National Catholic Gay Ministry Group Refuses to Sign Bishop’s Loyalty Oath

Arthur Fitzmaurice, resource director of the National Association for Catholic Lesbian and Gay Ministries. Photo credit: Chuck Colbert

By: Chuck Colbert/TRT Reporter–

The board of directors of a Catholic gay ministry group has refused to sign a loyalty oath, a move that may prompt Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of the Oakland diocese in California to declare the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry (CALGM) “not authentically Catholic.”

News of the bishop’s loyalty-oath request broke in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), a publication independent of Church officials, after correspondence from the CALGM board to its members were leaked to NCR.

“In an April 12 letter to the association’s [directors]” NCR reported on June 25, “Cordileone stated he would ‘take public action to clarify the status of CALGM with regard to authentic Catholic ministry’ should they refuse to take an oath that required that each member ‘strive to clearly present Catholic doctrine on homosexuality in its fullness’ and ‘profess personally to hold and believe, and practice all that the holy Church teaches, believes, proclaims to be true, whether from the natural moral law or by way revelation from God through Scripture and tradition.”

An investigation of the organization and its “adherence to the fullness of Catholic teaching” has been ongoing since December 2010.  Representatives of CALGM have met twice in person with Cordileone.  The organization and bishop have exchanged nearly a dozen letters, according to NCR.

In refusing to sign an “oath of personal loyalty,” CALGM’s leadership has called it “unprecedented, inappropriate, and potentially detrimental to Church ministry.”

During a wide-ranging interview on June 26, Arthur Fitzmaurice of Los Angeles, CALGM’s resource director, said the genesis of the investigation stemmed from concerns about organization’s newsletter and comments “some of which we could explain” to the bishop and “some he thought were hostile to Church teaching.”

Fitzmaurice cited two examples.  One was criticism of the term “objective disorder,” without CALGM’s affirming that Church teaching in facts considers the homosexual orientation to be “objectively disordered.”

Another concern, he said, was CALCM’s claim that “being gay is a gift and a grace.”

“The bishop had objections,” Fitzmaurice said. And yet, “we shared with him why it could be considered a gift and part of our faith journey,” in bringing us “to a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Fitzmaurice described the first meeting with Cordileone as “cordial and productive.”

“We were able to share stories from our members, stories of our ministry,” said Fitzmaurice, who added that the bishop told CALGM’s representatives in attendance “he came to a place where he did realize how important it was to reach out to the marginalized in the Church.”

CALGM’s president Sheila Nelson and a priest, along with Fitzmaurice, represented the organization during the face-to-face meetings, one on Jan.7, 2011, and another on Feb. 1, 2012.

Fitzmaurice has ties to New England.  A native of Nashua, N.H., he earned a bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, before going to Cal Tech for his doctoral work.

Based in Berkeley, Calif., and founded in 1994 as 501(c)(3) charitable organization, CALGM network describes itself “as an association of diocesan, parish, and campus-based ministries and those involved in those ministries.”

In its pastoral outreach, the association envisions its role as “setting the table” for gay Catholics, particularly those who feel alienated from and unwelcome in the Church.

Setting-the-table imagery is an obvious reference to the Eucharist, as well as safe and welcoming place for conversation and personal story telling and faith sharing.

CALGM also appeals to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its outreach of affirmation, inclusion, and pastoral care with lesbian and gay people, their families, and friends in the Catholic community.

CALGM claims 200 dues-paying members, including a dozen diocesan ministries in Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland (parents ministry), and Raleigh, N.C.

Parish members include parishes in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Dallas, Milwaukee, and New York City, with a total of about ten active parish ministries as formal members, Fitzmaurice said.

Other members, for examples, are individuals and households from 25 states, such as Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, Tennessee, New Mexico, New Jersey, Missouri, Indiana, and Florida.  CALGM also has members from Canada and the United Kingdom.

Over the telephone Fitzmaurice offered several examples of how the CALGM network operates.  People who contact the national office may request a spiritual director or a priest with whom they can talk, he said.

In other cases, “we offer pastoral care in the Church by helping people find local faith communities, helping them to find reconciliation with religion, with God, the Church, and themselves,” Fitzmaurice said.

“We are not violating Church teaching,” he said.  “We are doing pastoral outreach.”

“I get e-mails all the time.  I just set someone up with a weekly Mass he can go to in Tampa,” said Fitzmaurice.

Over the course of the investigation, Cordileone has asked CALGM to amend its Web site listings, links, and content.  The bishop has also directed board directors to vet its conference materials, topics, content and speakers.

Cordileone even took exception to the use of the terms “gay and lesbian” on the association’s Web site.

Oddly enough, the Oakland diocese Web site uses those terms, but the ministry offered is that of Courage, a recognized lay ministry with the goal of bringing gays to celibacy.

CALGM aims to bring people to relationship with Jesus Christ without questioning their sexual behavior first.

Meanwhile, as president Nelson wrote to members in an April 5, 2012 letter, “We have done almost everything required of us to maintain a legitimate space within the boundaries of the institutional Church.”

“Yet, this has not seemed to be adequate or satisfactory to the office of the bishop,” she continued.  “We have repeatedly, abundantly, and humbly submitted that our work is pastoral in nature and not political or primarily doctrinal.”

For his part, Bishop Cordileone declined an interview request with NCR.

Reached by phone, Mike Brown, director of communications for the Oakland diocese, said, “The bishop has not made any statements” about the most recent development of board members refusal to take loyalty oaths.

“If there is to be a statement about CALGM, we’ll make it,” said Brown.

Meanwhile, the association has garnered support from its members as well as from others who minister with LGBT Catholics.

“CALGM is a fine organization, one that has helped many people and represents the future of the Church,” said Eugene McMullan, a parishioner at Most Holy Redeemer in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, and the lead organizer of Catholics for Marriage Equality in California.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone associated with CALGM,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, the nation’s oldest organization of LGBT Catholics.  “We know this is a challenging time.”

“However, in the current climate of the Church, anyone involved in LGBT ministry ultimately is forced into a crisis of conscience and integrity,” she said, referring to the loyalty-oath request.

“CALGM has been a great support to many church ministers over the years and has provided great work in the field of LGBT ministry,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the Mount Rainier, Maryland-based New Ways Ministry.  “They have worked hard to maintain a dialogue with church leaders throughout their work.  The breakdown of dialogue here says more about the hierarchy’s adamancy than it says anything about CALGM’s loyalty to the church.”

©  Copyright. Chuck Colbert. All rights reserved.

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