Letting Harmony Find You

Harmony California

Harmony California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

From my sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Billings yesterday:

 

I love the word “harmony”.

 

Besides being just a musical term, it also describes being in balance.

 

Sometimes it takes some time to find that balance- I’d like to tell you a little bit about the time it’s taken me….

 

I was born in Butte and raised in Twin Bridges. My Dad was a rancher, my mom stayed home with me and my brother and sister. From an early age, I knew I was different. I really couldn’t have put my finger on it when I was young, but I seemed to be more sensitive than other boys my age, more compassionate about things that could hurt.

 

In fact, I actively avoided rough games and play. I liked to read- and I read constantly- often about far away places, places that I might be able to go to when I was older- where people might understand me.

 

It’s hard to find harmony when your insides are saying one thing- and the world is telling  you its opposite. But I did find it sometimes.

 

When I was alone- in my room or in the woods.

 

When I was reading a great book.

 

When I was in the quiet of my church.

 

In fact, church was probably my salvation. I grew up Catholic, and I loved all of the rituals and music of our little church. I loved that the priest took an interest in me, didn’t think I was weird, encouraged me in reading and study and conversation. I felt the harmony.

 

But then, around twelve or thirteen, something happened.

 

I realized that the difference I felt wasn’t just about the way I saw and felt the world, it was about how I felt and saw other people.

 

I learned that other boys my age wanted to chse girls and that other girls my age wanted to chase boys- not that they’d know what to do when they caught them- but that wasn’t what I wanted.

 

It was confusing. I had crushes on older boys. Felt myself looking at my classmates in the shower during gym. And it terrified me, because I knew it was bad. I knew that I was one of those people that were really monsters, freaks. Teachers said so- kids said so- the church said so. “Queer” was evil. We played smear the queer at recess. It never went well for the “Queer”. The word “Fag” was a term of derision worse than “Nazi”, or “Communist”.

 

And that’s what I knew I was.

 

A Queer. A Faggot. And it was bad.

 

That’s when I lost the harmony.

 

It was important for my survival 35 years ago- as it sadly still is for kids today- that I not be detected. That I not be singled out. I had to hide.

 

So I did. I no longer trusted the goodness of my nature. My desires were to be obliterated out of necessity. It wasn’t safe.

 

I pretty much hid my sexuality in high school and college- with brief moments of harmony when I found others like me, but mostly, I was just working hard to keep myself from being fully seen. And that culminated in my becoming a priest.

 

And not just any priest. I went to seminary in Rome. I knew people in the Vatican. I found other gay men who were following the same path I was and we supported each other.

 

Over the years, I’ve noticed that of all the people in seminary with me, the ones that later got into some kind of trouble were the ones who were in denial about their sexuality- the ones without any support.

 

Harmony actually found me again for a while.

 

I loved the work, I loved the people. But it got tiring.

 

I got tired of not being seen for the real me. I got depressed because the official church position on my particular sexuality was that we were all “fundamentally disordered”. It’s hard to believe in an institution that discards as irrelevant your particular, strong and direct experience. It’s hard to maintain day after day the lie.

 

I tried everything.

 

I worked harder. I got a dog. I bought a truck. Nothing helped. Finally, I got counseling.

 

What took me so long?

 

Denial can be a very high and thick wall- especially if you lay each brick in desperation, in fear for your very life. I had denied my experience.  I was hiding from harmony- only I didn’t know it at the time.

 

What brought me out was something ordinary.

 

I fell in love. Hard.

 

I heard the notes of harmony again. Sometimes- when I just let myself be loved by this man- it was more like a symphony.

 

I came to realize that my experience hadn’t conflicted with my faith at all- it just conflicted with the interpretation of that faith by others. In one sense, LGBT people aren’t asked by their churches to inform the faith- they’re asked to stand outside and accept the information given by others- some of whom are hiding behind their own self-built walls of shame and denial.

 

I also realized that I hadn’t allowed myself the common dignity of reflecting honestly on my life before making promises to a church that would never accept me as the man I really was.

 

Ironically, I had preached “the truth will set you free” a million times- but it never sank in until I was freed to be myself. To have compassion for myself. To create a space of understanding in myself.

 

As a therapist, I know the biggest breakthroughs often come from uncovering the lies that we tell ourselves. “What’s the lie?

 

But it has to be done with compassion.

 

I spent years dealing with the fallout of my denial. That initial relationship didn’t last. I spent time doing drugs, having meaningless sex, until I had  spiritual breakthrough just weeks before I was diagnosed with HIV.

 

I’m not sure if we have the time for me to into it here, but here’s what I walked away with: “Nothing can go wrong” (You can read about it here)

 

Nothing.

 

In my best moments, I believe this.

 

In my worst moments, I forget this and struggle to make the world make sense by bending it to my will.

 

The complete opposite of what I should be doing.

 

You see, there’s nothing more important than the recognition of reality. Loving what is- not what should or could be- loving what is. Right here, right now.

 

It doesn’t mean we have to stay in it forever, we just have to let the total reality of the present moment sink in if we want to have fulfilling and satisfying lives.

 

And yes- sometimes pain is a part of the present reality.

 

But it’s always temporary.

 

Notice I said “pain”, not “suffering”. Suffering is almost always optional.

 

Here’s my definition of suffering: “Suffering. Noun. Remembering past pain in a way that traumatizes; imagining future pain in a way that traumatizes; creating stories about pain that doesn’t exist- either from the past or future. Creating or re-creating unnecessary pain.”

 

What do you think of that?

 

I’ve come to understand that it’s not about making things happen, it’s about allowing things to happen- and finding my place in them.

 

It’s not about bending the world to my will, its about truly looking at the world and knowing that I have a place in it- even if it’s not immediately evident.

 

It’s about feeling loved. By everything. There’s music there….

 

How do you do that?

 

Practice. And by listening for it.

 

How do musicians get the feel of harmonizing? Practice. And by realizing they won’t get it right every time. By not needing it to be perfect. You have to stop and listen.

 

Because nothing can go wrong.

 

Today, I have a man that loves me more than anything else in the world. I believe that. And I love him the same way. We have a house and dogs and a very satisfying life together. I work with LGBT people, helping them to be happy. I work with HIV+ people, helping them to be happy and healthy. I’m doing things that satisfy me.

 

Some have said “You’ve overcome so much to get where you are today- how did you do it?”

 

“Yeah, overcoming your own sense of self-importance and shame and denial is a bitch- but we all have to do it eventually. On earth or in heaven, I guess.”

 

It’s not the circumstances- it’s how you see them.

 

I believe prayer is trying to see with God’s eyes, not vice-versa. That’s the only way it makes sense. Why would I pray for anything but to see the truth?

 

Well, maybe to hear the music…. :)

 

We all know the tune- and I believe that we all have the power to discover the harmony. I believe that sooner or later, the harmony will find us- especially if we slow down, quiet ourselves and wait for it.

 

And that music is so beautiful and rich.

 

May harmony find you.

 

Amen.

 

WWES? (What Would Ezekiel Say?)

“Personally, I don’t believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle, or like, premarital sex between heterosexuals … it says that that’s a sin … I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ,” he said on the show. “So, I would not characterize that person as a Christian, because I don’t think the Bible would characterize that person as a Christian.”

~ Chris Broussard, ESPN Commentator.

Bible

Bible (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

I do so wish to avoid judging those who judge others.  Thus, I have tried to avoid comment upon the religious right rhetoric about LGBT people.  Yet, it is becoming increasingly clear that statements like the above quote stray from even the most basic of Christian tenets, Jesus’s command that we “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  John 13:34-35.  Moreover, for a biblical literalist, the above scriptural interpretation  (Not cited, but denominated as biblical by the phrase, “it says.” ) is simply inaccurate.  Finally, one of the most basic rules of journalism is that the media represent all sides of an issue.  And, there is another side to this story.

So, what is gained by my silence? Some great Christian leaders have posited that to be silent in the face of oppression is to join the oppressor.  (E.g., Dr. King, and more recently, Bishop Gene Robinson).  Thus, I gladly risk the criticism that I am being judgmental in favor of speaking out on behalf of the oppressed.  I speak my truth to power.

Now, about Gay Christians.  The term is neither an oxymoron nor disingenuous.  I personally identify as LGBT and Christian.  I believe that Jesus is Lord!   According to scripture, I cannot make such a statement lightly, but only by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (1 Corinthians 12:3).  Moreover, if I say it and believe it than scripture guarantees my salvation.  (Romans 10:9).  Hence, the scriptural formulaic equation for salvation is not exclusive.  I can be Gay and Christian.  And I am not alone in this belief.

There are a whole host or Christian organizations, many of which we see on Face Book every day, dedicated to the same proposition. We are in the minority now, but I believe that as we continue to change the world that all of Christendom will likewise evolve.  One such group is called Fortunate Families, a national organization of Catholic parents with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender children, with a passion for social justice advocacy and a focus on the Catholic Church and LGBT issues.  In my present church affiliation, Methodist, we have the Reconciling Ministries Network whose purpose is to mobilize United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform our Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love.  The Episcopal church has an organization called Integrity, whose mission it is to inspire and equip the Episcopal Church, its dioceses, congregations, and members to proclaim and embody God’s all-inclusive love for LGBTQ persons and those who love them.  Perhaps you know of others.

When it comes to scripture, I am merely a “jack-theologian,” so-to-speak.  While I have a minor in religious studies, I certainly do not have any sort of divinity degree.  However, I have at least read the passages to which I refer.  I understand that they have been through multiple translations over the millennia, and were written in a vastly different culture with a vastly inferior world view, knowledge and technology, and that they were gathered into what we now know as the Bible by church fathers in the Third Century.  (Even a cursory search reveals that the origins of the Bible is a complicated story rife with dissension and debate).  Scripture did not even have line and verse until the 16th century.  (The Bible was divided into chapters in the 13th century by Stephen Langton and into verses in the 16th century by French printer Robert Estienne).  People believed over the entire 4,000 or so years that the various books of the Bible were written that the world was flat and the heavens (and God) resided a few hundred feet above them.  Science now informs our world view to cast aside such notions, as well as the notion that the Biblical genealogy found in Genesis denotes the age of the world.

Against that backdrop, we have the self-righteous and inflammatory conclusions above.  They can be summarized as follows: The bible says that homosexuality is a sin in open rebellion to God and Jesus.  In claiming to be LGBT and Christian I must, as Gene Robinson says, “unabashedly” assert that this statement is false! None of the Gospels attribute to Jesus as ever uttering a single word about homosexuality, much less the word itself, or that he would accord it to himself as “open rebellion.”  No such word existed in Hebrew or Greek, the two main languages in which the books of the bible were written.  The word “homosexual” is not in the Bible, except in oblique translations of the six or so references to men “lying” with men in the Hebrew text and Paul’s letters, the most notorious of which is found in Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”  (Evidently, the only reason one lies with a female is to have sex.  But is it okay if I lie with a woman until I need glasses?  Sorry, I digress (impishly laughing to self with tongue firmly in cheek)).

The Hebrew term, shiqquwts is translated as “abomination” by almost all translations of the Bible. The similar words, sheqets, and shâqats, are almost exclusively used for dietary violations.  Toeba, is also translated as abomination in some texts. Many modern versions of the Bible translate it as  “detestable”or “loathsome.”  I hear one Rabbi refer to it as “yicky.”  Biblical literalists interpret this to mean that same-sex sexual activity is an abomination and therefore inherently sinful.  (Note, however, that it is not one of the Ten Commandments).

However,please consider that a word or phrase which has been translated through multiple languages over centuries and the subject of great debate and disagreement among the worlds great scholars and theologians, inherently, cannot credibly be taken as a modern-day literal truth.  Moreover, this supposed proscription was part of what is called the ancient Hebrew Holiness Code which highly regulated the everyday lives of ancient Hebrew men, from what they were to wear to what they were to eat.  Violations of these rules were also called abominations.  The code referred to how they were to treat one another too.  Later prophets make this clear.  In a little referred to scripture, Ezekiel says at  16:49-50: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.”  Clearly, Sodom’s lack of hospitality is the abomination.

Yet, there is no mention of the word, “homosexual,” again defying the literalists.  They cannot rely on the literal words of scripture to reach the result they want, but must interpret the meaning of the words used through their various translations over time in spite of  later clarification within the Bible’s own pages.  Now I wonder how to characterize the above quotation from the ESPN announcer.  Is it hospitable, or detestable and loathsome?  Is it an abomination?  What would Ezekiel say?

Musical Nun Sings: ‘You Are Not Alone’

From New Ways Ministry Blog:

Bare-MusicalArtThe character of a nun, in an off-Broadway musical provocatively entitled Bare, is now singing a song which one writer thinks will become an anthem for LGBT youth facing bullying and harassment.

Despite the title, the show does not focus on nudity, but on the struggles of two gay high school students at a Catholic boarding school

In a Huffington Post piece, Mark Canavera draws attention to a song in the second act, “You’re Not Alone,” sung by the character Sister Joan:

” ‘You’re Not Alone,’ developed by lyricist Jon Hartmere and composer Lynne Shankel for the current off-Broadway revival of the musical Bare, will become a new anthem for LGBT youth. Bare churns in tempo with the lives of a group of sexually awakening teenagers who are struggling within the confines of a Catholic school. ‘You’re Not Alone’ comes late in the second act and represents the show’s emotional pinnacle, piercing through the turmoil. (Although no official recording of the song yet exists, a demo version is available to stream here.) Sister Joan, an empathetic nun, is consoling one of her gay students who is caught in the whirlwinds of the drama. She uses the clearest words imaginable:

“You’re created in His image. / You’re a perfect child of God. / And this part of you / It’s the heart of who you are. / It’s who you are / And you just need to know / You’re not alone.” ‘ “

Canavera describes how the song was developed, and the reason the composer and lyricist put it into the mouth of a teacher:

“That the song is sung by a teacher to her student illuminates the special role that teachers can play in supporting their students while opening new horizons. ‘I think that teachers have such an amazing opportunity-slash-responsibility to their students to open a kid’s eyes to what is possible beyond what they think is possible,’ says Shankel. Hartmere himself was a teacher who spoke frankly to his classrooms about his sexual orientation and the offense he felt at hearing insults tossed around. ‘One day on the yard,’ he describes, ‘I heard a kid call someone else gay, and one of the girls from my class said, “Don’t use that word because my teacher’s gay, and I like him.” ‘ “

Of course, more importantly is the fact that the character is not only a teacher, but a Catholic nun:

“In addition to being a teacher, Sister Joan is obviously a nun. Hartmere, who was raised Catholic and whose great aunt is a nun, believes that this character and her song should help to provide a counter-balance to conceptions of the Catholic Church as a monolithic, doctrinaire haven for sex offenders. ‘There’s another angle here,’ says Hartmere, ‘another way of looking at things. Nuns are an amazing group of people who have an amazing worldview that should be listened to more.’

“I couldn’t agree more. Listening to Sister Joan send her clarion message to the struggling student in a recent performance of Bare transported me directly to 1992, when I was a freshman at a Catholic high school in Charleston, South Carolina. I was coming to terms with my sexual orientation, lonely, lost, confused, and yes, suicidal. My Sister Joan was Sister A.J. — short for Alice Joseph — of the Sisters of Mercy order. Sister A.J. was in her 50s when she taught me and passed away some years ago now; God rest her soul. Much like the teacher whose supportive note to a gay studentrecently went viral, Sister A.J. wrote the following note on one of my essays:

By the way, you were born homosexual, overweight, and with a loving heart. Don’t worry about your homosexuality. One day the pope will understand. PS…I love you.

” ‘You’re Not Alone‘ and such notes are crystal lasers of love, beaming direct and clear from the hearts of nuns to their LGBT students. May such love go viral.”

At New Ways Ministry, we’ve known for over 36 years how much nuns have been supporting LGBT people and ministry because they have been the backbone of our financial and spiritual support.  We are deeply grateful. We are glad that a song such as “You Are Not Alone” is helping to spread the message of nuns’ love–and God’s love–of LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Here I am, Lord

As a disenfranchised Catholic, I cannot help but be intrigued and even a little hopeful about Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation.  I do not like Benedict even though I love the church.  I grew up Catholic, was both an altar and choir boy, and even considered becoming a priest.  I can’t imagine how that would have turned out.

English: Pope Benedict XVI in Italy

English: Pope Benedict XVI in Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nonetheless, the American/Roman Catholic culture became my culture.  My friends were Catholic.  We attended the Catholic grade school and church at the corner of my street.  I later went to a Catholic high school and college (University of Dayton).  I especially loved the new music in the church, and played and sang those songs in a church music group for years.  I even came to appreciate the deep meaning and spiritual significance of the Mass and other Catholic traditions.

I miss those parts of being Catholic because they are so much a part of who I am.  However, like so many others, I can no longer tolerate both the fact of clergy child sexual abuse, and the church hierarchy’s cover up of the same.  Neither can I abide the church’s homophobic positions, philosophy, and teaching.  Did you ever notice when Benedict has discussed these, he does not refer to scripture, nor even mention Jesus, let alone his teachings about love and lack of judgment.  Perhaps this is because the gospels, ostensibly, have also sanctioned the power of the Vicar of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter (“I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it,” Matthew 16:18, New American Standard Bible (©1995), emphasis added), as well as his minions, to assess judgment upon sinners.

Purportedly, this power, conferred by Jesus himself in John 20:23, New American Standard Bible (©1995)  (“If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained”) takes precedent in the minds of the Church over Jesus’ direct order:  “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” John 15:12, New American Standard Bible (©1995).  And, what about this rather direct admonishment?  “Do not judge and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. . . .”  Luke 6:37, New American Standard Bible (©1995).

I have never heard an explanation for this elevation of one of Jesus’ principles over that of others, and would love to read the apologetics which justifies this doctrine promulgated by the self perpetuating (and protecting) hierarchical system known as the church.  But, that is perhaps another matter.

Be that as it may, apparently not all church members agree with these judgmental policies.  “Equally Blessed, an LGBT-inclusive Catholic group, issued a statement upon Benedict’s announcement and said members were ‘grateful that Pope Benedict XVI had the foresight and humility to resign his office for the sake of the church to which he has given his life.’

The organization added that the Roman Catholic Church now has the opportunity to change the church and overturn oppressive, homophobic policies.

‘We pray for a pope who is willing to listen to and learn from all of God’s people. We pray for a pope who will realize that in promoting discrimination against LGBT people, the church inflicts pain on marginalized people, alienates the faithful and lends moral credibility to reactionary political movements across the globe. We pray for a pope who will lead the church in looking the sexual abuse scandal squarely in the eye and make a full report on the complicity of the hierarchy in the sexual trauma inflicted on children around the world. We pray for a pope who is willing to make himself vulnerable on behalf of the voiceless, the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed.’”  http://www.advocate.com/politics/religion/2013/02/11/pope-benedict-xvi-announces-resignation.

I wish I could be as genial and hopeful, but, sadly, I must acknowledge as have others that many of the Cardinals who will select Benedict’s successor (and from whose ranks he will be chosen) were handpicked by Benedict himself.  Thus, it is very likely that they share his views and support his policies.

I pray from the depths of my soul for a pope who will truly believe these words from a popular Catholic hymn*:

I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart

*Written by Daniel Schutte and recorded by Daniel O’Donnell in 1981 after Vatican Council II. Its words are based on Isaiah 6:8 and 1 Samuel 3. The song was then published by North American Liturgy Resources which later was purchased by New Dawn Music, a subsidiary of Oregon Catholic Press. It’s been used at many Papal Masses.  From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (Citations omitted).

Imagine There’s No (Literal) Bible

When John Lennon sang, “Imagine there’s no heaven . . . And no religion too,” I did not like it, having just been born again.  I had found God, and the English translation, New International Bible was my ticket to keep what I had found.  I loved the Bible, and read each page with fervor.  They told me every single word was literally true, and I believed it.

KJV Bible

KJV Bible (Photo credit: knowhimonline)

Never mind that many of those words were written by ancient Hebrew men for Hebrew men, and other of those words by citizens of ancient Rome; that they were written in equally archaic and foreign languages including Hebrew and Aramaic, and then translated into Greek and Latin; and, that they were written in the context of limited understanding and ancient customs for an audience of people with equally limited understanding and ancient customs; and, that they were later edited by the Catholic Church  during many great councils into what we know today; I believed that those words were actually God speaking to me in 1976, and many times since.  (Yes, I am that old).

I wanted to know who and what God is, and believed those words were the path of discovery.  As intellectual as I can be, I chased that knowledge for many years.  Yet for all that I prayed and read and asked for God’s will in all things, the spiritual life that had once begun so earnestly lay in ruin like a dry rotted old Montana homestead cabin.  Only the vestiges of livelihood remained.  At the end of the day, I was still drunk and demoralized.  I was spiritually dead, and cursed God for all the inherent contradictions in “God’s Word.”  How could I, a God-fearing, born-again, right-wing, Republican Christian be what I was beginning to realize was my true self – a transsexual? That was against the Bible.

But, what if the Bible was not a literal document?  What if it is a compendium of inspired writings about the nature of God, and God’s interaction with humanity and our world?  What if my experience of God was eqaully valied and important, as John Wesley suggested?    What if the bible is not a religious, quasi-legal code book securing the salvation of my soul, as much as it is inspiration feeding the life of my soul right here and right now? When I turned to God with these questions in the pit of my soul, God answered.  God said, “Bobbie, you are a beautiful daughter of God.”

When I was scared and confused about the truths I came to know about myself and who I am, God asked me dance, and smiled.  God reminded me of a simple, yet fundamental truth about God.  God is.  That is all.  It does not matter whether I know or understand who or what God is – just that I know that God is.  Once I cast all else aside, and became open to that single, vital truth I was free to experience God – I mean right here, right now.  God continued to dance with me and smile through every step of my gender transition.

It does not matter that others would say it ain’t so –that I have misinterpreted the will of God.  God speaks to me in my soul, not theirs.  Because I have experienced God there, I know that God is, and that God loves me for all that I am, and exactly  what I am.  Now, that is redemption!  Maybe that Lennon guy was on to something after all.

Vatican Official Calls for Protections for Same-Gender Couples

by Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Over the course of the past year or so, we’ve witnessed a slow evolution in Catholic hierarchical thinking on marriage for same-gender couples.  Recently in France and Great Britain, bishops’ groups  have spoken more positively about same-gender couples than they had before.  In Germany and Italy, individual bishops have made positive statements about same-gender couples.  Even here in the U.S., Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George made surprisingly positive statement about love between people of the same gender, even though he opposed Illinois’ marriage bill.

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Today, the positive statement on same-gender relationships comes from the Vatican itself.  The National Catholic Reporter stated:

“A high-ranking Vatican official on Monday voiced support for giving unmarried couples some kind of legal protection even as he reaffirmed the Catholic church’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

“Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, also said the church should do more to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in countries where homosexuality is illegal.

“In his first Vatican press conference since his appointment as the Catholic church’s “minister” for family, Paglia conceded that there are several kinds of ‘cohabitation forms that do not constitute a family,’ and that their number is growing.

Paglia suggested that nations could find ‘private law solutions’ to help individuals who live in non-matrimonial relations, ‘to prevent injustice and make their life easier.’ “

Paglia also spoke forcefully opposing discrimination and criminalization of homosexuality:

“Responding to journalists’ questions, Paglia also strongly condemned discrimination against gay people, who he said ‘have the same dignity as all of God’s children’

” ‘In the world there are 20 or 25 countries where homosexuality is a crime,’ he said. ‘I would like the church to fight against all this.’ “

While these positive remarks are welcome, it must also be said that Paglia still strongly opposed marriage equality:

” ‘The church must defend the truth, and the truth is that a marriage is only between a man and a woman,’ he said. Other kinds of ‘affections’ cannot be the foundation for a ‘public structure’ such as marriage.

” ‘We cannot surrender to a sick egalitarianism that abolishes every difference,’ he warned, and run the risk of society becoming a new ‘Babel.’ “

Despite the continued intransigence on marriage equality,  I think it is important to note that the archbishop’s comments represent a giant step forward in terms of Vatican recognition of same-gender couples.  Even just a month ago, when the pope made harsh statements against same-gender relationships in his World Peace Day message, one could not have imagined a Vatican official making such positive comments as Paglia did.  His comments are a small change, but all change happens little by little.

 

Irish Priest Stands Up To the Vatican

 

From New Ways Ministry Blog:

 

Fr Tony Flannery

Fr Tony Flannery

Three days ago, we reported the case of Fr. Tony Flannery, a priest in Ireland who said he will refuse to be silenced by the Vatican on a variety of issues in the Church, including homosexuality.  We applauded his spirit of courage and fortitude.

Since then,  Fr. Flannery has held a press conference, published an op-ed in The Irish Times, and has received support from his Redemptorist community and from Irish and Austrian priests.

An Irish Times news story of the press conference reported the scope of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) investiagation of the priest:

“Fr. Flannery told a press conference in Dublin yesterday he had been threatened with excommunication by the CDF for refusing to recant his more liberal views on church teachings concerning women priests, contraception and homosexuality.”

According to the BBC.comat the press conference, Fr. Flannery stated that signing the loyalty pledge that the Vatican has asked for would violate his conscience:

” ‘It would mean that I was saying that I accept the teaching on contraception, which I have been on record for a long time saying that I thought Humanae Vitae (official Catholic teaching on procreation) was a big mistake,’ Fr Flannery told the media.

“He claimed that accepting the pledge would also mean that he ‘fully accepted all the teaching on homosexuality’ including the church’s use of what he called ‘some of the awfully unfortunate phrases – like disordered state and intrinsic evil.’ “

press release from Fr. Flannery’s press conference contained this reflection from the priest:

“The choice facing him, he stated at a press briefing today, Sunday 20th January, was between deciding between Rome and his conscience.

“ ‘I must also question if the threats are a means, not just of terrifying me into submission, but of sending a message to any other priest expressing views at variance with those of the Roman Curia,’ he added. ‘Submitting to these threats would be a betrayal of my ministry, my fellow priests and the Catholic people who want change.’

“Fr. Flannery said that because he believes he is being subjected to unfair treatment, he has taken legal advice under Canon and Civil law to help him defend his rights as a member of the Church and as an Irish citizen.”

In the op-ed in The Irish TimesFr. Flannery gives a summary of the development of his ministry, the need for discussion in the church, the difficult proceedings with the Vatican, and concludes with a statement of resolve:

“There are people who will say I should leave the Catholic Church and join another Christian church – one more suitable to my stance. Being a Catholic is central to my personal identity. I have tried to preach the gospel. No matter what sanctions the Vatican imposes on me I will continue, in whatever way I can, to try to bring about reform in the church and to make it again a place where all who want to follow Christ will be welcome. He made friends with the outcasts of society, and I will do whatever I can in my own small way to oppose the current Vatican trend of creating a church of condemnation rather than one of compassion.”

A 66-year old member of the Redemptorist community, Fr. Flannery received strong support in a statement from his brothers in faith.  The BBC report noted:

“In a statement, the Irish Redemptorist order said it was ‘deeply saddened by the breakdown in communication’ between its priest and the CDF.

“It described Fr. Flannery as ‘highly regarded and respected by many in Ireland’ and added that there was a ‘very lively spirit of debate and dialogue’ within the order.

“The statement said that although it did not accept the priest’s views on all matters, it understood and supported his efforts to listen to and articulate the views of people he met during the course of his ministry.

” ‘It is of immense regret that some structures or processes of dialogue have not yet been found in the Church which have a greater capacity to engage with challenging voices from among God’s people, while respecting the key responsibility and central role of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,’ the statement said.”

Priestly support came, too, from the members of the Association of Catholic Priests, an Irish organization that Fr. Flannery helped to found.  The Association’s statement, in part, read:

“The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) affirms in the strongest possible terms our confidence in and solidarity with Fr Tony Flannery as he strives to clear his name and we wish to protest against unjust treatment he has received from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The ACP supports Fr. Flannery in his efforts to resist the undermining of his integrity as an individual, a priest and a member of the Redemptorist Order.

“The effort to depict him as ‘disloyal’ and ‘dissident’ is unwarranted and unfair, but also extremely ill-advised in the present pastoral context in Ireland.

“The ACP is disturbed by the procedures evident in this case: the unwillingness to deal directly with the accused person; the injunction to secrecy; the presumption of guilt; the lack of due process. They suggest a callousness and even brutality that is in sharp contrast to the compassion of Jesus Christ.”

And he has even received support from Austrian priests who are working towards the same goals as he.  The Irish Times reported:

“Also at yesterday’s press conference was Fr. Helmut Schuller of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative. He was ‘very surprised they [CDF] came down on Tony and on Ireland.’ He criticised the ‘lack of basic rights and respect for personal conscience’ in the church.”

We continue to praise Fr. Flannery and to pray that his example will inspire other priests and other Catholics to follow their consciences as forthrightly as he has.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Truth In The Face Of Ignorance

peace love joy

peace love joy (Photo credit: Leonard John Matthews)

Back in March, I wrote a piece about the Pope speaking to American bishops about the need for a culture war about marriage equality- and we got one. The Catholic Church was the largest single contributor (through the Bishop’s Conference, the Knights of Columbus and the National Organization For Marriage) against marriage equality initiatives in four states.

They lost.

Kind of makes you wonder what kind of help those millions of dollars would have given the poor if they hadn’t been so horribly directed against love.

Anyway, I ended that essay with with an open letter to LGBTIQ persons who live every day in the face of moral attack, physical violence and angry, ignorant, powerful people. We may have come a long way this year, but we’re not there yet.

So- if I may be so bold- I’d like to reprint the letter as a reminder that we need to find inspiration in ourselves. We need to remember that in the face of ignorance, we must continually speak the quiet, powerful truth of purpose and experience.

And I need to be reminded just as much as anybody else.

To my LGBTIQ family,

Love toward yourself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is important and necessary to insist on respect for your own right to life. I believe you were created to fill a very important place in this world- a place often dramatically misunderstood and opposed by people out of ignorance and fear.

It is crucial that you understand that you are not alone- there are millions of people who want to understand you and accept you and who will love you. You have the right to be understood- and you have the right to love and be loved in the ways you feel are most faithful to your created nature.

You have the right to live free from fear of attack and violence. You have the right to defend yourself against ignorant attacks on your dignity, happiness and self-respect. You have the right to fulfill your potential and to follow your heart and mind and soul and dreams to the best of your ability. Despite ignorance, despite persecution, despite fear and power and hate.

I believe that we are all beloved by the God of our understanding. I believe that we are valuable in being beloved. And that value is not diminished, even in the face of anger, fear and ignorance. Even in the face of religious belief which would deny us that value.

We are a courageous, wonderful people, with visions of love and acceptance and equality and happiness that I believe are deeply important to the future of the world.

I beg you, don’t let go of these visions- no matter how strongly others try to pull them away from you. They are your birthright.

They are the key hope to a world filled with peace.

Amen.

Donors For Marriage Equality Dwarfed Those Who Opposed It

 

 

Human Rights Campaign 2791

Human Rights Campaign 2791 (Photo credit: tedeytan)

From HRC Blog:
The number of contributors who gave in support of marriage for gay and lesbian couples was thirteen times greater – about 133,000 compared to an estimated 10,500 – than those giving financial resources to oppose marriage equality. That’s according to a new analysis HRC released today.

 

Polls consistently show – USA Today/Gallup and ABC News/Washington Post being the latest examples – that a majority of Americans support committed gay and lesbian couples getting a marriage license.

 

HRC obtained financial contribution data in each of the four states through the Maine Ethics Commission, Maryland Board of Elections, Minnesota Campaign Finance & Public Disclosure Board and Washington Public Disclosure Commission. Supplemental data was obtained from each of the pro-marriage equality ballot committees to account for small donors not required to be itemized by law.  Anti-marriage equality donor information was aggregated from currently available public reports and estimates of non-itemized contributions.

 

Pro-equality groups raised more than $34 million in the four states, mostly from small donors. Anti-marriage equality campaigns raised $12 million, of which nearly two-thirds ($8 million) came from just three sources: the National Organization for Marriage, the Catholic Church and its affiliate the Knights of Columbus.

 

NOM, the largest funder in all four states to defeat marriage equality, saw a one-third decline in contributions for 2011, with two donors providing 75 percent of its funding, according to tax returns obtained last month by HRC.

 

 

 

LGBT People And Catholics Are Already Election Day Winners

From New Ways Ministry Blog:

Today is Election Day in the United States of America.  If you are even just an occasional reader of this blog, you will know that in three states–Maine, Maryland, Washington State–voters will be asked to decide whether or not marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples will be law.  In a fourth state, Minnesota, voters will be deciding whether to enact a constitutional amendment which would ban marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.

In all four states, Catholics have played a key role in the campaigns to support marriage equality.  As evidence, just enter any one of the state names, in the “Category” filter in the right hand column of this page, and you will find a wealth of blog posts from the past 12 months about how Catholics have been involved in the struggle for marriage equality.

This week, the National Catholic Reporter has editorialized on the potential outcomes of today’s votes, and has declared three groups of winners of the election already, regardless of the results.   As the following quotation from the editorial will demonstrate, those “winners” include LGBT people:

“We do not yet know the fate of the ballot initiatives in the four states voting on measures related to same-sex marriage. Regardless of the outcomes, one thing is for sure: Our LGBT brothers and sisters are taking their rightful place alongside us as full citizens. It will take more time yet for legislation to fully acknowledge this, but few will dispute that this election season, a tide was turned. We don’t yet know the final result, but this community might have helped re-elect a president.

“This year, LGBT Catholics have also claimed — maybe ‘earned’ is the better word — new respect within the church. To listen to our most public leaders, this may be hard to see, but in the pews across America, it is not. Whether it is citizens signing their names to newspaper ads or brave priests risking censure from their bishops, Catholics are telling our homosexual brothers and sisters that we are glad they stand in the assembly among us. We are family. Like civil laws, it will take time for church structures to formally acknowledge this, but we believe that this year will prove an important step toward achieving equality in the Catholic church.”

(The other two groups the editorial mentions are the “Nuns on the Bus” for their work to raise awareness of economic inequality; and Latinos, for becoming a strong enough voting bloc to warrant the attention of both parties.)

We could not agree more with this editorial.  Regardless of whether or not marriage equality becomes an option in these four states,  LGBT people and the goodness of their relationships have been given a level of visibility that was unthinkable 15 years ago.  And Catholic support for LGBT people and issues has not only been increasing, but more and more leaders in government and media are becoming aware that Catholics are overwhelmingly pro-LGBT.  Because of this, Catholics, too, have already emerged as winners from the election.

While we are hopeful that equality, fairness, and justice will soon be the law of the land, we know that if today’s election results do not move that agenda along, it will only be a short wait before these values become a reality for all in the U.S.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry