Can There Be Renewed Catholic Dialogue on LGBT Issues?

Phyllis Zagano

Several incidents in the headlines this spring have raised questions about how our society, and our Church, discuss LGBT topics. Catholic writer Phyllis Zagano asks whether homosexuality can be discussed rationally and with civility, and it seems Pope Francis may offer an answer.

Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, Zagano examines two current events as instances where dialogue broke down. First, the controversy at a North Carolina Catholic high school after a Dominican nun made anti-gay remarks during a school-wide assembly. Second, Zagano cites how former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich was forced out of his position after it became public he had donated in support of California’s anti-gay Proposition 8. LGBT groups had promised to boycott Mozilla, the software company which developed the popular web browser Firefox, causing the company’s board to remove Eich. She writes of both cases:

“Debates about homosexuality are not going to go away. Many, if not most, religions call homosexual acts immoral. They have varied theological analyses. Many, if not most, secular societies have adopted the third shoe of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ That would be ‘don’t care.’

“So why did students of a North Carolina high school and their parents throw Dominican Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel under the bus? She was talking about church teaching. And why did Brendan Eich, CEO of Mozilla, maker of the Firefox Web browser, quit his job? He provided plenty of protections for gay employees.”

In the case of Sr. Laurel, the nun strayed far beyond her area of expertise into debunked social science about gay people. Even the president of the college where Sr. Laurel teaches has admitted that the nun spoke beyond her area of knowledge. Sr. Laurel has cancelled her speaking engagements and is now on sabbatical. For Zagano, Eich’s case appears to be more complicated. There is no evidence he discriminated against LGBT employees or that he opposed legal protections for same-gender couples aside from calling these marriage. Zagano quotes gay blogger Andrew Sullivan on the Eich case:

“A corner of gay activism became so enraged at his position that it called a boycott on Mozilla products, forcing his resignation. Even Andrew Sullivan, a writer whose credentials on the topic include his own homosexuality, wrote that it is ‘unbelievably stupid for the gay rights movement … to squander the real gains we have made by argument and engagement by becoming just as intolerant of others’ views as the Christianists.’ “

 All of this leads Zagano to ask:

“Has political correctness — in either direction — replaced facts and conversation? Eich lost his job. Laurel is going on sabbatical. I don’t think it is a question of defending the positions of either of them. Eich has the perfect right to his political opinions, and Laurel’s beliefs had to have been known before she appeared at the school. Yet each individual’s story has become a blog, Facebook post, even a USA Today sideshow.​

“My principal question: Can these topics be discussed rationally, or have media and the blogosphere dragged everybody into an unending knock-down, drag-out screaming match? Is civility dead?”

On these questions, it seems Pope Francis may be showing the Catholic community how to have a respectful and civil dialogue on LGBT topics without it becoming an “unending knock-down, drag-out screaming match.” His personal witness of talking with all types of people, of not judging, and of profound humility when admitting he is not all-knowing are instructive for all of us. Comments by the pope at a morning Mass in April might be especially insightful for this question. La Stampa reports that Pope Francis, in an exhortation for Catholics to keep open minds, spoke about the Pharisees’ relationship with Jesus:

“They thought everything could be resolved by respecting the commandments. But these commandments ‘are not just a cold law,’ because they are born from a relationship of love and are ‘indications’ that help us avoid mistakes in our journey to meet Jesus…

“By doing so, the Pharisees close their hearts and minds to ‘all things new.’ ‘This is the drama of the closed heart, the drama of the closed mind – the Pope said – and when the heart is closed, this heart closes the mind, and when the heart and mind are closed there is no place for God,’ only for what we believe should be done.

“It is a closed way of thinking that is not open to dialogue, to the possibility that there is something else, the possibility that God speaks to us, tells us about His journey, as he did to the prophets. These people did not listen to the prophets and did not listen to Jesus. It is something greater than a mere stubbornness. No, it is more: it is the idolatry of their own way of thinking.”

To restore respect and civility in the dialogue on LGBT issues requires all Catholics to keep open minds and open hearts, as Pope Francis urges. When injustices arise, like in North Carolina, it is important for people of faith to stand up for what is just, but never to become vindictive against those with differing values and views.

What are your thoughts on how we can build up respectful, informed conversations with those in the Church with whom we disagree? Leave your ideas in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

0 replies
  1. Ned Flaherty
    Ned Flaherty says:

    This article contains four factual errors.

    Firstly, Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich was neither fired nor removed by the Mozilla board. He resigned of his own free will.

    Secondly, the author writes — incorrectly — that there’s no evidence Eich discriminated against LGBT workers.

    Yes, there is.

    For over 2 decades, Eich has opposed equality for all LGBT people everywhere (including all LGBT workers at Mozilla). Each time he was offered an opportunity to deny that, or to excuse it, or to replace his two decades of prejudice with an updated stance of fairness, he refused. So yes, Eich supports discrimination. Eich himself admitted it. Supporting discrimination and committing it are distinctions without a difference.

    Thirdly, the author writes — again incorrectly — that there’s no evidence that Eich opposed legal protections for same-gender couples.

    Yes, there is evidence: 1,138 examples of it.

    In donating funds to deny same-gender couples the explicit legal status of civil “marriage” Eich denied them 1,138 federal marriage-related benefits. Even the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that all legally married couples — including same-gender couples — are entitled full and equal access to those 1,138 benefits. Eich’s insistence on keeping same-gender couples as second-class citizens (in “skim milk marriages” as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it) demonstrates his clear, willful opposition to legal protection for same-gender couples.

    In recent years, in both trial court decisions and in summary judgments, numerous federal courts have consistently found that there is no valid reason to deny same-gender couples the same exact rights as mixed-gender couples. Anyone who still, at this late date, would deny such rights is uniquely unfit to be a corporate leader.

    Fourth, the author repeats Phyllis Zagano’s false claim that “Eich provided plenty of protections to gay employees.”

    No, he did not.

    None of Mozilla’s protections for its LGBT employees were Eich’s doing; all were in place long before he became CEO.

    Yes, Eich has a right to hold personal political opinions, but that was never the issue. Eich is not qualified to be CEO of any global firm because he opposes human rights and civil rights that are already the law of the land, and when offered the opportunity to support that law, he stubbornly refused.

    • newwaysministryblog
      newwaysministryblog says:

      Ned —

      Thank you for reading Bondings and taking the time to comment. I hope my thoughts below can help clarify why I wrote this piece as I did.

      On the matter of Brendan Eich’s departure from Mozilla. You are correct: he did resign. Yet, the resignation was the result of LGBT groups pressuring Mozilla with the threat of boycott. Because he was forced out, in one sense his departure was like a firing, which is what I wanted to indicate by using that word. I have amended the post to use the words “forced out.”

      In the many articles I’ve read about Eich leaving Mozilla, no one said he discriminated against LGBT workers or opposed progressive policies at Mozilla. The company continued inclusive policies under Eich’s leadership. He endorsed legal rights for same-gender couples as long as the term ‘marriage’ wasn’t used. While I disagree with his position, I have not seen any evidence that he negatively impacted LGBT Mozilla employees when he was CEO.

      While I strongly support equality and justice for LGBT people, I am also deeply troubled when the LGBT movement attacks those who disagree with us. If Eich, in his position as CEO, had undermined equality in the company or discriminated against a gay employee, these would be causes for alarm. There is a lengthy history of discrimination against LGBT people/allies for who they are and the views they hold. We should not reverse this dynamic by targeting those with differing views. I prefer to judge people by their actions, not their beliefs or because they exercise their political freedom.

      I hope this explains why I wrote the blog post and why I found Zagano’s article an important one to share. Again, I am grateful you give Bondings the gift of your time to read and respond to our posts.


      • Ned Flaherty
        Ned Flaherty says:

        No, Bob Shine, Eich’s resignation was NOT caused by “LGBT groups pressuring Mozilla” (your words).

        No major LGBT organization called for Eich’s resignation, and only a few obscure ones took any position at all. More than anywhere else, the calls for Eich’s resignation came from NON-LGBT people: Mozilla employees, Mozilla board chairwoman, Mozilla managers, Twitter users, on-line dating firm OkCupid, software development industry workers, mass market journalists, etc.

        Yes, Eich DID discriminate against both Mozilla’s LGBT workers and non-Mozilla workers.

        In 2008, he spent money trying to deny and repeal — forever — their right to marry equally, and in 2014, when given the chance to cease, he refused. Eich chose to discriminate against LGBT Mozilla workers in 2008, and Eich refused to stop in 2014.

        Your argument that Mozilla “continued inclusive policies under Eich’s leadership” and your argument that Eich didn’t change any policies “when he was CEO” are both absurd, because he was only in office a few days. He continued nothing, and he changed nothing, because he never got around to assuming his CEO duties.

        On multiple occasions, Eich flatly refused to promise full equality for all LGBT Mozilla workers through the completion of his term as CEO. Each of those refusals did negatively affect Mozilla’s LGBT (and also non-LGBT) workers. His very refusals did “undermine equality in the company” (your words) because with those refusals he confirmed his unchanging views that (a) LGBT people should be treated unequally, because (b) LGBT people are unequal.

        Eich was not “targeted”; he was a CEO held to the same standards as the leader of any global corporation.

        He was not criticized merely for holding some “view”; he was criticized for refusing to confirm that LGBT people are equal to everyone else.

        He wasn’t criticized for any “belief”; he was criticized for spending money to deny LGBT citizens (at Mozilla and everywhere else) the 1,138 federal marriage-related benefits that everyone gets access to automatically.

        He wasn’t criticized for “exercising political freedom”; he was criticized because he tried to deny freedom to LGBT people forever (and for 4.5 years, he succeeded: 2008-2013).

        If you are “troubled” when the KKK is criticized for the views that it holds, then it’s no surprise that you are similarly “troubled” that Eich was criticized for insisting on keeping his oppressive views about oppressing LGBT people throughout his term as CEO. But if you are not “troubled” by criticism of the KKK, then neither should you be troubled by criticism of Eich.

        Ms. Zagano’s article is important to share, but only if accompanied by the level of critical examination that it deserves.

        What both her article and your article lacked was a factual examination of (1) the time line, (2) the actions, and most of all (3) the impacts of Eich’s oppression of LGBT people in the past (both Mozilla and non-Mozilla workers), and his refusals to promise to stop in the present and in the future.

  2. Babs
    Babs says:

    Having grown up with the “rules” of the church and then been an adult when we opened the windows with John 23, heard over and over that we needed to move beyond the ten commandments and practice the Church of Jesus in the Bible. I believe he spoke about the Good Samaritan, forgave the woman at the well, admonished the Pharasees, said over and over, Love Me, Love each other, the Beatitutdes, made Peter #1 even after his failures at the Sea of Galalie and the night Jesus was arrested. I believe Jesus spent a lot of time, convincing people he met while walking on this earth that he was about Caring and Sharing and Love.
    How those who followed as leaders of his Church have managed to make it EXCLUSIVE now is beyond me.

    I appreciate Pope Francis and want so badly for him speak out against the Law of the Land in Uganda as well as allow women the right of protection of their bodies from HIV infected men. Just my thoughts.

  3. Larry
    Larry says:

    And with regard to the “good” sister, she was cloaking her discrimination with
    her habit while providing debunked “science” as fact. I have not heard her speak but I have been at two lectures like this. If the audience does not know that the “good” cleric is just dead wrong, they take in this screed as fact because it comes from a priest or nun. There is no one to challenge the speaker when he or she goes off topic beyond their expertise as the sister did. And did this sister feel any remorse in misleading her audience? Maybe that is what she should be thinking about during her sabbatical.

  4. Letty
    Letty says:

    While I appreciate Pope Francis’ emphasis on compassion and acceptance toward LGBTQ persons, he stops short of actually allowing them the full dignity of a committed relationship. Basically, LGBTQ persons are expected to be celibate. This is because the church only recognizes sexual relationships between married persons, and marriage is primarily for procreation. Such hypocrisy is infuriating. Put yourself in the shoes of a LGBTQ person and imagine how you would feel watching your fellow parishoners and family members marry and have families while you cannot. Simply because you love someone of the same gender.

  5. Ghosty Wolfe
    Ghosty Wolfe says:

    When I read Zagona’s summary of what happened to TWO people for preaching or acting out on their homophobia – And then her question: “Can’t we be civil anymore?” As if LGBT people are being rude, uncivil and outrageous for asking people to stop bashing them (verbally, physically or politically)! It seemed to me Zagona is saying, “Gays have been hated forever and everywhere and now these pooor people are being punished and called hateful bigots. That is very incorrect.” (Fact: homophobia is predominately a product of western culture – China didn’t have it – Japan didn’t have it – the Americas didn’t have it – Most of Africa did not have it – India did not have it – Australia did not have it – Colonization by the west brought it to other countries, instated into their legal system as sodomy/decency laws and taaa daaa – Now we have someone telling us everyone has always hated gays so it’s normal behavior and people believe her even when it’s a big, fat, lie. Regardless of Zagona’s bad history and erroneous facts (btw Zagona stated Brendan Eich had protections for gays – He did not! Mozilla is a California corperation and all the “rights” the LGBT staff have at Mozilla are in place because of California state law. California has anti-discrimination laws that cover employment, housing and education for gay people and has had since 1979 – Why Zagona was trying to say Eich gave LGBT protections that he never gave, I don’t know. It doesn’t seem “civil” to me to be less than honest about her facts.
    I had to sit back in bewilderment.
    We have gay people being beaten to death in Africa with Catholic Cardinals sitting on the sidelines smirking and saying how proud they are that their goverment is going after the evil homos (Cardinal Turkson instantly comes to mind – I can still see his beaming face as he all but jumped up and down in approval at the very IDEA of death laws for gays – Then when it looked like he might have a chance at being Pope he backpedelled faster than you can say “powermonger”).
    We have numerous priests, worldwide, screaming to have sodomy laws reinstated and yet, somehow the author centers on these two incidents. Neither person was bashed, flogged, beaten, raped or executed.
    One went on sabatical and the other resigned.
    There are LGBT people in prison in Uganda that, when they were dragged into court, tried and found guilty of being gay, would have LOVED to have their punishment to be “going on Sabatical” or “resigning” from their job! Believe me!
    Let’s look at: Cardinal Onaiyekan of Nigreia comments, “On this note, I commend our National Assembly and Mr President for resisting all the pressures and enacting a law against homosexuality,” Gay people are currently being flogged and murdered due to the passage of that law that the good Cardinal, with a huge beaming smile, approves of it. EVEN after the murders and floggings started Cardinal Onaiyekan said proudly, “”I want to commend the National Assembly for the zeal and enthusiasm with which they passed the bill. As far as I am concerned, anybody who lives in Nigeria and most parts of Africa knows that culturally, religiously and morally, homosexuality is not our life and culture.”
    What about this?
    A few years ago the Pope opposed a proposed U.N resolution calling of governments to de-criminalize homosexuality. Why would he do such a thing? He knows what those laws do to gay people. Such laws get us tortured, raped (yes, raped, lesbian women are commonly raped by their jailers), beaten, flogged and killed. Benedict is fully aware of these things yet he sent a Vatican rep to the U.N. to let them know that, Benedict, the Pope, opposed de-criminalizing homosexuality? Sometimes it’s hard for us gay Catholics not to burst into tears when we read this stuff.
    Or what about this guy?
    In Uganda: In Tororo District, Bishop Emmanuel Obbo, the Archbishop of Tororo Archdiocese, urged every citizen who supported the anti-homosexuality law to lay down greed, corruption and “put them to death and let generosity rise up within us and flow out in abundance”.
    Here we have a Bishop urging citizens to go out on the streets and murder their LGBT neighbors outright. The Vatican reacted QUICKLY and did… nothing. The Vatican said …nothing.
    So, I found Zagodas question of, “can’t we be civil” to be a little odd. If anyone needs to get civil, it’s the Priests, Bishops and Cardinals of the Church. We gay folks have done nothing but been civil. How many LGBT people do you know that advocate for the flogging and execution of heteros who have tried, and succeeded, in passing laws to have us gays murdered, flogged and killed? Not a one! There is not one gay person out there asking for anything but the same basic civil rights our straight brothers and sisters have.
    A few facts for the author.
    We LGBT people did not start this. When I first realized that I was different and the word for that difference is “lesbian” – the gay community, did not exist to the Catholic church at all. I was a kid and it was the sixties. Since that time way back in the sixties I’ve not known one GLBT Catholic person that has gone into their church demanding anything (what so ever) and that does include myself. As a matter of fact, most LGBT Catholics I know have lived very closeted lives, hiding away who they were (yes, that includes me). We didn’t want to lose our families over the “issue” so we were quiet. Back before HIV many Catholic LGBT were very closested and hidden. For many their romantic relationships suffered from it. A lot of gay Catholics had significant others who were tired of the abuse, tired of the injustice and just plain TIRED of being treated like second class citizens. They wanted to live their lives openly, happily and healthily. These partners were part of the early gay liberation movement. Many gay Catholics lost their lovers over attempting to keep their relationships discrete and attempting to “make nice” with the church. And we were happy to do so if it kept us within the grace of God and the Church but…
    Look what that got us? LOOK! It got us the Rat letter of 1986 is what it got us! Being a “gay Catholic” has always been hard but once the Rat letter came out in 1986 we were all but destroyed. The church was making itself and it’s hateful agenda very clear (in the midst of the AIDS epidemic with thousands and thousands of gay men dying) that they didn’t want us! Due to the Rat letter many of LGBT Catholics who had been walking on a tightrope with their families over the “gay” issue, were now openly shunned by their own families. Mom and dad had read the Rat letter. There was no place for this gay children in the church.
    With so many gay men already suffering horribly due to AIDS, and now – they would die alone without grace, love or succor. For me this was a turning point in my relationship with the Church because it was so obvious what had been done to my gay brothers. The timing could NOT be ignored and it was not insignificant. The gay rights movement had been going since the 1960tys and the Church, like some evil, creeping, predatory spider had been lying in wait for twenty years … Then they JUMPED US when our community was so very broken and hurt.
    It was so ugly. In Cardinal Ratzingers little missive he implied the gays deserved to be beaten and killed. These are his exact words, “”When civil legislation is introduced to protect behaviour to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.”
    This was the man who would become Pope Benedict.
    From there we got changes in doctorine on HOW we were to be viewed: Catechism of the Catholic Chruch summarizes the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. This book, a first provisional edition, published in 1992 contained the line: “They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial” was changed in the 1997 definitive edition to say instead “This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial”
    I realize I have babbled here for far too long:
    I will summarize: We, the LGBT community, were never the one’s who were without manners and uncivil to our hetero Catholic brothers and sisters. The ugly discourse and rude behavior came from somewhere else. Much higher up the food chain – The Vatican.

  6. Larry
    Larry says:

    Chris, so very very well said. I can feel your [my] pain through your words. I hope Zagona can as well. Maybe then she will see that the Church’s words and actions do real harm to real people.

    • Ghosty Wolfe
      Ghosty Wolfe says:

      Larry, I doubt she’ll see it. I checked on NCR and this article is a month old. I was going to copy and paste it anyways but it said comments were closed. It’s probably for the best. I forgot and had my spellchecker turned off. blush. hehehe. I think that many people just don’t get it. They really think that gay folks just sit and think up ways to complain. Also, they really seem to believe civil rights belongs to everyone EXCEPT “X” group of people. It’s a slippery slope to think that way but they just don’t get it. They forget the days when Catholics were a minority and the things said about Kennedy when he ran for President. They’ve certainly forgotten that when their grandparents immigrated to this country they were not always welcomed. I’m truly angry at the Vatican for their complicity and direct participation in the painful things being done to gay people all over the globe but more …When I read that the Vatican sent representatives to the U.N. to ask the U.N. not to have child sexual abuse listed as a type of torture – I swear I almost lost my mind! I was outraged. The blind, self serving, self interest of Rome has exceeded decency to such an extent that I have no words with which to express my disgust…Yet THESE are the men are judging gay people as intrinsically morally disordered? OH PUH LEASE!
      Thank you for replying! 😀


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