Rejection of LGBT Student Group Raises Problems at Catholic H.S.

Following a Missouri Catholic high school’s rejection of a proposed LGBT student group, community members are asking questions about how and why this decision was made. So far there are few clear answers.

kuzp-ldkAt Nerinx Hall Catholic High School, in Webster Groves, near St. Louis, School President John Gabriel said the Archdiocese of St. Louis directed him to reject a request from students for an LGBT club, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In a response to concerned alumna, Jill Allen, Gabriel explained that the archdiocese mandated any student LGBT group at the all-girls school follow “a carefully charted course of action that includes conversion therapy.” He would later say he misread this archdiocesan directive.  He also told Allen:

“Nerinx Hall believes that we can best minister to our LGBT students through our Loretto charism and the Loretto school values of faith, community, justice, and respect.”

But, Allen wrote in her initial letter to the school president, that rejecting an LGBT group “doesn’t reflect my experience of Nerinx,” and is not consistent with Loretto values. And Allen is not alone. Within a day, more than 600 people joined a Facebook group protesting the rejection. Beth Schumacher, class of 2001, told the Post-Dispatch:

“‘There are a lot of alumnae out there who are really, really disappointed both with the decision and with the direction it might be going in right now. . .There are young people at risk. If someone is asking for a club of that nature, then there are definitely individuals who can use that level of support.'”

The school was founded and is currently sponsored by the Sisters of Loretto.  It an independent institution not formally affiliated with the Archdiocese.  On the school’s website, the statement of philosophy says that the school believes “educated, caring, and empowered young women are essential to our world.” It shares in the Loretto School Values, which include:

“Community: Building relationships that are affirming, inclusive, empowering, and compassionate

“Justice: Promoting changes to eliminate oppression, and creating systems and relationships in which people, especially women, are treated fairly and impartially

“Respect: Being open to differences, and believing in each person’s potential. Promoting the dignity of individuals and protecting the sacredness of all creation.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder and lifelong Catholic advocate for LGBT people provided the following comment to Bondings 2.0 about this decision made at a school that is sponsored by her religious community:

“As a Sister of Loretto, I am embarrassed and ashamed by the stance taken by Mr. John Gabriel. Such a posture does not reflect the Loretto values of inclusion, diversity, and care for all. The students and alumnae of Nerinx deserve leadership that displays these Gospel-based values.”

The story of the school’s decision became even more complex when later in the day, in a letter to parents after news of the rejection broke, Gabriel retracted his claim about “conversion” therapy, writing:

“Today, a Post-Dispatch reporter reached out to Nerinx Hall and the Archdiocese. In preparing my response to the reporter, I also spoke with Archdiocesan Superintendent Dr. Kurt Nelson. It was during my conversation with him that I realized I had misunderstood the Archdiocesan position on conversion therapy within school LGBTQ+ groups.”

Responding to the Post-Dispatch, Gabriel simply “sent a reporter a list of Nerinx Hall’s initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion, which include training for teachers on ministry to LGBT individuals and diversity forums for students.” He commented only that Nerinx Hall would be consulting with the Archdiocese on next steps.

Unfortunately, it is not merely Gabriel and Nerinx Hall administrators who are involved, as they may be more willing to listen to alumnae. Gabe Jones, an archdiocesan spokesperson, said Archbishop Robert Carlson is responsible for all Catholics, and “[w]hen it comes to Catholic teaching, the archdiocese is the arbiter of what is Catholic and what is not.”

At issue in this debate are guidelines on LGBT ministry published by the Archdiocese last year. Titled “Hope and Holiness: Pastoral Care for Those with Same-Sex Attraction,” these guidelines include a “triage checklist” for dealing with LGBT people, and discourage people from publicly coming out. The guidelines also mandate that the Archdiocese be consulted if an LGBT group is being considered at a school or parish.  The guidelines express concern about how adolescents are considered in such groups:

“[T]he boundaries between transitory same-sex attraction and more deep-seated tendencies are not always clear. It is not unusual for a young person to experience attraction to a person of the same sex. It is important not to assume that such experiences are the result of a deep-seated tendency.”

Perhaps this is what confused President Gabriel into citing conversion therapy as a reason for the rejection. It is troubling that a lack of clarity still exists about how, why, and by whom the decision was made. This haze is similar to other LGBT controversies at Catholic institutions where culpability for unpopular decisions is treated as hot potato, passed around by church officials.

But this is a prime moment in which a Catholic high school can assert its independence and take a firm stand for its LGBTQ students. As a former Loretto Volunteer and friend of some Sisters of Loretto, I have come to know well the values of the Loretto Community, with which Nerinx Hall is affiliated. The Sisters “work for justice and act for peace because the Gospel urges us,” and have done so with a pioneer mentality for over two centuries. President Gabriel and Nerinx Hall administrators should tap into the Community’s rich Catholic roots to find a way forward consistent with this history and these values.

What would be best at this moment is for administrators at Nerinx Hall and Archbishop Carlson to share transparently what happened: Did the Archdiocese demand the group be rejected? Are Nerinx Hall administrators hiding their decision under the Archdiocese’s umbrella? Was conversion therapy a relevant aspect in the rejection? And what happens now? Nerinx Hall students, alumnae, teachers, parents, and Catholics in St. Louis generally deserve nothing less than honest and clear answers to these questions.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 16, 2017

A Few Steps Forward, and then Some Back, on Marriage Equality

Bishop Marcel Sanchez Sorondo

There’s been good news and bad news recently regarding Catholic leaders’ opinions on legal protections for same-gender couples.  The surprising thing is that the good news comes from the Vatican.

Queering The Church tipped us off to a Buzzfeed article that looks at the progress of Italy’s proposed civil unions bill, long stalemated in part

because of the Vatican’s previous opposition.  That’s right, “previous.”  The Buzzfeed article indicates that change seems to be happening:

“But there are also signs of a thaw within Vatican City. Monsignor Marcel Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Science, Vatican offices that engage with research on society, told Buzzfeed in an interview last week at an event inside the Vatican walls in which Italian politicians were participating that the church is solidly against any law that makes ‘complete [equivalence] of the normal [matrimony] and the gay,’ but if legislation clearly distinguishes between them, ‘that is another question, and this is accepted by the church.’ ”

[Editor’s note:  Though Buzzfeed  refers to Sorondo as “Monsignor,” he is actually an Argentine bishop.  In Argentina, as in many Latin American nations, a bishop is referred to as “Monseñor.”]

Terence Weldon, at Queering The Church points out the significance of this monsignor’s statement:

“What makes Monsignor Sorondo’s observation particularly interesting right now, is his position with PASS [the Pontifical Academy of Science and Social Science]. Although Vatican documents pay lip service to the importance of paying due attention to the findings of both social and natural science, in practice, the published guidance on homosexuality and on queer families have largely ignored the scientific evidence, especially on the matter of gay adoption. That could be about to change. In the working document prepared for the bishops’ forthcoming synod on marriage and family, there is an acknowledgement that there is a need for better understanding of the science, and that some questions should be referred to the academy.

” ‘117. Many responses and observations call for theological study in dialogue with the human sciences to develop a multi-faceted look at the phenomenon of homosexuality. Others recommend collaborating with specific entities, e.g., the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences and the Pontifical Academy for Life…..’ “

In Indiana, however, Catholic bishops issued a strong rebuke to a court decision there which overturned the state’s constitutional ban against same-gender marriage.  WTHR.com reported that the bishops said:

” ‘The Church upholds the dignity of every human person, including persons with same-sex attraction, whom we accept and love as our brothers and sisters. At the same time, the Church upholds the dignity and sanctity of marriage as a natural union established by God between one man and one woman, intended towards the establishment of a family in which children are born, raised, and nurtured.’

“The bishops explain that because God is its author, ‘it is not within the power of any institution, religious or secular to redefine marriage.’ “

Similarly, this week in Colorado, the Catholic bishops there roundly criticized a court decision to overturn the state’s constitutional ban on same-gender marriage.  Their statement, which repeats many of the same arguments of the Indiana bishops, can be read by clicking here.

In nearby, Missouri, Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis also criticized the decision by that city’s mayor to issue marriage licenses to four same-gender couples.  The Riverfront Times carried a column criticizing the archbishop for such a statement, particularly after his recent disappointing testimony on clerical sex abuse where he answered that  he “did not remember” when he learned that pedophilia was a crime.

So, we take a few steps forward, and one step back.  Little by little. That’s how all real and lasting change happens.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The Elkhart Truth: “Catholic Bishops of Indiana respond to Indiana same-sex marriage ruling”

LGBTQNation.com:  “St. Louis Archdiocese condemns city for issuing same-sex marriage licenses”

 

 

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Father Gary Meier, In His Own Words

Father Gary Meier
Father Gary Meier

Last week, we reported on the story of Fr. Gary Meier, a St. Louis archdiocese priest who came out as gay by publishing a memoir, Hidden Voices: Reflections of a Gay, Catholic Priest. 

Since that post, Fr. Gary has published a reflection on HuffingtonPost.com, which explains his decision to come out at this time.  He has also appeared on HuffPost Live.  

In addition, Bondings 2.0 asked Fr. Gary to answer questions about his experience, and he has responded affirmatively.  The exclusive interview follows.

The Interview:  Father Gary Meier

What is different about your life now that you are known publicly as a gay priest?

Being known as a gay priest is not that much different than when I wasn’t known as such.  What’s different is the response I’m getting from all over.  My story has gone viral on the Huffington Post and the attention that story created is different for sure.  I’ve been hearing from people all over who have been suffering in silence and who feel rejected.  They feel betrayed by a church they have supported for years – a church that will not support them – it is so incredibly sad.    

How did you come to the decision about coming out? Why did you decide to do this at this particular point in your life?

The decision to come out was made through years of prayer, spiritual direction and reflection.  It was not an easy or short process.  Why now?  As I told a reporter recently, “Why not now?”  Saint Catherine of Siena once said, “Speak the truth as if you had a thousand voices.  It is silence that kills the world.”  So, why not now?  I do feel some shame and embarrassment that I didn’t speak sooner.

How have fellow priests responded to your decision? How have lay people responded?

Both lay people and priests have been incredibly supportive of my decisions and actions.  It is amazing.  In the first few days, I received more than a hundred communications – all of which were supportive with the exception of two – just two!  That’s insane!  I realize that this has only just begun, but I didn’t expect such an outpouring of support.  The emails and communications that have come to me directly have been overwhelmingly supportive. 

 What has been the biggest surprise or most unexpected thing to happen to you since making your announcement?

The fact that this story is viral on the Huffington Post has surprised me.  But to me, that simply affirms that because our church is unwilling to have a discussion about this topic, when someone starts a conversation, people want to be heard.  The other surprise has been some of the emails I’ve gotten.  The atmosphere of silence and shame that our church has created regarding homosexuality is bigger than I thought and the pain we have caused is real.

What can lay people do to help more gay priests come out of the closet?

Let them know they are loved and supported.  It has been truly a blessing to have had so many lay people I’ve ministered to in the past 15 years be so incredibly supportive.  We don’t have to make this journey alone.  There are lots of people who will support us and stand with us.

Do you expect any retribution to come from your announcement?

I keep getting the question, “what do you expect?”  And to be honest with you, I don’t have any expectations.  I know I am not willing to ‘recant’ my position or my beliefs.  I suppose we have to wait and see.

If you had the opportunity to advise the pope about gay priests, what would you tell him?

We are here!  We’ve always been here and it’s time to for a new understanding regarding homosexuality and what it means to love and to be loved.

How do you think our church would change if more gay priests came out? How do you think your personal ministry will change?

The church will dramatically change if every gay priest came out.  But I’ve also come to understand that coming out as ‘gay’ is one thing.  Coming out as gay and pro-gay is another.  While I don’t know where my personal ministry is going to take me, I do know that advocacy for the LGBT community will be part of it. 

Do you plan to be more involved with Catholic LGBT issues?

Yes

How can people get a copy of your book?

You can find the book on amazon.com and kindle.  You can also borrow the book through kindle.  Or, go to my website www.fathergary.com and click on the amazon logo. Or click the following link: http://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Voices-Reflections-Catholic-Priest/dp/1484106792/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1369340840&sr=8-1&keywords=gary+meier .

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry