Family and Parish In Conflict Over Ouster of Gay Youth

Peter Lanza, Jr., with his father, Peter Lanza, Sr.

Peter Lanza, Jr., a gay teenager, says his parish’s religious education program dismissed him from classroom instruction and assigned him to home-schooling because he is gay.  Rev. John Bambrick, the pastor of St. Aloysius parish in Jackson, New Jersey, said in a statement that reports that the teen was ” ‘kicked out’ of the program because of his sexual orientation are completely false.”

Who to believe?

In a Facebook statement, reported by The Asbury Park Press, the pastor said:

“There are times when any number of circumstances might warrant that a student should change from in-class instruction to home study … ranging from specific needs of the family to physical limitations of the student to disciplinary problems exhibited in class.

“However, no child has ever been required to change to home study due to sexual orientation. St. Aloysius Parish respects the dignity of all persons, without exception, and welcomes the opportunity to teach the faith to every Catholic who wishes to learn it.”

Yet, neither the pastor nor anyone else from the parish will comment further on the matter.

According to a second article in The Asbury Park PressLanza had already been transferred from one religious education classroom, but that something changed in December:

“Lanza said a school official told him a parent called and said she was uncomfortable with him being in her child’s class.

“Less than 24 hours later, Lanza said, there was a different phone call, this time to Lanza’s parents: The Rev. John Bambrick suggested that Lanza be home-schooled, according to Lanza’s father.

“No reason was given for the teen’s removal, the Lanzas said, nor was there any mention of the purported complaint from another parent. The Lanzas say It was only after lawyers got involved that a ‘behavioral issue’ was referenced, though the church has never offered a further explanation.”

Lanza, Sr. believes that the parent who complained is the same one who last summer referred to his son as an “ugly queer.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics, criticized the pastor’s handling of the situation:

“We really need church officials to stand up to this kind of message. You’d think that, at a minimum, the priest or CCD teacher would say, ‘we need to be treating each other with respect.’ Pulling a kid out of CCD class doesn’t sound very respectful.”

It is hard to know who to believe in this situation.  The pastor has not been forthcoming with information. The family considered a lawsuit, though Lanza, Sr. said that he is not likely to do so since the church seems immune.  Often, when a legal case is considered, institutional leaders become reticent.

Pastors have a responsibility to be pastors.  While the possibility that this youth was moved out of a religious education classroom because he is gay is odious, what is even more troublesome is that the pastor will not speak honestly with a parishioner, or with the press.  The silence of the pastor, even with the youth’s parents, will lead many to believe that he is hiding something, whether he is or not.

But the pastor’s responsibility goes beyond being more forthcoming. If the accusations harassment by the Lanza family are even remotely true, the pastor has a responsibility to look into this matter.  Parishioners should not be allowed to bully other parishioners.

Regardless of what the precipitating cause of this situation was, what is apparent now is that a pastor and a family of the parish are at loggerheads.  What seems to be needed most in this parish is reconciliation.  While the Trenton Diocese has stated that this is a parish issue, and so will not comment or become involved, the seriousness of this situation requires that they do intervene.  The pastoral harm that this family is experiencing, whether real or imagined, and the division this can cause the parish require that an outside religious organization become involved with healing.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 16, 2017

Related articles: “Kicked out of class for being gay?” “Church denies Jackson teen was ‘kicked out’ of CCD because he’s gay”

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit


International Court to Hear Case of Fired Lesbian Teacher

Sandra Pavez

A former teacher’s discrimination lawsuit against the Chilean government will be heard by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR), a potentially historic development which could alter the country’s law and finally grant justice in this near-decade long case.

Sandra Pavez, who is also a former nun, taught religion in Chile’s public schools for more than 20 years until 2007. That year, Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez Errazuriz of San Bernardo forced her out of her job because Pavez is a partnered lesbian woman. She explained to WRadio:

“He told me that he had heard I was a lesbian and demanded that I leave my partner and seek the care of a psychiatrist of the Catholic Church. I refused and have never been able to enter a classroom since. . .

“I thought the Chilean Catholic Church was more humane and accepted people as they were. I was greatly disappointed.”

Under a 1984 law passed under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, Catholic leaders control decision making about religion teachers in the public school system. Rolando Jimenez of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (MOVILH) called this dynamic “unacceptable” and a “conspiracy

A July finding by the IACHR said that in Pavez’s case evidence existed that the Chilean government had violated the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, specifically in regard to the right to privacy and due process. Previous appeals for justice in this case had failed, including a domestic lawsuit which ended unsuccessfully at the country’s Supreme Court. LGBT advocates are hopeful, however, that this latest legal development from IACHR will lead to justice and to the law’s repeal.

Jimenez said victory would be a “symbolic and political” act for not only Chile, but for all Latin America in breaking up collaboration between nations and the Catholic Church. He said, in part, that a ruling for Pavez would “disarm conspiracy and violations which make accomplices of the Chilean State and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.” Pavez explained the specific LGBT implications, saying:

“It shouldn’t be that someone can silence a person who wants to speak of God but has a different sexual orientation. I will fight to the end to set a precedent in history.”

There are two possible outcomes at this point because of IACHR’s July determination that equality-related violations had occurred. While the Commission’s findings are non-binding under international law, the Chilean government could agree to a settlement in which it apologizes and awards damages to Pavez, along with repealing the 1984 law. If that doesn’t happen, Pavez’s lawsuit, aided by MOVILH, would proceed to the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, whose rulings are binding on the Chilean government.

Chile is not the only nation where Catholic leaders have control over state employees; a similar firing happened in Spain’s Canary Islands a few years ago. Many nations retain laws and cultures which are deferential to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Beyond the LGBT justice issues here, MOVILH’s Rolando Jimenez pointed out that this case also challenges an oppressive system by which Church and State leaders have retained power with unjust consequences.

God can transform injustice into grace and Latin America’s troubled recent history offers many signs of this transformation. Perhaps God will use Sandra Pavez’s case to bring justice not just to LGBT communities, but as a seed which then blossom into liberation for all people.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry