Priest Subjected to Homophobic Attacks Cleared of All Accusations

July 19, 2016
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Fr. Pedro Corces

A Catholic priest who was subjected to homophobic attacks has been cleared of accusations leveled against him by a handful of right-wing Catholics.

The Archdiocese of Miami’s two month investigation of Fr. Pedro Corces found that “no sexual impropriety had occurred,” according to the Miami Herald. Archbishop Thomas Wenski notified parishioners of the findings through a July 5 letter, in which he noted:

“During these past weeks and days, I have received many letters from many people telling what a positive influence Father Corces and his ministry have played in their lives. Father has many gifts to share with God’s people but running a parish does not seem to be one of them.”

However, the archbishop did criticize Corces’ management style, saying the priest created the “perception among some of inappropriate behavior.”  Wenski said that Corces will be re-assigned to non-administrative ministry, which the archbishop said was the priest’s request.

The controversy around Corces arose when a small group of right-wing parishioners and school parents at St. Rose of Lima Church, Miami Shores, accused him of, among other improprieties, having relationships with four male individuals that included a deacon and a maintenance worker at the church and school.

Organized under the name “Christifidelis,” the accusing group made their attacks in a 129-page report, compiled after a private investigator stalked the priest for weeks. That report included repeated derogatory phrases against parish personnel, at one point calling maintenance workers at the parish “promiscuous gay practitioners.” Wenski called this report “false” and “old, long discredited gossip” in May, but still asked Corces to resign then, which the priest did, despite grassroots support from friends, parishioners, and other Catholics in the area.

Silvia Muñoz, a friend of Corces since 1987 and who previously said the priest “embodies mercy,” offered an important note in the Miami Herald about the priest’s attackers. Just ten families in a parish of 2,000 families constituted Christifidelis, or less than 0.5%, and the leader of the attacks against Corces was not a parishioner.

Muñoz’s point clarifies further that this attack was not about accountability in the church, but about the ability of some Catholics’ harmful prejudices to go unchecked in the church. Failure to address sexuality in healthy and honest ways means it remains a weapon that can be used against church workers and all Catholics whose sexual identity causes them to be marginalized. So-called evidence gathered through questionable and invasive means becomes the fodder from which self-appointed moralists launch their attacks.

The increasing assault on church workers has infected every level of the U.S. church, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which fired a top official last spring for simply tweeting about LGBT issues. More than 60 church workers have lost their jobs since 2008, often because they were forcibly outed.

Wenski recently made news by denying that church teaching on gay issues played any role in the homophobia which motivated the Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub. Last month, in a homily tied to the U.S. bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom,” the archbishop essentially denied homophobia in the church. He said nowhere in Catholic teaching “do we target and breed contempt for any group of people,” ignoring the harmful language church leaders and documents employ against LGBT people. Wenski even criticized his peer, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, for admitting the church’s complicity anti-LGBT prejudices which led to the Orlando mass shooting in which 49 people were killed at an LGBT nightclub.

Reconciliation is much needed in the parish, the school, and the archdiocese. Wenski prayed for such reconciliation in his letter to parishioners, but prayer must be complemented by action Wenski could use the painful incident involving Fr. Corces to bring about healing. Following Pope Francis’ recommendation, the archbishop could offer an apology to LGBT people and others the church has harmed, including its own ministers. He could affirm the church’ teachings against LGBT discrimination. He could support Fr. Corces by publicly standing with him in his next assignment, as a way to show that attacks on church workers, LGBT or otherwise, will not be tolerated.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholics React Swiftly and Strongly to Archbishop’s Restrictive Guidelines

July 15, 2016
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Archbishop Charles Chaput

Pastoral guidelines excluding LGBT people from church ministries and encouraging same-gender couples and others to refrain from Communion have provoked strong responses in the Philadelphia area.

Archbishop Charles Chaput released the guidelines as his response to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, though they many have found them contradictory to the the document.

The guidelines instruct church ministers to restrict LGBT people from parish ministries, and to deny Communion to many others. Chaput said that same-gender couples offer a “serious counter-witness to Catholic belief” and “undermine the faith of the community.”

