Monday, March 19, 2007
An Energizing and Spirited Weekend
“Energizing” and “spirited” are two words that come to mind when describing New Ways Ministry’s Sixth National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality, held this past weekend at the Sheraton Bloomington Hotel in Minneapolis.
Of course, as a speaker at the symposium, and the organizer and main staff person for CPCSM’s informational booth, it was also a somewhat exhausting event. The downside of being a presenter is that you miss out on attending all the other great presentations. And by all accounts, there were many excellent speakers, offering insightful analysis, ideas, and commentary on the state of the Catholic Church in relation to the lives, experiences, and insights of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) members.
For instance, professor of Christian ethics at Yale University Divinity School, Margaret Farley, RSM, discussed “Matrimony and Same-Sex Relationships”; British theologian and author James Alison explored, among other things, “The Gift of Faith and Growing Up GLBT”; Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the Chandler School of Theology, Luke Timothy Johnson examined “Scripture and Homosexuality”; while best-selling author Gregory Maguire shared his experience of “Gay Parenting in a Sacramental Church.”
In addition to the various presentations, there were also opportunities on Saturday night for “open space sessions” for networking and discussion of special interest topics, suggested and led by symposium participants. Topics included, “Catholic Psychotherapists,” “Lesbian Nuns and Religious Community Leaders,” “LGBT and Allied Young Adults,” “Parents of LGBT Daughters and Sons,” and “From Re-covering Catholic to Re(dis)covering Catholic.”
Over the course of the next few weeks, as I listen to the audiotapes of the various plenary sessions and workshops, I’ll endeavor to share, via The Wild Reed, the salient points of some of these Spirit-filled and energizing presentations.
Today, however, I’d like to simply give a general overview of the weekend and share the inspiring message of one of the symposium’s speakers, Helen Prejean, CSJ, who offered “closing reflections” on Sunday.
A forum for much-needed Church discussion
The title of the symposium, “Outward Signs: Lesbian/Gay Catholics in a Sacramental Church,” echoes the oft-memorized definition of “sacrament” provided by the Baltimore Catechism of 1891: “A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.”
The organizers of the symposium note that the sacraments of the Catholic Church are “essential to the way we understand our lives, our relationships, our purpose and ministry in the world, our community of faith, and our connection to the divine. Coinciding as they do with the major turning points in our personal development, they become for Catholics major guideposts for how we live and love.”
The organizers also acknowledge that, “Underlying the major controversies and debates surrounding lesbian/gay issues in the Catholic Church . . . has been the more basic theological question of sacramentality. Whether it be the vexing question of the definition of marriage in civil and ecclesial sectors, the banning of gay men from the ordained priesthood, the denial of the Eucharist to lesbian/gay people in committed relationships, or the refusal to allow children of lesbian/gay couples to be baptized, these difficult questions call the Catholic community to examine, reflect, and discuss some of the most basic features of our religious identity.”
Accordingly, the primary goal of last weekend’s New Ways Ministry symposium was to provide a forum whereby the profound “lack of discussion about sacramentality as it relates to lesbian/gay persons” could be identified and addressed. Such an ongoing discussion is needed, say the organizers, as without it we’ll continue to experience “a serious erosion of the Church’s understanding of the sacramental life and further alienation of lesbian/gay Catholics from the Church.”
“Catholic, Liberal, Faithful”
The high level of interest in such a forum was demonstrated by the large number of people – gay and straight – who, despite attempts by Archbishop Harry Flynn to dissuade attendance, came from across the nation to add their voice to the much-needed discussion on sacramentality as it relates to the lives and relationships of LGBT people.
At one point during the three days of listening and discussion, New Ways Ministry executive director Frank DeBernardo noted that a total of 542 people were in attendance: 298 laypeople, 135 religious sisters, 15 religious brothers, 43 priests from religious orders, 51 diocesan priests, one deacon, and two bishops.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that those who gathered “came . . . to sympathize, strategize and celebrate their faith and community.” Some wore t-shirts with the message, “Catholic, Liberal, Faithful.”
The newspaper also quoted attendee Dick Jaco, who observed that, “Twenty or 30 years ago, you couldn’t be out in your church, and now you can.” Despite such advances, Jaco was nevertheless adamant that “there’s still so much to do, so many minds to educate.”
The Minneapolis Star Tribune noted Saturday that “a protest forecast by Catholic Parents Online for the opening of ‘this scandalous event,’ as Colleen Perfect of that group called it, failed to materialize Friday evening.”
The lone sign-waver told the newspaper that “homosexual practice is a sinful violation of church doctrine.”
Waking and rising
Yet according to Sister Helen Prejean, author of the best-selling book Dead Man Walking, and internationally-renowned advocate against the death penalty, it is the Church’s doctrine on homosexuality that is sinful, as it fails to recognize “the full dignity of all human beings.”
Speaking on Sunday at the close of the symposium, Prejean noted that the first steps in denying and “removing” a human being is to declare them “somehow not quite human, not like how we are . . . to say that they’re ‘disordered’” – a reference to the language used by the Vatican to describe the orientation of gay people. Such terminology, she said, fails to recognize the full dignity of all human beings and is thus the “greatest form of disrespect.”
Accordingly, “to not stand with LGBT people would be a sin,” declared Prejean to thunderous applause.
Prejean said that she is hopeful as she’s convinced that “people are waking and rising,” and that this will “change the Church.”
“When dialogue starts, the bread starts rising,” she said. “The yeast, the Holy Spirit, is in our hearts.”
Sister Helen Prejean’s remarks seemed particularly appropriate given that she had just joined with the symposium attendees in a liturgy which incorporated prayers from the Didache, an early Christian catechism, that correspond with the Christian practices of Consecration and Communion.
Bread and wine were placed on each table in the hotel banquet room, at which attendees had gathered in small groups. As we reverently shared these gifts with one another, we prayed that we may become the Body of Christ for each other, for our Church, and for the world. It was a very powerful experience, a Eucharistic experience. For as Helen Prejean noted, “The presence of Christ is not only in certain gatherings. The presence of Christ is here today.”
Image 1-3: Zac Willette
Image 4: Michael Bayly
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
News Ways Ministry Symposium in the News, Again
In the News
“Receive What You Are, the Body of Christ”
Who Gets to be Called “Catholic” - and Why?
My Rainbow Sash Experience
Reflections on the Primacy of Conscience
The Question of an “Informed” Catholic Conscience
A Catholic’s Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI