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New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader: Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org. REGISTER BY MARCH 27th to avoid a late fee.
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Pope Francis exhorted youth to avoid bullying others last week, saying they must “promise Jesus to never bully.” But given the pope’s mixed record, does his message mean not to bully LGBTQ youth, too?
Francis made the remarks at a youth rally in a Milan stadium filled with nearly 80,00 mostly young people. He was answering a catechist’s question about how educators, students, and families could communicate better. Crux reported that he told adults to be on the lookout for bullying, and then he addressed the youth:
“‘I ask you, in silence: in your schools, in your neighborhoods, is there someone that you mock? That you make fun of because they look a little funny, because they are a little fat? That you like to embarrass and hit because of this?
“‘Think about this. This is called bullying. . .Understood? Promise me: never, never make fun of, never mock a friend, a neighbor, etc. Do you promise this?'”
It is good that the pope, a former teacher, is concerned about the bullying which afflicts many youth worldwide. Francis might consider a call to end bullying against particularly vulnerable demographics, including LGBTQ youth. But if he is really serious about helping to end bullying, he should examine the ways the Catholic Church can and has perpetuated it.
Though it is not universally true that Catholic officials have ignored or allowed bullying, a quick survey of incidents reveals how much harm church leaders have caused:
- In England, a transgender student was shot with a BB gun by another student after the transgender student faced months of bullying at his Catholic school;
- Parents have accused schools of ignoring the bullying against their children, including the parents of transgender student who was shot with a BB gun and the parents of New York teenager who died by suicide.
- Bishops in Colombia thanked the government for dropping a resource aimed at helping educators know how to combat bullying against LGBT people;
- An anti-bullying workshop was cancelled in Ireland after school officials said it did not present the unspecified “other side” of the issue;
- The parents of a gay teenager who died by suicide in Colombia claimed it resulted after the school’s principal outed their son in front of others at the Catholic school;
- Updated policies in the Diocese of Little Rock threatened students with expulsion if they come out as LGBTQ.
Catholic schools have also banned a gay student from a dance, expelled a lesbian student from prom for not wearing a dress, and refused to accommodate a trans student who was transitioning. Supportive Catholic educators have been fired in New Jersey, including Warren Hall who was fired for posting about the NOH8 campaign. [Note: Hall will be presenting a workshop on gay priests and religious at New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium this April. Click here for more information.]
In some of these incidents, educators and church officials acknowledged a mistake or worked to rectify the situation. These, however, are not the only courses of action. There are concrete examples of how Catholic education can work against bullying and promote the flourishing of every student:
- Teacher in Ontario’s Catholic schools marched in Pride in show of solidarity with their LGBTQ students;
- Catholics have participated each year in National Coming Out Day and the anti-bullying initiative Spirit Day;
- A priest in New York even declared 2014 the “Year of Lady Gaga,” (she attended Catholic schools) showing students how to have courage in their lives.
Students and their families are increasingly looking for not only welcome, but support for LGBTQ youth. Michael Maher, who authored the 2001 book Being Gay and Lesbian in a Catholic High School, has commented that since he began studying this issue, such expectations have increased dramatically. [Note: Maher will be offering a workshop on youth and young adults at New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium this April. Click here for more information.]
The problem of bullying is a question of life and death. Bullying leads to self-harm and death by suicide, and the presence of so many LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness attests to the impact bullying by family and friends can have.
These realities of suffering should move Pope Francis to amplify and specify his call to stop bullying. 2017’s diocesan- level World Youth Day programs, as well as the preparations for the 2018 synod on youth offer prime opportunities for him to do so. Before these steps, Francis should sit with his own directive to the youth in Milan, and see how it relates to LGBTQ youth and the church:
“‘Think in silence if you [bully], and if you are able to promise this to Jesus: Promise Jesus to never bully.'”
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 27, 2017