Equality for Catholic Women Is Inextricably Linked to LGBT Equality

“Is it possible for a woman to be both a feminist and a Catholic?” This question is central for Celia Viggo Wexler’s book, Catholic Women Confront Their Church: Stories of Hurt and Hope, said Gail DeGeorge in a review of the book for the National Catholic Reporter. It is a similar question to one many Catholics have asked, “Is it possible to be an LGBT person and a Catholic?”

41itqzvovdl-_sy344_bo1204203200_These questions are not just similar: they are deeply interrelated. Indeed, the cause of women’s equality in the church is inextricably linked to the cause of LGBT equality, and vice versa.

DeGeorge described the genesis of the book and its title:

“[Wexler] is not a theologian or historian, she writes, nor does she intend the book to be a definitive work about the views of Catholic women. She seeks instead to inspire conversations among women who, like her, are ‘torn between the faith they love and the institutional church that often sets their teeth on edge.’ . . .

“There is a reason, Wexler says, that she titled the book Catholic Women Confront Their Church rather than their ‘faith.’ For these women and so many others, it’s not a matter of confronting their faith, but rather confronting an institution that is led exclusively by men.”

Among the nine Catholic women that Wexler profiled are two involved with LGBT advocacy: Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of DignityUSA, and Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK who is most known for her leadership of “Nuns on the Bus.”

Other women in the book include: Teresa Delgado, a Latina feminist theologian; Frances Kissling, founder of Catholics for Choice; and Diana L. Hayes, a theologian who was the first African American woman to earn a pontifical doctorate.

duddyburke
Marianne Duddy-Burke

The chapter on Marianne Duddy-Burke follows the contours of her journey as a devout Catholic and lesbian woman. Wexler explained at one point:

“Catholicism is just too important to Duddy-Burke to abandon. So she’s found a different space to practice her faith, a space outside the norms of the institutional church. The Catholicism she practices, she contends, more authentically follows the gospel. . .

“Whatever steps Pope Francis may take to soften the church’s position on same-sex marriage and LGBT issues, she believes that real change has to come from the people in the pews, not the church hierarchy. And she continues to immerse herself in a Catholicism that embraces the sacraments and service to the poor and marginalized.”

simone campbell
Sister Simone Campbell

Sr. Simone Campbell’s advocacy for LGBT people has increasingly been a part of her larger efforts for social justice. Her organization, NETWORK, is linked with New Ways Ministry in a particular way: the two organizations were singled out by the Vatican in its 2012 investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for allegedly promoting “radical feminism.” Campbell offered the following wisdom, as reported by Wexler:

“One might have thought that the public denunciation. . .would have signaled to the sisters to lie low until the flap blew over. But Campbell did not express any sense of remorse. ‘When you don’t work every day with people who live at the margins of our society, it’s so much easier to make easy statements about who’s right and who’s wrong.’ Campbell said, ‘Life is way more complicated in our society, and its probably way easier to be eight thousand miles away in Rome.’ . . .

“‘I wish I knew what was in their [the Vatican leaders’] brains. . .The leadership doesn’t know how to deal with strong women.'”

In her latest supportive act for LGBT Catholics, Campbell will lead “Justice and Mercy: Our Faith Challenge?“, a retreat preceding New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium this week. For information, please click here.

rst_tdelgado
Teresa Delgado

Teresa Delgado is a feminist theologian who is both Puerto Rican and a survivor of sexual violence, influenced by liberation and womanist theologies. These aspects of her identity have, in her words, “allowed me to speak in a way that is authoritative around issues of sexuality and faith.” While not explicitly focused on LGBT issues, her work to integrate sex and faith has obvious implications. Wexler wrote:

“Delgado has remained a Catholic despite her deep reservations about the church’s approach to sexual issues, and its misogyny. She regrets that an institution that developed a nuanced ethical position on the concept of a ‘just war’ has failed to explore the nuances of sexual ethics. Within her classroom, where she teaches Christian sexual ethics, she faces students deeply confused about how to apply Catholic principles to their sex lives. Her goal, she says, is to offer them a safe place to discuss their feelings, and to share her own insights about navigating these moral dilemmas.”

bookshot7-1-1
Celia Viggo Wexler

Reading the stories of these nine Catholic women is moving, and Wexler’s advice, especially for younger women, is compelling by the end: “Don’t give up on Catholicism just yet. Make it work for you. Fight for it.” DeGeorge’s concluding words will ring true for readers:

“In conclusion, she notes the dangers facing a church that is unwilling to allow women a greater role and voice. . . .[The reader will] come away with a deeper conviction that there is a place for visionary feminist women in the church. Wexler’s book deserves to be read widely, especially among parish-based women’s groups and young women who struggle with their Catholic faith.”

To read Gail DeGeorge’s full review in the National Catholic Reporter, please click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 26, 2017

Australian Priest Excommunicated for LGBT Support Under Pope Francis

Fr. Greg Reynolds with his notification of excommunication

An Australian priest has been excommunicated for his support of women and LGBT people in the Catholic Church in a troubling development while many still celebrate Pope Francis’ inclusive-minded interview released last week.

Fr. Greg Reynolds received notification of his excommunication directly from the Vatican with no explanation provided in the Latin text. The Age notes that the notification is dated May 31, 2013, which is well into Pope Francis’ papacy and reports:

“Father Reynolds, who resigned as a parish priest in 2011 and last year founded Inclusive Catholics, said he had expected to be laicised (defrocked), but not excommunicated. But it would make no difference to his ministry.

” ‘In times past excommunication was a huge thing, but today the hierarchy have lost such trust and respect,’ he said.

” ‘I’ve come to this position because I’ve followed my conscience on women’s ordination and gay marriage.’ “

It appears that Fr. Reynolds’ archbishop in Melbourne did not submit anything to the Vatican about the priest, but that the priest was reported anonymously by someone else directly to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Archbishop Denis Hart did say the excommunication is a consequence of Fr. Reynolds’ continuing to preach and celebrate Mass after he resigned from the priesthood.

Some speculate Fr. Reynolds’ trouble is because of his support for women’s ordination, and only marginally LGBT matters. Fr. Reynolds spoke to The Herald about his excommunication and broader efforts at renewal of the Catholic Church in Australia:

“ ‘Just from my own experience, I’m aware of a number of priests who share my belief and my guesstimate would be well over half of the Australian clergy would share that belief.’

“ ‘Understandably none of them haven’t spoken out publically about it because they fear they will suffer the same fate as myself.’…

” ‘I still love the church and am committed to it, I’m just trying to bring about in my own little way to help highlight some of the failing and limitations.’ “

Last week, Pope Francis’ interview with Jesuit publications was a hopeful sign for many that the Catholic Church was moving towards an era where it is less obsessed with rules and more in a posture of mercy and dialogue. Fr. Reynolds claims that interview makes his excommunication “outdated” as the two men are working for similar ends of renewal and reform. Still the excommunication formally remains.  Does this mean that Pope Francis’ positive words on LGBT issues won’t be translated into equally positive acts from the Catholic hierarchy?  Or was this decision made too early in his papacy to be a real indicator of his attitude?  What do you think?  Offer your thoughts in the  “Comments” section of this post.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

‘Known Lesbian’ Reaches Out to Cardinal Without LGBT Friends

In mid-April, Bondings 2.0 reported on a South African cardinal who claimed to know of no LGBT individuals personally, and thus rejected any claims he could be homophobic. Now, a self-ascribed “known lesbian” has written to Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier to challenge his statements, and, in between, presents a novel argument for why Catholic prelates fight so fiercely to deny LGBT equality.

Melanie Judge’s piece was published in the Mail & Guardian, a leading African paper, under the title, “Hi, Cardinal Napier. I’m lesbian.” She begins by questioning the cardinal’s involvement on issues of sexuality if he knows of no LGBT individuals:

“For someone who doesn’t know any homosexuals, you’ve spent a considerable amount of time concerning yourself with the lives of lesbian and gay people – specifically our rights to equality and protection under the law.

“If you don’t know us, and then by implication there aren’t any of us in your church, it seems queer that you would assume such an active position in denying us our right to rights.”

Ms. Judge is not content to say that Napier is simply anti-gay.   Instead, she believes his staunch opposition to South African legislation that would legalize civil unions is merely an attempt to preserve his power, and the power of the Catholic Church, that

“…entrenches a version of social relations and human sexuality based on male supremacy, the subordination of women, and the abjection of homosexuality….Perhaps your investment in the lives of sinful others is driven by an interest in protecting that power and the ideology that props it up. If so, I can understand why you’d rail against gays, lesbians and women who challenge your ideology.”

She continues by shedding light on Napier’s attempt to make LGBT people invisible, which contradicts the Church’s call to acknowledge, welcome, and include LGBT people:

“As you would know, a powerful way to neutralise nonconforming people whose very existence challenges your church’s prescription for human interaction is to make them invisible. To deny the very existence of gay and lesbian people is to render them unknowable and unseeable. Excluding people in this way sends a message to lesbian and gay people in your church (many of whom I know and see, and I’m not even Catholic) that they will be not be acknowledged by your leadership. To deny recognition is to deny human dignity, a strategy at the heart of homophobia.”

Ms. Judge’s comments examine the desperate attempts by Catholic bishops to maintain their privilege in a society structured around heterosexual relationships and male dominance, adding the unique perspective of a South African to her critique of oppression:

“Sexuality and gender were heavily regulated and constrained under apartheid and colonialism. Women and queers ‘knew their place’ and ‘suffered’ quietly and invisibly. Now we see a burgeoning of sexual and gender diversity – it’s exciting stuff, Cardinal. It’s a sign of a plural and democratising society in which ­difference is no longer synonymous with dysfunction.

“Shunning difference and enforcing conformity is how the church has asserted its control over populations for centuries. But this unchecked grip on power has been slipping in the face of democratic pressures. I feel for you, Cardinal; it’s hard to compete with the divine prospect of freedom and equality…

“Queers and women are laying claim to the resources, recognition and representations of citizenship – both inside and outside the church. It’s the stuff of democracy and of human rights. Still, none so blind as those who will not see.”

Melanie Judge respectfully confronts Cardinal Napier for both the ignorance his statement contains and the the underlying causes driving his anti-LGBT efforts.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Lesbian Denied Communion Explains How Her Faith Has Been Strengthened

Barbara Johnson

Barbara Johnson’s story about how she was denied communion at her mother’s funeral because of her lesbian relationship has struck a nerve with Catholics–and so many other people–across the country and around the globe.  She is emerging not as a victim, however, but as a woman of faith who wants to contribute to the life of the church.

In an interview with CNN, Ms Johnson spoke of the pain of the incident, of how they want the priest removed from ministry so that no other family experiences the same pain, and that the incident has actually strengthened her faith:

“My family are very appreciate of all of the outreach we’ve received. However, we believe the only reason to be talking about this still is because we would not want any other family to go through what was the worst experience on the very worst day of all of our lives…we feel that it is important that Father Marcel is removed from parish life. . . .”

“My immediate response to this whole incident was anger and upset, and my first thought was that I would never return to the church. In the days that followed, through a lot of prayer and an outpouring of support and love from many devout Catholics and the clergy themselves its actually strengthened my faith in the Church itself.”

(You can watch the interview on CNN’s website by clicking here.)

Ms. Johnson’s statements are a testimony to how the power of the church defined as the People of God can work miracles of healing for those abused by leaders.

As evidence of the international interest in this incident, QueeringTheChurch.com, a British Catholic LGBT blog, has already reported twice about it: the first post reports the incident; the second post offers analysis and reflection.

In a Windy City Times article, Chuck Colbert reports on the messages and significance that this incident has for the church. He quotes New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo:

“What it tells me is there has to be a lot better pastoral training of priests, particularly on gay and lesbian issues.”

Colbert also cites Mary Hunt, co-founder and co-director of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER), who stated:

“The Eucharist is a sacrament, not a political football. . . .This terrible abuse of one family at a time of great pastoral need is but a snapshot of anti-LGBTQ theology in action. It is outdated, outmoded, and outrageous.”

In an op-ed, on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog, DignityUSA’s Marianne Duddy-Burke highlights the growing pastoral crisis that this incident might pre-figure:

“The reality is that this could happen to almost any one of us, given the escalating conflicts between pastoral care and the demand for adherence to a handful of socially conservative aspects of doctrine being played out in Catholic churches across the country. Whether we Catholics use birth control, have remarried after a divorce, believe that women are qualified for official ministry, or support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality, most of us hold several views that contradict official Roman Catholic teaching. Could any of us be the next Barbara Johnson?”

LezGetReal.com has posted the response of Joe Murray of the Rainbow Sash Movement,which concludes:

“The present climate of hostility to everything LGBT in the Catholic Church I fear has only encouraged this priest to take this course of action. I fear the example set by US Catholic Bishops in their open hostility to the Gay and Lesbian Community has led this priest to believe he is just following orders.”

Bondings 2.0 has already reported on this incident twice: 1) calling for Catholics to write to the Archdiocese of Washington; and 2) asking readers if and how they find any hope from this incident.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

Storm Brews Around Religiously-Themed Play

Does the thought of portraying Mary, the Blessed Mother, as a lesbian offend you?

A new play being produced in Charlotte, North Carolina does just that.  According to a report in theThe Charlotte Observer:

“The play is “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told,” an off-Broadway hit comedy written by Paul Rudnick. It opened Thursday night in Charlotte and is being staged through Feb. 18 by the Queen City Theatre Company.”

Some Catholics there have staged protests at the theatre, and the bishop of Charlotte, Bishop Bishop Peter Jugis, who, according to a Catholic News Service story in The Georgia Bulletin, said in a letter to the performing arts company:

” ‘The implication that the Blessed Virgin Mary is a lesbian is gravely offensive to Catholics and to all Christians, who hold Mary in the highest regard as the mother of the Savior. . . .Please do not allow this play to be performed. Please cancel these performances out of consideration for the religious sensibilities of Christians and all people of good will.’ “

For several reasons the protest may be somewhat overblown.

First, inThe Charlotte Observeraccount, the theater claims that the play, in fact, does not depict the Blessed Mother:

” ‘It is obvious that (people who make that claim) have not read nor have they seen the play. (The character) Mabel is Mabel. She is not The Virgin Mary. She is a woman, whether gay, straight, or whatever, that is experiencing the divine gift and miracle of a child.’ “

I can’t judge whether that statement is accurate or not because I have not seen the play.  Which is exactly the point.  It is impossible to judge an artistic project without experiencing it first hand.

Let’s assume for a moment, however, that the play does make strong allusions to the Blessed Mother, and that that character is also a lesbian.  Is that offensive to people of faith?

Clearly, there is no evidence in any of the gospels or Christian tradition to indicate Mary’s sexual orientation.  To portray her as a lesbian is obviously poetic  license, not a historical theory.  It would seem to be designed to perhaps shock people, perhaps to make them think, and perhaps to make a point about our assumptions about religion and sexuality.

One assumption that the Catholic protest exposes is that there is something wrong with being a lesbian.  Why else would it be offensive to think of Mary in that way?

In 1998, a New York theater staged Terrence McNally’s play Corpus Christi, which portrayed Jesus and his apostles as gay men.  Major protest erupted, including death threats against the playwright.  Metal detectors were set up at the theater’s entrance.

I went to see the play, and found it inspiring.  The way the drama worked, the audience came away less with any ideas about the  facts of Jesus’ and the apostles’ sexuality, but with a deeper sense of what it means to be gay and to face religious bigotry.  The play was making a contemporary message, not a historical or theological one.

In a case like this, threats of censorship by the bishop and Catholics do nothing more than encourage more people to attend the play to see what the fuss is all about.

Despite the protests, the theater company has promised that the show will go on.  The production, they say will

” ‘celebrate love, faith, belief, God, and the right to question why we exist and why are on this earth. This production will not be stopped out of fear or pressure.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Lesbian Couple’s Romance Brings Out the Love from Catholic Alumni

Megan Edwards and Katie McTurk

The love story of a lesbian couple who are alumni of St. Joseph University, Philadelphia, has touched the hearts of almost 2,000 other alums of the Jesuit university in a Facebook Valentine’s Day contest.

The St. Joseph’s University Alumni Association is running a “How I Met My Hawkmate” Facebook contest in which alums who met while at the school’s campus (called “Hawk Hill” ) were invited to post the story of their romance with photos of themselves.  The couple who received the most “likes” would become the winner.

When Megan Edwards and Katie McTurk submitted their story and photos, they were originally denied entry, and the reason was that “the alumni association claimed the decision was made because the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize same-sex relationships,” according to a news story on NBCPhiladelphia.com.

The couple used Facebook to publicize their exclusion, posting a statement “Attention All SJU Alulmni: All Alumni Are Not Considered Equal.”   Almost immediately, the alumni association’s Facebook page started receiving notes of protest from other alums.

Late in the afternoon on February 2nd, the alumni association posted the couple’s story and picture, and within an hour at had over 600 “likes” on the contest’s Facebook page.  At 10:30 a.m. on February 3rd, it had 1,844 “likes,” and that number continues to grow.

McTurk offered a comment on the situation that shows the power of the true Catholic spirit:

” ‘I never thought that many people would support us and really fight for this,’ said MacTurk. ‘I think it attests to the caliber of students that St. Joe’s produces that so many people would really stand up for what they believe is right no matter who the injustice has been committed against.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

A Habit of LGBT Equality

Over the past three years, nuns’ communities in the US have been “visited” by a Vatican appointee to assess their lives and missions.  Though the Vatican said that the reason for this visitation was the welfare of the sisters, Mary Johnson, a writer for Bloomberg.com and a former nun,  has another theory:  “American nuns frighten them.”

In an article entitled “Nuns in Street Clothing Shouldn’t Frighten Vatican,”Johnson examines how and why American nuns have been in the forefront of justice issues in society and in the church.  Singled out for special mention is a nun very dear to New Ways Ministry:

Sister Jeannine Gramick

“Liberal American sisters are courageous women. Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, continues to advocate for gay rights despite official church efforts to silence her.”

It’s no secret–though it’s not well-known, either–that high on the list of Catholic supporters of LGBT equality are nuns.  Communities of women religious have consistently been supportive of education, dialogue, and justice activities for LGBT people since the late 1970s.

After Vatican II, when nuns’ communities re-evaluated their charisms and ministries, they quickly realized that the church had long neglected lesbian/gay rights and that this was an issue that cried for justice.  They responded positively and actively.

Johnson’s article  highlights the reason that nuns can be so steadfast:

“American nuns don’t want to fight the official church, but neither are they likely to sacrifice the integrity of their consciences for the sake of peace.”

At New Ways Ministry,  we are indebted to our Sisters for financial, spiritual, and practical support over our 35 year history.  More New Ways Ministry programs have been held in convents and motherhouses than in any other type of Catholic facility by far.

Their support continues. For our upcoming Seventh National Symposium, 23 women’s religious groups have publicly endorsed the program.  20 more have provided financial and practical support for the program.  The success of the Symposium is always due to the great publicity and promotion of the event that sisters’ communities do for it. For all of our programs, the largest number of participants tend to be nuns.

The Catholic LGBT community–and New Ways Ministry, in particular–is deeply indebted to the Sisters of the church.  We should repay them with our undying support and with the greatest gift with which they have blessed us:  their unceasing prayer.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry