Top Gay Rights Campaigner in UK Speaks Movingly About Her Catholic Faith

ruth-hunt
Ruth Hunt

In an interview with The Scottish Catholic Observer, a leading gay rights advocate in the United Kingdom spoke movingly about her faith, while at the same time she appealed again for more common ground between LGBT and religious communities.

Ruth Hunt, head of the LGBT rights organization Stonewall, and a Catholic lesbian woman, gave the interview to coincide with LGBT month in Scotland, which this year celebrates the theme “faith, religion and philosophy.” In the interview, Hunt spoke about being raised Catholic, and she said of the faith which she still practices:

” ‘I was brought up Catholic, I believe in one Holy Roman Catholic Church. . .I believe it is where Christ is most accurately reflected. I feel at home there, I maintain a good relationship with the Church, I am pleased to be part of it. . .

” ‘I never felt the need break away. . .In the past, when I didn’t go I found I missed it, it provides community and creates a space that is very profound and spiritual for me.’ “

Hunt later said she “never felt excluded from the Church I attended. . .never felt I wasn’t welcome.” Like many Catholics, though, Hunt has questioned the church, yet remaining Catholic was a “very important thing” in her teenage years and was reaffirmed during her college studies of medieval English.

Hunt acknowledged that some sharp divisions and deep hurt exist between LGBT and religious communities, which can create further difficulties for LGBT people of faith. She explained:

” ‘I do meet people who have had different, difficult experiences though who’ve been damaged by being told to deny their sexuality, who felt rejected by God. . .That’s saddens me, and at Stonewall we often talk about the need for “kind eyes,” when we listen to people.'”

But too often these divisions are “something artificially constructed,” particularly the “over inflated” conflict between religious freedom and LGBT rights that some propose. Hunt noted:

” ‘There are many LGBT people of faith and many LGBT people have lots of friends and family in faith communities. To think in terms of binaries and opposites is not helpful. . .It does concern me the way some opposition is expressed. I don’t think it is Christian to be harmfully offensive. I think there’s always room to disagree with compassion.’ “

Working towards more inclusion in religious communities and more common ground between LGBT and religious communities remain an important task, according to Hunt, because “legal rights only go so far.” She offered advice on how LGBT advocates could proceed as they seek greater justice and equality:

“Hearing the truth of people’s testament is very important. . . A lot can be achieved if you start on basis of love but it’s difficult when people are utterly determined not to hear each other. . .

“We need to reach deeper into communities, to help people be accepted as they live, work, socialise and pray. . .

“The rights of LGBT people don’t get in the way of people of faith who practice that faith.”

This interview is not Hunt’s first time speaking about the need to overcome divisions between LGBT and religious communities. When she was appointed Stonewall’s director in 2014, Hunt recognized that despite legal advances, there was still much work to do to bring about religious and cultural acceptance of LGBT people and their relationships. Last year, Hunt reaffirmed to The Tablet that changing attitudes rather than legislation was her priority. She welcomed Archbishop Vincent Nichol’s support of monthly LGBT outreach Masses near London as an effort to overcome the deep chasm that may exist between faithful Catholics and their church institutions.

Her wisdom is again insightful in this interview with the Observer, and LGBT advocates, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, would do well to read it. Hunt, who recommends listening to the truth of people’s lives, witnesses powerfully by living her own truth as a lesbian Catholic woman refusing to compromise on either her faith or her sexual orientation.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

British Lesbian Bridges Gap Between Catholic and LGBT Communities

For this blog, which covers Catholic LGBT issues, we usually think of it as important news when an LGBT person achieves some positive recognition by a Catholic institution.   Today’s news is actually the inverse of that scenario: a Catholic person achieving recognition by an LGBT institution.

Ruth Hunt

Ruth Hunt, a practicing Catholic has been appointed as the new chief executive of Stonewall, the premier LGB equality organization in the United Kingdom.  London’s Independent reported that Hunt, who has been serving as acting chief executive for six months, has said that she is pledging to win over “hearts and minds” as part of her agenda.

PinkNews.co.uk reported that another item Hunt has mentioned to be on her radar screen is to be more in contact with the transgender community. Stonewall currently only works on lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues.  The news story quoted her comments:

“We’ve always spoken to trans groups – I have hosted round tables at Stonewall with trans groups, and there are a lot of conversations to be had with a lot of people who have strong opinions. . . .

Transgender activists in the UK have traditionally maintained their own equality agenda, but Paris Lees, a commentator, sees that Hunt may provide a good opportunity for building bridges:

“I understand that in the past prominent trans activists asked Stonewall to let trans people campaign on their own issues. I certainly understand that request, but we can’t ignore the fact that Stonewall is well funded, respected and professional, and I firmly believe there are many areas where we cannot separate combatting homophobia from transphobia. I look forward to the discussions that now look likely to happen happen between Stonewall and the trans community.

“I wish Ruth and Stonewall well, sadly we still need charities that fight prejudice.”

The Guardian noted Hunt’s faith perspective as important to her work:

“Hunt, who is a Catholic, said there were still many isolated gay people, including those with faith, throughout the country who needed support. ‘Some have gained more from these legislative changes than others,’ she said. ‘People living outside big cities people belonging to faith groups – I have been speaking to a young woman who is a committed Muslim and gay, and she can’t imagine speaking to her parents, never mind meeting a partner – there is still a lot to be done.’ “

In the recent past, Hunt has spoken out specifically on the pastoral care of lesbian and gay Catholics.  When London’s “Soho Masses” for LGBT people was moved to a different parish by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Hunt, who was then Stonewall’s public affairs director was quoted by the BBC:

“Given what’s happened over Christmas, where there were vitriolic and mean messages from the pulpit about same-sex marriage, there has never been a more important time to provide a safe space for gay Catholics to pray. . . .

“”The archbishop’s views on gay issues are well rehearsed and have nothing to do with the spirituality of some lesbian and gay people and their desire to express their faith.”

We extend our very best wishes and congratulations to Ms. Hunt, who is personally serving as a bridge between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

London School Is a Model for Church and LGBT Community Working Together

A story from London, England, offers a model of how Catholic schools and LGBT-rights group can  help each other out, all to the students’ benefit.

St. Mary's Catholic Primary School
St. Mary’s Catholic Primary School

London’s Evening Standard reports that Sarah Crouch, headteacher of St. Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Wimbledon, invited Stonewall, the United Kingdom’s premier LGBT-rights group, to give the school’s teachers a lesson in how to eliminate homophobic bullying. Crouch said:

“We want to give our staff the tools to know what to do should an incident of homophobic bullying occur…It is important that children know it is not OK to use the word gay in a derogatory way.”

This positive action was not without controversy, however, as some people felt it was inappropriate for a Catholic school to bring in advisers from the LGBT community.  The Standard reports:

“Antonia Tully, national coordinator of the Safe at School campaign, said: ‘Many parents will be very concerned that a gay rights organisation is considered to be an appropriate source of advice on how to deal with children using inappropriate language in the playground.

“ ‘If a primary school takes on Stonewall’s agenda, young children will be exposed to homosexual issues, which they are too young to understand properly. Parents expect a school to provide an education, not subject their children to gay propaganda.’ ”

But Tully’s comments, exaggeratedly alarmist, ignore the facts of this case:

“Ms Crouch said that children were not involved in the training, which was carried out for teachers on one day in September.

“She added that Stonewall’s programme was tailored specifically for the Catholic school and did not mention same sex relationships or gay marriage. It concentrated on how teachers should tackle incidents of homophobic bullying.”

Boston’s Edge newspaper notes that the program, in fact, was approved by the local diocese:

“The authorities of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark and all but one of the governors approved the event. Now, St. Mary’s stands as the first and only Catholic primary school to be listed as a Stonewall ‘Primary School of Champion’ of gay equality.”

Headteacher Crouch affirmed the goodness of the program presented and that it synchronized with the school’s Catholic tradition:

 “As a school, and as Catholics, we are opposed to prejudice of any kind and felt it was important to tackle the issue of homophobic language and bullying.

“The training was very successful and we feel confident that if any incidents occur our staff have the means to address them appropriately.”

Such an example deserves wide circulation as a model of how Catholic schools can be taking steps to eliminate homophobic bullying.  Ms. Crouch and St. Mary’s school show that concern for their students was able to outweigh any sensitivity about church and secular politics.  Their example of pragmatic partnering is one that principals–and bishops–should emulate.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

Cardinal O’Brien’s Resignation Highlights Increasing Problems for Anti-LGBT Hierarchy

Cardinal O’Brien greeting Pope Benedict XVI

Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leading Catholic prelate in the United Kingdom, announced on Monday that he was resigning as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh and that he will not attend the upcoming papal conclave as an elector. The cardinal, one of the UK’s most visible opponents of LGBT equality, is accused of improper conduct by four priests dating back nearly three decades.

While O’Brien denies claims published in a British newspaper on Sunday that he initiated inappropriate contact, this controversial Catholic has quickly removed himself from the public eye. Andrew Brown writing at The Guardian sees the accelerated pace of Cardinal’s resignation as progress in handling sexual abuse claims, but mulls deeper over the issues of homosexuality and forced celibacy in this scandal:

“.  . . [T]he story illustrates the grotesque and humiliating difficulties that the Roman Catholic church has knotted itself into where sex and gay people are concerned…

“Of course, the real problem is that the Roman Catholic church expects an entirely unrealistic standard of continence from its priesthood. Some priests can manage celibacy. The evidence from all around the world is that most can’t…In countries where that isn’t an available alternative, the priesthood becomes a refuge for gay men – especially in societies where homophobia is the public norm.

“This fact adds irony to O’Brien’s denunciations of gay marriage. You can’t really expect better from a church that still hasn’t come to terms properly with heterosexual marriage…And a church that can’t treat women as equals is certainly not going to be realistic about marriage between two men.”

Cardinal O’Brien’s legacy will be multi-faceted, but decidedly anti-LGBT given his repeated assaults on both legal rights and pastoral concerns. Bondings 2.0 reported stories throughout last year about O’Brien, including being named ‘Bigot of the Year’ by UK-charity Stonewall.

In 2012 alone, he referred to same-gender marriage a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right,” claimed legalizing it would be similar to instituting slavery anew, and expressed concerns that school libraries might circulate “homosexual fairy stories” as a result. O’Brien has lead Catholic efforts to block legislation granting equal marriage, through sizeable financial commitments and a failed attempt to hold a referendum on the issue in Scotland.

The realities of gay priests were further elucidated by Peter Stanford at The Telegraph in an article titled, “Too many priests preach truth, but live a lie”:

“…I’ve met many clerics. Many are openly gay. Or so open when not saying Mass that it is easy to forget I’m not meant to remember it when they are.

“In general, such double standards don’t overly concern me. Like the rest of us, priests, monks, bishops and even cardinals are as God made them. Whatever inner tension they struggle with as leaders in a Church that teaches that to be gay is – and I am quoting a document sent out by the soon-to-retire Pope when he was Cardinal Ratzinger – ‘a strong tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil,’ that is a matter for their own conscience.

“Tolerance wears a bit thin, however, when they start attacking gay marriage in such strident terms from the pulpit, and even signing letters en masse in protest at the Government’s proposals. It is getting dangerously close to hypocrisy.”

Not all critics focus on the visceral efforts that Cardinal O’Brien led as one of many outwardly anti-LGBT clergymen who secretly struggle with their sexuality. Instead, LGBT advocates in some quarters express hope for change in this transitory period. Pink News reports on reactions from pro-LGBT organizations, including that of Tom French of Scotland’s Equality Network:

“‘It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the allegations made against Cardinal O’Brien. Of course we hope that the Catholic Church in Scotland will use the opportunity new leadership brings to reassess its opposition to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.’

“‘The Catholic Church does a huge amount of good work on issues like poverty, and it’s a shame that this important work is so often overshadowed by its position on issues of sexuality.’”

Sexual abuse claims laid against homophobic leadership detracts from the Church’s truest work of justice, and undermines the more progressive policies of those like Cardinal O’Brien, who just recently proposed a renewed discussion around married Catholic clergy. In this period of episcopal transitions worldwide, perhaps the hierarchy will critically address the sexual ethics it promotes instead of doubling-down on its anti-LGBT policies.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related articles: BBC.co.uk:  “Cardinal Keith O’Brien resigns as Archbishop”

                                      The Guardian:  “What lies behind religious homophobia”

Imagining Hope

President Obama delivering his inaugural address.
President Obama delivering his inaugural address.

Inauguration times are truly times of hope and joy.   Yesterday, I was down on the National Mall in Washington, DC, to see President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden take the oaths of office once again.

The hope and joy in the crowd was palpable.  Bursts of applause broke out after every few sentences during the President’s inaugural address.   Perhaps no applause was greater (especially from me) especially when Obama uttered the following words:

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”

I have been working in the field of Catholic LGBT ministry for over 20 years, and it dawned on me yesterday, that 20 years ago, even in my wildest dreams, I would never have guessed or even hoped  that I would hear a reference to Stonewall in a presidential inaugural address.  But, there it was: the first time ever that LGBT people or issues were mentioned in such a speech.

But it got better.

A short time after the Stonewall reference, Obama added the following words:

“It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began … Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

Not only a second reference to LGBT equality, but a specific, supportive message of marriage equality!  I could hardly believe my ears.

All of this was on top of the well-publicized fact before the inauguration that Richard Blanco, the poet chosen to write verse for the occasion, is an openly gay man.

As I reflected last night on the day’s events,  I thought of how much hope such milestones provide.   What is most important for me is that such moments help to fill our imaginations with hope.  As Catholics who work for LGBT justice and equality, it may seem far-fetched to imagine a bishop or the pope saying such things as Obama did yesterday.  But 20 years ago, it was equally unimaginable that we would hear what we heard yesterday.  And 40 years ago, one would have probably been thought insane to imagine such a prospect.

So, let’s pray in gratitude today for the hope that Obama’s message gives us as Catholic advocates for LGBT people.  Let’s give our hope a chance to be renewed and provide our imaginations a chance to be expanded to include impossible dreams.  And let’s pray for the courage to work to make those impossible dreams come true.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Bishops in United Kingdom Attack Marriage Equality on Several Fronts

Scottish bishops with Pope Benedict XVI

Comments calling same-sex marriage “morally defective” by retired Scottish Archbishop Mario Conti are the latest in month-long attacks by Catholic prelates responding to British and Scottish government plans to legalize marriage equality.

Writing in The Tablet against the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill during a period where Scottish officials gather public input, Archbishop Conti said:

“…it is unhelpful, unnecessary and indeed profoundly unwise for political action to do quite the opposite, namely to attempt through the law, by equating homosexual unions with heterosexual marriage, to render moral what is in itself morally defective.”

Previously, the English bishops have spoken forcefully against government plans to legalize marriage equality in England and Wales. Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell wrote a harshly-worded letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron in early December questioning Catholics’ ability to trust him and making a comparison that Cameron is equitable to the anti-Christian Roman emperor, Nero.

Other instances since then include:

  • Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham’s warning that not adhering to traditional gender roles as a result of marriage equality laws would have unforeseen consequences for society;
  • Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster declaring, in a letter read during Masses, the government’s move as undemocratic, “shambolic,” and something that would make George Orwell proud;
  • Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury using his Christmas homily to compare the British government’s efforts on marriage equality to Communist and Nazi totalitarian regimes.

Such unwelcomed messages at Christmas time distort the holiday for many, evident in comments by Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, to The Guardian:

“’We do think it’s very sad that an archbishop should sully the day of the birth of Jesus by making what seem to be such uncharitable observations about other people. Some of us are mindful of Luke 2:14, which reminds us that Christmas Day is a day of peace and goodwill to all men. Perhaps Archbishop Nichols should have spent a little more time in bible study.’”

The pending legislation for England and Wales is expected to be voted on this coming spring, with Prime Minister David Cameron recently reiterating his support for full marriage equality while promising sufficient religious liberty safeguards.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

International Round-up of Catholic LGBT News

Some brief news items from around the globe:

SCOTLAND:

Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien was named “bigot of the year” by Stonewall, an LGBT charity organization in the United Kingdom, reports MSN.com:

“The charity said the move was voted for by 10,000 supporters and came after the cardinal went ‘well beyond what any normal person would call a decent level of public discourse’ over the last year, which has seen heated debate over plans to introduce gay marriage in Scotland. “

In a Guardian news article, a Catholic spokesperson criticized Stonewall for the decision:

“A church spokesman said the award showed Stonewall was intolerant of its critics. ‘Stonewall and others have promoted terms like “bigot” and “homophobe” relentlessly, in order to intimidate and vilify anyone who dares oppose their agenda,’ he said.”

Stonewall’s director, Colin McFarlane, offered a defense:

 “We’ve never called anyone a bigot just because they don’t agree with us. But in just the past 12 months, the cardinal has gone well beyond what any normal person would call a decent level of public discourse.”

“The people that were nominated for bigot of the year have this year called gay people Nazis, they have compared them to bestialists and to paedophiles, and one of the nominees suggested that gay people should be put in front of a firing squad and shot dead.

“So I think what we are doing is highlighting the very cruel, very nasty, very pernicious language that is being used by some people – and in particular by the cardinal, who won.”

FRANCE:

The leader of France’s Catholic bishops has vowed to fight a proposed bill which would legalize marriage equality in that nation.   According to a news article in Catholic San Francisco, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris, addressed a conference of France’s bishops, stating:

“Numerous initiatives are already being taken by citizens, believers or not, to oppose this government bill – many Catholics are engaging with people of other ways of thinking and other religions.

“Let this country’s Catholics know their bishops are encouraging them to speak, write, act and demonstrate. They have a right to testify to what, in the light of faith and the logic of reason and good sense, seems essential to them.”

ENGLAND:

A high court in England has determined that a Catholic adoption agency must consider same-gender couples as possible placements if it wants to maintain its status as a charity.

The BBC reports that the judge determined that Catholic Care, an agency in the Diocese of Leeds, failed to give convincing reasons why it should be exempt from the nation’s equality laws passed in 2007.

In a statement Catholic Care indicated that it may close down, rather than follow the law:

“Without the constitutional restriction for which it applied, Catholic Care will be forced to close its adoption service.

“The reason for this is that the service permitted by the current constitution is in conflict with the aims of the charity.

“It is Catholic Care’s view that this will reduce the number of adoptive parents available and the number of children left waiting for adoptive parents will continue to increase.

“Catholic Care will now take time to consider the decision in detail and decide on its next steps.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry