Back in October 2015, I was in Rome for the foundation conference of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, timed to coincide with the Synod of Bishops gathering on marriage and family. At that conference, a steering committee was elected to create a permanent foundation for the new body. That work has now been completed: the next conference will now take place in Germany, later this year. Read the details in this invitation letter, from the co-chairs Ruby Almeida and Michael Brinkschröder:
“The Church Needs a Stonewall Revolution”
At last month’s Gdansk conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, one of the highlights for me was a workshop by Krysztof Charamsa. This began on a strictly personal high. On entering the room, he went around and personally greeted everyone present, shaking them by the hand. By virtue of my seating, I was the last person he got to, next door to Martin Pendergast (whom he already knew). He first greeted me as “Terry”, reading my conference label, but then when Martin introduced me as “Terry Weldon”, his eyes grew wide. “Terry Weldon?” he repeated, and instead of just a simple handshake, gave me a great bearhug, saying “thank you, thank you”. (I’m not in fact sure what it was he was thanking more for, but whatever the reason, the simple fact gave me a substantial high. In my view, it is he that deserves the thanks, from all lgbt Catholics).
I’d love to report in detail on the content of his address, but alas I cannot – he began by specifically asking that it not be published, which I must respect. I think I can however, report some of the bare bones, and how his words have impacted my own thinking. Some of the talk repeated material widely reported from earlier interviews, such as his view that the process of coming out was a profoundly liberating, theological process. Also notable was the observation that for all the improvements in tone and supportive pastoral care under Francis’ papacy, the fact remains that the harsh elements of doctrine promulgated by the Pope John Paul II/Cardinal Ratzinger partnership remain unrefuted as part of the formal magisterium. Indeed, if strictly adhered to as it stands, much of this formal body of doctrine would make the current improvements in pastoral care impossible. For this reason, he concluded that the Catholic Church needs its own Stonewall moment.
It can of course be argued that by the nature of his personal journey, he is still carrying a great deal of anger directed at the Church, to the extent that he is exaggerating the harm and ignoring the good in the present state of the Church and its response to LGBT people. It is also true that one response to the harmful elements in the formal magisterium is to point out that there are different levels of Church teaching, not all equally important, and that these sexual matters are less important than might appear at face value. We must also acknowledge that some of the important shifts in pastoral care are in fact required by Amoris Laetitia, with its emphasis on conscience, discernment and accompaniment, and that given its status as an “apostolic exhortation”, Amoris Laetitia is itself contributing to and developing the magisterium.
But still. I was left with two key take aways for my own thinking. On the one hand, I was reminded of where I was when I first began blogging about lesbian and gay Catholics: taken as a whole, Catholic teaching is riddled with inherent contradictions and ambiguities. It is as wrong to assume that to conform with Church teaching lesbian and gay Catholics must simply renounce all same-sex relationships, as it is to reject the whole of Church teaching as inherently unsound. The fact is that even in the standard formal documents, there is some supportive material which needs to be more widely known and understood – along with harmful, unsound material that needs to be vigorously challenged.
On the other hand, as I was listening, my mind constantly wandered to the image embedded in Fr James Martin’s book on the Church and LGBT Catholics – “Building a Bridge”.
Any bridge connects two opposite ends. When I first began writing about Catholic teaching, I was mostly concerned with pointing out what was wrong, and how it was contradicted by things like science, history and public opinion. Later, as things began to improve, I tended to concentrate on highlighting signs of that improvement, and the more supportive elements in the magisterium.
The bridge however, requires a balance between both. To reach out to LGBT Catholics, there is a need to show them that there is a welcoming and supportive side to the Church, in doctrine as well as on the ground. But to the Church, it is also important to act as a critical friend, pointing out to those who can not yet see it, the countless ways in which elements in doctrine and practice are both deeply harmful, and unsupported by sound evidence.
Over several days at the end of May, LGBT Christians from across Europe gathered in Gdansk, Poland for the 36th Annual Conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups. “Forwards in Solidarity” was the theme and Free People in Free Countries was the challenge and call.
The European Forum includes over 50 groups, with some 140 lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and other participants from 21 European countries present at the 2017 Conference. These included people from Anglican, Catholic, Evangelical, Reformed and Orthodox traditions. Observers attended from ENORB (European Network on Religion & Belief), GIN (Global Interfaith Network), and ILGA (International Lesbian & Gay Association).
In a European social context of increasing fragmentation, nationalistic and conservative political developments, the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups takes a prophetic stance in the face of oppression and discrimination within and beyond church structures. Gathering in the birthplace of the Solidarność trade union movement, was another powerfully prophetic sign.
Pointing to the 2016 campaign “Let’s give each other a Sign of Peace”, mounted by the Polish Christian network, Faith & Rainbow (Wiara i Tęcza) along with the Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH), the Forum’s Co-President, Wielie Elhorst said:
Posters with two hands reaching for each other, one with a rainbow bracelet, the other with rosary beads, were spread throughout the country … It was a courageous effort to make clear to the people of Poland that they need to take further steps in solidarity, to work for a society that is truly inclusive and that gives all the opportunity to participate in equality in all domains of life, to adopt laws that protect and support people to freely follow their sexual orientation and their own gender identity, without fear. How can a hand that is offered as a Sign of Peace be rejected, especially by the representatives of the churches? Rejecting the hand that is offered in Peace is rejecting people’s humanity, rejecting them as your neighbour.
The Conference included powerful testimonies from former Solidarity activist and, trans Orthodox believer, Ms. Ewa Hołuszko, and Krzysztof Charamsa, Catholic priest, previously Assistant Secretary to the International Theological Commission of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who ”came out” as gay and partnered in October 2015. Ms. Hołuszko spoke of the centrality of her faith both in her political struggles and her ”erasure” from Polish social prominence, following her transition. Charamsa called for a Stonewall revolution of LGBTQI visibility within Catholic Church structures.
The Conference culminated with participants joining Gdansk’s largest ever Pride Parade on, 27 May, attended by over 5,000 people, and launched for the first time by the Mayor of Gdansk. Neo-fascists picketed the Parade but were held back by a massive protective police presence, preventing violence.
Once again, the outrage at so-called “Lifesite” News reveals some good news for LGBT Catholics, this time from Malta.
First, read the outrage at Lifesite, that first alerted me to the real story:
A homosexual group that campaigns for the Catholic Church to accept homosexual “marriage,” sodomy, and adoption of children by same-sex couples has been given a free pass to operate unofficially in the Catholic Archdiocese of Malta run by Archbishop Charles Scicluna.
The “homosexual” group referred to is Drachma, which has long interested me for its strong profile and achievements in a moderately small country. Ignore the offensive reference to “sodomy”, and the support for same-sex marriage and adoption are in fact supported by many mainstream Catholics, across Europe and the Americas. The real interest here, is that they have been given what Lifesite calls a “free pass to operate unofficially in the Catholic Archdiocese of Malta”.
This does not amount to direct, explicit support by formal endorsement: that lies some way in the future. What it does represent, is a clear policy of non-interference amounting to an indirect, implicit endorsement, including some gestures by the Archbishop Scicluna personally. The clearest such demonstration of support came in 2014, when he presided at a Mass in support of IDAHOT – the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Last year (2016), when Drachma presented Archbishop Scicluna with a copy of their book about parents of LGBT children titled “Our Children”, the Archbishop called the book a “tool to help parents of LGBTI children” – and so it is. Drachma has an impressive record in its work providing pastoral support for LGBT Catholics, and their strong parents’ group is a crucially important part of that work.
Lifesite quotes with horror an extract from a February 2016 interview with Drachma co-ordinator Chris Vella with One News Malta. Lifesite, with its reflex homophobia, may well be horrified, but others more rooted in reality will see nothing to object to in this simple statement of the truth of what it is to be a gay man, even in the Catholic Church:
“I believe that my sexuality as a homosexual person, bisexual, and all the other sexualities that you can mention, are all normal and natural. That is, if my nature is homosexual, if my nature is bisexual, if my nature is transsexual, that is my nature and in that way I can love,” he said.
“I have my nature as a homosexual man, I must love in that way, and I can only, to put it like that, live love in a complete way when I live my love, my bisexual, homosexual love, in that way,” he added.
How times of changed, in terms of pastoral care, under the papacy of Francis. Back in 2010, I reported on how a Dutch parish priest refused to give communion to a gay parishioner who had been elected “carnival prince” for Pink Saturday – the Dutch equivalent of British or American “Pride”. (That decision was later overturned after intervention of the bishop).
This year, that same parish priest has gone way, way further than simply agreeing to give communion to gay activists: he has successfully negotiated with the bishop to have Pink Saturday celebrated with an ecumenical service in the town’s cathedral, with the bishop himself attending.
Here’s the core of the announcement, from the Pink Saturday website in Dutch, with my own English translation below:
Alle geloven nemen deel aan de Roze Viering op Roze Zaterdag 2017 in Den Bosch, maar plebaan Van Rossem is de gastheer. Hij opent op 24 juni de deuren van de Sint-Janskathedraal voor de LHBT-gemeenschap. Dat gebeurt met volledige instemming van de bisschop, die ook bij de gebedsdienst aanwezig zal zijn om zijn zegen te geven. Daarmee wordt geschiedenis geschreven: het is de eerste keer dat een Nederlandse bisschop dat doet.
(Male and female pastors of different denominations will share in the Pink Celebration service on Pink Saturday 2017 in Den Bosch, but Fr Van Rossem will be the lead celebrant. He will open the doors of St. John’s Cathedral on the 24th of June 2017 to the LGBT community. This takes place with the full consent bishop, who will also be present at the prayer service to give his blessing. This will be an historic occasion: the first time a Dutch bishop does so).
I’m particularly interested in the contrasting statements ‘made by Fr van Rossum, then and now, as reported by Lifestyle News :
At the time (of the 2010 refusal of communion), the cathedral’s parish priest, Geertjan van Rossum, made a public statement reminding the faithful that only people who observe the Ten Commandments are admitted to Holy Communion: “Proper living out of sexuality is part of that,” he said, triggering the angry departure of the gay activists.
And now, on announcing the Pink Saturday cathedral service:
“Ours is a hospitable town where all citizens should be able to live with dignity and we should not make each other’s lives sour, and that is why personally, but also in the name of our Catholic parish, we want to support this initiative,” Father van Rossum said. “We want to have a nice town for all its inhabitants and all its guests. As a Christian and as a believer, I also know there are Christians and believers who belong to the LGBT community and who also want to be involved with the community of the faithful. So as a priest, together with the cathedral parish, we also want to be involved with Pink Saturday, and also with the ecumenical celebration.”
Many people of a certain age will recall the central role of Gdansk in the story of Polish resistance to communist rule. As the birthplace of the Solidarity movement and the base of its leader, Lech Walesa, it filled our television news screens often enough throughout the 1980’s. As a gay Catholic, I am struck by the powerful symbolism of choosing this city for a conference of LGBT Christians.
Hammering the message home, is the formal theme for the 2017 conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, is the formal theme for the conference: “Faith in Solidarity”. Further reinforcing it, is the prominent part in the program of the use as a secondary venue for the conference, the European Centre for Solidarity just a few blocks from the hotel which is the main venue. For one evening, we were at the venue for a screening of a documentary film about the life of a transwoman who had been a leading figure in the original solidarity movement, followed by and interview with the woman herself. Later in the week, there will be public workshops and a panel discussion in the centre, followed by optional formal guided tours of the centre.
“Solidarity” here is used in two quite different contexts. The primary use, is a reference to the English translation of the Polish trade union and democracy movement “Solidarność“. A subsidiary meaning, is that the centre was built by the Europeans, “in solidarity” with Poland and their struggle for democracy – and as a wider symbol of the solidarity of all Europeans in a common cause. It is in that sense that the European Forum choice of Gdansk as the venue for conference 2017, is particularly apposite. The Forum as a whole, and in particular the well-established groups from Western Europe where LGBT inclusion and equality are becoming well-established in law and in social custom, are here to demonstrate our solidarity with our LGBT colleagues in Poland – and others in similarly difficult conditions elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
That sentiment of solidarity will be given concrete expression later today, 27th May 2017, when delegates to the European Forum conference will join with the secular LGBT rights group “Tolerado” and other LGBT activists, for Gdansk’s annual “Tri-City March of Equality”.
I am now in Gdansk, in preparation for a five day annual conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups.
Meeting here in Gdansk is a notable achievement for the Polish LGBT group, “Faith and Rainbow“. While the push for LGBT equality and inclusion has made great strides in many parts of Western Europe and North America, even including lesbian and gay bishops, and same-sex church weddings in some denominations, progress in Eastern Europe, African and the Caribbean has lagged far behind. For Catholics, Poland is widely seen as a bastion of the most conservative elements of the faith, especially on matters of faith and sexuality.
And yet, founded just a few years ago, Faith and Rainbow has made impressive progress, and can boast of some significant achievements, of which hosting this conference is just one example. In a recent report at the National Catholic Reporter in the importance to the churches of standing up against homophobia and transphobia, Sr Jeannine Gramick described how in a visit to Poland she had seen signs of increasing acceptance and support for LGBT people:
A reconciliation effort initiated by the Campaign against Homophobia called “Let’s Exchange a Sign of Peace,” featured billboards with two clasped hands — one with a rainbow bracelet and the other with a Catholic rosary. This social awareness campaign moved the hearts and minds of many Polish people (but not, unfortunately, the Polish bishops, who denounced the campaign.)
I was surprised by the degree of openness and acceptance I found among the Polish people for their lesbian and gay sisters and brothers. Polish Catholics are emerging not only from the political stranglehold of communism, but also from the grip of their authoritarian and traditionalist religious culture. From them I learned that I, too, need to emerge from the iron grip of my own prejudices, my blind spots, and the beams in my own eye. I want to be more open to those who “rub me the wrong way” and to be more welcoming to those with whom I disagree. My visit to the Polish people filled me with hope that homophobia is gradually decreasing in unexpected places.
In the same NCR article, Sr Gramick also wrote about IDAHOT, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia – and how in Europe, there are often religious groups participating in IDAHOT events with religious services. (In Malta last year, a Catholic bishop led a Mass for IDAHOT).
She also described specifically an action undertaken by the European Forum of LGBT Christian groups – whose conference I am attending this week here in Gdansk, on behalf of Quest LGBT Catholics, . This is just one of many important and valuable projects of the Forum.
I’ll have more on these projects, and of the proceedings of the conference, as the week goes on.
At Bondings 2.0, Francis DeBernardo has reported on a new manual produced for the English bishops on combating homophobia in Catholic schools. In his headline to the post, DeBernardo describes this manual as a “gift to the church” (and so it is).
A new manual for Catholic school teachers in England and Wales on how to combat homophobia and biphobia has caused a bit of a minor controversy based on its origin, perhaps because the document offers strong practical advice on how to stop and prevent bullying of sexual minority students.
The document, entitled “Made in God’s Image: Challenging homophobic and biphobic bullying in Catholic Schools” was produced by the Catholic Education Service of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, in partnership with St. Mary’s University.
As one who has (twice) participated in Stonewall training to combat HBT (homophobic/biphobic/transphobic) bullying in English schools, I can confirm that much of this material is not just “similar” to the Stonewall material – it’s identical to some of what was used in Stonewall’s own training. Some other material consists of direct quotes from Stonewall publications in the public domain.
The desire to combat bullying is in fact clearly required by Catholic teaching, which insists on the obligation to oppose “violence or malice, whether in speech or in action”. It is for this reason that Quest (the British association for LGBT Catholics) has partnered with Stonewall to deliver their well-established training to Catholic schools, funded by the UK government Department of Education. What is helpful in this document from the Bishops, is that it provides useful faith-based material which will be helpful in adapting the standard Stonewall material, to make it more directly relevant to Catholic schools.
What I find particularly striking about this initiative, is that deliberately or not, the English bishops have in effect entered an informal partnership with Stonewall. Not long ago, there were widespread perceptions (on both sides of the divide) that Stonewall and the churches were necessarily in opposition to each other. From Stonewall’s side, under the leadership of the current CE Ruth Hunt, Stonewall is actively promoting alliances with faith-based LGBT groups. Now it seems that Catholic bishops too, are seeing value in Stonewall’s work to combat homophobia and bullying.
However, The Catholic Herald reports,that some critics have questioned who contributed to the document:
The critics said that portions of the document are very similar to anti-bullying materials produced by Stonewall and lgbtyouth Scotland, two leading UK LGBT equality organizations. Stonewall denied any involvement but said their materials are public and they’d be glad if their ideas were used by others.
What is most remarkable about this “controversy” is that the criticism seems intended to discredit what is a fine document on how to educate Catholic students about respecting gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.
It is extraordinary that some, who would certainly see themselves as “faithful” Catholics, should be so critical of an initiative by their bishops, that is so clearly in accordance with established Catholic teaching in opposition to “violence or malice, in speech or action”. The only possible explanation must be that the critics are so obsessed with their opposition to “homosexuality”, that they are unable to see or accept those elements of Catholic teaching that are in fact inclusive and welcoming.
We, on the other hand, must welcome this initiative of the Catholic bishops – with a single reservation. While this document is strong on the importance of combating homophobic bullying, it is completely silent on the increasingly pressing issue of transphobic bullying.
- Homophobia Kills: Catholic Schools Must Counter It.
- Catholic Archbishop Condemns Homophobia, Supports Civil Unions
- Archbishop: Homophobia Amounts to “Godophobia”
- Catholic Teaching and Homophobia (Quest LGBT Catholic)
- Religious Homophobia: How Should Quest Respond? (Quest LGBT Catholic)
- The Catholic Obligation to Protect and Support LGBT Pupils (Quest LGBT Catholic)
- Stonewall School Role Models visit (Quest LGBT Catholic)
- Quest and Stonewall meet up (Quest LGBT Catholic)
There is abundant evidence that homophobia kills, directly (as in hate crime murders) and indirectly (as in driving the victims to suicide). As with all forms of hatred, what begin as thoughtless or careless language acquired at school, can mutate into something much more serious in later life. Conversely, good habits acquired when young, can prepare people for sound, healthy attitudes and behaviour as adults. This is why for several years, Stonewall has been running an established, highly effective program in schools, training staff in the importance of countering homophobia in school, and giving them tools and resources to do so effectively.
Further, the evidence from Stonewall’s schools research is that in general, pupils and staff believe that the problems are greater in faith schools than in their secular counterparts. For Catholics, this is a sad indictment on the failure of some schools (not all) to properly apply standard Church teaching, which is clear the obligation that “all forms of violence or malice, in speech or in action”, must be opposed. Teaching also insists that homosexual persons must be treated with “respect, compassion and sensitivity”.
This is why I and three other members of Quest met with Stonewall in London today, for the first of two day’s training in how to take the standard Stonewall training on countering homophobia, into faith schools specifically. Tomorrow, we will be back to continue the training. Next week, three more Quest members will do the same training with Stonewall in Manchester.
By March, we expect to begin visiting schools, delivering the training to those at the coalface.
It’s been a long day, and I have no more time to write more about this, tonight (it’ll be an early start to my day tomorrow, for an early train up to London for a 9am start). Later, I’ll report in more detail, on just why the program is needed, on the evidence that faith schools in general are under-performing in this area, how the program works, and on why Catholic schools in particular have a clear pastoral obligation to oppose homophobia vigorously – and to support lgbt pupils themselves.
Free teacher training for schools with a faith character (Stonewall sign up page)
(Cross-posted at Quest LGBT Catholic)
This afternoon, I was up in London, talking to the staff of St Bonaventure’s Catholic secondary school about “The Catholic Obligation to Protect and Support Lesbian and Gay Pupils”. Part of the headteacher’s regular program for staff continuing professional development, this kicked off the school’s annual commitment to LGBT History Month.
I met the head,teacher, Paul Halliwell, at Stonewall’s Education Day last October, where he was a panellist in the Faith breakout group. Stonewall’s Dominic Arnall introduced him with glowing praise for the work that he has already done to promote LGBT inclusion in his Catholic school, St Bonaventure’s in Forest Gate Newham – and his leadership with other schools in the area. I was delighted to accept his invitation to bring a specifically Catholic dimension to his valuable work on LGBT protection and safeguarding.
This is what I said: Continue reading The Catholic Obligation to Protect and Support LGBT Pupils