01/29/17

Gay pastor returns to Kenosha after being outed and ousted

First United Methodist Church to publicly apologize

First United Methodist The Rev. Justin Elliott Lowe of Kenosha\’s First United Methodist Church, center, stands with members of the reconciling committee, from left, Jessica DeBoer, Len Wojciechowicz and his wife Laura. The church is welcoming back to Kenosha a gay clergy member who was outed and ousted from the congregation more than 30 years ago.

BY DANIEL GAITAN

The Rev. Kevin Johnson was outed and forced out of First United Methodist Church in Kenosha when he affirmed his gay orientation in 1981.

Now more than 30 years later, the church, 919 60th St., will publicly apologize for its actions during its Weekend of Reconciliation.

Johnson, 63, and his husband, Michael Shear, will travel from Palm Springs, Calif., to Kenosha for the Feb. 4-5 festivities, which will include plenty of preaching, prayer and tears.

“The invitation to host my husband and me was a long time coming. It was welcome, though it will not be easy,” Johnson wrote in an opinion piece published in The Desert Sun, the Palm Springs newspaper.

‘Devastated’

“More years have passed since my dismissal than my age when I first entered the church’s doors,” Johnson said. “Their 1981 rejection devastated my career dreams. I had to build a new life in the business world.”

For 20 years, Johnson said he was separated from his professional calling.

“That hurt badly. But I was never separated from my faith. I always sensed God’s love,” he said.

That helped him co-found Bloom in the Desert Ministries in 2002.

He said this is the first time since 1972 — when the United Methodist Church said, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” — that a local church is reconciling publicly with a former pastor affected by the decree.

News of Johnson’s return has sparked warm headlines across the nation.

“Times have changed, and young gay men are more confident in themselves,” Johnson told the Kenosha News.

Opposition

Official United Methodist Church law prohibits gay clergy, but the Kenosha church is one of a growing number of congregations now fighting it.

First United overwhelmingly voted last summer to identify as a Reconciling Ministries Congregation. It decided to welcome the LGBTQI (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Intersex) community, despite official restrictions still imposed by the church’s official disciple book.

“I’m thrilled to be able to come back and spend time with friends and meet new people having an influence on the congregation to be more inclusive,” Johnson said. “I am coming back with a full heart.”

Outed and ousted

The Rev. Kevin Johnson

Johnson said being outed and publicly forced out of a job in his late 20s devastated him.

He said a private conversation with a church member who questioned his sexuality was made public, which triggered the backlash against him.

“For years, it was very difficult for me to be a part of a church organization,” Johnson said.

“It was very difficult for the first decade after. I barely went to church at all. I had lost all confidence in human beings who claimed to be loving persons in the Christian church.”

Although Johnson made a career in business around the turn of the millennium, he felt called to launch his own ministry.

Bloom in the Desert Ministries in Palm Springs is designed to be a safe space and sanctuary for anyone experiencing spiritual abuse and religious discrimination related to gender identity, sexual orientation or ethnic heritage.

“I hope other churches who dismissed pastors for this very reason will do the same thing and decide that they want to be reconciled with the people they wronged in the past,” Johnson said.

Johnson left the Methodist Church and joined the United Church of Christ.

Accepting all Christians

The Rev. Justin Elliott Lowe, pastor of First United, said he is proud of his congregation for its support of Johnson.

Lowe said homosexuality and Christianity are not incompatible, so reaching out to this community is honoring Christ.

“I think the whole idea of sexuality in the Bible and what kind of gets explained as the ‘Christian’ understanding of sexuality isn’t quite accurate and isn’t quite theologically grounded,” Lowe said, adding that the Bible fails to offer a clear-cut set of teachings regarding sexuality, gender and even marriage.

He said the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality are far more complex than a sound bite or single verse pulled out of context during Sunday service.

“People just say ‘(homosexuality) is in the Bible; here’s what it says,’ when there are so many layers and things are misinterpreted between Greek and Hebrew to English,” Lowe said. “You can be a Christian and be gay — and practice your sexuality.”

At the core of Christianity, Lowe said, is a spirit of radical reconciliation.

Welcoming everyone

Jessica DeBoer, a member of the church’s Reconciling Committee, said the church has made a commitment to welcome everyone as equals.

“It’s very exciting,” DeBoer said. “I think as more people know about it, it will help bring people in. It’s really important that we welcome everybody.”

DeBoer said few members of the church were around when Johnson was forced out, but the “wound” remains in the minds of many.

“This is absolutely a huge part of our past as a church family,” DeBoer said. “It was the elephant in the room, especially now that we have openly become this accepting congregation.”

Complete Article HERE!

01/29/17

Vatican confirms Apuron trial; canon lawyers say trial could last for years

“Defrock Apuron” and “Apuron Out” signs are scattered throughout a picket line at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica in Hagåtña on Jan. 29, 2017.

By Haidee V Eugenio

The Vatican has confirmed Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron’s canonical trial is ongoing, and some leading canon law experts said it could last for years.

Vatican policy dictates that only Rome can investigate bishops and archbishops who are accused of sexual abuse.

Besides undergoing a canonical trial in Rome, Apuron is also facing lawsuits filed in the Superior Court of Guam for allegedly raping and sexually abusing altar boys in the 1970s.

“This is new ground, as no bishop I am aware of, who sexually abused children, has ever finished a canonical trial,” Attorney Patrick J. Wall, a world-renowned expert on canonical trials and the Catholic clergy abuse crisis, said.

Wall is a former priest and Benedictine monk. He left the Catholic ministry after he felt he was used to help cover up other clergymen’s sex abuses. He has since been advocating for hundreds of clergy abuse survivors.

“Archbishop [Jozef] Wesolowski, Papal Nuncio to Haiti, died prior to the completion of his canonical trial in Rome,” said Wall, author of “Sex, Priests and Secret Codes,” a leading book on the 2,000-year history of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Apuron, who has been Guam’s archbishop for nearly 31 years, turns 72 on Nov. 1. Under church law, bishops are required to resign at 75.

Attorney Jennifer Haselberger, also a leading canon lawyer based in Minnesota, said Apuron always has the right to request retirement or to tender his resignation before the conclusion of his canonical trial. She said the same is true of accused priests.

“However, if he believes himself innocent, he is unlikely to do so,” Haselberger said. “Moreover, with either of those resolutions, he would simply become emeritus archbishop, meaning that he retains all the privileges of an archbishop, and your diocese is still responsible for his financial support.”

On Oct. 31, 2016, Pope Francis named Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes, of Detroit, Michigan, to succeed Apuron should Apuron retire, resign or is removed.

Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai said as early as 2015, the Vatican was already searching for an Apuron successor.

Hon, who temporarily led the Catholic Church on Guam when Pope Francis placed Apuron on leave on June 6, 2016,, said the early search was made because of concerns about Apuron’s leadership, allegations of sex abuse against him and his health problems.

Apuron is the first bishop who has served on Guam to undergo a canonical trial.

‘Unique’

Attorney Michael Pfau, a leading Washington State-based lawyer who has represented hundreds of clergy abuse survivors in multiple states, said the Guam situation is “unique” because its own archbishop is the one accused of abuse.

Archbishop Michael Byrnes joins Defrock Apuron’ protests

“Most cases involve a bishop accused of covering up the abuse of his priests,” said Pfau, who also handled cases involving abuse by the bishop’s close advisers.

Pfau has been working with the Guam-based law office of Dooley Roberts Fowler & Visosky LLP on clergy abuse cases.

The Holy See Press Office at the Vatican confirmed that Apuron’s canonical trial is ongoing. However, the office said it cannot release other information until after the trial is over, and referred further questions about the trial to the local archdiocese, the Archdiocese of Agana.

Byrnes, the first church official to state, in November, that Apuron’s canonical trial had started, just recently returned to Guam. The archdiocese said Byrnes arrived on Jan. 23.

“A canonical trial can certainly last for years,” Haselberger said. “Unlike with the civil courts, the judges and other officials will likely have other jobs, possibly in other parts of the world. So, the times in which they can assemble to proceed may be limited and cause delay.”

Haselberger previously served as chancellor for canonical affairs at the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, but resigned in April 2013 in protest of the archdiocese’s handling of accusations of clergy sexual abuse.

In 2013, Haselberger established Canonical Consultation and Services LLC. She has served on independent review boards and is a noted speaker on issues relating to canon law and the Catholic Church.

Trial process

Wall provided a general outline of the canonical trial process, which begins with the complaint filed by the prosecutor or what the Catholic Church calls the Promoter of Justice, at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican.

The Promoter of Justice is the Rev. Robert Geisinger, an American Jesuit from Chicago, Illinois, said Wall. Geisinger’s office, when contacted about the Apuron trial, declined to comment.

Apuron’s advocate will likely be a priest, and must be a canon lawyer, Wall said. Since 1991, Wall has consulted on more than 1,000 abuse cases and has been helping lawyers pick apart defenses that dioceses from around the nation have mounted.

Byrnes said in November that the initial phase of the canonical trial started and the tribunal had been established.

Wall said this means Apuron has the written charge from the Promoter of Justice. The Archdiocese of Agana so far has not released information about the specific charges Apuron is facing, other than saying they involve sexual abuse allegations.

“This is important, and can impact the possible outcomes. You may be aware of accusations, but that does not mean that those accusations are part of the trial. Getting clarity on what accusations he is facing would be most helpful,” Haselberger said.

The discovery phase of the canonical trial is where both sides will depose witnesses and interview experts, and this could take months, Wall said.

Outcomes

The discovery phase is followed by the trial and determination by a panel of three clerical judges, with penalties up to and including dismissal from the clerical state, Wall said.

“If a lower penalty such as ‘prayer and penance’ is imposed, then the Pope will need to assign him (Apuron) to a monastery or some other appropriate location,” he added.

Haselberger said there are ways for canonical trials to end without the verdict of the turnus, or the judges appointed to decide the case.

A verdict could be issued by extrajudicial decree, usually done when the penalty is only for a few years rather than perpetual, she said.

Or if guilt is evident, she added, the court could recommend that dismissal be issued by the Holy Father without prolonging trial.

“The latter circumstance does not admit of an appeal. The others do, during which the suspension of the sentence is held in abeyance. However, any precautionary penalties, those that the archbishop is under now, such as being absent from the diocese, would continue,” Haselberger said.

The Concerned Catholics of Guam and the Laity Forward Movement continue to advocate for Apuron to be defrocked or removed from clerical ministry.

“We worry that there may be some compromise or settlement solution being worked out with Apuron. We implore the Vatican officials not to let him get away without being seriously disciplined, and not rewarded,” said David Sablan, president of the Concerned Catholics of Guam.

Sablan said the only thing that should be worked out “is for Apuron to be removed from service to our archdiocese and laicized for the shame he has caused our Church.”

“He has lost the trust of the people of Guam who had always looked up to him for moral and spiritual guidance, only to now know it was all a ruse to forward his own personal agenda and to help his Neocatechumenal [Way] friends who are complicit in causing this division and mistrust within our church,” Sablan added.

Complete Article HERE!

01/27/17

C of E bishops refuse to change stance on gay marriage

Report says marriage can only be between a man and a woman but says church must stand against homophobia

Bishops have met four times since last July when the two-year process of ‘shared conversations’ on sexuality ended.

BY

Church of England bishops have upheld traditional teaching that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, in a move that has infuriated campaigners for gay rights and risks further alienating the church from wider society.

After two years of intense internal discussion involving clergy and laity – and at least two decades of bitter division within the church – the bishops have produced a report reaffirming that marriage is “a union permanent and life-long, of one man and one woman”.

The church should not “adapt its doctrine to the fashions of any particular time”, said Graham James, the bishop of Norwich, at a press conference to present the report.

However, church law and guidance should be interpreted to provide “maximum freedom” for gay and lesbian people without a change of doctrine – meaning clergy will have some leeway in individual cases – the report said. “Maximum freedom has no definition but it’s part of this exploration we’re engaged in,” said James.

While calling for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for lesbians and gays, the report offered no concrete change.

Gay campaigners within the church denounced the report as “cruel” and an “utter failure” that could herald an increase in clerical disobedience over issues around sexuality.

Bishops have met four times since last July, when the two-year process of “shared conversations” on sexuality ended. Their report will be discussed at next month’s synod but no vote will be taken on its substance.

The report suggests that everyone seeking ordination or appointment as bishops should face questions about their lifestyle, irrespective of their personal sexual orientation. At the moment, gay ordinands and clergy are required to commit to celibacy even if they are in long-term relationships.

James denied the bishops were proposing a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. All ordinands and clergy were expected to commit to “fashion [their] own life … according to the way of Christ” but, James said, current questioning was overly focused on sexual activity, with an explicit expectation that gay and lesbian clergy should be celibate.

Instead, “questioning about sexual morality should form a part of a wider examination” or heterosexual and gay ordinands and clergy.

The bishops also say the church needs to repent of homophobic attitudes of the past and stand against homophobia.

Current advice to clergy, which allows them to provide “informal prayers” to same-sex couples in civil partnerships or marriages, should be clarified, the bishops said. However, the report does not propose official church blessings.

The church said the document represented the consensus of opinion among bishops rather than a unanimous view. The bishops also stressed their report was part of a process rather than an attempt at a final resolution.

However, James acknowledged “it’s possible there will never be an end [to the process]”.

He said: “We hope the tone and register of this report will help to commend it, though we recognise it will be challenging reading for some.

“This is no last word on this subject. For there are very different views on same-sex relationships within the church, and within the house of bishops, mainly based on different understandings of how to read scripture.”

At the press conference, the bishop acknowledged the church faced a tension between “fidelity to the scriptures, the traditions … and the culture of our times. This is why it’s such a testing issue for the church to deal with. But I don’t think that if the church adapted its doctrine to the fashions of any particular time, that would mean it would be expressing the historic faith.”

Jayne Ozanne, a prominent campaigner for equality within the C of E, said the report was “unbelievable, unacceptable and ungodly”.

“Being nice to us whilst hitting us is still abuse,” she said, adding: “The nation will look on incredulous, and yet again will recoil from a church that fails to show love or understanding to those it has constantly marginalised and victimised.”

The report “fails to recognise the mounting evidence that was given of the prolonged and institutionalised spiritual abuse that has been meted out against the LGBT community. To demand that they be celibate for life because of their sexual orientation, and to only recognise one interpretation of scripture on the matter is cruel, unjust and ungodly.”

Andrew Foreshew-Cain, a vicar who married his partner in 2014 in defiance of church rules, said the report was an “utter failure of leadership”.

The trust that bishops had demanded from gay and lesbian Christians had been betrayed, he said, adding: “Now it’s time to get on with it ourselves, to start trying to provide what they have failed to provide: a genuine welcome to gay Christians.”

He anticipated an increase in clergy offering de facto services of blessing to same-sex couples in civil partnerships or marriages.

The church said it recognised that some clergy were defying church rules at the moment. “But there’s much less disobedience than people imagine,” said James. “Rebel clergy” would be dealt with on an individual basis by bishops, the church said.

Simon Sarmiento, the chair of the LGBTI Mission, said the key feature of the report was procrastination. But he added: “The bishops’ intent to change the tone of the C of E debate will be a serious challenge for conservative Christians.”

Reform, a conservative organisation within the C of E, said it was grateful that the bishops were not proposing changes to the church’s doctrine of marriage. But it voiced concern about “permitting maximum freedom within this law. In adopting a framework which seeks to take a middle path between biblical truth and cultural sensitivities, the bishops have ensured theological incoherence and hypocrisy will prevail for the foreseeable future.”

Complete Article HERE!

01/25/17

Longtime leader of clergy victims group leaves as SNAP faces lawsuit

L-R Robert Brooks and David Clohessy speak outside the Catholic Diocese on September 7, 2006. Brooks and Clohessy are calling for the diocese to post on its Web site the names of any clergy who have been disciplined in any way related to abuse allegations.

By DAVID GIBSON

A fixture in the organization working for children sexually abused by Catholic priests has resigned his post, an announcement that coincides with a lawsuit from a former employee alleging the group colluded with lawyers to refer clients and profit from settlements.

David Clohessy, longtime executive director of SNAP, or the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Tuesday that he left in December and his departure had nothing to do with the lawsuit, which was filed in Illinois on Jan. 17.

“Not at all,” Clohessy said by phone from his home in St. Louis, where SNAP has its main office. “My last day was five weeks ago, before this lawsuit ever happened.”

The lawsuit by Gretchen Rachel Hammond names Clohessy and other SNAP leaders as defendants and alleges that “SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors — it exploits them.”

The group, which more than any other is responsible for revealing the scandals that have continued to rock Catholicism in the U.S. and around the world, “routinely accepts financial kickbacks from attorneys in the form of ‘donations,’ ” Hammond alleges.

“In exchange for the kickbacks, SNAP refers survivors as potential clients to attorneys, who then file lawsuits on behalf of the survivors against the Catholic Church. These cases often settle, to the financial benefit of the attorneys and, at times, to the financial benefit of SNAP, which has received direct payments from survivors’ settlements.”

Hammond, who worked on fundraising for SNAP from 2011 until 2013, said she feared reprisals from SNAP leaders over her objections to the lawyers’ payments and suffered serious health problems as a result. She said she was fired in 2013, allegedly because she confronted her bosses over their practices with victims’ attorneys and that the dismissal has hurt her career.

The lawsuit was first reported by National Catholic Reporter.

It long has been assumed that SNAP received substantial donations from some of the high-profile attorneys who specialize in these cases and who have won multimillion-dollar settlements from the Catholic Church in the U.S. and its insurance companies.

But Hammond’s filing shows how critical such donations are to SNAP’s survival: It asserts, for example, that 81 percent of the $437,407 in donations SNAP received in 2007 came from victims’ lawyers, and 65 percent of the $753,596 it raised in 2008 came from attorneys.

More problematic is Hammond’s allegation that SNAP worked hand in glove with victims’ attorneys and received “direct payments from survivors’ settlements.”

“The allegation is explosive because it’s unethical,” Jeff Anderson, a prominent Minnesota attorney who has represented victims of clergy sex abuse, told the Chicago Tribune.

“I’ve never done it nor would I ever do it,” said Anderson, who added that he regularly donates to SNAP but not in exchange for referrals.

In a statement, SNAP President Barbara Blaine, who founded the group along with Clohessy, said the allegations “are not true.”

“This will be proven in court,” Blaine said. “SNAP leaders are now, and always have been, devoted to following the SNAP mission: to help victims heal and to prevent further sexual abuse.”

Clohessy would not comment to Religion News Service on the lawsuit, but he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the charges were “utterly preposterous.” And he told RNS that SNAP “didn’t have any clue at all” that it was coming.

“We’ve heard nothing from her for four years since she quit. So that caught everybody by surprise.

“We have always been under attack by somebody at some point, legally and otherwise,” Clohessy added. “So it’s never been a factor in any decision making, at least not for me certainly.”

Complete Article HERE!

01/24/17

Church of England considering plans to drop celibacy question for gay priests

Canterbury Cathedral

by Jardine Malado

The Church of England is considering plans to stop asking its gay clergy whether they are living a celibate lifestyle.

Under the new proposal by Anglican bishops, gay priests are still expected to remain celibate, but they will no longer be asked about their personal lives when they join the church, Premier reported.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who is in a civil partnership, criticized the proposal as it would still require the clergy to be celibate.

“It is progress for them to stop asking the celibacy question but it still leaves the Church of England policy based essentially on dishonesty and encouraging its clergy to lie,” Bradshaw said, according to the Daily Mail, citing Sunday Times.

Under the current rules, gay and lesbian clergy are required to vow celibacy when they seek ordination or promotion to positions such as a bishop.

The Church has been debating the subject of homosexuality since same-sex marriage was legalized by the Parliament in 2013. The clergy members are still forbidden from performing same-sex marriage services or marrying their same-sex partners.

The recommendation put forward by the House of Bishops will be considered by the General Synod next month.

Bradshaw suggested that the government could intervene in the affairs of the church if change does not come soon.

“There is a growing sense that if the church can’t sort this out for themselves, then parliament may have to do it for them,” he said.

The proposal came just a few months after the gay clerics alleged that 11 bishops were gay in September. That same month, Nicholas Chamberlain, the Bishop of Grantham, admitted that he was gay and in a celibate same-sex relationship. His admission came after a Sunday newspaper threatened to reveal his sexuality.

“It was not my decision to make a big thing about coming out. People know I’m gay, but it’s not the first thing I’d say to anyone. Sexuality is part of who I am, but it’s my ministry that I want to focus on,” Chamberlain told the Guardian.

An increasing number of priests have married or expressed plans to marry same-sex partners in defiance of the current policies of the Church.

Complete Article HERE!