The New York Times ran a front-page story today about an NYTimes/CBS News poll which revealed that the majority of American Catholics believe their church is out of touch with the modern world and the lives they’re living in it.
The survey asked respondents for their thoughts on a wide range of issues, including Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation last month; their hopes for the next pope; and whether or not the child sex abuse crisis has caused them to question the Vatican’s authority.
And the results are telling: 53% of American Catholics described the Catholic Church as “out of touch” with the needs of Catholics today; 49% said the same about most U.S. bishops. 55% said the reports of sexual abuse of children by priests led them to question the authority of the Vatican. When asked whether the next pope should become more conservative, generally continue Benedict XVI’s already conservative teachings, or adopt more liberal ones, 54% responded that they’d like the next pope to be more liberal. And when asked to choose between a younger pope with new ideas and an older pope with more experience, respondents preferred a younger pope with newer ideas by a landslide margin of 66%-26%.
A majority said they hope the next pope continues the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion and the death penalty, but as the Times reports, “on every other hotly debated issue, Catholics wanted the next pope to lead the church in an about-face:”
Seven of 10 Catholics polled said the next pope should let priests marry, let women become priests and allow the use of artificial methods of birth control. Nine of 10 said they wanted the next pope to allow the use of condoms to prevent the spread of H.I.V. and other diseases.
Sixty-two percent of Catholics said they were in favor of legalizing marriage for same-sex couples. Catholics approved of same-sex marriage at a higher rate than Americans as a whole, among whom 53 percent approved.
This new poll is just the latest in a long line of studies showing that despite the U.S. bishops’ all-out crusade of anti-LGBT spiritualbullying and politicalactivism, American Catholics not only support marriage equality, but they do so at an even greater rate than the general public. It appears as though U.S. Catholics are consciously rejecting the homophobic bigotry of their leaders in much the same way that they’ve decisively rejected the official church prohibition on contraception.
However, as I wrote last month on the very day Benedict XVI resigned, disappointment is almost certain for the pundits, commentators, and hopeful Catholics currently predicting (or even speculating) that the College of Cardinals will listen to the people and elect a pope who’ll enact such a doctrinal about-face. Benedict and his equally conservative predecessor John Paul II have appointed all of the cardinals who will elect the next pontiff, so unless they accidentally place the Catholic equivalent of a Manchurian candidate on the Chair of Peter, the next pope will be another theological conservative who will pick up the persecution of gays and lesbians right where Benedict and JPII left off. The Catholic church’s institutional homophobia will continue unabated, and the gulf between the hierarchy and the people will continue to grow.
For my first post of the day, I’m going to do a little shameless bragging.
Longtime readers know that I have a soft spot in my heart for pro-equality parents of LGBT children. I often call them “equality moms,” since I know far more women than men who fit this description, but I suppose I really should find a more inclusive term. But whatever one calls them, hell hath no fury like a parent fighting for their LGBT child. In my experience, equality parents are often able to reach out even to hardened homophobes who wouldn’t be receptive to a pro-equality message from one of us LGBT folk. After all, who (other than a sociopath) can’t relate, at least on some level, to the love of a parent for their child? And when parents choose to affirm and embrace their LGBT children and trust the truth of their child’s identity, they may also quite literally be saving the child’s life: a 2009 study by San Francisco State University researcher Caitlin Ryan published a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics that found that LGBT teens who experienced negative feedback from their family were 3 times more likely to use drugs, 6 times more vulnerable to severe depression, and 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide than their peers.
And now, for the shameless bragging: yesterday my hometown newspaper, the Green Bay Press-Gazette, ran a front-page story about the Adult Gay-Straight Alliance of Green Bay (A-GSA) — a group for parents of LGBT children that my parents, Lyle and Michele Becker, were instrumental in founding — that used their own personal journeys to full acceptance as the springboard from which to tell the story.
When I first came out to my parents in 2003, they weren’t exactly ready to fly a rainbow flag or march in a Pride parade:
“You think to yourself, ‘Should I tell anybody at work? What will they say?’” recalled Becker, 54, whose son John, the eldest of four boys, told Becker and her husband Lyle that he was gay earlier that summer after he graduated Green Bay East High School. He was 18.
After finding out, Becker cried and prayed — a lot. She later came to believe her son was born gay.
She said parents in her situation often fear what others will think if they have a child who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
“Parents are struggling with their own coming out as a parent of an LGBT child,” she said.
After my parents began telling people they had a gay son, other parents started to approach them and tell them, often in a whisper, that they, too, had an LGBT child, and while they weren’t sure how to react to the news, they just couldn’t believe the anti-LGBT teachings of their churches. Along with just a few other like-minded parents, they formed the A-GSA to give struggling parents a place to gather, offer each other support, and meet others who are further along on the journey towards full love and affirmation of their children. The A-GSA is small — it has about 10 members, not including those who aren’t quite ready to self-identify as the parent of an LGBT child — but it’s a dedicated group. It meets monthly, works hard to reach out to local parents (it even had a booth at this year’s Northeastern Wisconsin Pride Alive!), and consistently strives through outreach and advocacy to make Green Bay’s public spaces, schools, churches, and culture more accepting of all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. To Michele and Lyle, the group’s supportive presence in the Green Bay LGBT community is critically important because, as Michele says, “If a person can eventually grow into full love with no judgment, that is such a free and affirming feeling not only for [that person], but also [their LGBT] child.”
The article contrasts my parents’ LGBT-inclusive worldview and religious beliefs with the anti-gay stance of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, which in 2010 started its own LGBT-related “ministries:” Courage – which uses a 12-step program, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, to encourage Catholics struggling with so-called “same-sex attraction” to suppress their sexuality and live totally celibate lives — and Encourage, a program for parents that paradoxically claims to foster love between them and their LGBT children while upholding the Catholic church’s official teaching that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered.”
Fr. John Doerfler, the spiritual director of the Green Bay Encourage chapter and chancellor of the Green Bay Diocese, gave Press-Gazette reporter Charles Davis a perfect example of the Catholic church’s frustrating doublespeak on LGBT issues:
“There’s a great misunderstanding that there’s no place for persons with same-sex attractions in the church, and nothing could be further from the truth…”
Roman Catholic teachings assert that homosexual behavior is immoral, though Catholics are taught to treat everyone with love and dignity, Doerfler said. The Encourage group meets monthly and serves as a way for parents with LGBT children to know they are not alone, he added.
“Sometimes parents will blame themselves and it’s not their fault,” he said. . .
Doerfler. . . said gays and lesbians should strive to live a chaste life, which includes either abstinence or marriage, a union he defined as between a man and a woman.
(Translation: of course you can be gay and Catholic! You just have to suppress your sexual orientation or cover it up by marrying a member of the opposite sex.)
To Davis’s credit, he didn’t allow Doerfler’s anti-gay distortions to go unchallenged; instead, he interviewed a local mental health professional, who correctly said that efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation “[lack] scientific merit and could be unhealthy.” In fact, Davis’s reporting was refreshingly free of overt false equivalencies between LGBT-affirming support groups like the A-GSA and anti-gay “support groups” like Courage and Encourage. The only error he made was in incorrectly characterizing my parents’ pro-LGBT activism as support for my “lifestyle” as opposed to my orientation and my community.
In addition to this front-page article in Wisconsin, my parents’ story so inspired LGBT activists here in Burlington, Vermont that they were included in an exhibition by local liturgical artist Judith McManis titled “Prophetic Vision, Courageous Lives: LGBT Saints, Heroes & Martyrs.” The exhibition, which was displayed this summer, featured photographs of LGBT people and straight allies throughout history — some well-known, others relatively little-known — accompanied by short stories about their lives. The image McManis created featuring my parents’ story is below (click the image in order to enlarge it).
As I said to the Press-Gazette, I couldn’t be prouder of my amazing parents and everything they do for LGBT equality in their community and beyond. Their love for each other is an inspiration to Michael and me, and their passion for social justice and equality for all members of the human family, including LGBT people, is what enkindled my own passion for activism. They are true heroes in my book. And thank you, dear readers, for allowing me to introduce Lyle and Michele to you and indulging me as I shamelessly bragged about them. Happy Friday!
A few months ago I posted a blog post containing a video of over 300 Minnesota Catholics gathering together to sing out in support of marriage equality and in opposition to that state’s proposed marriage discrimination amendment. I wrote,
If any of [the singers in the video] minister publicly in their churches — as volunteer cantors (songleaders), lectors (readers), ushers, greeters, or communion ministers — or if any of them work for the Catholic Church in a professional capacity as pastoral associates, liturgists, business managers, teachers, music directors, etc., participating in this video could get them pushed out of ministry or even fired.
Just in case any of you, dear readers, thought I was exaggerating, I present to you now Exhibit A: the Minneapolis Star-Tribunereports that last week, the Minnesota campaign finance board took the unusual step of exempting a man, known only as John Doe, from the state’s public disclosure requirements. Minnesota law requires the disclosure of the names and employers of campaign contributors, but exemptions can be granted if it can be proven that disclosure would cause “specific harm.” In the case of John Doe — who donated $600 to Minnesotans United for All Families, the campaign working to defeat the marriage discrimination amendment — he believed that he would be fired from his job at a Catholic-run institution if his pro-equality contribution became public, and the board agreed.
The Star-Tribune reports that Doe cited a rather compelling precedent:
In making its decision, released Friday, the state campaign finance agency examined the case of Trish Cameron, a former teacher at a Catholic School in Moorhead. Cameron told agency officials that she had revealed to her supervisors during a private annual self-evaluation that she personally objected to the Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, although she would said she would not bring that belief into the classroom.
“A week later,” the campaign finance agency wrote, “Ms. Cameron was asked to resign.”
While it is praiseworthy that the campaign finance board has taken this measure to protect this man’s employment, it is a sad commentary on the state of [the Catholic] church when a person is forced into anonymity to express a moral decision.
Minnesota voters will decide this November whether to add an amendment to that state’s constitution that would constitutionally eliminate the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, which is already illegal under state law. I’vecovered it rather extensivelyhere, especially because the state’s Catholicbishops have launched an aggressivecampaign to lobby for passage of the discriminatory amendment.
The bishops’ spiritual bullying has upset a large portion of Minnesota’sCatholics (which is hardly surprising, given that a majority of Catholics nationwide support LGBT rights, and 58 percent endorse marriage equality). And according to the Star Tribune, they’re continuing to organize (emphasis mine):
About 20 Catholics sat on folding chairs and old sofas in Ed Burg’s basement, snacking on cookies and candy and talking about why they don’t like the proposed marriage amendment.
“It’s a matter of further restriction on gay or GLBT people of whom there are number in my family, particularly my son,” said Burg, 88, who attends St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Bloomington.
Last week’s meeting was one of several recently organized by Catholics who oppose the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, putting them at odds with Catholic bishops and underscoring the deep divide and tension among Catholics over the issue of gay marriage [sic]. On Wednesday, several hundred Catholics met in Minneapolis’ Loring Park to sing, dance, pray and show support for same-sex marriage.
Kate Brickman of the group Minnesotans United for All Families told the Star Tribune that pro-equality Catholics have had to meet in private homes and other non-Catholic spaces because church leaders won’t allow them to meet in Catholic spaces, due to the anti-gay views of the Catholic hierarchy.
Reporter Rose French asked political science professor Laura Olson, who has researched constitutional marriage discrimination amendments, why Minnesota’s Catholic bishops have chosen to make the push for marriage discrimination so prominent in parishes and dioceses across that state. Olson’s answer is rather revealing (again, emphasis mine):
Olson said bishops may believe the amendment has a good chance of failing and are putting a lot of energy into trying to get it passed, although such actions could have the opposite effect with some, who’d rather see church money used for “social justice issues.”
“Among Catholics, and this would be true in Minnesota and nationwide, you’ve got about a third who are pretty … traditional in their interpretation and adhere to what the bishops say. What the remaining two-thirds do is really the issue.”
I’ve written extensively about the chasm that exists between American Catholics — a majority of whom support LGBT equality — and the church’s hierarchy, which has made opposition to LGBT rights a top priority for the foreseeable future. The division is wide, growing, and unsustainable.
One prominent scholar – Sir Diarmaid MacCulloch, a renowned church historian at Oxford University — has gone a step further, predicting that the Catholic Church will “undergo a major schism” over its moral and social teaching, as well as “the way authority [is] expressed.”
What do you think? Is a major split in the Catholic Church imminent due to its mistreatment of women and LGBT people, dictatorial, top-down management style, outdated and unrealistic teachings on sexuality, and criminal mishandling of the sexual abuse crisis? If you’ve left that church, would you consider returning to a newly-formed splinter church whose moral and social teachings are firmly grounded in the 21st century? Pro-equality Catholics who haven’t yet left: would you exit the Roman Catholic Church in favor of a modernized version? Or would any split be too little, too late?
There seem to be cracks in the rampant institutional bigotry of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Last weekend, New Ways Ministry – a pro-LGBT Catholic ministry founded by the courageous Sr. Jeannine Gramick (whom the Vatican attempted to silence after she refused to renounce her support for the LGBT community) — posted about a fascinating story from a German English-language newspaper called The Local. Apparently, in an address last week to a conference of 60,000 Catholics in Mannheim, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Berlin called for an end to the Catholic Church’s refusal to recognize and affirm loving, committed same-sex relationships:
He told a crowd on Thursday that the church should view long-term, faithful homosexual relationships as they do heterosexual ones:
“When two homosexuals take responsibility for one another, if they deal with each other in a faithful and long-term way, then you have to see it in the same way as heterosexual relationships,” Woelki told an astonished crowd, according to a story in the Tagesspiegel newspaper.
Woekli acknowledged that the church saw the relationship between a man and a woman as the basis for creation, but added that it was time to think further about the church’s attitude toward same sex relationships.
Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, pointed out that Woelki joins a chorus of Catholic voices demanding a change in the way that church views LGBT people:
March of 2012 saw an explosion of questioning from prelates of the hierarchy’s ban on marriage equality. At New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia called for a total re-examination of Catholic sexual ethics to allow for, among other things, moral approval of same-sex relationships. The Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, supported a bill that would legalize civil unions (albeit as a stopgap measure to prevent marriage equality). Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine, announced that the diocese would not take an active role in opposing the state’s upcoming referendum on marriage equality, as it had in 2009. In Italy, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan stated in his book, Credere e Cognoscere (Faith and Understanding), that “I do not agree with the positions of those in the Church who takes issue with civil unions.”
Just last week, dozens of current and former Catholic priests in Minnesota held a press conference to announce their opposition to a proposed constitutional marriage discrimination amendment on the ballot in that state this November.
As I’ve said before, prelates like Cardinal Woelki of Berlin who dare to challenge their church’s persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people face a very real risk of retribution from their superiors. Their acts of courage should be commended, so that this positive and encouraging trend can continue.
In case you weren’t already aware, today, May 17, is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO). Hundreds of organizations around the world have mobilized to hold events calling attention to the various ways that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people are discriminated against and denied basic human rights. Activists, LGBT people, and equality-minded allies are holding commemorations even in places like Uganda, Russia, Bangladesh, and Cameroon, where they face a very real threat of violence.
While homosexuality isn’t illegal per se under the laws of the Roman Catholic Church, its leadership continues to engage in a high-profile campaign of spiritual bullying against LGBT people. While those on the Catholic payroll (lay employees at Catholic schools, churches, and universities, nuns, priests, bishops…) who challenge the Church’s institutional bigotry by taking a public stand in support of LGBT equality don’t risk being put to death, they do put themselves at considerable risk of retribution from the Catholic hierarchy. Standing up in that context takes courage.
Maybe that’s why I find this story from New Ways Ministry so wonderfully refreshing:
In Italy this year, the Catholic LGBT organization Gionata (translated “Jonathan”) will host prayer vigils around their country. Three of those vigils will be supported by the local Catholic Cardinal in each location… The cardinal in Milan is Cardinal Angelo Scola; in Florence, it is Cardinal Giuseppe Bettori.
Cardinal Paolo Romeo, in Palermo, is one of three cardinals who have backed it, even though he banned the vigil last year. The liturgy there will be celebrated at 9pm tomorrow in the San Gabriele Arcangelo church.
Believe me, I am not operating under the delusion that three Italian cardinals allowing IDAHO prayer vigils in their local dioceses means that we’ll be seeing St. Peter’s Basilica festooned with rainbow banners or a Pride parade marching down the Via della Conciliazione anytime soon. Still, just as it’s important to call attention to the way the Catholic Church persecutes LGBT people, it’s equally important to amplify and commend those who are working hard to take their church back from the forces of homophobia and proclaim that theirs is not a god of bigotry, but one of love.