Giant Step for Transgender Welcome, But Not As Far for Gay & Lesbian People

February 4, 2015

In a wide-ranging interview with Vermont Public Radio, Bishop Christopher Coyne, installed as the tenth bishop of the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, last week,  stated: “I see no reason why transgender people would not be welcome in church.”

Bishop Christopher Coyne at his installation Mass.

While this statement, probably the most direct and open welcome to transgender people by a Catholic leader, seems to indicate a new approach to LGBT issues, his message about lesbian and gay people was somewhat more ambiguous. [No written transcript of the interview is yet available, but you can listen to the audio by clicking here.  The segment on LGBT issues begins around the 10:45 minute mark.]

On the Vermont Edition show, interviewer Jane Lindholm asked the bishop a question sent by a listener: “You say you’re going to reach out to Catholics who no longer attend Mass.  Is there any plan to reach out to transgender persons who no longer feel welcomed at church?”

Coyne’s response was:

“Well, I’m sorry that’s happened.  I see no reason why transgender people would not be welcome in church. There is more and more evidence coming forward that a lot of this is biological, that it’s not just something that a person just makes as a kind of fashionable choice or cultural choice, but that these transgender people are really struggling with the idea of gender identity and that they’ve struggled with it for years, and that’s through no fault of their own.  So there’s no fault to be made, actually. This is who they are . .  . everyone is God’s creatures, and I would invite anyone to come to the table. And I would hope that none of my priests, most especially myself, would ever say anything that would be hurtful or harmful to transgender folk.”

There’s a lot that is good in that answer:

  • a direct welcome to transgender people;
  • an acknowledgement of scientific research;
  • a statement of the moral neutrality of transgender people;
  • a directive to priests not to make harmful statements about transgender people.

But when Coyne also added some comments which make it clear that he is not affirming of gay and lesbian relationships.  When asked to confirm if he would welcome transgender people, he answered:

“Absolutely. In the same way that I would welcome people who identify as gay, lesbian, bi, but also all folks, to come to the church to try to grown in their love for the Lord God and Jesus Christ.  You know it’s not easy being a Catholic.  Our faith is a very demanding faith. The starting point must be that relationship with Jesus, and once you begin to get that into place, you begin to work on the other parts of your life that need a little order, that need a little change.”

The interviewer asked him to expand upon what he meant by people who need more order in their life, specifically asking if the bishop meant “people who are gay and who have what often the church calls ‘a gay lifestyle.’ ”  Coyne’s answer was yes, but that he also intended it to mean people such as divorced/remarried people, and those who live in excessive wealth with no concern for the poor.

Coyne’s pastoral advice for such people who are not living in accordance with official church teaching was to recommend first developing faith in Jesus, and then seeking how to align one’s life with the church’s teachings.  He explained what this meant in the context of the church’s sexual teaching:

“Our church believes that the perfection of the expression of human sexuality is between a man and a woman in a committed, fruitful relationship open to children.  That’s the paradigm.  Most of us struggle with getting there.  Even those who are married may say there are times when I’m not all that committed to because I’m human.  But the paradigm is still there.

“In any kind of expression that doesn’t match that, that doesn’t necessarily mean that what I’m striving at is wrong. . . . but am I a bad person or a bad Catholic? No, I’m someone who’s on the road who’s trying to find my way to live in this world to live in this life and in this world even if I don’t quite match up to what the church is calling me to do.”

These recommendations may be the most complete illustration of the undefined pastoral approach to gay and lesbian people that Pope Francis has been hinting it.   What is good about it is that it reduces the stigma associated with lesbian and gay people.  No longer are they to be summarily ostracized from the church community.  It does not put adherence to church teaching as a litmus test for being part of the parish community.

The negative side of this approach, however, is that it still considers gay and lesbian relationships “less than.”  Moreover, the welcome this approach offers, while not conditional from the outset, still has the expectation that once welcomed, gay and lesbian people will work towards renouncing responsible sexual expressions of their love and commitment.  Although this expectation is not stated outright, it seems to be the logical extension of such an approach.  There is no recognition of the authority of conscience that may be directing a gay and lesbian couple to live together and to seek a life of faith in community.

Pope Francis has been vague about his outline for pastoral care for lesbian and gay people.  Bishop Coyne’s statements, though, echo much that was said at the 2014 synod in regards to LGBT pastoral care.  While it may be a step forward, it also highlights how far we yet to have to go as a church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Lesbian Couple Settles Suit With Catholic Couple Over Wedding Reception

August 25, 2012

A lesbian couple has settled a suit against a Catholic couple who refused to contract with the women to host their wedding reception at a resort owned by the Catholics.  The lesbian couple claimed that they were victims of sexual orientation discrimination.

The Burlington Free Press reports the details of the settlement:

“The settlement calls for the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville to pay $10,000 to the Vermont Human Rights Commission as a civil penalty for violating Vermont’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act, as well as $20,000 in a charitable trust to be disbursed by the couple, according to the Vermont Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.”

The owners of the Inn, Jim and Mary O’Reilly, will no longer host weddings there.  In a statement, Jim O’Reilly said:

“The Wildflower Inn has always served — and will continue to serve — everyone in our community. But no one can force us to abandon our deeply held beliefs about marriage.”

Ming and Kate Linsley

The lawsuit was filed in July 2011 by the Vermont Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Kate and Ming Linsley of New York state.

In a statement at the time the lawsuit was filed, the O’Reillys said they could not “offer our services wholeheartedly to celebrate the marriage between same-sex couples because it goes against everything that we as Catholics believe in.”

They claimed that applying Vermont’ s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act–prohibits public accommodations from denying  customers because of sexual orientation–would be a violation of their free speech and freedom of association rights.

The Free Press  article carries reactions from both parties:

“In a statement Thursday, the O’Reillys said they agreed to the settlement ‘to end this ordeal and the threat that the litigation posed’ to the business.

“ ‘We did not bring this lawsuit in order to punish the Wildflower Inn or to collect money,’ said Kate Linsley, in a statement released by the ACLU. ‘We brought this lawsuit because we wanted people to know that what the Wildflower Inn did was illegal. We didn’t want to stay quiet and allow businesses to continue to think they can discriminate.’ ”

An article on LezGetReal.com notes that the Wildflower Inn was being used only as the reception location, not for the actual wedding ceremony itself:

“The Linsleys had planned on having their wedding ceremony at a Buddhist retreat near the inn. When Ming Linsley’s mother Channie Peters tried to book with the Inn, she was informed via email that the inn did not accept same-sex marriage receptions.”

LezGetReal.com also cited Ming Lingsley’s additional reaction to the settlement:

“We’re glad that the Wildflower Inn has recognized that the way we were treated was wrong and that no other family will have to experience what we did. All families should feel welcome at any resort that’s open to the public.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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