Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Luke 2:8-11

Each year in December it is customary for the Pope to share his personal opinions on what he considers to be pressing issues facing the world. This year Pope Benedict XVI considers same gender couples and their civil rights to be the most pressing threat to humanity. For the Reuters article:

Not global warming and the damage to the world's Eco-system, which many scientist have warned us about. Not the proliferation of nuclear arms and the threat this presents of a "limited" nuclear war against Israel, which could draw the whole of the Middle East and the world into war. Not international terrorism by religious zealots which threatens global security. Not the international financial crisis which could itself contribute to most of the aforementioned items and to widespread human misery. No, what causes Benedict XVI greatest concern is same sex marriage and civil rights. Evidently, it is not only grace which is "Amazing!"

What does a Catholic do with such a statement from a sitting pope? First, we need to consider the context and weight of the statement. This statement simply represents the personal insights of the man who happens to be the current pope. This is not an encyclical or a "de fide" statement. Read the encyclical Rerum Novarum issued by Pope Leo XIII on 15 May 1891 which stated:

"Let it be taken for granted that workman and employer should, as a rule, make free agreements, and in particular should agree freely as to wages; nevertheless, there is a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, that remuneration should be sufficient to maintain the wage-earner in reasonable and frugal comfort. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice."

Then read the Syllabus of Errors issued by Pope Pius IX on 8 December 1864. Statements the encyclical condemned as FALSE include the following:

• "human reason , without any reference whatsoever to God, is the sole arbiter of truth and falsehood, and of good and evil" (No. 3) "All the truths of religion proceed from the innate strength of human reason;hence reason is the ultimate standard by which man can and ought to arrive at the knowledge of all truths of every kind." (No. 4)
• "in the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship." (No. 77)
• "Protestantism is nothing more than another form of the same true Christian religion, in which form it is given to please God equally as in the Catholic Church" (No. 18).
• "the Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church." (No. 55)
• "every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true." (No. 15) and that "it has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship." (No. 78)
• "the Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with, progress, liberalism and modern civilization." (No. 80)

We could look at both of these documents and wonder if they had been issued by the same institution, by two men who held the same office. Today, Rerum Novarum is considered a jewel in Catholic social teaching and the Syllabus of Errors is embarrassingly swept under the carpet and universally ignored. Even Cardinal Ratzinger himself (now Pope Benedict XVI) approvingly called Vatican II a "counter-syllabus", in a gesture of frankness.

Sadly, many Catholics have a very limited understanding of their faith and believe that anything which a pope utters was written on the tablets carried down from Mount Sinai by Moses. Statements such as this by Benedict XVI fuel the bigotry which leads to hate crimes against LGBT persons. Statements like this will one day be buried in the dust bin of history along with the Syllabus of Errors and the various papal errors for which the late Pope John Paul II apologized to Jews, Muslims and the scientific community. Today, however, Benedict's words increase the suffering of LGBT persons, divide families and inspire hatred. That this should be done in the name of God is appalling. That it should be done on the Eve of Christmas is lamentable.

The first Christmas conjures up all sorts of romantic images. The Gospel informs us that Mary in an advanced state of pregnancy and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to comply with civil law. Mary gave birth to Jesus in a manager surrounded by animals because there was no other place for them. Think about that scene. St. Ignatius Loyola tells us to employ the gift of our imagination when reading the Sacred Scriptures. Imagine what it was like in that stable, what it smelled like, the cold of the night. Imagine it through the eyes of St. Joseph, of the Blessed Mother giving birth under those circumstances.

God revealed the incarnation of his only begotten son to shepherds. The testimony of shepherds would be inadmissible in a court at that time. God reveals the incarnation not to the Emperor in Rome nor to the High Priest in Jerusalem, but to people who were considered to be unholy and who's word was considered worthless by society. God seems to favor those despised by "polite society." The baby in the manger would grow up to eat with sinners and prostitutes. He would himself be seen as an undesirable and condemned by those in positions of high religious authority. Things that make you go, "HMMM." Keep the spirit of that first Christmas in your hearts. Like the shepherds, we too are called to announce the news of liberation to the world.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

San Francisco panel discussion.

Last Friday, I attended a panel discussion sponsored by the San Francisco Bar Association. The following were some of the points raised in our discussion and some of the thoughts on how to move forward from this point. In brief, the November 4th Election has paradoxically helped to reignite passion within the LGBT community, not only in California but, in the nation.

The Intersection: Race, Religion, The Law & Same Sex Marriage

December 12, 2008

Roundtable Discussion Outcome & Action Items –

The final 30 minutes of the roundtable discussion were spent brainstorming solutions on how we as community leaders can assist the community with moving forward on the issues of race, religion, civil rights and same-sex marriage.

Below is the list of action items recommended by the panelists:

* Going forward, the LGBT Community should create one voice to speak out on this issue
* Develop a common “theme” to use when speaking out on this message (example from the audience: “LGBT need to be empowered to come out, be visible and encourage straight people to tell their story”)
* Develop and publish opinion editorial (op-ed) pieces that speak about these issues.
* Approach mainstream media (CNN, C-Span, etc.) to talk about these issues, just as the religious right advocates are doing. Be sure to highlight the positives that can come from these discussions and present the topics in a non-threatening manner. Start now.
* LGBT community needs to become present in other communities. Go to association meetings, church, etc., in other minority communities.
* Identify ways for LGBT community and straight communities to educate others on the fact that sexual orientation is “not” a choice
* BASF should reach out to other bar organizations to encourage them to put on programs/hold discussion forums similar to this one.
* Create ad hoc religious coalitions as it appears that people may be interested in collaborating with other religions on certain issues.
* The legal community needs to community clearly that same sex marriage is not a zero-sum game, that is, help people to understand that if gays gain the right to marry, that does not mean another group will lose a right that they have – specifically that religious institutions will not lose any rights with respect to what marriages they will perform.
* Coalition building between organizations that might have opposing positions (between boards, etc.) to find a middle ground and/or educate each group.
* Engage ICONS, public figures who are opinion makers and who are in a role to affect policy.
* Be sure to address these issues from a grass roots perspective, while at the same time utilizing the media.
* BASF should consider additional forums like this one, but next time in front of the public or media.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

At a crossroads.

On May 15th 2008, the California State Supreme Court ruled that same gender marriage would be legal in the state of California effective June 17th. This ruling came as a result of a case filed by a citizen of our state who claimed that the existing law which denied marriage to same gender couples violated the equal protection clause of the constitution. The State Supreme Court fulfilled its constitutional responsibility, heard the case, considered the evidence and rendered a decision.

Some, including the bishop of the diocese of Fresno, objected strenuously. As he sarcastically remarked, “Only by a slim majority did the court impose their wisdom.” I found the bishop’s statement ironic because I do not recall him ever objecting to a court decision when a pedophilia case was decided in favor of the diocese due to a legal technicality. The bishop was not the only one to be upset by the court granting civil marriage rights to same gender couples; the Mormon church and an assortment of evangelical churches were upset as well. These parties are more than willing to overturn the decision of an impartial judiciary through a referendum when it suits their needs.

In 2000, a referendum had been approved by California voters by a margin of 61% to define marriage as being only between a man and a woman. That was only eight years ago. By mid 2008, polls showed that support for Yes on 8 had dropped below fifty percent. “Although the amendment to reinstate the ban on same-sex marriage is winning by a small majority, this may not bode well for the measure,” said Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus. Normally, a controversial ballot such as Proposition 8 would need to start out with a lead of at least 50% to win on Election Day. The Yes on Prop 8 side needed very large sums of cash and an extremely well run and highly organized campaign if they were going to win on November 4th.

The Roman Catholic Bishop of San Francisco, George Niederaurer, decided to intervene and influence the course of history on behalf of Yes on 8. The San Francisco Chronicle reported the following story on Thursday, Dec 4th 2008, “The Mormon Church has said Niederauer, previously the bishop of Salt Lake City for 11 years, played a pivotal role in its joining the cause. ‘We were invited to join the coalition.’ Michael Otterson, managing director of public affairs for the [Mormon] church, told The Chronicle in an interview shortly after the election. ‘We didn’t unilaterally go into the battle.’ Otterson said Niederauer’s letter persuaded the Mormon Church that they wouldn’t be fighting this battle alone, a status that would have made them vulnerable.” As a result, the Mormon church became eagerly involved donating millions of dollars to the Yes on 8 campaign and would later take the heat for having done so.

Had it not been for the Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, the Mormon Church would not have been involved in the Yes on prop 8 campaign. Without those huge Mormon funds paying for deceptive and dishonest political ads, Yes on prop 8 would have lost. There is one piece of irony in all of this however. The people who voted “yes” on Proposition 8 out of emotion because they were angry at the power of the judges on the State Supreme Court unwittingly gave the interpretive powers of the State Supreme Court to two un-elected men: the Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco George Niederauer and the Senior Elder of the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, Utah. These two men, one of whom is not even a citizen of California, have questionably, if not illegally, used the non-profit status of their religious organizations to avoid taxation to fund, what was in essence, a political action committee. These two men effectively rewrote the constitution of the state of California.

As part of a strategy to dissuade us from our efforts at reversing Prop 8, Niederauer said, “We need to disagree without being disagreeable. We need to stop hurling names like ‘bigot’ and ‘pervert’ at each other, and we need to stop it now. We churchgoers need to speak and act out of the truth that all people are God‘s children and are unconditionally loved by God.” Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Cardinal Mahoney said, “Supporting marriage, as it has always been understood, diminishes none of us. We welcome thoughtful and civil dialogue with you [the LGBT community] so that we can deepen our realization that all of us cherish God’s creative life which we equally share. We are committed to find ways to eliminate discrimination against homosexual persons, and to help guarantee the basic rights which belong to each of us.” In plain English they are telling us “Yes, we have stripped you of your civil rights because of our limited religious views, now accept your fate, don’t challenge us.”

While the archbishops were reassuring us of their noble intentions with word such as, “guaranteed basic rights,” and “all people are God’s children and unconditionally loved by God,” the Vatican representative at the United Nations in New York City voiced objection to the UN Resolution to decriminalize homosexuality. The Vatican, thereby, actively supports the criminality of being homosexual in repressive regimes. It is important to be clear here, gay people have been executed in countries like Iran and the Vatican knows this. There is no moral justification for the Vatican to take such a position. However, the Vatican is no stranger to turning a blind eye in regard to human rights abuses. One is reminded of its silence in the face of the Holocaust tragedy during World War II. The specter of “accommodation” to evil regimes by the Vatican seems discouragingly all too common. This action at the UN is merely an attempt to cozy up to despotic Middle East nations.These accommodations can not be dismissed by arguments of pragmatism, especially when they claim to be the arbiter of morality.

They have a saying in Mexico, “Hechos no palabras” (actions not words). Despite all of their sugar coated rhetoric, these churchmen have, by their actions, substantively contributed to a culture of bigotry and hatred directed at the LGBT community. By opposing the decriminalization of homosexuality, the Vatican has become an accomplice with the regimes that execute human beings for simply being gay or lesbian. This stance by the Vatican is in direct opposition with their repeated statements condemning capital punishment. Despite their florid statements on safeguarding the dignity of homosexuals, their actions at the UN were quite the opposite and revealed something morally repugnant.

We need to hold the California Catholic bishops answerable for the unwarranted and unjust role they played in stripping us of our civil right to marry. We need to hold the bishops answerable for their cowardice in not condemning Vatican opposition to a UN Resolution decriminalizing homosexuality. By their silence, they have become accomplices to torture and execution. We need them to be authentic pastors who, like the Good Shepard, make it a priority to protect their entire flock. Like the prophets of old, they need to speak on behalf of those who have no voice. We can’t simply be the “good little gays and lesbians” who quietly allow ourselves to be stripped of our rights and led to the slaughter. We need to stand up here and now. We need to say with a very loud and clear voice: no to hatred, no to discrimination, no to bigotry and no to injustice. As Catholics, we need to say “No your excellency… no your eminence, this is wrong. Please go back to doing God‘s work!” Truly, silence does equal death.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The strongest material in the world.

When I was in high school, we had a neighbor who was an architect. One day my brother and I were speaking with him and he asked us: Do you know the strongest material in the world? My brother and I began to shoot out answers: “Titanium, high tensile steel, diamonds,” etc. Each answer was met with an unequivocal “no.” Finally, we gave up and asked: “Ok, what is the strongest material in the world?” The architect smiled and said: “paper.” “Paper!?!?” We exclaimed, “how is paper the strongest material in the world?!?!?” He answered us: “because it holds ANYTHING you write on it.”

I remembered my neighbor, the architect, when I read an advertisement published in the Friday December 5th edition of the New York Times ( It was an ad signed, and presumably paid for, by its thirteen signatories and their respective organizations. The ad essentially asks the LGBT community to “shut-up and behave” and “stop their demonstrations” and simply accept that they have been stripped of a fundamental civil right.

Before commenting on their cardinal points, it is important to realize that a full page advertisement in the New York Times is very expensive paper indeed. For these people to go to such trouble and expense to urge us to stop demonstrating, it reveals to us that the demonstrations have been effective. Obviously, we should continue to speak out, peacefully demonstrate and use our economic power to boycott businesses and organizations that have financed yes on prop 8.

I was listening to the BBC just yesterday and a journalist spoke of 1968 as a year that changed the world. She was, of course, referring to the public civil rights demonstrations and the concurrent demonstrations against the Vietnam war. Had Rosa Parks simply relinquished her seat on the bus to avoid confrontation or had black people in Birmingham not boycotted the bus companies over discriminatory and unjust policies, blacks would most probably still be required to relinquish their seats on buses today and the President Elect of the United States of America would not be a black man.

The thirteen signatories of this shameful advertisement are indirectly saying to us, and to our families and friends who support us, “your demonstrations and economic boycotts are having a real effect and threaten to undermine our bigoted legislation and we don’t like that.” We not only need to keep up the pressure, but we need to redouble our efforts to make it even more effective.

We have all experienced an election where the candidate we voted for lost or where an initiative, or a referendum issue we supported was defeated. What makes Proposition 8 different, is that this is about the elimination of our fundamental right, not just to marry, but to exist. If those who support Prop 8 were to remove the word “homosexual” from all of their documents and replace it with the word “heterosexual,” consider the impact it would have on their lives. Perhaps, the light of understanding would illuminate in their minds and hearts. Maybe then, they could understand why we simply don’t “calm down and accept this vote.”

Please note, that I said peaceful demonstrations and economic boycotts. Neither I, nor any public LGBT organization, advocate or condone violence or terrorist actions. Free speech and economic pressure are both ethical means of enacting just change and have numerous national and international historical precedents.

I find their advertisement contradictory. The authors state that, “The proper response to free speech you disagree with is your own free speech in reply, not attempting to coerce your opponents into silence.” They then close by saying, “Beginning today, we commit ourselves to exposing and publicly shaming anyone who resorts to the rhetoric of anti-religious bigotry--against any faith, on any side of any cause, for any reason.” It seems that the authors are quite self-serving in this regard. On one hand, they condemn the use of coercion by their opponents, and on the other hand, they advocate for “publicly shaming” any of their opponents who disagree with their positions. Public shaming constitutes a form of “coercion” which paradoxically they support when it is in their self-interest.

They call the free speech of their opponents the “rhetoric of anti-religious bigotry.” This presumes that they, and they alone, posses a monopoly on truth. It presumes that all faiths are monolithic and static and that all people of faith buy into these authors’ limited understandings. Their demand for unquestioning adherence to their own proclamations, which have caused untold suffering, divisions of families, and suicides, rivals the hubris and monstrosity of mid 20th century totalitarian dictators.

One need only raise the question of permissibility of divorce and remarriage, artificial birth control, euthanasia, et cetera to begin to see the cracks appear in this confederation of religious zealots on the fringe. It is no small wonder that they are so insecure. They realize that they have a very tentative hold at best on their congregants, who have just elected Barack Obama and the Democratic party. This resounding victory for social inclusion and progress does not bode well for their reactionary and self-entitled positions of power.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Checking the rearview mirror before driving forward.

They say that hindsight is 20/20. As a professor of mine once observed: truisms are truism because they are true. Some employ this old adage dismissively as if it was a waste of time and effort to look back, especially at a failure. About one year ago, I was listening to an interview on the BBC, a journalist was speaking with a leading CEO and asking him about the question of failures in business. The CEO responded that in corporate culture, failures are either denied, they are blamed on some external cause or on someone else. He went on to say that this was a huge mistake. The truth is that we don't learn from our successes but rather, from our failures. If we deny that we made an error in judgement or, that we we acted on faulty information, we will never learn, we will never grow. As a Spanish philosopher noted, "Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it." So, as we look back on this year, especially on the debacle of Proposition 8, what can we learn from our failures?

Perhaps the first and most important lesson is: Know who your friends are. Who helped us in our time of need? Who was there for us when our civil liberties were under attack? Who opened up their checkbooks and raised their voices on our behalf? Some of these companies and organizations are: Apple, PG&E, California Teachers Association, United Farm Workers and SEIU/United Healthcare Workers/West. We should remember and reward these companies and organizations with our support.

Equally important to review, is who worked against our civil rights. It is widely known that one of the largest contributors of funds for the "Yes on Prop 8" campaign was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). But, what is less widely known is the fact that the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco invited and encouraged the Mormons to become so involved in the Yes on 8 campaign. He had previously acted as the Bishop of Salt Lake City, Utah. Prior to this he served as a faculty member at St. John's Seminary and as a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. This is particularly painful for me personally, not merely because I am a Catholic but, because Archbishop George Niederauer was my spiritual director for part of my years in the seminary. I have always thought highly of him and am very sadden by this revelation. I can only think that he acted out of blind loyalty to Benedict XVI. Having said this, it is important to distinguish between objective acts and subjective emotions. The act was damaging in the extreme and hurtful to the civil rights of Gay and Lesbian persons.

The brilliance of inviting the Mormons to become involved is twofold. First, they bankrolled a significant share of the costs for "yes on 8." Second, they take the PR body punch for having done so. The Catholic hierarchy of California donated only a small amount of the total funds, their proclamation on Prop. 8 was understated and almost apologetic. The Knights of Columbus anted up the lion's share of "Catholic" cash, thereby relieving the bishops of California financially and in PR fallout. In brief, it was brilliant. The Mormons shell out the cash, take the PR hit for having done so and the Catholic bishops sneak away whistling in the dark. After all, it was the Mormons and to a far lesser extent the Knights of Columbus who wrote the checks. Everything goes back to business as usual and the gays are kept down in their place. I think it is time to review the role of organized religious groups in political campaigns. It is one thing to express a view on various moral issues. It is quite something else to operate as a PAC (Political Action Committee).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The art of mediocrity

I received an E-mail from one of my former parishioners at St. Paul's Newman Center in Fresno today. It seems the bishop went to the parish to meet with the parishioners and inform them that he will not assign a new full time pastor to St. Paul's. Rather, he will appoint a Parish Life Coordinator and have a priest act as a sacramental minister.

I have to say that this does not come as a total surprise to me. St. Paul's was difficult to fill, the last time it was in need of a pastor. The reality is that St. Paul's was founded in 1964, in the middle of the Second Vatican Council. The founding pastor, the late Fr. Sergio Negro, was a huge proponent of the principles voiced at Vatican II. St. Paul's became a pioneer parish in our Diocese in many areas. In the inclusion of women as lectors and eucharistic ministers; of female altar servers. Fr. Negro started a Pastoral Council, long before many other parishes. In short, St. Paul's from its birth as a parish has been inclusive of women and has placed an emphasis on the role of an active lay participation in parish governance.

While all of this certainly captures the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, it is not appealing to many traditional pastors. In addition to all of this, St. Paul's is a personal parish and not a geographic parish. Most Catholic parishes are geographic entities. You automatically belong to a parish by the virtue of living within its geographic boundaries. St. Paul's is a parish without boundaries, it is a personal parish. The only individuals who "automatically" are parishioners are the Faculty, Staff and Students of the academic institutions which St. Paul's serves. Anyone else, may become a parishioner by registering. I recall the bishop commenting to me: "That's the last personal parish in this diocese!"

What this means in practical terms is that, the president of the CSUF, the Provost, many professors along with faculty and staff from Fresno City College and of course, many students are parishioners of St. Paul's. As you might imagine, this demographic tends to be well educated and comes from an academic tradition of enquiry, debate and discussion. Another large segment of the parish is composed of University Alumni. As a group, they tend to be very loyal, well educated, well off financially and connected in the greater community. St. Paul's also has, as I mentioned earlier a reputation for being very theologically and liturgically progressive.

While the concept of parish life coordinators had been discussed at the last diocesan convocation. In fact, I made a plea for them at the convocation and signed up for the committee which would oversee their development. The presenter at the convocation of clergy had asked that those who signed up for the committees elect moderators; however, the bishop intervened and appointed moderators himself in order to "save time." And of course, to steer the committees his way. In the case of the parish life coordinators, other diocese require PLC's to attend courses at accredited institutions and become certified. They also pay PLC's a living wage.

Neither of these two requirements are met by the Diocese of Fresno under the leadership of our current bishop. This was particularly annoying to pastors of our diocese who were then, hit up by an increase in assessments (taxes) the bishop places on plate collection to pay for all of these new programs. Pastors of course saw through all of this as just more gouging by the bishop of parish funds. However, given our subservient position there was no outcry at the time. One senior pastor simply said that he was "disgusted." Morale among the clergy is very low in our diocese. Most look to three years from now, when the bishop will be forced to turn in his resignation to Rome. The current speculation is that auxiliary bishop Alex Salazar of Los Angeles will be the next bishop of Fresno.

The result is, PLC's who have spotty preparation at best and are volunteers. You don't need an advanced degree in business to realize what the effects of this diocesan policy will be, on the quality and constancy of service at the parish level. But, then again, most of the PLC's were envisioned as serving in outlying rural areas under the supervision of a "hub church" and a mentor pastor. The decision to assign a PLC to St. Paul's on a permanent basis seems to be a convenient way of not having to deal with a progressive academic community and relegating it to insignificance on a diocesan level. In this, it is the triumph of mediocrity and should come as heart warming news to middle management bureaucrats everywhere within the greater Church.

Monday, November 24, 2008

One giant step backwards.

In the 1960's I was enrolled in a parochial school in the mid-west. In the town in which I grew up there was a German Parish, an Italian Parish, a Polish parish, and an Irish parish. I belonged to the Irish parish. In our little Catholic world, it was considered a "mixed marriage" if a Polish Catholic married an Irish Catholic. I exaggerate but only slightly. All of this serves as a backdrop to what happened in the fifth grade. Sister introduced two new students to our little Irish school; they were two black girls. Everyone in the class was shocked, not because they were black but, because they were Baptists.

To us, the idea of a Baptist or, for that matter any protestant seemed exotic at best. Why would anyone chose to not be Catholic?!? I recall Sister telling our class that we had to respect other people and their beliefs especially when they differed from our own. She also pointed out that this was an opportunity for us to better understand our own faith as well. I think back to my Irish parish in that blue collar neighborhood and the good sisters who taught us some 45 years ago.

I ask myself: What happened to those values? When I arrived at my new parish this last Spring, the choir sang a beautiful hymn, "All are welcome here" as the choir sang, I thought to myself: are all truly welcome here? The hymn expressed the sentiments of the Second Vatican Council and the values imparted to us by the wonderful teaching order of Dominican Sisters. Values that respect those with different opinions, belief systems, backgrounds. That saw a differing idea not as a threat but, as an opportunity for charity, deeper understanding and personal growth. Sadly, the idea of openness which the Holy Spirit invited us to embrace through the Blessed John XXIII has been shelved in favor of control. For example, professors at the university level are not allowed to discuss the issue of ordination of women with their students.

The faithful are left with Church documents which present lofty ideals and Church governance which pays lip service to those ideals but, crushes anyone who dares to invoke them. In this, the contemporary Church resembles the eastern European satellite nations of the former Soviet Union. They had enlightened constitutions which were ignored by those in positions of power, or worse, quoted as a justification for their unchallengeable rule. The late Pope John Paul II said of the old Soviet empire, it was a rotted tree. I simply shook it and it fell. Naked power and fear can only impose control/order for so long. In the case of the hierarchy, they have cut themselves off from the body of the Church, the people of God. Most bishops opt to govern by fiat rather than engaging in meaningful dialogue with the faithful. The net result is an increasing number of Catholics who ignore the bishops on the questions such as artificial birth control. They question the wisdom, if not the motives, of the bishops in the wake of the Pedophilia Scandals. Catholics who question an endless appeal for funds while, given no voice in the application of those funds, and often, little or questionable accountability, are continually being asked for more and more money. Why, where is it going?

Like King Louis XVI who remained insulated at Versailles while the people rioted in Paris, our bishops remain insulated in a sort of private boys club, where they believe that if they say it then, it must be true. Like Louis, they are bewildered that the people don't simply obey.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Address to the Mayor and City Council of West Hollywood, California.

Tonight, I was invited to address the Mayor and City Council of the City of West Hollywood. To my pleasant surprise, I was honored with a commendation by West Hollywood for my efforts in working towards the promotion and preservation of civil rights. I humbly accept this honor on behalf of all of those who have marched and worked to overturn the hate law which is Proposition 8. The following, is the text of my address to the City Council.

On November 4th, we experienced a breakthrough in our history as a nation. We elected the first African American president of the United States of America. With this exceptional act, we turned a corner in our history as a nation and helped to realize the dream of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A dream in which a person would not be judged by the color of their skin but, by the content of their character.

As if this accomplishment was not enough, the character of President-elect Barack Obama and his vision for our nation have given birth to a new found spirit of hope and optimism. A spirit has been enkindled in our nation which we have not experienced since the election of the JFK.

We need to draw strength, inspiration and courage from this new spirit of hope and optimism because on that same night of November 4th, something unworthy of the spirit of America happened with the passage of Proposition 8: a hateful law. In the tradition of the Nuremberg laws and Jim Crow laws, a slim majority of the electorate of our state was manipulated by what is arguably one of the most deceptive and unethical election campaigns in recent memory.

And yet, something remarkable has happened in the wake of this attempt to enshrine discrimination in our state’s constitution. Across our communities, our state and our nation, people have poured out onto the streets, campuses, civic centers, and government centers to voice their support for equal rights. I was privileged to participate in Sabbath services at Kol Ami synagogue here in West Hollywood on Friday evening. After the services, a woman who had been at Stonewall came up to me and said: “This is a second Stonewall.’ The movement has begun.

The Spanish mystic, Theresa of Avila once observed that: “God writes straight with crooked lines.” I believe that what is happening now is an illustration of that wisdom. Perhaps, losing on this proposition initiative is precisely the catalyst that our community needed to energize us and give us a renewed strength and vision. Those who would strip us of our rights and human dignity are quick to invoke their idealized social order and the name of God. Whether racists of 40 years ago, or the bigots of today, they have unwittingly pushed us too far and have given life to a new movement. We will fight harder than ever before; we shall overcome.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

keith olbermann

An eloquent and powerful editorial on the subject of same sex marriage.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Vatican shell game.

The Associated Press published an insightful article by Frances D'Emilio on 30 October 2008. The article begins by a citation "Vatican City" and proceeds to discuss new announced screening guidelines for priests. The article states:

"The church said it issued the new guidelines to help church leaders weed out candidates with 'psychopathic disturbances.' The scandals have rocked the church in recent years, triggering lawsuits that have cost hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said the Vatican needs to go beyond screening seminarians to end what the group calls the church's 'virtually unchanged culture of secrecy and unchecked power in the hierarchy' that left dangerous priests in parishes.

A 2005 Vatican document said men with 'deep seated' homosexual tendencies shouldn't be ordained, but those with a 'transitory problem' could become priests if they had overcome them for three years.

The new guidelines reflect the earlier teaching, stressing that if a future priest shows 'deep seated homosexual tendencies,' his seminary training 'would have to be interrupted."

The above, are quotes from the more lengthy article. But, what the article reveals is the strategy of the hierarchy, at least those in the Vatican, to play a sort of "shell game" with the pedophilia sex scandal. They begin by announcing new psychological screening guidelines for seminarians. Sounds good, so far. Then they speak about "psychopathic disturbances" OK, most everyone would agree that pedophilia falls in this category, it is listed as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. But then, the guidelines suddenly switch gears and introduce the issue of homosexuality.

Pedophilia is a mental disorder. It has ZERO to do with the gender or the sexual orientation of the pedophile. What it has to do with is that an adult suffers from an impulsive mental disorder in which he/she engages in sexual relationships with minors. There are both male and female pedophiles, there are both heterosexual and homosexual pedophiles. The issue is pedophilia not gender or orientation. So, why mix the two subjects in these new guidelines?

Certainly, the Vatican officials who created these new guidelines are aware of these psychological distinctions. The simple truth is that any organization which works with children will draw its share of pedophiles. Be it a school district, a scouting troop, a youth program, it stands to reason that pedophiles will be drawn to professions and circumstances which grant them exposure to children. The church sex scandal was not about the fact that some pedophiles made it into the ranks of the priesthood and abused children. It was about the fact that bishops who became aware of these pedophiles covered up their crimes and moved them around in an attempt to protect the institution from scandal and lawsuits.

So, now, in a new guideline, that whole subject is again side stepped and homosexuals are being set up as the scapegoat for the institution. It was just those dirty homosexuals if, we got rid of them, there would never have been a problem in the first place. Well, not so if you believe psychologists or the Survivors Network. The truth is that most pedophiles are heterosexual and that most pedophilia is incestuous. The myth that most pedophiles are homosexual is socially comforting because, it gives the illusion that it is "those" people outside of our family who are a danger. When in fact, it is usually a family member who, is probably heterosexual who is the most likely predator. While it is true that in the case of the church sex scandals, most pedophiles were homosexual, the bottom line remains that this is a mental disorder not directly associated with sexual orientation.

A pedophile, is after all, an adult who seeks out and has sexual liaisons with minors. When you look at the educational system used by the church to train priests, a disturbing specter begins to emerge from the mist. Minor seminaries. Young adolescents were enrolled into minor seminaries starting their studies for the priesthood at 13 and 14 years of age. They were inserted into an all male environment, not permitted to date and effectively stunted in their psycho sexual development. They became, though never intended as such, pedophile factories. The irony is, that most of these High School Seminaries had closed by the time that the sex scandal exploded.

Needless to say, this is a huge embarrassment to the hierarchy and also constitutes a question of legal liability. As they state: triggering lawsuits that have cost hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements." So, introducing the question of homosexuality into the guidelines seems very suspect indeed. There is no psychological basis for doing so, and it seems to be but a diversion of responsibility from the hierarchy to a scapegoat minority group.

Monday, November 10, 2008

4 Nov. wasn't the end but, the beginning of the battle.

In 1976 I exercised my right to vote for the very first time. In the subsequent decades which have followed, sometimes the individuals and propositions I voted for won, sometimes they lost. After each election, win or lose, life continued. Everyone went back to their jobs and families and we went forward as a society. This time, something different is happening. Those who supported "yes" on Proposition 8 are asking why we don't simply accept the election results and "move on."

The answer is rather simple. This was not about a political party wining or losing. This was not about a position on taxes, redistricting, or a school board bond issue. This was a referendum issue which REMOVED, TOOK AWAY, A CIVIL RIGHT FROM A MINORITY IN OUR SOCIETY. This has a pejorative, direct, and personal effect on a large swath of our state's citizens and on the lives of their children, family members and friends. This issue is not simply going to go away because, we are not simply going to go away.

It was heartening to see the Governor come out so supportive for us in the Los Angeles Times article. He has encouraged us not to give up, to keep on fighting. In an interview Sunday on CNN, he stated: "I think that we will again maybe undo that, if the court is willing to do that, and then move forward from there and again lead in that area." He has let us know that we will prevail.

Upon losing to the Labour Party in 1945 Winston Churchill was comforted with the words: "This is a blessing in disguise." He quipped: "Then, it is very well disguised indeed." The blessing in disguise here, is that we have discovered who our real friends are in the battle for equality and justice. Our enemies have unmasked themselves and for all of their polished words, and feigned concern, we now clearly see them for what they truly are and their malicious intent is now clearly evident.

This referendum also served as a wake up call for same sex couples, the whole gay and lesbian community, and for our families and friends. Had we won on Tuesday, we might have slipped into a comfortable and self satisfied mentality that California was our "safe zone." Having lost, we realize that until equality comes in all fifty states, we are all of us at risk. The very forces that gathered to attack us here must be confronted and defeated nationally. That means, that the battle for California is only the first of many battle yet to be fought.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The struggle continues.

On Wednesday 5 November, there was a protest march which ran through West Hollywood, CA. On Thursday 6 November there was another protest march on the Mormon Temple in Los Angeles. Today, 7 November there will be a protest rally in front of City Hall in Palm Springs, CA. On Sunday 9 November there will be a protest march on the State's Capitol in Sacramento at 1 PM. Other protest marches are occurring in San Francisco and throughout the state. This is reminiscent of the tumultuous times of 1968.

On the evening of 4 April 1968, while he was standing on a balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. That it turn prompted mass civil disobedience by African Americans throughout America. The assassination of Dr. King was not simply the assassination of one person, it was an attempted assassination of hope. Hope that America could fulfill her mission and be an inclusive society with liberty and justice for ALL.

The decision by 52% of the electorate of California to deny equality for ALL this past week, was also an attempted assassination of hope. Hope that our State was somehow, better than that. That we would not vote for discrimination. That we would stand with minorities in our society and protect their rights. That did not happen. As in 1968, the forces of bigotry, hatred and smug supremacy prevailed. Then, this prompted an out pouring onto the nation's streets of those who were oppressed by an unjust majority. That is happening now again. Dr. King once observed that: "A riot is the voice of the unheard." Unlike then, violence has thus far thankfully been averted.

Many in society in 1968 hoped that African Americans would simply calm down and that society would return to "business as usual" once the blacks were put back in their place. I'm sure that many of those who voted "yes" on Prop 8, as well as the Architects and chief patrons of Prop 8, hope that once the "fags" calm down, it will also be "business as usual". Well, it wasn't the case in 1968 and it is not the case now.

So, where do we go now? Now, is a time for those who voted NO on Prop. 8 to do several things.

Here's a starter list:

1) Find out what business gave money to "yes" on Prop 8 and cease doing business with them. Ask your friends and families to boycott those businesses. This includes not only corporations but, Realtors, contractors, lawn services, any business, no matter how small. Send them an economic NO when you use one of their competitors, send them a copy of the receipt and let them know this is business you would have given to them if not for their bigotry.

2) If you are a Catholic who's parish actively supported "yes" on Prop 8, here are some things you can do. Do not put your contribution into the collection basket at Mass. The collection is assessed (taxed) by the bishop. In my Diocese, the tax amounts to 17%. That means that 17 cents of every dollar you put into the basket goes to the bishop. Instead, make out a check to your parish and drop it by the church office as a "special gift." If the bishop starts taxing "special gifts" then, offer the parish to pay for part of the utilities bill, etc. with your check made payable directly to the appropriate company. Thus by passing church hands altogether. In this way, you help your parish and send the bishops a message. Oh, don't forget to write your bishop a letter and let him know that a) you are doing this, b) why and c) that this will continue until a public apology is issued for having supported "yes" on Prop 8.

3) Press your bishop continually and publicly about equal employment protection and domestic partnership health benefits for gay/lesbian church employees.

4) Do not donate to Diocesan Appeal campaigns but, only to funds with restricted application. For example, a hospital, an orphanage, a school, etc.

Any other suggestions? Let me know and I'll be happy to pass them along. As one reader said, this is not over. It won't be over until we have liberty and justice for ALL.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Equal rights! The chant filled the night in LA.

Tonight, I was in West Hollywood at the Pacific Design Center on the corner of San Vincente and Santa Monica Blvd. Thousands of people gathered and marched up to Sunset Blvd. and from there to Crescent Heights and from there back to Santa Monica Blvd. People came out of shops and restaurants and cheered. They joined in the march. The streets were packed with marchers, the energy was palpable. The forces of repression may well have done something of a favor for our community. They may have ignited a new passion and sense of purpose.

Tomorrow, we were invited to demonstrate in front of the Mormon Temple on Santa Monica Blvd. a group that has pumped tens of millions of dollars into California to write their religious views into our State's Constitution. Lest, I be accused of partiality, perhaps a visit to the Catholic Cathedral of Los Angeles should be next. For those unfamiliar with the history of the twentieth century, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna encouraged Catholics to vote "YES" for the union of Austria to Hitler's Third Reich in 1938. Another, disturbing example of bishops playing politics.

The following message is from one of our readers, I felt compelled to share it with everyone as a post:

"There's still MORE good news to note at this point amid the loss - the California Attorney General has stated that the passage of Prop 8 does NOT invalidate the same-sex marriages that already have taken place in California, and he's said he is ready to defend that stance in court if pressed. So, supposedly we have the State of California on our side.

The lawsuit that you mention has been filed by Lambda Legal, along with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the ACLU on behalf of Equality California and six same-sex couples.

If any of your readers aren't familiar with these non-profit groups, they should look them up - they are tirelessly and relentlessly fighting for our rights within the legal system, not only marriage rights, but adoption, child custody, school discrimination, job security and more. Let's talk family values, shall we?

The men and women within their ranks who are working on cases like these are the unsung heroes who still need our continued support.

So, not only do we have time and momentum on our side, we've got folks like this fighting for us on the inside, too.

It ain't over yet."

If your parish promoted "yes on 8" perhaps, you could take your normal weekly contribution and send it to one of the aforementioned organizations. Replace your normal contribution with a note in your weekly offering envelope explaining that you will continue to do this until, a public apology is made from the pulpit to gay and lesbian parishioners and their families.

We lost a battle, we won some battles and the struggle continues.

52% yes, 48% no. A week ago I was on an evening news show with a fundamentalist minister who stated that they (the "yes" side) were leading by 9 points. He made this erroneous claim in answer to an observation which I made on that program. I had cited that in 2000 the proposition then, to limit marriage only to heterosexual persons, won by 61% and that this time the percentages were far closer almost 50/50.

In the past eight years, the population of California has moved from opposing same sex marriages, from 61% to 52%. And that, with the "yes on 8" side spending the lion's share of seventy three million ($73,000,000.00) dollars. Much of this came from donations to non-profit religious organizations. In many cases, the intent of the original donors of those funds may have may have been set aside by the leadership of the various religious organizations. I've already had several Catholics tell me that they gave money to help in charitable endeavors and not to pay for a political campaign. They have informed me, they'll remember this when asked to donate in the future and when/if they give, it will be "directed" or "earmarked" giving, i.e., for specific projects, or defined purposes.

Equally disturbing, were some of the outright deceptions engaged in by "yes on 8" partisans. For example, automated phone calls targeting African Americans in which the voice of Barack Obama was imitated. In these "robocalls" the person imitating Obama's voice asked people to vote "yes on 8". A position which the real, now President-elect Obama opposed. He was in favor of NO on Proposition 8. Beyond this, there was a letter which was extortionist in its tone. It demanded that companies which had donated to "NO on 8" pay the "yes on 8" campaign an equal amount of money or, else they would be targeted for economic retribution. Are these "sour grapes"? No, they simply are a review of facts. What is done, is done; however, it will now be undone.

This morning, an injunction was filed with the courts to prevent this measure from taking effect. This is the beginning of a legal battle which will probably end before the same justices of our State Supreme Court who, only a few months ago, ruled in favor of same sex marriage. Time is also on our side. As I mentioned earlier, only 8 years ago, fairness lost by a margin of 11% of the electorate voting against equal treatment under the law. Then, those in favor of legal discrimination were not nearly as well financed as they were this time and yet, this time they only managed to win by a 2% margin. In a few years, we will be positioned to overturn yesterday's results in a future referendum.

More good news, this cost the opposition HUGE amounts of money and human resources. Money and resources which they do not now have to fight us elsewhere. There is also a new administration in Washington DC which will probably repeal some of the faith based initiatives of Bush & Co. The new government will appoint more sympathetic judges. The question of persons with same sex orientation serving in the Armed Forces will probably be revisited.

Still, more good news, in New York state, the state senate is now in the hands of the Democratic Party. The out going senate, which was controlled by Republicans, effectively blocked passage of same sex marriage legislation which had been approved by that state's lower house and which the Governor was prepared to sign into law. So, this now clears the way for New York to pass this legislation. Yes, we lost the battle for proposition 8 in yesterday's election but, the war for equality and fairness continues. Battles are lost by victors in every war.

Last night, after it was announced that Barack Obama was elected President, the press interviewed an elderly African American man who had fought for equal treatment under the law in the 1960's. The journalist asked him if he ever thought he'd see the day when an African American would be elected President of the United States of America. The elderly man paused and stated: Back then, we were just fighting for the right to sit at the same lunch counter and drink out of the same water fountain. My grandfather was lynched by a mob, we were attacked by the KKK. I never imagined I'd live to see this day.

There were many battles lost on the way to greater liberty and justice for all, others were won. We lost a battle yesterday, by a very narrow margin. This is a time to lick our wounds, learn from our mistakes and redirect our wounded sense of justice to fight twice as hard to obtain justice. We lost a battle in California, we won a battle in New York. We've elected a new national government with a thirst for justice. We will prevail again in California and in our Nation. We will join many other people in Europe, Canada and South Africa were discrimination is now illegal. We shall overcome!

Monday, November 3, 2008

With Liberty and Justice for All?

On Saturday 1 November I attended an ecumenical prayer service which was held at Saint John's Episcopal Cathedral in Los Angeles, California. Present at that beautiful event which gave witness of God's all embracing love, were various clergy. It reminded me of the fact that as we draw closer to the God of us all, who is love, we are drawn closer to each other. At one point a same sex parent spoke of a recent conversation held with their adopted daughter. The girl became upset when she saw a car pass by with a "Yes on 8" bumper sticker. She said: They shouldn't be allowed to put that out in public. The parent patiently explained that we live in a democracy and that everyone has a right to express their opinion, as long as they don't hurt anyone. The girl thought for a moment and said: but, they are hurting someone, they're hurting our family!

From the mouth of babes! My grandmother used to say that small children and drunks never lie. I cannot think of a more powerful way of expressing what tomorrow's vote means. It is about safeguarding the rights of all families in our state. It is about protecting our constitution from being altered to enshrine bigotry. It is about protecting all of our citizens from having to live in fear. From having to suffer discrimination. From having to defend their existence in the face of condescension and sometimes, outright hatred and physical hostility. We're better than that. We're voting for that little girl, for her family and for all Californians.

On Sunday 2 November I attended a rally in front of City Hall in Fresno, California. For those of you unfamiliar with that part of our state, it is a very politically and socially conservative area. The bullet proof vest which I was lent by homeland security reminded me that there are still school yard bullies. Cowards who attack those they think are weaker or, who challenge their own insecurities. I received an E-mail that a local "yes on 8" minister was going to release this congregation from services early so, that they could infiltrate and disrupt the rally, I mused: Is that what Jesus would do? It was a sunny and beautiful day and over 1,000 very motivated No on Prop 8 people stood in front of the podium. A podium which I was privileged to share with many wonderful dignitaries including the granddaughter of the late Cesar Chavez, Cristina. The infiltrators never showed up. Shakespeare said: "The brave man dies but, once. The coward dies one thousand deaths."

I had the opportunity to enjoy a conversation with Cristina while we were waiting our respective turns to speak. If it wasn't for Cesar Chavez, many of the few rights and protections now afforded to migrant workers in California would not exist. We recalled the time in our national history when people like the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez were seen as subversive. When they were told: "This is how things have always been." Cristina said, that if her grandfather were alive today, that he would be working for NO on Proposition 8. That he always championed the cause of any person or, minority group that found itself being attacked. There was a lot of hatred directed at Dr. King and Cesar Chavez a few decades ago. Some people still resent them today. But, their courageous stand moved our nation a little closer to making good on our Pledge of Allegiance: "with liberty and justice for ALL.'

PLEASE, join with us tomorrow on Election Day. Please, vote NO on Proposition 8. There will be long lines at the polls tomorrow. Expect to wait 90 minutes or even 2 hours at some locations, before you get to vote. Go with friends and family. Make it part of a day together. Invite neighbors and co-workers.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A question from a reader.

Father, that was a lovely sermon, but I feel like there's something missing. Your own illustrations suggest that the first place most of us learn love is from our parents. What are we to make then, of a spousal relationship that is, of its nature, unable to produce children?

I know that there are infertile heterosexual couples whose love is also unable to produce children.

And I know that adoptive parents love their children every bit as much as biological parents love theirs.

But I don't think that's enough of a response. I think there's a real theological question to grapple with here--namely, what is the purpose of marriage and sex? And I don't think that we can, of our own accord, forcibly divorce the procreative purpose from the unitive purpose. We would as well remove our souls from our bodies--as if those were two different things.

I don't hate gay people. My aunt and godmother is gay and I love her. And I love the child -- my cousin -- that her partner gave birth to and she adopted. He is as much my cousin as the biological children of any of my other aunts.

But I just can't see how a relationship that cannot produce children, and is not even of the sort that produces children, is a marriage. Please help me to understand your reasoning.

God bless you -- you are in my prayers.

Ben asks a very sincere and authentic question. I believe one which deserves a considered answer. First, if you were to enter the sacristy of your local parish church and access the Rite of Marriage book which is authorized by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, you would discover something interesting in the marriage rite. All references to children are contained in red parenthesis. Why? So that the bishop, priest or deacon officiating at the wedding may easily omit such references in the case of a couple which is past "child bearing years". Obviously, it would appear absurd to include such references for a couple, say in their mid sixties. The Church marries people who cannot reproduce and has done so for centuries.

Why? The answer to this is rather obvious. Not all married couples will produce children. Are their marriages any less valid? The practice of the Church clearly suggest that the answer is that their marriages are equally valid. That some couples will not reproduce does not spell the end of the human race. Don't worry, God will bless many marriages with children.

The other question which is raised here is the purpose of sex. This is a great question. Obviously, one of the purposes of sex is reproduction; however, if marriage is permitted for couples who are incapable of reproduction and the Church currently does permit such marriages then, the Church also tacitly admits that there must be some other reason for sex other than reproduction. If this were not the case then, sex for females past the age of menopause would be considered "sinful." This "other" reason is called unitive by theologians.

The unitive end of sex, as the name suggests is a bonding. A tender union of the two people. Incidentally, this gives us a new insight into sex. It is good. It is not to be feared. It is not shameful. It was designed by the Creator. Whether the sex produces physical life or not, it may contribute to a union of love and life, which is the very definition of marriage. Heterosexual couples in their "golden years" understand this so too, do same sex couples.

So, if this is all true for heterosexual couples incapable of physical reproduction then, why would it be untrue of same sex couples who are equally incapable of physical reproduction?

I want to thank Ben for his question. Remember, the traditional definition of theology, is faith seeking understanding. Since theology is the study of God, we will never fully know God but, asking honest questions is a way of coming to know God better.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What about the children!?!?

To anyone who grew up in the 1960's, we remember the violent convulsions of that period in our national history. The riots after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The water canons and the dogs loosed on people fighting for equal treatment under the law and in society. The image of Governor Wallace standing at the entrance of a school, attempting to physically block an African American from entering. To anyone who lived through that period the words: "What about the children?" are a chilling through back, the last attempt by those who want to deny equal treatment under the law.

Then, it was a cynical or, ignorant attempt to create a sense of guilt in those asking for equal treatment under the law. After all, what would the prospects be for a child of mixed race? Think of the discrimination they would have to suffer. Stop being so selfish, you should sacrifice your own personal happiness "for the children." Of course, when we think back to those days now, we see through these "arguments" as simply a last refuge for bigots or, individuals so blinded by the bigotry of their day that they fail to see the inherent injustice in such claims. We know that there are many children raised by single parents, grandparents, same sex couples. We know that what is truly important is that a child be raised with love and care. The Proponents of Prop 8 know this too, but, they choose to focus on the genitalia rather than on the hearts of parents/guardians.

Today, the proponents of Proposition 8 are guilty of the same tactics employed by bigots forty years ago. Ironically, it is they themselves who continually claim that Proposition 8 is about "marriage". No where in the wording of Prop 8 are children mentioned at all. Yet, proponents have seized upon this issue in an attempt to generate fear in voters. They try to accomplish this in two ways.

First, as my own bishop wrote in his "pastoral" letter for July "they will brainwash your children". The idea here is that somehow, gay and lesbian persons 1) can change some one's orientation and, 2) that gay and lesbian persons will be able to use the public education system to accomplish this mass "conversion".

The first point is, of course, ludicrous. Psychology informs us that orientation is not "a choice." For more detailed information on this, please visit: Most of us discover our orientation at the time we go through puberty. One of the greatest fears that young gay and lesbian adolescents have at that point in their lives is that, their orientation will cause them to be rejected by the people that they love most--their family. So, most of these adolescents try to "pass" as straight, in effect to lie. This in turn, leads to self hatred which is why 33% of adolescents with same sex orientation will seriously consider suicide. The idea that an adolescent would "choose" this is a contradiction of both science and common sense.

The second point, is simply untrue. The State Superintendent of Schools has attested to this and the California Teacher's Association has endorsed voting for NO on Prop 8. Marriage is not required to be taught by the State of California. Local school boards decide what the content of Health classes will be in California. Any parent or, legal guardian can opt to remove their child from Health class if, they object to the content of the class based on either religious or, moral grounds. Proposition 8 proponents have deliberately spread inaccurate information, citing examples from Massachusetts. They know that California's laws are not the same as Massachusetts but, they're interested in winning not in the truth. They point to a primary grade field trip, where the students attended a same sex couple's wedding ceremony. They fail to mention that EVERY student at that event had to produce a signed permission slip from their parent/legal guardian to attend that ceremony. They know the law, it is merely inconvenient for them to state the full truth so, they don't.

So, why have the proponents of Prop 8 made this such an issue? Because, fear works in elections. No matter that it is irrational, no matter that it is deceptive, no matter that it is unethical. It works. Considering that Proponents of Prop 8 claim to be acting in the name of God and morality, one has to ask: How does violating one of the ten commandments of God accomplish that? How does using children as a prop to deceive people advance morality? I guess they've decided that the end justifies the means.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A wedding sermon.

Since Proposition 8 is intended to take away the right of same sex couples to marriage, it is important to consider exactly what marriage involves. I've decided to post a typical wedding homily which contains the matrimonial instruction required by the Church.

Francis and Lee, you've come here this afternoon in the company of your family, your relatives and friends to say what are arguably the most solemn and important words which you will ever speak. They are among the most solemn because, in a few moments, you will make vows to God. When such vows are made in true freedom and with full knowledge and consent, they touch our very souls and affect our eternal destiny. You are also about to exchange a series of promises with each other which will place your two lives on a parallel trajectory throughout the remainder of your lives.

Now, all of these people who know you, some of them from the time you were small children, could scratch their heads in wonder and ask: Why would anyone do that?!? Why would anyone make such vows to God or, make such life changing promises to another person?!? The answer that comes immediately to mind is, of course, love. The reason why someone would be so willing to make such a life commitment is love. But, what exactly is love? You find that word in the lyrics of almost every song, in great works of literature and popular novels. It is found in every culture, language and in every age of history. But, exactly what is love?

In our society, the most common understanding of love, is that it is a very deep and powerful feeling. The difficulty of this understanding of love, is that no one chooses their feelings. No one wakes up in the morning and decides: Today I'll be sad. Feelings are like the tide, that enters and recedes without any one's permission. And so, to predicate one's whole life based on a "feeling" would be crazy. Who is to say I'll feel that way in four months or five years?

It is true, there are very powerful feelings deeply intertwined with love; however, love is far more than merely a "feeling". Love is a choice. A choice made in freedom. To place another human being and his/her needs on par with your own and perhaps, even above your own. A beautiful example of this can be found in the persons of your parents who are here with you today. There were many times, during your infancy, when one of them got up out of a warm bed in the middle of the night to take care of your needs. There were countless times, when the alarm clock sounded and they got up out of bed and went to work so, that you'd have a plate at the table, a roof over your head and clothes on your back. That's love. Nothing fancy. Just ordinary people who chose to be there with and for each other. To help shoulder the burdens of life and, to share its joys and laughter. In the first letter of John (4:16) it states: God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God in them. In the book of Genesis (1:26) it states that God made us in his image. When we chose to love, it is at precisely that moment, that we most perfectly reflect the image of God in our world. It is at that very moment when we are at our best, our most noble. It is no small thing that causes you to speak these words here today and to enter into marriage.

Just as there exist misconceptions regarding the nature of love in our society, so too, there exist misconceptions regarding the nature of marriage. One of the most common is that marriage is a partnership, a fifty/fifty deal. The absurdity of this concept can be seen when it is applied to other human relationships. Friendships, for example, are rarely a 50/50 relationship. There are times in a friendship when our friend needs our help. Sometimes that means an understanding ear. Sometimes it means a pickup truck and a day's work to move them. Sometimes it means money. The beauty of a friendship is, that when we are in need, our friends are there for us as well. If this is true of friendship, then how could it not be untrue of marriage, which is the most intimate relationship that two people enjoy in this life?

Your marriage will seldom, if ever be a 50/50 deal. There will be times and periods in your life where it may be 70/30. There may be a time when it is 100/0 if, you doubt that take a drive to a nearby hospital and realize that for every patient in that hospital, their other half is at home holding down the fort and paying the bills. There may come a time in your marriage, when you believe that more is being demanded of you than you can possibly deliver. If that moment should come, pause and take some time in prayer to God, to the one to whom you make these vows this day. In that time of spiritual communion, God will remind you of the words that Our Lord said in the Gospel (John 15:16): "It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose you to go forth and bear fruit." As people of faith we believe that about marriage. That God has called you Francis for Lee and you Lee for Francis. That as spouses you have a responsibility to each other and to God. To help each other achieve their potential in this life and in eternity. This means building each other up. It also will mean, at times, challenging each other with love and prudence. So that 25 or 50 years from now, when you look back at all of the trials and hardships of the years, they will evaporate like the dew before the glory of the morning sun and you will realize that you enjoy the greatest happiness that Divine mercy has bestowed upon us in this lifetime.

The courts and protection of minority rights.

In a public comment, bishop Steinbock stated: “Proposition 8 is not about homosexuals and their rights.” I had to read that twice, that is EXACTLY what Proposition 8 is about. Proposition 8 if approved by California voters would take away the civil right to marry from same sex couples. In his actual “pastoral” letter for July, the bishop referenced the State Supreme Court decision and compared the court to the Nazi and Communist regimes. We have also heard the courts derided by others in our society. “Activist Judges” is a derisive term often employed by people in positions of power who are displeased the courts act as a curb to their power. Ironically, when our own State Assembly passed a bill authorizing same sex marriage, the governor refused to sign it and stated that it was an issue best resolved by the courts. Our own bishop, in his “pastoral” stated that it was by a slim margin that the court made this decision. I don’t recall him once complaining when the courts ruled in favor of the Church in civil cases, even if it was by a slim margin.

The judicial branch of government is there to protect everyone's rights. An independent judiciary is essential to safe guard minority rights from the tyranny of majority power. If it were not for our judiciary, African Americans and Hispanics would not enjoy employment protection laws, equal housing laws and other rights which were non-existent and would have been thought impossible just two generations ago. Inter-racial marriage would still be illegal in California. In the 1960’s had these issues been decided by popular vote instead of by the courts, these minority groups would not have been given their civil rights and the human dignity that was denied them by society at the time.

The bishop stated, in his letter of suspension: “Your statement contradicted the teaching of the Catholic Church and has brought scandal to your parish community as well as the whole Church.” A scandal is not created by speaking the truth. The real "scandal" is placing impossibly heavy burdens on the faithful, faulting them for an act of the Creator in having created them with same sex orientation and then, not lifting a finger to help them. The traditional definition of theology is: “faith seeking understanding.” The idea that theology is a “done deal” is absurd. In the area of bioethics alone, theologians and the Church can’t even keep up with new developments in science. Psychology and neurology also have offered us considerable new insights into same sex orientation in the last generation. The Church itself has officially stated, that there are “homosexuals who are such because of some kind of innate instinct.” This begs additional commentary by the Church and ultimately these new understandings should be translated into pastoral practices. We are required to teach and guide those entrusted to our care by God. Jesus himself stated: I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth (John 16:12-13).

My “sin” was not to hold the position, which I hold, nor, was it even to voice it. What I stated represents current thought on this issue by many theologians, pastors and some bishops. My sin was to voice it publicly. Why is that such a big deal? Because, it represents a “crack in the dam” if, one lowly pastor in Fresno can state something contrary to the official party line today then, tomorrow it could be several priests or, God forbid, even a bishop or, two. Privately, in the ballot box on Election Day, most priests, most nuns and several bishops will vote NO on Proposition 8. Most of these people involved in pastoral ministry will do this because, like me, they know it is the right thing to do. Perhaps, fifty years from now, the “official” churchmen will.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Someday, people will disbelieve that we had to fight for simple human rights!

Well, I must admit its been a busy week.

On Tuesday, as you may know, I had the privilege of attending the Woman's Empowerment Conference. I still smile as I think of the moment when I had the privilege of meeting our Governor, who incidentally is opposed to Prop 8. along with a host of notable persons who, I never in my wildest dreams thought that I'd ever be introduced to. Why is this important? Well, because all of them are in our corner, all of them understand that Prop 8 is essentially about bigotry. They know that Prop 8 is wrong and that we should vote NO on Prop 8.

Forty years ago, the people who were opposed to white people marrying black people used the very same oppressive arguments that are being used today by the "yes" on Prop 8 side: "What about the children?". The irony, of course, is that the child of a mixed race marriage, Barack Obama, will probably be the next President of the United States! The "yes" on 8 people, like their racist predecessors, realize that their arguments are both morally and intellectually bankrupt and so, they resort to emotionalism and an irrational fear which represent the most base within each of us. These very same people who invoke morality are not above deception in order to secure an immoral victory. They themselves offend God by manipulating children in advertisements to violate one of the 10 Commandments of God to not bear false witness against your neighbor.

On Friday night, I took part in a live debate on Fox 11.

You can watch it here:

And on Sunday, I was interviewed by Steve Lopez of the LA Times.

You can check it out here

And Please, Donate to No on Prop 8 if you can. Large amounts of money are being poured into California from all over the United States of America. Fundamentalists, the leaderships of the LDS (Mormons), the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic Organization) and millions of others, are using funds. Funds which should be used to help feed the hungry, house the homeless and give a future to orphans. These funds have been appropriated to perpetuate bigotry and oppress a minority in the name of an all compassionate God. In this, they add insult to injury. They Blaspheme the very God who they falsely claim to serve. They become servants of evil in the name of good. They drive people away from God and preach hatred in the name of God, who is love.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A cell phone call before breakfast.

On Wednesday morning, as I was driving to the Woman's Empowerment Conference in Long Beach, California; my cell phone rang. I didn't recognize the telephone number which was displayed but, that's not all that unusual for me these days. So, I answered the phone and to my surprise, it was Bishop Gene Robinson.

Bishop Robinson for those of you who may be unfamiliar with his story, enjoys the singular distinction of being the first openly gay man to be consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church. Not unlike the story of the first violinist at the New York Philharmonic Orchestra who took ill and the post was given to a guest violinist. The guest violinist was apprehensive about her new responsibility. Turning to the second violinist she asked, "When do I start playing?" The second violinist answered reassuringly, "Don't worry, just don't be the first."
Being first, is always disconcerting, if not outright frightening, because there is no precedent. You are breaking new ground; you are breaking the established norms and rules. Many people will take exception to what you've done, and will throw everything at you to discredit you. They will vilify you and make an example of you to serve as a warning to others. If you manage to pull it off, to break through, to open a new door; you will be a trail blazer, a pioneer, and a visionary. 

Bishop Gene took all of those risks. His family and his partner stood with him in the sanctuary on the day of his consecration. They heard the hurtful, hateful things said by some during his consecration liturgy. Bishop Gene opened a brave new door for gay and lesbian people that day. He continues to weather attacks and insults from members of his world wide communion. With the sustaining love of his family and his partner he continues to serve both God, the Church and humanity in the face of bigotry, opposition and hatred. Through his courage, fifty years from now, others will not have to suffer what he has suffered. The Church will have healed and grown because of Bishop Gene's self-sacrifice. Bishop Gene is a hero for me and a living testament of the human spirit's strength to overcome fear, and the hatred it generates, through the power of love. 

My wristwatch informed me that it was a long conversation with Gene Robinson; but to me, it brief . We spoke of the difficulties facing both the world-wide Anglican communion and the Roman Catholic Church. Both faiths, are international in character and both have the majority of their membership residing in the Third World. While these Third World societies are culturally vibrant, they suffer economic poverty. Sub-Saharan Africa has been socially and economically devastated by the AIDS epidemic. Inter-tribal wars have claimed countless lives and economic colonialism has kept many of these newly created nations impoverished. In addition, these societies tend to lack basic social infrastructures such as adequate health care, social services, and education. As a result of their exploitation, they are suspicious of any new social insights introduced by foreign sources. 

When fighting to survive, innovation is a gamble you cannot afford to lose. The fruit of this colonial legacy is that the indigenous bishops are resistant to any new ideas that come from these former colonial powers, which have a history of subjugating them.  It is the Anglican bishops of these nations that have so vociferously protested Bishop Gene's consecration. The "idea" of an openly gay bishop with a partner is unacceptable because it adds another stress to a society that already finds itself at the breaking point. Of course, these same bishops take exception to women being ordained as deacons and priests (let alone consecrated bishops) for the very same reason. 

This presents a moral quandary for the universal Church. Which course do you take?  Do you risk losing members from more developed societies, or from developing societies? Do you ask for continued, perhaps lifetime, sacrifices from some to calm the fears and apprehensions of others? What is just, what is sensible, what is the best way to proceed?

What does begin to emerge from all of these questions is that the argument against both the ordination of women and the acceptance of those with same sex orientation is far more sociological than theological in its nature. Perhaps, this why the late Pope John Paul II forbade the subject of the ordination of women from being discussed in universities. While such repression may temporarily delay discussion and debate, it does not resolve the underlying issues and simply contributes to a future cataclysmic confrontation and possible schism. 

All of this took place on a cell phone conversation on a drive to an event before breakfast with a most extraordinary person who is a personal hero and inspiration to me: Bishop Gene Robinson. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

We are not alone! We are fighting for our rights and those of future generations.

I had the pleasure today of attending the Women's Empowerment Conference in Long Beach, California. I found myself munching on some food, looked up and saw Madeleine Albright at the table next to me. I stood next to an environmental vehicle display and found myself shaking hands with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is opposed to a constitutional ban on same sex marriage. I walked with Bobby Shriver, heard about his wonderful work with Red, a product line that helps AIDS patients. He was also very supportive of NO on Prop. 8. I had the honor of sitting next to Maria Shriver, our State's First Lady and hearing of her personal support for NO on Proposition 8. I met with the Benedictine Nun, Sr. Joan Chittister and heard of her support for NO on Proposition 8. I met with the famous feminist, Gloria Steinem and heard of her support of NO on Proposition 8. I was interviewed by the Washington and then, appeared on the Peter B. Collins Radio show with Rev. Susan Russell of All Saints Episcopal Church to discuss NO on Proposition 8. 

Had any ONE of these things happened today, I would have considered today exceptional. However, all of these things happened in one day and it seemed totally unreal. The fact that so many remarkable and extraordinary individuals are supportive of Equality, Fairness, and Human Rights is both uplifting and hope inspiring. As Melissa Etheridge said at a concert last night which raised nearly 4 million dollars for NO on Prop. 8, one day in the future people will look back at this time and find it hard to believe that some groups attempted to deny same sex couples the right to marry. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Someone recently asked me: "Domestic partnerships are almost the same as marriage, why the need for marriage?"

Under California State law, a heterosexual couple may also enter into a Domestic Partnership. So, try this: Inform your girlfriend that you've decided you'd like to enter into a Domestic Partnership with her, instead of marriage. I am certain that she will be able to explain the HUGE difference between the two realities in a far more forceful and colorful way than, I would ever be able to accomplish.

Just one friendly word of advice from someone who used to play hockey in High School, you should put on an athletic supporter with a protective cup before having the aforementioned conversation with your girlfriend. 

Monday, October 20, 2008

How does taking away the right to marry from same sex couples protect marriage?

Well, it doesn't. Proponents of Proposition 8 are spending more than 28 million dollars to take away the right from same sex couples to marry. They believe that doing this will protect marriage. What would actually protect marriage? 

I recall a conversation I had with a realtor several years ago. She told me that "if it were as difficult to get a marriage license as it is to qualify for a home loan, there would be a heck of a lot less divorces." In light of the current home loan crisis, perhaps lending practices also need to be reconsidered. However, she did make a good point. Having processed countless annulment cases over the years, I and many other priests have been surprised at the lack of due consideration that many couples give to entering marriage. Because of this collective experience, the Catholic Church in the USA has come up with several common sense requirements of couples prior to marriage. In my Diocese some of these include:

1) a minimum four (4) month waiting period after a couple requests marriage before the wedding can take place.

2) during that waiting period the Church requires a minimum of eight (8) hours prenuptial instruction. This usually means attending a weekend seminar (Engaged Encounter) where the couple hear presentations on finance, communication skills, sexuality, family life (including relationships with in-laws), etc. The couples then, are given several reflection questions. They write down their thoughts and feelings in a journal and then, privately exchange those answers with each other. 
At the Newman Center, we also required the couple to have a session with a marriage counselor prior to their wedding.

Now, if that were required by Proposition 8 THEN, they could sincerely claim that it was about "Protecting" or "Restoring" marriage. As written, Prop 8 does nothing, ZERO, to actually help any marriages. It merely takes away the right of same sex couples to marriage and in effect promotes promiscuity in society by unfairly taking marriage away from same sex couples as a real world option. 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Reflections at the end of a long day.

I would like to post more frequently; however, I've been very busy giving interviews, writing for newspapers and doing radio shows. Can you imagine trying to convince other people why racism is wrong? That was the battle fifty years ago. Or, trying to convince folks that women should receive equal pay for equal work? That was the battle forty years ago. Yes, I know, those battles are still being fought but, overall society acknowledges that racism and sexism are wrong.

A friend of mine, who is also a priest, recently heard a mother say of her gay son: I'd rather that he be dead than, that he be gay! Where did that woman get that idea? So much more work still needs to be done. We have to fight hard to keep civil rights. Psychologists suggest that some people would happily subjugate and oppress others, in order to feel powerful in their own lives which they view as impotent. One of the best definitions I've heard for evil came from a psychologist who spoke with the Nazi war criminals during the Nuremberg trials. He concluded that evil, is a lack of empathy for others and the scapegoating of innocent people.

Together we can preserve civil rights and make the world a more loving place.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hero or, an antichrist?

Its not everyday that you are referred to as both a hero and an Antichrist. I am comforted by the statement of Jesus: How I wish that you were hot or cold. I don't particularly feel like a hero, especially after I read the various comments which have been forwarded to me from literally, six continents

I believe the real heroes are the millions of brave men and women who's lives have been trampled upon, who have suffered emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical abuse. Having had the privilege of listening to countless people over the years, I have always been amazed at the capacity that the human heart has to endure suffering. Not merely for a day, a week, a month or a year, but, for decades and in some cases for an entire lifetime. I have had the sad duty of officiating at funeral services for many who found the suffering to be--too much. I have sat with grieving parents, brothers and sisters, children of those who have lost someone they loved. These are the real heroes, the men and women and adolescents who against staggering odds wake up and face each day. Who try to carve out a little niche of love in a sometimes harsh world. Who form communities of acceptance and love in the face of ignorance and hate. 

And the Antichrist? He's the one that convinces people to hate in the name of God.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

LA press conference held on Tuesday 14 October 2008

The following is a statement which I delivered at a Press Conference in Los Angeles at noon today. 

You can be a good and faithful Catholic and vote NO on Proposition 8.

Many priests, nuns  and ordinary Catholics will vote NO on Proposition 8 because they believe that taking away civil rights from same sex couples is wrong and strips them not only of civil rights but, also of basic human dignity. I know this because they have expressed this to me directly.  Many pastors simply refuse to say anything at all on the subject publicly.  Most of my brother priests try to help Catholic same sex couples in the same fashion that they help Catholic heterosexual couples who use contraception or, who have divorced and remarried.  We try to assist these souls in the confessional and in counseling sessions.  We attempt to humanize what can otherwise be impossibly rigid doctrines that crush people or drive them away from the community of faith. 


As an elderly Pastor once told me: “We are not technicians, we work with human lives”.  People are not statistics, they are not a political issue, they are human beings.  Initially, I too simply decided to remain silent. But then, more and more people came to me and asked for guidance on this issue.  At the same time, the Diocese became more and more vocal in its support for Proposition 8 and began to organize lay people to vote yes on 8. 

When I was asked to promote my congregation to vote yes on Proposition 8 I was placed in a position of having to choose between my position and the spiritual and emotional well being of those who I was called to serve.   Theologians such as, St. Thomas Aquinas have taught of the primacy of one’s personal conscience because on the day that you die it will be your conscience that either acquits or condemns you before God. 


In good conscience, I cannot place an impossibly heavy load on the backs of those entrusted to my pastoral care and leave them to fend for themselves as best they can.  The cost of this would be abandonment of faith, possibly of God.  It would probably contribute to isolation, depression and possible despair or, worse (especially for young people). I gave them the advice that most of them would receive privately from most priests, I simply did it openly at the end of Sunday Mass from the pulpit.   


Monday, October 13, 2008

How we do and don't speak of this issue in our seminaries

This following E-mail illustrates the types of discussions which take place in seminaries regarding this issue. The way in which the discussion is handled is as important as the discussion itself.

Scott said...
What you said in your Homily is verbatim to what we learned at Saint Patrick's Seminary from the professor who taught the Second Year Moral Theology course, "Human Sexuality". When I took Jerry's course, I too ran into a conflict. When I voiced what I saw as an obvious inconsistancy, Jerry told me that if I had a problem with Church teaching, that I should come see him in his office. He was Rector at the time. I apologized and stayed silent. I ended up with an "A" in the course because as was said by Scott Ritchey at the time, "Be beige when it comes to expressing your opionion." My "collar is off" to you my friend, a prophet who chose not to be "beige".
October 11, 2008 10:46 AM

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I received this E-mail today. It left me speechless.

John I. said...
Fr. Geoff,Your words resonate far beyond California. My family and I spent Saturday afternoon at the grave side of our gay son and brother. Yesterday would have been his 27th birthday. His Church turned on him viciously, abandoned him; and he ended up taking his own life last year. What a tragic waste of so much talent and promise. You are the kind of priest our seminarian son could have become. He is why what you (and so many other courageous people) do is so important. Be strong and uplifted by many loving hearts! +new Episcopalian in the heartland
October 12, 2008 5:32 AM