Key Figures in Transgender Teacher Story Reflect on Their Experiences

May 14, 2016

Three of the main figures in the recent story about a Catholic school’s decision to continue employing a transgender teacher have spoken with The San Francisco Chronicle, sharing some of their thoughts about this landmark case.  Their reflections provide important information which could help other Catholic institutions follow their example when dealing with LGBT employment issues.

Sister Laura Reicks, RSM

The newspaper account says the Sisters’ decision to keep Gabriel Bodenheimer, the teacher in question, on the staff of Mercy H.S., San Francisco, was “the only decision that aligned with their values.” Sister Laura Reicks, RSM, the president of the West-Midwest Region of the Sisters of Mercy, the sponsors of Mercy H.S., San Francisco, told the newspaper that though there were many facets to this case, one idea quickly surfaced as most important:

“Supporting the dignity of each person — regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identification — was paramount, Reicks said.”

Reicks also explained that the Sisters examined their congregation’s charism and traditions, and they realized that though this case was new to them, they had guidance from the principles upon which their community was founded:

” ‘We have not had any other teachers ask for any kind of coming out before,’ Reicks said. ‘This is just our way of continuing to live out what our founders of Sisters of Mercy had always said, that regardless of what type of prejudice or feeling in society, we have to take a higher road and look at the person and how we can be supportive of each person.’ “

In addition to seeing the decision as one based in moral principles, it sounds like the Sisters also saw their decision as a good professional policy:

“Reicks said the decision exemplified an overarching position within the order to hire teachers without considering gender identification, race, religion or sexual orientation.

” ‘Their personal lives are completely separate from their qualifications as teachers,’ she said. ‘We are concerned about the education of young women and we do not consider personal criteria when we hire the best person for each position.’ “

Also offering comments on the case was Diane Lawrence, board chair for Mercy H.S., who noted that so far no one from the school community has protested the decision.  Lawrence also saw the educational value of such a decision, saying:

“We work with the girls on being respectful, respecting the dignity of others. In my mind, this exemplifies what we’re teaching.”

Gabriel Bodenheimer

And, finally, there is Gabriel Bodenheimer, the transgender teacher, who is Jewish, but says that he loves teaching at Mercy H.S.  Bodenheimer said the he “never sought to break ground in transgender rights,” but also that “after four years it was time to come out.”  He added:

“It was very important to speak, and name myself, and not be silent. The response I got was tremendously positive.”

Bodenheimer described one small incident over the last few days which seems to have touched his heart.  The newspaper recounted the event:

“. . . [O]n Wednesday night, he received an email from a student — a simple, mundane note about rescheduling a meeting because of a doctor’s appointment.

“It started with, ‘Dear Mr. Bodenheimer.’

” ‘That was really a great moment,’ he said, noting that students, concerned about final exams, were largely unfazed by the announcement. ‘This is consistent with who I am. This is not some shocking information.’ “

So many lessons to be gleaned from this entire case:

  • the importance of religious leaders being true to their values
  • the realization that gender identity does not affect a teacher’s professional effectiveness
  • the recognition that a school teaches not only in through its classroom lessons, but through its administrative decisions, too
  • the necessity to be true to one’s self
  • the next generation’s amazing acceptance of diverse gender and sexual identities

Leaders in other Catholic institutions should take the time to reflect on these ideas and facts, so that when they are faced with similar situations, they, too will be able to respond authentically and justly.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles and posts:

Associated Press:  “Catholic school lets transgender teacher keep job”

Queering The Church: “New Ways” Welcomes Trans Employment at Catholic School”

Bondings 2.0: Thank the Sisters and Archbishop for Protecting the Job of Transgender Teacher

Bondings 2.0: New Ways Ministry Thanks Sisters of Mercy and Mercy H.S. for Continuing Employment of Transgender Man

 


Thank the Sisters and Archbishop for Protecting the Job of Transgender Teacher

May 13, 2016

San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has issued a statement which indicates that he will not oppose the Sisters of Mercy’s decision to continue to employ a transgender teacher at Mercy H.S. in that city.

The National Catholic Reporter said they received a statement from the archdiocese which said Cordileone sees that the decision is within the “legitimate range of prudential judgment.”

The newspaper quoted other sections from the archbishop’s statement:

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

“In his May 12 statement, Cordileone said he was ‘grateful that leadership of the Mercy Sisters spoke to me in advance and explained their reasoning and their plan on how to address the situation. In so doing the sisters strongly affirmed our Catholic beliefs and values and that they and the school do not advocate for policies or causes that contradict these values and beliefs.’

“Cordileone continued, ‘Often in such situations a balance must be struck in a way that distinct values are upheld, such as mercy and truth, or institutional integrity and respect for personal decisions affecting one’s life. In this particular personnel matter I am thankful to the sisters for seeking a response consistent with mercy and Gospel values and the corporate identity of the school as a Catholic institution of secondary education.’ “

Yesterday, New Ways Ministry congratulated and thanked the Sisters of Mercy, Mercy H.S., and Gabriel Stein-Bodenheimer (the transgender teacher) for their courage in handling this situation so justly and faithfully.  You can read New Ways Ministry’s statement here.

Today, we invite Bondings 2.0 readers and all New Ways Ministry supporters to send letters of support to the Sisters, the high school, and the teacher, so that they know Catholics appreciate what they have done not only for their school, but for the entire Church.  Send a copy of your letter(s) to Archbishop Cordileone so that he knows that Catholics are glad that he has not intervened in the Sisters’ faith-based decision-making process. (All addresses are listed below.)  Please consider sharing parts of your letters with other Bondings 2.0 readers by posting excerpts from what you write in the “Comments” section of this post.

In writing your letter, you may use some of the ideas from New Ways Ministry’s statement and make them your own. Write from your heart, and tell your personal reaction to this decision.  Your heart-felt and faith-filled message will be very powerful.  Short letters are very effective.  Honest, plain language will be most powerful.  Thank you!

Addresses:

Sister Laura Reicks, RSM, President
Sisters of Mercy, West-Midwest Region
7262 Mercy Road
Omaha, NE 68124
Email: sgoetzinger@mercywmw.org (assistant)

Diane Lawrence, Board Chair
Mercy High School
3250 Nineteenth Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94132
Email: zwan@mercyhs.org (office manager)

Gabriel Stein-Bodenheimer
Mercy High School English Department
3250 Nineteenth Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94132
Email: gbodenheimer@mercyhs.org
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone
Archdiocese of San Francisco
One Peter Yorke Way
San Francisco, CA 94109
Email: info@sfarchdiocese.org
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Univ. of San Francisco President Congratulates Lesbian Coach on Marriage

April 27, 2016
220px-usf-pres-elect_barbriesphotography

Fr. Paul Fitzgerald

Earlier this month, Bondings 2.0 posted about the University of San Francisco’s (USF) acceptance of two women’s athletics staff who had come out and announced their marriage to one another. The president of this Jesuit university has now added his own welcome.

Fr. Paul Fitzgerald, SJ, in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle, welcomed news that women’s basketball coach Jennifer Azzi and assistant coach Blair Hardiek were married to each other. He had not previously known about their relationship, but said:

“Coach Azzi has entered into a civil marriage according to the laws of the land. . .We will afford her every benefit and legal protection which she is due. The university is a Catholic Jesuit institution that is purposefully diverse and dedicated to inclusivity.”

The Chronicle reported that Fr. Fitzgerald said he received just a single negative response after Azzi’s coming out, while also receiving “a flood of more positive feedback from the USF community.” Athletic Director Scott Sidwell, the first USF official to welcome Azzi’s coming out, said there had been  “a tremendous outpouring of support,” including members of the women’s basketball team. Rachel Howard, a junior, said:

“They are the two most professional women I know. . .If someone loses interest in our program because they hear that two of our coaches are married to one another, they are clearly missing the point.”

jennifer_azzi_coach_usf

Jennifer Azzi

The Chronicle article also shed light into both coaches’ experiences growing up and coming out in accepting Catholic families:

“Both Azzi and Hardiek were raised Catholic. . .They still pray before every meal and every evening.

“When Azzi came out to her mother in her early 20s, she asked her if ‘God would love me differently.’ Her mother assured her that God’s love was nonjudgmental, like a parent’s love.

“Azzi and Hardiek have always had the support of their families. When Azzi told her father she was gay, he took her hands and told her, ‘you’re just as beautiful to me now as you’ve always been.’ “

In July 2015, Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York City, publicly congratulated the head of the school’s theology department, J. Patrick Hornbeck, on the occasion of his marriage to Patrick Berquist, which had been announced in The New York Times.

Azzi’s coming out can have many positive effects. The coach herself hopes she might give “other people courage to be free and live truthfully,” if they desire to do so.

Golden State Warriors President Rick Welts, the first openly gay executive in the National Basketball Association, said young people “will read about her and get closer to believing they can be open about who they are.” Azzi made the announcement of her orientation and marriage at a ceremony during where Welts was being honored.

And in the church, it is now a reality that a Catholic college employs the only openly gay head coach of a Division I basketball program. Based on the excellent performance of USF’s women’s basketball last season, Azzi seems to be working out quite well. The public support of the university’s president hopefully ensures that Azzi and Hardiek will not join the 60+ church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since 2008.

Hopefully, the combination of Azzi’s coming out and USF’s welcoming acceptance, will inspire more church officials to make statements and, more importantly, implement policies, as a handful of institutions have already done, that allow LGBT employees to live and to work freely.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right hand corner of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Teacher Resigns Over San Francisco Contract Proposals Which California Lawmakers Are Investigating

July 25, 2015

Abi Basch, left, with other supporters of the #TeachAcceptance movement

Another teacher is leaving San Francisco’s Catholic school system due to proposed contract changes targeting LGBT and ally employees, a resignation coming at the same time California’s legislature holds hearings on the controversy.

Abi Basch is leaving Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory School (SHC), announcing her departure, as well as coming out, in a Facebook announcement posted Friday. Basch, who teaches social studies, explained that she was seeking nondiscrimination protections unavailable at the Catholic school. She wrote:

“Now that I do not work for Archbishop Cordileone, I can say to my students, their families, my colleagues – without fear of losing my job: I am not only your ally. I understand your magic queer powers and the dangers you face when others fear their might – because I have them too.”

Basch also commended those involved with the #TeachAcceptance movement (comprised of those who oppose the new restrictive contract clause proposals), and she noted the high school’s defense of its LGBT community against the Archdiocese, saying she learned “integrity and strength, and made me a better, fiercer, more compassionate human.”

Hugh McNeill, a gay senior at SHC, expressed his gratitude for Basch in a note which was posted on Facebook. He highlighted the teacher’s support for #TeachAcceptance, including proofreading student speeches and painting rally posters. McNeill concluded:

“I hope that you spread all the joy, empowerment, and hope at your new school that you have shared with mine. You have given our school and our community so much. You have given ME so much.”

Indeed, Basch was a celebrated educator such that the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s diocesan newspaper profiled her in February after four years at SHC and more than a dozen in teaching. In the article, Basch says the school’s focus on social justice had been meaningful for her and added:

“In a city like San Francisco, the church’s teaching on tolerance and acceptance of the marginalized has been especially powerful in creating a safe space for a diverse student body.”

The contract clauses introduced by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone threaten such safe spaces by banning teachers from publicly expressing certain forms of support for LGBT equality,  and attempting to reclassify employees as ministers, which would significantly widen religious exemptions to nondiscrimination laws. Jesuit Father Jim McDermott offered a well-articulated explanation of these exemptions in America, who noted:

“. . . [T]o Catholic teachers in San Francisco the archdiocese’s decision to use the term ‘minister’ in their contract looks like a move meant to enable the archdiocese to fire any teacher for any reason without threat of legal recourse. The teachers’ union (also the city’s Board of Supervisors and a number of state lawmakers) immediately contested the change in language, and the archbishop quickly agreed to remove the word ‘minister.’ But every subsequent revision has continued to push that way of thinking. ‘The terms are gone, but the concepts still remain,’ says [union rep Gina] Jaeger. ‘The issue of ministerial exception still exists in the current proposal, and that’s what we’re struggling with. There’s no way we can agree to that.’

This threat has triggered Bay Area protests for more than six months now. Catholics have organized against Archbishop Cordileone’s approach to LGBT issues, even calling for his resignation in a full-page newspaper ad signed by more than 100 of San Francisco’s most influential Catholics.

The controversy finally caught the attention of the California State Assembly, which held a hearing last Thursday on the proposed contract changes. Phil Ting, an assembly member from San Francisco, called the hearing, reported the National Catholic Reporter. The discussion featured four lawyers from multiple perspectives, including:

“[Kathleen] Purcell, a former teacher at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif., and a constitutional lawyer, said the schools ‘have to decide who they are.’ Are they religious institutions that cater to students of a particular faith and teach according to that faith, or are they private schools that adhere to state standards and welcome students of all religions?”

Purcell then pointed out that Catholic schools, including those under review frequently welcome students of many religious traditions with no expectation of conversion. University of Nevada law professor Leslie Griffin called the ministerial exemption a “silver bullet” for employers, adding that “Contracts that ask people to give up their constitutional rights are problematic.” Two dozen audience members added their own concerns at the hearing’s end.

Aside from the legal battles, Abi Basch’s resignation reveals the most profound loss from these proposed teaching contracts: the expulsion of committed, talented LGBT and ally educators from Catholic schools. The note from Basch’s student,Hugh McNeil, echoes the cries of protestors nationwide who turn out by the thousands in defense of their beloved teachers. These church workers have given so much to their communities, to the world, and to the church.

It will be sad if state intervention is required to preserve employees’ rights, particularly given the church’s longstanding solidarity with workers, but if that is what it takes to stop wounding Catholic education, then so be it. The losses in our schools are simply too great to continue, and it is past time to change the conversation on church workers.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the almost 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


S.F. Parents and Students Say Revised Teaching Handbook Is Still Problematic

May 26, 2015

Archbishop Cordileone’s critics continue protests of the proposed teachers’ handbook.

After months of protest, the Archdiocese of San Francisco has revised the enhanced morality clauses proposed for teachers’ handbook for Catholic high school teachers. These revisions are not quieting tensions in the archdiocese that seem far from resolved.

The new draft, prepared by five archdiocesan high school theology teachers, removes the pastorally damaging language about homosexuality primary to critics’ opposition. A preamble explains that the document is a “short compendium of some important teachings,” reports the National Catholic Reporter, and adds:

“The Gospel cannot be reduced to a list of truths no matter how comprehensive because the Gospel is a person, the anointed one, Jesus of Nazareth, who is Lord.”

In the larger document, the language regarding sexuality emphasizes chastity and the bishops’ understanding of marriage. It addresses homosexuality only in implicit terms, stating:

“The Church makes a distinction between someone’s desires and someone’s actions. Desires/attractions are neutral to the extent they are spontaneous and not willed. Having an attraction to someone isn’t sinful, yet not every human desire should be acted upon.”

Closely mirroring the Catechism, the revised statement also adds that all are to be respected and loved “regardless of sexual attraction.”It does not, however, stop the archdiocese’s attempts to reclassify school employees as ministers which would make them exempt from the protections of non-discrimination laws.  Indeed, Paul Hance who is a union leader as well as history teacher, said lawyers believe the revised statement pushes the ministerial classification in even stronger terms. He added:

“What would happen if the archbishop gets his way? We would have termination without legal recourse…Our rights are not negotiable; our profession is teaching, not ministry.”

Credit: Concerned Parents and Students

Those affiliated with “Concerned Parents and Students: Teach Acceptance,” the group defending Catholic school teachers and opposing Cordileone’s revisions, rejected the new draft. Since the morality clauses were first added in February, more than 80% of Catholic high school faculty and staff signed a petition rejecting the old versions, and it doesn’t seem the new revisions have won over new supporters for Cordileone’s policies.

In the press release which the parent and student group issued, Kathy Curran, a mother, spoke about the harmful language and ideas that she sees remaining in the revised document:

“The language is still harmful to our children and is an attempt to camouflage his original agenda and fundamentally alter the character and culture of Catholic education in our high schools.”

Former teacher Kathleen Purcell, who lost her job at a Catholic school in the neighboring Oakland Diocese when she crossed out the objectionable sections when signing her 2014-2015 contract, said:

“Under the revised handbook language, teachers would not be able to dissent or discuss ideas that conflict with the Archbishop’s understanding of Catholicism without risking their jobs. This fundamentally alters the character of our schools. Teachers whose jobs are under threat if they step outside the line cannot provide a safe environment for students to learn.”

Others spoke at press conference last Monday, sampled here:

  • Jessica Hyman, a graduating senior: “We will not be fooled into thinking Archbishop Cordileone is changing anything. We can thank our teachers for bestowing us with the knowledge to see past this trickery. The language is softer, but the message is still hurtful and wrong.”
  • Jim Jordan, a high school teacher: “[The pause is] a small victory for us in that there will be no handbook change this year, which means we’ve stemmed the tide for the moment…[Cordileone] is not backing down at all, merely slowing down.”
  • Jim McGarry, organizer with Concern Parents and Students: “Even muted, the Archbishop’s rhetoric of judgment and selectivity about and atomization of the moral life of our students and their families is not simply a storm to be weathered. It is the precipice of a disaster.”

Advocates for church workers rallied outside the San Francisco chancery last week, while dialogue and negotiations between the archdiocese and teachers’ union continued. Teacher Sal Curcio is quoted in Cruxexpressing cautious optimism:

“The good news here is that there have been some changes to this document, so it seems as if the archbishop is willing to listen, to a certain degree…We wish he would listen more, and we wish he would really communicate with us more.”

A cover letter from Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone accompanied the revised statement, and it said, in part:

“Despite these worthy goals [outlined by the archbishop], several unintended consequences have resulted that have created the tensions we have been experiencing. I honestly did not foresee the reaction that ensued, and I apologize for this lack of foresight on my part.”

Cordileone also a year’s deferral before implementing the handbook’s new language, saying to teachers that he would use the year to “help you better understand the ‘what’ and, especially, the ‘why’ of the full range of church teaching.” The teachers are well aware of the bishops’ articulations; they just happen to have a different approach to how that teaching should be applied in their professional lives and schools.

Supporters of Cordileone are organizing too, hosting a website and a rally attended by the archbishop. They claim he is being “demonized” and a “witch hunt” is underway, reported the San Francisco Chronicle.

In April, more than 100 influential San Francisco Catholics signed a full page open letter calling for Cordileone’s resignation, while traditionalist nuns abandoned their Marian High School classrooms because they were upset that students were participating in GLSEN’s Day of Silence, an anti-bullying event.

Controversy is not new for Archbishop Cordileone. A recent article in the National Catholic Reporter documented that his time in San Francisco has been marked by “divisive action” which harms the local church profoundly. The article’s list of the archbishop’s actions are too numerous to name here. You can read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of his response to LGBT issues for the past few years here.

To lend your support for San Francisco’s Catholic school teachers, connect with “Concerned Parents and Students: TeachAcceptance” on their websiteFacebook, Twitter, or the online petition. You can also sign up online to volunteer through the Google form here.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the almost 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Nuns Who Walked Out of Catholic H.S. Need a Lesson in Gospel Reconciliation

April 24, 2015

San Francisco’s continuing saga with the intersection of LGBT issues and Catholicism took an unusual turn this week when five Dominican Sisters of Mary walked out of their classes at Marin Catholic High School, just outside the city, to protest some students’ involvement with the national Day of Silence, a campaign to show solidarity with LGBT youth who are bullied.

The walk-out happened one day after a full-page ad appeared in the city’s daily newspaper in which over 100 Catholic lay leaders called on Pope Francis to remove Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone from pastoral leadership in San Francisco.  The archbishop’s attempt to add morality clauses, a number of which referred negatively to LGBT issues,  to archdiocesan teacher handbooks has set off a movement of teachers, parents, students and other Catholics to call for the removal of such clauses, though Cordileone has remained firm.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the nuns objected to the Day of Silence campaign because it is spearheaded by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which, according to one of the Sisters, they see as a group which “believes actively in promoting homosexuality in all classrooms, K-12.”

The article reported a GLSEN official’s explanation of the organization’s mission:

Kari Hudnell, a spokeswoman for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, denied that the group ‘actively promoted’ homosexuality in the classroom.

“ ‘We are not trying to convert anyone,’ she said. ‘We are just trying to make sure schools are a safe environment for all kids.’

“Hudnell pointed out that the group has pushed for anti-bullying and anti-discrimination laws that apply to religious beliefs, as well as race, gender and sexual orientation.”

The nuns’ protest set off a chain-reaction of rumors and accusations, with some students saying that the nuns didn’t care about bullying (which the nuns denied) and with the nuns charging GLSEN with being anti-Catholic (which it is not). And although the involvement with the Day of Silence was an initiative started only by a group of students, some spread the false notion that it was the school as a whole who was sponsoring it and partnering with GLSEN.

When things get magnified so wildly, it is obvious that the atmosphere in this metropolitan area has become a tinderbox ready to explode.  The Chronicle reported that the school’s principal, Chris Valdez tried to diffuse the situation by sending a letter to parents which said it was “a challenging day on our campus resulting in both students and faculty feeling confused about our mission.”

Valdez has her work cut out for her, as she now tries to restore a productive school atmosphere in this charged environment.  She noted that she is trying to “bring authentic dialogue to the campus.”

It seems that among the lessons that needs to be taught is one to the protesting nuns, who seemed too quick to castigate GLSEN simply because they support LGBT youth.  The nuns seemed to have jumped immediately to assuming that GLSEN, because it is pro-LGBT, has nothing in common with Catholic values.  That is a very shortsighted assessment, and one which it seems was encouraged by the volatility of the atmosphere in the Catholic community of the Bay Area right now.

Another lesson that I wish were taught in this school, and in Catholic institutions everywhere, is that it is not charitable to cut off all connection with a person or organization just because one doesn’t agree with everything the organization stands for or because of their other associations.  Jesus was himself was harshly criticized for associating with people and hanging out in places that the religious leaders did not tolerate.  Part of following Jesus is about finding common ground and the good in people we may have disagreements with–even with people we might initially think of as enemies. That’s how reconciliation occurs.  That’s how love grows.

–Francis DeBernardo, 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’

 

 

 

 

 

 


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