New Film Addresses Old Cultural Scar of “Ex-Gay” Therapy in Ireland

Pádraig Ó Tuama

Ireland’s public television network has aired a new film about conversion therapy and the damage it causes people who undergo it. The film reveals the long shadow that a history of LGBTQ persecution in a largely Catholic country casts despite legal advances for LGBTQ equality in recent years.

The film, Converted, directed by Suzie Keegan, was released by Irish news network RTÉ. The film examines the widely condemned practice of attempting to repress or reverse a person’s gender identity, sexual orientation, or gender presentation. The practice is widely condemned by mental health professionals and LGBTQ advocates.

In a review, Vice praised the film:

“The documentary gives a broad sweep to the long history of conversion ‘therapy’. We see famous gay activist and Irish Senator David Norris lambast the old practice of ‘aversion therapy’, which involved showing men pornographic pictures of the same gender, and administering an electric shock if they became aroused. Shockingly, recent investigations revealed that this ‘therapy’ was administered to students of Queen’s University, in Belfast well into the 70s. Such revelations are shocking not just because they expose the suffering of the past, but because they bring us to think about what sort of present we’ve inherited. And what we’ve inherited from these barbaric practices is a spurious, toxic network of ‘conversion therapy’ advocates who believe that sexual orientation can be fixed, and discipline their queer victims into thinking so too.”

One prominent subject of the film is Pádraig Ó Tuama, a gay Irish poet and theologian. Ó Tuama has spoken on many occasions about his faith and experience with accepting his sexuality, such as a brief anecdote for BBC’s Thought For The Day, or a longer piece for the storytelling radio show The Moth. In the latter piece, he goes into great detail about his experiences in ‘reparative therapy’, how he joined missionary work in his adolescence whilst trying to understand himself, and what he wanted to do with his life. To hear him say it: 

“So I joined this missionary organization, and because I ticked that box, that monster box, shortly after I joined they arranged an exorcism for me. But it didn’t work, so there was another one, and another one. And they got worse; people screaming holy words in your ear that felt anything but holy. Using language that is meant to be elevated but was actually terrible. And when three exorcisms didn’t work, it was decided that I should go to ‘reparative therapy.’” 

In the Vice article, Ó Tuama speaks to the lasting scars these ordeals left on him:

“He was 18 years old, having just moved to Dublin, and joined a prayer group. In the documentary, his eyes brim with tears as he recounts said group’s persistent threats of sin, loneliness and AIDS, as well as the humiliations which led whole rooms of members to pray over him. ‘Those were such formative times for me. That sort of thing doesn’t leave you when you’re 22.’”

A bill in the Irish government has been proposed to ban the practice of conversion therapy. The bill was introduced in 2018, and it is currently in the later stages of review by the Irish Senate. Fintan Warfield, the Sinn Féin senator who introduced the bill, commented on the issue of faith in the second round of debate:

“‘It is essential that we recognize the importance of faith in this conversation and that some religious people experience psychological distress because they see their sexual orientation and faith as being irreconcilable. Positive exploration can address both the reality of sexual orientation and the possibilities of a spiritually and religiously meaningful life. They can be reconciled. I have no doubt there are huge numbers of religious people who wound find the concept of conversion therapy as abhorrent as I do. This is about legislating for the common good, which is the reason we are here.’”

Converted is now available on RTÉ Player.

Artemis Walsh, December 9, 2019

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Happy Are All Who Wait for God!

Advent’s liturgical readings from the prophet Isaiah are among the most beautiful, poetic, and hopeful texts of the Bible.  They speak of expectation, longing, liberation, and God’s unfailing love and solidarity with humanity.

A few weeks ago, Bondings 2.0 asked its readers to write short reflections on selected Isaiah readings from the perspective of LGBTQ people and allies.  We will print selections from these reflections on each of the four Advent Sundays.

If you would like to submit a reflection for the coming weeks, please click here, read the guidelines, and complete the submission form.

Below are the selections for the Second Sunday of Advent.  They are preceded by the Scripture citation upon which the reflection is based.

Isaiah 9:1-2

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
Upon those who lived in a land of gloom
    a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing;
They rejoice before you as people rejoice at harvest,
as they exult when dividing the spoils.

Submitted by: Bryan Massingale       Location: Fordham University, New York

These words from Isaiah both haunt and console me.  The darkness is more apparent to me than the light.  As a Black gay man, my country devalues and discounts my life. More than I want to admit, I feel endangered.  My church tolerates me on its good days; at worst, it blames those who love like me for its own gross failings.  These days I fumble in the darkness, making my way with unsure footing.

Advent for me is a time to keep vigil, to watch for signs of light no matter how faint or distant.  Some years ago, when I was in a place of dark confusion, I wrote this poem about living in expectation of the promise of a new beginning.  I call it:

Sunrise Vigil

Sunrise keeps a promise
that night does not forever last.

Yet dawn
only at its appointed time.

So I wait . . . .
and watch . . . .
in hidden light

that night does not forever last.


   *    *     *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Submitted by:  Jacqui O.        Location:  New Haven, Connecticut

“The Prophet Isaiah” by Antonio Balestra

When Isaiah tells me to ponder the image of the people “exult[ing] when dividing the spoils,” I start to see gluttonous pillaging and delight in the defeat of our neighbors. But what if the spoils aren’t ill-gotten? What does it mean when the harvest and the spoils are love? Or mercy? Ora mere child, born under occupation and into poverty?

What then?

The rejoicing that comes from the harvest is the relief of being saved from scarcity—of finally having plenty. The exultation of dividing the spoils is having so much abundance that you can share with your neighbor and satiate yourself, as well.

God wants to give us a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity. And that means that even in moments of real scarcity—even when we have only seven loaves and two fish, even when our brother squanders his inheritance, even when seven years of famine are foreshadowed in a dream—we have plenty enough love and mercy to share abundantly with our neighbor while trusting that our own needs will be met, too.

And that’s the challenge of being queer and Catholic. It so often feels that we cannot love both the church and ourselves. It seems impossible to extend goodwill to church leaders while maintaining respect for ourselves. We can’t imagine enough mercy for us all.

As Dorothy Day said, the Gospel takes away our right forever to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor. Well, Christmas forever takes away our right to distinguish between those deserving and undeserving of the spoils of Christ.

The love and mercy aren’t going to run out. Let’s exult in that.

Submitted by: Fabelhaft Griffin       Location:  Notre Dame, Indiana

Isaiah 30: 19-21

Truly, God is waiting to be gracious to you,
    truly, God shall rise to show you mercy;
For  God is a god of justice:
    happy are all who wait for God!

“Happy are all who wait for God!” Happy, but also anxious, stressed, downtrodden, and fearful. Waiting for God can sometimes feel like waiting for a miracle: Impossible: unless you’re Catholic. As an LGBT Catholic, I sometimes feel like I’m waiting for God and then something else: because if a straight person is waiting for “just God” then surely I must be waiting for God and then some. But we’re all waiting for the same God. We’re all confessing the same sins. We’re all susceptible to the same human condition. We’re all destined to be loved, whether we like it or not. And we’re destined to love, come what may. I await God as patiently as I can, with nerves awry and heart aflame.

If you would like to submit a reflection for the coming weeks, please click here, read the guidelines, and complete the submission form.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 8, 2019




































































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QUOTE TO NOTE: Bishop McElroy Issues Condemnation of Judgmentalism in Church

Bishop Robert McElroy

In a recent address, San Diego’s Bishop Robert McElroy sharply condemned judgementalism, particularly in the church, and warned of the damage such an attitude inflicts, particularly on the retention of young Catholics. Were his statements strong enough?

McElroy issued his condemnation during the 2019 MacTaggart Lecture hosted by St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Drawing from his time at the Synod on the Amazon, to which Pope Francis appointed him a delegate, the bishop at one point offered this comment:

“If we are to build a more welcoming church in the United States, the searing issue of judgmentalism must be faced. There is no sin that Jesus condemns in the gospels more often than that of judgmentalism.  . .The church of Jesus Christ must be a church that proclaims the Catholic moral life in all of its fullness, and calls believers to high standards of faith and conduct. But the church must proclaim that life in the recognition that it is the mercy of God which saves us, not our own merits. Unless we reflect this fundamental principle of our faith in the lived reality of our ecclesial life, we risk legitimate rejection by the very young adults whom we are seeking to invite into the church. It is not that young adults live better lives, or do not fail in being judgmental themselves. But millennials and those who are coming after them have a particularly low threshold for the hypocrisy that lies in professing to follow the Lord Jesus while rejecting his continual condemnation of judgmentalism in our individual and ecclesial lives.”

McElroy could be even more specific. What causes so many people to leave is not just a generalized judgmentalism and hypocrisy; it is quite specific. Data published by the Public Religion Research Institute in 2016 revealed that 39% of people raised Catholic who left the church cited the mistreatment of LGBTQ people as one of their main reasons. This 39% number is 7% higher than the next most-cited cause, the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and is ten points higher than the general population of formerly religious people who cited LGBTQ mistreatment as their main reason.

McElroy frames as a potential risk what is already a damning reality. Young Catholics have and are leaving in droves because the institutional church is judgmental and hypocritical. The sour fruits of church leaders’ decades-long denigration of LGBTQ people in teaching and in practice have ripened. It is not hyperbole in the U.S. to speak of what might already be a lost generation of Catholics among Millennials.

Bishop McElroy is thankfully challenging his brother bishops to be more synodal, more pastoral, and, ultimately, more aligned with Pope Francis vision. But his episcopal peers in the U.S. repeatedly reject this approach, fixating instead on stymieing LGBTQ equality. Until the bishops can name LGBTQ mistreatment as a central, if not the central cause of why young people have left the U.S. church and can claim their role in that mistreatment, they stand no chance at stopping the hemorrhage of young people out of church doors.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 7, 2019

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Community Supports Lesbian Judge Denied Communion with Inclusive Liturgy, Letter to Bishop

Judge Sara Smolenski, center, receiving Communion at a Methodist church’s inclusive liturgy

Local community members are making their support known for a lesbian Catholic denied Communion over her same-gender marriage, including with an inclusive liturgy and one parishioner’s letter to the local bishop.

Responding to Fr. Scott Nolan’s denial of Communion to Judge Sara Smolenski, a nearby Methodist church hosted an inclusive Sunday liturgy with a special invite to Smolenski and her wife, Linda. WOOD reported:

“The church says while they welcome everyone to their church during regular monthly Communion services, their message is more intentional during inclusive services.

“‘I am so full of gratitude that these ministers, their congregation, has reached out to open this up and do what Jesus would do,’ Smolenski said.

“The service started with welcoming words, then moved on to prayer.  They say their church has a long history of embracing everyone and supporting social justice issues.

“‘We wanted to invite and sort of have a heart for every LGBT person that’s been harmed by the church,’ Rev. Dr. Joan VanDessel said. ‘I’m a part of the (LGBTQ) community too, so for me, it’s knowing that experience of being harmed or not having access to the church. I think we wanted to reach out and be a different voice.’”

Smolenski said that her future at St. Stephen Catholic Church, where the judge has been a lifelong parishioner and where Nolan is now pastor, is unclear. But the issue at hand is, in Smolenski’s words, “really about saying Jesus wants everybody welcome at the table.”

The controversy became public when Nolan told Smolenski she would be denied Communion over her marriage. But parishioners report that another same-gender couple had unexpectedly been denied the Eucharist at their child’s First Communion. There are also reports that gay teachers had been fired, other teachers had left in protest, and that a message had been sent to LGBTQ people they were not welcome. Despite falling church attendance and decreased school enrollment, Nolan defended his actions and is backed by the Diocese of Grand Rapids.

One St. Stephen parishioner, Joshua David Marko, shared his perspective about the Communion controversy in a letter to Grand Rapid’s Bishop David Walkowiak, along with the metropolitan of the region, Archbishop Allen Vigneron, and Pope Francis.

Posted on Medium, Marko said that he had never been “so discouraged in my faith” as a lifelong and involved Catholic. He wrote the letter because he believes the multiple denials of Communion to LGBTQ people are an “inconsistent application of Church teaching” and are “poor pastoral practice.” Marko continued:

“My community has been working since last winter to respectfully address our concerns through outreach to Fr. Scott and yourself while making every attempt to keep the crisis out of the hands of the media. It is so very frustrating to receive an indignant bump on the snout from the Diocese after receiving nothing but disregard to all our previous attempts at dialogue.

“A consequence of the Diocese’s response is that it emboldened a hateful response from ultra conservative Catholics. I was in disbelief seeing the anger poured onto members of my community by people who I would have presumed to be my brothers and sisters in Christ. My community is experiencing a crisis. Instead of supportive outreach we were attacked by people waving a war banner stitched from your words. These people invaded the Mass at my church to celebrate the pain of my community with theatrical genuflections to receive the Eucharist. It was disgusting to see Communion used as a bludgeon to exacerbate conflict when that is the antithesis of its meaning. Yet this abuse is not just tolerated but encouraged by your words.”

Marko concluded with a fitting appeal to the bishop for positive action that leads to reconciliation:

“Censorship of these issues damages trust in the Church. Will discussion among the discouraged and dispossessed continue to be driven underground? Or, will you choose to have a voice within that group that offers support and hope? I appeal to you, Bishop Walkowiak, to be thoughtfully compassionate in how you engage with all members of the Church in order to bring the community closer together rather than to widen divisions and continue to drive life-long Catholics away from the Church. This will be needed in 2020 more than ever.”

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 6, 2019 

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Utah Diocese Backs Proposed State Ban on Conversion Therapy Targeting Minors

Jean Hill

Not long after Pope Francis met with a lesbian woman who advocates against conversion therapy, U.S. dioceses have offered conflicting responses to proposed bans on such debunked psychological practices.

In Utah, the Diocese of Salt Lake City is one of many organizations voicing approval of potential new rules which would prohibit state-licensed mental health professionals in the state from seeking to alter a child’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Jean Hill, who directs the diocese’s Office of Life, Justice, and Peace, explained why Catholics did not have the reservations some other religious leaders in the state had:

“‘We see nothing in the rule that would prohibit therapists from discussing a client’s moral or religious beliefs or practices, or requires a therapist to contradict such beliefs or practices. . .The rule’s specific protection for methods or practices that address an ‘individual’s unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices’ gives us assurance nothing in the rule would lead a therapist to encourage a minor to engage in illegal or unsafe sexual practices of any nature, regardless of sexual orientation.’”

Catholic leaders in Utah have joined LGBTQ advocates, as well as many medical and mental health professionals in expressing their support for a ban, reported the Salt Lake Tribune. But, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), which has a heavy presence in Utah, opposes the ban, saying it would stifle the church’s ability to counsel on faith and sexuality.

Emily Bleyl of the National Association of Social Workers in Utah states that there is no scientific support behind of conversion therapy:

“‘Conversion therapy is, at its core, discriminatory, exploitative and dangerous. There is no empirical evidence that sexual orientation and gender identity can be altered through therapy, and research has found that attempts to do so are dangerous.’”

Instead, conversion therapy often leads to traumatic experiences and depression, as many supporters of the ban noted in newly-released comments to the state. Utah has the fifth-highest suicide rate in the country, with many of the most vulnerable citizens being LGBTQ minors. Supporters of this ban argue that this could be a life-saving change for young people in the state.

Jeff Robinson, a therapist who is an opponent of the ban cites parental rights and religious freedom. He claimed “the client’s self-determination is paramount” and they should be allowed to seek help for the choices they want to make, whatever they may be. 

But not all church leaders have affirmed the need to ban conversion therapy. In Missouri, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph opposed such a ban in Kansas City, which was approved unanimously by the 13-member city council. It was perhaps the latest American city to ban conversion therapy, and the second city in Missouri to do so after Columbia. The Kansas City Star reports that similar to the other proposed bans, the new law would only apply to state-licensed mental health professionals counseling minors. Though many religious leaders support the new ban, the Diocese claimed the language of the ban was too broad, calling it an “inappropriate encroachment by a city’s police power into the work of professionals who are already well regulated by professional licensing standards and state law.”

Conversion therapy is already banned in 18 states and many U.S. cities. Catholics have been involved in efforts to implement these bans nationwide, too. According to KTUL-TV, legislation was introduced to the Oklahoma statehouse this year to ban conversion therapy on minors, but it never made it to committee hearings. Several supporters of the proposed ban included Jose Vega, the deputy director of Oklahomans for Equality. After coming out to a devout Catholic family as a teenager, Vega endured conversion therapy at his church. He recalls being forced to kneel for six hours a day in prayer and was given unknown, “nausea-inducing” droplets to swallow every day. This eventually led him to homelessness, though Vega eventually was able to return to school and reconnect with his family.

Bondings 2.0 has previously covered several stories on conversion therapy, its consequences, the controversy surrounding it, and efforts to ban the harmful practice.

Melissa Feito, December 2, 2019

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“Plague,” A New Podcast, Remembers Complex Story of AIDS and the Catholic Church

A new podcast on AIDS and the Catholic Church is being lauded for its honest, challenging engagement with a harrowing period for American society and the for the LGBTQ community in the 1980s and 1990s.

Launched on last Sunday, World AIDS Day,  Plague: Untold Stories of AIDS and the Catholic Church is a project of Michael O’Loughlin, a gay Catholic who is currently the national correspondent for America magazine, and who has covered LGBTQ issues in the church for more than a decade.

The podcast focuses on the stories of ordinary people whose lives were affected by the AIDS crisis, highlighting both the positives and the negatives of the church’s engagement. A press release explains:

“In 1986 a Vatican department released a letter that described homosexuality as ‘a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.’ The letter caused a great deal of suffering among people who were already grappling with the largest, most devastating public health crisis in a generation. Yet while the church continued to uphold traditional teaching on human sexuality, pushing back against the sexual revolution in the public debate, it also responded in an unprecedented way to the suffering on the ground during the AIDS crisis. At the community level, the gay community and the church, which managed its own vast health care network and wielded immense political influence, began to work together. Many of the stories from that complicated time have gone unreported until now.

“‘For those of us who are too young to remember, the scope of that suffering can be difficult to comprehend,’ O’Loughlin wrote in a story for America magazine on the secret history of Catholic caregivers during the epidemic. ‘More than a few Catholic priests, sisters and brothers, and laypeople confronted the stigma by responding pastorally to the H.I.V. and AIDS epidemic.’

Plague captures the stories of ordinary people responding to suffering in extraordinary fashion, as O’Loughlin talks with people who worked on the frontlines of the AIDS crisis, those whose lives were upended by it, and those who believe there are lessons from that time still unheeded.”

An editorial from America said the podcast reveals “there is hope in even the darkest moments of tragedy and that the people of God closest to the ground can and do take the initiative in helping and comforting the afflicted.”

The stories told in Plague are complex. Speaking with National Public RadioO’Loughlin noted that the podcast covers the controversial actions of New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor who both adamantly opposed condom use but visited with hundreds of AIDS victims, too. There are also the stories of St. Vincent’s Hospital, New York, and Catholic healthcare who worked to get AIDS treatment correct. At one point, O’Loughlin focuses on the story of Sister of Charity Sr. Karen Heflestein, an administrator at St. Vincent’s who organized meetings with activists andwho had protested the hospital’s mistreatment of lesbian and gay patients, advocating for improved ed improve care. In short, O’Loughlin wants us to hold both the institution’s deep failings and the faithful’s pastoral work in a healthy tension.

In a reflection on World AIDS Day for Bondings 2.0, theologian Emily Reimer-Barry explored the contemporary situation in which the Catholic Church finds itself in relation to AIDS. She asks in the end:

“The story of HIV/AIDS is not over yet. Our faith community can still make a difference for people living with HIV. What kind of difference will we make?”

Michael O’Loughlin does the church a great service by presenting Plague. The series is both a mirror in which to reflect and a contemporary call to action. In remembering, Plague helps the church today find its path forward in making a difference on HIV/AIDS, learning from and repenting for its failures while building on successes. O’Loughlin has made a difference. It is up to the rest of us to do likewise.

To listen to Plague’s first episode, click here. You can also find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Play.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 4, 2019

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It’s Our 8th Birthday and Giving Tuesday!

It’s Our 8th Birthday and Giving Tuesday!

Eight years and still going strong!

On November 28th, Bondings 2.0 reached the eight-year mark!  No one is more surprised than I am that what began as a small side project has become such an important part of Catholic LGBTQ discussions.  We are so gratified that so many people continue to find it an important source for news, opinion, and spirituality.

Since November 28, 2011, our blog has posted content every single day, sometimes twice or three times a day, totaling over 3,200 posts!  When I started the blog, I hoped we would have enough material to post three times a week as a minimum goal.  We have found that instead of scraping for material, we are in fact inundated by it!  The volume of news and other content concerning Catholic LGBTQ issues is immense, and we try to provide you with the best and most significant items.

As you can see from the list of blog contributors, our staff is growing, and we are expanding it to include some theological commentators.  We are also developing new ways for our blog readers to contribute material, such as the upcoming “Isaiah Project: An Advent LGBTQ Reflection Series.”  Please check it out and consider  participating!

Today is Giving Tuesday, an international event to highlight the importance of donating to non-profit organizations during the Christmas gift-giving season.  Would you consider sending a donation to New Ways Ministry to support the work of Bondings 2.0?  This is the only time during the year that we come to our readers asking for donations for the blog.

You can also mail a check made out to New Ways Ministry to our office at 4012 29th Street, Mount Rainier, Maryland 20712.  Please note “Bondings 2.0” in the check’s memo line.

We would be most grateful for any donation you can provide to help us continue this ministry.  You would not only be helping us by your donation, but the thousands upon thousands of readers around the globe who turn to Bondings 2.0 as a source of information and support.

If your finances are a little stretched right now, a free way that you can support us is to let your friends know about our blog, and encourage them to subscribe to it.  Subscribing is as easy as clicking here, and then entering an email address.  Your friends will receive an email every time the blog is updated, usually once a day.  It’s convenient because then they don’t have to keep checking the blog for updates.  The blog will come to them!

Whether or not you can donate either financially or by spreading the word, please know that we deeply appreciate your support and interest in Bondings 2.0, New Ways Ministry, and building a church and societies that are just and equal for LGBTQ people and their families.  We will continue to keep you in our prayers of gratitude for all the good you do for us and for others!

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 3, 2019

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Diocese Supports Priest with Pattern of Denying Communion to, Firing LGBTQ Catholics

Judge Sara Smolenski

A diocese in Michigan is backing one priest’s decision to deny Communion to a longtime lesbian parishioner because of her same-gender marriage, part of an alleged pattern of the priest discriminating against LGBTQ Catholics.

Sara Smolenski was denied Communion by the pastor of the parish, St. Stephen Church, East Grand Rapids, Michigan, which she has attended on and off since being baptized there as a child. WOOD 8 reported:

“But it was just last Saturday that Smolenski got a call from the parish priest, Father Scott Nolan.

“‘The way he said it was “because you’re married to Linda in the state of Michigan, you cannot accept communion,” that’s how he said it,’ Smolenski explained. ‘I try to be a good and faithful servant to our Lord Jesus Christ. My faith is a huge part of who I am, but it is the church that made that faith, the very church where he is taking a stance and saying ho-ho, not you.’

“It was a devastating revelation for the lifelong Catholic who months earlier gave $7,000 to the parish building fund.

“‘Oh my gosh, I’m not going to get Jesus at the church I have devoted my life to,’ Smolenski said, fighting back tears. ‘I thought of my mom and dad who devoted their whole life to raising us Catholic, spending all that money at the Catholic education.’

“Smolenski was not the first person to be denied, according to a dozen people News 8 talked to Tuesday, including one same-sex couple who was denied the Eucharist during their child’s communion service.

“‘The public shunning — everything about it was offensive,’ Smolenski said of the denial months before her own.”

Smolenski, a District Court judge who has served on the judicial bench for almost three decades, said she told the media about the denial and the priest’s behavior as a way to make other people’s lives “a little bit easier.” It was simply a matter of speaking the truth, she stated.

Parishioners are pushing back against Nolan’s behavior. Micki Benz, a parishioner at St. Stephen for forty years, shared that the priest had fired gay teachers at the parish school and “made it clear that gay people are not welcome,” in addition to excluding non-Catholics from church services. Concerned, parishioners drafted a letter to their community encouraging people to write the local bishop, Grand Rapid’s Bishop David Walkowiak, as well as the local metropolitan, Detroit’s Archbishop Allen Vigneron, about Nolan. The letter reads, in part:

“The St. Stephen community is experiencing a crisis of leadership involving selective discrimination against gay parishioners. . . .[Denying Communion to Smolenski] by Fr. Scott is a clear indication that he will continue to practice selective discrimination against members of our community. These acts have been destructive to the culture of inclusion and diversity that are hallmarks of St Stephen. There has been a massive decline in school enrollment, and an exodus of teachers and staff. Many individuals have withdrawn financial support from the parish and Diocese, and transferred those funds to support to the St. Stephen school or other causes.”

But the young priest and the Diocese of Grand Rapids are defending the denial of Communion to Smolenski. Nolan told WOOD 8 that he disagrees with accusations that he has been discriminatory, citing Bishop Walkowiak’s support and the teachings of Pope Francis as evidence he acted rightly. Nolan added he was the “right person” to lead the parish, while also acknowledging a sharp decline in parish and school enrollment. For its part, the diocese released a statement affirming the priest’s decision to deny Communion to a married lesbian woman.

Reports of Fr. Nolan’s behavior are troubling. Pastors should be unifiers and reconcilers, not sources of division. Denying Communion once because of a person’s sexual orientation and marital status in itself grounds enough to question whether the priest should be kept in ministry. But the alleged pattern of discrimination this priest has carried out against LGBTQ people demands intervention by church leaders before any more harm is done.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 2, 2019

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The People Who Walked in Darkness Have Seen a Great Light

Advent’s liturgical readings from the prophet Isaiah are among the most beautiful, poetic, and hopeful texts of the Bible.  They speak of expectation, longing, liberation, and God’s unfailing love and solidarity with humanity.

A few weeks ago, Bondings 2.0 asked its readers to write short reflections on selected Isaiah readings from the perspective of LGBTQ people and allies.  We will print selections from these reflections on each of the four Advent Sundays.

If you would like to submit a reflection for the coming weeks, please click here, read the guidelines, and complete the submission form.

Below are the selections for the First Sunday of Advent. All of today’s reflections are based on the following Scripture:

Isaiah 9:1-2:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone. 

You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at harvest, as they exult when dividing the spoils.

Submitted by: Adolph Dwenger   Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

Rick watches the Hallmark Channel 24/7. Occasionally he will remember that he has seen a movie and request the channel changed, but that is rare. All the movies seem to have a similar theme: there is a void in the main characters’ lives until the last 15 minutes of the movie when they find love.

Rick will often tell me during a movie that if I loved him he could live at home. Sometimes he is angry with me and begs me to take him out of the skilled nursing (dementia) unit. Usually I am able to calm him down and when he is unable to remember or can’t complete a sentence — I remember. I fill in the blank. I always try to honor who he is and was.

I recognize the darkness. The darkness is real but it doesn’t overcome me. Even when Catholic Church leadership denies our love, I know what love is.

Before I leave, I give Rick a good-night kiss and tell him that I love him. Often in that darkness there appears a great light when Rick responds, “I love you, too.”

“The Prophet Isaiah” by Antonio Balestra

Submitted by: Katherine Pezo   Location: United States

For long periods of time across the world, LGBT people have been marginalized, persecuted, and ignored by people and institutions around us. We can easily see that LGBT people have long “walked in darkness.” However, despite this, we shouldn’t despair because the Holy Spirit has been and still is actively at work in the world giving us light and deliverance. We can see the Spirit’s work in both the Church and the wider world, as it moves both realms slowly to allow us to be seen and loved as God sees and loves us. It may be more obvious in some places, but I think this light is slowly shining and dawning in the Church, too, despite setbacks. I pray every day that the Spirit may bring strength and hope to LGBT people and that the Church may fully accept us as part of itself. I have a faith that it will. This is our light in the darkness. We must also always remember, too, the light that is always shining in our presence. The light lives within us and gives us our being. It is the light that made us who we are, that made us LGBT. This light is our God, Jesus Himself along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is in this light that we have our strength and our foundation. This light that loves us, tells us we are okay, that we are normal, that we are beloved, that we are who we are meant to be. This light that gives us this joy and will bring our fulfillment.

Submitted by: Rev. Steve Wolf   Location: Nashville, Tennessee

In 2008, our institutional Church reiterated the suggestion that a gay man like me is automatically unsuitable for seminary because of an incapacity to relate correctly to men and women. Frustration, exasperation, then anger because an old lie is available where young Catholics who are LGBTQ might find it and be hurt by it.

At Saint Peter’s Basilica that autumn, I looked for a Mass to attend. Found it, but the usher would not let me in. So I sat down out of the way on the floor facing that altar to participate. Realizing I was going nowhere, another usher charitably let me in. Sitting in a blue chair, I had a deep sense of solidarity with all the Catholics who for whatever reason feel excluded from the life of the Church, a deep pain.

 After coming out as a gay celibate priest, I had hoped in my next assignment to help the parish become a place where Catholics who are LGBTQ could attend Sunday Mass without fear of being shamed. Unable to make that happen, disappointment and the trauma of that failure has led me into a healthy retirement.

There is so much suffering in our world that is unnecessary, and I believe Jesus Christ the Risen Lord is still leading us into nonjudgmental acceptance of all as siblings to him in his one family. Now when I help out at a parish on a Sunday or attend Mass in the pews, I am consoled with the warmth of the light that overcomes the night, reminded again that the Holy Spirit, she is always up to something.

Edited by Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 1, 2019

The post The People Who Walked in Darkness Have Seen a Great Light appeared first on New Ways Ministry.

For World AIDS Day, How Will We Make a Difference?

Today’s post is from Bondings 2.0’s newest blogger, Emily Reimer-Barry, PhD.

Emily is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of San Diego. She teaches courses in War and Peace, Sexual Ethics, Feminist Theology and Ethics, and Christian Social Activism. She has published articles in Theological Studies, the Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics, and U.S. Catholic. She earned her PhD in Christian Ethics from Loyola University Chicago, MTS from Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and BA from the University of Notre Dame. She lives in Chula Vista, California, with her family. 

Tomorrow, December 1, is World AIDS Day. Back in September of this year, I visited the National AIDS Memorial Grove for the first time. The Grove is in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, and its mission is to provide a place of remembrance so that the lives of people who died from AIDS are not forgotten by future generations. The Circle of Friends is a space within The Grove in which over 2,500 names are carved in a circle on the ground, under a canopy of redwoods and evergreens, in which the light trickles through and names are illuminated as the sun moves across the sky.

The Circle of Friends

As I walked around the Circle, I read names aloud, saying each one with care, knowing that each is the name of someone who had died of AIDS, or someone who loved someone who died of AIDS and who donated in their honor. I thought about the people living with HIV who have impacted my life, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for having known them.

I recalled my days at a social service agency on Chicago’s north side of Chicago where I staffed front desk and was primarily in charge of the needle exchange sign-in sheet. I remembered the clients I befriended there: the smiling faces of Reggie, Mona, Sal, and Juan. Their struggles with substance abuse opened my eyes. I thought about the women who participated in my graduate school research study, and how they shared intimate details of their lives with me and helped me to understand stigma, shame, and structural violence from the perspective of Catholic women living with HIV. I said a prayer of thanksgiving for Sue, Carmen, Grace, Diva, Cheryl, Crystal, Lettie, and Keesha.

I remembered my experience working at a diocesan ministry with lesbian and gay Catholics in Los Angeles. Gay men stopped by our booth at the Pride parade that summer, asking questions about whether church teaching on gay marriage could ever change. I thought about the undergraduate students I currently teach and the questions and concerns they bring to our classroom discussions about sexual health, shame, and spirituality.

I read the names carved in stone and wondered what their lives were like, how they lived, how they loved, how they died, who they left behind. And I wept. I grieved for the LGBTQ teenagers left to fend for themselves when unsupportive parents kick them out of the house. I grieved for persons living with HIV who can’t afford the medications that will keep them alive. I grieved for the AIDS-affected Catholics who long ago left our church when they didn’t find the communities and liturgies to be spaces of inclusive love and justice.

The theme this year’s World AIDS Day is “Communities Make the Difference.” According to UNAIDS, this theme invites us to “recognize the essential role that communities have played and continue to play in the AIDS response at the international, national, and local levels.” Their report highlights the need for meaningful partnerships with communities, and it commits to ensuring that at least 30% of all service delivery is community-led by 2030.

This focus on community aligns with the principles and methods of Catholic social teachings. A Catholic understanding of the human person asserts that we are social creatures by nature and that we can only thrive in communities. Catholic social teachings offer principles of human dignity, the common good, solidarity, subsidiarity, participation, preferential option for the poor, and others; these principles do not present easy answers to complex social problems but they do emphasize what must be key priorities in any authentically Christian response to social problems.

When we think about the Catholic Church’s response to the HIV epidemic, what difference has the Catholic Church made? I cannot answer this question satisfactorily in a short blog post, of course. The Catholic Church has been a tremendous force for good in the work of Catholic health care organizations, non-governmental organizations, social service agencies, educational institutions, and direct service to marginalized communities. The work of Caritas Internationalis, Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, and women’s religious organizations deserve special mention.

But it is also true that some Catholic leaders have been reluctant to advocate for methods of HIV prevention that have proven effective (including condoms and PrEP therapy), fearing scandal. Similarly, church teaching opposing same-sex genital activity and contraception has often been a stumbling block for authentic engagement with the LBGTQ community on stigma-reduction, sexual health, and human dignity in a time of AIDS. In a podcast entitled “Plague” that launches tomorrow, journalist Michael O’Loughlin investigates the early stories of the AIDS epidemic and the Catholic Church’s response, drawing on hundreds of interviews of people who lived through the emergence of the epidemic in the early 1980’s.

The story of HIV/AIDS is not over yet. Our faith community can still make a difference for people living with HIV. What kind of difference will we make?

Emily Reimer-Barry, University of San Diego, November 30, 2019


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