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Lay Catholic Groups Pledge to End Anti-Gay Violence

Paint Rosy Roman Catholic Picture of Church's Stance

Full-Page Ad Suggests an Optimism at War with Facts

By Jack Nichols

popesmile.gif - 18.50 K Pope John Paul II: Does the pontiff agree with the new ads? New York, N. Y.--1,931 Catholics—including nine bishops-- have honorably committed themselves to work to end violence against gay and lesbian people in a pledge which appeared yesterday (Dec. 30) as a full-page signature ad in the national edition of The New York Times.

The ad is in response to the recent murder of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard in Wyoming and to escalating anti-gay violence.

Jointly sponsored, the ad was published by New Ways Ministry, a national Catholic ministry group which works for justice for lesbian and gay people, and Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement which promotes the transformation of society through nonviolence.

Entitled A Catholic Pledge to End Violence Against Gay and Lesbian People, the ad cites Catholic sources such as the Catechism, the Vatican, and the U.S. bishops' conference which deplores social sadism in a 1994 pastoral letter, Confronting A Culture of Violence.

The Pax Christi/New Way Ministry statement also encourages Catholic bishops and church leaders to speak out when gay and lesbian people are maligned by politicians and by other religious groups.

"If Catholics and all people of faith commit their hearts to acceptance and inclusion of gay and lesbian people, the escalation of violence can be overcome," said Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry.

"Misguided religious thought has fueled the homophobia which causes violence. True Christian charity can correct it," he added.

paxchrist.gif - 1.95 K Although the December 30 newspaper ad refers to a 1986 disavowal of anti-gay violence by the Vatican, such misguided religious thought has long been evident in statements made by Vatican sources. Gay activist Catholics such as are members of Pax Christi and New Ways Ministry, have worked against entrenched anti-homosexualism including threats of “just punishment” against the church’s sex-liberals made by a hierarchy of conservatives now in control of the Roman Catholic Church.

Dignity USA. perhaps the oldest post-Stonewall lay activist group attempting to reconcile same-sex love and affection with Roman Catholicism, got walking papers in the first half of this decade from John Cardinal O'Connor of New York, who has steadfastly refused to allow any Roman Catholic church premises to be used for Dignity meetings.

A letter from the Vatican intercepted in 1992 and published in the Washington Post ordered American Bishops to oppose legislation that promotes civil rights for gay men and lesbians, labeling homosexuality, in opposition to the American Psychiatric Association, "an objective disorder."

The Post said that the Roman Catholic Church has declared its support "for discrimination against gay people in such areas as public housing, family health benefits, and the hiring of teachers, coaches and military personnel."

The Vatican, the Post reported, "insinuates that homosexuals are mentally ill and insists that the denial of rights to gays will promote family values. "The church has the responsibility," says the published Vatican letter, "to promote public morality of the entire civil society on the basis of fundamental moral values."

The rights to housing and employment, said the Vatican missive, are not absolute, and employment, it says curiously, is "a privilege." Several lone clerics opposed the Vatican's stand. (Washington Post, Nov. 1, 1992).

Related Stories from the GayToday Archive:

Vatican Apology Sought by International Lesbian & Gay Association

Humanist Leader Criticizes Gay Christian's Views on Year 2000 March

Related Sites:
Pax Christi International
GayToday does not endorse related sites.

In January, 1998, when Maine gay activists failed against religious zealots to preserve state-wide anti-gay discrimination laws and although religious organizations were exempted from compliance with the state protections Maine's enlighted government had offered, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, advanced seven amendments to the protective bill in a blatant attempt to nullify its effectiveness:

A. A clear definition of what a "religious" organization is.
B. A clause stating that no person or organization should be penalized for expressing an opinion about sexual preferences or for refusing to endorse any sexual conduct or behavior.
C. A clear understanding that nothing in the bill condoned, promoted or required the teachings of homosexual behavior—as opposed to homosexual orientation—as on programs for homosexuals.
D. An understanding that no employer would be required to give employee benefits to unmarried domestic partners.
E. Letting adoption agencies consider the sexual orientation consider the sexual orientation of a prospective adoptive parent when they decide where to place a child.
F. Exempting nonprofit, private organizations that work with youth from provisions in the bill.
G. Providing others protections from lawsuits that could surface once the law took effect.

When the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family Life had released the seemingly gay-friendly Always Our Children in October, 1997, Dignity's hopeful response then, in a manner akin to the current New Ways Ministry and Pax Christi newspaper ad of yesterday, was to "welcome" the pastoral letter. The organization called it "a positive step" and commended the bishops for their "improved sensitivity to the issues which confront parents and their lesbian and gay children, but all is not perfect."

Dignity's hope was overcome by its fear, however, that the "pastoral sensitivity" that had once informed Always Our Children has since been replaced with a dogmatic, legalistic approach in the Church's ministry to homosexual persons, according to Charles L. Cox, Dignity/USA Executive Director.

Cox also said, "The original version of Always Our Children was not perfect, and the latest revision makes it even more imperfect. Each of the changes represents a capitulation to the conservative voices in the Church."

Echoing Cox's comments, the President of Dignity/USA, Robert F. Miailovich, said, "When Always Our Children was first released, Dignity/USA expressed our disappointment in 'the bishops' continued distinction between homosexual orientation and activity.'

"Today it seems that the bishops have decided that a pastoral message that encourages sensitivity and open dialogue is too risky for our Church."

What makes these revisions particularly distressing according to Miailovich, is the fact that Always Our Children, now past its third printing, "has been well-received by the faithful and viewed positively by many Catholic families with homosexual children."

Commenting on the substance and spirit of recent revisions to Always Our Children, Miailovich said, "It seems that the hand that had once been 'outstretched' to the families of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons has become less loving and more threatening."

Miailovich also raised the question as to why a document that in the words of Committee chairman Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien "was well received and saw no need for changes" felt the need to change the document.

Miailovich continued: "It is regrettable that the American bishops, who only last October (1997) felt free to release Always Our Children on their own, now feel compelled to consult with the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on these matters. The sad part is that the changes reveal the philosophical and pastoral tensions within the hierarchy.

mshepard2.gif - 23.41 K Matthew Shepard's murder is mentioned in the ad "The (Bishop's) document's new tone of voice has the potential on the one hand for dissuading some persons who are in need of the Church's ministry from approaching their local priest. And yet on the other hand, the document may be still viewed by some as not strict enough to enjoy conservative support. These conservative voices have shown their power by getting the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to intervene and pressuring the bishops to make certain changes. Let us see now if they will make good on their revised commitment to ministry."

Dignity/USA says it remains committed to seeing that the original message and pastoral sensitivity of Always Our Children is retained and fully implemented.

It is unlikely, many believe, that changes in the official response will take place while a doctrinaire and punitive Pope remains in office. The binding articles of faith must be considered "definitive" by Catholics, says the Vatican, and the Pope has warned that dissenters will be subject to "just punishment." Pax Christi and New Ways Ministry, by pledging to work to end hate crimes and violence against gays, are clearly optimistic, however. "This pledge is a clear indication that a growing number of Catholics are committed to ending homophobia and violence against gay and lesbian people," stated Nancy Small, National Coordinator of Pax Christi USA. "Our actions challenge and invite people of all faiths to do the same," she noted.

The total number of signatures is 1,931, which includes 69 religious communities, 26 parish ministries, 54 regional groups, 13 national organizations, 7 families, and 9 bishops.

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