Flynn, therefore, is understandable peeved by the claim that he personally approached CPCSM in the late-1990s and invited the group to serve as a resource for the archdiocese. He did not.
I, in turn, am peeved that the November 17 Star Tribune article that contained this claim attributed it to me as executive coordinator of CPCSM.
Of course, it’s a waste of time arguing about this particular point. I am sure that I made no such claim during my interview with the writer of the article, and apparently the archbishop is sure that I did – seemingly as part of some nefarious gay agenda aimed at manipulating the media.
By focusing solely on this claim, however, attention is diverted from two important realities. The first is that the Courage apostolate of the Roman Catholic Church supports and relies on the pseudo-science of NARTH – an organization that endorses “reparative therapy” for gay people. This type of therapy has been discredited by all mainstream professional mental health and medical associations. This was actually the primary focus of the Star Tribune article of November 17.
The second important fact that is rather conveniently ignored is that the archdiocese, albeit in a limited capacity, did indeed work with CPCSM in the 1990s during Flynn’s tenure. I can only surmise that this is of deep embarrassment to both Flynn and the current leadership of the archdiocese. This current leadership, headed by Archbishop John Nienstedt, would have it that no official leader within the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis ever “supported, endorsed or recognized CPCSM.” That assertion has been challenged previously at The Wild Reed, leading to the conclusion that the chancery’s public articulation of such a dismissive stance (along with its promotion of pseudo-science) is a relatively recent development within the local church.
As I’ve said before: history matters - if for no other reason than to remind us that things can and do change. It also serves to give us hope. The Church’s understanding of complex issues (such as homosexuality) and reform organizations (such as CPCSM) is never as rigid, absolute and/or negative as some would have us believe. The pendulum swings – and will one day swing back to a more enlightened and open stance on such important matters. (And, of course, the pendulum doesn’t just swing, it advances and arcs towards justice. Accordingly, I have no doubt that we’ll one day witness an official Roman Catholic stance on homosexuality far and beyond any we’ve witnessed to date in terms of openness to the experiences and insights of gay people.)
Following then, for the record, is the history of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis’ collaboration with CPCSM. This history is excerpted from the preface of the book I edited, Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective (2007).
I spent a lot of time and energy researching and writing this important history, and, as you’ll see, it’s a detailed and complex history – one that does not readily lend itself to easy and convenient sound bites. I find it unthinkable that I would betray such a history with the type of simplistic and false claim that was attributed to me in the Star Tribune’s article of November 17. I do indeed have my faults, but I do not consider flippancy and sloppiness to be among them.
Like any initiative that seeks to identify the presence of God in human life, the genesis of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective can be traced to a very real and dynamic human reality and thus a distinct social and cultural milieu.
In the early-to-mid 1990s there was in the Twin Cities area much talk and publicity around two public school programs – Out for Equity in St. Paul, and Out 4 Good in Minneapolis. Both programs sought to address the needs and concerns of LGBT students within their respective school districts. Both were also created and sustained in response to an increasing number of public high school students who were either “coming out” – that is, openly stating that they were bisexual, gay, lesbian, or transgender – or openly exploring questions related to sexual identity and/or orientation.
The Safe Staff framework and model that was developed and used in the Out for Equity program was particularly instrumental in what would transpire in Catholic education in the Twin Cities. This model would be adapted, expanded, and implemented in the efforts to create safe school climates for LGBT youth in Catholic schools.
The presence of District 202 in Minneapolis also needs to be acknowledged. It was established in 1993 as the first and only permanent space in Minnesota by and for LGBT youth. District 202 is a unique community brought into being through the vision and proactive efforts of LGBT youth themselves.
In the midst of such topical and – for some – controversial developments, many within the Catholic high school setting began to talk openly of issues related to sexual orientation and youth. Was the phenomenon of an increasing number of students “coming out” in public schools an anomaly? Or was it a wake-up call to the presence of an invisible minority population within their own school communities? What was the authentic Catholic response to such a population? How would such a response impact the wider school community?
In raising and discussing such questions, an informal network of teachers, administrators, school counselors, parents, students, alums, and others began to take shape. Such conversations also brought to light the reality that an increasing number of teachers, counselors, and administrators were being confronted by students in Catholic schools who either identified as LGBT or were struggling with sexual identity/orientation issues. The need for a genuine educational and pastoral response to such students was duly recognized, as was the need to bring the reality of sexual orientation out of the silence and out of the shadows. Yet many within the Catholic educational system felt inadequately prepared to meet such challenges.
A Unique Coalition Responds to the Challenge
In 1995, after being approached by teachers, counselors, and administrators requesting training and information regarding the Church’s ministry to LGBT persons, the Catholic secondary school presidents of Minneapolis and St. Paul turned to the St. Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese for guidance. Through the auspices of the Catholic Education and Formation Ministries (CEFM) of the archdiocese, the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) was invited to share its long experience and expertise in ministry with LGBT people with both the CEFM and those schools requesting information and training.
CPCSM itself was founded in 1980 and is a grassroots, nonprofit, independent coalition based in the Twin Cities. The group comprises parents, teachers, Catholic school students and alumni, pastoral ministers, and human services professionals – all of various sexual orientations. Much of CPCSM’s ministry throughout the 1980s and early 1990s was focused on educational and advocacy activities aimed at encouraging parishes to be welcoming and supportive places for LGBT people.
CPCSM’s ministry has always been inspired by a zeal for inclusive justice and a passion for embracing diversity – especially as it relates to issues of sexual orientation and identity. The group firmly believes that members of sexual minorities, by virtue of their struggle to maintain a sense of personal integrity and authenticity, have unique gifts to offer the Church and society. Accordingly, like numerous progressive Catholic organizations and communities, CPCSM operates with the understanding that one’s sexuality can and must be affirmed as a gift and as an essential element to be integrated holistically into one’s faith life. Reflecting this, CPCSM’s Mission Statement reads as follows: “We pledge to create just and safe environments within the Catholic Church and society in which the dignity and integrity of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons and their families are recognized and affirmed.”
Resonating with the theological and pastoral underpinnings of this statement and committed to the ultimate goal of such a mission, the secondary school presidents chose to continue in dialogue with both CPCSM and CEFM. A series of diocesan-wide workshops resulted – planned and implemented with input from CPCSM. These workshops were open to all interested persons and were aimed at providing a general introduction to LGBT concerns within the context of Catholic education.
This period of dialogue was followed in October 1996 by a call from the secondary school presidents for the establishment of an Archdiocesan Study Group on Pastoral Care and Sexual Identity Issues. This group, comprising representatives from each of the involved schools as well as representatives from both CEFM and CPCSM, worked to identify and prioritize the needs of LGBT students and to determine the most appropriate and effective strategies and resources to address these needs. The most fundamental need recognized was for comprehensive training to enable Catholic educators to deal with LGBT youth in a pastorally sensitive and nonjudgmental manner.
Safe Staff Training
In response to the findings of the Archdiocesan Study Group on Pastoral Care and Sexual Identity Issues, CPCSM spearheaded the Safe Schools Initiative – an initiative already underway in an informal capacity at a number of Catholic high schools in the archdiocese. From 1997 to 1999, the Safe Schools Initiative involved members of CPCSM planning and facilitating fourteen four-session sequences of comprehensive training at seven archdiocesan high schools – resulting in 275 faculty and staff being trained as “safe staff.” Throughout, the training program was adapted, refined, and open to ongoing evaluation by both trainers and trainees.
A crucial component of the Safe Schools Initiative involved supporting faculty in understanding the range of Catholic teaching pertaining to both human sexuality and social justice. The training also involved ways of promoting such teaching in the classroom in pastorally sensitive, nonjudgmental ways.
Some of the topics covered by the Safe Schools Initiative included” LGBT Youth: Stages of Coming Out,” “Safe Staff: Definitions, Qualities, Roles and Responsibilities,” “Your Classroom,” Adapting School Policies,” “Supporting Each Other as Safe Staff,” “School Climate and Reducing Homophobia,” “Guidelines for Responding to Youth,” and Knowing and Developing Resources.” In some cases, the topics addressed had never before been considered as “training exercise” material, for example, “Pastoral Care Situations Vis-a-vis Church Teaching” and “Professional Relationship and Boundary Issues.”
The Safe Schools Initiative employed a range of both didactic and experiential strategies – role-play and practice scenarios, formal presentations, videos, and question and comments sessions. Each training session began with a LGBT-focused prayer and/or reflection. Some of these prayers, along with the numerous strategies, exercises, and resources, are included in Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective, as have reflections and insights from teachers, administrators, parents, and students whose lives have been positively and powerfully impacted by the Safe Schools Initiative. The inclusion of such material ensures that Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective not only serves as a valuable educational resource, but as a historical record and faith testimony of the many and varied individuals and communities involved.
It is also important to acknowledge the effects that the Safe Schools Initiative has had on other areas of school life. The training forum was the impetus for diversity initiatives on racism and classism that were subsequently implemented in some Catholic high schools. Partly as a result of the positive ends achieved by the Safe School Initiative, a groundbreaking 1998 meeting of Catholic high school boards recognized and highlighted the importance of LGBT students and the issues that confront them.
One further result of the Safe Schools Initiative is that it has empowered individual teachers and students to develop and implement initiatives of their own. Within particular Catholic high schools, for instance, editorial collectives promoting greater representation of LGBT issues in school newspapers and expanded and updated LGBT media resources are now operative.
Not all consider the concept of safe staff training as one that should be integrated into our Catholic schools. In the mid-1990s, for instance, local conservatives formed a specific organization to undermine the Safe Schools Initiative. This group and others view such an initiative as “invading school curriculum” with “teachings contrary to Church teaching.” Sadly, such groups fail to recognize or acknowledge the pastoral and social justice grounding of safe staff training. Instead, such training is seen to be “instructing administrators, teachers, librarians and counselors [in] how to promote the GLBT agenda” (letter to the editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, July 19, 2003). This “agenda,” however, is never actually spelt out by such conservative groups who seem unresponsive to the movement of the Spirit in and through the lives of those whose experiences take them beyond what has been narrowly defined as orthodox. Regardless, this vocal minority had had a chilling effect on safe staff training initiatives within many schools, and has effectively halted CPCSM representatives from being active participants in any training that does take place.
Yet such a pastoral initiative is not dependent on any outside organization. Many of the schools originally involved in the Safe Schools Initiative have continued and expanded the initiative – with yesterday’s first wave of trainees becoming today’s trainers of their peers.
The Journey Continues
CPCSM firmly believes that the need for greater awareness and education regarding the issue of LGBT youth and Catholic education – a need clearly demonstrated and responded to within the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese – is, in fact, a nationwide need. The compilation of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective was the first phase toward sharing nationwide CPCSM’s wealth of strategies and resources that have been proven to be genuinely innovative, pastoral, and empowering for educators, parents, and students.
CPCSM’s work relating to the vision of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective has ensured that the organization has received national recognition. In 1999, CPCSM was awarded the Mission Award for Non-Profit Advocacy by the Minnesota Council of Non-Profits. Also, in July 2000, CEFM received the prestigious 2000 SPICE (selected Programs for Improving Catholic Education0 Award from the National Catholic Education Association for integrating the social teachings of the Church into Catholic education. This award was given, in large part, as a result of the groundbreaking safe staff training model put into place by CPCSM while working with CEFM.
The word about Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective is definitely out, and has engendered much interest and enthusiasm. Furthermore, as we continue our ministry with and for the LGBT community, CPCSM continues to hear stories of people’s high school experiences and what a positive difference a resource like Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective would have had on their lives at that time and beyond.
Clearly, the time for Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective has arrived.
NOTE: For reviews of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective, click here, here, and here.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
How Times Have Changed
Gay Catholics, the Courage Apostolate, and Reparative Therapy
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Courage
Recommended Off-site Links:
The Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM)