Social Media Counteracts U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Trinity Sunday Campaign Against Marriage Equality

Equally Blessed, a coalition of four national Catholic organizations which work for LGBT equality and justice in church and society, has launched a social media campaign this weekend to counteract a public relations blitz that the U.S. Catholic bishops have staged to encourage parishioners to oppose marriage equality.

Trinity Sunday Image (1)The Equally Blessed campaign asks Catholics who support marriage equality to voice their concerns about the bishops’ initiatives to their pastors and other parishioners.  To the right is the image which will be circulated on social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.

The U.S. Catholic bishops have chosen Trinity Sunday to distribute bulletin inserts opposing marriage equality, provide parishes with talking points about how to argue against marriage equality, and offer priests homily suggestions for how to discuss the question of marriage within the context of Trinity Sunday.

Equally Blessed is also asking people to inform them of any action that was taken to counteract the bishops’ materials. You can contact Equally Blessed by clicking here.

The four members of Equally Blessed are Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.

New Ways Ministry encourages you to share the above image on your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Gay Couple Sues Diocese in Real Estate Deal Over Fears of ‘Gay Marriage’

UPDATE: The Rainbow Times provides commentary from canon lawyer Rev. Thomas Doyle after Msgr. Sullivan suggested canon law barred the Diocese of Worcester from selling property if it was to be used for same-sex marriages:

“In his assessment, Catholic priest and canon lawyer, the Reverend Thomas Doyle said, ‘There is no basis whatsoever in canon law’ for the diocese’s suggestion it is prohibited by church policy from selling to buyers who may allow same-sex wedding celebrations.

“‘In the first place, the diocese’s action is pure discrimination based on their twisted concept of gay, as well as their condemnation about what may happen, not what has happened,’ he said. ‘They have no right to condemn what has not happened.’

“’Apart from that, canon law says that it is forbidden to use a sacred place for a profane use unless the place is de-sacralized by an act of the bishop or if they have been given over to secular uses either de facto or by decree,’ Doyle explained.

“’However, this applies to churches, chapels and shrines and not mansions that were used as therapy centers.  In light of the scandal that arose out of then Houses of Affirmation they could hardly be called a “sacred place.”‘”

Additionally, the Boston Globe editorialized about the growing incident in support of Fairbanks and Beret.

A Massachusetts married couple is suing the Diocese of Worcester for discrimination after church officials broke off real estate negotiations allegedly over the men’s sexual orientation.

Alain Beret and James Fairbanks outside of Oakhurst mansion.

James Fairbanks and Alain Beret are business partners as well and sought to buy Oakhurst mansion, a former retreat center, to convert it into a banquet facility as they had done in other locations around New England. As the Milford Daily News reports:

“’It was a facility we were extremely interested in,’ he said. ‘We have made our life by restoring old buildings.’

“’Now that it’s lost to us, it’s a great disappointment to me,’ he added.

“Beret said he first became suspicious when the diocese ended negotiations abruptly.

“Beret said an email from Monsignor Thomas Sullivan, included in the complaint, explained the sale’s failure. In the email, Sullivan reportedly writes, ‘Because of the potentiality of gay marriages there, something you shared with us yesterday, we are not interested in going forward with these buyers.’”

The Worcester Telegram reports about events after the two businessmen made an offer on the property on June 8:

“The email was later inadvertently forwarded to Mr. Beret, according to the suit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages for alleged violations of state housing discrimination laws and infliction of emotional distress.

“Msgr. Sullivan, who oversees the sale of diocesan property, is named as a defendant in the suit, along with the House of Affirmation Inc., Bishop Robert McManus and Eastern Alliance Realty, LLC, which acted as an agent for the diocese in the negotiations.”

The Diocese of Worcester repeatedly cites financial failings for cutting of the sale with Fairbanks and Beret, denying any knowledge of the men’s sexual orientation:

“’They couldn’t come up with the money. This happens all the time,’ he [Msgr. Sullivan] said in July…

“’From the diocese point of view, this case is not about discrimination against gay persons. It’s simply a failed real estate transaction,’ Mr. Reardon [a diocesan attorney] said.”

Bondings 2.0 reported on this story when it first broke in July, ‘Monsignor Is Caught in a Lie as Diocese Backs Out of Selling Property to a Gay Couple.’

In the column cited there, Beret and Fairbanks reject the diocese’s continued financial narrative and Worcester Telegram columnist Diane Williamson reports on their take:

“’Their [the diocese] message was, “These guys are gay. Get rid of them,”’ Beret said. ‘I don’t argue with their right to stand on the pulpit and condemn. But they don’t have the right to chase me down with their poison.’”

“Their lawyer, Sergio Carvajal, said state law prohibits discriminating agasint buyers based on sexual orientation, and said the potential for gay marriages would exist regardless of the sexual orientation of the buyer.”

The message that the Diocese’s actions amount to discrimination is made clear from the plaintiffs, joined by the Massachusetts Fair Housing Centerin the lawsuit. For Beret, a Christian who once considered the priesthood, this lawsuit is about something fundamental to Catholicism:

“ ‘I have plenty of sins,’ Beret said. ‘But being gay isn’t one of them. This is not a fight I wanted to pick. But for the sake of my dignity, I’m not walking away.’ ”

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo commented on the story for the Rainbow Times:

“Nothing in church teaching prohibits the sale.  The decision not to do so comes from the church representatives involved in the business negotiations, not from the official teaching of the church.  The true scandal here is not the possibility of same-gender marriage taking place at the location but that church officials are negotiating in such a surreptitious way.”

What do you think? Is this a case of discrimination or should the Diocese be enabled to choose the buyer? Even if it is legal to reject Beret and Fairbanks offer, is Beret right that morally this is fundamentally about dignity of the human person?

Leave your responses in the ‘Comments’ section below.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

NEWS NOTES: January 31, 2012

Here are some links to items you might find of interest:

1) The controversy surrounding the naming of anti-homophobia student groups in Ontario’s Catholic schools has added a new wrinkle with a Toronto Star report that the Province’s Education “College [is] asked to investigate principal who banned gay-straight alliance.”   Bondings 2.0’s  latest posting on this controversy can be accessed here.

2) The Washington Blade reports that “religious institutions receiving federal funds for housing programs will have to abide by a new HUD (Housing & Urban Development) rule prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people.”  Details can be found in the article “HUD: Religious groups must abide by LGBT non-bias rule.”
In a letter to President Obama, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had opposed the non-discrimination rule. Equally Blessed, a Catholic coalition of LGBT justice and equality, also sent a letter to Obama in support of the rule.

3) The Buffalo News‘ Donn Esmonde writes how a “Priest’s legacy of tolerance is all-embracing.”  It’s an inspiring memoir about the late Msgr. William Schwinger of whom he writes:  “Back when society treated gays as incomplete people, long before anyone envisioned the state sanctioning gay marriage, this priest— despite the Catholic Church’s institutional condemnation of homosexuality— welcomed them into the fold.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Can We Talk?

Two articles came across my desk yesterday which make me think that all conversation in the Catholic Church has ended.  I hope I am wrong.

The first is a column by Fr. Richard McBrien from the National Catholic Reporter  (NCR).   The title tells the story:  “The disconnect between bishops and other Catholics.”

McBrien summarizes some data from a recent survey commissioned by the NCR.  The results of the survey were published in the newspaper’s October 28 and November 10, 2011, issues and can be reviewed here.  What McBrien sees is that Catholics are no longer listening to their bishops for guidance on moral issues, particularly those related to sexuality:

“On the matter of Catholic attitudes toward the credibility of the bishops’ teachings, the survey found that relatively few Catholics look to church leaders as the sole moral arbiters.

“This is particularly true with regard to official teachings on such issues as divorce and remarriage, abortion, nonmarital sex, homosexuality and contraception.

“More than of half of those surveyed say that individuals, not the hierarchy, are best equipped to make moral decisions on these matters. When it comes to contraception, however, the percentage rises to two-thirds.

“On issues other than divorce and remarriage and contraception (where the percentage of dissidents is roughly the same today as it was 25 years ago), the share of Catholics who look solely to church leaders for guidance on matters of right and wrong has declined.

“Those who attend Mass every week are more inclined to look to the hierarchy for guidance, but not by much.

Indeed, half of the oldest generation of Catholics believes individuals themselves are the proper locus of moral authority, even on such issues as abortion.

“In summary, on most of the issues the survey asked about, majorities of Catholics said the locus of moral authority rests with individuals, not the bishops, but after taking church teachings into account.”

The second article was by Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, and appeared on The Huffington Post website. Referring to the recent incident where Cardinal George compared the LGBT rights movement to the Ku Klux Klan, Duddy-Burke examines the question which is the tile of her essay: “Why Cardinal George Can Say Such Outrageous Things.”  Her main answer to this is:

“. . . Catholic bishops and cardinals are accountable only to the Vatican. They have absolutely no accountability to anyone in their Diocese. They are appointed by Papal decree, and terminated from their positions only by the Pope. The people whom Church hierarchs supposedly shepherd have no say in whether they are suitable for their jobs, or the length of their tenure.

“In addition, the lives and work of these officials provide little if any opportunity for ongoing interaction with “regular people” on a day-to-day basis, so they often have a much distorted sense of our hopes, dreams, struggles, concerns, relationships and spirituality. In my own conversations with an admittedly small number of bishops and cardinals, I’ve found that they begin from an assumption of authority, rather than from an acknowledgment of our shared Baptism. They believe they have the unquestioned right to set the terms of our discussion. They make pronouncements that belie fact and expect to go unchallenged. When they do this in the public square, as did Cardinal George, the degree to which they are out of touch with their flock becomes glaringly apparent.”

So, lay Catholics are not listening to bishops, and bishops are not listening to lay Catholics.  This is a very serious pastoral problem.  Continuing in such a fashion means that all conversation will soon end, if it hasn’t happened already.

At a conference on LGBT ministry, Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, NY, observed that it is the job of the bishops to discern the call of the Spirit in the church.  He added an important qualification to this description:  if the laity do not communicate with their leaders, then the bishops will not be able to do accurate and truthful discernment.

Although it means that we have to continue to do work, it is up to lay Catholics to keep speaking out on LGBT equality.  It’s a difficult thing to do when our conversation partners, the bishops, are so unresponsive.  Let’s take heart from Cardinal George’s recent apology, which clearly was the result of so many groups and individuals speaking out against the ignorance of his original comments.

To keep up speaking when it seems no one is listening requires that we rely on God to make our words effective.  Similarly, we have to truly believe that God can–and does–speak through the laity.  If we have faith in these two things, the burden of speaking out becomes much lighter.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

When Courage Fails

A recent news report that the Archdiocese of Hartford will be instituting a “Courage” support group for lesbian and gay people has me reflecting on the approach that Courage takes to LGBT ministry.

Courage is a national organization with local chapters.  It was founded in 1980 by Fr. John Harvey, OSFS; its main purpose is to help lesbian and gay people maintain a celibate life, in accordance with magisterial teaching.

There are many reasons why people have objected to Courage groups.  Some say that the ministry’s approach treats homosexuality as a psychological defect.  Others object that Courage often uses a 12-step spirituality approach to homosexuality, thus treating it as something akin to an addiction.  Some point out that Courage groups have often veered off into the areas of reparative therapy or conversion ministry (i.e., trying to change one’s orientation to heterosexual) even though this approach was never sanctioned by Fr. Harvey. Still others observe that Courage does not take a positive attitude toward committed, loving sexual relationships.

The main problem I see with the Courage ministry is that it primarily views lesbian/gay people in terms of sexual activity.  This approach does not consider lesbian/gay people as whole people, but narrowly defines them in terms of sex.

Lesbian/Gay people are so much more than their sexuality, and ministry with them should address the totality of their lives.  For example, lesbian/gay people  have often suffered alienation, marginalization, and oppression, and these factors need to be addressed, too.  They are also people who have come to a remarkable and wondrous discovery about themselves that is very different from the majority of the population–a difference which should be celebrated.  Lesbian/Gay people may have experienced harsh messages from church authorities which may have affected their relationship with God which may need healing.  Most importantly, lesbian/Gay people have spiritual gifts which they long to bring to the church community, so ministry with them could focus on opportunities for them to share these gifts.

In short, a ministry which primarily focuses on the possibility of sexual activity is a very stunted ministry.    It is a model of ministry which ignores a great deal about the human person and how they can be integrated into a community.

Because of their emphasis on celibacy, Courage’s leaders often claim that they are fully in accord with magisterial teaching.  Not so.  In the Vatican’s “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” pastoral ministers are reminded

“The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation.”

Courage’s emphasis on sexual behavior violates this principle by reducing people not only to their sexual orientation, but reducing them even further to consider them in terms of possible sexual activity.  This kind of thinking violates another important pastoral principle, articulated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in their letter, Always Our Children:

“Do not presume that all homosexual persons are sexually active.”

Many parishes and faith communities have adopted a more integrated approach to lesbian/gay ministry than Courage does.  New Ways Ministry maintains  lists of  these gay-friendly parishes and gay-friendly Catholic college campuses which follow this healthy and holy path of outreach. Models of ministry which consider the totality of  the life of  lesbian/gay people offer a better, more effective invitation to life in the Christian community than the Courage model offers.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

NEWS NOTES: January 4, 2012

Here are some links to articles that may be of interest:

1) Vanessa De La Torre reports in the Hartford Courant that the local “Archdiocese Planning to Offer Pro-Abstinence Group for Gays, Lesbians”.

2) In The American Prospect magazine, E.J. Graff writes  in “Catholic Bishops versus Tolerance” that children are the victims of bishops closing adoption agencies.

3) Chicago Alderman Tom Tunney, a gay Catholic man, has been asked to join in a demonstration at the city’s Holy Name Cathedral to protest Cardinal Francis George’s KKK comments.  See the article, “Tunney Asked to Join LGBT Catholics in Demonstration Against Cardinal George.”

4) The Vatican has established a special Ordinariate for Episcopalians who want to join the Catholic church–many of whom are leaving because of their opposition to marriage equality and the ordination of  lesbian/gay people.  See the LA Times Blog post for details.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

NEWS NOTES: A New Feature

Sometimes the news and information on Catholic LGBT issues comes in faster than we can keep up with!  Some days, we find that we just don’t have time to comment on everything that passes across our desktops.    To help our readers be up-to-date on as much of the latest information possible, we are instituting a new occasional feature called “NEWS NOTES.”

When you see the header “NEWS NOTES”  and the logo at the right, you will find a link or list of links to news articles or opinion pieces on Catholic LGBT issues and related topics.  In this way, you won’t miss a beat of the latest information.

Here’s our first installment:

1) In response to Minnesota Archbishop Nienstedt’s prayer for heterosexual marriage, Bernard Schlager, director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, asks on “How About A Prayer for All Marriages?”

2) On, Sarah Posner asserts “In 2012 Bishops Join Fight to Repackage Discrimination as ‘Religious Freedom.’ “

3) Austin Considine of the New York Times takes a bittersweet look at how “Gay Marriage Victory Still Shadowed By AIDS.”

Let us know what you think of these articles, and if you find this feature helpful.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry