Out and on the pulpit

— NJ minister seeks to help lesbian clergy find acceptance

Pamela Pater-Ennis

By Deena Yellin

As an ordained minister and clinical social worker for over three decades, Bergenfield’s Pamela Pater-Ennis has grown all-too familiar with what she calls “religious trauma.”

Many of her clients have been abused by clergy, ostracized by religiously  judgmental families, or rejected from their churches when they came out as gay, she recalled in a recent interview.

Faith is supposed to offer a sanctuary from suffering. But it can turn ugly, said Pater-Ennis, 62, who runs an interfaith counseling service with offices in Teaneck and Hoboken. Her mission, she said, is to help people “make sense of it when religion turns bad.”

Pater-Ennis, who was ordained in 1984 in the Reformed Church in America, a mainline Protestant denomination, said she’s both saddened and fascinated by the ways in which religion can cause pain. She recently launched Sanctuary Healing, an online spiritual coaching and therapy program to help clients address such trauma.

That followed the publication last year of “Out In the Pulpit,” her book chronicling the journeys of 13 lesbian clergy who have struggled to reconcile identities as Christians and lesbians. The book grew out of her angst as a straight ally, she said.

The women she profiled were heavily involved in their churches growing up but were shunned when they came out as gay, said Pater-Ennis. They grieved the loss and yearned to return to religious life, but first, they needed to reexamine their own spiritual identities, explore their pain, and find their way to a community where they could be accepted.

Eventually, all of them were ordained.

One of the women featured in the book is Ann Kansfield, now a minister in Brooklyn. During her teenage years, she struggled with suicidal thoughts as she came to the realization that she was gay. An internalized homophobia forced her to keep quiet about her sexual identity, Kansfield told Pater-Ennis.

In particular, she feared revealing her secret to members of the downtown Rochester, New York, church where her family worshipped. It was there that she had found refuge from bullying classmates who tormented her for acting and dressing differently from the other girls.

But at age 18, when Kansfield came out, she was pleasantly surprised by the warm reaction of members at her First Reformed Church. “The congregation loved me the way I was,” she recalled. Inspired by their faith and unconditional love, she decided to become a minister.

Yet after Kansfield studied in seminary for several years, the church declined to grant her ordination, she said.

Expelled from seminary

Other women in the book recounted similar roadblocks. Some were kicked out of churches and seminary programs; others still fear they will be stripped of their religious station. Many struggled for years with guilt over their sexual orientation.

“The issue of homosexuality in mainline Protestant churches is currently considered the most divisive and debated issue,” Pater-Ennis writes. “There appear to be existing attitudes within congregations that prevent the hiring of lesbian clergy. Many of the clergy who sexually identity as lesbians still found that they need to remain closeted to maintain their employment and their ordination status.”

Pater-Ennis has never served in a church but performs her ministry through her counseling service, she said. She’s also involved in Reformed Church leadership in Bergen and Hudson counties and at the Clinton Avenue Reformed Church in Bergenfield, where her husband, the Rev. Mark Ennis, is pastor.

Homosexuality has sparked fierce debates among denominations around the world. Passages in the Bible condemn the practice, which has historically been considered taboo by many houses of worship. The Catholic Church, for example, teaches that gay people must be treated with dignity and respect but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” since they “close the sexual act to the gift of life.”

But views have been shifting. A 2015 Pew Research Center survey of religious beliefs in the U.S. found that 54% of U.S. Christians say homosexuality should be accepted. An increasing number of churches across the country now conduct same-sex marriages and permit the ordination of gay and lesbian individuals.

Several Protestant denominations have been at the forefront. When the United Church of Christ ordained an openly gay man in 1972, it was called a first in the history of Christianity. The Evangelical Lutheran Church elected its first gay bishop in 2013, and the Presbyterian Church welcomed the first openly lesbian pastor in 2012.

But that doesn’t mean the path has been easy for all.

After studying at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey, Kansfield was informed that the Christian Reformed Church in North America wouldn’t grant her ordination because she was an open lesbian. She subsequently was ordained by the United Church of Christ in 2011.

Leaders of the Reformed Church also suspended her father, Norman Kansfield, an ordained pastor who was president of the New Brunswick seminary, for performing his daughter’s marriage to Jennifer Aull in 2004. He was defrocked the following year, but reinstated in 2011.

Outcry over a wedding

“There was an outcry about our wedding which was definitely uncomfortable,” Ann Kansfield recalled. “My dad got fired for performing our wedding…. It was a great sadness for many in our denomination.”

Today, Kansfield is co-pastor with Aull at Greenpoint Church in Brooklyn, where they aim to reach out to the economically disadvantaged and create an inclusive space for all worshipers, she said. Kansfield, who started there in 2003, said she is working on social justice issues as well as running food ministries for the underprivileged.

The congregation “chose me to be their pastor knowing who they were getting” and gave her a home, “where I could be myself in spite of systemic homophobia that is present throughout society,” she said.

By 2015, Kansfield was sworn in as the first female and first openly lesbian chaplain in the history of the New York City Fire Department. She said she tries not to focus on prejudice that might be sparked by her identity.

“I’m sure there is a lot of sexism and homophobia out there but I tend to not look for it,” she said. “If you look for it, it’s very easy to find, and once you find it it can be disruptive and painful.”

Many who’ve experienced prejudice from within their religion subsequently shut the church out of their lives, said Pater-Ennis.

But the author urges survivors to seek counseling from a religious professional to work through those issues and then to return to some type of spiritual realm where “they can find their own inner peace.

“As humans, we crave community,” she said. “It’s in our DNA.”

Complete Article HERE!

Man hands out photos of gay Catholic teacher’s family in attempt to get her fired

St. Thomas University rallied behind teacher and rejected man’s “hateful” message

Dr. Kelly Wilson and St. Thomas University

By

A lesbian professor at a Catholic university was targeted by a man who handed out photos of her family on campus in an attempt to get her fired.

The man was protesting the employment of Dr. Kelly Wilson, a professor in the theology department at the University of St. Thomas, a private, Roman Catholic university in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn.

The photos distributed by the man, who hasn’t been identified, showed Wilson with her family and children.

But his plan backfired after the university rallied behind Wilson and said it rejected the man’s “hateful message,” KARE 11 reports.

Wilson said that in seven years her sexuality had never “come up” while working at St. Thomas.

“This isn’t new to me that I would get some pushback from some people I just never know or knew it would include a picture of my kids as evidence of why I should be fired,” Wilson said.

She learned of the protest after campus security called her to report the man adding that security was

concerned that “this was the first time he has targeted an individual and used a picture of their family.”

Wilson said that she received support from across the campus, including students, faculty, and leaders.

In a statement, the University of St. Thomas affirmed its support of Wilson and said that the man was banned from the school’s campus.

“This man has a history of criticizing St. Thomas employees. He is not allowed on campus, but we are limited in how we can respond to him when he is on public property. When we found out about this latest incident, we reached out to offer our full support to Dr. Wilson,” they said.

“We also sent a university-wide communication rejecting this man’s hateful message and reaffirming our commitment to an inclusive environment for our LGBTQA+ community members. This is consistent with Catholic teaching, which calls on us to love and care for every person. As Pope Francis reminds us, ‘God has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity.’”

In addition to support from colleagues, Wilson used publicity from the man’s protest to raise funds for Dignity Twin Cities, an LGBTQ Catholic organization.

“I just thought the best way to respond to someone like this is to support those systems that he’s trying to break down,” she said.

Wilson added: “You don’t have pick being gay or Catholic, it’s not either or moments or decisions what it is I believe I am being my authentic self, I believe that is what my church asks me to do what the scriptures ask me to do and what God expects of me, and this is my home is the Catholic Church.”

As well as raising funds. Wilson and a colleague also extended an invitation to Father James Martin — a Jesuit priest, New York Times bestselling author, and advocate for greater LGBTQ outreach by the Church — to come and speak to LGBTQ Catholics at St. Thomas.

Martin accepted, telling KARE 11 that the Church “teaches that LGBT people are to be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”

He also slammed the man who protested Wilson’s employment at a Catholic university, calling it “cruel” to have passed out images of Wilson’s children.

“That is certainly something not part of Catholic teaching, not part of the Christian world and not what Jesus asked us to do,” he said. “Sometimes I like to say that these people are so Catholic, these protestors, that they forget about being Christian.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope may support same-sex unions, but that doesn’t mean the Vatican does

Professor believes Francis sees road to lasting change as a long one

By Colleen Walsh

The disclosure this week of Pope Francis’ support of same-sex civil unions sent shockwaves through the Catholic Church and progressive and conservative circles alike. It came in a papal interview in “Francesco,” a documentary that premiered Wednesday, and represented a major break with Vatican teaching, leaving many wondering whether an official change might be coming soon. In the film Francis says, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.” The Gazette spoke with Francis X. Clooney, S.J., Parkman Professor of Divinity and professor of comparative theology, about the pope’s comments and what they mean for members of the Catholic LGBTQ community. 

GAZETTE:  What was your reaction when you heard about the pope’s comments on same-sex unions?

CLOONEY: On the one hand, it’s not surprising at all, because Archbishop Bergoglio [now Pope Francis] struggled with the issue of formal marriage relationships when he was in Argentina and pointed to a compromise such as calling same-sex unions civil unions and not marriage. This debate is similar to what we went through in this country a decade or so ago. But I think Francis’ openness to same-sex unions is also more fundamentally representative of his instinct that human beings have a right to be together, a right to union, a right to family, and therefore, that it would be unjust to provide no way at all for people to live together as a couple. I think it’s his basic sense of human compassion and his openness to finding ways to help people to live the lives that they feel they must live.

On the other hand, you can’t imagine previous popes speaking in this fashion. That doesn’t mean that someone like John Paul was not a compassionate person, but they were so clearly linked to, focused on, church doctrine, and the preservation of marriage between a male and a female and, given their attitudes toward homosexuality, they simply wouldn’t speak in this fashion, whatever they may personally have felt. And I think what is new here is that Francis, as all the reports say, is in the non-authoritative context of a documentary — not sitting on the chair of Peter as pope making a proclamation ­— speaking his mind as probably most Catholics in the West would also speak their minds and say, “Well yes, some kind of way to allow people to live their lives happily and in peace is what matters.”

GAZETTE:  Does this change anything about the church’s overall doctrine?

CLOONEY: Probably not, because he hasn’t pushed it that far in terms of recognizing gay marriages. But implicitly, it’s undercutting the rhetoric that being gay is a grave disorder or that being gay and living out a gay commitment is something that God disapproves of. Francis is taking a positive attitude and therefore changing the climate, even if there are going to be Catholics who resist this greatly.

GAZETTE:  I know Bishop Thomas J. Tobin in Providence, R.I., has come out very strongly against this. Do you expect an even greater backlash from conservative and other voices in the church?

CLOONEY: Yes, but not as much as one might think. This news is based on a documentary, and it’s in keeping with things Francis has said previously. Conservative critics are not going to be surprised by this, even if they will be very annoyed by it. People who are against any compromise in this direction will see this as another sign that Francis has gone astray, that he is not adhering to church teaching. And they will add this to their list of complaints about him, even though he’s the pope and deserving of their respect. You may recall much earlier in his papacy, when people asked him about his thoughts on homosexuality, he said “Who am I to judge people in their lives?” This is Francis, and for many, this is a wonderful Francis; but for some, it’s the Francis they can’t abide, and they will continue to protest.

GAZETTE:  Can you see him pressing this forward to doctrinal change?

CLOONEY: Several years ago, when there was discussion with the pope and some of the bishops about divorced and remarried Catholics returning to Communion, Francis didn’t bite the bullet and declare that they’re welcome back to Communion if they’re in a stable second marriage. But he said that good priests, who know how to be pastoral, will know how to relate to people. It was as if to say: If a couple who are divorced and remarried comes to you, you’ll help them to find their way. My sense is that Francis is not the man as pope, particularly going on 10 years into his papacy, to be making declarations that push the church where it’s not ready to go. But rather, again, he is giving a green light, really, to priests and others involved in counseling couples to say we have to find ways to welcome Catholics as they are: Be pastoral; be like Jesus. And I think this opens the door, even though it will be controversial in some circles, to saying couples who are in a same-sex marriage are members of the parish and welcome in Catholic worshipping communities. Of course, in some dioceses, such couples will not be welcome to Communion. There will be differences in response and pastoral practice. So I think what is at stake is a kind of incremental pastoral disposition, whereby things will change, as they always have, only slowly. The pope is saying things that other popes never would have said previously. But I don’t see Francis being in the position to make any kind of daring pronouncement in the years to come about gay marriage. I wouldn’t anticipate that coming.

Frank Clooney.
“People who are against any compromise in this direction will see this as another sign that Francis has gone astray, that he is not adhering to church teaching. And they will add this to their list of complaints about him,” says Professor Francis Clooney.

GAZETTE:  Does this kind of comment potentially set the stage for another Vatican council?

CLOONEY: Well, there have certainly been calls for a coming Vatican III. I think there’s a sense that some 50 or 60 years after the last council, which opened things up, there’s a need to consolidate and catch up to where things are in the world around us now. How much has changed since 1965! Some, who still regret the way Vatican II was implemented, will also want to have a Vatican III, if not turn back the clock, rather to tighten things up under a more conservative pope. In a sense it’s like calling a constitutional convention in this country: Liberals and conservatives would see such a convention as to their advantage. But I think all this depends first of all on how long Francis is pope. He’s not said he’s going to retire, but he seems to be the kind of man who would be sensible enough to say, “If I can’t do the job, I will retire,” even if he hasn’t said that yet. So then it will also depend on who the next pope would be.

GAZETTE:  Do you have a sense of whether the church is on a more liberal trajectory in terms of selecting popes?

CLOONEY: Sometimes there’s this sense that if you’ve gone from Benedict on the more conservative side to Francis on the more liberal side, it could be that the cardinals look around and want a shift back a little the other way. And therefore, the next pope would be less likely to make any bold gestures. But again, in 1957 or 1958, nobody expected John XXIII, who was put in as an older caretaker pope, would suddenly call Vatican II. This knocked many cardinals off their seats, so to speak. It could be that such surprising things may happen fairly quickly.

All of this is analogous to how change happens in this country with Congress and the Supreme Court making decisions, sometimes behind popular opinion, sometimes against it. But remember that Francis is in a sense a pastoral incrementalist. He believes that you’ve got to change the way we Catholics, clergy, bishops, all of us think about human decency, our responsibility to members of the church, compassion, helping people in trouble. If you change people’s minds and hearts, then the church will continue to grow in new ways. Whereas if you put in something legally that is too far ahead of where people are, it could be counterproductive.

GAZETTE:  Can you talk a bit about the complexity of being the pope for a global community?

CLOONEY: It’s one thing were Pope Francis the pope only of North America and Western Europe. But everything he says will be read by Catholics in South America, which is still very Catholic in many ways, and also by Catholics in more conservative Catholic communities in Africa and Asia. So going incrementally and pastorally step by step is probably Francis’s instinct, because he knows either he would infuriate Catholics in the West by not going fast enough, or anger Catholics in other parts of the world, who would say, “This is far too fast. This is out of keeping where our culture is.” In certain African countries, homosexuality is still, I think, illegal and can be punished. So saying something about same-sex marriages will be heard in one way in certain countries in Africa, and very differently in New York or Boston or London, where the response will be quite different. I think Francis has to be looking in both directions. And his basic sense is: Change our hearts, how we think as priests and bishops, and so on, and then that will be an infusion of the whole church with a new attitude slowly arriving.

GAZETTE:  Could you see Pope Francis making other kinds of comments about women priests or priests being able to marry going forward?

CLOONEY: Many Catholics have been hoping, with each pope for the past 50 years or so, that the pope would say something to change the dynamic on married priests and women priests, but it hasn’t happened. There has been the issue of women deacons serving in ordained ministry — there’s evidence about women deacons in the early church. But Francis, thus far into his papacy, hasn’t really changed church policy even on that. But with his “who am I to judge” comments, Francis was showing that the church is like a Red Cross station on the battlefield of life, there to help people and not to sit in an ivory tower casting judgments on people. In this way he has set a tone, which is quite clear, about wanting to have an inclusive church, wanting to have a church where people are not left out because some particularities about themselves, their self-identity.

But he doesn’t seem to be the one, as more liberal Catholics would want, to say, “Let’s just ordain women deacons, period. Let’s just do it.” I think as pope, he in theory at least has the power to do that, just as Pope John Paul claimed the power for himself to stop entirely the discussion about the ordination of women, saying it’s not even to be discussed in the church anymore, period. But that didn’t work, it didn’t stop discussion. Francis could say something like that, speaking very firmly on marriage or ordination. But again, would it be wise?

You think of Supreme Court decisions in this country like Roe v. Wade, and can ask whether decisions from above are the best way to change how people think about these issues. I think Francis feels the change has to come more from leaders talking to the people, listening to the people, so that ideas and sentiments seep upward through the church, not just come down from above. So I don’t think he’s going to say anything dramatic about women in the church or married priests in the church. Remember that the bishops of the Amazon region had their annual meeting just a year ago. In their document they called for married priests, arguing that they simply didn’t have enough priests, and that people have a right to Mass and the sacraments, and that the only way to do that is to ordain married men. Francis had the prerogative of issuing the final statement, and he left out reference to that request. He didn’t condemn them and say it’s impossible, but he just didn’t follow up on it. And I don’t see evidence that he’s going to suddenly start acting more boldly at this point on issues such as marriage. A positive attitude toward civil unions may well be as far as he goes.

In terms of his recent comments, people who are in gay unions or gay marriages should therefore not be expecting that suddenly everything is going to be all right. But given Francis’ view of how things change, simply that he’s willing to say these things and air new ideas again and again is a big step forward. It’s not an authoritative pronouncement from Vatican City, per se. But it’s the slow change that moves things forward in a healthy way.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis calls for civil union laws for same-sex couples

Pope Francis greets people as he leaves after the weekly general audience, at the Vatican, on Oct. 21.

By Chico Harlan and Michelle Boorstein

Pope Francis, in a new documentary, has called for the creation of civil union laws for same-sex couples, in what amounts to his clearest support to date for the issue.

In the documentary, according to the Catholic News Agency, Francis is quoted as saying that same-sex couples should be “legally covered.”

“What we have to create is a civil union law,” he said.

Francis has long expressed an interest in outreach to the church’s LGBT followers, but his remarks have often stressed general understanding and welcoming — rather than substantive policies.

Priests in some parts of the world bless same-sex marriage, but that stance — and Francis’s new remarks — are a departure from official church teaching.

The documentary, “Francesco,” is premiering this week in Rome and then in the United States. The pope gave an interview to the filmmaker, Evgeny Afineevsky, saying that “homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family.”

“They’re children of God and have a right to a family,” the pope said. “Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”

Francis, who became pope in 2013, gave earlier, oblique signals interpreted as openness to recognizing same-gender civil unions. He has usually framed his comments in pragmatic, curious terms — as someone noticing the possible need for legal recognition for existing families, so they can access civil benefits such as heath care.

“This is the first time as pope he’s making such a clear statement,” the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit who has advocated for the church to more openly welcome LGBT members, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I think it’s a big step forward. In the past, even civil unions were frowned upon in many quarters of the church. He is putting his weight behind legal recognition of same-sex civil unions.”

According to a Religion News Service story from 2014, Francis — while still a cardinal in Argentina — tried to “negotiate with the Argentine government over the legalization of gay marriage and signaled he would be open to civil unions as an alternative.”

Francis made news that year when the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published an interview with him reiterating “the church’s teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman while acknowledging that governments want to adopt civil unions for gay couples and others to allow for economic and other benefits,” RNS reported.

In the interview, Francis said the churches in various countries must account for those reasons when formulating public policy positions. “We must consider different cases and evaluate each particular case,” Corriere della Serra quoted him as saying.

The interview triggered global interest and controversy. Some said Francis had outright endorsed civil unions.

The Vatican quickly clarified that Francis was speaking in general terms and that people “should not try to read more into the pope’s words than what has been stated,” RNS reported in 2014.

Italy was the last country in Western Europe — other than Vatican City — to offer same-sex couples legal rights, The Washington Post reported in 2016, a position based on the Roman Catholic Church’s historic opposition to such unions.

Francis has a reputation of offering words open to interpretation. In 2016, after the Vatican hosted a combative synod on the family, he said “there cannot be any confusion between the family willed by God and other kinds of unions,” The Post’s 2016 story said.

This has angered traditional Christians. In 2015, New York Archbishop Tim Dolan was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” if accepting civil unions would make him “uncomfortable,” Dolan said it would, because it could “water down” the traditional religious view of marriage,” the RNS story reported.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis urges parents to love their LGBT+ children as they are because they are ‘children of God’

by Patrick Kelleher

Pope Francis has told the parents of LGBT+ children to love them as they are “because they are children of God” in a groundbreaking meeting.

The pope met with 40 parents of LGBT+ children on Wednesday (17 September) to hear their concerns about the church’s disregard for their families.

The parents, all associated with the LGBT+ Catholic parents’ organisation Tenda di Gionata, told Pope Francis about the cold climate their queer children faced in the church when they came out, Avventire.it reports.

At the end of the meeting, the group’s vice president Mara Grassi gave Pope Francis a copy of a Fortunate Families by Mary Ellen Lopata, which details the experiences of Catholic parents of queer children.

He was also given a rainbow-coloured t-shirt emblazoned with the words: “In love there is no fear”.

“He looked and smiled,” Grassi said of the presentation. She called the meeting “a moment of deep harmony that we will not forget”.

Closing out the meeting, Pope Francis told the gathered parents: “Love your children as they are, because they are children of God.”

Speaking after the event, Grassi said their organisation wants to create a dialogue between LGBT+ people and the Catholic church.

“Taking a cue from the title of the book we presented to him, I explained that we consider ourselves lucky because we have been forced to change the way we have always looked at our children,” she said.

“What we now have is a new gaze that has allowed us to see the beauty and love of God in them.

“We want to create a bridge with the church so that the church too can change its gaze towards our children, no longer excluding them but welcoming them fully.”

LGBT+ parents gave Pope Francis letters about their experiences of raising queer children.

The group also gave Pope Francis letters written by parents of LGBT+ children, detailing their painful journeys to acceptance in the face of anti-LGBT+ sentiment in their church.

In one letter, a woman identified as Anna B told Pope Francis that her son knew he would only be loved by his parents if he “suffocated” his true identity.

She explained that she became involved with an LGBT+ Christian group in an effort to better understand her son’s identity after he came out as gay.

The meeting is being hailed as a significant moment of change for LGBT+ members of the Catholic church. The institution has been unwavering in its opposition to LGBT+ acceptance throughout its long history.

However, there was some hope for change among LGBT+ Catholics when Francis was appointed as the successor to Pope Benedict XVI in 2013.

Since then, Pope Francis has had a chequered history with the LGBT+ community.

In 2013, he made global headlines when he called on the Catholic church to “show mercy, not condemnation” to gay people – representing a stark shift in tone from his predecessors.

But in 2019, he told a Spanish newspaper that parents who see signs of homosexuality in their children should “consult a professional” – a comment that was considered by many to endorse conversion therapy.

Meanwhile, he has been staunch in his opposition to trans identities, comparing them to nuclear war and genetic manipulation in 2015.

In 2019, the Vatican released a document claiming that “gender ideology” is a “move away from nature”.

Complete Article HERE!