10/19/17

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

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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!

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08/31/17

Inside the ‘glass closet’ of a gay Catholic teacher

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By Alex Ryan
 

Being both gay and Catholic leads to a somewhat fraught existence. On one hand, we have our Catholic peers who, frequently, have trouble empathising with what it means to be ‘intrinsically disordered’. On the other, we have our queer friends who are, understandably, sceptical of our allegiance to an organisation that has a deep history of discrimination towards people like us.

 
This existence is further complicated for those of us who choose to partake in ministry that sees us employed by the Church.

I am a gay man and, also, a religion teacher in a Catholic school. Recently, I’ve begun to wonder if my teaching days are numbered, particularly given Archbishop Denis Hart’s comments (reported, but since clarified) about Catholic organisations firing gay staff.

It’s the great unspoken rule of Church organisations that gay people must fly under the radar. A ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy is implied, but all of us are acutely aware we work in one of the few jobs not protected by anti-discrimination laws. This black cloud hangs over our every public action because, for some reason, teachers’ lives are something our communities feel entitled to know and talk about.

Whether it’s our social media posts, or even just holding our partner’s hand in public, we must carefully curate our outward appearance so as to not technically break Church rules, even if many of us live in a ‘glass closet’. Though we know it is unlikely we will be fired, we also know the potential is there if the wrong student or parent catches whiff of our supposedly un-Christian behaviour.

Last year I got my first long-term boyfriend since becoming a teacher. This was an exciting time for me, as it was part of embracing my queer identity. But what should have been a joyous occasion led to a great deal of anxiety. I had to explain to a man I cared about that, even though I wasn’t ashamed of him, I couldn’t risk listing him as my partner on Facebook. I was lucky that he was understanding, though it still hurt to explain it to him.

You may think this isn’t a big deal, but I would challenge the average person to go weeks, months, and years without mentioning any aspect of their love life to any coworker. The stress of hiding a major part of life is not insignificant; one wrong move and our livelihood is on the line. This is not to mention that, with the personal scrutiny school administration positions face, our career advancement opportunities in Catholic schools are limited.

People ask: ‘Why don’t you just move into the state system?’ It’s a fair question. But my answer is simple: I just don’t want to. I love working in a place where my faith is ingrained in the everyday routine; a place where Catholicism’s history and tradition are taught, explored and questioned.

Ever since I decided I wanted to be a teacher, I wanted to teach religion. Though it’s not my job to convert students, like in the old catechetical model of Catholic schools, I hope students can at least leave my classroom with an appreciation of how faith contributes to our world. I’m gay, but I’m also Catholic.

LGBTIQ+ people have a lot to contribute to our Catholic schools. To deny our students access to amazing teachers is surely a greater assault to ‘decency’ than what these teachers are doing in the privacy of their own homes. This, of course, leads to the question that many queer Catholics have about the institutional Church: Why is the same level of scrutiny not applied to our heterosexual colleagues?

I know a great many Church employees who live in open defiance of its teachings. People who are divorced, remarried without annulment, married outside the Church, cohabiting before marriage, have children out of marriage, or are engaging in premarital sex. I have also worked with many people who don’t even identify as Catholic. Surely if we are using adherence to Catholic belief as our yardstick for employability, then people who openly reject papal authority (e.g. Protestants), or reject belief in the Holy Trinity (eg. non-Christians) would fall short of the mark.

I’m not, of course, advocating that people in these groups should be excluded from employment in Catholic institutions — on the contrary. Rather, this is just to illustrate that to single out gay Catholic employees is to arbitrarily discriminate against an already vulnerable group. That, surely, would be a plank in the Church’s eye far bigger than the speck in mine.

Complete Article HERE!

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07/7/17

The way ahead for gay Catholics

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Two years ago Cardinal Vincent Nichols asked me to be his liaison and chaplain to the Farm Street LGBT group in central London

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Two years ago Cardinal Vincent Nichols asked me to be his liaison and chaplain to the Farm Street LGBT group in central London. That same week I was invited to be chaplain to the London chapter of Courage, an international support group. My work includes one-to-one spiritual guidance, helping with reflection days and accompanying both groups as an official representative of the Church.

Ministry to homosexual Catholics (transgenderism would need a separate article) takes place in two main contexts. First, groups like the Farm Street group set up by gay people themselves or their relatives, where everyone knows they are welcome, whatever their situation, and issues can be openly discussed. Such groups often later seek the support of their local bishop and priests.

Secondly, bishops or priests can set up groups themselves, and even obtain Vatican recognition, provided they are explicit in their adherence to Church teaching. Courage is such a group, set up by Fr John Harvey in America with the support of bishops there, and now present in several countries. Members describe themselves not as gay but as “experiencing same-sex attraction” and aim at lifelong sexual abstinence – but not at changing their sexual orientation.

Pastoral care of homosexual people is essentially the same as all ministry: seeking to communicate the unconditional love of Christ and his Church, and to accompany people on their journey towards holiness. But in practice this particular ministry encounters powerful feelings of pain and anger which can cause difficulties.

LGBT people often feel hurt by the Church, either because of the way its teaching comes across, or through concrete experiences of rejection, or both. Those from non-Western cultures are sometimes even in danger of their lives, while some other Catholics seem threatened by the very existence of gay people and react angrily towards attempts to accommodate them within the Church.

There is also a wide range of attitudes, experiences and behaviour among gay Catholics themselves. Some long for a permanent relationship, while others admit that relationships are not important for them, and they simply want sex. With the availability of gay websites and apps, and well-known pick-up spots, most gay people in our society can easily have sex whenever they want.

We sometimes meet men who had a lot of casual sex but came to realise it did not make them happy. They may then seek help in leading a chaste life. Courage provides them with a supportive group, modelled on twelve-step programmes, in which personal sharing enables exploration of the relationship between sexual desires and other aspects of life, and so helps mitigate the compulsive element which can easily affect sexual behaviour. Others are looking for a long-term relationship, but may go through several sexual partners in the search, sometimes remaining good friends with them after the sexual relationship has ended.

But one thing is common to virtually all LGBT Catholics today: they will not take the Church’s teaching on trust, but must learn from experience. Even those who hold a very traditional attitude have likely arrived at it through many experiences.

This being so, ministers to gay Catholics need two main resources: a moral theology that can face the critical scrutiny of life experience; and a well-grounded spirituality of discernment. These can help LGBT Catholics look honestly at their behaviour, see where it is leading them and discover alternatives where indicated.

The moral theology I have found most helpful in this ministry is that of the Belgian Dominican Servais Pinckaers, who shows that from biblical times to St Thomas Aquinas, Catholic moral theology was essentially based on the search for true happiness, on earth and in heaven, and on the cultivation of virtues leading to it – a happiness deeper than mere pleasure, and consisting above all in communion with God and his holy people.

A theology based on observing rules was a later distortion, and led by reaction in the 1960s to an equally unhelpful liberalism.

In Pinckaers’ perspective, moral theology does not just define what one is allowed to do, or the minimum one must do, but joins hands with spirituality in promoting the search for holiness through loving God and neighbour to the uttermost. Ignatian discernment of spirits is the obvious spiritual partner for such a theology.

Thus the most important gift the minister can offer LGBT people, after unconditional love and welcome, is encouragement to a deep spiritual life of friendship with Christ, based on the traditional practices of Mass, Confession, Adoration, Lectio Divina and the rosary. Without this, discernment loses itself in subjective states of mind; with it we begin to see which path leads to heaven and which to hell, and to marry personal experience with the wisdom of the Church.

Complete Article HERE!

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06/23/17

Illinois Catholic bishop decrees no Holy Communion, funerals for same-sex couples

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Bishop Thomas Paprocki leads the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Ill.

The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Ill., is calling on priests there to deny Holy Communion and even funeral rites to people in same-sex unions unless they show “some signs of repentance” for their relationships before death.

The decree by Bishop Thomas Paprocki also said that people “living publicly” in same-sex marriages may not receive the sacrament of confirmation or be admitted to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a process by which many converts become Catholic, preparing them for baptism and confirmation.

At the same time, Paprocki said that children living with a Catholic parent or parents in a same-sex marriage may be baptized. But when it comes to same-sex unions, priests cannot bless couples, church property cannot be used for ceremonies and diocesan employees are forbidden from participating, the decree said.

The bishop’s decree has not yet been made public by the diocese, but was sent to clergy and diocesan staff in an email last week. That email, in turn, was shared with other clergy around the country, as well as Catholic LGBT organizations, which posted the document and condemned it as unduly harsh, particularly in light of Pope Francis’s more compassionate posture.

“Although some other bishops and dioceses have instituted similar policies in part, this document is mean-spirited and hurtful in the extreme,” Christopher Pett, incoming president of DignityUSA, said in a news release by the organization that rallies the church for full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics.

Although same-sex marriages have been legal across the United States since the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, the decree reiterates church teaching that marriage is a “covenant between one man and one woman.” The church’s official catechism states that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”

Four years ago, after gay marriage was legally recognized in Illinois, Paprocki “performed an exorcism in response to the law, suggesting politicians were ‘morally complicit’ in assisting the sins of same-sex couples,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

The 64-year-old bishop, trained as a lawyer as well as priest, has served the Springfield diocese since 2010. He was previously a priest and auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and is known for his passion for running and penchant for playing hockey.

In a statement provided to The Post, the bishop said of the decree: “These norms are necessary in light of changes in the law and in our culture regarding these issues.” The decree states:

Jesus Christ himself affirmed the privileged place of marriage in human and Christian society by raising it to the dignity of a sacrament. Consequently, the church not only has the authority, but the serious obligation to affirm its authentic teaching on marriage to preserve and foster the sacred value of the married state.

Last year, the pope released a 256-page document, “The Joy of Love,” which affirmed the church’s traditional views on marriage, as The Post reported. At the same time, the pope said unconventional unions are not without their “constructive elements.” He called on the church’s clergy to be pastoral and not to use doctrine as a weapon.

Other clergy have also embraced a more welcoming approach. Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, the archbishop of Newark, recently welcomed dozens of gay and lesbian Catholics to worship. “I am Joseph your brother,” Tobin told the group, according to a New York Times report. “I am your brother, as a disciple of Jesus. I am your brother, as a sinner who finds mercy with the Lord.”

The Rev. James Martin’s latest book — “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the L.G.B.T. Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity” — also calls for a gentler approach. Of the Paprocki decree, the noted Jesuit author, said in a pointed Facebook post:

If bishops ban members of same-sex marriages from receiving a Catholic funeral, they also have to be consistent. They must also ban divorced and remarried Catholics who have not received annulments, women who has or man who fathers a child out of wedlock, members of straight couples who are living together before marriage, and anyone using birth control. For those are all against church teaching as well. Moreover, they must ban anyone who does not care for the poor, or care for the environment, and anyone who supports torture, for those are church teachings too. More basically, they must ban people who are not loving, not forgiving and not merciful, for these represent the teachings of Jesus, the most fundamental of all church teachings. To focus only on LGBT people, without a similar focus on the moral and sexual behavior of straight people is, in the words of the Catechism, a “sign of unjust discrimination.”

Complete Article HERE!

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05/23/17

A Complex Conversation

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LGBT Catholics & the Francis Papacy

Jaeynes Childers and Maria Balata, members of the Chicago Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach, hold hands at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in 2016

By John Gehring

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been in Chicago and San Francisco talking to LGBT Catholics and hearing from theologians, Catholic school leaders, parents, and others about how the church can do a better job reaching out to and learning from gay Catholics. One of the most hopeful messages I heard came from a Catholic bishop appointed by Pope Francis.

“In a church that has not always valued or welcomed your presence, we need to hear your voices and take seriously your experiences,” Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, told several hundred participants at the New Ways Ministry gathering in Chicago last month, “LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.”

New Ways Ministry, founded in 1977 by Fr. Robert Nugent and Sr. Jeannine Gramick, faced sanction in 1999 when Cardinal Ratzinger—then the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, later Pope Benedict XVI—issued a directive that prohibited them from “any pastoral work involving homosexual persons.” The two continued their pastoral ministry anyway. Nugent died in 2014, but Gramick is still active with the organization. Given this history, Bishop Stowe’s presence at the conference is a sign of the times.

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has strongly defended the traditional church teaching against same-sex marriage. He also has been critical of what he calls the “ideological colonization” of some contemporary ways of understanding gender. Still, Francis has taken a dramatically different approach to speaking about gay and lesbian people than previous popes, who emphasized homosexuality as an “intrinsic moral evil,” as well as those American church leaders who have put opposition to LGBT rights at the top of their lobbying efforts. While most U.S. bishops still have not caught up to the pope, Cardinal Joe Tobin, appointed by Francis to lead the Newark archdiocese last November, recently welcomed a pilgrimage of LGBT Catholics to the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. “I am delighted that you and the LGBTQ brothers and sisters plan to visit our beautiful cathedral,” Tobin wrote in an e-mail to the group’s leader. “You will be very welcome.”

Francis’s fresh start is in line with his frequent acknowledgments that the church has too often excluded people by fixating on a narrow, moral legalism. “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,” the pope said in a 2013 interview. “I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation.” Less than a year later, when asked by reporters about gay priests at the Vatican, his quote become a viral papal soundbite that has reached near-iconic status: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord, who am I to judge?”
Bishops who can cite the fine print of the church’s teaching on sexuality should also be listening closely to the honest stories of Catholic parents

During a spiritual reflection at the New Ways Ministry conference, Bishop Stowe noted how Jesus often challenged what he called the “self-proclaimed Sabbath police,” and made a direct connection to that mindset with how LGBT Catholics are often treated. “Some of you have experienced the same kind of approach to the law that Jesus corrected so many times in the Gospel—an approach that sometimes devalues human beings,” he said.

The most painful stories I heard came from gay and lesbian Catholics who have been fired from Catholic schools or other Catholic institutions after public disclosures of their relationships. Since 2007, according to New Ways Ministry, at least fifty LGBT Catholics have been fired or forced to resign. Margie Winters, a long-time religious education director at Waldron Mercy Academy in Philadelphia, was fired in 2015 after a disgruntled parent outed her marriage to another woman. (See “Fighting a Firing in Philadelphia” for more details.) “I loved and still love that community because it’s a part of my heart,” Winters said at the Chicago conference. “It was like a death. This kind of firing is a trauma. The sense of exile has been hardest for me.”

Bishops who can cite the fine print of the church’s teaching on sexuality should also be listening more closely to the raw, honest stories of Catholic parents. “Ten years ago I was blissfully ignorant of all things LGBT until it came to my family,” said Ray Dever, a deacon in St. Petersburg, Florida. The father of five, who describes his family as “pretty darn Catholic”—four of his five children were in Catholic schools at the same time—is now a proud and public advocate for his transgender daughter Lexi. “The hard part is seeing one of your loved ones endure self-hatred,” he said. “When the word suicide comes into play, your life changes. We wanted to get her through her junior year alive. There are so many families who reject their LGBT kids and that’s tragic, especially when that is done in the name of faith. I’m no expert but what these families need to hear is God created these kids just the way they are and that God loves them.”

His daughter Lexi came to terms with her identity at Georgetown University, where she worked at the LGBTQ resource center on campus. “Transgender people just want to live an everyday life and be a normal person in a crowd,” she said. “I struggled with coming out. I was convinced I would be abandoned by family and friends because I saw that happening to others.” Trans youth have disproportionately high suicide rates, she noted, and the average life expectancy of a transgender woman is only thirty-one years.

One of the most impassioned and articulate Catholic voices for the full-inclusion of LGBT Catholics is Fordham University theologian Bryan Massingale, an African-American priest. While some have brushed aside Pope Francis’ oft-quoted statements as merely signaling a shift in tone on LGBT issues, Massingale sees a more substantive process unfolding in this papacy. “There is a change of tone, to be sure, but the tone masks a definite doctrinal shift and development now underway—a change that is cautious, tentative, tense, at times ambiguous and contradictory, and yet nonetheless real,” Massingale said during a plenary address at the New Ways Ministry gathering. “What is neuralgic for many church leaders lies not so much in being gay, but in being honest, forthright, and transparent about it,” he said. “The open closet,” as Massingale calls it, is a paradoxical dynamic of “private toleration and public condemnation,” a stance that he finds problematic. “Justice is inherently public,” he said. “Justice is the social face of love. To insist on private acceptance and compassion for LGBT persons without an effective commitment to defending LGBT human rights and creating a society of equal justice for all is not only contradictory, it is inherently incomprehensible and ultimately unsustainable.”

At the University of San Francisco, I met with more than two dozen Catholic teachers, school administrators, theologians, and women religious, along with the mayor’s point-person on transgender initiatives. The group came together for a conversation about how to support LGBT students and help Catholic institutions think about making a culture of inclusion central to Catholic identity. Michael Duffy, director of the McGrath Institute for Jesuit Catholic Education at the university, pulled together the meeting in part because of his experience at some Catholic workshops and conferences, where discussions about LGBT issues have often been unhelpful and narrowly defined.

Theresa Sparks, the San Francisco mayor’s advisor on transgender initiatives, told the group that she has had little engagement with Catholic institutions. “There is a vacuum there,” said Sparks, who raised all her children in Catholic schools and spent some time homeless after transitioning herself. One in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Last spring, an English teacher at Mercy High School in San Francisco came out as transgender. Gabriel Bodenheimer put his job at risk when he decided to transition from female to male—but the Sisters of Mercy, which owns and operates the school, supported him. “We feel because of our values, the choice was this, but that doesn’t mean it was easy,” Sister Laura Reicks, president of the 16-state region of the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community told the San Francisco Chronicle. Bodenheimer told the San Francisco gathering that his experience was “harrowing and also heartening.” But “a culture of fear and silence,” he said, is still the norm when it comes to transgender issues at Catholic schools.

One longtime Catholic school educator, who requested anonymity, told me that a “Breaking the Binary” conference at his school in March caused an uproar among a vocal contingent of parents. “Some parents were upset and felt a Catholic school should not be talking about gender identity,” he said. “We’ve never had a response like this to anything we’ve done before.” About fifty parents kept their children home from school. Students picked the theme of the conference, which was not solely focused on transgender issues but included discussions about women in the workplace and gender stereotypes. The transgender conversation was optional. A panel of experts spoke to the students: an attorney who specializes in representing transgender clients, two health care providers who work with the trans community, and a social worker. A student who transitioned after he graduated shared a video about his experience. The school is operated by an order of women religious.

“We really used the mission of our school and our Catholic identity to talk about transgender people not as a political issue but in terms of standing on the margins and going to the existential peripheries where people are sometimes suffering,” the educator said. “A Catholic school is a place where kids should learn to think critically so they can make the world a more just and humane place. We teach the church’s position on sexuality and we also have an obligation to help them wrestle with complex moral issues.”

Complete Article HERE!

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