Roy Bourgeois: Catholic Church Must Change Its Teachings on Homosexuality

Today’s post is from guest blogger Roy Bourgeois, a former Roman Catholic priest and the author of My Journey From Silence to Solidarity.  Bourgeois is a nationally-known speaker on conscience and church reform.  He founded the School of the Americas Watch, which holds an annual protest against the training of Latin American soldiers at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.

Homophobia, according to Webster’s dictionary, is “the irrational hatred or fear of homosexuals.”

Roy Bourgeois

The language we use breeds hatred and fear, which often leads to violence.  It’s time to disarm hatred and fear.  A good place to start is with church teachings.

According to the official teaching of the Catholic Church, as stated in its Catechism, section 2357:

“Basing itself on Sacred Scriptures, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’  They are contrary to the natural law.  They close the sexual act to the gif of life.  They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.  Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

This teaching instills shame and self-hatred.  It has contributed to gay people being rejected by their families, fired from their jobs, bullied, and even killed.

Throughout history, the Bible and “tradition” have been used to justify discrimination.  The Bible was used to support slavery, as it was used to oppose the right of women to vote.

Growing up in Louisiana, we used our “tradition” and the Bible to justify our segregated schools and worshiped in a Catholic Church that reserve d the last five pews for blacks.  And today, once again, we are using the Bible and tradition to discriminate against gay people.

Over the years, I have had to deal with Catholic church teachings.  I served as a priest with the Maryknoll Fathers for 40 years.  In 2012, I was expelled because of my public support for the ordination of women.

Being kicked out of the priesthood and my community of long-time friends was very painful.  However, this experience gave me a glimpse of what millions of people have gone through, on a much deeper level, because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Since my expulsion from the priesthood, I have been hearing the stories and experiences of gay people  Two stand out and kept me awake at night:

  1.  Catholic parents told me about their high school son who was gay.  While they expressed unconditional love for him, he was bullied at school and did not feel welcome at their church.  Two weeks before graduation, he committed suicide.  They told me that the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality contributed to the death of their son, and they left the church.
  2. On a recent human rights delegation to El Salvador, we met with LGBT people.  They told us about the danger of coming out in El Salvador and how some of their good friends were killed.  El Salvador is a very Catholic country. When asked about support from the church, they said Catholic bishops and priests were their biggest enemies.

Outside the Catholic Church, others see homosexuality differently:

  • Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said, “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”
  • In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association declared that homosexuality is a normal variation of human sexuality.
  • On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, “Nearly two-thirds of LGBT Americans report having experienced discrimination in their personal lives,” and  “only 19 states explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

Today, 25 countries have legalized gay marriage, while 75 nations treat homosexual behavior as a crime.  In 10 countries, it is punishable by death.

When we are born, we do not choose our race, gender, or sexual orientation.  No matter how hard we may try to justify discrimination against others, including using the Bible and tradition, in the end, it is not the way of a loving God who created everyone of equal worth and dignity.  There are no exceptions.

It is time for the Catholic Church and other churches to change the oppressive teachings on homosexuality.

–Roy Bourgeois

Reforming Doctrinal Investigations Could Help Church Grow on LGBT Issues

An international group of theologians, bishops, priests, and pastoral ministers who had been investigated by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) are urging Pope Francis to reform the Church’s doctrinal investigation process.  If the proposed reforms are instituted, they could signal not only a re-vamping of CDF investigations, but they could help re-shape the entire Church into the more merciful community which Pope Francis envisioned in his recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. 

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith office building, just outside of St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

In a letter addressed to the pope and to CDF prefect Cardinal Gerhard Müller, eight reforms were urged by the 15 signers, some of whom were investigated because of  LGBT issues or spoken out to support LGBT people.  These include: New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder Sister Jeannine Gramick, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a U.S. activist for peace and women’s rights in the Church, Rev. Charles Curran, a U.S. moral theologian, Rev. Tony Flannery, CSsR., a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, Ireland, and Sister Teresa Forcades, OSB, a social activist and speaker in Spain. (You can read the entire letter and see the full list of signatories by clicking here.)

In the letter’s introduction, the authors outline the problems with the CDF’s current processes and procedures, noting that these are:

“. . . contrary to natural justice and in need of reform. They represent the legal principles, processes and attitudes of the absolutism of sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe. They don’t reflect the gospel values of justice, truth, integrity and mercy that the church professes to uphold. They are out of keeping with contemporary concepts of human rights, accountability and transparency that the world expects from the Christian community and which the Catholic Church demands from secular organizations.”

Among the procedures that the letter proposes the CDF dispense with include:

  • allowing accusers and consultor to remain anonymous
  • dealing with accused persons indirectly through religious superiors, instead of direct personal communication
  • permitting the same people to act as investigators, prosecutors, and judge
  • enforcing secrecy of the investigation and isolation of the accused.

The letter proposes that the CDF should institute a new set of processes and procedures that

“. . . involve a just and equitable process, accountability on the part of the CDF and Bishops’ Conferences, the presumption of sincerity, innocence, and loyalty to the church on the part of the person being investigated, as well as transparency and the wider involvement of the local Catholic community and the Synod of Bishops representing the universal church.”

In addition to correcting the procedural problems enumerated, the letter also suggests some broader reforms, including:

“The wider community of theologians, the faithful people of God and the sensus fidelium are involved in the discernment of the faith and belief of the church. No longer should the CDF and its Rome-based advisers be the sole arbiters of correct doctrine and belief” . . . .

“The process should be tempered by the mercy and forgiveness of God, and by the open dialogue that should characterize the community of Jesus. It integrates something of the contemporary emphasis on human rights and the need for free speech, pluralism, transparency and accountability within the church community.”

Fr. Tony Flannery, one of the signers, commented in a media release about why such reforms are needed and how they can create a Church which follows its own principles more faithfully:

“Under the last two popes, as the Church became increasingly centralised, the Magisterium was understood as the Vatican, or, more specifically, the Curia, and in particular the pre-eminent body within the Curia, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But an older understanding, which was central to the Second Vatican Council, has a more complex, wider view of what constitutes the Magisterium. According to this perspective, it consists of the Vatican, the bishops of the universal Church, the body of theologians, and, most significantly of all, the sensus fidelium, the good sense of the ordinary Catholic faithful. The Council goes so far as to say that unless a teaching is accepted by the consensus of the faithful it cannot be considered a defined teaching. This is the kind of theology we are trying to get through to the CDF.”

The reforms suggested could open up the Church to become a more honest and just institution, and they could facilitate greater debate on issues such as LGBT topics.  Moreover, a new set of procedures at the CDF would not only be more humane and Christian, but it would alleviate the suffering caused not only to the accused, but to the people that the abused minister with.  Investigations often harm do great spiritual harm to the many people who identify with the theologians, pastoral ministers, or bishops under scrutiny.

A reform of CDF procedures would be a great way for Pope Francis to celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and a great way for him to enact the more communal views on doctrine and dialogue which he outlined in Amoris Laetitia.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The National Catholic Reporter:  “In letter to CDF, theologians and bishops call for reform of Vatican doctrinal investigations”


LGBT Issues Pervade 2013 Call to Action Conference

Call To Action 2013 Plenary Session

LGBT Catholic issues pervaded Call to Action’s 2013 conference this past weekend as progressive Catholics gathered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to organize for a more justice and inclusive Church and society. Bondings 2.0 offers a round-up from the weekend to show how central acceptance, welcome, and justice for all sexual orientations and gender identities is in broader efforts for Church renewal.

On Friday, New Ways Ministry co-founder Jeannine Gramick, SL joined other prophetic voices in a daylong reflection on conscience, sponsored by the 8th Day Center for Justice. Gramick spoke about her four decades in ministry among the LGBT community and her struggles with the institutional Church that resulted from this work.

A La Familia also hosted a seminar on the same day focusing on acceptance within Latino families of LGBTQ members, which was hosted by Lisbeth Melendez Rivera and Rose Manriquez.

Jamie Manson
Jamie Manson

Saturday’s plenary session featured writer and LGBT advocate Jamie Manson, a Catholic lesbian woman whose reflections on intergenerational companionship this blog recently profiled. She joined a panel on the future of Catholic ministry, and when speaking on inclusivity, Manson said:

“It used to be prophetic to include women and LGBT people. For the new generation, it’s not prophetic. It’s just common sense.”

Manson also spoke of the many young adults who are educated in theology and ministry, but unable to answer their call to leadership in the Church because of, among other obstacles, their sexual orientations and gender identities. Roy Bourgeois, a former Maryknoll priest forced out of his community for supporting women’s ordination, echoed these sentiments, saying the Church’s many years of prayers for more vocations would be answered if only those who want to serve as priests were allowed entry.

World Youth Day participants from Equally Blessed

Saturday also featured several workshops highlighting the need for LGBT justice in Catholic and civil communities. These included:

  • “Why the Church, for its Own Salvation, Needs Our Queer Sisters and Brothers” led by Miguel De La Torre;
  • “Same-Sex Marriage and Beyond: The Catholic Imperative for LGBT Equality” led by Marianne Duddy-Burke;
  • “Sharing the Message of Equally Blessed: Stories from the Pilgrimage to World Youth Day, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil” led by members of CTA 20/30 and Dignity Young Adult Caucus;
  • “LGBT Catholics Standing Together: Intergenerational Issues” led by Jeannine Gramick, SL and Bob Shine;
  • Caucuses by Fortunate Families for parents of LGBT children and by Catholics for Marriage Equality for those in Illinois, and Equally Blessed.
Loretto Volunteers helping with marriage equality in Maryland

On Sunday morning, Call to Action’s Leadership Award was granted to the Loretto Volunteers, a program of the Loretto Community that offers a year of service for young adults in an LGBT-affirming atmosphere rooted in the Catholic tradition. New Ways Ministry is one of the host sites for the Loretto Volunteers.

Following that, Marianne Duddy-Burke of Dignity USA offered a homily during the conference’s closing liturgy. Speaking on the story of Zacchaeus, she proposed modern exclusionary labels equivalent to “taxpayer” that included gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and the parent of an LGBT child.

Marianne Duddy-Burke
Marianne Duddy-Burke

Flipping the narrative, Duddy-Burke asked attendees to place themselves in the position of Jesus, who called Zacchaeus out of the tree and into life. Jesus saw Zacchaeus as a human being with a profound need and engaged that alone, thus Catholics must do the same no matter how different or unlikable people crying out may be.  In conclusion, she envisioned a Church where the only label that makes a difference is beloved Child of God.

Given these speakers and workshops, there is not only widespread need, but also excitement around building up inclusive Catholic communities where LGBT people, their loved ones, families, friends, and allies are all welcomed. You can check out Call to Action’s website for more information on several of these programs described. For further reflections from Jeannine Gramick and Bob Shine on how diverse generations engaged around LGBT issues, check Bondings 2.0 later this week.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

DignityUSA National Convention Focuses in on Justice

DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics, met in convention last weekend in Minneapolis to reflect on the theme of “Let Justice Flow Like a River.”

Sister Maureen Fiedler at Dignity convention.
Sister Maureen Fiedler at Dignity convention.

Convention keynoter and National Catholic Reporter blogger, Sister Maureen Fiedler, SL, recently wrote about how the “justice” theme was woven throughout the meeting:

“This year, the planners clearly wanted members to connect the quest for LGBT justice and other struggles for justice. Thus, I was invited to keynote the conference by speaking on the social teaching of the church, raising themes of economic justice, world peace, nondiscrimination, the rights of immigrants, gender equality and respect for Earth.

“Jaime Manson (of NCR fame!) gave a marvelous address on the ‘intersections of justice.’ The idea is that issues of justice cannot be separated; they must “roll down like a mighty stream.” She joined everyone at the conference in cheering the Supreme Court decisions overturning DOMA and Prop 8 in California. But she said she did so with a heavy heart because of the SCOTUS decision the day before that gutted a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. She praised DignityUSA groups in Minnesota who realized in November they had to oppose not just an amendment to their state constitution that would have banned same-sex marriage but another amendment also on the ballot restricting voting rights. For the record, both amendments lost, a victory for justice.”

As part of the justice theme,  New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo and DignityUSA’s Program Manager Jim Smith presented a workshop on how to organize Catholics on justice issues.

Jim Smith
Jim Smith

In an article in Lavender Magazine preceding the convention, Smith explained a dilemma that many Catholics face:

“GLBT Catholics and progressive Catholics in general get hassled from both sides of the holy water font. One one side, from some non-Catholics and former Catholics who wonder aloud–quite reasonably enough–why queer and progressive people would keep the ‘Roman Catholic’ when it appears Rome and its local representatives would rather they take up space in somebody else’s church. On the other side, from many within the Catholic church hierarchy and some in the pews who in fact do want the queers gone for good.

“But whose church is it anyway? Many Roman Catholics, including scores of thousands in Minnesota, understand that when they first got their head wet at that above-mentioned font, they were baptized to one day own their faith, follow the Jesus of the Gospels, and let a well-informed conscience be their guide. Sometimes that means  keeping the “Catholic” while standing up and speaking truth to power.  And that they did, in Minnesota last year and this, and in very Catholic states like Rhode Island, Maryland, and Delaware.”

Martin Grochala
Martin Grochala

In the same article,  Convention Chair Martin Grochala explained the organization’s hopes for the meeting:

“Attendees will return home with skills for addressing injustice in their communities and with a clear understanding of what have been proven to be successful advocacy strategies.  The work at this conference will be rooted in an understanding of Catholic social justice teaching through the lens of the LGBTQ experience. We will ask attendees to look seriously at justice issues in their communities -in both the LGBTQ and broader civic and religious communities.”

Fr. Roy Bourgeois
Fr. Roy Bourgeois

At the convention’s dinner dance,  DignityUSA honored Fr. Roy Bourgeois with their “Risk Taker and Justice Maker Award.” Bourgeois, the founder of  School of the Americas Watch was ejected from the Maryknoll community because of his strong suppport for the ordination of women.

The convention received sad news on its third day when members learned that a past president of DignityUSA, James Bussen, had died of cancer. A long-time national and local leader in Chicago,  Bussen had served as president from 1985-1989.  A Windy City Times obituary recounted his many accomplishments,  and offered the following praise from Chris Pett, president of Dignity/Chicago:

James Bussen
James Bussen

“He was a prophet and courageous presence who could effectively challenge and demand accountability from Catholic church leadership to recognize the dignity and inherent blessedness of God’s LGBT people. But he also could, with gentleness and prayerful discernment, call the local and national Dignity communities, and others who share our mission, to claim respect for our lives and loves, while remaining faithful to God’s call for us to live generously, justly and with total love for one another. We can only hope and trust that his legacy will continue to inspire people of faith within our movement, and those around us, to seek justice and continually speak truth into action.”

The next DignityUSA convention, which is held every two years, will be in July 2015 in Seattle.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry