Jesuit Political Analyst Suggests Compromise in the LGBT Religious Liberty Debate

Has the Republican electoral victory in the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives ushered in a new moment in the debate about religious liberty and LGBT rights?  Jesuit Father Thomas Reese thinks so.  In a blog post for The National Catholic Reporter, Reese, who has been serving as the chair of the Obama administration’s U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, makes the case that the new national mood means that it is now “Time for compromise on gay rights and religious freedom,” the title of the essay.

Reese says that the days of thinking of the debate as a “zero-sum game where no compromise is possible” should end.  He describes the current political context of the debate:

Father Thomas Reese, SJ
Father Thomas Reese, SJ

“The Republican sweep should give gay activists pause. With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and the White House, it is unlikely there will be any more gay-friendly legislation or regulations. While Trump does not appear to be a homophobe, he is appointing to his administration people who would like to roll back gains of the gay community, and his judicial appointees will undoubtedly look askance on expanding gay rights. Although he will not press for a reversal on gay rights, he will probably sign any religious liberty legislation he gets from the Republican Congress. . . .

“The best the gays can hope for is a retention of the status quo. But it is just as likely that they will see roll back in some areas. Will this encourage the gay community to compromise or will it make them dig in for a longer fight?”

And religious liberty advocates might be tempted to view the new mood as a total success for their perspective, but Reese cautions that this kind of thinking would be a mistake:

“The danger is that they will see [the defeat of Hillary Clinton and the success of Republican candidates] as a total rejection of the gay agenda and an opportunity to reassert their power. But it would be a dangerous mistake if they overreached.

“They should remember those polls that show growing sympathy for gays, especially among young people. In addition, the business community has been willing to use its economic power to push states like Indiana to reverse religious freedom legislation if it is seen as anti-gay.

“Nor should they forget that Donald Trump says that same-sex marriage is here to stay. He even spoke of protecting LGBTQ citizens in his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, a first for a Republican nominee. While Congress and his administration will be filled with people who have opposed gay rights, this opposition is not a priority with Trump. And if history continues to repeat itself, the Democrats will be back in the White House in four or eight years.”

Reese surmises that this atmosphere which is fragile to both sides’ goals “presents the country with an ideal opportunity to discuss compromise.”  Reese’s vision of one possible compromise is as follows:

“In broad strokes, it would see an extension of nondiscriminatory laws to cover gays while providing limited exemptions for religious believers and institutions. People could no longer be discriminated against in employment, housing, and public accommodation based on their sexual identity or orientation, but church institutions would retain the right to employ and serve on the basis of their faith claims.”

Reese sees the following benefits for the gay community in such a compromise:

“They get national legislation outlawing discrimination in all but a few instances of employment, housing, and public accommodation. Most of the pie is better than nothing. In addition, they get to appear gracious in victory, knowing that the real challenge is not getting legislation passed but winning over most people to a recognition that gays should be treated with respect. As long as they are seen as attacking religion, they will meet opposition from people for whom religion is a central part of their lives.”

Religious leaders would gain the following:

“More certainty about what is legal or illegal. The ability to run their institutions according to their beliefs without state interference or the fear of being sued. Clear exemptions that protect their institutional freedom. An end to being portrayed as homophobic.”

Reese’s proposal has its appeal, but it has its flaws, too.  For one thing, he sees the debate as much more black-and-white than it actually is.   We are not in a situation of gays on one side and religious people on the other.   What about all the LGBT people who themselves are religious and who want their faith institutions protected?  What about the many religious people who see religious freedom as primarily protecting religious people and their consciences, and not just institutions?  The reality of the debate is a lot more complex than two totally separate, opposing camps.

Related to this idea of complexity is the situation of LGBT people being fired from employment or dismissed from volunteer opportunities with religious institutions.  Reese does not really address that important question in his essay.

Second, he sees religious people as motivated by conscience and faith, and the LGBT community motivated by achieving political reform.  That is why he urges the LGBT community to engage in a pragmatic compromise so that they can achieve some, if not all, of their goals.  He blames the inability to compromise on LGBT leaders, not the grassroots:

“Most gays would accept these exemptions, but sadly the activists are not interested in compromise.”

While it is certainly true that leaders and the grassroots don’t often share the same opinions (Catholic bishops and lay people are an excellent example), in the case of LGBT rights vs. religious liberty advocates, I think that the leaders and grassroots are on the same page.

From the perspective of LGBT people, especially those at the grassroots, the issue is not one of mere pragmatism, but one of being legally and politically considered as second-class.  The debate for LGBT people is as much a matter of closely-held principles (such as human dignity) as it is for the religious liberty advocates.

A third problem with the argument Reese lays out is that he seems to minimize the details of what compromises might involve. He states:

“”The details of the compromise need to be negotiated, and the results might be different in different localities. How small should be the family businesses that are exempted? What about an individual employee who has a conscience problem? What if there is no alternative business or employee available to the gay person? For florists and bakeries, should the exemption only cover same-sex weddings and not other purchases? Should exemptions for religious institutions cover all employees, including janitors, or only those considered “ministers” and teachers of religion? Can issues like bathrooms and locker rooms for transgender persons be postponed for a later day?”

These details are important, and involve some very important practical concerns as well as principles.  Compromising on many of them could mean allowing for discriminatory practices to still exist.

A final weakness of Reese’s argument is that the definition of religious liberty is not something that should be dictated by leaders of religious institutions alone.  If religious liberty laws are going to allow exemptions for secular businesses run by religious leaders, then that already is an admission that religion is not just a matter of institutional concern, but personal concern, too.  So, religious liberty proposals need to take into account the religious concerns of LGBT people and their supporters, too.

Despite my critique of Reese’s argument, I think he is sincere in his efforts to try to resolve this debate in a way that allows LGBT people to gain steps toward equality.  He is certainly not motivated by homophobia, but more from a desire to see LGBT people win some political gains during what promises to be a difficult four years. The overall weakness of his essay is that it doesn’t take the LGBT perspective seriously enough to see what values, as well as practicalities, are at stake for them, or how they view the issue.

Fr. Reese has been a strong supporter of LGBT equality.  You can read about a number of his previous statements about LGBT issues by clicking here.  I thank him for using his powerful voice to advocate for LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 5, 2016

 

 

QUOTE TO NOTE: U.S. Bishops Were Virtually Silent on Trump

computer_key_Quotation_MarksIn a scathing essay which excoriates Catholics who supported Donald Trump for U.S. President, Boston College theologian Stephen Pope also took to task U.S. bishops who were mum about so many of Candidate Trump’s statements which were directly opposed to Catholic teaching, particularly social teaching.

In a particularly strong passage, Pope compares the bishops’ reluctance to speak out against Trump with their loud and strong rhetoric about marriage equality and religious liberty.  In his Commonweal essay entitled “Not the Time for Reconciliation: First Confront the Danger of Trump,” he states:

Donald Trump

“. . .American bishops showed a stunning lack of leadership at a time when it was needed most. Some bishops publically expressed concern with Trump’s description of Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers. To their credit, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Bishop Kevin Farrell, and some other bishops expressed public concern over Trump’s immigrant-bashing rhetoric, but they did not offer a direct and sustained criticism of the substance and tone of his campaign as a whole. . . . Yet no bishop had the courage of Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore to denounce Trump in no uncertain terms as a ‘walking affront to the Gospels.’ Most obtuse was Archbishop Charles Chaput’s assessment of both major-party candidates as ‘equally problematic.’ Truly problematic are prelates who raise their voices against same-sex marriage, but not against overt racism and misogyny. Or bishops who defend the religious liberty of Catholic institutions regarding contraception, but not the freedom of persecuted Muslim refugees who wish to immigrate to our shores.

“In his post-election statement, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, outgoing president of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that he ‘looks forward to working President-elect Trump’ on issues of life, immigration and refugees, religious persecution, and marriage. Kurtz said nothing about poverty or climate change—concerns Pope Francis has made central to his papacy.

To read the entire essay, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 28, 2016

Yes to Religious Liberty. But What Does That Actually Mean?

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 17, 2016

If asked, most Catholics today would agree that religious liberty is an essential part of the church’s social teaching and most people would identify religious liberty as a constitutive democratic principle.

But questioned further, these same people would offer very different understandings of just what the religious liberty they so affirm actually means. While there are genuine threats to religious liberty internationally, in the United States, religious liberty has become mostly a prominent campaign issue for the right and a puzzling obsession for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Organizations on the left have pushed back against these forces, and even more issues have arisen as civil rights expand for LGBT people.

peaceful-coexistence-report_269_350A new report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights explored the complicated questions of nondiscrimination protections and religious liberty in a new report, Peaceful CoexistenceThis 300-page report from the independent and non-partisan federal agency examined issues like the ministerial exemption to employment protections and included statements from noted scholars, as well as these words from Commission Chair Martin R. Castro:

“The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance. . .

“[T]oday, as in the past, religion is being used as both a weapon and a shield by those seeking to deny others equality. In our nation’s past religion has been used to justify slavery and later, Jim Crow laws. We now see “religious liberty” arguments sneaking their way back into our political and constitutional discourse (just like the concept of ‘state rights’) in an effort to undermine the rights of some Americans.”

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, in his capacity as chair of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, joined a handful of more conservative religious leaders in objecting to this report and specifically the words quoted above. Their letter called for President Barack Obama and congressional leadership to reject Castro’s statement and other assertions that religious liberty is being misused.

But new data from the Pew Research Center suggests Catholics in the U.S. are at odds with the bishops’ policies, reported America:

  • 54% of Catholics believe business should not be exempted from LGBT non-discrimination protections, five points higher than the national average;
  • 65% of Catholics do not believe an employer’s religious affiliation should exempt them from providing contraceptive services as part of health insurance coverage;
  • 64% of Catholics believe homosexual activity is either morally acceptable or not a moral issue.

91542022-rev-patrick-mahoney-of-the-christian-defense-coalition-crop-promo-mediumlargeSo what are Catholics to make of religious liberty in the United States, especially if we consider equality and justice for marginalized communities like LGBT people to be high priorities?

Some people might agree with Chairman Castro’s contention that “religious liberty” has become a weapon and a shield used against marginalized communities. Sunnivie Brydum wrote at Religion Dispatches that the use of scare quotes around the phrase now seems appropriate:

“This new, mutant form of ‘religious liberty’ does indeed deserve scare quotes. When Mississippi lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a law that determined what kind of intimate relationships are worthy of protection, they also lost the ability to claim that they were seeking to protect faith-based views broadly speaking. Laws like this have less to do with making sure people can freely practice their faith—they are written to privilege one ideological perspective over all others. . .

“Religious freedom is indeed a central tenet of American democracy. . .But when freedom of religion is used as a weapon to infringe on civil liberties—especially in the public square—it deserves the scare quotes that the Chicago Manual of Style says are ‘used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard (or slang), ironic, or other special use.’ “

More centrist Catholics have cautioned against understanding religious liberty as a zero-sum issue. The editors of Jesuit weekly America called for reasoned discourse that seeks a solution amid the competing goods of religious liberty and non-discrimination protects, concluding:

“But if Catholics are to make a full-throated defense of robust religious liberty, we should also acknowledge the ways the church itself has contributed to the atmosphere of distrust around this cause. Asserting religious liberty primarily on ‘culture war’ issues draws attention only to the church’s policing of moral lines, to the detriment of its proclamation of the good news and service to those in need.

“For generations, the church in the United States has provided succor and support for millions of Americans, regardless of religion. This is not a historical accident but the result of the good works of myriad Catholics and an American context that allows believers to freely practice their faith in all spheres. This tradition must continue.”

Elsewhere, Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese wrote in the National Catholic Reporter that religious freedom and women’s rights could be strengthened together in an argument applicable to LGBT rights as well. Reese, who chairs the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, made this important point:

“A way out of this apparent conflict is to emphasize that religious freedom is a human right that resides in the individual not in a religious tradition. ‘The human right to freedom of religion or belief does not protect religious traditions per se,’ explained Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, ‘but instead facilitates the free search and development of faith-related identities of human beings, as individuals and in community with others.’

“Religious freedom does not protect religious belief or religious institutions from challenge. Rather religious freedom protects the right of an individual to believe or not believe, to change one’s religion if one desires, and to speak and act on those beliefs. It protects believers not beliefs. Religious freedom includes freedom of speech and press on religious topics, which allows individuals to challenge religious beliefs and traditions.”

This understanding, Reese commented, reveals religious liberty “in its true meaning” as a source of empowerment for people to live according to their own beliefs and consciences.

Reese is clear that this approach does not resolve every issue related to religious liberty and gender equity, and therefore neither would it resolve every LGBT-related issue, but it effectively counters the idea that religious liberty and civil liberties are “two essentially contradictory human rights norms.” Much good could come if differing sides focused on points of agreement rather than points of contention.

In the world of U.S. Catholicism, progress on religious liberty seems to be simultaneously advanced and stalled at this moment. On the one hand, the Pew numbers reflect a Catholic faithful who conscientiously discern how to advance the common good while upholding goods that can at times be in tension, and this discernment has led them to positions which affirm LGBT rights in such a way that religious liberty is actually strengthened.

But, on the other hand, the Catholic bishops restrain progress, about which Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter cautioned:

“In his response to the USCCR report, Archbishop William Lori, chair of the ad hoc committee on religious liberty at the USCCB, claims that the church only wants the ‘freedom to serve.’ What’s stopping you? As has been argued here and elsewhere repeatedly, there is really no reason, so far as our church’s teaching on cooperation with evil is concerned, for the Catholic church to insist that the accountant at Catholic Charities not get dental insurance for his gay partner. . .

“As they prepare for their plenary session in November, the bishops need to start thinking through two issues if they want to be both serious and successful in their defense of religious liberty. First, they need to abandon the idea that religious liberty extends as far as any particular believer wants it to extend in civil society: The wedding cake baker, bless his heart, is not being asked to participate in anything sinful when he bakes a cake for anybody for any reason. The protections we seek should be for our religious institutions, period. Second, the bishops need to follow the example of their Mormon brethren and reach out to the LGBT community. If this continues as an ‘us versus them’ fight, the bishops will lose.”

The Catholic Church’s endorsement of religious liberty at Vatican II is considered by many theologians to be one of the most notable outcomes of the Council. Dignitatis Humanae, the document on religious liberty, was heavily influenced by bishops and theologians from the United States, especially Jesuit Fr. John Courtney Murray. Where Murray and his collaborators had once been treated with hostility for their views on the issue, they became pivotal in shaping the course of Catholicism in the late 20th century.

LGBT non-discrimination protections are a good affirmed in church teaching, just as religious liberty is affirmed. Our task today is to understand how to strengthen both together. Catholics in the United States should remember the history above, history which calls us to ever more deeply engage and earnestly enact religious liberty in all its complexities.

The only clear answer is that there are no clear answers. We must not only say yes to religious liberty, but come to know more fully that which we are affirming. Bu if we are committed like our predecessors in faith, we can and will find a way forward that is faithful to the church’s tradition while meeting the needs of all in our contemporary world.

 

 

 

 

 

Prayers, Please

By Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 13, 2016

New Ways Ministry comes to you, our readers, with a request for prayers for a dear friend of our ministry and of LGBT Catholics. We learned yesterday evening that Professor Leslie Griffin, a leading scholar on the intersection of religion and law, was brutally attacked while jogging in her home city of Henderson, Nevada, and is now in the hospital in critical condition.

Professor Leslie Griffin

Professor Griffin, who holds the William S. Boyd Chair of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Law School,  has written extensively on questions of religious liberty. She has defended the rights of religious institutions, but also the rights of LGBT people and other minorities who suffer discrimination because of an institution’s religious identity.  She has also worked on several cases defending people unjustly treated by religious institutions. Professor Griffin is scheduled to be a keynote speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” at the end of April 2017.  She will be speaking on the topic “Religious Liberty, Employment, and LGBT Issues,” an area in which she has done much academic and practical research.

According to police reports, Professor Griffin was attacked while jogging near her home, and her attacker lifted her in the air and threw her to the ground.  The brutality of the attack is beyond words.  A good samaritan passing by came to her aid and helped convince the assailant to speak with the police.

In addition to her academic credentials in the field of law, Professor Griffin also has a PhD in Religious Studies from Yale University. She has been an associate professor of moral theology at the University of Notre Dame before turning to the study of law.  While at Notre Dame in the 1980s, she met New Ways Ministry’s co-founder Fr. Robert Nugent, SDS, while he was studying there, and became a decades-long friend and supporter of our ministry.

New Ways Ministry is heartbroken to learn the terrible news of the attack on Leslie Griffin.  Feeling helpless, as many do in similar situations, we turn to prayer. And we turn to you, our friends, for prayers for this  woman who has dedicated her life building a just church and world.  Leslie is a gentle soul, with a big heart, and who despite her academic accomplishments, is a humble and unassuming personality.

Please keep Leslie and her family in prayer.  Please pray for her full and speedy recovery. Please pray, too, for her assailant. Thank you.

Related articles

AboveTheLaw.com: “Law Professor Left in Critical Condition After Brutal Attack”

News3LV.com: “UNLV law professor in critical condition after brutal attack in Henderson”

 

Is There an Alternative to the Rigid Orthodoxies of the Religious Liberty Debate?

The United States of America celebrates its Independence Day today, so it seems an appropriate time to turn attention to the thorny question of religious liberty.  The argument for religious liberty is often used by ecclesial institutions to request exemptions from laws which regulate civil rights, access to health care, and labor regulations, among other things.  In the arena of LGBT issues, these exemptions include not being required to marry a lesbian or gay couple in a church, not providing access to gender transition procedures in religious hospitals, and allowing church institutions to fire a lesbian or gay teacher who decides to marry someone of the same gender.

Religious liberty controversies are often framed with church leaders on one side of the issue, defending faith and freedom, and progressive activists on the other side, calling for freedom of conscience and strict government regulation to guarantee individual freedom, on the other.  John Gehring, the Catholic program director for Faith in Public Life, a national advocacy group, recently penned an essay for Commonweal entitled “False Choices & Religious Liberty” which examines another alternative to this deadening dichotomy.

Gehring first notes that the debate about religious liberty has become too hunkered down in opposing camps who won’t acknowledge the legitimate points of one another.  According to Gehring, part of the problem is that the bishops have too often exaggerated the claims of having their religious liberty violated. Similarly, progressives won’t admit that religious leaders may have reason to worry.  Gehring writes:

“Even many faithful Catholicswho should be most sympathetic to the church’s arguments have grown weary of the divisiveness and worry that the all-consuming quality of the religious-liberty battle now seems to define American Catholicism. At the same time, the perversion of religious liberty into a bludgeon against women’s health, workers’ rights, and LGBT equality has caused some progressives to forget that religious freedom is a fundamentally liberal value. Finding a better approach that rescues religious liberty from the culture wars is challenging, essential work.”

Gehring thinks Catholicism, which too often has misused religious liberty issues, can lead the way to a better approach to this national question.  He proposes:

“The nation’s largest church needs to lower the temperature and elevate the conversation. In his visit to the White House last September, Pope Francis affirmed that religious liberty is “one of America’s most precious possessions.” American Catholics, he added, are equally “committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination.” To state what should be painfully obvious, Catholics are not living in an era of despotism or facing tyrannical assaults, as some church leaders have claimed. . . .

“If conservatives need to do some soul searching about how they often set back the important cause of religious liberty, progressives also need a better approach that fosters dialogue and common ground instead of division.”

For LGBT issues, the stakes are high around the religious liberty question.  Gehring points out:

“Along with battles over contraception coverage that are both technically complicated and politically fraught, there’s been a flurry of state legislation suggesting that religious freedom can be used to justify the withholding of civil rights from LGBT people. The Indiana legislature proposed a bill last year that would have allowed any for-profit business to assert a free exercise of religion argument to deny services. We’ve seen this before; religious claims were once used to deny African Americans basic rights. A restaurant owner should not be able to refuse breakfast to a gay couple on religious grounds. The misuse of religion was wrong in the 1960s, and it is wrong today. After swift backlash erupted from corporate, civic, and faith leaders, the bill was revised to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. However, similar legislation has been proposed in Georgia, North Carolina, and Mississippi. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam even signed legislation that allows mental-health counselors and therapists to refuse to treat patients based on religious objections or personal beliefs.”

In Georgia, at least, Catholic bishops were on the side of limiting religious freedom in favor of protecting against LGBT discrimination. Gehring quotes the Georgia’s Catholic bishops’ statement against the strong religious liberty legislation:

“While we and the other Catholic bishops in the United States support the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, we do not support any implementation of RFRA in a way that will discriminate against any individual.”

Gehring proposes that both sides of the debate listen to one another’s concerns, and come up with new solutions, instead of continuing to push forward their own agendas:

“It’s wrong to pit religion against equality for all Americans. False choices box us into suffocating corners. Saving religious liberty from the quicksand of reckless rhetoric and political posturing won’t be easy. Progressives and conservatives squaring off in public debates have a choice. We can continue to exchange dueling press releases and self-righteous tweets—or sit down, humble ourselves, and search for common ground. ‘Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord,’ the prophet Isaiah tells us. The comfortable and convenient path is well worn. Taking a harder road is worth the struggle if it leads to principled conversations and respect for the complexity of conscience.”

Dialogue and discussion are always good alternatives, especially when sides have become entrenched.  True religious freedom, which respects institutions and individuals, is a reachable goal for our nation and our church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Reconciliation Desperately Needed Between Spanish Cardinal and LGBT Community

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares

The latest place where reconciliation between the Catholic hierarchy and the LGBT community is desperately needed is Valencia, Spain, where the two groups are coming to legal loggerheads over negative comments the cardinal of that city made about LGBT people and family.

Crux reports that a group of LGBT and women’s organizations have threatened to file a “hate crime” complaint against Cardinal Antonio Cañizares for remarks he made in a homily at the University of Valencia:

“In his remarks, titled ‘In defense and support of the family,’ Cañizares said ‘the future of society is played out’ in the family, and, because of that, it’s become a target.

” ‘On the one hand, it’s the most valued, at least in the polls and even among young people, social institution, but it’s shaken to its foundations by serious, clear or subtle, threats,’ he said.

” ‘The family is haunted today, in our culture, by an endless threat of serious difficulties, and this is not hidden from anyone,’ Cañizares continued.

” ‘There we have legislation contrary to the family, the action of political and social forces, with added movements and actions of the gay empire, of ideas such as radical feminism, or the most insidious of all, gender theory.’ “

The cardinal’s inflammatory remarks were met with an equally inflammatory response:

“Soon after Cañizares’ remarks, several pro-LGTB and feminist organizations, such as Lambda, the LGBT collective of Valencia, the Collective for the Sexual-Affective Diversity and the Association of Families with Transsexual Minors announced they were going to file an official complaint with the ‘Office of Hate Crimes.’

“Technically, they intend to charge Cañizares with ‘apologia,’ a term in Spanish law for encouraging or defending a criminal act.”

The cardinal went on to defend his words,  summoning memories of censorship under Spain’s dictator Francisco Franco, and using remarks from Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia to support his ideas.

I hope that both sides of this dispute would see this event as an opportunity to dialogue with one another.  While the cardinal uses religious liberty arguments to defend his words, does he not see that his language is, at the very least, pastorally insensitive?  Perhaps the LGBT and feminist organizations needed to threaten legal action to get the cardinal’s attention, but do they not see that such action is only heightening the antagonism, instead of remedying it?  I hope the better angels of the folks on both sides of this dispute would come to see that peaceful dialogue with one another could be an opportunity for opening their horizons.

The Crux news report placed a strong emphasis on the cardinal and his supporters using Pope Francis’ words in his exhortation and in other settings as a justification for the ideas expressed.  Yet, clearly, they have not followed all of Pope Francis’ ideas.   While the pope has in fact supported marriage and family as exclusively heterosexual institutions,  and while he has spoken against new understandings of gender identity, he has also shown that dialogue and encounter are primary ways of being a merciful and accompanying church.  No matter how strongly the Pope has ever defended heterosexual marriage, he has never used phrases like “gay empire.”  Instead, he has met with LGBT folks, sent them letters, called them on the phone, and insisted that bishops be less political in areas of sexuality.

Terminology such as “gay empire” appears to be designed to instill fear, not to offer logical argument.  Like the similar term “gay lobby,” it conjures images of a vast network of powerful people who are manipulating the future.  If any of the advances for LGBT equality in recent decades were manipulated by gay people alone, they surely would have failed.   By the most generous estimates,  gay people are only about 10% of the population.  Hardly an empire.  It was the recognition by larger segments of the population that LGBT people should not suffer discrimination which have brought about the positive changes we have witnessed.

The news report noted that Cañizares used his homily on the feast of Corpus Christi to defend the idea that religious people have a right to speak their opinions in the public square.  He ended with the following statement:

 “[The] culture of the Eucharist promotes a culture of dialogue, which in it finds strength and nourishment.”

He used that sentiment to justify the idea that religious people should be part of the public dialogue.  However, it equally applies to the cardinal himself when he finds himself discussing LGBT issues.  “A culture of dialogue” is the culture of respect and mutual exchange, not a culture of name-calling and fear-mongering.  If the cardinal wants to live the Eucharistic culture of dialogue, he should open his doors to leaders of LGBT and women’s organizations to respectfully express his thoughts, and, more importantly, to hear their concerns.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

North Carolina Bishop Distances Himself from HB2 Support

photo_burbidgeweb182
Bishop Michael Burbidge

A North Carolina bishop has distanced himself from initial support offered by the state’s Catholic conference for an anti-LGBT law the legislature is considering. The bishop is now saying the law, which criminalizes public restroom use according to one’s gender identity rather than assigned sex at birth and bans local LGBT non-discrimination protections, raises concerns that should be remedied.

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh said legislators should rework problematic parts of the law, known as HB2, and he called for mutual respect and dialogue between opposing sides. Burbidge said “another remedy to the unfortunate situation created by the Charlotte Ordinance and HB2 should be considered.” The Charlotte Ordinance is an LGBT non-discrimination law passed in the state’s largest city.

The bishop suggested that a remedy should be guided by a respect for human dignity, the avoidance of bigotry, and a pursuit of the common good, among other factors. He told WRAL 5 that legislators could “come up with something better” that is not understood to be bigoted or misconstrued. His statement at a media luncheon continued:

“No person should feel as though they are unwelcome in our communities of faith. The priests of this Diocese, myself included, remain committed to speaking with anyone who has concerns about how we operate or what we believe. This applies regardless of one’s gender or gender identity. Building strong relationships is fundamental to healthy faith communities. All people are made in the image and likeness of God as man and woman, and we stand ready to continue accompanying all people in their faith walk.”

Burbidge, however, defended the diocese’s policies for “gender specific multi-stall bathrooms and said organizations’ decisions about their own operations “should be respected.” He closed with an appeal for civility in what has become a most contentious debate:

“My hope and call, is that before this issue takes another step in either direction, both sides will treat one another with decency, love, and mutual respect.”

These are Burbidge’s first public comments on HB2 since it was passed in April, although it should not be considered his first time weighing in on the matter. Catholic Voice North Carolina, the bishops’ public policy arm, asked Catholics to oppose the Charlotte LGBT protections ordinance to which HB2 was responding, and said the state law had “yielded a favorable outcome for religious liberty.” Later, a spokesperson for the Raleigh diocese then said that “the Diocese does not have a position on HB2.”

Attacks continue against HB2. The U.S. Department of Justice notified Governor Pat McCrory that this law violates federal civil rights laws, specifically the rights of state workers and students who should be able to access public restrooms. The federal Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development are inquiring as to whether their civil rights policies are being violated too. Whether Bishop Burbidge’s distancing is tied to the shifting realities in law and in public opinion, or whether he is waking up the fact this law is unjust discrimination is not clear.

Thankfully, as with marriage equality, U.S. Catholics are among the most supportive religious adherents for non-discrimination of LGBT people. New polling from Reuters/Ipsos showed U.S. Catholics evenly split on the question of whether restroom use should be according to one’s gender identity or assigned sex at birth. While more education is needed to improve these numbers, Catholics are more supportive of transgender protections than religious people overall and mirror trends which find people in the U.S. overall split on the issue.

One high-profile Catholic from the Carolinas is speaking out for LGBT equality. Stephen Colbert who hosts CBS’ The Late Show shared his thoughts about the restroom controversies, saying, “And to all those lawmakers out there who are so obsessed with whose using what bathroom and what plumbing they’ve got downtown, newsflash, you’re the weirdos.” You can watch Colbert’s thoughts below or by clicking here.

Ellen K. Boegel, a legal scholar at St. John’s University, wrote in America that these anti-LGBT laws really reflect “a deeper societal divide and [illustrate] the need for reasoned use of political power.” She continued:

“Regardless, politicians and advocacy groups serve their constituents best by avoiding unnecessary controversy and looking instead for mutually beneficial solutions. . .Focusing on outcomes that are universally beneficial will not end all disputes regarding the appropriate balance between civil rights and religious rights, but it would be better government.”

Passing laws which are blatantly unconstitutional undermines government credibility and faith in the democratic process, Boegel wrote, especially when religious liberty is already well-protected. She pointed out, too, that non-gender-specific facilities benefit women, families, and persons with disabilities, in addition to trans* people.

Most bishops, led by the USCCB’s partisan fight over religious liberty, have thus far refused to admit the harm that anti-LGBT state laws can cause.  They do not see that these laws as violating the common good. Protecting LGBT people from very real and harmful discrimination is not on the bishops’ agenda. They seem to forget the many times in the 1970s and 1980s when their episcopal predecessors supported ordinances and laws aimed at curtailing discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation.

But this admission from Bishop Burbidge that HB2 is questionable and may indeed advance discrimination could be the first sign of a shift. His outreach to dialogue with people of all gender identities may open the door for further progress. Let us hope so.  In the meantime, lets keep focused on what we as Catholics can do to ensure every person is protected under the law and respected as a child of God.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

National Catholic Reporter: “North Carolina bishop calls for bathroom bill alternative”