Gay Ambassador Faces Harsh Letter from Bishops and Ban from Catholic School

March 30, 2016
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Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster

Religious leaders’ opposition to gay U.S. Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster is again intensifying in the Dominican Republic (DR), spearheaded by the actions of Catholic officials in the Caribbean nation.

In a mid-March statement, the Dominican Episcopal Conference (the organization of Catholic bishops in DR) condemned Ambassador Brewster, and they urged the nation’s government to complain formally about his appointment by the U.S. government. The bishops criticized “abuses” by Brewster since he arrived in 2013, saying the “sovereignty of the nation and its traditional values” is at stake.

The alleged violations of law and of protocol include visits to schools and youth events by the ambassador and his husband, Bob Satawake. Such visits are offensive to the bishops because the couple has “a family model that is incompatible” with the Dominican Constitution and the couple allegedly attempts to “confuse our youth.”

The bishops cited Pope Francis’ condemnations of “ideological colonization” to defend their criticism of Brewster, and Victor Grimaldi, the Dominican Republic’s Ambassador to the Holy See, sent the Conference’s statement to Pope Francis, according to Dominican Today. There is no comment thus far from either Pope Francis or the Holy See about this devolving situation in the Dominican Republic. Responding to the bishops’ statement, Brewster said in a radio interview reported by Buzzfeed:

“We’re promoting equality around the world. . .That’s not why we went to the school, but we’re not going to have people continue to condemn and try to keep Bob and I or anyone else in the closet because [sic] that’s not who we are — and we’re proud of who we are, and we’re proud of representing the values of making sure that people aren’t marginalized.”

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Signs outside San Juan Bautista

In a second incident, San Juan Bautista School in Santiago banned Brewster from its property. Officials posted at least three signs outside the school which read, “The entrance of the US Ambassador of the United States is not permitted in this institute.” They have since been defaced by LGBT activists and were then removed for Holy Week. The school’s director, Fr. Manuel Ruiz, defended the signs,reported Dominican TodayRuiz told a radio interviewer he had the right to put up signs on private property and that “[Brewster’s] presence and of his partner in a school isn’t innocent.”

Finally, a petition launched by the Dominican Council of Evangelical Unity, a Protestant coalition, which asks President Barack Obama to remove Ambassador Brewster has gained 32,000 signatures.

In response to the criticism of the ambassador, public figures and organizations in the U.S. and the in the Dominican Republic have come to Brewster’s defense against these religious attacks. The Human Rights Campaign released a statement supporting Brewster, and one of their board members said it was “deeply concerned” by the religious leaders’ actions. HRC President Chad Griffin invoked the pope when he reiterated that support in the Blade, saying:

” ‘It’s time Pope Francis spoke out against this campaign of hate being perpetrated by Catholic Church leaders.’ “

Rosanna Marzan, director of Diversidad Dominican, an LGBT equality group, said the issues referenced by the ambassador’s critics are “a smokescreen to cover up other issues.” Her remarks were backed by Cristian King of Trans Siempre Amigos, another Dominican LGBT organization.

In the last few months, the White House and the State Department have been clear that they fully support Ambassador Brewster. Last week, 61 congresspeople signed a letter to the Dominican Republic’s president, Danilo Medina, affirming their support for Brewster and his work to “advance universal human rights,” reported the Washington BladeThese politicians and others are using the hashtag #ImWithWally to express their support. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, a Catholic, previously wrote to Pope Francis asking  him to intervene in attacks against Brewster, who is Durbin’s friend.

Brewster himself has been diplomatic but firm in rebutting Catholic leaders’ criticism and promoting LGBT human rights. In an interview with Michael Lavers of the Washington Blade, he commented on Cardinal López’s repeated homophobic comments:

“The disappointing thing for me is that I don’t see that as something that you’re hearing from the leader of the Catholic Church in Rome. . .I would hope that the Vatican — as we would not do that with their officials — would understand and condemn those types of words to any official with any government. . .”

Brewster said, too, that the attacks against him and his husband have prompted many Dominican citizens to express their support for marginalized LGBT communities:

“It’s a great social conversation that needed to happen and I think its happening now. . .It’s rising the level of those who bully and perpetuate prejudices in areas for all marginalized groups and it’s allowing them to be seen for who they are.”

While these incidents may indeed be increasing visibility of and support for LGBT justice in the Dominican Republic, Catholic officials’ participation in the homophobic attacks must cease immediately. What is happening in the Dominican Republic against Ambassador James Brewster and his husband demands ecclesial action.

Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus López Rodriguez, the leading prelate in the DR, has previously said Brewster was “wife to a man” and should stick to housework. In 2013, López used an anti-gay slur to refer to the ambassador , and he said Brewster should “take his gay pride elsewhere.”  The Washington Blade reported that López once described LGBT tourists as “social trash” and “degenerates.” Cardinal López’s remarks made Bondings 2.0’s lists of Worst Catholic LGBT News in both 2013 and 2015.

Cardinal López’s anti-gay leadership has harmed the Dominican hierarchy and other clergy.  Pope Francis should immediately accept his letter of resignation submitted four years ago on López’s 75th birthday. As Bondings 2.o previously argued, Pope Francis’ direct involvement in the local church would not undermine his efforts towards decentralized power in the Catholic Church. It would be a necessary action to cull some Catholic leaders’ overt prejudice. Dominican Catholics should use the Year of Mercy to promote greater respect for and inclusion of LGBT communities, as a way to undo some of the damages recently inflicted.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Sister Jeannine Gramick Meets Cardinal Turkson at University Conference

May 31, 2013

Editor’s Note:  Sister Jeannine Gramick will take part in a public conversation on marriage equality this evening, May 31, 2013, with Bishop Thomas Paprocki, in Phoenix, Arizona.   The following is her reflection on another recent conversation that she had with Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana.  For more information on tonight’s event, click here.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick speaking with Cardinal Turkson at The Catholic University of America

Sr. Jeannine Gramick speaking with Cardinal Turkson at The Catholic University of America

BY Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL,          Co-founder, New Ways Ministry

Last month, the Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, hosted a conference entitled Peacebuilding 2013: Pacem in Terris at 50,” as a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Pope John XXIII’s landmark encyclical on peace.

With the hope that the ideas and spirit of “Good Pope John” and Vatican II were being rekindled in our church, I eagerly attended and was not disappointed. Attendees met leading representatives of co-sponsoring organizations, such as the peace and justice departments of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and several Catholic universities, Catholic Relief Services, Pax Christi International, Caritas Internationalis, the Sant’Egidio Community, and the U.S. Institute of Peace.

More than 200 attendees listened to presentations from such well-known Catholic leaders as Fr. Bryan Hehir, John Carr, Drew Christiansen SJ, and Scott Appleby. One speaker I was particularly interested in hearing was Cardinal Peter Turkson from the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Among LGBT advocates, Cardinal Turkson is known for his anti-gay remarks. For example, in 2012 when the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on African nations to repeal laws that criminalize homosexuality, Cardinal Turkson responded, “…when you’re talking about what’s called ‘an alternative lifestyle,’ are those human rights? … there’s a subtle distinction between morality and human rights, and that’s what needs to be clarified.”

Cardinal Turkson of Ghana

Cardinal Turkson of Ghana

Cardinal Turkson did not entertain questions after his hour long presentation, so I wended my way to the front of the auditorium and, after much picture-taking of various Catholic University officials with the Cardinal, I was poised to ask him my question privately.

“Thank you, Cardinal,” I began, “for emphasizing throughout your talk that the underlying principle of Pacem in Terris is the basic dignity of the human person.

“I was pleased that you gave a few concrete examples of how you used your influence in Ghana to resolve some disputed situations by showing the parties that the basic issue involved was the dignity of the human person. In the situation of gay and lesbian people…”

I got no further with my question. The Cardinal quickly interrupted me, maintaining that the press greatly misunderstood what he meant. He was merely saying that “this” (using the pronoun, without saying the word “homosexuality” or “gay” or “lesbian”) was not acceptable in his culture. He repeated his defense a few times before someone came to whisk him off to lunch.

After lunch, Karen, another conference attendee I met, engaged him in conversation on the same topic. Once again, Cardinal Turkson defended his remarks, asserting he was misquoted. It was clear, Karen said, that he did not wish to say more about the matter. Karen later spoke with a priest from Ghana, who had worked with the Cardinal. The priest maintained that Turkson would never endorse a bill to kill homosexuals but would acknowledge that the culture viewed homosexuality as an aberration that would not be tolerated.

Whether or not Cardinal Turkson was misquoted, the fact remains that he failed to denounce a cultural norm that violates basic human dignity. Perhaps being confronted by some Catholics at a U.S. peace conference may induce him to reexamine his views about the human rights of LGBT people and to respond more thoughtfully to the press in the future. Such face-to-face encounters, coupled with the political wind-change of recent positive remarks on gay civil unions by some Vatican officials, may spur him to understand that those human rights, as Pope John XXIII told the world 50 years ago in Pacem in Terris, are based on the dignity of the human person.


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