Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Keeping the Conversation about Amoris Laetitia Real: Pope Repeats Injunction Against Anti-Gay Discrimination, While NC Bishops Praise Anti-LGBTQ Law and NC's Catholic College Belmont Abbey Discriminates Against Trans People

Catholic institutions have been violating the human rights of LGBTQ human beings even while the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells Catholics to respect non-heterosexual people. And so the question that obviously needs to be asked: in what earthly way will the fact that Pope Francis repeats this catechetical formula in the tiny section of Amoris Laetitia addressing this portion of the human community change what has already been going on in Catholic institutions which already know the catechtical teaching full well?

A case in point: as I noted last week, at the Catholic college in North Carolina, Belmont Abbey College, which definitively ended my career and that of my now husband Steve as Catholic theologians in the 1990s, the abbot of the Benedictine monastery that owns the college took control of the president's office in that same period and mounted what members of the gay community in nearby Charlotte called a "gay purge." Claiming financial exigency, he fired a significant number of faculty and staff all thought to be gay and lesbian.

I also pointed out that when I tried to get the Catholic media to cover the story of what was going on at this Catholic college, I could get no Catholic journal (nor the Charlotte paper, which had powerful individuals with close ties to the diocese of Charlotte and Belmont Abbey College sitting on its board) to touch the story. I was told by one National Catholic Reporter official that stories about Catholic institutions firing gay and lesbian people are so common they are not really news.

But this is a story that has gone on and on for years now. The fact that it continues to be a story indicates that it was a story when I tried unsuccessfully to get media coverage of what was happening at Belmont Abbey College in the 1990s. What happened to a number of us at the college in the 1990s turned out to be only a prelude to further discriminatory actions taken by this Catholic college — which, by the way, also led the way among Catholic colleges in attacking the Obama administration's contraceptive coverage mandate in the Affordable Care Act — in subsequent years. As I noted last December, Belmont Abbey College is one of a handful of Catholic institutions of higher learning that applied for "right-to-discriminate" dispensations from the federal government.

These dispensations allow the schools that receive them to claim federal funds while flouting federal non-discrimination laws. I pointed you last December to a statement by Bob Shine of New Ways Ministry about Belmont Abbey's request for a "right-to-discriminate" exemption from the federal government (allowing the college to target transgender campus community members), which concluded,

In fact, their policy is undermining Catholic education and an approach to gender that is rooted in the Gospel and seeks the good for each and every student. Students at Belmont Abbey College deserve an apology. The Catholic faith, in whose name this exemption was claimed, demands better.

As I also noted last week (and here and here), linking to statements by Lisa Fullam at Commonweal, Michael Boyle at his Sound of Sheer Silence site, and Matthew Sitman at Commonweal, the Catholic bishops of North Carolina Peter Jugis of Charlotte and Michael Burbidge of Raleigh posted a warm thank-you note to the North Carolina legislature for passing its law attacking LGBTQ citizens of the state of North Carolina. Jugis's praise of the new law is especially noteworthy when one considers that it has just been announced that the diocese of Charlotte is going to open a seminary in collaboration with Belmont Abbey College — the Catholic college in the diocese which has requested from the federal government permission to continue receiving federal funds while it discriminates against transgender faculty, staff, and students.

Now I want to point you to two new statements by Bob Shine of New Ways Ministry in the past several days. As Bob Shine reports, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has announced it will not dissociate itself from church-based colleges and universities that have applied for "right-to-discriminate" waivers permitting them to discriminate against LGBTQ people while receiving federal funds. Bob notes,

At least five Catholic colleges are among those who have requested such exemptions, according to a report from the Human Rights Campaign. These include Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, John Paul the Great University in Wyoming, St. Gregory’s University in Oklahoma, and the University of Dallas in Texas.

And then he concludes,

The NCAA's decision not to sanction colleges which have sought Title IX exemptions is puzzling because it seems wrong to include schools in its athletics programs that institutionally advance prejudice. These exemptions also highlight the difference between the many Catholic colleges supportive of LGBT students and the five schools seeking exemptions. While there is a lot of progress to celebrate, there is much work to be done in college athletics and in Catholic higher education.

Bob Shine has also recently posted a statement at New Ways Ministry's Bondings 2.0 blog noting again that the North Carolina Catholic bishops released a statement of thanks to the state legislature for its new law targeting transgender citizens, and pointing out that the Catholic bishop of Jackson, Mississippi, Joseph Kopacz, has issued a similar statement praising the new Mississippi law which allows businesses to refuse goods and services to people on grounds of religious belief.

And then he concludes,

Catholic bishops would do well to listen to the overwhelming majority of Catholics in the U.S. who oppose any legislation which infringes on the rights of LGBT people and undermines religious liberty. Then, learning from the people of God's wisdom, bishops in North Carolina and Mississippi should correct their mistakes and other bishops should speak out for LGBT human rights.

But I think it has to be asked again, If the Catechism of the Catholic Church already condemns discrimination against people on grounds of sexual orientation, but some institutions that profess to be more Catholic than other Catholic institutions (and that's certainly the claim made by the handful of Catholic colleges and universities that have gotten "right-to-discriminate" waivers) simply ignore that catechetical injunction, in what way will Amoris Laetitia change anything at all now? 

When it merely repeats the injunction that self-professed "real" Catholic institutions in the U.S. simply ignore?

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