Why Good Homilies Matter, Especially for LGBT Issues

August 28, 2016
20141231cnsto0009

Pope Francis preaching

Attending Mass on Sundays, and listening to the priest’s homily, are primary ways by which Catholics practice their faith. These experiences can, therefore, impact the faithful’s lives and the lives of loved ones quite deeply, even determining whether Catholics join or remain in a parish.

Therefore, good homilies matter–especially when they touch on LGBT issues.

This is the argument of Brian Harper of the National Catholic Reporter, who takes up this question in his recent column, “What we say and how we say it.” Harper opens by describing an experience he and a gay loved one had at Mass, which they attended on the Feast of the Holy Family, which is the Sunday after Christmas. He wrote:

“[T]he priest saw fit to treat the congregation to a litany of what he perceived to be the most serious threats to the family unit. Homosexuality and bestiality topped the list.

“Even Catholics with orthodox views on sexuality should have found the homily brash and insensitive in its delivery. I was embarrassed, angry, and, perhaps most of all, disappointed by the missed opportunity. A great deal of modern society sees the Catholic church as judgmental and repressive, a reputation that moments like these make hard to refute.”

Harper said his gay loved one was unsurprised by the priest’s words, as this prejudiced homily was “what he had come to expect from the church.” This experience returned to Harper after the mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando this past June. Prejudice was so openly displayed as in both instances.

The incidents provoked deeper reflection for Harper, reflection that he suggested would be good for the church as it grapples, slowly, to be more inclusive:

“But how many of us know how LGBTQIA Catholics and non-Catholics alike feel? Not just about hot button issues, but how they feel as they go about their days, enduring slights at work, during their free time, or, God forbid, at church? . . .

“I think all Catholics would do well to accept the notion that unflattering assumptions about our religion are not solely the result of others misunderstanding or rebelling against it. The fact that Catholicism has been a source of comfort for many does not mean it has been for all. We ought to consider the implications of this realization.”

Harper’s column, which you can find by clicking here, ended by suggesting that Catholics should respond to the LGBT question by listening, as it is “one of those instances that calls not for others’ conversion so much as our own.”

This ecclesial conversion may be particularly important given a new study from the Pew Research Center, reported on by Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ, in the National Catholic Reporter. The study surveyed U.S. Christians on what matters when they look to join a new congregation. Reese commented on the survey findings:

“[W]hat matters to people looking for a new congregation is good preaching, feeling welcomed, and the style of worship of the congregation.”

While Protestants generally rated these factors higher, 71% of Catholics said feeling welcomed by religious leaders was important and 67% said preaching was important. Reese wrote that “these are numbers pastors can ignore only at their peril,” and these factors will likely rise as generational demographics progress.

Too many LGBT Catholics and their families have experienced damaging homilies and insensitive pastoral care, like the homily described by Brian Harper. It is sad to consider just many Catholics have been excluded by condemnatory language or uneducated clerics. If church leaders are really interested in evangelization, ensuring that parishes are welcoming and safe spaces for every person is a necessary step.  They could begin by simply ending bad homilies against LGBT people and their loving relationships.

And for those church ministers who might be preaching during next year’s Feast of the Holy Family, or just anyone interested in reading moving words about LGBT families, check out Deacon Ray Dever’s reflection on the Holy Family by clicking here, or Joseanne and Joseph Peregin’s reflection on the feast by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Bishops in Colombia Kill Anti-Bullying Education Program

August 18, 2016
pa-14549390-1-800x500

President Juan Manuel Santos

A proposed anti-bullying program in Colombia will not go ahead as planned, following a meeting between the country’s president and Catholic bishops.

Colombia’s Ministry of Education, in conjunction with two United Nations agencies, had prepared a document, titled “Discrimination-Free School Environments,” to handle sexual and gender diversity training for educators. But, after meeting with three Catholic bishops, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the document would not be implemented, reported The Catholic Herald.

In reply to the president’s announcement, the Colombian Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement that it “received with satisfaction the announcement of the National Government and the Department of Education that they will not promote or implement gender ideology in the country.” The bishops did note that all human beings should be respected regardless of identities, including their “sexual orientation.”

The meeting between the president and the bishops was held one day after thousands of Colombians demonstrated against the document, which had been released on the website of the United Nations Children’s Fund. The bishops’ statement said these protests were “an exercise by the parents of their right to be assisted in educating their children in accordance with their convictions and values.” But the church-encouraged protests were, in part, inspired by pornographic images released to the public that were falsely attributed to the document. There are claims the images were released by the Office of the Inspector General, Alejando Ordonez, who is a traditionalist Catholic, though he denied them.

Colombia Reports explained the anti-bullying document was merely aimed at giving teachers “the tools to teach children about sexual diversity and show how this can reduce bullying,” an idea first proposed after a gay Colombian teenager, Sergio Urrego, died by suicide two years ago. The document was part of larger efforts to update sexual education programs and protect LGBT people, led by Education Minister Gina Parody, who is herself a gay woman.

Church leaders, however, remain powerfully connected to the Colombian government and opposed to nearly any acceptance of sexual and gender minorities. The bishops’ voices joined other LGBT-negative critics in the country who condemn, without any specificity, “gender ideology” and make claims of “colonization” against those people seeking to expand LGBT rights.

LGBT rights have, however, expanded slowly in Colombia. For instance, in June, citizens were granted the right to change legal documents to match their gender identity. Earlier in the year, the Constitutional Court legalized marriage equality.

Despite this most recent bad news in Colombia, early August has been a positive time for LGBT rights in Latin America. As of this month, transgender people in Bolivia and Ecuador are now able to have their government records match their gender identity, reported Americas QuarterlyBelize’s Supreme Court overturned an anti-homosexuality law, ending the last criminalization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in Latin America, according to Out Magazine.

As LGBT acceptance expands, bishops in Colombia and elsewhere should not partner with anti-LGBT movements to suppress human rights. Avoiding this strategy is most important when it comes to anti-bullying initiatives targeting youth. Yesterday’s post on Bondings 2.0 about teenager Daniel Fitzpatrick’s suicide, as well as the memory of Sergio Urrego in Colombia, are sufficient evidence of the harm caused when schools are not safe places for all students. Given these high stakes, pastoral leadership demands more from bishops than empty slogans.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Priest: Church Cannot Abandon Transgender Catholics

August 13, 2016
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


Global Catholics ‘Lament’ Gender Identity Remarks by Pope Francis

August 11, 2016
20160727t1443-0663-cns-pope-poland-bishops

Pope Francis addressing Poland’s bishops

Pushback has continued against transgender-negative remarks made by Pope Francis during his meeting two weeks ago with Poland’s bishops.

Francis expressed concern about schools teaching children they could choose their gender, the result of alleged ideological colonization, the pope suggested. You can read his initial remarks here, and a first round of reactions to them here.  New Ways Ministry’s response can be read here. For an insightful alternative view on the pope’s remarks, click here.

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) said it “laments the recent words of Pope Francis” and “regrets the lack of empathy” within them. GNRC’s statement continued:

“[Especially when] he mentioned Benedict XVI´s verdict that ‘we are living in an age of sin against God the Creator’, in reference to a conversation they previously had on gender issues. Such a statement, related to transgender and intersex people, does not express God’s love for those people, Catholic or not, who are usually and constantly questioned by the society, the Church and their families, for being whom they are. It might even be seen as reinforcing the condemnation and bullying of [transgender and intersex] people, even though the Pope surely did not intend it to be so.”

GNRC said it prayed for greater understanding from the church, offering its help in facilitating that process as all “walk the same path for a more truthful merger between our faith and our sexual orientation and/or gender identity.”

Journalist Mary Elizabeth Williams, noting the conflicted relationship some progressive Catholics have with this pope, wrote at Salon:

“Ever since becoming pope three years ago, Francis has had a confusing relationship with the LGBT community. . .So what does one do with a leader who’s better than others in the past, but still not nearly good enough?”

Catholic feminist Celia Wexler described Francis as “the pope of two minds” for The Huffington Post, writing:

“Time and time again, Pope Francis reveals the clash of two sides of the same man: the Pope of love and tolerance versus the Pope who closes the door on the possibility of change, and sees the world through the eyes of a 79-year-old celibate cleric. . .The Pope’s discomfort with changing attitudes, and emerging science, about gender identity keeps his instinct for generosity and kindness in check. Having Benedict reinforce that streak in his successor is very disillusioning.”

Pamela Valentine, the mother of a transgender son, wrote a letter to the pontiff on her blog, Affirmed Mom. Saying she would give Francis the benefit of the doubt, Valentine interpreted the pope’s words as if they were a mistake. She wrote:

“Last week, you announced that school children were being allowed to choose gender. I prefer to think you meant forced. And you are correct.

“All people in our modern society are forced to choose gender, to pick a team, from birth on. . .And so you took a stand. You said, enough. Stop forcing our children to choose, stop dressing them up as exaggerations of some idealized version of what men and women should look like. Stop thrusting them into roles that they don’t understand, don’t want, or don’t fit. Because Adam didn’t wear pants in the Garden of Eden and Eve didn’t wear a dress and make up. You know what they wore? Absolutely nothing and that’s exactly how God wanted it.

“I know that many will leap to defend your accusations that I let my child choose. Only I know that you’re smart enough to know that nobody gets to choose their gender. . .For you to make any other claim about your gender means that you do not understand it, and I would certainly hope the leader of a major religion would not speak on matters he didn’t understand.”

Valentine concluded by noting that her trans son expresses an interest in becoming Catholic, knowing love from Jesus and being affirmed by his family. She challenged Pope Francis “to expose a gross oversimplification of gender in our world. . .to change the world and make it better for future generations.”

Finally, Eliel Cruz, the executive director of Faith in America, told Edge Media Network:

“It is incredibly naïve Pope Francis believes the image of God is anything close to binary. . .In believing that God is only represented in male or female, Pope Francis is effectively eliminating the diversity and complexity of the image of God. Francis also ignores the reality of intersex individuals in his complementary lens. Pope Francis is denying the full image of God when he denies the transgender community.”

For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of gender identity issues in the Catholic church, visit the “Transgender” category on the right-hand column of this page or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


LGBT Rights Activist Arrested in Ugandan Police Raid

August 6, 2016
frank-mugisha

Dr. Frank Mugisha

The leading LGBT advocate in Uganda was among those arrested on Thursday following the police raid of a Pride event.

Police arrested about 20 people while raiding Venom, a nightclub in the capital of Kampala which had been hosting the Mr. and Miss Pride Uganda pageant. Those arrested included Dr. Frank Mugisha, a Catholic who is the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), reported Buzzfeed. Everyone arrested was released without charges after a few hours, and other attendees were allowed to leave after a time. But SMUG’s statement reports the violence which occurred in the interim:

“[B]eating people, humiliating people, taking pictures of LGBTI Ugandans and threatening to publish them, and confiscating cameras. Eyewitnesses reported several people—in particular transwomen and transmen—were sexually assaulted by police. One person jumped from a 4 storey window to try to avoid police abuse. This person is now in critical condition at private hospital.”

Police claimed the event did not have a permit, and there were reports of a same-gender wedding, but Pepe Julian Onziema of SMUG disputed these claims.

Pride celebrations in the capital have in large part been tolerated the last few years. Mugisha tied the raid to a broader uptick in police activity against Ugandans, in addition to targeting LGBT advocates. Pride 2016 celebrations are now being amended, including the cancellation of a planned Pride parade today because Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo threatened mob violence against any marchers.

Being openly LGBT in Uganda can be dangerous, as this incident makes clear. A report released by SMUG earlier this year, “And That’s How I Survived Being Killed: Testimonies of Human Rights Abuses from Uganda’s Sexual and Gender Minorities,” documented the persecution:

“In this report, based on first-hand testimonies, Sexual Minorities Uganda documented from May 2014 until December 2015 the physical threats, violent attacks, torture, arrest, blackmail, non-physical threats, press intrusion, state prosecution, termination of employment, loss of physical property, harassment, eviction, mob justice, and family banishment that are all too often apart of the lived experience for sexual and gender minorities in Uganda.”

There are 264 verified testimonies in all, about which Dr. Mugisha commented:

“This report is unique and unlike those that have come before it because it elevates the voice of the persecuted. What is inside this report is the human story – that is the lived experience of sexual and gender minorities in Uganda.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 3.32.33 PMUganda is about 40% Catholic, and Mugisha’s advocacy has been directed to church leaders, as well as government officials. Mugisha challenges claims by church leaders and others that homosexuality is a Western import and that Western advocacy for LGBT Africans has triggered a backlash. He criticized Uganda’s bishops for not condemning and even supporting the Anti-Homosexuality Act, colloquially known as the “Kill the Gays” bill, proposed by President Yoweri Museveni.

Last fall, Mugisha appealed to Pope Francis for words of compassion and equality about LGBT people during the apostolic voyage to Uganda, Kenya, and Central African Republic. The pope did not address the issue. He also unsuccessfully sought a meeting with Francis, and like many LGBT advocates, was disappointed at the pope’s silence in a context where LGBT suffer greatly.

Mugisha was the recpient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2011, and he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

Dr. Mugisha will be a keynote speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Eight National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” If you are interested attending the Symposium to hear Dr. Mugisha, click here for more information and registration instructions.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope’s Lament About Children and Gender Identity Reveals Serious Blind Spot

August 3, 2016

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director.

Pope Francis’ shocked lament about schools teaching children they can choose their gender says more about the pope’s knowledge of LGBT issues than it does about the reality of gender identity.

Pope Francis at a World Youth Day event

His statement that “Today, in schools they are teaching this to children – to children! – that everyone can choose their gender” reveals a serious blind spot about educational systems and transgender people.  The pope made this comment in a private conversation with Polish bishops during his recent meeting with them during World Youth Day events in Poland. The Vatican just made these remarks public yesterday.

Nobody chooses a gender identity. They discover it. Transgender people come to know themselves in a process is similar to the way that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people discover their sexual orientation.  It is not a choice, but a given. In fact, heterosexual and cisgender people go through the same process.  It’s just that in their cases, the wider culture and society approves and supports their discoveries, and so these self-revelations seem unremarkable.

Pope Francis claimed that this education about gender was happening because influential donors and nations were promoting such education, though the pontiff neglected to identify who he thinks these parties are.  Because he did not identify them, it becomes very suspicious that the pope or the Vatican have any hard evidence to back the claim.

No reputable educational material would talk about gender identity in terms of choice because no reputable scientific source would subscribe to such a claim.

Moreover, most reputable scientific experts say that allowing children to transition in youth is both a physically and psychologically healthy thing for them to do in most cases.  This idea, though, is worlds away from encouraging children to choose their gender. Accepting gender transition in youth is done for children who have consistently and persistently been aware that their true gender did not match their biological sex.  These decisions are not whims, as Pope Francis’ comment implies, but true discernments by child, parents, and medical professionals.  It would be great to add “pastoral counselors” to that list of people, if the Church would just encourage such involvement, as a British monsignor suggested last year.

Labeling this supposed educational material as “ideological colonization,” as Francis has done in the past and which he reiterated at his meeting with the Polish bishops, has the earmarks of fear-mongering, something that is below the higher standard that Pope Francis has established for the way church officials should lead.

Equally troubling were the pope’s endorsement of remarks shared with him by the retired Pope Benedict XVI.  Francis told the bishops “God created man and woman, God created the world this way, this way, this way, and we are doing the opposite. . . .We must think about what Pope Benedict said — ‘It’s the epoch of sin against God the Creator.’ ”

How can such discovering and affirming one’s gender identity be a sin against God the Creator when what is really occurring is that the person in question is actually affirming and fully living the identity which God created?

The pontiff’s remarks are further evidence that church officials need desperately to educate themselves about the lives and experiences of LGBT people.  Church leaders need to update their understandings of gender identity and sexual orientation.  The best way they can do this is for the Vatican to establish a commission to look into these topics with an open and objective approach.  The commission should include scientific and theological experts, but also LGBT people themselves so that they can share their stories of joy, struggle, and faith with church leaders.  The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics has already called for such a commission, and New Ways Ministry endorses this idea.  Pope Francis recently took the bold step of establishing a commission to examine the possibility of ordaining women as deacons. He can do the same for LGBT issues, too.

Pope Francis has remarked on ideological colonization or gender identity issues before.   His strongest negative remarks about gender identity came in his encyclical on creation, Laudato Si, and his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.   While this latest remark was not his first ill-informed comment, let’s hope it will be his last.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

USA Today: Pope: It’s ‘terrible’ kids taught they can choose gender”

 

 


Pope Francis Plants Seeds for Equality at World Youth Day

August 1, 2016

PF WYD 2016World Youth Day 2016 concluded yesterday, ending a crowded week of catechetical programs and prayer opportunities in Krakow.

Frank DeBernardo and I had hoped that Pope Francis would acknowledge gay Holocaust victims during his visit to Auschwitz, or use the week-long program to apologize to LGBT people hurt by the church, but neither occurred publicly. Still, I sense a different and powerful current happening at this World Youth Day through which Pope Francis is leading younger Catholics towards a reforming and renewing church.

Addressing youth at a prayer vigil on Saturday evening, Pope Francis urged attendees to “leave a mark on history” by being active in the world, uninhibited by fear and inspired by prayer. The pope said God seeks to work “one of the greatest miracles we can experience” through people’s own works.  He focused specifically on seeking reconciliation and unity:

“[God] wants to turn your hands, my hands, our hands, into signs of reconciliation, of communion, of creation. . .to continue building the world of today. And [God] wants to build that world with you. . .

“Thinking that in this world, in our cities and our communities, there is no longer any room to grow, to dream, to create, to gaze at new horizons – in a word to live – is one of the worst things that can happen to us in life. When we are paralyzed, we miss the magic of encountering others, making friends, sharing dreams, walking at the side of others. . .

“Today, we adults need you to teach us how to live in diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity. Have the courage to teach us that it is easier to build bridges than walls!”

He had made a similar call to radical and hospitable discipleship during the Way of the Cross earlier in the week, too. And at the closing Mass on Sunday, Francis preached about God’s unconditional love and said “that not to accept ourselves. . .means not to recognize our deepest identity” as children of God. His homily on the Gospel story of Zacchaeus and Jesus also spoke extensively about the “paralysis of shame,” which should give way to the courage of living life.

Though Francis did not comment on LGBT issues, they were surely present throughout WYD in  personal conversations, catechetical sessions, and, most fundamentally, the lives of attendees. What the pope did emphasize many times are concepts like reconciliation, diversity, encounter, and dialogue. He affirmed young people struggling with questions about life or faith. These words may have challenged some attendees, but they likely confirmed what many young Catholics already know and are living out as they work for a more inclusive and just church for all.

So why and how are Pope Francis’ remarks relevant for LGBT advocates? His remarks to youth are subtly but importantly different from his predecessors’ remarks at youth events. Francis does not want youth to become the next generation of Catholics obsessed with opposing LGBT rights or other culture war issues. He focuses less on these issues and more on being a welcoming church that mediates God’s inclusive love.

But Francis is not just instructing young Catholics. He is reminding them of what they already know and what they are already doing.  In many situations, they have already been living Francis’ message in their work for LGBT justice.  Young Catholics are, in many regions, the most affirming group in the church. They are demanding that the church’s ministers and leaders be more pro-active when it comes to equality. Young Catholics have led the church by promoting reconciliation in their own families, schools, and communities. They embrace diversity, and they are courageously living out diverse sexual and gender identities in greater numbers than ever before. They are encountering the world with a real openness about LGBT issues, even in conservative regions.

Young Catholics can readily see that the church cannot preach hospitality if it turns away people because of their gender identities. They understand that embracing diversity must include embracing diverse sexual identities and expressions. They understand that not only can the church help reconciliation in the world, but that the church has deep wounds around gender and sexuality which must be attended to as well.

Francis seems unable or unwilling to apply his otherwise wonderful words explicitly to LGBT injustices within the church. The key now is for Pope Francis and church leaders to reverse the process of instruction. Following Jesus’ words, the pope and his staff should instead learn from the children. Such instruction would help church leaders see the new horizons towards which God calls the church. World Youth Day reminded me that young Catholics are cultivating and harvesting the seeds of equality planted by Pope Francis and an older generation of social justice Catholics.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,337 other followers