Responses to these restrictive guidelines have been swift and strong. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, a Catholic, tweeted that Jesus gave Communion out of love and to all people, and therefore “Chaput’s actions are not Christian.”

Stephen Seufert of Keystone Catholics, an online advocacy organization, criticized the archbishop in The Huffington Posthighlighting a challenging illustration to the ban on LGBT people in ministry:

“I hate to break it to Archbishop Chaput, but there are likely thousands of sexually active LGBT Catholics serving in ministry positions across the world. They’re consoling families, teaching children, healing the sick, feeding the poor, and are administering sacraments like the Eucharist. The Church would most certainly be poorer spiritually if all LGBT Catholics were removed from leadership positions.”

Seufert questioned the impact Archbishop Chaput’s lengthy LGBT-negative record has caused, and the further implications it may have. Citing the Jesuit truism about finding God in all things, Seufert concluded:

“If Archbishop Chaput can’t find any semblance of God in civilly married same-sex couples and their families, he’s not spending enough time with LGBT people and their families. . .

“He may not realizes this, but the more Archbishop Chaput resists civil liberties for non-traditional families, the more likely Catholics will push for internal change within the Church on marriage and the family. This internal change will occur with or without people like Archbishop Chaput because an ever increasing number of straight Catholics like me are taking the time to learn about, live with, and unconditionally love their LGBT brothers and sisters.”

It is an established reality that U.S. Catholics are, as Seufert noted, overwhelmingly supportive of LGBT rights. This dissonance between how Catholics are practicing their faith and what the archbishop seeks to impose could be problematic.

Kevin Hughes, a theology professor at Villanova University, Pennsylvania, told the Delco Times the ambiguities in Amoris Laetitia mean implementation could either expand pastoral care or it could lead to restrictions. If it is the latter, as with Chaput’s guidelines, Hughes said:

“I think there are parish communities in which divorced and civilly remarried people and/or gay couples are active participants in the life of a parish. The guidelines will ask for some very serious soul-searching among pastors and parishioners alike, and it will be very painful for some communities to sort out the questions of leadership and liturgical roles.”

Not all priests in the Archdiocese are following Chaput’s path. Fr. Joseph Corley of Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Darby, will host a discussion of the exhortation and the guidelines at his suburban Philadelphia parish, but with the aim of “helping people to develop an informed conscience.”

Letters to the editor published by The Inquirer in Philadelphia reveal members of the Catholic faithful deeply critical of the archbishop. Laura Szatny wrote that the “sheer arrogance and un-Christian attitude of Chaput continue to stun.” Kate Fleming questioned his priorities, noting the archbishop’s opposition to state legislation expanding the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse:

“Archbishop Charles Chaput should focus on policing his priests, who take a vow of celibacy, instead of his flock. Protecting innocent victims of sexual abuse by his employees seems to be a much more important problem than the sex lives of lay Catholics.”

Writing in Philly Mag, columnist Liz Spikol also noted the abuse scandals currently exploding in the Pennsylvania church and the harm the church has caused to people. She queried:

“Obviously, Chaput had no personal involvement in the tragic case of Brian Gergely [an clergy abuse survivor who committed suicide the same week the guidelines were released]. But Gergely’s fellow survivors know the kind of Church Chaput represents all too well — the kind where higher-ups are exalted regardless of their lack of humanity, where preventing scandal is more important that preventing harm. . .

“In his Pastoral Guidelines, Chaput refused to use common terms for members of the LGBT community. . .It is utterly dehumanizing. When will Chaput and those in his circle understand that his hardline approach, which has already caused so much damage, only does the Church harm? I look forward to the day when the Philadelphia Archdiocese — as well as those in other parts of Pennsylvania — serve as a model for Francis’s supremely humane teachings.”

Catholics all over Philadelphia have criticized the archbishop adequately. I would add only one more point to their observations. In Amoris Laetitia, one of the most striking lines from Pope Francis is when he addresses church ministers with these words, “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.” There is much more in the 256-page document that contradicts Chaput’s guidelines, but these words about conscience seem paramount. The archbishop continues to replace Catholics’ consciences with his own judgements. Thankfully, Philadelphia Catholics are still listening to the that voice of God echoing in the depths of their being, and living the Gospel as they know best.

You can read more about the pastoral guidelines by clicking here. You can access New Ways Ministry’s statement in response by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Homophobia Undergirds Right-Wing Parishioners’ Attack on Miami Priest

June 10, 2016

 

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Fr. Pedro Corces

A Florida priest has resigned as the pastor of a Miami church after a small group of parishioners made claims against him, including allegations of inappropriate relationships with adult men.

Fr. Pedro Corces was castigated by right-wing parishioners at St. Rose of Lima parish, Miami Shores, who had organized under the name “Christifidelis.” In a 129-page report, they claimed that, among other improprieties, the priest had relationships with four male individuals, including a deacon and a maintenance worker at the church and school.

A private investigator hired by this small group compiled the report after stalking Corces for weeks, “photographing him, tracking the social media account of the maintenance worker and others, and going through the church rectory trash” according to the Miami Herald. Based on this ‘evidence,’ the report attacked the maintenance employees, too, calling them”promiscuous gay practitioners” among other derogatory phrases.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski defended the pastor in a late May letter to the parish and school communities, though he still asked Corces to resign. Wenski, describing much of the report’s ‘evidence’ as “old, long since discredited gossip” and “false” said the archdiocese would investigate claims the priest hired friends or improperly socialized with employees. But he hit hard against those parishioners who had instigated the incident, writing of them:

“Slanderous gossip, calumny, detraction – all sinful behaviors – have fomented division in the parish and school communities. . .Pray also for the children who have been dis-edified by the spectacle of adults behaving badly.”

Fr. Corces has received support from friends, parishioners, and other Catholics too. Silvia Muñoz, who has known the priest since 1987, wrote in the Miami Herald that Corces “embodies mercy” and those persons attacking him simply seek to “destroy anyone who puts into practice the changes instituted after the Vatican II Council.” Olga del Valle, a former teacher at St. Rose of Lima School who also wrote in the Miami Herald, called Corces “one of the most enlightened and spiritual priests” in the archdiocese. She asked:

“Jesus surrounded himself with prostitutes and tax collectors in order to save them. Could not Father Corces, a compassionate man, have hired such people, considered undesirable by some, for janitorial posts to give them a chance for decent jobs? Is it sinful to have a meal with them as Jesus did?”

These questions expose the harmful prejudices undergirding Christifidelis’ attacks against Fr. Corces. A man having meals or even a close friendship with another man does not signify that either are “promiscuous gay practitioners.” Indeed, charity mandates that it should signify nothing but friendship to the outside observer.

Divisions already existed in the parish after it was announced in January that the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters presently assigned to the school would be reassigned to their motherhouse. Some parents who opposed the decision organized a petition against the Sisters’ departure. The Christifidelis report about Fr. Corces, then, is just the latest sign of division in the parish..

What this case reveals is that as long as sexuality remains a charged, even taboo matter in the church, it can and will become a weapon wielded by those persons seeking to cause harm. More than 60 church workers have lost their jobs since 2008, and in too many of those cases it was inappropriately invasive practices, often coupled with anti-gay animus, that lead to unnecessary and deeply painful incidents like this one. As Bondings 2.0 noted earlier this week, the threat of invasive “snitching” is just one way harm is caused around homosexuality in the priesthood.

Holding church officials accountable is a good and necessary cause, especially by lay people assuming responsibility for our church, but this is not what happened at St. Rose of Lima. Instead, evidence obtained through questionable means has been cobbled together to back homophobic assertions. Reconciliation is needed here, so that the parish can become a place of unity and charity, instead of divisions which cause suspicions.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Faithful Gay Couple Experiences Warm Welcome from Detroit Parish

December 16, 2015
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Tom Molina-Duarte, left, and Bryan Victor

News headlines tend to focus on what bishops say and how they act regarding LGBT issues in the church, but focusing only on the hierarchy can distort the reality of the Catholic faith as it is lived locally. A recent piece in the Detroit Free Press helps correct this distortion, sharing the story of a same-sex couple and their experience of being warmly welcomed in the church.

Bryan Victor and Thomas Molina-Duarte are faithful Catholics and, since moving to Detroit in 2012, they’ve been parishioners of St. Charles Borromeo Church. Described as an “integrated and active” place, this parish  welcomes all “the real-lived experience of people,” said Victor including him and his husband.

Both expressed that being Catholic is central to their lives, though relating to the church has not been without challenges. Victor and Molina-Duarte each said they stepped back from the church for a time, but they began attending Mass together after meeting each other in 2010.

Now, Victor explained, they “remain in the church rather than leaving” and are open about their sexual identities and marriage. Molina-Duarte, who said the challenges are now an “afterthought,” expressed why the couple remains but refuses to be closeted:

” ‘You’re called to be in community and seek justice and how can you do that in a closet?’ “

Victor, a social worker, said further that faith both guides him and provides community:

” ‘I carry that Gospel message out to the secular world, and my work is reflective of the church. . .I am sustained and nourished by the church. I’m sharing my gifts and talents within the church.’ “

On the question of Communion, about which Detroit has experienced controversy because of Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s previous suggestion that marriage equality supporters should refrain, Victor added:

” ‘We examine our consciences and we know that our love for each other does not take us out of a relationship with God. . .It takes us into a closer relationship with God.  And for that reason,we feel comfortable presenting ourselves for Communion.’ “

It is worth noting that this informed conscience decision is precisely what Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich called for the church to respect in a recent interview.

Victor and Molina-Duarte married earlier this fall, saying they were “driven to our marriage by our faith” and not simply marriage equality’s legalization. Though their ceremony was held at a nearby Protestant church, the couple is welcomed together by their Catholic parish. The Free Press reported a recent example of this welcome. Capuchin Fr. Ray Stadmeyer, the pastor, calls forward those who had birthdays and anniversaries for a blessing at the end of Mass each week. When Molina-Duarte came to the front on his birthday, Stadmeyer said the following:

” ‘Bless our brother Thomas. Bless him in his relationship. . .We thank him and Bryan for all the goodness they bring to us. May they know God’s tender graces.’ “

Molina-Duarte and Victor are warmly accepted by another priest, Fr. Ronald Victor, who is the latter partner’s uncle. Of the couple, Fr. Victor said:

“They are two very holy guys. . .I do see their union as being sacred and sacramental, in the sense that it reflects God’s love.

“While [their relationship is] not necessarily life-giving in a biological way. . .it’s life-giving in other ways.”

Victor said his perspective changed when his nephew, with whom he was quite close, came out. The priest is now public about his willingness to bless same-sex unions and added that, at the couples’ wedding, he was “a little angry and a little disappointed that we couldn’t do it in a church where I could have officiated.” Fr. Victor suggested many priests believe as he does but remain quiet out of fear.

Their wider families have been quite supportive, too. Only one person refused to attend their wedding. Victor’s dad, Lennie, summing up the families’ response:

” ‘If the church makes you choose between your family and your faith. . .I guess we voted for family.’ “

In a related note, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who is a former auxiliary in Detroit, recently offered a day of reflection with Fortunate Families. He, too, was changed by a family member’s coming out when his brother announced he was gay. Gumbleton told those gathered:

” ‘It’s clear the movement is there. . .but it takes a long time for the teaching to permeate the whole church, and people will fight it.’ “

Pope Francis is creating space for LGBT Catholics, their families, allies, and pastoral ministers to move the church closer to a church that is “home for all.” When church leaders make exclusionary and even homophobic or transphobic remarks, it can be helpful to remember local stories like this Detroit gay couple and their parish. Truly, it is in these spaces within the Church where that movement Bishop Gumbleton identified is happening, and it is in this movement that we must place our hope.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


The Life and Times of the ‘Gayest Catholic Parish’ in the U.S.

April 9, 2015

The National Catholic Reporter’s Tom Fox greatly helped the burgeoning movement of gay-friendly Catholic parishes in the U.S. by publishing a five-part series examining the life of one such parish, Most Holy Redeemer (MHR), San Francisco, which he notes is often referred to as “the gayest Catholic parish in the nation.”

The interior of Most Holy Redeemer parish church.

Fox’s series on this parish should be read by anyone interested in Catholic LGBT ministry.  Links to the individual articles are interspersed throughout this post, as well as listed individually at the end.

What emerges from this in-depth examination, however, is not how extra-ordinary MHR is as a Catholic community, but, instead, more about how much it is similar to every other well-run parish.  It is a center of faith which responds to both the spiritual and practical needs of the people in its neighborhood.

MHR’s welcoming atmosphere is partly a result of the fact that it is located in the Castro neighborhood of SF, probably the largest LGBT communities in the country.  But what is interesting is that not all parishioners are locals.  Fox pointed out that many people travel from all over the Bay Area to attend Mass and programs there.

Young people, a demographic that seems to be disappearing in most Catholic parishes, are one group in particular that have found MHR to be a spiritual home.  Fox explains:

“Younger Catholics come from around the Bay, making up much of the parish. The very diversity that once moved some Catholics to flee MHR now seems to draw others, especially younger ones who feel at home and want to help prepare their children to live in an increasingly diverse world.”

That’s a lesson that many Catholic parishes should learn:  if you want to attract younger people, welcome the LGBT community.

Fox raises an issue which many LGBT-friendly Catholic parishes face:  how to be welcoming when so many LGBT people are suspicious of official Catholicism.  Jim Stockholm, a longtime MHR parishioner, explained the challenge:

“It’s the Catholic faith. It’s got a bad rap in the LGBT community. We have an archbishop who helped fund and led the charge against same-sex marriage. All that translates down to, in some way, our parish. We’re in the Castro, in the community, and so we have the challenge to overcome that, to say we are welcoming.”

While certainly unique because its parishioners are predominantly members of the LGBT community, the parish operates very similarly to other parishes of its size. In the third part of the series, Fox examined an important question for MHR and for many LGBT-friendly parishes:  Are they the “gay parish” or are they a Catholic parish that welcomes gays?  Parishioners seemed to be definite that MHR was the latter, and not the former.  One member, Bob Barcewski said:

“We don’t see ourselves as a gay community, but rather as a community that’s open to gays.There’s nothing in this church — no functions — that are gay here. There’s nothing gay about what we do here. It’s an acceptance and a realization that people feel OK to be who they are that makes this place different. It’s also a history of knowing that this was one of the few places anywhere, where people who were catching a mysterious disease and dying like flies, stepped up and responded.”

Most Holy Redeemer parishioners march in San Francisco’s gay pride parade.

Indeed, when the AIDS epidemic hit the Bay Area in the mid-1980s, it was at the same time that the parish had begun to open their doors to the LGBT community.  Ministering to people with HIV and AIDS became a focus of the parish’s ministry.  The fourth part of the series examines this critical time in the parish’s life, and it notes that MHR’s outreach is recognized by many others in San Francisco as being pioneering.

Their solidarity with those who suffer now extends to the homeless community, with weekly suppers, which, as one parishioner pointed out, are more accurately described as “banquets.”

In the fifth and final installment, Fox summarized his experience of researching this series.  His comments serve as a reminder of the importance of LGBT ministry in the Catholic Church:

“In dozens of interviews over several weeks with MHR parishioners, I found both pain and an eagerness to celebrate. I found a desire to be better understood by the wider church community. I found a willingness to forgive. I found much openness and universal abhorrence of judgment.

“I found hope, sometimes fledgling, that [Pope] Francis, given enough time, can change the course of the church, especially in how the institution affects the lives of LGBT Catholics. I found an extraordinary eagerness to come together as people of faith to help each other in ways big and small. I found, in words often suggested by Most Holy Redeemer parishioners, community in the Castro.”

Accompanying this five-part series are two side-bar articles which allow the voices of LGBT Catholics to be amplified:  1) a profile of Robert Pickering, a gay Catholic man from Denver who, like many other out-of-town LGBT Catholics, visited MHR when he was in San Francisco one Sunday; 2) snippets of conversations from the dozens of interviews that Fox conducted with MHR parishioners.

The series certainly does justice to the immense amount of faith-filled outreach that this community of and for LGBT people has accomplished.  The work done here is a perfect example of the hundreds of Catholic parishes across the nation who have welcoming LGBT ministries.  You can find a list of many of them by clicking here.

To read all previous posts on LGBT-friendly Catholic parishes and pastoral work, go the the category “All Are Welcome”  or click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

      Links to Tom Fox’s National Catholic Reporter series             on Most Holy Redeemer parish, San Francisco:

1)  ‘Gayest’ US Catholic parish strives to maintain openness, accepting

2)  Though welcoming, inclusive parish can be a tough sell to LGBT community

3)  ‘There’s nothing gay about what we do here’

4)  LGBT-friendly parish has long history of ministry to homeless, sick

5)  Finding community in the Castro

Side-bar articles

1)  One gay Catholic’s journey

2)  ‘Most Holy Redeemer is our home’

 

 

 

 

 

 


ALL ARE WELCOME: Parish Programs Make Sure LGBT People Have a Place at the Table

November 3, 2014

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature on this blog which highlights Catholic parishes and faith communities that support and affirm LGBT people. 

Though we report and comment a lot on this blog about bishops and the Vatican and politics and theology, for the vast majority of Catholics the deepest experience of “church” is not at the hierarchical level, but about what happens in their local communities and their day to day lives.  That’s why parish life is so important–and so important that it be a community life where LGBT people and their parents feel welcome and affirmed.  Although there are no statistics about it, I think more people decide whether to stay in or to leave the Church based on what their local pastor or fellow parishioners say to them than anything that is said by the pope or the bishops.

News reports recently from different parts of the country gave a close-up view of the work that several parishes are doing to make sure that LGBT people and family members know they have a place at the table.

The Journal-Sentinel of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, reported on a vibrant program that began ten years ago at Good Shepherd parish, Menomonee Falls, and has since expanded to at least three more nearby parishes.   “Gay and Straight in Christ” was founded by Ann Castiglione, a parishioner whose godson is gay, and since that time she has planted seeds for programs at St. Mary parish, Hales Corners, St. Joseph parish, Grafton, and Our Lady of Lourdes parish, Milwaukee.

The programs at each parish vary, but all share the common threads of prayer, support, sharing stories, and discussing topics that are relevant to LGBT people, such as raising a family as a same-gender couple.  The effectiveness of these programs is evidenced by the testimony of participants and observers. For example, the newspaper article reported:

“John still feels welcome in the church. That’s due in part to his parish priest, but also to a cadre of faithful who gather regularly to pray and explore what it means to be part of the body of Christ, regardless of one’s sexual orientation. . . .

” ‘The Gay and Straight in Christ ministry has been a huge help for me,’ said John, who asked to be identified only by his first name in deference to his wife, who has struggled with the revelation that he is gay. ‘They make you feel that you can still be part of the church and that there are people who are supportive, even if the hierarchy and individual people aren’t.’ “

A local theological expert also praised this type of pastoral program:

“These kinds of ministries are consistent with church teachings on human dignity and conscience, and efforts by Pope Francis to balance church doctrine with mercy and compassion for the ‘messiness of people’s lives,’ said the Rev. Bryan Massingale, who teaches moral theology at Marquette University.

” ‘They are witnessing to the totality of our Catholic teaching, not just teachings on sexual acts … but on the dignity of the person who is loved by Christ regardless of their behavior.’ “

The tension between church teaching on sexual abstinence vs. the individual’s conscience is certainly present in such ministries, but , as Deacon Sandy Sites of  Good Shepherd stated:

“What we are saying is that you are welcome here. Your story is between you and your confessor and God. I don’t care who you are. When it comes to the teachings of Christ, it’s not about the sin, it’s about the person.”

In Baltimore, Maryland, St. Matthew parish has been leading the way in that archdiocese by proclaiming a welcome to LGBT people through their LEAD ministry (LGBT 
Educating and Affirming Diversity), which recently hosted a panel of LGBT people and parents telling their stories so that the wider parish community could learn more about them.  The Catholic Review, the archdiocesan newspaper, reported on the event:

“About 50 people attended the two-hour event, which included a question-and-answer session. Attendees asked for advice on personal situations, including navigating conversations with family members.
“ ‘People find themselves in a confusing place because they have a faith that allows them to be strong in the face of adversity, but they sometimes have a church that’s been challenging them about how they should see their family members who are gay,’ said Father [Joseph] Muth [pastor] in an interview after the event.”
Fr.  Muth also emphasized the healing and reconciling role that panel presentations of personal testimonies can have:
“I think through that storytelling, people begin to see how hurt people have been and how they’ve turned away from the church. With the church’s whole emphasis on this new evangelization, this is a real opportunity to reverse the attitude – to have a more welcoming, compassionate, listening attitude, to tell people they can be included.”
The panel took place while the Synod on Marriage and Family was taking place in Rome, but Fr.  Muth noted that pastoral outreach is not dependent on whether or not the Church changes its teaching on gay and lesbian relationships.  He stated:
“The church teaching may or may not change at some point down the road – that’s not something I can do anything about – but the initial step to people who have felt rejected and put aside for many years is to create an atmosphere of welcome.”
These ministry examples from Wisconsin and Maryland are great models for the increasing number of parishes across the country who are opening their doors to LGBT people. You can find such parishes by checking out New Ways Ministry’s list of gay-friendly parishes and faith communities by clicking here.   You can read more about the LGBT-friendly parish movement by reading the blog posts in Bondings 2.0’s “All Are Welcome” series by clicking here.
If you want information on how your parish can start an LGBT ministry program or develop an existing one, contact New Ways Ministry by email, info@NewWaysMinistry.org, or by phone, 301-277-5674.  We’ve helped scores of parishes expand their outreach in ways that suit their particular situations.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Parish Bulletin Tells the Story of a Lesbian Couple’s Commitment

August 25, 2014

Parish bulletins often tell a person a lot about the atmosphere of a Catholic community.  Even in many gay-friendly parishes, pastors and lay leaders are sometimes reluctant to mention, in print, their welcome of LGBT people. A recent example shows how one parish is working at breaking that wall of silence.

St. Francis Xavier Parish, Manhattan, N.Y., has long been known as a welcoming and affirming community.  They have marched in NYC’s Pride Parade many times, and they have two strong spirituality programs in the parish, one for gay men and one for lesbian woman.  LGBT people are integrated intimately in all aspects of parish life.

Earlier this summer, in the June 22nd, 2014 bulletin of St. Francis Xavier parish, a lesbian couple told the story of their relationship over the course of more than four decades.  Entitled “Forty-Four Years of Love and Commitment,” the short piece by Maria Formoso and Joan O’Brien, describes the difficult early years of their closeted relationship:

“We had the lucky fortune to meet in 1968 when we were employed as teachers in a Catholic high school in New York City. We became a couple in 1970 but we never disclosed it to our parents. It was difficult enough for ourselves to accept this relationship since we had been brought up Roman Catholic in Pre-Vatican II. We tried hard to reconcile our faith and our sexuality.

“Other people whom we suspected were gay were secretive and closeted as well, but we were eager to meet folks with whom we could openly share our lives and our values.”

Little by little, they began to reach out to others for support, including other Catholics:

“. . . at Dignity New York, we met Karen Doherty and Christine Nusse, who started the Conference for Catholic Lesbians in 1983. We were astonished and astounded to meet people from all over the United States who were struggling just like us to live their lives as Catholic lesbians.”

After praising a number of Catholic leaders including Sister Jeannine Gramick, Mary Hunt, Sister Theresa Kane, Father John McNeill, Barbara Zanotti, for their assistance in helping them to reconcile their lesbian and Catholic identities, the couple ended their essay with praise for St. Francis Xavier parish:

“Finally, Christmas Eve 1994, we, accompanied by Maria’s brother José, who also was gay, went to the Church of St.
Francis Xavier. Our good friends Anne and Frank Sheridan invited us. We had not attended mass in a number of years because, as lesbians, we did not feel welcome. The church was packed with people, many standing in the back. Sister Honora Nicholson came to our rescue, and we found ourselves seated on the left side of the altar. The service was beautiful. We were home! “

It was so refreshing to read such a positive piece about a lesbian relationship in a parish bulletin.  It’s quite an example of acceptance and affirmation, and also a wonderful way to educate the entire community about the lived reality of lesbian lives.  It’s a perfect way to let the rest of the parish benefit from the spiritual journey of two of their parishioners.

May other parishes do likewise!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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