New #LGBTmercy Campaign Focuses on LGBT Catholics’ Good Works

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 2, 2016

LGBT Catholics, their families, and their allies are gathering in New York City today for a “Pilgrimage of Mercy.” And around the world every day, LGBT Catholics perform works of mercy for the needy in their communities.  These works sometimes get overlooked by church leaders who don’t take notice of the good that LGBT people do. #LGBTmercy, a new campaign by New Ways Ministry, highlights the many ways by which LGBT Catholics and those who support them act mercifully.

Today’s Bondings 2.0 post invites readers to participate in this campaign, while also highlighting one lesbian woman whose Catholic roots have propelled her to do good.


Building on the Vatican’s #BeMercy initiative in early September, which asked Catholics to share information about the works of mercy they perform, #LGBTmercy recognizes the many gifts and contributions which LGBT Catholics, their families, and their allies offer to the church and to the world.

You are invited to participate in this campaign in three ways:

  1. Post on social media the acts of mercy yourself or others have done and use the hashtag #LGBTmercy
  2. Submit photos and/or text about the acts of mercy yourself or others have done to
  3. Send this blog post to your family and friends, and ask them to help spread the good news of #LGBTmercy

New Ways Ministry will begin posting photos, videos, and text submissions in early November, leading up to  Christ the King Sunday, November 20th,  when the Year of Mercy concludes.

One Lesbian Woman’s Story

Covenant House, a leading non-profit with Catholic roots that aids youth experiencing homelessness, has named a lesbian woman as interim director of its newest shelter, which is located in Chicago, reported the Windy City Times.

Teresa Cortas

Teresa Cortas, who herself has Catholic roots, began working with Covenant House after graduating college. She spent a year in Anchorage, Alaska, and then Los Angeles, before eventually ending up in Chicago. There, she worked with homeless populations and with HIV-positive women and children for nearly two decades.

Early on, Cortas worked with youth around her age who were questioning their sexual identity and some who had suffered for coming out. She had journeyed herself, and explained that in adolescence church teachings had “essentially ‘shut down’ the exploration of her own sexuality.” Cortas grappled with questions of faith and sexuality while attending The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC,saying:

” I was sorting out what my attachment was to the faith. . .as opposed to ‘is there a faith separate from the church and, if so, what does that look like?’ I lived a lot in my head. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I really began to realize who I was. Prior to that, even though I was approached by many women, it never really occurred to me.

“Then it was conversations of ‘God punishing drug addicts and homosexual men’. . .At the time, I was confused because you could have said the same thing about God giving a person cancer to punish who they were. I was also intrigued to find out more about the [HIV/AIDS] epidemic.”

Cortas eventually came out to her traditionally Catholic family, her parents expressing concern she would get HIV/AIDS or be damned for leaving the church. While she no longer identifies as a practicing Catholic, Cortas still struggles with being forced to leave because “the church has asked me not to be” a member.

Years later, Cortas’ connections with the church have made possible a Covenant House shelter in Chicago. She knew President Kevin Ryan from college and had connected with former president Sr. Mary Rose McGeady. DC, in her earlier work. Cortas pushed them to bring a shelter to Chicago, and now that it has finally happened, she expressed hope and readiness about this new venture:

“Is it going to be an easy process? Not at all. . .I think Chicago has extraordinary youth agencies. My experience with them has been phenomenal. The problem is there is not enough. There is not enough space. The number of homeless kids . . . is astonishing and unacceptable and we have to do something about that.”

Cortas added that it “takes a lot of courage for us to be something other than our families. . .I don’t think enough LGBT [people] realize that. But when you do, you can really begin to fight.”


Alberta’s Catholic Schools Receive Poor Grades on LGBT Policies

Results from “Making the Grade” report

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 18, 2016

Catholic school districts in Alberta received poor grades for their LGBT policies, according to a new report from the organization “Public Interest Alberta.”

Professor Kristopher Wells authored the report, “Making the Grade,” after conducting an analysis of the LGBT policies for four school districts. Wells, who directs the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, studied the Grand Prairie Catholic Schools and the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools as part of the report. The Edmonton Journal reported further:

“Wells evaluated four policies based on six criteria, including whether it complied with provincial legislation, protected students and staff members’ privacy, and spelled out how schools will support transgender and non-binary people.

“He said shortcomings include apparent restrictions on requesting gay-straight alliances in some Catholic school districts. Grande Prairie and St. Albert Catholic districts both have policies saying the groups will ‘normally’ be established at the Grade 7-to-12 levels, that the principal has to agree to the club’s name, and must approve any material going before the group.

“The report also said some districts did not include protections for students’ families or staff who are gender diverse, and failed to spell out how transgender people will be directed to bathrooms or change rooms, and join sports teams.”

Both Catholic districts received a D, but have pushed back against Wells’ report. Karl Germann, superintendent of Grand Prairie Catholic Schools, said the provincial Ministry of Education had approved its policies on inclusion. Germann said students are “loved and cared for,” in addition to legal compliance. David Keohane, superintendent of Greater St. Alberta Catholic School District, claimed the report was incomplete.

Professor Kristopher Wells

Wells criticized the lack of a unified policy in the province, which makes finding and understanding a given district’s policies on gender and sexuality confusing. He told the Edmonton Journal:

” ‘Unequivocally, any student who walks through any school in this province should be entitled to the same supports, the same resources, the same protections regardless of where they go to school.’ “

Joel French, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, suggested the Ministry of Education post every district’s policies in a central and accessible place.Every school system in Alberta had to submit their LGBT policies for review last March. Thus far, the Ministry and Minister David Eggen have not released which districts have LGBT policies which are legally compliant and which are insufficient.

In related news, the leader of Alberta’s Liberal Party, David Swann, has said school districts which do not meet new LGBTQ standards should potentially have their funding and charters withdrawn. He told CBC:

” ‘The legislation, supported by every provincial party, and the policies set forth by the government, were created to provide kids with the right to be who they are. . .No organization, especially a school, should have the ability to take those rights away.’ “

Swann also said reparative therapy should be banned. His comments come after a Baptist leader said LGBTQ policies should and would be refused as they violate religious freedom.

Disputes about implementing policies supportive of LGBTQ students in Alberta have been ongoing for two years now. All 61 districts in the province submitted draft policies last March, but preceding these submissions there were debates in several Catholic systems. Particularly intense were disputes among the Edmonton Catholic School Board, whose meetings erupted in shouting and eventually necessitated outside mediation.

Alberta’s bishops weighed in, too, with one describing the LGBT guidelines as “totalitarian,” though the bishops eventually met with Minister Eggen. It should also be noted that the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District has spent nearly $400,000 defending its discriminatory firing of transgender teacher Jan Buterman.

The disputes in Alberta have been detrimental to students, faculty, parents, the church, and the wider community. Wells’ failing grades for these two districts may be deserved, but they should not be the case. Catholic education should receive straight A’s when it comes to welcoming and supporting its students–especially LGBTQ students. The good news is that it is never too late to reverse bad policies and renew a commitment to ensuring every student can flourish in Catholic schools.



Officials Placed on Leave After Catholic School Fired Lesbian Educator

President James Vail

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 16, 2016

Top officials at a Catholic high school which fired a lesbian educator have been placed on leave, according to the Archdiocese of Newark, though why this has happened is unclear.

Paramus Catholic High School President James Vail and Principal Stephanie Macaluso were placed on leave Monday amid uncertain circumstances. Archdiocesan spokesperson Jim Goodness only referenced a “personnel matter,” reported NJ.comand said top archdiocesan education officials would be supervising the school for now.

There is speculation, however, that the removal of Vail and Macaluso may be tied to the firing of lesbian educator Kate Drumgoole. The Record reported that some students suggested Vail and Macaluso had supported the educator against the Archdiocese. Drumgoole was fired last January after an estranged family member leaked to school officials photos of the educator’s wedding to her wife, Jaclyn Vanore.

The Archdiocese may have influenced the decision to fire Drumgoole. Archbishop John Myers is on record supporting the dismissal, saying the educator’s marriage could “create confusion and uncertainty in the moral formation” of students. His Vicar General said the couple’s marriage was “odious.”  But Goodness pushed back against this most recent personnel decision and Drumgoole’s firing, saying, “If you try to link everything together it might not be accurate.”

Christine Robert, a parent at Paramus Catholic, said the handling of this incident “shocked and unnerved” her:

” ‘Once again the archdiocese manages to mismanage a situation and create friction with the very people who spiritually and financially support it. . .All we want is a little respect. We know because of privacy laws that they can’t give details, but give us an idea of what’s going on.’ “

The firing became public in August when Drumgoole filed a lawsuit against the school and archdiocese, and an alumni letter supporting her received more than 3,000 signatures in just a day. Later, Fr. Warren Hall was suspended from priestly ministry in part because of his public support for Drumgoole and LGBT Catholics. They are among the more than 60 church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes since 2008.

Like other church worker incidents, the firing at Paramus Catholic has caused divisions in the community and harm to those involved. Commentaries have sharply criticized the school and the archdiocese, pointing out that while the school may be legally exempt from state non-discrimination laws, it is not exempt from the New Testament.

Transparency is a prerequisite for justice and reconciliation to be possible, and placing top administrators on leave without any explanation only hinders that cause. It would be especially tragic if more church workers lose their jobs for defending a peer against unjust discrimination. The Archdiocese of Newark should clearly and publicly explain why President Vail and Principal Macaluso have been placed on leave tor the good of all involved, the Paramus Catholic community, and the credibility of the church.


Ahead of Labor Day, Archbishop Supports Firing of Lesbian Church Worker

Kate Drumgoole, right, with wife Jaclyn Vanore

Newark’s archbishop has endorsed a Catholic high school’s firing of lesbian educator Kate Drumgoole, even as support for her grows.

Today, Bondings 2.0 focuses on the archbishop’s comments and legal case surrounding Drumgoole’s firing. Tomorrow, we will take up reactions to the firing from Catholics and others in the local community.

Archbishop John Myers said in a statement that Drumgoole’s same-gender marriage to Jaclyn Vanore could “create confusion and uncertainty in the moral formation” of students, reported The Record. He affirmed Paramus Catholic High School’s firing of Drumgoole, which he described as “corrective steps” taken to protect the church’s mission and identity.

Drumgoole, a beloved Dean of Guidance and women’s basketball coach at Paramus Catholic, was fired in January after her wife’s estranged sister sent pictures of the couple to school officials. These photos were not public, according to The Record.

Last month, Drumgoole filed a discrimination lawsuit against the high school and the Archdiocese of Newark. A judge denied Paramus Catholic’s motion to dismiss on First Amendment grounds, and the case has now entered a year-long discovery period.

At this point, the case seems to hinge on whether Drumgoole’s work was ministerial in nature , which would exempt the school from state non-discrimination protections. Drumgoole’s lawyers, Eric and Lawrence Kleiner, argue that the educator was not a minister and that Paramus Catholic cannot practice selective portions of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination while dispensing other portions.

To this end, the lawyers will be interviewing school employees whose personal lives contradict church teaching, and yet who have not been fired. This evidence may reveal a “big dichotomy,” they say, showing selective enforcement of church teaching in such a way that discriminates against LGBT people. The Record explained:

” ‘This is a rare case where, in our estimation, based on the paperwork that’s been provided, the defense is not claiming it was a budgetary concern, they replaced somebody because of poor performance. They are openly admitting that same sex led to the determination to terminate her. So this is a direct of discrimination,’ Eric Kleiner said. ‘Which will be attacked directly in discovery.’

“In paperwork filed in the defense motion, a monsignor said he found Drumgoole’s conduct to be ‘odious,’ Eric Kleiner said. ‘Odious is an extremely revolting and repulsive statement. That bespeaks where we’ll be going on discovery.’ “

Eric Kleiner told The Record that Drumgoole’s heroism in seeking justice “will not be muted or diffused or lessened by the extremely harsh and divisive language given by the Archbishop.” Lawrence Kleiner spoke of the division in the Catholic Church on LGBT equality, saying the archbishop was “taking an issue that has already divided its members and turning it into a chasm.” And Drumgoole said the couple was humbled by the support they have received, and that this case was about more than their marriage:

” ‘This is an issue for individuals and families. And not necessarily simply families who have individuals who are gay or who are involved in same-sex marriage. But just individuals who believe in equality and believe that people should be able to love freely — and still be employed where they’re employed.’ “

Many people in the Newark area, and particularly Catholics, have taken interest in this case because of the archbishop’s checkered history.

Mark Crawford, New Jersey state director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told The Record that Myers was “hypocritical” and “backward” because “[h]e’ll protect those clergy he knows abused children yet hold these hard-line positions against people who love each other.”

Alfred P. Doblin,  The Record’s editorial page editor, recalled the case of former priest Michael Fugee to sharpen this contrast. Fugee’s conviction of sexually assaulting a child was overturned only because of a judicial error. Under Myer’s leadership, the priest returned to ministry and even had unsupervised contact with children despite signing a memorandum with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office to avoid minors.

At the time, Myers said that Fugee’s case had “more grays than black and white,” but Doblin questioned where the grays were and said there was “no consistency in the way Myers has dealt with church employees.” Doblin concluded:

“[Myers] writes, ‘The invitation to join in the life of the Church does not include an invitation to alter or redefine what the Church believes and teaches, nor is it an invitation to allow others to define the identity, mission and message of the Church.’

“How, then, does Myers justify his own past actions? He writes that the church acts only on facts. Only when ‘credible evidence’ comes to the attention of the archdiocese that an employee is violating the tenets of the Catholic faith will there be an investigation and appropriate action. . .

“Myers contorted himself to defend the indefensible: the continued ministry of Michael Fugee when there were more-than-credible allegations that the man was a sexual predator. . .The archbishop’s actions speak louder than his letter.”

The Star-Ledger editorialized further that church leaders who shelter abusive priests are “what really endangers the moral formation of students,” adding:

“Since 75-year-old Myers will not go quietly into the already large, $700,000 weekend house he used $500,000 in church funds to expand into a 7,500 square foot retirement mansion, let’s review the moral foundation it was built on. Not only did Myers refuse to release the names of priests credibly accused of child abuse during his 15-year tenure, like other churches do, he protected some of them personally. . .

“Would Jesus really tell this woman her lifestyle is ‘odious’ because she’s gay, while protecting pedophile priests? If students learn anything from that, it’s bigotry and hypocrisy.”

Myers has a notably negative record on LGBT issues. Last week, he suspended Fr. Warren Hall from priestly ministry, having fired him last year from directing Campus Ministry at Seton Hall University because Hall expressed support for the NOH8 Campaign. Myers released a 2015 memorandum to church ministers saying people in same-gender civil marriages, and even Catholics who support marriage equality, should be denied Communion. He made this same point when New Jersey was debating marriage equality. Thankfully, in both cases, his words were largely ignored.

Tomorrow’s post for Labor Day examine the ways Catholics have responded supportively to the cases of Kate Drumgoole, Fr. Warren Hall, and many other unjustly fired church workers.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 60 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

In Wake of Student’s Suicide, Catholic Parents Call for Safe Schools

Daniel Fitzpatrick

Catholic parents of LGBT children are expressing their sorrow over a teenager’s suicide in New York, as well as their commitment to ensuring Catholic education is safe for all students.

Daniel Fitzpatrick died by suicide on August 11, having faced intense bullying from classmates at Holy Angels Catholic Academy in Brooklyn. He left a note in which Fitzpatrick said, “I gave up. The teachers didn’t do anything. . .I wanted to get out.”

The Board of Fortunate Families, an organization by and for Catholic parents of LGBT children, released a statement on Monday saying it was “saddened to hear” about Fitzpatrick’s death:

“We on the board of Fortunate Families are painfully aware that any child who is badgered and bullied is at greater risk for isolation, marginalization, depression, and sadly, suicide. Catholic Social Teaching holds that all of our children are persons who deserve life, dignity, respect and the freedom to live their potential to the fullest. All our children deserve to be educated in environments that embody that social teaching.”

A board member who lost a child to suicide acknowledged that suicide is the second leading cause of death in young adults and that suicides are deeply painful for the families and communities left behind. As they bury their son and brother, the Fitzpatrick family is considering, too, how to end bullying. A crowdfunding page which sought to raise money for unexpected funeral expenses has now raised more than $120,000. The family said they wish to use these funds to “give Daniel a proper memorial, as well as shine a bright light on the bullying that killed him. . .and allow for his legacy to live on.”

The student’s father, Daniel Fitzpatrick, posted a heart-wrenching video to Facebook. He spoke lovingly about his son, and affirmed his own commitment to intervene against bullying if he encounters it, including against LGBT youth:

“No parent should have to bury their child. No child should have to go through what my son went through. . .Bullying unfortunately is an epidemic. It ain’t right. . .If I ever see any child in my life from now on and I witness them and I see doesn’t matter if its boy, girl, straight, bi, transgender now. If they’re bullied, I will knock them out.”

Though Fitzpatrick did not identify as an LGBT person as far as anyone knew (he was bullied about his weight and his grades), his death is a moment for Catholic educators to reflect on the myriad ways in which schools are made unsafe. This includes problems for students of diverse sexual and gender identities, and students who may be questioning their identities. The Fortunate Families Board continued:

“We call on all involved in Catholic education to re-double efforts to prevent bullying and assist each child to reach their full potential, regardless of physical attributes, academic achievements or other characteristics which may make a student seem ‘different.’

“Although too late for Daniel, we are glad to see that the Brooklyn Diocese is re-examining its bullying prevention policies and training, and we pray that these also apply to students bullied because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Catholic education intends to form young people through faith to live flourishing lives, and to live authentically as themselves in service to others. As such, the church’s educational ministries should be sanctuaries for young people to come to know themselves, discern deep questions, and feel God’s love. Mercy and inclusion should be the hallmarks of every Catholic school. Earlier this week, educator Kevin Welbes Godin of Egale Canada wrote about the work Ontario’s teachers have done to create safer Catholic schools for LGBT students.

That good work is happening elsewhere, but is not widespread enough yet, and it is not happening quickly enough. As another school year begins, and we pray for Daniel Fitzpatrick and his family, let us each consider how we – as parents, as students, as teachers, as alumni, and as the faithful – might contribute so that Catholic education is safer and more inclusive of all God’s children.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis Plants Seeds for Equality at World Youth Day

PF WYD 2016World Youth Day 2016 concluded yesterday, ending a crowded week of catechetical programs and prayer opportunities in Krakow.

Frank DeBernardo and I had hoped that Pope Francis would acknowledge gay Holocaust victims during his visit to Auschwitz, or use the week-long program to apologize to LGBT people hurt by the church, but neither occurred publicly. Still, I sense a different and powerful current happening at this World Youth Day through which Pope Francis is leading younger Catholics towards a reforming and renewing church.

Addressing youth at a prayer vigil on Saturday evening, Pope Francis urged attendees to “leave a mark on history” by being active in the world, uninhibited by fear and inspired by prayer. The pope said God seeks to work “one of the greatest miracles we can experience” through people’s own works.  He focused specifically on seeking reconciliation and unity:

“[God] wants to turn your hands, my hands, our hands, into signs of reconciliation, of communion, of creation. . .to continue building the world of today. And [God] wants to build that world with you. . .

“Thinking that in this world, in our cities and our communities, there is no longer any room to grow, to dream, to create, to gaze at new horizons – in a word to live – is one of the worst things that can happen to us in life. When we are paralyzed, we miss the magic of encountering others, making friends, sharing dreams, walking at the side of others. . .

“Today, we adults need you to teach us how to live in diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity. Have the courage to teach us that it is easier to build bridges than walls!”

He had made a similar call to radical and hospitable discipleship during the Way of the Cross earlier in the week, too. And at the closing Mass on Sunday, Francis preached about God’s unconditional love and said “that not to accept ourselves. . .means not to recognize our deepest identity” as children of God. His homily on the Gospel story of Zacchaeus and Jesus also spoke extensively about the “paralysis of shame,” which should give way to the courage of living life.

Though Francis did not comment on LGBT issues, they were surely present throughout WYD in  personal conversations, catechetical sessions, and, most fundamentally, the lives of attendees. What the pope did emphasize many times are concepts like reconciliation, diversity, encounter, and dialogue. He affirmed young people struggling with questions about life or faith. These words may have challenged some attendees, but they likely confirmed what many young Catholics already know and are living out as they work for a more inclusive and just church for all.

So why and how are Pope Francis’ remarks relevant for LGBT advocates? His remarks to youth are subtly but importantly different from his predecessors’ remarks at youth events. Francis does not want youth to become the next generation of Catholics obsessed with opposing LGBT rights or other culture war issues. He focuses less on these issues and more on being a welcoming church that mediates God’s inclusive love.

But Francis is not just instructing young Catholics. He is reminding them of what they already know and what they are already doing.  In many situations, they have already been living Francis’ message in their work for LGBT justice.  Young Catholics are, in many regions, the most affirming group in the church. They are demanding that the church’s ministers and leaders be more pro-active when it comes to equality. Young Catholics have led the church by promoting reconciliation in their own families, schools, and communities. They embrace diversity, and they are courageously living out diverse sexual and gender identities in greater numbers than ever before. They are encountering the world with a real openness about LGBT issues, even in conservative regions.

Young Catholics can readily see that the church cannot preach hospitality if it turns away people because of their gender identities. They understand that embracing diversity must include embracing diverse sexual identities and expressions. They understand that not only can the church help reconciliation in the world, but that the church has deep wounds around gender and sexuality which must be attended to as well.

Francis seems unable or unwilling to apply his otherwise wonderful words explicitly to LGBT injustices within the church. The key now is for Pope Francis and church leaders to reverse the process of instruction. Following Jesus’ words, the pope and his staff should instead learn from the children. Such instruction would help church leaders see the new horizons towards which God calls the church. World Youth Day reminded me that young Catholics are cultivating and harvesting the seeds of equality planted by Pope Francis and an older generation of social justice Catholics.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Around the Globe, LGBT Progress in Catholic Education is Slow, But Happening

handsCatholic education is a foremost way by which the church influences the world, educating millions of students, Catholic and non-Catholic, globally. Given this impact, how church officials address LGBT issues matters significantly and is therefore, frequently, a source of contention. But when done well, Catholic education can do much good for LGBT youth and their peers. This Bondings 2.0 post highlights how the complexities are playing out in several countries.


The Catholic Church in Scotland will begin training its teachers for gender and sexuality competency inclusive of LGBTI concerns, reported Pink NewsA church spokesperson said the church has a “zero tolerance approach” to end discrimination, continuing:

” ‘The Church is working with the Catholic Head Teacher association to ensure that all teachers have adequate knowledge, understanding, and training and feel confident in addressing all aspects of relationships education, including LGBTI matters, in an appropriate and sensitive way.’ “

This commitment comes as the whole nation of Scotland  focuses on inclusion in schools, led by the campaign Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) and endorsed by all major political parties. Sixteen years ago, legislators repealed Section 28 which had barred gay-positive education in schools. The repeal did, however, not address what material should be taught. TIE’s objective now, according to The Heraldis “calling for mandatory teaching of LGBTI issues in schools to end discrimination and bullying” to save lives and equalize all students.

Questions remain about how the church’s stated commitment will be concretely enacted, given negative church teachings on homosexuality, For instance, working only through Catholic organizations may limit engagement with actual LGBT people and their families. KaleidoScot noted:

“The ‘appropriate and sensitive’ way to deal with such matters would arguably be through engagement with the very people directly affected, and liaison with teaching unions and other non-Catholic organisations would surely inform the Church’s thinking. The statement also fails to give any commitment to the teaching of LGBTI matters in Catholic schools. Furthermore, in some respects, the Church spokesperson’s statement suggests that it fails to see the need for significant changes in the way its schools operate.”

It remains to be seen what the Scottish Catholic Church’s commitment to training teachers will mean; hopefully, it will involve liberating education rather then relying on past methods which have suppressed LGBT students and staff.


In Australia, politicians are debating the Safe Schools Program to assist LGBT students, and the discussion has emerged in Catholic circles.

Peter Norden, a professor at RMIT University and a former Jesuit priest, said failing to support LGBT youth may violate international law.  Norden  published an article in the Australian Journal of Human Rights saying church teaching about homosexuality can harm young students. According to The Age, he wrote :

” ‘In many ways, same-sex attracted students are being asked to remain voiceless and invisible in some Catholic schools. . .For students that are same-sex attracted, they can be treated like second class citizens.’ “

Australian Catholic schools, which educate a fifth of the country’s students, may violate the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child, Norden said. This Convention guarantees free expression, protection from violence, and dignified education. But a 2006 study of Catholic school students by Norden found high rates of self-injury and suicide, calling into question whether church officials were attending to LGBT youth’s needs:

” ‘You would hope an organisation that values empathy, mercy and engagement might have cause to review their situation.”

LGBT organizations have expressed concerns with Catholic education which, as in the United States, has religious exemptions for how it operates. Micah Scott of the Minus 18, an LGBTI youth organization, told The Age:

” ‘Many topics, including sexual and gender diversity, are unspoken. It sends a message to already vulnerable young people that who they are is institutionally forbidden, and that they should be ashamed of their identity.’ “

Catholic officials have pushed back on these claims, including Ross Fox who directs the National Catholic Education Commission and Stephen Elder, chief executive of Catholic Education Melbourne, who said schools were already focusing on eliminating bullying and unsafe behaviors.

On the other hand, Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher’s election document listed the Safe Schools Program as one of the top four issues about which Catholics should be concerned, two others being religious liberty and marriage. The document says the Program “introduces children and teens to the concept of ‘gender fluidity’ and includes activites such as role-playing being in a sexually active same-sex relationship.”

Intrachurch conflicts were apparent, too, during a panel at the National Catholic Education Commission Conference held in June, reported The Record. Panelists largely opposed a proposed plebiscite on marriage equality, including Bishop Greg O’Kelly of Port Pirie who said the church should not campaign on the issue, but also that same-gender marriages have “submerged” the rights of children. But Carmel Nash, deputy chair of Catholic School Parents Australia, said though the church’s teachings should be respected, “many parents have probably, rightly or wrongly, moved on from the at view” and they should be respected having done so, too.


Alberta’s Catholic schools have been wracked by LGBT controversy for over a year. The Edmonton Catholic School Board ‘s consideration of a transgender policy led to one meeting become a “shouting match” last fall.  Additionally, the Board approved“just discrimination” in schools as a draft policy last December.

A new independent report questions whether the Board remains viable, noted the CBC. Donald Cummings, a consultant and the report’s author, described the Edmonton Boards governance challenges as “systemic, deep and resistant to change.” He said third-party mediation would be necessary to resolve problems. Alberta’s Education Minister, David Eggen, has intervened and assigned a deputy minister to oversee improvements by and greater accountability for the Board.

Catholic educators worldwide are increasingly being asked to grapple with LGBT inclusion and support, as more students come out and at younger ages, and more faculty and staff enter into same-gender relationships or marriages.

But one Canadian school in Toronto, Loretto College School, revealed a powerful way forward that helps entire communities. Jenna Tenn-Yuk, a spoken word artist, reported on Health and Wellness day at the all-girls high school. During  the day’s assembly, the school’s chaplain and six other staff affirmed LGBT students and championed gay-straight alliances. Tenn-Yuk wrote on her blog:

“Staff were standing in solidarity with LGBTQ+ students at the front of the school. . .I was deeply moved and quite emotional before I had to speak. I kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is happening right now. How would my life be different is this happened at my Catholic high school?’ . . .

“There was so much light and warmth in the room and it was an honour to be in that space. This is the start of something beautiful and will impact generations of students to come.”

That light and warmth should be what every student in Catholic education experiences, especially those who are marginalized like LGBT students. This post shows that while progress is, in many ways, being made, much work remains.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry