Catholics Recommit to Bridge Building after Orlando Tragedy

July 25, 2016
Australians Hold Candlelit Vigils For Victims Of Orlando Nightclub Shooting

Memorial for Pulse Nightclub victims

Many bridges still need building when it comes to LGBT people, their families, and the Catholic Church. Where can Catholics turn for models of bridge building, especially after the mass shooting in Orlando which left 49 people dead and 53 more wounded?

Lay people and religious have offered some compassionate models of how this reconciling work can be done. For instance, the Sisters of St. Agnes in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin organized a vigil shortly after Orlando. Sister Sally Brickner told the Fond du Lac Reporter that 150 vigil attendees “really do feel that discrimination is wrong . . . hate crimes are wrong.” This vigil was the most well attended of any which the sisters have held for other causes, revealing both the deep need for such an action by a Catholic group.

The Orlando incident and the sisters’ response helped to shine the spotlight on two Wisconsin parishes that offer welcoming ministries. The same article which reported the sisters’ vigil took a look at the week-to-week ministry that goes on in Catholic parishes that welcome LGBT people. At Holy Family Catholic Community in Fond du Lac, a group called All God’s Family meets every couple of months. There, according to pastor Fr. Ryan Preuss, lesbian/gay people and their families share their stories and discuss how they engage church teaching. Barbara Lent, the group’s coordinator, told the Reporter:

” ‘Everyone’s the same. . .It’s just who you love. You really have a right to love who you want to love. . .Sometimes [change] takes time, but you got to keep doing it.’ “

Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Menomonee Falls hosts Gay and Straight in Christ, about which founder Ann Castiglione said:

” ‘It’s just important that everyone be welcome in our church. . .[LGBT people don’t] feel welcome, so we’re trying to do something about that in our little corner of the world.’ “

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, explained to the news reporter the background motivation that inspires such groups:

“Catholic support of LGBT people is done because the people are Catholic, not in spite of being Catholic.”

DeBernardo, however, was critical of bishops who “have been very negative in their approach to LGBT issues.”

The majority of U.S. bishops’ responses to Orlando seriously challenges their claims of engaging LGBT people with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” Just a handful of bishops acknowledged the targeting of an LGBT nightclub, and even fewer admitted the church’s complicity in encouraging anti-LGBT prejudices. In its editorial on the mass shooting, the National Catholic Reporter stated:

“The massacre in Orlando was a heinous hate crime, a moment screaming out for moral outrage, for the words to match the horrific reality. What the Catholic community in the United States received from the president of its bishops’ conference was a three-sentence serving of sanctimonious boilerplate that, except for the use of the term ‘violence,’ might have been referring to a natural disaster or a plane crash. . .

“It is good to have the language of a few members of the hierarchy who understand that intolerance breeds contempt and violence, but we can’t and don’t need to wait for bishops to speak. The laity are leading the bishops on this issue, and with a strong, persistent voice, we can and must advocate against discrimination based on sexuality and gender in society and in our church.”

It is not too late for more bishops to engage positively with LGBT people and their families, in the church and outside of it. Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden wrote about Orlando in the Catholic Herald, saying:

“Just as heart wrenching as the deaths themselves, I am troubled that the victims were specifically targeted because of their sexual orientation. No human being should ever suffer the hate of others. Hate is an affront to God.

“As Christians we are subject to the Law of Christ. “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is His new commandment. ‘One another’ includes gay people. A Catholic who demonstrates hate toward a person — because of his or her sexual orientation, religion, or the color of his or her skin — needs to seek the forgiveness of God. From where does such hate originate? And, why are homosexual persons too frequently its victims?

“Our LGBT sisters and brothers are as much made in the image of God as I am. Their sexual orientation does not make them less in the eyes of God. As someone who is loved by gay relatives and friends, and who loves them equally, I fear that they too could be victims of such hatred.”

In a letter to those Catholics who gathered for prayer about Orlando, Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver expressed particular sadness because the victims were “targeted for being identified with the LGBT community.”

The lesson about building bridges after Orlando may be that acts are more necessary than words if the church is going to be in real solidarity. This is a point driven home by Caitlin Opperman, a queer Latina student at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, who write in campus newspaper The Hoya:

“We cannot forget Pulse was an LGBTQ club. We cannot forget it was Latin night. We cannot forget Latinxs, specifically Puerto Ricans, were most affected by this tragedy. We cannot let people use this massacre as an excuse to engage in Islamophobia. We cannot stay silent on the issue of gun control. We have to acknowledge that masculinity is toxic. We have to accept that queer people of color need safe spaces. But most of all, we need to act. Silence and inaction perpetuate violence against members of my communities and other oppressed groups. We are living in fear. We are out of safe spaces. We need more than thoughts and prayers.

“To the 49 beautiful queer folks whose lives were taken on June 12, rest in power. Que en paz descansen [Rest in peace]. I hope wherever you are, you keep dancing.”

The National Catholic Reporter’s editorial emphasized that lay people need to lead the way if church leaders remain unresponsive.  The editors said that Catholics do not “have to wait for approval or direction from on high to know what to do in this extreme circumstance.” They continued:

“The Catholic community knows a hate crime when it sees it and should do all it can to promote understanding and tolerance. . .The Catholic community, making the case from the church’s social justice tradition and the inherent Christian concern for the common good, can become a formidable influence in challenging the status quo. Standing together, we can say no to a culture of gun violence. We can say yes to gender justice and inclusivity.”

How have you or your faith community responded with a yes to justice and inclusivity after Orlando? How have you witnessed bridges being built between LGBT people and church leaders? Please let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


University of Notre Dame Reportedly Denies Safe Housing to Transgender Student

July 24, 2016
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Eve on Notre Dame’s campus

The University of Notre Dame reportedly failed to provide a transgender student with housing, the latest incident as many Catholic colleges and universities grapple with gender identity issues.

Ronan Farrow of NBC’s “Today Show” reported in June about Eve, a transgender Notre Dame student, in a segment following up the show’s 2015 report about her.

Eve, who just finished her junior year at the South Bend, Indiana, school, began transitioning while in college. This positive step in her life has made campus life difficult for her when it comes to housing, restrooms, and other issues.

Regarding housing, Notre Dame has only single-sex dormitories. The news piece claimed the University has not supported Eve as she seeks to move from the all-male dorm in which she had lived to an all-female dorm.

Eve said in the 2015 report that, for the most part, other residents referred to her by her new name and “treated [her] exactly the same as before.” Still, the all-male dorm is not ideal for her. Her former Resident Assistant said compassion is many people’s priority.  Still some residents had come to him with questions about a woman living in their dorm.  Some saw Eve as simply a man dressing as a woman who was living in their dorm. As for the administration’s response, Eve told NBC:

“I expect, honestly, that the University is hoping that as soon as I leave, no one will ever try this again.”

Eve’s mother, Teresa, like many parents of LGBT children, said she simply wants “what’s best for” her child. And an all-female dorm would be significantly safer.

Safety is a question, too, when it comes to restroom use. Eve stated, “I am safer using a women’s restroom.” But beginning to use women’s restrooms has been”really scary,” she told NBC, because if she is reported, she could be expelled. But, Eve said, “people don’t even consider the safety of the [transgender] individuals.”

Eve said socializing is incredibly difficult, and, with no support system on campus, she has caused experienced depression. She told NBC in the 2015 report, “being trans is a small part of who I am” and there is far more to her life.

Eve will be entering her senior year this fall, finishing her degree in math and aspiring to be a teacher. After repeated requests for safer housing were ignored, she will be living off campus. According to NBC, officials at Notre Dame declined to comment,which host Matt Lauer said was a surprising response. But the University of Notre Dame is not the first, nor the only Catholic institution responding to increased transgender visibility and awareness.

A number of Catholic schools refuse to support LGBT students and even oppose protections for them. At least five Catholic schools have sought religious exemptions from federal Title IX protections which ban LGBT discrimination. Colleges approved for exemptions by the Department of Education are  Belmont Abbey College, North Carolina, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, St. Gregory’s University, Oklahoma, and John Paul the Great Catholic University, California. The University of Dallas, Texas, has a pending application.

On the positive side, as Bondings 2.0 has reported in the past, many schools have proactively sought to support transgender students. Gender-neutral housing options have been implemented at some schools, such as the College of the Holy Cross , Massachusetts. Gender-neutral restrooms exist at some schools, such as Fordham University, New York. And transgender student Lexi Dever said that even though the Catholic Church nearly killed her, Georgetown University had saved her.

Greater awareness and more legal protections mean gender identity issues on Catholic campuses will not be going away any time soon. Education officials should not ignore or oppose the well-being of transgender students. All students in Catholic education deserve to feel safe, welcomed, and affirmed.

Know of more news happening for LGBT inclusion in Catholic higher education? Let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below or send a tip to info@newwaysministry.org.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Are Debates over Pope Francis’ “The Joy of Love” a Healthy or Harmful Sign?

July 23, 2016

pope-francis-amoris-laetitiaThree months after its release, how to interpret and implement Amoris Laetitia remains one of the most contested issues in the Catholic church today. But this ongoing dialogue, and at times intense debate, could itself be very welcome news.

The Vatican recently defended Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family through two of its affiliated publications, according to Crux.

Earlier this week, historian Rocco Buttiglione wrote a front page column in L’Osservatore Romano responding to the exhortation’s critics who claim it is not a magisterial document and that it diverges from tradition.

Elsewhere, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna gave an interview to La Civilta Cattolica in which he said Amoris Laetitia  is not merely consistent with but evolves doctrine on family issues.

Critics have included Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra of Bologna, and  Cardinal Raymond Burke, who said the exhortation was a “personal” document from the pope. Several dozen Catholics wrote a letter to 218 church leaders asking for Pope Francis to “respond to the dangers to Catholic faith and morals” which they perceive in the document. Their names have finally been made public by the National Catholic Reporter.

Much of the debate has centered around whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics should be admitted to Communion. The larger debates, however, are about establishing this document as part of the magisterium and, therefore, the assent that is due to it from Catholics.  Additionally, the practical ways the document should impact pastoral care and church disciplines is also a major issue.

Theologian Massimo Faggioli said the present divide around Amoris Laetitia is between those Catholics whose “constrained view” leads them to focus on church law and discipline, and those Catholics who focus on a “renewed emphasis on conscience” as new theological and pastoral questions arise. Writing in Commonweal, Faggioli reflected on the differences in ecclesial reception between Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae, and Pope Francis’ exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. He noted, in particular, the way which bishops have responded to these two documents.

After Humanae Vitae, a document equally if not more controversial because it retained the magisterium’s ban on artificial contraception, bishops engaged with one another and high level officials, and even questioned it publicly. Collective responses were issued by episcopal conferences and theologians, and the debates have not yet ceased. In my opinion, this experience is largely what caused Pope John II and Pope Benedict XVI to suppress dialogue in the church and to tie episcopal appointments to matters of sexuality for thirty-some years.

After Amoris Laetitia, Faggioli wrote, the situation is quite different. Instead, there is an “episcopal, magisterial individualism” by which each bishop responds to the document almost in isolation and without collegial discourse among their regional and national peers. Faggioli concluded:

“It is clear by now that a culture of discussion and discernment must be rebuilt among the episcopal leadership of the Catholic Church, starting from the national and continental bishops’ conferences. The reception of The Joy of Love requires a true commitment to a collegial and synodal church, not just mere affect.”

Differences now being expressed about Amoris Laetitia may be the first fruits of a new period in the church, a return to episcopal debates publicly played out.  Thomas Groome, a Boston College theology professor, made this point in his response to Amoris Laetitia, telling The Guardian

” ‘The fact that he’s [Pope Francis] allowing us to talk about these things is a breakthrough. . .It was presumed it was already decided and anybody that was raising this was obviously contrary to the church.’ “

Catholic publications have repeatedly picked up on this theme of Pope Francis inviting dialogue and difference. The National Catholic Reporter‘s editors wrote:

“Francis offers the Catholic community two challenges: To live as a community with parrhesia, speaking and listening to one another with courage and humility, and then to translate the openness of papal actions and documents into pastoral discourse and compassionate action in the parishes.”

The Tablet editorial highlighted the shift to a dialogue in their headline: “Power of conscience puts laity at centre of change.”  They further editorialized:

“It would be right to describe the publication of Amoris Laetitia by Pope Francis as a minor earthquake, though one preceded by plenty of warning tremors. And while the Catholic Church’s foundations may have been shaken, the walls and roof are still standing. Francis was well aware when he was elected Pope that the basic weakness in the Church’s mission to evangelise was its reputation as a stern and unforgiving teacher in the field of sexual and marital ethics, something that touches people’s lives most intimately. Put simply, it did not sound like the gentle voice of a loving mother. Francis had to respect as far as possible the content of the teaching. But he could change the one thing that may matter more than content for ordinary Catholics – its tone.”

The editors of Commonweal responded:

“This is not a recommendation of laxity or relativism. It is a recognition of human complexity and an endorsement of subsidiarity, a principle not restricted to politics. Only (properly trained) local pastors can be familiar enough with the members of their flock to undertake the kind of ‘practical discernment’ necessary to apply the church’s rules without deepening the wounds caused by divorce or abandoning the already abandoned.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said the flourishing of open and honest discussions in the church is an “unintended, but very welcome” aspect of Francis’ papacy. She wrote in The Huffington Post:

“[Pope Francis’] acceptance, even encouragement, of the expression of divergent opinions represents a dramatic shift in tone from a pontiff. . .After nearly 30 years during which agreement with official Church teaching seemed monolithic among Catholic leadership, having these differences of opinion out in the open is a very hopeful sign. Now we can acknowledge that, just as there is diversity among lay Catholics in views of LGBTQ people, the same is true of those responsible for developing and implementing Church policy. While those willing to question current teaching and practice still represent a minority of Church leaders, their voices are being heard, and it is likely that others may join them in the months ahead. This could help shift the focus from the utterings of Pope Francis to a recognition that there is a community of leaders responsible for Catholic teaching and policy. And as more and more Catholics, grassroots and leadership alike, stand up for the civil and ecclesial rights of LGBTQ people and families, the cultural and political identity of Catholicism as firmly opposing gay and transgender rights will quickly crumble, further weakening efforts to maintain oppressive structures.”

While it is clear that the dialogue and debate are now happening, what is less clear is what the impact will be. Some bishops, like Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn or Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich, have welcomed the document wholeheartedly. Others, like the critics mentioned above or Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, will be obstructionist. For the rest of the faithful, this renewed dialogue and debate in the church is largely welcomed, but this path will require far more engagement from all Catholics to discern how Amoris Laetitia should impact the life of the church, especially when it comes to LGBT people and others marginalized in the church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Massachusetts Bishops Offer Temperate Response to New Transgender Law

July 14, 2016

mcc-logoCatholic bishops in Massachusetts have offered a tempered, though not perfect, response to newly passed anti-discrimination law aimed at protecting transgender people. Their statement improves upon other church leaders’ responses to this contentious human rights issue in other U.S. states.

Republican Governor Charlie Baker signed the bill in law last Friday. Building on employment protections passed in 2011, the new law provides non-discrimination protections based on gender identity for all public accommodations in the state. The Massachusetts Catholic Conference, representing the state’s bishops, released a statement which said, in part:

“While the purpose and intent of the legislation is to provide protection and access to public accommodations for transgender individuals in the Commonwealth, the issue of its implementation will require both careful oversight and respect for all individuals using such public accommodations. . .

“The understanding of and respect for transgender persons has only recently commanded widespread attention. The complex challenge of crafting legislative protections for some in our community while meeting the needs of the wider population will require sensitive application of the legislation just passed.”

The Conference statement suggested debate will continue, citing contested gender and sexuality issues addressed by Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation, Amoris LaetitiaBut the Conference urged civility, concluding:

“Debate about this legislation and its implementation will undoubtedly continue in some form. It will inevitably touch on themes not easily captured by law. . .We urge respect in this discussion for all those whose rights require protection. In our parishes, schools and other institutions, the Church will respect the civil law while upholding the principles of our faith and our religious freedom.”

Public accommodation protections for transgender people have been hotly debated in the U.S., with more than 100 pieces of anti-LGBT legislation having been debated in state legislatures this year. Debates about these bills, and the broader issue of transgender public accommodations, have very often become rancorous.

The country’s Catholic bishops, for the most part, have responded poorly. North Carolina’s bishops welcomed that state’s HB 2 law which mandates restroom use according to assigned sex at birth, though one bishop later qualified his support. Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson offered qualified praise for Mississippi’s HB 1523 law, a law which allowed for some discrimination.  It was described by one state legislator as “the most hateful bill I have seen in my career in this legislature.” Bishops in Nebraska actively opposed newly-approved policies to protect transgender student-athletes in the state’s schools. And at least two dioceses criticized President Barack Obama’s directive mandating public school students be able to use restrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity. It is worth noting, too, that Vatican official Cardinal Robert Sarah, while addressing the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, referred to transgender rights as “demonic.”

Respecting transgender people should be a “fairly simple thing to do,” to quote Jesuit Fr. James Martin, but unfortunately this has been too difficult for many church leaders. Issues around gender identity and expression, civil law, and true religious liberty can be very complicated, as Bondings 2.0 has noted at least twice (here and here).

The church’s response should be respectful, a simple thing to do, but should not rely upon simple answers where nuance is required. The Massachusetts’ bishops response in this case should have highlighted more strongly Catholic teaching about opposing discrimination, but even with that deficiency, its tempered tone and willingness to dialogue is a step forward.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Cardinal Schönborn: “Amoris Laetitia” Evolves Catholic Doctrine on Family Life

July 8, 2016
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Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, right, holding Amoris Laetitia when it was announced in April

A top cardinal who was closely connected to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, has again affirmed the exhortation’s authoritative status, and said it evolves understandings and expressions of Catholic doctrine.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, a Dominican, made these remarks and others in an extensive interview with Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro of the Vatican-reviewed Italian journal, La Civita Cattolica. Excerpts, available here, have been translated into English.

Amoris Laetitia is “the great text of moral theology” the church has awaited since Vatican II, America quoted Schönborn as saying. It is moving the church from ” ‘a defensive pastoral style in which evil becomes an obsession’ toward one that focuses on recognizing the value of encouraging what is good.” Asked about the exhortation’s authority and the exhortation’s relation to Catholic doctrine–in light of criticisms that it is a minor document, or even only the pope’s opinion, as Cardinal Raymond Burke claimed–Schönborn said:

“It is obvious that this is an act of the magisterium. . .I have no doubt that it must be said that this is a pontifical document of great quality, an authentic teaching of sacra doctrina, which leads us back to the contemporary relevance of the Word of God. . .

“In this sphere of human realities, the Holy Father has fundamentally renewed the discourse of the Church – certainly along the lines of Evangelii gaudium, but also of Gaudium et spes, which presents doctrinal principles and reflections on human beings today that are in a continuous evolution. There is a profound openness to accept reality.”

Schönborn said Pope Francis rejected doctrine which is “abstract pronouncements that are separated from the subject who lives,” saying the exhortation’s “bedrock” is understanding that families are not ideals but rather are journeying. He continued:

“The complexity of family situations, which goes far beyond what was customary in our Western societies even a few decades ago, has made it necessary to look in a more nuanced way at the complexity of these situations. To a greater degree than in the past, the objective situation of a person does not tell us everything about that person in relation to God and in relation to the Church. This evolution compels us urgently to rethink what we meant when we spoke of objective situations of sin. And this implicitly entails a homogeneous evolution in the understanding and in the expression of the doctrine.”

In short, Schönborn clarified, “There is no general norm that can cover all the particular cases.”

Other bishops have affirmed Amoris Laetitia‘s authority as they consider how it should be implemented. Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo, Malta, called church ministers to exercise “cautious discernment and respect” when encountering people in irregular situations, reported the Independent. Naming LGBT Catholics in civil unions, Grech said:

“Our pastoral activity should be based on four actions – accepting, accompanying, discerning and integrating. The Pope tells us it is important that we help divorced people who are in a new relationship to feel part of the church, that they are not excommunicated or regarded as such, because they also form part of the ecclesiastical communion.”

Grech, whose record on LGBT issues is generally positive, encouraged church ministers not to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation a “torture chamber.” Instead, he said the church must engage people as people, not situations, and to “[be] mindful of the language you use.”

Yet despite Schönborn and others’ insistence that Amoris Laetitia represents a development of doctrine, especially in its respect for the complexities of family life today, not all bishops have treated it as such.

Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday on new guidelines from Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput establishing general norms in the archdiocese that ban LGBT people from parish ministries and seek to deny Communion to Catholics in non-traditional families. You can read New Ways Ministry’s statement on these guidelines here.

Debates about Amoris Laetitia will certainly continue for months, if not years. What is important for LGBT Catholics and their advocates, however, is the growing admission by church leaders that doctrine can and has developed when it comes to family life. Opponents of same-gender sexual activity, relationships, and marriage equality frequently say church teaching is unchanging. But Cardinal Schönborn’s interview makes clear such a view is false, and that beyond the clear pastoral recommendations there are doctrinal implications, too. His voice possesses tremendous weight. He was the spokesperson at the April press conference that made Amoris Laetitia available to the public.  He appeared alongside a married Italian couple and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldiserri, the Synod of Bishops’ secretary general.  In the 1990s,  Schönborn oversaw publication of the most recent edition of the Catechism.

The progressive changes sought by many Catholics on gender and sexuality issues were not accomplished in or by Amoris Laetitia. And Archbishop Chaput’s guidelines are evidence the document can and will be misinterpreted by church leaders who wish to suppress pastoral and doctrinal evolution. But there is tremendous hope in the reality that a growing number of church leaders are admitting change is possible, and even needed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Vigil for Orlando Victims Displaces Gay-Negative Lecture at Catholic School

June 22, 2016
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Bishop Peter Ingham and Emma Rodrigues

A Catholic school in Australia replaced a lecture against marriage equality with a candlelight vigil for victims of the mass shooting in Orlando which targeted an LGBT nightclub. The vigil is but one of many ways by which Catholics have shown their support for the victims and their families, and solidarity with LGBT communities.

Parents at St. Therese School in Wollongong, New South Wales, protested the scheduling of a lecture against marriage equality  by the Australian Family Association (AFA), reported the Illawara Mercury. AFA had used harsh language against same-gender relationships in its promotional materials for the event. Parents described the school’s use of its parent email list to promote the lecture as “extremely bigoted” and “totally inappropriate.” Against the school community’s calls for the event to be cancelled, Bishop Peter Ingham had defended the lecture and the hierarchy’s teaching on marriage.

After the Orlando incident, however, the lecture was replaced by a candlelight vigil for victims organized by Emma Rodrigues, an LGBTQI advocate.  Perhaps the surprise of the event was when Bishop Ingham showed up and stood side-by-side with Rodrigues. Tim Smyth of Acceptance, a Catholic LGBT group in Sydney, noted:

“While the vigil displaced a planned talk at the school that evening by a group opposed to marriage equality (and those with a more cynical bent might question the sequence of events), postponing the talk to make way for a vigil to remember the Orlando nightclub massacre victims and agreeing to the photo, is a step forward, albeit small.”

Smyth informed Bondings 2.0 of another positive Catholic LGBT development in Australia at the Installation Mass for Bishop Vincent Long, OFM, of Parramatta, a suburb of Sydney. Smyth reported that Long’s homily included “the first public statement by an Australian Bishop calling for spaces in our church for gay and lesbian Catholics.” Smyth continued:

“Bishop Long, a refugee from Vietnam, noted that the Catholic Church has ‘not lived up to that fundamental ethos of justice, mercy and care who have been hurt by our own actions and inactions’. Bishop Long went on to refer to Pope Francis’ call for a Church ‘where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the Gospel’. Bishop Long then stated that ‘there can be no future for the living Church without there being space for those who have been hurt, damaged or alienated, be they abuse victims, survivors, divorcees, gays, lesbians or disaffected members. I am committed to make the Church in Parramatta the house for all peoples, a Church where therein less an experience of exclusion but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity’.”
In the U.S., more bishops have acknowledged the shooting as targeting LGBT people, though some used language such as “same sex attraction” and “lifestyle” to allude to the LGBT dimension of the tragedy. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, New York, reflected more extensively and sympathetically on Orlando in his column for diocesan newspaper, The Evangelistwhere he wrote:
“But whatever — or whoever — possessed this man last Sunday morning to enter the Orlando nightclub Pulse, described by its owner as ‘a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community,’ Mateen’s objective seemed clear enough: to put a violent end to defenseless members of a class of human beings simply because they existed and he did not want them to live. . .
“At this time, we must state unequivocally that our respect for the dignity of all human beings includes those who themselves identify or are associated in the judgment of others as members of the LGBTQ community, a class whose vulnerability to acts of terrorism was graphically and shockingly exposed at the massacre in Orlando.”

Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport said, “There can be no place in our midst for hatred and bigotry against our brothers and sisters who experience same sex attraction or for anyone who is marginalized by the larger society.”

Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine said a massacre should not be necessary to “recognize our shared humanity, regardless of our lifestyle or paradigm of marriage and human sexuality, and that Catholics must attended to all people including the “gays and lesbians in our families.”

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500+ marchers in Seattle honoring Orlando victims (Photo: St. James Cathedral)

Faith communities and religious congregations have shown their solidarity not only with the victims in Orlando but with LGBT communities suffering in its aftermath.

More than 500 Seattle residents walked through that city’s LGBT neighborhood from the Episcopal cathedral to the Catholic one to honor those people killed, and to call for stronger gun control laws. Fr. Michael Ryan, pastor of St. James Catholic Cathedral, said there was “no better way” to express solidarity and call the community to prayer “in a very dark and painful moment” than this walk, reported the National Catholic Reporter.

In Washington, D.C., Dignity/Washington organized an interfaith vigil that drew hundreds to the city’s Dupont Circle.

In Indiana, the Sisters of Providence hosted a prayer service at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Terre Haute, to express solidarity with the victims and their families.

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Vigilers gathered in Dupont Circle

A statement from Franciscan provincials in the U.S., reported by the National Catholic Reporter, said the order stands “shoulder-to-shoulder with our LGBT brothers and sisters as they grieve and try to make sense of this tragedy. To them we say clearly: We stand with you.”

Fr. Pat Browne of Holy Apostles Parish in London reflected on the hate-fueled violence which struck down not only 49 people in Orlando last week, but resulted in the murder of British MP Jo Cox. Browne, who is a chaplain to the Houses of Parliament, wrote:

“As followers of Christ it is the mission of all Catholics and Christians to ensure that everyone, regardless of their colour, their creed, their sexual orientation is VISIBLE and VALUABLE. If you want to argue with that and say No, there is an exception…he didn’t mean….then you have got it wrong. Which group have you got a problem with? Gays? Migrants? Beggars on the street? There is no-one Christ omits from the warm embrace of his love. If YOU want to, then best be honest. Leave the Church. YOU ARE NOT OF CHRIST.”

Noting the Scottish church’s continued silence after Orlando, Kevin McKenna wrote in The Guardian:

“I remain hopeful that the Catholic church in Scotland will join with Scotland’s main political parties and the majority of its citizens to express sorrow at what happened in a gay Orlando nightclub last weekend. The victims were children of God and loved by [God] and so are those in the LGBT community who today feel a little more fearful and vulnerable as a result. The church to which I belong must now also reach out to them.”

Despite these positive responses from around the world, problematic responses are beginning to increase. Conservative Catholic outlets have published pieces that suggest church leaders should not be in solidarity with LGBT people or that claim anti-LGBT Christians are being attacked after Orlando. Melinda Selmys responded critically to such notions at her blog, Catholic Authenticity:

“Erasing the fact that the attack on the Pulse was likely motivated, at least in part, by religious homophobia is cowardly. As evidence arises to suggest that the killings may have been sparked by internalized homophobia, the Church really needs to be all the more forceful in communicating that homophobic hatred and violence are unacceptable. . .

“Instead, we have virtual silence from the hierarchy. We are left to grieve alone, unacknowledged by our spiritual fathers. And we have articles, like this one, that use one of the greatest tragedies ever to strike our community as an opportunity to argue that that community is illegitimate, that it must never be accepted, acknowledged, named.”

 

Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 explored the religious roots involved in the mass shooting in Orlando that targeted an LGBT nightclub. This reality means faith traditions have a responsibility to respond strongly when violence strikes. Catholic faithful and pastors, by their words and acts, are showing that the church is the people of God, and that God’s people stand in solidarity with LGBT people, especially in their time of need.

To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Orlando massacre and Catholic responses to it, please click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Catholic School Graduate Killed in Orlando Massacre

June 16, 2016
061316-wpvi-orlando-victims-murray

Akyra Murray

Names and photographs for many of the 49 people killed at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando have now been released, coming as we still grapple with the evil that happened Sunday morning and try to respond to these events.

Akyra Murray, an 18-year-old graduate of West Catholic Preparatory High School in Philadelphia, was among those victims killed. Murray “graduated third in her class just last week, and had just signed a letter of intent to play basketball for Mercyhurst University, Erie, Pennsylvania, reported ABC 6. She was in Orlando with family celebrating her graduation. A statement from West Catholic Preparatory said:

“Our hearts are broken, but together we will mourn Akyra’s loss and provide comfort to one another to honor the memory of such a wonderful young lady.”

A closed vigil is planned for this evening, and the school is providing grief counselors all week for affected community members.

Officials in Catholic higher education have released supportive statements and are offering Masses throughout the week for all those killed in Orlando, noting the LGBT identities of the victims. Fr. Brian Linnane, president of Loyola University Maryland, assured  the GLBTQ+ members of the campus community that “we stand shoulder to shoulder with them in condemning this crime and advocating for justice. . .today we are all GLBTQ+.”

In a statement, Dr. Lisa Reiter, director of Campus Ministry at Loyola University Chicago, wrote:

“This shooting is a painful reminder of the injustice and prejudice that afflicts our lesbian sisters and gay brothers on a daily basis. . .In light of the spirit of Jesus Christ, and Church teaching, let us examine how we might more fully extend friendship t our LGBT sisters and brothers, inviting them to share their joys and sorrows with us.”

Religious communities have offered statements of prayer and of solidarity with LGBT communities, too, including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia who shared their solidarity on Facebook.

Tragically, not all church leaders have responded well. As Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday, only four U.S. bishops referenced the anti-LGBT roots of this crime in their statements. A fifth, Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino, a city which suffered a mass shooting itself last year, released a statement which said:

“For those of us in San Bernardino this is especially painful because we also experienced the trauma of an act of public violence in our community not so long ago, at the Inland Regional Center. In that sense, we offer our prayers and our tears in solidarity with the victims of this attack, their loved ones, the Diocese of Orlando and the City, itself. Because of the circumstances of this attack, we also make clear our condemnation of discriminatory violence against those who are gay and lesbian, and we offer our prayers to that community.”

At The Wild Reed blog, Michael Bernard Kelly, who writes on gay Christian spirituality, responded to religious and civil leaders who offered prayers without referencing LGBT people:

“To every politician, and every civic or religious leader, including the Pope, who expressed sorrow and outrage at the Orlando shootings, but so very carefully avoided mentioning Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer people – YOU are part of the problem. Your words are empty and your hearts are hollow. Get back to us when you are ready to put yourself on the line to support and affirm US in the face of hatred and violence. Till then, hang your head in shame and repent of all that your past bigotry and current silence has spawned.”

Stephen Colbert

Finally, television host Stephen Colbert, who is Catholic, offered powerful remarks about the Orlando shooting before his show Monday night:

“Well I don’t know what to do, but I do know that despair is a victory for hate. Hate wants us to be too weak to change anything. Now these people in Orlando were apparently targeted because of who they love. And there have been outpourings of love throughout the country and around the world. Love in response to hate. Love does not despair. Love makes us strong. Love gives us the courage to act. Love gives us hope that change is possible. Love allows us to change the script. So love your country, love your family, love the families of the victims and the people of Orlando, but let’s remember that love is a verb, and to love means to do something.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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