04/14/17

With too few priests, Portuguese women step up

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The practice of Sunday services being led by laypeople in a priest’s absence take place in a number of countries, including Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and the US

By Thomas CABRAL

Facing a shortage of Roman Catholic priests, women churchgoers have stepped in to lead Sunday services in villages in southeastern Portugal, a sign the ageing communities are open to change.

In the tiny church of Carrapatelo, a village overlooking the vineyards of the Reguengos de Monsaraz region, Claudia Rocha stands before a dozen mostly elderly female churchgoers wearing a black dress and sneakers.

Her leather jacket and smartphone sit on the front-row bench as the 31-year-old leads what the church terms “Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest” with ease.

After prayers and church hymns, she makes comments on the day’s biblical reading, a form of preaching.

At the end, Rocha hands out communion wafers representing the body of Christ that were blessed by the priest beforehand, but wine is not part of the ceremony.

“This church would be closed if I wasn’t here. Who cares if I am a woman, a deacon or a priest? What matters is having someone from the community who maintains our connection with the priest, even when he isn’t here,” she tells AFP.

– No misgivings –

A divorced social worker without children, she is one of 16 laypeople — eight men and eight women — chosen by Father Manuel Jose Marques to help ensure regular attendance at the seven parishes he presides over.

“It might seem strange and new, but we haven’t invented anything here. It’s a tool that has long been set out in the Church’s guidelines, for cases when it’s absolutely necessary,” says the 57-year-old priest.

The practice of Sunday services being led by laypeople in a priest’s absence take place in a number of countries, including Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and the US.

It began in the 1980s, when services were prepared with a priest or ordained clergy member, resembling mass but without the rite of consecrating bread for communion or the Eucharistic prayer.

The Vatican and many clergy members have refused to encourage the practice, fearing a trivialisation of the tradition of Mass.

Father Manuel had no such misgivings.

To him, the need to set up Sunday services without a priest became apparent as soon as he took on his seven parishes around 16 years ago.

Before, there had been three priests for the seven parishes in Reguengos de Monsaraz, a town in the region of Alentejo between Evora and the Spanish border.

He assembled a group of 16 volunteers aged between 24 and 65 from varied backgrounds.

“These are people who have experience with faith and welcoming Christ, and who know how to talk about it,” he says, noting he makes no distinction between men and women.

Lay women step in, too, in other rural parts of Portugal, whose population of 10 million is overwhelmingly Catholic but only counts around 3,500 priests for 4,400 congregations.

– ‘Very sensitive subject’ –

Last August, Pope Francis set up a group to study the role of women deacons in the early days of Christianity.

While he ruled out the possibility of ordaining female priests, the move was considered a potentially historic opening towards a place for women in the Church.

“It is a very sensitive subject, but what we have done is very simple. In this tiny village, we are quite a bit ahead of the Vatican,” says Rocha.

The progressive Father Manuel says he believes “women would be very good priests and deacons” but is quick to add: “It’s not the opinion of one priest, or even 10 that makes theology.”

“We are living in the heart of an open community, the difference between men and women is no longer as strong as it was in the past,” says Dora Cruz, who teaches catechism in Campinho, a village of 700 people.

“But women’s equality doesn’t necessarily come from priesthood,” adds the 31-year-old mother and kindergarten teacher.

Members of the congregation approve of having a woman behind the altar.

“People found it strange at first — a woman leading Mass? But now we’re used to it,” says Angelica Vital, a 78-year-old pensioner.

“If we’re short of priests, I think they should be allowed to marry — they are men, like any other!” she adds, with a devilish grin.

Complete Article HERE!

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04/7/17

If God doesn’t make mistakes why are you transgender?

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By Shannon T.L. Kearns

Every time I tell my story in front of a religious group the question comes up. I know it’s coming. I dread its coming. Because I still haven’t come up with a good answer.

What is the question?

“If God doesn’t make mistakes, then why are you transgender?”

Ooooof, right? I mean, where do you even start?

On the one hand, I kind of want to say, “Don’t know. Don’t care.” Mostly because the question never quite feels genuine. Or it feels like it’s a way to say that I am not really who I say I am. And listen, whatever your feelings about transgender people, we do actually exist. I am one of them.

So I tend to hem and haw a bit, trying to come up with something that will make sense and actually do what I believe justice.

Here’s the answer that I think doesn’t work (though I might have been guilty of giving it early in my transition): There are lots of things in the world that are bad: cancer, death, terminal illness, violence, war. The fact that those things exist isn’t a result of God making mistakes, it’s a result of the world being not as it should be.

Here’s why that answer no longer works for me: Cancer, death, violence, all of those things are unequivocally bad. There is no question that they are evil and terrible. So to equate being transgender with those evil things? It just turns my stomach. It makes being transgender a pathology. A liability. It makes it something to be eradicated. And there are enough people who are trying to eradicate transgender identity. We don’t need to throw fuel on that fire.

Another answer that seems slightly better but still leaves me unsettled is this: Well, there are a lot of things in the world that aren’t the ideal; they aren’t “God’s best” (to use an evangelical term). The reason it’s slightly better is that it acknowledges that being transgender is hard for a lot of people. It’s something we had to work hard to come to grips with. It adds stress and trauma into our lives. For some of us we do wish we weren’t trans (but that usually means we wish we were born with everyone knowing our actual gender). Again, though, this pathologizes being trans. It makes us seem like people to be pitied. It steals our agency. 

And it also erases this simple truth for me: I am a better person because I am transgender. I am a better man because I am transgender.
Had I been born a cisgender man I would have had a very different life. See, I was born into a fundamentalist evangelical household and church. I was born with a calling to ministry and an ability to lead. Had I been born a cisgender man those abilities would have been nurtured. I would have been given everything that I ever wanted probably without having to work very hard. I wouldn’t have had to question my faith or my place in the church. It would have been all laid out for me. It would have been easy.

But it’s been the hard that has taught me the most. It’s been the hard that has made me concerned with the outcast and the marginalized and brought me closer to the heart of Jesus and the Gospel. I have questioned my faith which means that it is mine. It’s not what was handed down to me, no it has been tried and tested. It has been strengthened. It has been made beautiful in the struggle.

My gender journey has taught me empathy and compassion. It’s opened my eyes to oppression and systemic injustice. Might I have learned all of that as a cisgender man? Maybe. But it’s unlikely.

So do I wish I had been born a cisgender man? Yes. And no. And yes. And no. 

Bottom line: This is who I am. And my faith is strong.

Does God make mistakes? Maybe God wanted me to be born a transgender man because God wanted me to learn all of the lessons I’ve learned and be exactly who I am. 

That is an answer I can live with.

Complete Article HERE!

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03/17/17

Sacha Pfeiffer of ‘Spotlight’ fame questions whether church understands gravity of sexual abuse

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Actress Rachel McAdams, left, and journalist Sacha Pfeiffer accept the award for best acting ensemble for the movie “Spotlight” at the 2016 Critics’ Choice Awards. McAdams portrayed Pfeiffer, a member of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigative reporting team, in the film that also won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

By Tim Funk

They were played by actors in “Spotlight,” the Oscar-winning movie that told the story of how the Boston Globe uncovered what would turn out to be a worldwide child sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.

But on Thursday night in Charlotte, an audience of trial lawyers got to hear from the real Sacha Pfeiffer, whose reporting as a member of the Globe’s Spotlight investigative team exposed a coverup by top church officials; the real Mitch Garabedian, an attorney who represented scores of families whose children were molested by priests; and the real Jim Scanlan, a survivor of child sex abuse whose story and words informed some of the film’s most memorable scenes.

The trio, who spoke at an event organized by the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, agreed on two things:

1. Fifteen years after the Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series of stories, they said, the Catholic Church continues to resist calls to be more transparent, to hold bishops and priests more accountable and to focus more on ways to protect minors from clergy sex abuse and less on protecting the church’s public image.

“I hear a lot of good things from (Pope) Francis about protecting our kids,” said Scanlan, who works in financial services in Boston. “But a lot of it is just window-dressing.”

2. “Spotlight,” the movie, has made parents and others more vigilant about child safety, they said, and has made it easier for past victims of clergy abuse to come forward and tell their stories.

“This movie has certainly raised the awareness that you have to protect children in the presence of priests or any other adults,” said Garabedian, who was portrayed in the film by character actor Stanley Tucci.

Pfeiffer, who was played by actress Rachel McAdams, also said “Spotlight” is one of the few movies to offer an accurate picture of how journalists report a story.

At first, she was sure making a movie about the Spotlight team’s investigation was “a terrible idea. All they’re going to do is sensationalize and embarrass us. Think about most TV shows and movies about reporters. Someone is always sleeping with their source and talking in dark alleys. It’s just so unrealistic.”

But “Spotlight,” she said, not only got it right, but also found ways to make even some of the more tedious reporting chores suspenseful.

“It really conveyed our job: We knock on doors, we do research, we create databases,” she said. “Yet they used their film-making skill to make it exciting and watchable.”

She said the hours and hours the Spotlight team spent pouring over directories published over decades by the Boston archdiocese was turned into “a gripping three minutes” in the movie.

Pfeiffer said she and the other reporters and editors were invited to read drafts of the script, visit the movie set (in Toronto) and spend lots of time with the actors playing them.

“That time (with McAdams and the other actors) felt to me sort of social. We were having dinner with movie stars, we were taking walks with actors,” she said. “But when I saw the movie, I realized they were depicting mannerisms we had, including mannerisms we didn’t even know we had until our friends and family pointed them out. Then I realized all that time we spent with them was research for them. We were being observed and dissected and analyzed and I had no idea.”

McAdams, who received an Oscar nomination for her performance, copied the way Pfeiffer plays with her thumb nail and tips her head back to knock her hair away from her eye.

A friendship formed during the making of the film: Pfeiffer said she and McAdams stay in touch, texting each other a few times a month.

Pfeiffer and the others agreed that child sex abuse is not limited to the Catholic church; recent stories in the Globe have focused on such abuse in elite private schools in New England.

But they said the Catholic Church is still resisting needed change. Scanlan and Garabedian pointed to reports out of Rome this month about an abuse victim’s resignation from a commission advising the pope on ways to protect children from clergy sex abuse.

Marie Collins, who was molested by a priest in Ireland when she was 13, said she was frustrated by the Vatican’s reluctance to implement the commission’s recommendations, including those approved by Pope Francis.

This refusal to act, she said in a statement to the National Catholic Reporter, “is a reflection of how this whole abuse crisis in the church has been handled: with fine words in public and contrary actions behind closed doors.”

David Hains, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, told the Observer when “Spotlight” was released in 2015 that the Globe series had caused the church to go through a painful self-examination and alter its ways.

“We have made changes in the formation of our priests (in seminaries),” Hains said. “And everybody who works or volunteers in our parishes now undergo background checks and have to take sexual abuse awareness training.”

But the speakers Thursday night called for more.

“To this day, I’m not sure the church really understands the gravity of sexual abuse, the damage it does,” said Pfeiffer, still a reporter at the Globe. “I think it needs to hold more bishops and other church officials accountable. Some priests have gone to jail, but hardly any people in supervisory roles have been held accountable in any way.”

Asked what he would advise the pope to do, Garabedian told the Observer he’d ask for more transparency.

“I’d ask the pope,” he said, “to release the names of all pedophile priests and all documents concerning pedophilia, in terms of who knew what in the Catholic Church so the victims can try to heal and society will be made aware of the evils of sexual abuse.”

Complete Article HERE!

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03/9/17

LGBT Catholics — this is our faith, too

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Catholics for Fairness and others rally at the Cathedral of the Assumption

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The Rev. Joseph Fowler has been a priest for 56 years, but he stood with other Catholics on the steps of Louisville’s cathedral again this year to disagree with Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, urging him to change his stance on LGBT rights.

Fowler, along with Catholics for Fairness, gathered Sunday to ask Kurtz to support Fairness laws that would prohibit discrimination in Kentucky on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“It’s not endorsing gay marriage, etc. It’s basic human rights everyone should have,” said Fowler. “I don’t know why our leadership would not be in favor of that.”

This was the sixth annual LGBT Pilgrimage to the Cathedral of the Assumption organized by Catholics for Fairness, a part of the larger Fairness Campaign Coalition. The marchers have varying relationships with the Catholic church, but all want equal treatment and protections for the LGBT community. It is a goal they believe is popular among Catholics, but not among the church hierarchy.

In response to LEO Weekly’s request for comment, the Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville said in a statement that “the Catholic Church is a leading advocate for the dignity of all people,” but has concerns about any legislation that “might go beyond prohibiting unjust discrimination and cause unintended consequences.”

“Concerns could include an inadequate distinction between sexual inclination and behavior and religious liberty protections,” said the statement.

Under Kurtz, the Archdiocese refused to approve a headstone engraved with an image of the Supreme Court building and wedding rings, sought by Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon, plaintiffs in the landmark marriage equality Supreme Court case. In a letter to the couple, the Archdiocese said engravings “are permitted so long as they do not conflict with any teaching of the Church. Your proposed markings are not in keeping with this requirement.”

The Archdiocese also refused to allow Bourke to return as a Boy Scout leader in a local Catholic parish troop, after he was forced to resign in 2012 for his sexual orientation.

On Sunday, De Leon said at the vigil outside the cathedral that people often ask him why he continues to fight for acceptance in the Catholic church, when there are other more tolerant Christian denominations.

“It’s hard to describe that feeling in your heart, when you’re with your brothers and sisters in a faith community, and that’s ours,” said De Leon.

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, said getting the Archdiocese to support a statewide Fairness law could be crucial to its passing. “It would open dialogue and acceptance from a faithful perspective to families and churches that hadn’t existed before,” he said in an email interview.

Hartman is optimistic, even in an overtly religious state like Kentucky, because other Christian denominations have already voiced support. “I think most faith traditions now have broader public support for LGBT people, but church leadership is lagging behind, like our legislature.”

Hartman referenced remarks made by Kurtz’s predecessor, Archbishop Thomas Kelly, who leaned toward a Louisville Fairness ordinance. Kelly said in 1995: “The Catholic Church supports the basic human rights of all persons, and affirms the fact that homosexual persons have the same rights as all persons, including the right to be treated in a manner that upholds their personal dignity … The intrinsic dignity of each person must be respected in word and in action.”

State Rep. Jim Wayne, D-35, who attended the pilgrimage and is a Catholic, also believes support from Kurtz could be instrumental in passing statewide Fairness legislation. “[It] would help convince, especially Catholic legislators and other Christians who base their discrimination on the Bible that you don’t do that.”

Another event attendee, Maria Price, 51, said it isn’t hard for her to reconcile being Catholic and a supporter of Fairness laws. She looks to the Bible for guidance, not the church hierarchy.

“Our call [is] to change unjust systems that make people poor and keep people stuck in poverty,” said Price. “And there is not one word from the lips of Jesus about homosexuality. So really, it’s misplaced energy.”

Susanna Sugrue, 58, said the church hierarchy is losing touch with its parish members.

“They’re not thinking about these issues on a human level, they are thinking about them on a theological level,” said Sugrue. “But we do have a very open pope now, so that is very encouraging.”

Ernesto Flores is also encouraged by Pope Francis, who said the church should ask forgiveness for its treatment of LGBT people. “I can’t walk away from being Mexican, I can’t walk away from being Catholic and I can’t walk away from being gay. Those are intrinsic parts of me,” said Flores. “So I decided to stay and make it a better place for myself.”

Complete Article HERE!

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02/5/17

Church ‘regret’ as trainees hold service in gay slang

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File Under:  Can Ya Stand IT?

A Church of England theological college has expressed regret after trainee priests held a service in the antiquated gay slang language Polari.

The service at the chapel of Westcott House in Cambridge was to commemorate LGBT history month.

The congregation was told the use of the lexicon was an attempt to “queer the liturgy of evening prayer”.

But officials said it had not been authorised and was at variance with the doctrine and teaching of the church.

Polari is thought to have originated in Victorian London but fell out of use as homosexuality began to be decriminalised in England in the 1960s.

Its words, however, were brought to wider public attention in the same decade by comedian Kenneth Williams in the BBC radio series Round the Horne.

‘Fantabulosa Fairy’

One person present at the service told BBC News it was led by an ordinand – a trainee priest – rather than a licensed minister.

The congregation was also made up of trainees.

While they had been given permission to hold a service to commemorate LGBT history month, a Church of England source said the college chaplain had not seen the wording of the service.

The translation was based on the Polari bible, a work compiled as a project in 2003 by the self-styled Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

The scripture and liturgy were printed on to an order of service.

An Old Testament reading from the Prophet Joel which says “rend your heart and not your garments, return to the Lord your God” was printed in Polari as “rend your thumping chest and not your frocks – and turn unto the Duchess your Gloria: for she is bona and merciful”.

Instead of the traditional “Glory be to the father, and to the son, and the Holy Spirit” the prayer offered was: “Fabeness be to the Auntie, and to the Homie Chavvie, and to the Fantabulosa Fairy”.

‘Hugely regrettable’

Services in the Church of England are legally required to be conducted using the church’s approved liturgy.

The principal of Westcott House, the Rev Canon Chris Chivers, said the liturgy of the service had not been authorised for use.

He said: “I fully recognise that the contents of the service are at variance with the doctrine and teaching of the Church of England and that is hugely regrettable.

“Inevitably for some members of the house this caused considerable upset and disquiet and I have spoken at length to those involved in organising the service.

“I will be reviewing and tightening the internal mechanisms of the house to ensure this never happens again.”

Complete Article HERE!

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