Eighth National Symposium on LGBT Catholics Begins Today!

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,”  begins today in Chicago!

We have a great line-up of plenary and focus session leaders, plus two bishops and an inspirational nun to lead us in prayer.  And, most importantly, we have the energy of the hundreds of LGBT and Ally Catholics who will be attending the event, discussing the topics, sharing opinions, and networking with one another.

Your faithful bloggers, Francis DeBernardo and Robert Shine, are, of course, here at the event.  Over the next few days, we will be busy with symposium activities, so we won’t be posting blogs about the event–yet.  However, have no fear!  Bondings 2.0 will continue through the weekend with posts on other topics.

Starting next week, we will begin posting information from the symposium itself, so stay tuned! For more information about the program, click here.

And if you are a member of the Bondings 2.0 community who is attending the symposium, please introduce yourselves to us at the event.  We love to get real-time, in-person feedback from readers!

Francis DeBernardo, Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 28, 2017

 

Advertisements

Ten Years Later, Sr. Margaret Farley’s “Just Love” Is Still a Most Radical Book

This weekend, Catholics are gathering in Chicago for New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” Today’s post reflects on Sister Margaret Farley’s groundbreaking work, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. Farley, whose justice-oriented sexual ethic has greatly advanced the conversation on LGBT issues in the church, addressed Symposia in 1992, 1997, and 2007. She also received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award in 2002.

justloveUnsurprisingly, the 2010 Notification that Margaret Farley received from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about her book, Just Love, missed not only the forest for the trees; it missed the trees for the minutiae of their bark.

Far from engaging Farley’s vision, intentionally laid out as she weaves tradition with contemporary knowledge, the Notification issued is a poor, proof-texted engagement. But a reader more receptive to Farley’s work easily sees not only the forest, but the horizon to which this theological giant is leading, and gratefully joins the path towards it.

Questions of sexuality and gender have progressed rapidly in the decade or so since Just Love was published. Yet Farley’s insights, deeply drawn from her first section on traditions, still speak to new and emerging issues. [To read a summary of Just Love’s ethical principles, click here.]

One example of these issues is the Synod on the Family. The synod process made clear how inexperienced many Catholic bishops are at negotiating cross-cultural ethics.The Synod also raised an old question in a new way: In a truly global church, can the Vatican really pronounce on universal norms beyond the most fundamental of principles? In other words, are issues of family life, sexuality, and society today too complex and diverse for a one-size-fits-all approach?

Emerging churches, particularly in Africa, have resisted more permissive stances on sexuality with claims of “ideological colonization,” a term notably used by Francis, the church’s first pope from the Global South. Farley identifies the troubling dynamic driving many such claims: sexual control has been central to Western colonization and postcolonial regions are still grappling with this damaging legacy. Acknowledging these traumas is absent from magisterial discourse today, even as theologians have welcomed such necessary dialogue through international conferences such as Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church.

Margaret Farley2
Sister Margaret Farley

Another emerging issue is gender and its relation to sexuality, now hotly contested in many contexts due to the expansion of transgender rights. Farley’s technical treatment of intersex and trans identities needs some updating given new research in this area, but, more significantly, she remains open to the realities of such persons, writing that “[n]o one ought to pass judgement on any configurations of gender [emphasis added].” This outward-looking stance paired with compassion means her larger points retain their integrity.

No statement of Farley’s is more relevant for today, when “gender wars” are rapidly and harmfully intensifying,  than when she observes that “[g]ender wars would cease if we saw that we are not ‘opposite’ sexes but persons with somewhat different (but, in fact, very similar!) bodies.” Farley’s sexual ethic, with its roots in justice, is wonderful for slowly shifting the conversation beyond a primary concern with whom one has physical intimacy (raising questions of sexual and/or gender identity) to a primary concern about how one has sexual intimacy (raising questions of bodies, abilities, pleasures, and participants).

Finally, though Just Love can and should speak to many emerging questions, conversations about consent could benefit greatly from her just sex framework. To the detriment of healthy sexual relationships, consent has been reduced to saying “no,” or under affirmative consent thinking, the absence of an active and enthusiastic “yes.”  While such models are being used to educate youth and young adults, particularly in higher education, as correctives against society’s historical failure to address sexual violence, they are not adequate.

Despite their good intent, such models are actually doing harm because they employ a mechanical understanding of sexual acts that excludes context and relationality. Farley is clear that free consent and respect for bodily autonomy are minimal norms for just sex, but she is equally clear that sexual justice means more. She insists that sexual acts cannot be separated from the contexts in which they happen, and the foremost context is relationality. Incorporating Farley’s theory of sexual justice into understandings of consent would both help curb sexual violence and promote healthier relationships.

Ten years on, it is clear that Just Love’s relevance has only grown, and that Christian ethical reflection has yet to receive fully its wisdom. Farley’s writing is precise and thorough, reflecting the years she spent laying the foundations for her sexual ethic. Behind her clear argumentation are complex layers of meaning with which the reader must repeatedly grapple. Her closing section on contexts for just love, addressing matters like same-gender relationships and persons who are divorced and/or remarried, is really the springboard Farley provides for Christians to employ her framework in their own research, contexts, and lives.

But what may be most clear of all is that Vatican’s fears were, in one way, fully warranted. Just Love is a truly radical text, which, received more and more fully by Christians, has and will continue to alter radically our lives and the life of our churches. It lays before us a road to full equality for LGBT people, one recognizing the beauty of diverse sexual and gender identities, the goodness of same-gender sexual intimacy, and the gift that every family is to our church.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 28, 2017

Why Catholic High Schools Need LGBTQ+ Student Groups

Last month, a St. Louis, MO, Catholic high school, Nerinx Hall, made news when it turned down a student request to establish a gay-straight alliance (GSA). Questions arose about how Catholic high schools can best serve their LGBTQ+ students while retaining their Catholic identity. 

To aid Nerinx Hall and all other Catholic schools when deciding whether to start an LGBTQ+ student group, Bondings 2.0 has compiled data on the experiences of LGBTQ+ high school students and the proven impact LGBTQ+ student groups have on high school campus climates. 

Educational Consequences of Unsafe Environments

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educators Network’s (GLSEN) 2015 National School Climate Survey Executive Summary spelled out the problems students face

op-story-lgbt-safety-300x250“A hostile school climate affects students’ academic success and mental health. LGBTQ+ students who experience victimization and discrimination at school have worse educational outcomes and poorer psychological well-being.” Additionally, the GLSEN document said that unsafe school environments also lead students to drop out of school early, “42.5% of LGBTQ+ students who reported that they did not plan to finish high school, or were not sure if they would finish, indicated that they were considering dropping out because of the harassment they faced at school.” 

LGBTQ+ students who experienced discrimination were “more than three times as likely to have missed school in the past month, had lower GPAs than their peers, and had lower self-esteem and school belonging and higher levels of depression,” according to the GLSEN report. 

“We see that LGBT youth are being deprived of an equal education based on these hostile school climates,” Emily Greytak, GLSEN Research Director.

School climate directly impacts how well students learn and socialize. Heightened stressors like bullying, discrimination, victimization, and lacking a sense of community are proven to make LGBTQ+ students more likely to have negative educational and developmental outcomes. LGBTQ+ student groups provide a space for students to create a sense of community and support so they can better perform as students as they develop into adulthood. 

Do LGBTQ+ student groups work? The data says, “Yes!” 

According to a report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, data from as early as 1998 shows that LGBTQ+ students attending schools with LGBTQ+ student groups “were less likely to report being victimized, skipping school because of fear of victimization, or attempting suicide.” The same report showed that LGBTQ+ student groups are “significantly protective” in decreasing suicidal ideation and attempts by LGB high school students. 

More recent data in GLSEN “Safe Space Kit” 2016 and GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey shows students who did have an LGBTQ+ student group were less likely to feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation, experienced lower levels of victimization related to their sexual orientation and gender expression, reported a greater number of supportive school staff and more accepting peers, were more likely to report incidents of harassment and assault, felt more connected to their school community, and were less likely to miss school because of safety concerns than LGBTQ+ students in schools without an LGBTQ+ student group. 

LGBTQ+ student groups have even been found to benefit school climates on issues beyond sexuality and gender identity. According to the GLSEN “Teasing to Torment” 2015 document, even non-LGBTQ+ students in schools with LGBTQ+ student groups “experience less victimization based on race/ethnicity and based on appearance than students without a GSA” and reported “greater feelings of safety for the general student body.” 

Catholic Schools Need LGBTQ+ Student Groups

Some Catholic educators and administrators are worried that granting students an LGBTQ+ student group would negatively impact the Catholic identity of the school, but this fear is by no means an excuse to deny students what they need: an LGBTQ+ student group. 

rolingAccording to a GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey, barring students from forming or promoting an LGBTQ+ student group clearly sends “the message that LGBT topics, and in some cases, even LGBTQ+ people, are not appropriate for extracurricular activities.” GLSEN claimed that by denying or hindering LGBTQ+ student groups, the school administration marks “official school activities distinctly as non-LGBT” and that such discrimination prevents “LGBTQ+ students from participating in the school community as fully and completely as other students.”

In Pope Francis’ directive for Catholic education, listed on the Catholic education web page of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he calls us to care for the needs of all students, which, of course, means LGBTQ+ students, too: 

“Our generation will show that it can rise to the promise found in each young person when we know how to give them space. This means that we have to create the material and spiritual conditions for their full development; to give them a solid basis on which to build their lives; to guarantee their safety and their education to be everything they can be.” 

Catholic school administrators and educators cannot ignore the needs of LGBTQ+ students as they raise themselves to the promise found in their own selves. Denying them the space to grow and heal does not rise to their promise, it denies that their promise exists. 

So, paraphrasing Pope Francis, Catholic school administrators should ask themselves: “Can we rise to the promise found in your LGBTQ+ students and guarantee their safety and their education to be everything they can be?” 

Glen Bradley, New Ways Ministry, March 28, 2017


Would you like to start an LGBTQ+ student group at your school? The GSA Network has resources available here. GLSEN also has resources on how to start an LGBTQ+ student group and general resources for LGBTQ+ student groups

Come to New Ways Ministry’s symposium this April for our focus session “Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions.” Find more information on our symposium website.

Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions

CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Three Bishops Speak Out on Pastoral Inclusion

“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Three Bishops Speak At New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium, 1992

As I hope you know by now, New Ways Ministry will be hosting its Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” on the weekend of April 28-30, 2017, in Chicago.   Thus, it seems an appropriate time to turn our clocks back 25 years and look at the Third National Symposium, back in March 1992, which also took place in Chicago.

At New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium: Bishop Kenneth Untener; Bishop William Hughes; Sister Helen Marie Burns, RSM, Chair of New Ways Ministry’s Board; Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

The Third National Symposium was historic in that it was the first time that three Catholic bishops came to a forum to speak about what was then understood as lesbian and gay issues in the Church.  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, auxiliary of Detroit, Bishop William Hughes, diocesan bishop of Covington, Kentucky, and Bishop Kenneth Untener, diocesan bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, all were there to present “his viewpoint on the pastoral reality of the church’s ministry to members of the gay and lesbian community, ” according to a news report by Ed Stieritz, printed in the April 5, 1992 edition of The Messenger, the Catholic newspaper of Davenport, Iowa.

It was at that symposium where Bishop Gumbleton first told the story of his and his family’s response to learning that his brother Dan is gay, which began the bishop’s career of public advocacy for LGBT equality.  The Messenger reported:

“Bishop Gumbleton shared, poignantly, how he had reacted when his brother told members of his family of his homosexual orientation.  He admitted he had the same difficulty that most family members have when faced with such a revelation.  Now, he said, he has come to appreciate the great gifts his brother brings to both the family and the Church as well as the lessons of tolerance and understanding that they have all learned as a result of his brother’s ‘coming out.’ “

Bishop Hughes acknowledged that the Catholic Church had been remiss in affirming lesbian and gay people.    The newspaper quoted from his talk:

“. . . [W]e’re in a period of change when the Church is recognizing more and more the need to deal with people primarily as ‘persons.’ We are all part of the Body of Christ, and if one suffers–all suffer.”

In a sidebar story, Bishop Hughes was asked why he decided to attend the symposium.  His answer:

“I felt that when I am invited to go to any people who are hurting or suffering in their relationship with the church, I am going to make sure I am present to say ‘the church cares about you.’ We are an inclusive church, which means we reach out to everybody.”

Bishop Untener also stressed the theme of inclusivity, but also took a look at what he believes God uses to judge us.  He said:

“Since I am a theologian, I don’t say this lightly, but I have come to truly believe that when we die the only thing that will matter in the end will be how we have treated one another.”

In Voices of Hope,  a collection of church statements on lesbian and gay issues edited by New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent (out of print, but used copies may be found online), a very insightful passage of Bishop Untener’s talk was cited:

“We need to take seriously the evaluation that homosexuality is a complex question, yet I do not believe we always do.  We have to be careful not to make life too simple.  The Pharisees made that mistake.  They made religion very complex, but treated life as though it were simple.  They had complex rules about what one could or could not do and thought these could apply very simply to life.  The complexity of their religious formulations took care of everything, and the rest, they thought, was simple.

“Jesus did exactly the opposite.  His religious teachings were very simple.  He said that all the commandments of the law came down to two: love of God and love of neighbor.  When they asked Him enormously complex questions, he would say, ‘Let me tell you a story. . . ‘

“On the other hand, Jesus treated life as very complex, as His parables show.  For example, the parable of the prodigal son was so simple until He introduced the last scene with the complexity of the older brother.  And Jesus left it there. The parable ends with the older brother and the father still arguing out in the yard.”

The Third National Symposium was an exciting event at a time when lesbian and gay issues were just being brought into the mainstream of the Catholic Church’s life.   The upcoming Eighth National Symposium promises to be just as exciting.  In fact, Bishop Gumbleton will again be at the meeting to share his powerful reflections with the participants.  And although Bishop Hughes has since passed on, another Kentucky church leader, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. will be there to offer inspiration.

For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.  Register before March 27th to avoid paying an additional $50 late fee.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 23, 2017

 

Find Answers to “Controversial” Pope Francis at Upcoming Symposium

Pope Francis

If there is one word that best describes the reactions of LGBT and ally Catholics towards Pope Francis, I think it is “controversial.”  I use this word in its traditional usage meaning that there are two sides to the issue.  For some LGBT Catholics and supporters, he has been a savior and messiah, opening a new era in the church’s approach to issues of sexuality and gender.  For others, Pope Francis is simply, “more of the same,” not changing anything, and, in some cases, because his appearance is “kinder and gentler,” he may actually be making things worse.

And, of course, between these two poles, there are a variety of middle positions.  Some are happy with the pope’s calls for mercy towards LGBT people.  Others want him to also call for justice for LGBT people.

Whatever your take on Pope Francis, if you want to learn more about how he might be advancing LGBT issues positively or negatively, you should consider attending New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis , on the weekend of April 28-30, 2017, in Chicago.

If you are a regular reader (or even a casual one) of Bondings 2.0, then you know that Pope Francis raises more questions than provides answers in regard to LGBT issues.  The symposium will be an event where participants can gain information and perspectives to begin to form some of those answers for themselves.

bryan1
Bryan Massingale

Are you interested in how Pope Francis is affecting the Church’s social ethics in regard to LGBT issues?  Come to the symposium to hear Fr. Bryan Massingale,  Fordham University theologian.

lisa-fullam1
Lisa Fullam

Will Pope Francis make a change to Catholic sexual ethics?  Listen to the ideas of Lisa Fullam, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley theologian.  The question of religious liberty, especially in regard to LGBT employees of Catholic institutions, has a lot of people wondering.

leslie-griffin1
Leslie Griffin

The question of religious liberty, especially in regard to LGBT employees of Catholic institutions, has a lot of people wondering.  Leslie Griffin, University of Nevada at Las Vega legal scholar, will provide some insight into these dilemmas.

Frank Mugisha of Uganda poses in front of a painting of Robert F. Kennedy, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Frank Mugisha

Why hasn’t Pope Francis spoken out on the terrible scourge of laws which criminalize LGBT people around the globe?  You’ll get a first-hand answer to that from Frank Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, who is at the center of this struggle.

In addition, there will be focus sessions on:

  • Hispanic Catholic Culture and LGBT Issues
  • Gay Men in the Priesthood and Religious Life
  • Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions
  • Transgender and Intersex Identities and the Family
  • LGBT Parish Ministry
  • Lesbian Nuns: A Gift to the Church
  • Challenges of LGBT Church Workers

Prayer Opportunities

The symposium experience is not all about the intellect.  Unique prayer opportunities will also be available:

  • simone1
    Simone Campbell, SSS

    Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, the “Nun on the Bus,” will lead a pre-symposium retreat day on Friday, April 28th, on the theme of the spirituality of justice and mercy.

  • 2-bishop-john-stowe
    Bishop John Stowe

    Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv, diocesan bishop of Lexington, Kentucky, will offer scriptural reflections during two of the symposium’s prayer services.

  • Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
    Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

    Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, retired auxiliary bishop of Detroit, will lead a special Saturday afternoon prayer service.

Networking

Perhaps the most valuable experience of the symposium is the opportunity to network with other Catholics who are working for a church and society that are more inclusive of LGBT people.  In addition to meeting people informally, the symposium also provides the opportunity for “Open Space,”  where participants can suggest and plan a gathering time/space for particular topics. Let’s have an Open Space session as a meet-up for Bondings 2.0 readers! For more information, click here.

Who should attend?

Everybody!  Well, as long as you have an interest in Catholic LGBT discussions, you will find the symposium to be a rewarding event.  New Ways Ministry has designed it to be accessible and relevant particularly to pastoral ministers, LGBT persons, leaders of men’s and women’s religious communities,  families and other allies, and others involved in church ministry either as a volunteer or a professional.

newwayssymp-draft_03-01Can I afford it?

Yes!  Though the time for early-bird registration is over,  you can still get the discounted early-bird rate if you put four registrations in one envelope and mail them, with payment, to New Ways Ministry by March 27, 2017.   Additionally, discounted hotel rooms and airfares are available.

What will I gain from the experience?

Over the years, we’ve learned that everyone’s symposium experience is unique.  For some, it is a starting point on a new direction in ministry or advocacy.  For others, it is an opportunity to affirm their sexuality and gender identity in a Catholic context.  Many people have developed lifelong friendships at symposiums.  Many others have experienced the event as a further step on their spiritual and intellectual journeys.

What if I don’t know anyone else who will be going?

No worries!  Symposiums are friendly, communal events.  Those who have taken part in past symposiums are quick to welcome “first-timers” and those who are attending on their own.  You will not be alone at the symposium!

Where can I get more information like rates, deadlines, schedule?  How can I register?

The symposium website, www.Symposium2017.org, has all the information that you will need. You can even register there online, as well as click through to reserve a hotel room and make a plane reservation.  If you have any further questions,  feel free to call New Ways Ministry, phone:201-277-5674, or email us, info@NewWays Ministry.org.

How can I help spread the word about the symposium?

Share the website link with your friends on email and social network sites!  Or share the link to this blog post with them! Contact New Ways Ministry if you would like to receive paper copies or a PDF copy of the symposium brochure.

See you in April at the Symposium!  You won’t want to miss it!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 15, 2017

 

 

 

 

Catholic Priest: Church Cannot Abandon Transgender Catholics

bryan
Fr. Bryan Massingale

The church must not abandon transgender Catholics. This is Fr. Bryan Massingale’s message in his new column published by U.S. Catholic, and it is a poignant message in view of Pope Francis’ recent remarks about gender identity.

Massingale. a professor of theology at Fordham University, New York, begins his essay by referencing a transgender panel discussion in which he participated earlier this year. Hosted by the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the largest annual gathering of Catholics in North America, that panel featured to young trans Catholics sharing their stories. Massingale commented on it:

“I was struck by their heartfelt conviction that accepting their true gender identities led them to a deeper and more authentic relationship with God. Hearing their stories of pain and triumph was one of the most privileged moments I have had in 33 years of being a priest.”

But Massingale notes that he questioned his own participation in the event, especially when friends and family asked him about the risks that identifying with LGBT people can have in the church. He explained:

“Space does not allow me to give my full response. But one reason why I chose to be present is because I have a lot to learn. To be blunt, I was at the panel precisely because of my ignorance and discomfort. Transgender issues were never addressed in either my moral theology courses in the seminary or in my graduate studies in Christian ethics. I—and most priests—have not been trained to specifically minister to transgender members of our parishes or to the concerns of their families.

“My personal ignorance is also shared by the church as a whole. There is much that we do not understand about what is technically called ‘gender dysphoria,’ or the lack of congruence between one’s physical body and gender identity. This ignorance leads to fear, and fear is at the root of the controversies in today’s so-called ‘bathroom wars.’ And there lies a major challenge that transgender people endure and that the faith community has to own: the human tendency to be uncomfortable and fearful in the face of what we don’t understand. It’s easier to ridicule and attack individuals we don’t understand than to summon the patience and humility to listen and to learn.”

The church cannot abandon trans Catholics because, Massingale explains, “Jesus would be present to, among, and with transgender persons.” His table ministry with society’s outcasts teaches Christians that we will be judged on “our compassion for the despised and disdained.” Lack of understanding of or comfort with people does not mitigate the obligation the church has to include them and minister to them.  Massingale also cited the compassionate side of Pope Francis:

“During Pope Francis’ visit last fall, he repeated on at least five occasions: ‘Jesus never abandons us.’ This is the deepest reason why I chose to be with Anna and Mateo, who spoke so eloquently for so many of our transgender fellow Catholics. Jesus does not abandon us. If we claim to be his followers, we cannot abandon them.”

You can read Fr. Massingale’s full essay by clicking here.

Fr. Massingale has himself not abandoned LGBT Catholics. While at Marquette University, he celebrated monthly Masses for members of the LGBTQ communities on campus because, he says, it is important they “have a Mass where they feel welcome and that God does love them.” He challenged Pax Christi USA members at their 2013 annual conference to increase the organization’s defense of LGBT rights, as both a human rights concern and a necessary part of attracting younger Catholics. Massingale also joined other Catholic theologians and officials in condemning proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda.

Fr. Massingale will continue his call for inclusion and justice in the church when he will be a keynote speaker for New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” Early registration has now opened if you are interested in attending, and you can find more information by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s ‘Case for Gay Acceptance in the Catholic Church’

Two plenary speakers from New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium once again made headlines in national publications, spreading their message of the Catholic call for LGBT equality to a wider and broader audience.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend speaking at New Ways Ministry's Seventh National Symposium. (Deborah Winarski Photo)

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, whose Symposium talk was a rousing inspiration at the end of the meeting, condensed her themes into an essay entitled “The Case for Gay Acceptance in the Catholic Church” for The Atlantic magazine.  After describing her experience of meeting Catholics of all stripes at the New Ways Ministry Symposium, Kennedy Townsend introduces the main point of her argument:

“New Ways Ministry has a critical mission, since changing the Church will help those who suffer from ill treatment not only here in the United States but around the world, where the Church has so much clout. The Church has millions of members in Africa and South America, where being gay or lesbian can lead to a death sentence.

“Worse, the Church’s own teaching encourages bigotry and harm. Just last year, my father’s memorial, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, gave its human rights award to Frank Mugisha, a gay activist in Uganda whose good friend had just been brutally killed in his own home. American missionaries have encouraged the discrimination Mugisha suffers. Refuting their religious arguments is critical, and so is making a moral and religious case for gays. What we need is a transformation of hearts and minds, not merely a change of laws.

“The Catholic Church’s attitude towards homosexuality is at odds with its tradition of tolerance and understanding. The actual practice of the Church is true to this tradition. What other institution separates men and women and encourages them to live together in monasteries and convents where they can develop deep relationships with those who share their kind of love?

“The fight for the dignity of the LGBT community is a fight for the soul of today’s Church. “

Kennedy’s argument is spot on.  Catholics who support LGBT rights are doing so not in spite of being Catholic, but because of being Catholic.  They are doing so not to destroy their church, but to build it up.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (center) with New Ways Ministry's Francis DeBernardo and Sister Jeannine Gramick. (Deborah Winarski Photo)

As the daughter of the late Senator Robert Kennedy, one of America’s greatest Catholic civil rights leaders,  Kennedy Townsend knows how important the role of religion is in the struggle for the expansion of justice:

“My father grasped, as did John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, that in America the leader who wishes to enlarge freedom’s sphere must appeal to an audience’s religious beliefs as well as to their understanding of American liberty.”

A decade later, however, things had changed:

“. . . in the 1970s, feminists and gay rights activists did not adopt the same strategy and tactics. I think this happened because their movement grew out of the non-religious part of the civil rights movement. Recall that the civil rights movement was split between the followers of Reverend Martin Luther King on the one hand and Stokely Carmichael and the Black Panthers on the other. The latter group felt that religion was weak. Why turn the other cheek? Why not fight back? This secular strain also attracted many intellectuals who were, to put it bluntly, uncomfortable with religion.”

I’m glad to note here that those 1970s attitudes have been eroding in recent years. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD),  and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) have recognized the role that religion must play in the secular and political debates about LGBT rights.   All these national organizations have developed very strong programs to amplify religious voices on LGBT issues: HRC’s program can be accessed here; The Task Force’s program can be accessed here; GLAAD’s program can be accessed here; PFLAG’s program can be accessed here.

Kennedy Townsend notes that while some progress has been made on women’s issues in the church, we still have a way to go when it comes to LGBT issues.  But she has not given up hope. Quite the contrary.  Having seen how changes occurred in other areas of church teaching, and how strongly Catholic lay people support LGBT rights, Kennedy Townsend is optimistic:

“That history can continue with its position on gays — and the laity has a critical role to play in pushing for these changes. As Cardinal John Henry Newman, the foremost 19th-century Catholic theologian asserted, bishops have at times ‘failed in their confession of the faith.’ There can be instances of  ‘misguidance, delusion, hallucination.’ He said that the body of the faithful has the ‘instinct for truth.’

“Already, I have witnessed that instinct for truth in the argument over contraception. Despite the hierarchy’s position, 98 percent of Catholic women in the United States use contraception. I believe that Human Vitae was the Holy Ghost’s way to teach us that we must use our conscience, and not lazily rely on the hierarchy when it is in error.

“At this time, when the hierarchy does not want to recognize that we are all made in the image and likeness of God, and that the one of the two most critical commandments is to love one another, it is critical to assert that God loves the LGBT community equally. Sometimes the Church moves slowly, sometimes quickly. The point is to make sure the voices of dissent are not quiet and the Holy Spirit can be heard.”

For me, the key points here are that we must use both our consciences and our voices for the Holy Spirit to be heard.  If we really believe that the Church is the entire People of God, then we need to accept confidently that, as Newman pointed out, that the Holy Spirit moves among the laity.

The second Symposium speaker in the news again was Bishop Geoffrey Robinson.  When he left the Symposium, he embarked on a U.S. speaking tour to Philadelphia, New York, New Haven and Fairfield, CT, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Santa Clara, CA, which New Ways Ministry organized.

The National Catholic Reporter caught up with him again in Chicago, and reported on his talk there. While at the Symposium, Bishop Robinson focused on rethinking Catholic sexual ethics, in his Chicago talk he highlighted the problems in Catholic law and culture that abetted the sexual abuse crisis:

“. . . other aspects of Catholic culture Robinson said contributed to the abuse crisis are mandatory celibacy for priests, a ‘mystique’ some attach to the priests as being ‘above other human beings,’ and a ‘creeping infallibility’ of papal decrees, which is used to protect ‘all teachings … in which a significant amount of papal energy and prestige have been invested.’

“The application of the church’s teaching on infallibility is a ‘major force in preventing a pope from making admissions that there have been serious failures in the handling of abuse,’ Robinson said.

“Mentioned in particular was Pope John Paul II, who Robinson stated ‘it must be said … responded poorly’ to the sex abuse crisis.

” ‘With authority goes responsibility,’ Robinson said. ‘Pope John Paul many times claimed the authority, and he must accept the responsibility. The most basic task of a pope is surely to be the “rock” that holds the church together, and by his silence in the most serious moral crisis facing the church in our times, the pope failed in this basic task.’ “

In his Symposium talk, Bishop Robinson was clear that changes in sexual ethics need to be accompanied by changes in how the church is governed.   Bishop Robinson’s insights are a breath of fresh air in a Catholic atmosphere which has been much too stale.

For summaries and analyses of the Symposium talk, with links to articles about and the text  of his Symposium talk, check out these Bondings 2.0 posts:

March 28:NCR Editorial and Columnist Support Bishop Robinson’s Symposium Call to Re-think Sexuality

March 22: Symposium Provides “Shot in the Arm” for Participants

March 17: Bishop, Governor, and Theologian Highlight Symposium’s Second Day

Additionally, the blog QueeringTheChurch.com has a five-part analysis of Bishop Robinson’s Symposium talk:

March 20: Robinson: Hetero/Homo, Catholic Sexual Teaching Stands (Or Falls) Together

March 21: Bishop Robinson on “The Offence Against God”, “God’s Purpose”

March 22: Bishop Robinson: Catholic Assertions, Not Arguments

March 23: Bishop Robinson: Sexual Acts, or Relationships?

March 26: Bishop Robinson: The Middle Ground

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry