Matt C. Abbott
November 18, 2005
Catholic "leaders" promote gay agenda
By Matt C. Abbott

The following is a lengthy but eye-opening article from the Nov. 17, 2005 issue of The Wanderer (not available on the publication's website), which I am reprinting with the permission of Al Matt, Jr., publisher and editor of The Wanderer. I did not write the article, but I am an occasional contributor to the publication.

(The following "special to The Wanderer" report was filed by a veteran reporter who attended all sessions of the NACDLGM meeting described below. Since The Wanderer first began reporting on these NACDLGM conferences, the NACDLGM organizers have become increasingly hostile, threatening libel lawsuits, to Catholic reporters attending, thus the reporter who offered this account to The Wanderer went "undercover" and has requested anonymity Al Matt. Jr., publisher.)

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SAN JOSE While the issue of homosexuality within the Catholic Church roils the Catholic community in the United States, about 150 Catholics many, if not most, employed by the Church in one capacity or another openly discussed strategies to increase the visibility and number of homosexual men and women in Catholic parishes and social outreach agencies.

Members of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries (NACDLGM) met here, September 22-25, at the San Jose Hilton, to discuss the conference's theme, "At Work in the Vineyard Planting, Nurturing, Harvesting." For the most part, participants who were unashamedly "out and proud," with some priests freely admitting their homosexuality and attendees railing against upcoming seminary visits and the impending approval by Pope Benedict XVI of a document banning homosexuals from the priesthood.

One participant was overheard by this reporter calling the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, "a big queen."

San Jose Bishop Patrick McGrath gave the welcoming speech on the opening night of the conference.

According to a promotional brochure for the conference, NACDLGM "leads the way in this ministry within the Catholic Church, acting as a network and resource for individuals, parishes, schools, religious orders, hospitals, retreat centers, social justice ministries, family life ministries, and dioceses.

"We help to make people feel welcome in the Church and assisting families to understand that their lesbian and gay members are, as the U.S. bishops have stated, 'always our children.' Our Association members are active in creating welcoming communities for gay and lesbian Catholics and their families. We support people in ministry with resources, ideas, and fellowship. We stay in communication with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and with local diocesan bishops.

"Founded in 1994, NACDLGM now counts members in 126 parishes and 52 dioceses in the USA and Canada. NACDLGM membership is not only for those doing ministry, but also for those who support the ministry with public awareness, prayer, volunteer efforts, and financial contributions."

NACDLGM gave this warning to journalists who would not identify themselves while attending the conference:

"Persons attending this conference as reporter (either staff or freelance) are required to identify themselves and the media outlet(s) they are representing at the time of registration. NACDLGM reserves the right to control access to the conference or portions of the proceedings to media representatives. Failure to disclose media affiliation may result in violation of libel laws."

Although the Hilton ballroom was set up to accommodate 200 people, most tables were only about half full during the Friday and Saturday morning plenary sessions, and seminar attendance in second-floor conference rooms was sparse.

Display tables were similarly meager. In addition to NACDLGM, organizations that had displays and/or offered literature included the National Catholic AIDS Network (NCAN); the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley; the "Emmaus Community for Gay and Lesbian Catholics, their families and friends" at St. Martin of Tours Parish in San Jose, and a flier advertising "Days of Dialogue" for homosexuals at the San Damiano retreat center in Danville, Calif.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles Ministry with Lesbian and Gay Catholics had a display that included a large cross draped with a rainbow stole; fliers advertising the "Comunidad" homosexual ministry group at St. Matthew's Parish in Long Beach and the "Gay and Lesbian Outreach Catholic Ministry" at St. Jane Frances de Chantal in North Hollywood; and a pamphlet titled, "How to Start a Ministry of Gay and Lesbian Outreach in Your Parish."

Among the largest displays was that of "Fortunate Families," a ministry "with Catholic parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons" headed by pro-homosexual propagandists Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata of the Diocese of Rochester, N.Y. The table included copies of the Lopatas' 2003 book, Fortunate Families.

Copies of OutNow, a Bay Area homosexual news magazine containing advertisements for bathhouses and XXX "gay" videos were free for the taking at the registration table.

A mall conference "bookstore" offered the following sale items: an icon of "St. Harvey Milk," San Francisco's first openly "gay" supervisor who was gunned down in 1978; an "AIDS rosary" consisting of clear plastic beads with the red AIDS ribbon painted on them; and books titled, Transgendered Theology, Ministry and Communities of Faith; How the Homosexuals Saved Civilization; The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology; and Religion Is a Queer Thing.

Included in the official conference program were welcome letters from San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzalez; vice mayor Cindy Chavez; Ken Yeager, "the first openly gay elected official in Santa Clara County," who wrote, "The NACDLGM's mission of openness and inclusion is an important service to Catholics and all of us"; Terrie Iacino, episcopal director for pastoral ministry of the Diocese of San Jose; and NACDLGM resource director Fr. Jim Schexnayder.

Iacino wrote, in part:

"We believe that this national conference gives time for the organization and its friends to explore more deeply the Mission of NACDLGM. We will reflect on scripture, share our lived experiences in this ministry, deepen our knowledge of Church teaching and pastoral practices and learn some strategies for the future."

The conference opened Thursday evening, September 22, with a brief welcome from San Jose Bishop Patrick McGrath. Speaking with the royal "we," the bishop said he was very pleased with the turnout of the event and describing the attendance as better than at previous events.

Dr. Greer Gordon, a faculty member of the department of African/African-American studies and philosophy at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth, gave the opening plenary speech titled, "At Work in the Vineyard," to set the direction and tone for the conference. In recent years, Gordon has also been a fixture at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, where she spoke on sexuality topics in 2002 and 2005.

Gordon examined various issues of the clerical sex abuse that has cause so much damage to the Church, and insisted that most child abuse is perpetrated by heterosexuals, so it is unfair to blame homosexuals. She also called Archbishop Edwin O'Brien's statement that men who have engaged in homosexual activity or have strong homosexual inclinations should not apply to a seminary "reductive" because it equates homosexual priests to pedophiles.

Too Much Fun

Saturday's sessions opened with prayer and brief remarks by Fr. Schexnayder, who co-founded NACDLGM in 1994 and was a principal author of the flawed U.S. bishops' document, Always Our Children.

"You're having too much fun," Schexnayder told attendees. "This room is full of morning people. I think part of our high energy may be how we began last night, really getting going with energy. I also have Southern roots. I am also, my family, my birth[place] is Lafayette, Louisiana."

After some housekeeping announcements, Schexnayder directed conference-goers' attention to a handout on each table from Fr. Howard Hall, a priest of the Diocese of Baton Rouge and former NACDLGM board member, listing his recommendations for charitable hurricane relief, including "GLBT" organizations in Louisiana and Texas.

Schexnayder then introduced NACDLGM secretary John Montague of Canada, author of a book of Psalms written from the point of view of a gay Catholics, who, in turn, introduced plenary speaker Fr. John Coleman, a Jesuit priest who is the Charles Casassa Professor of Social Values at Loyola-Marymount University in Los Angeles. Dressed in business attire, Coleman began his speech by stating bluntly:

"I am, simultaneously, a gay man, a professional sociologist, and an ordained priest of the Roman Catholic Church. Not surprisingly, these different, even conflicting roles and their expectations, sometimes cause me to experience intense cognitive dissonance."

"Cognitive dissonance," explained Coleman "is a term that social psychologists and sociologists use to refer to role, norm, and expectation conflicts because of holding different and competing, and sometimes somewhat conflicting, statuses and roles." As examples, he cited "a multimillionaire African-American Republican" and "a Mexican-American immigration official."

Coleman said his talk would examine evidence of cognitive dissonance among Church members, "including straight Church members" resulting from the "universal love and outreach of Jesus to all, even sinners, versus a sense that homosexuality, if practiced, is against the teachings of Christianity."

Coleman defined the following ways people deal with cognitive dissonance between homosexual practice and religion. Some, he said, may reject their religious heritage or tradition; others, he said, may try to reject the idea they are gay, a bad influence that, he said, may come from Satan.

In preparing for his speech, Coleman said he perused a variety of sociological study sources, including articles from the Sociology of Religion journal and the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, as well as a number of books. He said that, in general, sociological studies about the intersection of homosexuality and religion look at the following three main issues:

  • Attitudinal studies, or how Church people view issues of homosexuality in society and within the Church;

  • Studies of GLBT religious people, mainly focused on Christian churches; and

  • Studies about denominational and congregational conflicts over issues related to homosexuality and variant strategies of churches to address them.

The majority of Coleman's speech examined studies from the above groups. For a complete text of his talk and study citations see http://www.nacdlgm.org/0905coleman.pdf.

From these attitudinal studies, Coleman concluded that the majority of Mass-attending Catholic laity could be recruited as "potential allies for homosexual liberation," and, therefore, gay Catholics should be optimistic that the Church will change to become more welcoming to active homosexuals.

From studies about denominational and congregational conflicts over homosexuality, Coleman said we can arrive at some rules or generalizations for church groups that are wrestling with such issues or that are trying to decide whether to become "gay positive" or homosexual-affirming congregations.

"Be prepared for a generational split on the issue; if the proposal for change comes from an older congregant, it might be more favorably received," he said.

"Pastors who have had a long-term pastorate and the respect of the congregation are more likely to smooth any decisive change.

"Pastors should consult widely and involve everyone in decisions. In any debate about the issue of homosexuality, use a discerning mode. Do not start the discussion as a debate, and above all do not start the discussion without establishing clear and fair procedures for the conversation.

"Look for forums for the discussion and study of the issue which emphasize a religious search for the truth or God's will.

"Don't rush decisions, so that even if no change gets mandated, minds and the atmosphere may be changed."

He advised listeners to support same-sex support groups that will reaffirm "positive identities" and move quietly but firmly forward in building de facto homosexual-affirming congregations, adding, "The data on Catholics show they could be receptive to a strategy of gay-affirming congregations."

"And lastly, personalize. The Church is personal, so the solution must also be."

"Welcoming Congregations"

After a short break, Coleman then entertained questions from the audience. Fr. Bob Nemergut, a prison chaplain from the Diocese of Evansville, Ind., asked Coleman what "cutting-edge" book he would recommend reading. Coleman recommended God, Sex, and Politics by Dawne Moon.

"One thing we need to research," added Coleman, "is the number of Catholic gays and lesbians...who have left Catholicism to join the Episcopal Church or the MCC [the Metropolitan Community Church, a 'gay' church founded by Troy Perry]. A number of regional studies of MCC congregations report as many as 60% of their membership grew up Catholic. It would be good to know more about them and why they made the moves they made. We need more studies of de facto gay-affirming parishes, and the process by which that occurs, and maybe the special demographics that play a role."

Schexnayder chimed in, saying he is a board member of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry located at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, "and last year they did a study, a survey, of welcoming congregations using a generic word rather than defining, in the whole Bay Area Santa Clara County, San Francisco, East Bay, North Bay of all kinds of known congregations, Catholic, Protestant, diverse, even Jewish communities, and what it found is that 25% of those congregations are made up of former Catholics. That's an item that came out of that survey."

In response to a question from an attendee who asked how to deal with cognitive dissonance in pastoral ministers who do not affirm homosexual behavior, Coleman advised, "Push them not to be in denial. So okay, put it off in a bracket here, whether homosexual behavior is acceptable...put a bracket there. What are you doing as part of your universal outreach to everyone? And is your behavior in any way showing pastoral concern?"

Coleman said that he had heard from that the Jesuit superiors of the California province were meeting the previous day (September 22) to discuss a "general housecleaning strategy." The Jesuits' policy, he said, is not don't ask, don't tell, but rather do ask and do tell. "You're not going to have integrated, mature sexuality, unless you process it and therefore, yes ask, yes tell, yes process. Do it through [a] spiritual director. Do it, if necessary, through therapy.

Fr. Craig Forner, pastor of St. Kevin Parish in San Francisco and the archdiocesan vocations director for the past five years, observed that there is a disproportionate number of gay seminarians in our American seminaries right now compared to the actual Catholic population.

"Are there any sociological studies underway or anticipated that would give us some wisdom as to why it would seem that more gay men are attracted to seminary and priestly formation in modern times than, say, before the [Second Vatican] Council?"

Coleman replied that unless the climate is more "open" within the Church, one cannot really get a good study that tells this.

Anna Marie Franco, a marriage and family therapist from the Oakland Diocese, said, "I have a proposal and then some other questions. I kind of like the idea, since women can't be ordained, married men can't be ordained, let's not ordain gay men, let's not ordain all men; let's get rid of the gay men that we have now, and let's start all over! Let's see how crazy we can get, so maybe we can start over with some common sense."

Referring to the Instrumentum on seminary visitations and the impending Vatican ban on even celibate "gay" priests, Franco called them "highly insulting to our priests...these men who've served us so well." She added that she was feeling "very rebellious" about it.

Coleman responded, "When I get cynical, I say, 'Well, let's disinter Cardinal Newman, and let's not let people read the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and let's out some of our saints'."

"How Do You Know?"

During Friday's lunch period, a number of "Colleague Conversations" were held, which included, among others, a session with Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata, founders of "Fortunate Families" in Rochester, N.Y., who discussed the importance of helping gay children into social relationships with other gays; and Amity Buxton, founder of the Straight Spouses Network, a support group for married people whose spouse has discovered their gayness.

A keynote address followed, by Jean Ponder Soto, Ph.D., who serves as adjunct faculty at the Jesuits' Santa Clara University, on: "What the Laity Can Add to Magisterial Teaching on Homosexuality."

In her talk, Ponder Soto explained that Church teaching has evolved from its traditional understanding of the ends of marriage childbearing and rearing to a contemporary understanding of sexuality as an integral component of the human person, and that within the context of sexual relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual couples can progress toward spiritual perfection.

"For ages," her handout continued, "sex and sexual experience was considered within the limited horizon of horizontal finality. The result was an understanding that the purpose of sex was for procreation, and other use that was not for this primary purpose was considered wrong, even sinful. An acknowledgment of the vertical ends of sexual intimacy was indicated when the 'unitive' purpose of sex was recognized.

"For many religious traditions, this purpose of sex to show love and unite the couple has become important, if not the most important factor in understanding the purpose of sex."

Examining n. 2357 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that homosexual acts are contrary to the natural law and do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity, Ponder Soto told the audience that the laity can respond by asking questions such as, "How do you know?" and "What is there that we know about same-sex relationships that is very different from the idea that there is no possible affective relationship that can be there?"

She added that the traditional notion of complementarity as masculinity and femininity is "just not really a sound reason for saying that people shouldn't be in sexually intimate homosexual relationships."

Asking what the laity can add to the idea that it is somehow impossible for same-sex couples to have truly affective relationships, Ponder Soto said the lay faithful have to look at people who are living in such relationships and ask if they are finding a gradual increase in spiritual perfection. "I'll give you the answer right now. It is absolutely a possibility; it has happened and is happening in same-sex relationships."

Other questions Ponder Soto recommends be asked are:

"What do the laity have to tell us about the reasoning for saying that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered?

"What do the faithful who are homosexual tell us?

"If it is true that homosexual couples cannot of themselves conceive and bear children, is it also true that they cannot be good parents?

"Is it true that homosexual couples cannot genuinely love each other?

"And if they can love each other, which ability or virtue, according to the Catechism, is the most important?

"Can the integration of sex with spirit take place only in heterosexual relationships?"

Friday evening's festivities included showings of a preview from A Kingdom Divided, a new documentary under development that explores the "multiple often unexpected sides of the complicated relationship between Christianity and homosexuality" and De Colores, a "bilingual 28-minute documentary about how Latino families are replacing the deep roots of homophobia with the even deeper roots of love and tolerance."

One very important feature of this year's NACDLGM conference was the obvious reaching out to Latino and Filipino homosexuals.

Ron Estioko talked about the intersections of his Filipino heritage with his Catholicism and sexual orientation. He said he had been a student at Bellarmine College Preparatory school in San Jose, an experience he credited as being good for "bringing forth" his homosexuality. Estioko said he is also a member of the "Emmaus Community" for homosexual Catholics at St. Martin of Tours Parish in San Jose.

Seek Out Models

Mark Massoud spoke next. He declared that "there have been a lot of positive changes in the Church" during Pope John Paul II's pontificate, as evidenced by a greater grass-roots acceptance of gays and lesbians in the Church. He cited statistics to buttress his point, such as a Pew Forum study that showed only 30% of Catholics agree that sexual orientation can be changed.

Massoud offered the following advice to the audience:

"Seek out role models for gay youth in your parishes. Seek out role models...who are in committed relationships, who are involved in gay and lesbian ministries. Find them out. Seek them and learn from those people."

"Second...minister, as I said earlier, to not only gays and lesbians of color, but to straight people of color, because they're the ones who are going to really make up the majority of the Church over the next 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years."

Travel to other countries to learn about "Catholics of color and gay and lesbian Catholics....There may not be a NACDLGM equivalent in these regions of the world, but maybe the time is right to create some of those organizations."

Chris Nunez discussed her personal history as a San Jose native and human rights activist and her Jesuit school graduate education, as well the broader history of lesbian activism in the San Francisco Bay Area, beginning with the Daughters of Bilitis group in the 1950s and Roberta Achtenberg's and Donna Hitchens' Lesbian Rights Project in the 1960s.

Nunez said that after completing her bachelor's degree at the University of San Francisco in the 1980s, she was asked to be the coordinator of a lesbian and gay speakers bureau. Upon receiving the offer, said Nunez, "I thought, 'That's interesting. I just got my degree from a Jesuit university, and now I'm being called to work for the gay community'."

The bureau, which under Nunez expanded to some 50 homosexuals of varying ethnic and cultural backgrounds, sent people into San Francisco Unified School District ninth-grade family life education classes to "demystify" homosexuality.

In a question and answer session, Nunez spoke about that speakers bureau she ran back in the 1980s. In addition to sending homosexuals into the freshman classes, she said that the bureau was also developing an anti-slur campaign. Recalling that effort, Nunez said that Pope Benedict XVI and the bishops have not "raised the bar" high enough with the implementation of "safe environment" programs because such programs do not provide "safe places" for homosexual youth and parents:

"They [the Pope and bishops] are sidestepping the issue, and we should not allow them to do that. We need to raise the bar. We challenge them them being our bishops, our cardinals, the man who sits on Peter's throne, his chair and we need to say, 'In your diocese, you're supposed to be adopting safe environment programs that get implemented. Well, part of that safe environment should be a safe place for lesbian and gay youth, and the children of lesbian mothers and gay fathers. So, you have not raised the bar high enough, so until you do that, we are not going to take you seriously.'

"So, let us not be sidetracked. These issues are very important, the edicts that are going to come down and, you know, the bed checks by the little cadre that gets sent over [from Rome], but let us not allow our attention to be sidetracked."

Identify Yourselves!

At the Saturday afternoon session, Fr. Jon Pedigo, pastor of St. Julie Billiart Parish in San Jose, led two sessions on youth ministry. The first, titled, "Are We Answering Questions That No One Is Asking?" offered "practical ways in which individual youth and Catholic schools can talk about sexuality 'sans guilt and shame.'"

Fr. Pedigo began the first seminar by asking anyone who might be with The Wanderer, San Francisco Faith, or Los Angeles Mission to identify themselves. He also asked that no recording devices be used because of the "current climate."

Approximately 16 people attended, including Roberta Ward, executive editor of the San Jose diocesan newspaper, The Valley Catholic. Fr. Pedigo then asked all participants to introduce themselves and tell why they were there.

The priest described questions adults think young people are asking, but that they are not asking at all. For example, adults might question whether young people have had sex or not, but, said Father, "It's not a matter of if they're having sex. They already are." Kids today, he offered, are dealing more with shame issues.

Workshop participants then split up into two camps and engaged in a role-play exercise simulating a youth group in order to learn how to "surface" hidden concerns or issues youth might have about homosexuality.

In one group, the role-play scenario centered on a fictional 16-year-old Latino named Rafael who liked girls and displayed a "macho" demeanor, but who was still a virgin and "conflicted" about his own sexuality. According to the scenario, Rafael was also molested several times by older male family members. In the other group, a woman was chosen to play the role of an 18-year-old girl who had a lesbian relative; however, the role itself was not homosexual.

In each group, the person with the "special youth" role was required to answer the questions according to the scenario given them by Fr. Pedigo; however, the other participants were not told the role details at the time. At the conclusion of the exercise, Fr. Pedigo asked if other members of each group were able to tell anything about gay issues from the answers given by the special youths. In both cases, no one was able to discern the "gay connection" was with their roles. Father then revealed the details of the special roles.

The reason for the exercise, he explained, was to demonstrate that it is necessary to create opportunities for "encounter" in order to "surface" gay and lesbian issues that may be lurking beneath the surface and to provide a venue where trust is created and hospitality is present so that "stories can be honored and surfaced."

Fr. Pedigo also talked about what kind of church we want to be. "Do we want to be a welcoming church or a church of purification?" Mimicking Pope Benedict XVI, he quipped, "I get nervous when I hear that German accent talk about purification issues."

Pedigo then asked attendees for ideas on how to create "opportunities for encounter" within youth groups. Among the suggestions offered were to do a community service project or conduct a retreat. Pedigo advised having kids interact together in smaller "pods."

Kathy Michals, a teacher from the Diocese of Sacramento, talked about how conservative her diocese is and wondered how to introduce homosexual subjects to her classes. One participant recalled that at Sacred Heart in Pittsburgh, he used "national holidays like Harvey Milk Day" to watch a video and incorporate such topics into parish life.

Next year's NACDLGM meeting will be hosted by the Diocese of Brooklyn.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He has been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR and WLS-TV in Chicago, and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

(Note: I welcome thoughtful feedback from readers. If you want our correspondence to remain confidential, please specify as such in your initial email to me... (more)

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