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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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.
—Melissa Feito, December 2, 2019
The post Utah Diocese Backs Proposed State Ban on Conversion Therapy Targeting Minors appeared first on New Ways Ministry.
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 Radio, O’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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