Students and parents at an Australian Catholic school have resisted administrators’ decision to host a program where the presenters advocated that people vote against marriage equality in the nation’s non-binding plebiscite on that issue, which is now underway.
Officials at St. Brigid’s College, Lesmurdie, a high school in Western Australia, invited a Christian group called “Loving for Life” to lead a sexual education program for 11th and 12th graders. Students claim the presenters urged the registered voters among them to vote “No” in the plebiscite. Students have responded by posting pro-marriage equality signs around the school.
A St. Brigid’s parent told WA News that “kids came out of the program saying it seemed they were urged to vote no, and they were obviously pretty upset.” The parent added:
“‘They said they were told about how marriage should be between a man and a woman and why that’s the case, and of course there’s a few girls in the class who are gay, and they said they just felt completely unsupported by their school. . .Why would they come out to the school the week the postal vote was sent out? I don’t believe [it was a coincidence] for a second.'”
A student said presenters framed the program as an “open discussion,” but “any time that one of us had our own opinions. . .we were shut down, ignored and told we were wrong.” Parents were also upset that no consent form had been sent to them, as is standard for sexual education.
Both Loving for Life and St. Brigid’s administrators are denying the program’s content deviated from the normal presentation to include anything on marriage equality. Dr. Amelia Toffoli, the principal, said:
“‘The College has no intention of influencing individual family decisions in relation to the Marriage Equality postal survey, nor does it endorse programs that are intended to politicise important social matters affecting its community’. . .
“‘St Brigid’s College seeks to provide a learning environment that supports students to develop as critical thinkers, who are able to consider and respect diverse viewpoints and contribute meaningfully to their communities whilst understanding Catholic teaching on important issues, such as the Church’s teaching on marriage.'”
Whether administrators intended to influence students’ views on marriage equality or not, hosting an LGBT-negative program at this moment was an insensitive decision. The plebiscite now underway has prompted a heated and sometimes nasty debate, including the public posting of neo-Nazi literaturetargeting LGBT parents. This moment is therefore one in which Catholic schools should be especially supportive of LGBT and questioning students.
If St. Brigid’s administrators need a model for how to provide this support, they can look to other Catholic schools in Australia. For example, rectors at Xavier College in Melbourne and Saint Ignatius’ College in Sydney called on their school communities to discern carefully about how they will vote in the plebiscite. In addition, Trinity Catholic College in New South Wales recently welcomed two transgender studentsand provided them necessary accommodations.
Beyond officials’ actions, however, are students’ actions to be inclusive. Faced with programming that was not inclusive and may have created an unsafe environment, St. Brigid’s students affirmed clearly the goodness of LGBT people and their relationships. In their resistance, we can all find hope for the future.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 15, 2017
In a new interview, a former Vatican official has shed light on how church offices in Rome function and the alarmist posture which church officials have reportedly taken against gender and sexuality issues. Today and tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will highlight some key points from a much longer interview with the former official that you can read here.
For many years, Krzysztof Charamsa was a priest involved in the inner workings of the Vatican. He worked for both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as second secretary of the International Theological Commission, as well as teaching at Rome’s Gregorian University. But in 2015, he came out publicly as a partnered gay man in advance of the Synod on the Family. He was immediately removed from his Vatican posts and from the priesthood. To read more about his story, click here.
Charamsa shared information and insights about his time at the Vatican with the online journal Religion and Gender. He spoke about church officials’ ideas about “gender ideology,” their lack of contemporary knowledge, the role of Pope Francis, what he thinks LGBT Catholics should currently be doing, and more.
Panic Over ‘Gender Ideology’
After the United Nations conferences on gender in the 1990s, the Vatican responded to those meetings “with panic and disorder,” Charamsa said. Since panicking shuts down conversation, the Vatican’s posture became defensive, making the so-called “gender ideology” an enemy (which, Charamsa said, is the Church’s own constructed enemy because an enemy is needed when the Church is “unable to form its own identity”). He explained:
“Sexual minorities are reduced to the ‘other’, not ‘one of us’, and then to ‘something’. In this stereotypical vision, sexual minorities such as gays, lesbians, transgender people, intersex people are reduced to the masculine category of ‘gays’, only gays. The Church fails to see real people, communities or movements. It identifies something without real knowledge of it; without awareness of the human and sexual identity and life of these people, who must remain invisible. They are viewed as an object upon which hate and fear can be projected, and which can be destroyed.”
This “panic game” results in Vatican officials who are unclear of what to do, and so there are “attacks in every occasion” that use the same “propagandistic and apocalyptic slogans.” This panic comes out even in Pope Francis’ statements and writings, in which Vatican officials have a heavy hand preparing.
Twenty Years of Refusing Knowledge
The Vatican’s panic has led to more than two decades of church officials refusing to engage modern gender and sexuality studies. Charamsa described this situation of “irrational negation” on the part of Vatican officials in the following way:
“The level [of engagement] at the Vatican is poor, and closed, and fundamentalist. There is very little intellectual force to dialogue, to reflect. . .There is, I want to insist, no serious reflection about gender studies, feminism, or social movements of sexual minorities in the Vatican. There is no theological, philosophical or sociological reflection in the Church, and this is dramatic. . .
“The [CDF] consultors are theologians – and not the best theologians – who absolutely are not experts of gender studies. . .Much confusion and ignorance, a persistent usage of ‘they’: we don’t know who they are, but this is the concept of a ‘public enemy’, which must be instilled in the Catholic mentality.”
Studies of gender and sexuality topics elsewhere in the Church are suspicious in the CDF, and are “effectively forbidden” outside of officially sanctioned institutes that are “more propagandistic than serious disciplinary research.” What comes from these institutes and from Vatican theological work is a misguided approach to homosexuality used to prop up church teaching.
The Politics of Language about Homosexuality
Charamsa explained that the first tactic with homosexuality is simply silence because if it is not spoken about, it cannot exist, and even if it does exist, it is invisible.
But when homosexuality must be spoken about by church officials, the panic and lack of understanding in these two decades has transformed the concrete situations of real people into abstractions that are separated from realities. Charamsa described this dynamic as “the social sin of this time in my Church”:
“With false language and false pre-concepts we destroy reality; we hide it. . .Humanity now also knows that sexual orientation – or as the Church falsely puts it: ‘sexual tendency’ – is equally essential for understanding human nature. Facing this modern discovery, with our false ecclesial terminology we seek to hide this reality, to eliminate it, to dominate it.”
Church leaders use the language of “tendencies” and “attractions,” rather than the scientific language of sexual orientation agreed upon in contemporary discourse. They eliminate orientation without explaining why, according to Charamsa, who continued:
“TThe answer is: because it wants to maintain the false ancient vision of homosexuality, because only this erroneous vision can justify the actual doctrine of homosexuality. If homosexuality is a pathology, homosexual acts can be considered sins, yet if it is a healthy sexual orientation, the entire Catholic vision of homosexuality must change. . .We have all these problems in the Church, because the ecclesial authorities are not able to reflect on and to live our human sexual orientation at a personal and communitarian level.”
The way Vatican officials and even Popes John Paul II and Francis use this false language around homosexuality creates, Charamsa stated, “a prison, and a very hypocritical one” for not only LGBT people but the Church.
Attacking LGBT People to Preserve Power
The ultimate aim of the Vatican’s documents and silencing is what Charamsa terms the “psychological extermination” of lesbian and gay people from social spaces, including through criminalization laws. While defending Christians in parts of the world where they are genuinely threatened is important, the use of religious liberty in recent years has been to discriminate against LGBT people. Charamsa said:
“But my gay friends are martyrs too, in another way. And I’m not speaking about lesbians, about trans, who suffer much more. They are martyrs of Christian ideology defended by the Church. . .For me, all the propaganda and non-intellectual constructions, which support the heteronormativity of the Church, are an expression of hatred towards the persecuted object. . .
“The official ‘genius’ of woman and the official ‘respect’ for gays is in fact the biggest expression of disappointment, of inferiority, of hate. So you continuously hear: ‘Look. Gays are pathological people who cannot, are not able, to love another person. We are not against them. But they are naturally disordered and cannot have a sexual relation… And we are not against the marriage of gay men. They can get married. To women.’ The mentality of the Church does not have the consciousness that these sentences are inhuman: this is not respect; this is humiliation. These sentences do not only ignore reality, they are also against human dignity.”
Where does this desire to persecute come from? Charamsa answered that it is “not an intellectual problem, it’s a problem of government.” The preservation of “masculine, patriarchal power” that LGBT people and cisgender women represent is threatening.
Last month Charamsa was a keynote speaker at DignityUSA’s conference in Boston. Even though the picture he paints is bleak, Charamsa remains hopeful that LGBT Catholics can claim their dignity and even that some of the church’s theology today could be redeemed. Check back to Bondings 2.0 tomorrow for part two.
The publication of Jesuit Father James Martin’s book, Building a Bridge,which examines the relationship between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church, along with Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s recent decree banning lesbian and gay married people from most of parish life, have highlighted, respectively, a path to better dialogue in the church and an example of the worst of episcopal excesses in regard to sexuality.
These events have drawn the NCR editors to focus in on LGBT discussions as the linchpin for a wider issue in the church: the need for doctrine on all sexuality to up examined and updated. The consternation that LGBT issues cause traditional Catholic thinkers brings to relief the fact that the very foundations of church teaching about sex is dangerously antiquated.
The magisterium’s disapproval of genital same-sex relationships is based on what the editorial calls “an indissoluble connection between the procreative and unitive meaning of the sexual act.” Re-evaluating this concept could bring about “far-reaching consequences for all Catholics, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” The procreative norm is harming a lot more people than just the LGBT community. A reexamination of it could produce healthy and holy results for all. The editorial provides the following example:
“Much is often made about the church’s teaching that same-sex relations are ‘intrinsically disordered.’ But equally harsh language is used for other sexual transgressions of the church’s procreative norm. For example, the catechism declares that every action used to render conception impossible, such as use of contraceptives, is ‘intrinsically evil’ (2370). The catechism also condemns masturbation as an ‘intrinsically and gravely disordered action’ because ‘the deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose’ (2352). . . .
“The institutional church’s vocal objections to same-sex marriage often mask the fact that church teaching is fundamentally opposed to sexual acts that a majority of human beings participate in. The church condemns any sex acts — including those engaged in by married couples — that do not respect the procreative norm. Therefore, in reality, few Catholics ever live up to the church’s moral norms governing sexual activity. . . .
“If bishops like Paprocki were more vocal about their opposition to masturbation, in vitro fertilization or vasectomies as they are in their campaign against same-sex marriage, perhaps more Catholics would realize how urgent the need is to rethink the entirety of the church’s sexual ethics.”
While the editorial calls for laypeople and bishops to dialogue about all matters sexual, it also recognizes that “dialogue can have its limits, particularly if those in leadership do not demonstrate an openness to developing the church’s teaching on sex and sexuality.”
The modern dialogue on sexuality began at Vatican II, the editorial notes, but it was “stalled by the hierarchy’s unwillingness to loosen its rigid interpretation of millennia-old ideas about natural law and the procreation norm.” While theologians and other scholars in the Church have produced great insights into Tradition and modern views of sexuality, “those who have made the greatest contributions to deepening our understanding of sexual ethics, such as Fr. Charles Curran and Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, have been silenced or had their work condemned by bishops and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
Congratulations and thanks to The National Catholic Reporter for this insightful analysis and helpful recommendations! Since at least 1968, with the publication of Humanae Vitae, the Church has been aware that its sexual ethics doctrine was not received by the majority of the faithful. Leaders, for the most part, have kept their heads in the sand.
The success of the movement for LGBT equality in the U.S. and around the globe highlight that new understandings of sexuality can be life-giving and holy. This new reality also has brought opposition to the church’s antiquated sexual ethics teaching “out of the closet” and into the open. Church leaders can continue to keep their heads buried, or they can courageously move forward with a dialogue that has been waiting to happen for 50 years.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 12, 2017
Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, the theological ethicist who wrote Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, said the church has “not gone far enough” on gender equality because “we still hear the cries of women, through the centuries and today.”
Farley’s comments are readily applicable to the movement for LGBT equality, too. After receiving the Catholic Theological Society of America’s (CTSA) Ann O’Hara Graff Memorial Award earlier this month, she told the gathered women theologians:
“Ideas oppress and repress. . .When the church’s secondary teachings cause sickness and death, there is something wrong with that teaching. . .Just as cultural practices may have been fine until they kill people, so the church’s teachings may have been fine, even harmless, until they kill people.”
Farley’s scholarship has greatly advanced efforts to expose and transform oppressive church teachings on sexuality and gender. For her efforts, Farley was censured by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2012.
I wrote on Bondings 2.0 in April that, even more than ten years after her book was first published, Just Love is still a radical textthat challenges Catholics to reorient our church’s teachings and practices on sexuality towards justice. At CTSA’s 2017 meeting, Sr. Farley has once again spoke with precision and prophetic clarity about how Catholic theology can, should, and must serve better the people of God.
You can read a full report on Sr. Farley’s reception of the CTSA award at the National Catholic Reporter by clicking here.
Speaking yesterday at a Vatican event for International Women’s Day, Sr. Simone Campbell of NETWORK sharply criticized the Catholic hierarchy for being more concerned with retaining power than the realities of people’s lives.
Campbell addressed the Voices of Faith gathering, during which Catholic women from around the world share their stories under the banner of “All Voices Count.”
In her address, the sister behind “Nuns on the Bus” and who heads a national Catholic social justice lobbying group, referenced the resignation of clergy abuse survivor Marie Collins from Pope Francis’ commission addressing the church’s sexual abuse crisis. Campbell commented, according to Crux:
“‘The institution and the structure is frightened of change. . .These men worry more about the form and the institution than about real people. . . [Collins was blocked] by men. Isn’t this the real problem within the church?’
“‘The effort to keep the church from stopping this sort of thing is shocking. . .It is about male power and male image, not people’s stories. The real trouble is they have defined their power as spiritual leadership and they don’t have a clue about spiritual life.’
“‘Most of the guys who run this place haven’t dealt with an ordinary human being who’s been abused, an ordinary woman or a boy who has been abused. . .If you don’t deal with the people you don’t have your heart broken open. The bureaucracy is so afraid of having their heart broken that they hide.'”
Pointing out the absence of any senior Curial officials at the women’s gathering, Campbell said she was unsure “if it’s a slap in the face or evidence of how much power they think we have.” That Campbell was invited at all is noteworthy, given NETWORK, the lobbying and education organization she leads, was one of the identified factors in the Vatican’s 2012 doctrinal investigation of U.S. women religious.
Though not directed at LGBT equality, Campbell’s words are easily applicable to matters of gender identity and sexuality in the church. The lives and voices of LGBT people have also been discredited and silenced by the Magisterium, whose present articulation of the Tradition is deeply tainted by patriarchy and homophobia.
Campbell provided a strong explanation for the hierarchical disconnect: the failure and/or inability of many clergy to have healthy relationships with those who are not like themselves. In her words, they are “so afraid of having their heart broken that they hide.” Even in more forward-leaning gatherings formally sanctioned by the Vatican, like this Voices of Faith event yesterday or the Synod on the Family process, openly LGBT people have not been invited to share their stories.
But perhaps church leaders are right to be afraid of listening to the stories of people they marginalize, for these experiences possess a radical transformative power. The person who is “Other” makes a claim on the listener, compelling them to act for the good of that person to whom they have listened. Indeed, Maltese Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo has admitted it was meetings with the Catholic parents of LGBT children which helped shift his thinking on LGBT topics, and prompted him to make a speech at the Synod on the Family calling for greater LGBT inclusion.
Scripture’s most repeated exhortation to us is to “be not afraid!” I congratulate Sr. Simone for having the courage and wisdom to speak such prophetic truth within the Vatican itself. I pray her words will resound in church leaders’ minds and hearts, so they choose to listen and to be moved by people marginalized for their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.
Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS will lead a retreat preceding New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Other prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
Today is International Women’s Day. Catholics believe that people are equal in dignity, and that no one should be discriminated against or harmed. These are principles on which all in the Church can agree. But how these principles are lived out concretely is a trickier issue, as the movements for equality in the church for women and LGBT communities have made clear.
New Ways Ministry’s Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL, explored this challenge in a recent essay for The National Catholic Reporter’sGlobal Sisters Report.She reported on her experiences at an international church reform gathering last fall in Chicago. Sr. Jeannine linked the two movements, saying lessons from efforts to ensure women’s equality can readily inform efforts for LGBT equality.
The gathering in Chicago included priests’ groups and lay organizations from about a dozen nations. She explained that the representatives have had difficulty agreeing on liturgical worship that would be consistent with the values expressed and comfortable for all attendees, The issue of women’s liturgical leadership became a sticking point. Gramick commented:
“Did [the debate about liturgy] have any implications for my particular ministry for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people? The group had easily adopted a resolution ‘to stand against violence in all its forms — physical, emotional, spiritual and temporal — toward LGBT people’ and to ‘encourage the Church’s leaders and individual members to make the same commitment.’ There were some minimal questions about this resolution but not the angst felt in discussing women’s liturgical participation.
“Was equality for women a thornier issue than equality for LGBT people? No, not really. The LGBT resolution was expressed in general terms of equality, without specific actions. The group had also called for, and agreed upon, progress on full equality for women in the church; but the proposal about women, like the one about LGBT people, was broad and did not include particular examples of equality.”
Gramick acknowledged “people of good will can agree on general principles, but it is in specific applications that the rubber meets the road,” thus the challenges at the gathering of church reformers. She continued:
“At the next international conference of priests and reform organizations in 2018, when we discuss concrete actions that affirm the dignity and rights of LGBT people, I need to be prepared for similar resistance, hesitations, and concerns when these human rights and civil liberties are spelled out. . .
“I need to be patient because movement on issues requires time. Just as some who had opposed the proposition in Limerick had moved in their thinking about women’s liturgical role a year and a half later, there will be more movements in the future. I am pondering the words of Ecclesiastes 3:11: ‘God has made everything appropriate to its time.'”
It goes without saying that transforming doctrine and ecclesial practices about gender and sexuality is work that is almost immediately problematized. An event at the Vatican today for International Women’s Day illustrates this difficulty. The Voices of Faith gathering, an annual meeting of Catholic women from across the globe, will find participants sharing their stories around the general theme of uplifting women’s dignity and human rights. But the question of women’s ordination will not be discussed, and, in previous years, speakers have explicitly rejected ordination equality. And there are no openly lesbian, queer, or trans women speaking, despite the urgent need for such voices to be heard in our church.
Equality for women and for LGBT people in the church is, to a certain extent, a unified cause. Bondings 2.0’s Editor Francis DeBernardo, explored this pointin a post this past January. The participants from each movement can learn from one another, and support one another, too. Gramick concluded her piece on such lessons with these words:
“I am convinced that, as a church, we agree on the big picture. Each one of us may have specific ideas about the details in the painting: the colors to be used, the shape of objects, or the size of the canvas, but on the whole work of art we see eye-to-eye. As members of the church, we are united in our faith and belief in Christ and in our desire to follow the greatest commandment: to love God and our neighbor as ourselves.”
Let us then reflect this International Women’s Day on the ways we, as Catholic advocates for LGBT people, can be informed by and contribute to the movement for women’s equality in the church.
What do you think? Is Sr. Jeannine’s assessment correct? What lessons have you learned from other social justice movements that help LGBT equality? How can LGBT and ally communities contribute to women’s equality in the church? Leave your thoughts and suggestions in the ‘Comments’ section below.
A California education official who is a Catholic is opposing a new LGBT-inclusive curricula, and his opposition stems from a misuse of Scripture, leading him to ask rhetorically whether St. Paul was a homophobe or inspired by God.
Mike Dunn, president of the Conejo Valley School Board and a Catholic, has said he would not be voting for a proposed board policy to implement the state’s newly passed FAIR Act, a new law which adds LGBT information to history and social sciences curricula. The Thousand Oaks Acornreported:
“Responding last Thursday to a message from a parent criticizing Dunn, the longtime trustee says California’s new K-12 history-social science framework, which instructs teachers to include the accomplishments of LGBT individuals and other marginalized people in their lessons, conflicts with his Catholic faith. . .
“The framework, adopted by the California State Board of Education in July 2016, directs educators to study the stories of a ‘very diverse collection of families,’ including families with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender parents. . .
“According to the framework, students should be able to ‘locate themselves and their own families in history and learn about the lives and historical struggles of their peers.'”
Dunn, a school board member for more than a decade, is fighting implementation of the state framework in his district. He claimed that his actions were rooted in his Catholic faith, and were helping to uphold the community’s beliefs:
“‘Where I spend eternity is far more important to me than being a school board trustee. . .If I ignore my Christian beliefs, what will happen to my soul when I die?’. . .
“‘I also believe that the community does not want homosexuality, bisexual and transgender (sic) taught to 7-year-old children.’. . .I am also sensitive to the reaction from mothers if we start promoting homosexuality.'”
The Board president’s reasoning is rooted in his interpretation of Scripture, specifically the Pauline epistles which he said “conflict with the state history framework” and commented further, “Is the apostle Paul a homophobe or was he inspired by God?”
According to the Thousand Oak Acorn, Dunn has previously opposed “a new state-mandated sexual education curriculum” and “refused to vote on a change to district policy that allowed transgender students to play on sports teams” consistent with their gender.
Dunn’s peers do not agree with him. Randy Smith, president of the Unified Association of Conejo Teachers, said nothing specific about Dunn’s response, but did say it was “of paramount importance” for the school district to comply with state law. Betsy Connolly, a member of the school board, said:
“‘I see no problem with a person’s faith informing their decision-making process. I expect it to. What I have a problem with is when people cherry-pick faith and facts to support their perspective. . .It’s an important distinction.'”
Connolly also told CBS 2that schools must not only tell “the typical story” about families, so that students with parents in a same-gender relationship or who have a disability do not feel “at best invisible, at worst, shamed.”
In my view, Dunn’s opposition to the FAIR Act in California has relied on an interpretation of Scripture inconsistent with contemporary scholarship. In recent decades, responsible scholars have repeatedly disproven the idea that Paul’s writings in the New Testament condemn the modern understanding of homosexuality. Vatican II’s document on divine revelation in Scripture, Dei Verbum, expresses clearly how Catholics are to approach the Bible:
“[T]he interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.”
Connolly’s observation that a school board president has cherry-picked faith and facts to justify his opposition to LGBT equality is extremely accurate. Mike Dunn’s stance will stymie greater inclusion of and protections for all students and their families. His concern for his own salvation should not be allowed to cause harm to students.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 19, 2017