Media

For Press Inquiries

Francis DeBernardo
Executive Director, New Ways Ministry
director@newwaysministry.org
Office: (301) 277-5674
Cell: (240) 432-2489

Most Recent Press Statement

For past statements, see below

Archbishop Chaput’s Synod Comment on

LGBTQ People Explains Why Catholic Church

Is in So Much Trouble

Statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry

October 4, 2018

MOUNT RAINIER, Maryland–Archbishop Charles Chaput’s statement about LGBT Catholics at the synod on youth yesterday is a perfect example of how some church leaders have been so blinded by ideological homophobia and transphobia that they cannot perceive plain human facts accurately.  His comments reflect the dangerous avoidance mentality that is the cause of the clergy sexual abuse scandal and so many of the ills which plague the Catholic Church today. (For a news article about Chaput’s statement, see The National Catholic Reporter.)

The Catholic Herald carried the full text of Chaput’s talk.  The passage that is so dangerous is:

“There is no such thing as an ‘LGBTQ Catholic’ or a ‘transgender Catholic’ or a ‘heterosexual Catholic,’ as if our sexual appetites defined who we are; as if these designations described discrete communities of differing but equal integrity within the real ecclesial community, the body of Jesus Christ. This has never been true in the life of the Church, and is not true now. It follows that ‘LGBTQ’ and similar language should not be used in Church documents, because using it suggests that these are real, autonomous groups, and the Church simply doesn’t categorize people that way.”

Of course, there are LGBTQ Catholics and transgender Catholics and heterosexual Catholics, just as there are Italian Catholics, elderly Catholics, disabled Catholics, Latin American Catholics, traditionalist Catholics, poor Catholics, educated Catholics, and so many other distinct groups within our big tent church.  LGBTQ Catholics are just as real as all these other groups in our church.  This identity doesn’t divide LGBTQ people from the rest of the church, just as other categories of Catholics are not separate from the Body of Christ.  Time and again, our tradition and our Scriptures praise diversity.  These faith sources do not try to erase all differences, but instead they celebrate these differences as part of the wonderful creation God has made.

Chaput falls into the trap that so many other church leaders have fallen into.  They interpret a simple descriptive adjective as a political statement that is loaded with ideology.  When people describe themselves or others as LGBTQ, it does not mean that they consider sexual orientation or gender identity the dominant marker of themselves, any more than referring to themselves as Italian or elderly makes that attribute their dominant marker.  “LGBTQ” does not refer to any particular political ideology.  LGBTQ people represent the whole spectrum of political positions–even in regard to LGBTQ issues themselves.

If Chaput interprets LGBTQ as a sinister designation that must be expunged, the responsibility for such an interpretation is his own fault and a result of his own ignorance to better understand the reality of LGBTQ Catholic people.

Chaput’s statement looks like he is trying to make LGBTQ people invisible in the church by pretending that they don’t exist.  Furthermore, the statement threatens to silence not only individuals, but it attempts to silence any church discussion of LGBTQ issues, which are so widely acknowledged by people across the globe.  Debates about LGBTQ identity, relationships, family life, and human rights have been consuming so much of the energy of people around the globe.  Why does Chaput want the church to ignore these facts and act as if these are not topics of the church’s concern?

One of the central messages of the Second Vatican Council is for church people to read “the signs of the times.”  What is easily obvious to every person on the planet is that LGBTQ people and issues are very much part of the signs of our times.   Is Chaput so closed off from the realities of the world that he is not aware that this discussion has been going on for decades and is now a major part of the world conversation?

Chaput’s statement is an example of the kind of dangerous thinking that has brought the Catholic Church to its current crisis situation.  Avoiding reality is what fueled the clergy sex abuse crisis.  Chaput’s attitude is the kind of avoidance thinking that caused so many bishops to pretend that a serious issue did not exist, or that the problem would just go away if they didn’t speak about it.

On a pastoral level, Chaput’s comment will do great harm pastorally.  Telling a group of people that they don’t exist is not the way to welcome them to the church or to accompany them spiritually.  Such a negative message coming from a high-ranking church official will also further encourage people to perform fanatical acts, such as the burning of a rainbow church banner by a Chicago priest as a way to oppose LGBT ministry and outreach.

Chaput has a long history of reacting in extreme ways to LGBT issues and people.  Fortunately,  not all synod delegates think as he does.  Let’s hope and pray that cooler and more sensible minds hold sway during the upcoming month as the bishop discuss youth issues at the synod.

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New Ways Ministry responds to Archbishop’s Vigano’s Accusations Against Gay Clergy and Pope Francis

Statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry

August  26, 2018

MOUNT RAINIER, Maryland– While I am in no position to comment on the veracity of Archbishop Carlo Vigano’s recent claims about what Pope Francis and other church officials knew about various cases of clergy sexual abuse, after reading his statement, his emphasis that all of the Catholic Church’s current problems on supposed “homosexual networks” within the Church and also with Pope Francis reads like classic scapegoating.  The sex abuse crisis in the church is so extensive and complex that simplistic explanations of one or two root causes should immediately raise a red flag.  The fact that gay clergy are once again being scapegoated, after their influence on the abuse crisis has for so long been disproved, should  be a cause of great alarm to all those who want to find real solutions to these problems.

Archbishop Vigano offers no hard evidence of the supposed “homosexual networks,” and relies instead on hearsay and with an expectation that his words will be accepted as truth.  His stories, however, read more like gossip than like an accurate reporting of facts.

The simple fact is that as long as Catholic Church officials continue their negative evaluations of LGBT people, and particularly of gay clergy, they allow scurrilous accusations to be hurled about because there is no way that they can be proved or disproved.    Accusing a church leader of homosexuality or being part of a “homosexual network” becomes an easy way to destroy a cleric’s reputation and trustworthiness by creating a cloud of suspicion and duplicity around the victim of these accusations.

Institutional homophobia encourages silence and secrecy harms individuals, as well as the whole community.  It provides a breeding ground for conspiracy theories and unproven allegations. If the Church’s leadership wants to purge any supposed gay lobby, they should purge silence, secrecy, and homophobia from the Church.

Vigano’s method of argument exhibits classic conspiracy theory tactics:  invent an enemy, which is invisible, which is infiltrating from the inside, but which can’t be proved or disproved.  The suggestion creates fear and suspicion, but worse, it characterizes the selected group as evil, manipulative, and duplicitous.

Conspiracy theories pop up when one side of a discussion (in this case, Catholics who do not want change) feels as if they are losing the argument.  It is simply a way to discredit the other side and to try to offer an alternative explanation of why the argument is being lost–instead of just relying on logic and rational discourse.  It is a tactic used from ancient times to contemporary politics.

The timing and method of release of this document is also somewhat suspicious.  Why did the archbishop release his accusations during the pope’s visit to Ireland, and why did he so by releasing it to two extremely conservative Catholic outlets?  From Vigano’s own account, he supposedly had all of this information for a long time.  Why release it at this specific moment if it were not intended to be primarily defamatory, not as a serious contribution to a serious discussion?

Far from saying anything definitive about either clergy sex abuse or gay men in the upper ranks of the hierarchy, Vigano’s statement reveals more about the intramural fights and politics at the Vatican.  It reads like a sad story of intrigue and alliances.  It shows that church leaders are unable to communicate or get along with one another.

While I would never want to discourage a church official from coming forth with hard evidence about abuse or cover-ups, it is clear that Vigano’s method of reporting these supposed accusations is a textbook case in what not to do.

Vigano’s document reads not like it was authored by someone interested in solving the Church’s sex abuse crisis, but as someone who is attacking a pope whose church policies he opposes.

But it is even more dangerous than that.  For close to 20 years, we have endured the unfounded claim that gay men in the priesthood is the root cause of the sex abuse problem. [For the latest professional refutations of this claim, click here.] In this new document, Vigano goes one step further and tries to pin the blame of the cover-ups on the supposed “homosexual network” in the Vatican.

This sad and sorry account only succeeds in smearing people’s reputations. It does not help the church.  Instead, it tries to roll back any positive steps that Pope Francis has taken in opening up the church conversation on LGBT issues, particularly in regard to his appointment of bishops.

Such ugly chapters in church discourse would end if the Catholic hierarchy would have an open discussion of LGBT issues and if it would allow gay men in the priesthood and hierarchy to live open and free lives.  The time for manipulative secrecy about abuse and about clergy sexuality is long past.

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Catholic LGBT Ministry Responds to Archbishop’s Criticism of Retreat for Gay Priests, Brothers, Deacons

Statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry

August  19, 2018

MOUNT RAINIER, Maryland– It was with deep disappointment that New Ways Ministry read Archbishop Jerome Listecki’s criticism of the retreat for gay priests, brothers, and deacons that New Ways Ministry is sponsoring at the Siena Retreat Center in the Milwaukee Archdiocese on October 2-4, 2018.

Surprisingly, Archbishop Listecki claims that the event “is not in line with Catholic Church teaching” although he never inquired about the content of the retreat. The retreat, entitled “Living in Truth: The Call to Authenticity,” is described in a promotional brochure as follows:

“Inspired by the Gospel of John, Jesus’ call to live the truth (John 8:32) in order to have abundant life (John 10:10) will provide the focus for this retreat. Jesus invites us to pattern our ministry and our sexuality according to his embrace of the truth. Embracing God’s truth, discovered in our deepest selves, both challenges and empowers us to live more authentically in every dimension of our lives.”

What in this description led the Archbishop to conclude that the retreat “is not in line with Catholic Church teaching”? Furthermore, the retreat leader, Fr. Bryan Massingale, is one of the world’s leading Catholic social ethicists, a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, and has been a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for several decades.

Archbishop Listecki claims that “it can be confusing for some people as to whether someone with same sex attraction can minister as a priest.” This does not fit our experience. In city after city, in parish after parish, we have encountered thousands of Catholics who are grateful for the gay priests who minister to them, and who recognize that such priests are a gift to the church. The gay priests who have come out publicly, even in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, have received overwhelming support from their parishioners. The Catholic community generally believes that sexual orientation is not a relevant factor in approving someone for ministry.

Archbishop Listecki’s statement quotes Fr. Nathan Reeseman who recommends that gay people adopt “the attitude that our sexual desires are simply one facet of who we are as persons, rather than making them our dominant marker of identity with a term such as ‘gay.’”  The term “gay” does not mean that individuals make their sexual orientation the dominant marker of themselves, any more than calling someone Italian or Polish makes that attribute the dominant marker of the individual. Society should not use derogatory words to refer to Italians or Poles or any other minority. The gay community considers “same-sex attraction” disparaging and prefers the term “gay.” The words society, and we as a Church, should use to describe any characteristic of a group should be the word the group designates, not the word outsiders impose. The retreat participants have often reported that their primary identity marker is as a member and minister of the Catholic Church. Since Pope Francis uses the word “gay” in reference to priests, should not the rest of the church use it?

New Ways Ministry has sponsored retreats and other programs for gay priests, brothers, and deacons for many years. One of the primary goals of these programs is to help men who have made a promise or vow of celibacy to live out that commitment in healthy and holy ways. Few programs such as these exist in our church. We encourage church leaders to provide programs to help these men avoid frustrated lives, deal with their sexual feelings in a healthy way, and integrate their sexuality with their spirituality.

New Ways Ministry invites Archbishop Listecki to dialogue with us and with the gay priests who live and serve in his Archdiocese, so that he can learn more about the pressures these men experience and about the blessings that they bring to the community through their priesthood.

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New Ways in the News

  • October 12, 2018: Philly Archbishop: LGBTQ People Don’t Exist

  • August 23, 2018: Archdiocese denounces Siena Center ‘gay priest’ retreat

  • August 22, 2018: Milwaukee Archdiocese questions legitimacy of retreat for ‘gay priests, brothers, and deacons’

  • August 20, 2018: Cardinal McCarrick scandal inflames debate over gay priests

  • June 28, 2018: New Ways Ministry’s Work for LGBTQ Equality

  • June 26, 2018: Three years ago the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. What that means for churches remains murky.

  • June 21, 2018: Vatican uses the term ‘LGBT’ for first time in history

  • June 20, 2018: Vatican officially uses term ‘LGBT’ for first time in its history

  • June 20, 2018: For what’s believed to be the first time, the Vatican uses the term ‘LGBT’ in official document

  • February 13, 2018: Firing of L.G.B.T. Catholic church workers raises hard (and new) questions

Past Statements

  • June 29, 2018

    Catholic LGBT Ministry Responds to McAleese Calling Church Teaching ‘Evil’

  • June 20, 2018

    Youth Synod Document Shows Vatican Evolution on LGBT Topics

  • June 5, 2018

    Masterpiece Cakeshop Case Holds Promise for Full Legal Equality

  • May 21, 2018

    Catholic LGBT Ministry Responds to Pope’s Reported Words of Affirmation to Gay Man