriage equality is now a settled matter in the U.S.

What is less settled are how cultures and churches are changing as people in same-gender marriages become more well-known. The editorial cited theologian Lisa Fullam’s response to the Obergefell ruling, which in her estimation strongly echoed Catholic teachings on marriage. Fullam said church leaders should “take note of the powerful spirit of love and commit­ment vivifying lesbian and gay marriages as well as straight marriages.” Eventually, “acceptance will replace fear,” but until then the editorial continued:

“Today, we address a more fundamental issue: How will we as a church live with our gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters? We are past the time of ‘love the sinner’ platitudes.”

Bourke and DeLeon, who are Catholic, are “emblematic” of these challenges in the Catholic Church. By their existence as a married same-gender couple who practice their faith, “they force us to ask not how will we live out a hypothetical situ­ation, but how will we live with Greg and Michael.” Current answers by the church are, in the editors’ words, “confused, uneven and often cruel” and LGBT Catholics deserve better.

Indeed, the couple’s involvement challenging Kentucky’s marriage equality ban came out of Greg Bourke’s expulsion as a local Boy Scout leader because the troop was hosted by a Catholic parish. Bourke remains barred from leadership despite the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to accept gay leaders because Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville refused to accept that decision.

NCR’s editors further highlighted the discrimination faced by LGBT church workers, writing:

“Bourke and DeLeon are lucky in that they are only parishioners and volunteers. Their livelihoods do not depend on the institutional church. In 2015, at least 10 church employees in the United States lost their jobs because of sexual orientation. . .In most cases, their orientation and even their partners were known by the community. They expe­rienced no difficulties until they entered civil mar­riages.”

Church workers’ rights are, as this blog noted yesterday, a preeminent issue with which Catholic communities must grapple in 2016, the Year of Mercy. The editorial noted that even Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich, who repeatedly calls for LGBT Catholics’ consciences to be respected, is facing two discrimination claims from terminated church workers.

The Catholic Church’s response to marriage equality’s ongoing expansion is troublesome. The presence of sexual and gender diverse Catholics in the Church requires that we review pastoral ministry, employment policies, doctrinal teachings, and deeply rooted identities . Their lives and their love demands of Catholics that our faith communities abide by the principles we preach and that our church universal lives with greater fidelity to the Gospels.

I have to add that, in and of itself, it is significant that the leading U.S. Catholic newspaper chose a married gay couple as their Persons of the Year in 2015. This was a year with few comparisons for U.S. Catholics, which included major events like the papal visit in September, and the Synod on the Family in October. That the National Catholic Reporter chose lay Catholics who remain, in many ways, on the margins of our church is a positive step towards a less hierarchical and more inclusive church.

Greg Bourke, Michael DeLeon, and the many, many faithful LGBT Catholics who bear witness to the true sanctity of marriage are hopeful signs for the coming year! It is so good that they have been recognized so prominently.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

NCR Editorial Raises Questions, Expresses Hope Amid Synod Survey Results

As international bishops continue releasing survey results for the Synod on Bishops on marriage & family life this fall, the National Catholic Reporter is raising questions about why more American prelates did not participate.

Last fall, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops announced it would follow the ‘usual process’ for the Vatican’s unusual request to consult with Catholics “immediately” and “as widely as possible.” Michael O’Loughlin, on behalf of NCR, explored what this meant in reality for synod preparations by US dioceses.

It appears 78 dioceses made survey information easily available to the public, using a combination of online data gathering, direct consultations, and reports from parishes or diocesan offices. Only about a dozen released the results, including an extremely honest article from Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg. In a blog post on how NCR put together O’Loughlin’s article, editor Dennis Coday notes of the bishops’ lackluster participation:

“We are reporting that 76 dioceses out of nearly 200 publicly and actively sought some kind consultation with their people…

“Now, certainly, more than 76 dioceses could have turned in reports to the Vatican — it doesn’t seem logical that nearly two-thirds of U.S. dioceses wouldn’t respond to a Vatican request for information — but we don’t know what that number would be. We also have no idea whom they consulted, let alone what they reported.

“That not knowing is the story behind the story of the questionnaire.”

In a follow-up post a week later, Coday promised an updated report based upon reader input, adding a few diocese and also speaking to the incredible dismay Catholics expressed when their dioceses were missing. He writes as well of a “shadow category” for when it was unclear whether the diocese responded or not:

“And most of the people I heard from are engaged, practicing Catholics: ‘I didn’t hear anything about the questionnaire even though I am on my parish’s pastoral council,’ a woman from a Western state wrote me.

“This woman’s diocese — and still the vast majority of dioceses — falls into what I call the ‘shadow category,’ where we can’t figure out what the diocese did. This doesn’t mean that the bishop did not consult broadly or that he didn’t report back to the people he consulted what he heard, but we can’t find any easily, publicly available information that describes the process he used or what he did with the data.”

And what of those diocese which did release results? O’Loughlin concludes that the data shows “American Catholics have questions about the church’s teachings on a range of family-related issues.” You can read his full breakdown of several diocese’s reports here. Also of interest is that Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore were among the bishops calling for professional research organizations to conduct the consultations next time. There have also been voices of the small, eight-week timeline dioceses had for information collection.

Noting that Pope Francis urged participants at last summer’s World Youth Day to ‘make a mess,’ National Catholic Reporter’s editorial on this issue claims messiness is truly the pope’s modus operandi and this  is most evident by how he has handled preparations for the Synod. From there, NCR writes about the American response to these preparations:

“The story of how bishops responded or didn’t respond to the sharing of the questionnaire in the United States and beyond has been described in nearly every issue of this newspaper since…

“The bishops in this country approached the questionnaire in a variety of ways. Those who did their best to consult with the widest possible cross section of their dioceses and then tried even in limited ways to respond to or report back what they had heard deserve a good deal of praise. It’s exciting to see bishops reaching out like this. Our hope is that it portends a return to the consultations the bishops conducted in the 1980s around their peace and economic pastoral letters. Those exercises created national conversations that brought the church together if ‘not in unanimity’ at least in ‘unity in the richness of diversity.’ “

Now, the office charged with organizing the synod will collate the survey results into a working paper for bishops and NCR expresses their hope that there will be “more creative messiness” as a result. The editorial makes two conclusions from the data available so far:

“We think it is important to bring up two points: First, the majority of responses that have been reported publicly are coming only from the Western world. One of the few exceptions is the report from the Japanese bishops, which actually closely matched what we are hearing from North America and Europe. We have yet to hear from the developing world, where Catholicism is growing, and which we suspect will have unique perspectives that the universal church cannot ignore…

“The second thing to remember is that the responses about rejected church teaching are only half the story. It is especially important that bishops and clergy remember this. The other half of the story is the eagerness that Catholics felt when given the chance to participate in this survey of Catholic family life. Certain teachings or aspects of certain teachings have been rejected, but what shines through is the desire to be part of the church community.”

The editorial expresses hope that Catholics’ enthusiasm to participate and express their views on family life is a foundation for improved pastoral responses amid new realities. It specifically cites the spread of marriage equality as an example of where pastoral responses can grow, even where there is disagreement:

“A number of the U.S. bishops report among their respondents the ambiguity Catholics feel toward same-sex marriage that mirrors public opinion surveys and election polls. Many Catholics haven’t accepted same-sex marriage as valid, but in places as different as St. Petersburg, Fla., Stockton, Calif., and Davenport, Iowa, respondents say that individuals in same-sex relationships should have pastoral care and be made to feel welcome, and children in whatever family configuration they are in deserve to be accepted and nurtured.”

You can read the full editorial from the National Catholic Reporter by clicking here. You can read Bondings 2.0‘s continuing coverage of this Synod of Bishops by accessing the ‘Synod 2014‘ category to the right or by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

UPDATE: USCCB Will Follow ‘Usual Process’ for Synod Consultation

Earlier today, we posted that it looked like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was not encouraging local bishops to consult with the laity about topics such as same-sex marriage, contraception, and divorce, in advance of the 2014 synod on marriage and the family.   That report was based on an October 31st National Catholic Reporter article, which has been updated today.

Reporter Joshua McElwee updated the story after he received the following response from Helen Osman, the USCCB secretary for communication, about how bishops are being encouraged to proceed:

“We’ll follow the usual process, since Rome asks for this kind of consultation on a regular basis.

“We pass on to bishops what is sent to us. They then take care of the local consultation and send the data back to us. We transmit it to the Holy See. That is why the letter says the bishops will send back observations (gathered locally).

“It will be up to each bishop to determine what would be the most useful way of gathering information to provide to Rome.”

You can read McElwee’s story on the new development here.  His original story announcing the Vatican’s announcement has been updated with this new information and can be read here.

Even with this new statement from the USCCB, it seems like local bishops are still going to have to be encouraged by their local churches to collect opinions since the USCCB will not be doing so.   It seems odd that they will be following “the usual process” when it is clear that the Vatican is requesting something very unusual and extraordinary.

With proper encouragement and some creative suggestions from their conference leaders, the U.S. bishops could initiate an incredible opportunity to hear from Catholics about their beliefs on some of the most important and personal matters of today.  The USCCB is foregoing an incredibly positive potential moment in the life of the Church by not being more pro-active in motivating individual bishops to listen to their laity and local pastoral leaders.   It will remain up to the people in the pews to get their bishops to be active listeners.  Let your voice be heard!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Analyzing the Homophobia Lurking Beneath Marriage Equality Opponents’ Argument

I read lots of opinion pieces for and against marriage equality from a variety of perspectives, especially from Catholic and religious positions.  I daresay that I read at least two or three a day–and could probably read a lot more if I had the time to digest all that come my way.  Because many of these pieces repeat arguments that I have heard many times before, my eyes are always attracted to ones that have a freshness to them that make me think in new ways.

Heidi Schlumpf

Such was the case when I read Heidi Schlumpf’s essay in The National Catholic Reporter last week, entitled “Gay marriage foes change their tactics, but not their tune.”   Schlumpf points out a new trend in the way that marriage equality opponents are making their case lately. Because polls continue to show that greater majorities are supporting marriage equality, opponents seem to realize that their arguments about the sinfulness of homosexuality are no longer effective, and they are using a different approach:

“. . . an increasing number of ‘traditional’ marriage supporters are taking a different tactic. They’re not talking about gay people at all — or if they are, it’s only to voice newfound support for LGBT folks.

“It’s not about gay people anymore. It’s about the children.”

Schlumpf cites the recent case of an interview with William B. May, president for Catholics for the Common Good, in which he argued against same-sex marriage, where he stated:

“This issue is not about homosexuality at all. It is about whether marriage is a reality that not only unites a man and a woman with each other, but with any children born from their union.”

Schlumpf asserts that May’s argument is “a definition of marriage that is not ‘adult-centric,’ but rather exists to unite children with their biological moms and dads.”  For her, this definition does not match the reality of her life or withstands the test of logic:

“As the parent of two children not born to me, I understandably question a definition of marriage that wouldn’t include my own union with my husband — not to mention those marriages of men and women that, for whatever reason, don’t include children at all.

“Yet when I pose this question to those who defend traditional marriage in this way, they are usually very supportive of adoptive parenting, seeing couples as almost heroic for creating families by adopting children who need parents. Straight couples, that is.

“To be honest, I find these arguments logically problematic. It seems to me that not opposing legal marriage for adoptive families (two ‘adult-centric’ folks with children not born to them) but doing so for LGBT families (two ‘adult-centric’ folks with children not born to them) reveals that the real problem for defenders of ‘traditional’ marriage is still homosexuality.

“The new ‘spin’ may be that it’s about the kids, but it’s really about homosexuality.”

Schlumpf concludes with an appeal to the new direction set by Pope Francis:

“When even the pope is encouraging Catholics to follow God and ‘endorse the existence of [gay and lesbian people] with love’ rather than ‘reject and condemn’ them, it’s clear that homophobic arguments just aren’t going to work anymore. But neither will defending marriage as an institution only for children and their biological parents.”

What I find refreshing in Schlumpf’s analysis is that she exposes the homophobia which underlies the faulty logic of an argument that on the surface denies being homophobic at all.  Such analysis is needed now more than ever, as Catholic leaders make more use of this type of argument than most religious leaders do.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Fun to Be Catholic Again”

computer_key_Quotation_MarksIn a Washington Post “On Faith” blog post  about how Pope Francis is re-shaping the Catholic Church, Father Thomas Reese, SJ, a senior analyst for The National Catholic Reporter quipped:

“It’s fun to be a religion reporter again. For a while it felt like being on the crime beat. It’s fun to be Catholic again.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


March on Washington Can Teach Catholic Church About Equality

Bayard Rustin with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Millions of Americans marked the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington on Wednesday, an historic event where Civil Rights leaders demanded equality before the law and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Behind the March’s success was Bayard Rustin, a gay man who brilliantly lead organizing efforts, and who, according to Jamie Manson, in The National Catholic Reporter, offers insights for the Catholic Church today.

The March was an unprecedented protest with over 250,000 people participating.  It influenced policymakers to pass civil rights legislation just months afterwards. Bayard Rustin’s pivotal role was nearly forgotten, partly because he was an openly gay man, but is being raised up now by LGBT advocacy groups and others during current commemorations.

Manson explains  that it was Rustin who introduced Rev. King to nonviolent resistance. Rustin had begun advocating for civil rights as early as the 1940s, developed the first Freedom Ride, and first thought up the March on Washington. Yet, as influential and respected as Rustin was within the Civil Rights movement’s leadership, being gay meant discrimination of a different kind:

“Fearing that the demonstrations [outside the 1960 Democratic National Convention planned by Rev. King and Rustin] would undermine his own power, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., an African-American congressman from Harlem, N.Y., insisted they cancel the protest. If they refused, Powell threatened to claim Rustin and King were having an affair.

“Of course, there was no affair, but King surrendered to Powell’s demands, and Rustin was forced to resign and remove himself from the movement he helped shape…

“A month before the [1963] march, news of Rustin’s sexuality resurfaced. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover reported Rustin’s morals charge to segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond. Taking to the Senate floor, Thurmond declared Rustin a “Communist, draft-dodger, and homosexual…”

Fortunately, Strom Thurmond’s antics were repelled by civil rights leaders who supported Rustin in that moment and, Manson points out, it is unlikely that a person’s sexual orientation would cause them censure among contemporary activists. However, Manson wonders about the situation in the Catholic Church and American religious institutions:

“Our churches are home to many LGBT people who make outstanding contributions to the life of the church as lay ministers, teachers, hospital workers, women religious and priests. Many are forced to be silent, however, because some in the church believe their sexual identities discredit or taint their work.

“Anyone who believes that prejudice in our church is passing away is either unaware of or in denial about the hundreds of exceptional LGBT Catholics who, every year, are fired from jobs, uninvited from speaking in churches, or denied participation in church ministry because of their honesty about their sexual orientations or gender identities.

“Rustin’s life reminds us that, not too long ago, most of our culture believed a person’s sexual identity could somehow taint or discredit the knowledge, talent and gifts he or she brings to a community. His story invites us to recognize and challenge the ways in which this toxic and often subconscious belief is still playing out in our churches, communities and families.”

Frequent readers of Bondings 2.0 know experiences of discrimination and exclusion for LGBT Catholics and their allies are all too common in parishes, schools, and social service agencies. Employees with years of job experience are fired for supporting equal rights, couples committed to each other for decades are denied Communion, and priests face expulsion for attempting to offer pastorally-sensitive approaches.

The harm done against these devoted church members is terrible, but just as troubling is the loss of their gifts within our communities and it leaves one thinking: What if the Church is expelling a contemporary Bayard Rustin because she or he is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender? With so much work to be done on behalf of a more just, equitable world, the Church cannot afford this.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Pope Francis’ Predicament with Conservative Catholics

Pope Francis meeting with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Pope Francis is merely five months into his papacy, but he already is reversing a three decades old paradigm in the Catholic Church of conservatives being courted and progressives being silenced. Traditionalist Catholics have responded several ways to Francis’ new style of leadership with potentially wide-ranging implications for both the church and LGBT equality.

David Gibson writes in the National Catholic Reporter about the divided opinions among conservatives in the Church, largely grouped in three camps. First, there are those who openly express their disapproval of Pope Francis, ranging from bloggers to archbishops:

“[Pope Francis has alienated] many on the Catholic right by refusing to play favorites and ignoring their preferred agenda items even as he stressed the kind of social justice issues that are near and dear to progressives…

“Indeed, he barely mentioned abortion directly or even gay rights until he was asked about gay priests during an impromptu press conference on the flight back from Brazil and, in a line heard round the world, he said, ‘Who am I to judge?’

“Catholics on ‘the right wing of the church,’ Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said on the eve of the Brazil trip, “have not been really happy about (Francis’) election.’ “

Others apologetically interpret Pope Francis to show how he is continuing the style and/or substance of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI:

“Not everyone on the right, however, is willing to concede that their influence may be on the wane or even that Francis is really any different than Benedict.

“Instead, many are advancing detailed arguments that they say show Francis doesn’t actually mean what the media and public think he means, adding that the pope’s honeymoon will get a cold shower when liberals see Francis is just as orthodox as his predecessors.”

A number of conservatives recognize change is occurring, but a change that is not necessarily destructive and might help shift a misguided emphasis on the papacy to a healthier ecclesiology.

Regardless of how conservative Catholics choose to interpret Pope Francis, how Pope Francis responds to them will be important for the Church’s future. Gibson cites Michael D’Antonio writing in Foreign Policy magazine in pointing out the pope’s challenge:

” ‘[Conservatives] have loyally supported the church with donations and activism and can be expected to oppose any change in direction of the sort Francis has signaled…

” ‘But this constituency cannot sustain the church in the long term…and the church now needs a figure able to bridge the gap between its rightward movement and the reality that Westerners are leaving the church in droves. That problem requires a wily pope with the skill and charisma to pull off the high-wire balancing act of unifying these two disparate impulses.’ “

Part of this tension is over issues of gender and sexual orientation. Those Westerners leaving Catholicism are often doing so due to harmful words of and actions by Catholic leaders against LGBT people, cheered on by a vocal anti-equality minority within the Church. Pope Francis seems to be taking a more pastoral and conversational tone around issues of sexuality and identity. This is an essential step to building up healthier Catholic communities, but one that will be controversial for conservatives complacent with the anti-gay rhetoric Francis’ two predecessors.

One first step in walking this line? Transforming how the People of God view bishops and their role in the Church. Check back tomorrow for commentary on just that — and if you’d like to receive daily posts from Bondings 2.0, you can subscribe by clicking the “Follow” button in the upper right hand corner of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry