10/19/17

Coming Out and Faith: A Catholic Queer Woman Latches on to Hope

This month LGBT Americans observed National Coming Out Day, which serves as a call to be out and proud and a recognition that showcasing your identity is an empowering act that can also help change anti-LGBT attitudes. But one’s religious beliefs can sometimes complicate coming out. The Advocate has interviewed people from a variety of faiths about how their religion affected their coming-out and vice versa. In the first in this series, we speak to a graduate student at a Roman Catholic college.

By Trudy Ring

Elizabeth Sextro realizes the Roman Catholic Church probably won’t change its teachings on homosexuality in her lifetime — but that doesn’t keep the 20-something theology graduate student from identifying both as a queer woman and a faithful Catholic.

Reconciling these two identities was “definitely a difficult process,” says Sextro, who’s working on a master’s degree in theological studies at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry. Nevertheless, she says, “it’s who I am.”

Sextro, a self-described “cradle Catholic” originally from St. Louis, came out as queer in 2012, when she was an undergraduate at Loyola University in Chicago. “Coming out at college was really easy,” she says. “I had a lot of supportive friends.”

She was able to resolve any conflict between her queer and Catholic identities, she says, through her studies and through talking with those supportive friends who had been through similar experiences.

It also helped that Loyola, like Boston College, is run by the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order known for scholarship and progressive ideology. She studied queer theology, which rejects the idea that LGBT people are abnormal or disordered, as the Catholic Church has long held, and she had a faculty mentor, a straight layman, who encouraged her.

Coming out to her parents was more problematic. They aren’t quite at a place of acceptance even now, she says, but they have advanced to the point that she can bring her female partner home. “We still have work to do,” Sextro says of her family relationship.

There is certainly still work to do in the church, where, she says, the faithful are far ahead of the hierarchy. “I see gay people everywhere” when she attends Catholic services, says Sextro, who divides her time between a couple of congregations in Boston.

The church deems same-sex relationships sinful, and it expects Catholics with same-sex attractions to avoid acting on them. The catechism — a summary of church doctrine — holds that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” Pope Francis, while more conciliatory toward LGBT people than his predecessors were, has held to traditional doctrine. But many in the church are rejecting anti-LGBT teachings and recognizing that the language in the catechism is harmful, Sextro notes.

“It’s going to be baby steps from here on out,” she says of the process of changing the church. It may even have women priests before it discards anti-LGBT doctrine. “It’s not going to happen in my lifetime, but hopefully it will,” says Sextro, who expects to finish her master’s degree in the spring, then aims to eventually get a Ph.D. and teach at the university level.

One of the main reasons she stays in the church, she said, is to help that change along. “I stay because there is more work to be done in the church and because I feel committed and responsible as an aspiring theologian myself to offer a critical perspective to the Catholic Church,” she says. “That’s not to say that I have not considered leaving — I certainly have. That would be a heck of a lot easier. But I borrow from one of my professors at the [School of Theology and Ministry] in saying this: If you are looking for a perfect church in this life, you will be looking forever. No church is perfect, and I stay because I can offer something to the church as a queer woman and theologian that may bring the church a little bit closer to working toward justice. I wouldn’t stay if I didn’t have hope.”

For LGBT Catholics to be out and proud can contribute to change, she says, but she recognizes that coming out is an individual decision. “Coming out is really difficult,” she says. “No one should feel pressure to come out in order to advance a certain cause.”

Part of being a person of faith, she adds, is “putting trust in something outside of yourself” and realizing that some things are out of your control. That approach is also helpful when thinking about progress in the church — knowing she can make a contribution, but she can’t make it all happen, she says. And then there is what Emily Dickinson called “the thing with feathers — that perches in the soul … and never stops.”

“I’ve really latched on to hope,” Sextro says. “And I think hope is huge.”

Complete Article HERE!

09/22/17

The hidden world of addiction and recovery among women religious

When Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Mary Ellen Merrick was struggling with alcohol addiction in the late 1970s, there weren’t a lot of options for Catholic women religious.

“There was nothing for sisters,” Merrick said.

The then-28-year-old middle school teacher spent three months at Alina Lodge, a treatment center in Blairstown, New Jersey.

“People didn’t expect me to have issues with God or issues as a woman,” said Merrick, now executive director of the women’s program at Guest House, a residential treatment facility in Lake Orion, Michigan, for priests and religious.

She was hesitant to share her innermost thoughts with the laywomen in the program at Alina Lodge.

“It did help me, but there were areas like my spirituality and my sexuality that I didn’t feel comfortable mentioning because no one expected me to need to discuss these areas,” Merrick said.

Public accounts of mental health disorders and addictions among women religious have been rare, as have details of treatment and recovery. That may in part be because of the pervasive shame those illnesses can elicit, as well as a historical tendency for those who struggle with them to be directed only to spend more time in solitary prayer.

That is changing as knowledge and attitudes about mental illness evolve. Though difficult to establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship, it’s become clearer over time that addiction and mental health disorders are pegged to a combination of factors, including chemical imbalances and possibly brain abnormalities. Some individuals have also experienced grief and depression as they watch their communities cope with declining numbers and aging membership.

There’s “still such a strong stigma in mental health,” said Franciscan Sr. Dorothy Heiderscheit, CEO at Southdown, a treatment center in Holland Landing, Ontario, that now is open to men and women in Christian ministry. “It’s in part the belief system that ‘If I’m helping people, I can’t be weak.’ It’s embarrassment and probably shame.”

For a time, she said, “most of our facilities, us included, kept a low profile to protect the people we have. [But] more and more of us are saying that doesn’t counteract the stigma.”

Overlooked and underserved

This newer sensibility has led to a quiet revolution in mental health care tailored to the needs of women.

“When we started our program, it was clear that women religious tend to be underserved by the medical community,” said  Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, a priest and psychologist who headed the St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, and now teaches at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. “Women were trained not to take care of their own needs, not to complain and to look after everyone else … especially women religious.”

Changes in how the church now approaches mental health issues among its own can be traced back about 70 years (though well before the clergy sex abuse crisis became public knowledge), when Catholic religious congregations became more rigorous in the way they approached vocational discernment.

“Others supported Ripley’s pursuit but eventually favored a center that would serve ‘all professionals,’ ” Gardner said. “Ripley’s insistence on a priests-only facility removed him from the venture, but he continued to pursue his mission to open a Guest House for alcoholic priests.”

The Guest House program for clergy and men religious was launched in the 1950s, and a program for women on the Lake Orion campus opened in the 1990s. (Hazelden, founded in 1949 and with 17 locations in the country, was an early resource for women religious and other people of faith.)

Sister Frances (not her real name), then a schoolteacher, arrived at Guest House more than a decade ago because her provincial leader told her she needed to get help. Frances is now part of a different community.

During her nine months at Guest House, Frances said, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Previously treated for depression and part of a 12-step program, Frances said that when she arrived, she was “not very far from drinking again because of the difficulties I was having, whether they were my moods or my relationships. That confused me: Why was I being sent to a treatment center?”

Franciscan Sr. Dorothy Heiderscheit, right, with staff at Southdown

Part of the reason Frances spent such a long time at Guest House was the challenge of weaning her off the medications she’d been prescribed and finding a new treatment baseline, said Merrick, head of the women’s program there who has stayed in touch with Frances.

At the end of her treatment, Frances had discovered, as she grew to trust the staff and her companions, that “I was lovable. I’m able to love and be loved because I’m Frances.”

Mental health screening for candidates considering religious life wasn’t generally practiced before the 1960s, says Georgetown University medical ethicist and research scholar Daniel Sulmasy, who spent more than 25 years as a Franciscan friar. “People who were very quiet and talked about seeing angels were considered mystics and moved along in the system. Only after taking vows were they considered mentally ill and sent to places like state mental hospitals.”

Vatican II: questioning convention

The reforms that came in the wake of the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s were a watershed moment for Catholic sisters. They modified their dress, pursued professional degrees, went out to eat, and applied for their own credit cards. But for those who might have a mental disorder or a suppressed addiction problem, the new freedoms brought potential danger as well as opportunity.

It was a time when many who had embraced religious vocations in a top-down, highly controlled structure actually became adults, says Southdown’s Heiderscheit. Some left religious life to get married or because they determined it wasn’t for them.

Many stayed, but some struggled with the transition, she said: “People who had entered religious life at a very young age in communities with a controlling, authoritative style didn’t trust their judgment as adults.”

While this story focuses on women, men religious and clergy grapple with the same issues.

“When you look at the pathology rate around the world, including the United States, we see that women and men are similar, but they also have psychological and spiritual differences,” Rossetti said.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, a 1988 graduate of the Guest House program, is candid about his sobriety — but he doesn’t parade it. That’s because of his belief, he said, that the journey away from addiction “isn’t my recovery, and isn’t my achievement. It’s a gift from God. I’m gratefully testifying to what I’ve been given. But I also think that AA and other 12-step programs have a very healthy suspicion of [self-] promotion.”

Rates of depression are higher for women, who are more likely to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, Rossetti said, while men have higher rates of sociopathy and malignant narcissism.

Treatment protocols for women also differ, he said. When the women’s program at St. Luke began three decades ago, Rossetti turned to the women in management, both members of religious orders and laypeople, for help. “It was very different, with a greater emphasis on group work and treating pathologies more prevalent in women as well as time for communal prayer and Scripture.”

While women were very supportive of each other, sometimes they needed to be able to challenge one another and learn to use their anger in a positive way, he said. The St. Luke program integrates single- and mixed-gender sessions, Rossetti said.

A network for addicted sisters

Sr. Mary Gene Kinney, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, co-directs the Inter-Congregational Addictions Program, which helps congregations in 31 states and the province of Ontario intervene, find treatment resources and support aftercare for chemically dependent sisters.

A piano teacher and, later, a music therapist, Kinney, who would use the money she made to buy booze for herself, recalled that parishioners at the time were “delighted to give you a bottle” of liquor as a gift.

In the early 1970s, when Kinney was seeking help for her addiction to alcohol, “it was treated in the mental health field and not as the brain disease it is,” she said.

Though she saw mental health professionals, she didn’t make progress. Instead, she became hooked on medication. While a stint at Hazelden was helpful, she said, “I couldn’t sustain it. I was too intellectual for AA. I couldn’t picture myself in it. I didn’t want anyone to know I had this awful disease.”

Kinney applauds the creation of specialized programs for women, saying they do better in community-based settings. When she and program co-founder Sr. Letitia Close began their work in the 1970s, the main addictions for sisters were alcohol and prescription drugs. Eventually, their network expanded to include eating disorders.

Left: Srs. Letitia Close and Mary Gene McKinney, co-founders of the Inter-Congregational Addictions Program. Right: Sr. Mary Gene McKinney gives a presentation.

Now, sisters in the support system are grappling with shopping, spending, gambling and hoarding. Looking ahead, Kinney said, “We haven’t yet seen the full-blown effect of the internet on the brain.”

She said she and Close launched their network in part to counter the isolation that can come with fighting an addiction. They gave their first workshop in a convent infirmary, concerned that older sisters would think their subject matter was scandalous. As it turned out, she said, most of their seniors knew someone who had died of alcoholism.

“Like anything else, the more a substance becomes accessible, the more the addiction shows up, but it’s still always there.” She tells of a contemplative sister she knows who said she never bought alcohol for herself — but fermented it in her cell.

While they didn’t focus specifically on mental health, many women’s congregations have long emphasized a proactive approach to overall wellness, Heiderscheit said.

A battery of psychological tests has been a pre-entrance requirement for more than 40 years among the Adrian Dominicans, says Sr. Patricia Siemen, the congregational prioress. In the year she’s been in leadership, she’s taken part in two mental-health-related interventions in her 641-woman community.

After meeting Merrick at a conference last year, Siemen attended one of the Guest House “Walking with the Wounded” seminars for sisters in leadership.

“One of the things we hope to do as congregational leaders is to open up the topic of addiction and educate our women. It could happen to any of us, depending on our DNA,” she said.

Merrick and other Guest House staff work closely with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, attend professional meetings to publicize their work, and are invited to give workshops around the country.

At Guest House, many female residents are treated for addictions like alcohol or overeating. Men are more likely to be abusing drugs such as heroin and cocaine or becoming enmeshed in sex addiction, Merrick said.

The treatment center and congregation jointly work out ways to make care possible.

“We run $2 million in the hole each year,” Merrick said. “We take care of it by doing fundraisers and through donations. Somehow, God provides.”

A typical Guest House stay includes individual therapy once a week, group meetings four times weekly, and a spirituality group, as well as informal time with other sisters.

“I look for balance being restored in a person’s life,” Merrick said. “Some of the best therapy happens after the staff goes home.”

Facilities for the Guest House female clients include private suites, a dining hall and their own chapel.

Sr. Mary Ellen Merrick sits at the Guest House exhibit booth at the 2017 Leadership Conference of Women Religious assembly, held Aug. 8-11 in Orlando, Florida.

When a sister is ready to return home, a Guest House staff member helps reintegrate her back into her community by doing a workshop focused on the disorder or addiction, Merrick said. Sisters may return to the center every three to six months for a week’s refresher.

Now provincial superior for the Sisters of Notre Dame, Sr. Mary Anncarla Costello was the vicar for religious for the Los Angeles Archdiocese when she heard about the Guest House program. When she became leader of her community, she attended an introductory seminar with other team members and has referred sisters to the treatment center.

“One of the unique things about Guest House is that it provides care and support with an understanding of the religious life,” including prayer and access to the daily liturgy, Costello said. “We talk about being holy sisters, brothers and priests, but we also want to be whole.”

The long view

Religious communities can face a more general mental-health challenge as vocations ebb and friends, many advanced in age, get sick or die. Since she became congregational prioress last year, Siemen said, 41 members of her order have died.

“Women’s congregations are dealing with a tremendous amount of loss,” she said, including the end of a ministry, death or departure of sister colleagues and friends, and depletion of energy. If they aren’t doing the necessary work of grieving or are doing it alone, their depression is liable to increase, she said. “We know that grief is better accomplished together and not as a solitary.”

Heiderscheit says the sadness runs deep and has myriad causes.

“There’s always a debate over whether it’s depression or anger that we have shoved underground into depression about our future,” she said.

But somehow, the work will continue, she said. “The charism will be passed on to somebody else. We need to be gracious and gentle women and let it go.”

While loss may cast a shadow on their lives, women religious continue to rely on spiritual and communal resources, mining the latest insights from science.

Levo now consults on well-being and how to promote it, within both congregations and individuals. “What does that look like across the board: physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally? This is a personal journey, but it’s also a social and a communal journey.”

Tobin takes the long view. It’s worth remembering, he said, that priests and religious are emerging from an “anomalous” period in religious life in the United States — one that in the 19th and 20th centuries saw a surge of vocations. A sense of loss (he said he feels it sometimes himself when he visits fellow religious in a medical center and sees the “great men of my generation so weak and feeble”) can lead to diminishment and depression, or it can result in a greater sense of divine care and providence.

Though there has been an “ebb and flow, religious life will always be a part of the church,” he said.

Others who have spent decades as counselors, administrators and researchers also see reason to be encouraged.

The use of psychological testing and other screenings, as well as extensive time in formation before taking vows, has resulted in priests and sisters who are often healthier than the general population, Rossetti said. Living in community, helping others and embracing the discipline of spiritual practice all promote sound living, he said.

“As women move toward equal standing [in society], then they can be more proactive about dealing with their mental health. People are beginning to realize that women have a right to be helped when they need it.”

Heiderscheit said she sees a positive trend in the work that goes on at Southdown.

“A lot of what’s turning the tide are the new things we are learning about addiction and mental health,” she said.

“My part is to help other women religious be healthy and well; then I think I’m doing what God wants me to do in this part of my life.”

Complete Article HERE!

08/21/17

Catholic Church’s idea of gender equality may be too little, too late

Woman who feels calling to priesthood says daughter asks: ‘How can you follow such an institution?’

Dr Ann-Marie Desmond, from Timoleague, Co Cork: ‘I can’t see anything wrong with women celebrating the Eucharist.’

By

Correspondent

As the clamour demanding full equality for women in the Catholic Church grows ever louder indications are that it is beginning to make an impact at the very highest level.

Just this summer Sweden’s first Cardinal Anders Arborelius proposed that Pope Francis create a special advisory body of women similar to the College of Cardinals. Cardinal Arborelius was himself admitted to the college in Rome last June.

“It’s very important to find a broader way of involving women at various levels in the church. The role of women is very, very important in society, in economics, but in the church sometimes we are a bit behind,” he told media in Rome.

Similarly German cardinal Reinhard Marx, a member of the council of nine cardinals which advise Pope Francis, has called on the church to admit a greater percentage of women to its upper echelons.

“We would be mad not to use women’s talents. In fact, it would be downright foolish,” he said. The fact that only men can be ordained Catholic priests was “certainly not helping the church come across as a pioneer of equal rights”.

The church’s message must be inclusive, he continued, and “that is why I want to emphasise that positions of responsibility and executive positions in the church that are open to lay people must be shared by both men and women”.

Whereas admission to equality in church administration might be welcomed by some women, their glaring absence from clergy, whether as deacons, priests, or bishops, remains for most the true indicator of their second-class status as members.

Last year Pope Francis set up a commission to look at the possibility of admitting women to the diaconate, which is now also reserved for men only. The commission is a welcome step where women are concerned, but just that.
Papal decision

In Ireland, the Association of Catholic Priests has called on all dioceses to hold off on the introduction of the permanent diaconate until this commission reports and Pope Francis makes a decision based on its findings.

“We believe that proceeding with the introduction of a male permanent diaconate at this time, and thereby adding another male clerical layer to ministry, is insensitive, disrespectful of women, and counterproductive at this present critical time,” it said last week in a statement.

It was commenting after Fr Roy Donovan objected to a decision by Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly in his archdiocese of Cashel and Emly to set up a body to look at introducing the male-only diaconate there.

“What are the implications of this when already there are so many women involved on the ground, in all kinds of ministries, without been given much status and power? Have they not also earned their place at the top table?” he asked.

Fr Donovan told The Irish Times the response to his stance had been “all very positive, including men as well”. In his own experience no parish in which he had served could have functioned without the work of women.

“It’s very difficult to get men involved, even in pastoral councils,” he said. It was similar when it came to getting people to be ministers of the word and ministers of the Eucharist.

He recalled a recent US study that indicated that as many as 66 per cent of parish roles there were filled by women. “The church is only going to lose if women are excluded from the top table, especially when it comes to younger women.”

One woman who believes she has a vocation to the Catholic priesthood is Dr Ann-Marie Desmond (54) of Timoleague, Co Cork. A teacher of religion and history, with a PhD in education and degrees in theology and history, she is married with two grown-up daughters.
Devout family

Hers was a traditional Catholic upbringing in a devout family and with an aunt a nun. Even when her brother was an altar server she did not question why, then, she could not become one too. Girls are now allowed be altar servers, and in most parishes these days the altar servers are girls.

It was at third level education that Ms Desmond began to question things and later when, preparing for Masses, women like her “would organise everything, pick the readings etc., and a man [priest] would come in, take over, and celebrate it”. She has herself been a minister of the word and of the Eucharist.

Hers has remained “a very committed faith” but she had become “very anti the institution”, she said. This was not just because of its exclusion of women but also “of gay people, and people such as the divorced and remarried, from Communion. I would want a much more inclusive church,” she continued.

A lot of women like her retained “a deep faith but would no longer be followers of the Catholic Church”. She had explored other churches and admired in particular the inclusivity of Anglicanism in the form of the Church of Ireland, but “had stayed within [the Catholic Church] to speak out”.

The church needed priests, “a value-driven leadership”, she said but this should also include women. “I can’t see anything wrong with women celebrating the Eucharist,” she said.

The reason Jesus did not include women among the apostles was because of the culture of his time when women remained in the home, she said.
Married

“Many of the apostles were also married,” she pointed out, as an indicator of the inconsistency of the church’s position on priesthood which now demands its priests be celibate.

She welcomed, “very, very cautiously”, the Pope’s commission on women deacons as, possibly, “a gradual evolution towards priesthood”. It was “a step in the right direction”.

But she wonders about the church’s future where younger women are concerned. “How can you be a follower of such an institution?” one of her daughter’s asked recently, reflecting on its exclusion of women.

Complete Article HERE!

06/2/17

The challenge of being both gay and Catholic

When I entered the Catholic Church in 1998, I had never met another gay person who accepted and intended to live out the Catholic sexual ethic in which sex is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. I had never even heard of such a person. I didn’t care, since I was full of blithe 19-year-old overconfidence (“Seems like nobody’s done this before, but surely it will be a cinch for moi!”), but life without models and guidance proved lonely and confusing.

Since then the community of LGBT people seeking to live out the historical Christian sexual ethic has become far more vocal. There are a few small guidebooks: Wesley Hill’s “Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian,” Tim Otto’s “Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict Over Gay Relationships” and my book “Gay and Catholic,” which suggest ways for gay people to lead lives of love in traditional churches.

I would love more books to add to this tiny shelf, especially a book in which LGBT people seeking to live within church teaching are considered part of both the global church and the LGBT community. Gay people who accept celibacy out of obedience to our churches face challenges common to all Christian disciples. We also face the all-too-common LGBT experiences of violence, discrimination and isolation. And we have the unique experience of trying to serve and love in churches that often seem embarrassed by our existence and silent about our futures. I’d love a book about the gifts LGBT people can bring to our churches, and the compassionate and creative guidance we need from those churches.

A new book by the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, called “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity” is not the book I’ve longed for. It’s a slender book stitched together from a speech, Bible passages with questions for reflection, and a moving “Prayer When I Feel Rejected.”

Martin defines the church as “the institutional church — that is, the Vatican, the hierarchy, church officials, and the clergy.” He aims to persuade these priests and bishops to listen better to gay people and our families, and to persuade gay people to be more polite and thoughtful in our criticisms of mitered folk.

Martin was startled by many Catholic leaders’ response to the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year. Hearing church leaders deplore violence but refuse to acknowledge that the people targeted were gay, Martin called for a bridge between the two groups.

Martin calls on church leaders “to proclaim God’s love for a people who are often made to feel, whether by their families, neighbors, or religious leaders, as though they were damaged goods, unworthy of ministry, and even subhuman.” And he calls on LGBT people to give the Catholic hierarchy “simple human respect … in keeping with our Christian call,” instead of mockery.

Martin never hints that gay people exist who seek to live in obedience to the Catholic Church. Fair enough — not every book has to be for everybody, and people in my situation are a tiny minority. But we may be able to offer insights into areas this book carefully avoids.

For example, why is this conversation so hard in the first place? “Building a Bridge” doesn’t raise the question of why LGBT people and the Catholic Church so often seem like two separate, hostile camps. The Catholic sexual ethic is this book’s embarrassing secret. It’s never mentioned, and so the difficulties the teaching itself poses for gay Catholics in our culture are never addressed.

I’m deeply sympathetic to the attempt to have a conversation about gay people and the church that never mentions sex or chastity; too often even the most “respectful” statements from the Catholic Church hierarchy have a strong flavor of “Jesus loves you, but here’s how you’ve got to behave.” But I’m not sure it’s wise to write as if all the church is asking is for gay people simply to be nicer.

The church is not just a bunch of dudes in special clothes. If we picked our religion based on whose leaders were most personally trustworthy, nobody would be Catholic. But the Catholic Church is the bride of Christ — our mother, as terrible as an army with banners (Song of Songs 6:10) — and she asks a much higher “bridge toll” of everyone than this book admits.

The church asks more of her leaders than mere respect and sensitivity (although God knows that would be a good start). She asks of them repentance and amends for the ways in which they’ve made so many churches hostile to gay members, treating us as problems to be fixed or silenced.

And the church asks gay people to do our best to forgive. She asks us to have the courage to live out forgotten forms of Christian love, including same-sex love: devoted friendship, celibate partnership, intentional community and more.

In a culture where everything from pop songs to health insurance urges us to structure our lives around romance and marriage, gay Christians have a chance — or a duty — to show that you can make a life of devotion, joy and mutual sacrifice within celibacy. And straight Christians have a chance not only to live the models we’ve shown them, following the paths we’ve blazed, but to support us when our callings to nonmarital love leave us economically or emotionally vulnerable.

Scripture shows us the covenant friendship of David and Jonathan, the devoted kinship of Ruth and Naomi. Jesus, the God who is love, loved more deeply than any human being. Jesus’ celibacy helped us see what it means to dedicate your life to God and the people of God.

Martin writes eloquently of the gifts LGBT Christians can bring our churches. But aside from a vague reference to “social justice issues,” he doesn’t suggest that our church can guide and teach us. Martin has written well on celibacy for priests and others who have taken religious vows, as in his 2002 New York Times op-ed, “Choosing Celibacy.” I wish in his new book he had explored celibate witness more deeply, or reflected on scriptural models by which gay people could understand our longings for same-sex love and intimacy. If we are all the church together, LGBT laypeople who seek to live in obedience to the church have a place as well as those who dissent.

After the Pulse shooting, Washington area houses of worship held an interfaith vigil. The participants were of every sexual orientation and many beliefs; celibate gay people stood alongside those in same-sex marriages to mourn and pray. Sometimes it can be harder to come together in ordinary times than in the wake of crisis. But our challenge is to be honest about our beliefs — even the ones we find most challenging — while welcoming and cherishing those who disagree.

Still, Martin offers LGBT Catholics who accept our church’s teachings something we need desperately, in his use of Psalm 139, exploring how God knows us completely and loves us unshakably. No matter what we do or where we go, God is there with us. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made”: formed, from the very first moments of our lives, by God’s love.

Complete Article HERE!

05/1/17

Rebel Catholic group defies church, ordains woman priest in NC


Abigail Eltzroth was ordained Sunday in Asheville by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.

An international group defiantly opposed to the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on women priests Sunday ordained its first woman Catholic priest in the 46 counties that make up the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte.

The ordination ceremony for Abigail Eltzroth happened in Asheville at Jubilee! – a nondenominational faith community – with Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan presiding.

Eltzroth, 64, said she is the second woman in North Carolina ordained by the rebel group, called the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.

“It’s time for a change and we’re in the forefront, leading the charge,” Eltzroth told the Observer on Sunday. “We expect that eventually everybody is going to follow us.”

Eltzroth said, she now plans to to start a Catholic worship community in the Asheville area.

But reached for comment Sunday, David Hains, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, said: “I hope that Catholics in the diocese will understand that it would be sinful to receive a fake sacrament from a woman priest and that includes attending a fake Mass.”

According to a news release about the Sunday ordination from the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, 250 women in 10 countries have been ordained as Catholic priests. In the United States, it said, women priests serve in 65 “inclusive churches.” That includes women priests affiliated with the association and with a second allied group – Roman Catholic Women Priests – that has the same mission.

Several major Protestant denominations have women clergy, including the Episcopalians, Lutherans, United Methodists and Presbyterians. And most American Catholics say they’d like their church to ordain women, too. A Pew Research Poll in 2015 found that about six in 10 American Catholics said they favored allowing women to be Catholic priests.

But the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy has stood by its longtime prohibition against women becoming priests.

Not only that. In 2007, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the blessing of then-Pope Benedict XVI, decreed automatic excommunication against anyone “who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive a sacred order.”

Excommunication means the person cannot receive the sacraments or participate in the liturgy unless he or she repents.

Citing Jesus

Pope Francis, who has proven to be more liberal than Pope Benedict on some issues, briefly raised hopes among Catholic reformers when he established a commission to study whether women could be ordained as deacons. Catholic deacons cannot celebrate Mass or hear confessions, but they do perform some priestly functions, including marrying couples, baptizing babies and others and giving homilies, or sermons, during Mass.

But, when asked last year about the prospect of female priests in the next few decades, Pope Francis said the church’s teaching banning women priests was likely to last forever.

He said Pope John Paul II had the “last word” on the issue – a reference to a 1994 apostolic letter that said ordaining women was not possible because Jesus chose only men to be his 12 apostles.

But Bridget Mary Meehan, a Florida-based bishop with the Association of Roman Catholic Priests, pointed to Mary Magdalene, also a major disciple of Jesus in the Gospels.

“The risen Christ appeared first to Mary Magdalene, not to (apostle) Peter, and called on her to announce the good news of Christianity – the resurrection being the central message of Christianity,” Meehan said. “Mary Magdalene was the apostle to the apostles.”

The association also claims that their ordained women priests are true priests because a male Roman Catholic bishop, acting as a spiritual descendent of those first apostles, ordained their first women bishops.

On its web site, the group says that “we stand in the prophetic tradition of holy obedience to the Spirit who calls all people to discipleship. The movement began with the ordination of seven women on the Danube River in 2002. Today there are (250) women priests and 10 bishops worldwide.”

Catholic convert

Eltzroth, the woman who was ordained Sunday, grew up Presbyterian but became a Catholic in her 50s. “It’s the most ancient tradition,” she said of Catholicism. “It’s the tradition that we all look to. Everybody looks to what the pope and the Catholic leaders are doing.”

Her resume includes several pastoral jobs: jail chaplain in Saginaw, Mich.; pastoral associate on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana; and pastor to two churches in the sand hills of Nebraska.

Eltzroth, who is divorced, is the mother of two grown children.

She said she sent an invitation to her ordination to Bishop Peter Jugis, who heads the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. She received no response.

Asked about Pope Francis, Eltzroth said, “He’s a great leader. I’m very pleased with his stands on social justice. I hope the same social justice will be brought not only to the civil world but to the the religious (Catholic) world, too.”

As for the threat of excommunication, Eltzroth said: “I’m sure that I will be (excommunicated) if I haven’t been already. But there are plenty of saints who have been excommunicated. So that’s not going to stop us.”

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