Papal weekend through an LGBT lens

Papal weekend through an LGBT lens

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Margie Winters and her spouse Andrea Vettori both ended their speeches at last weekend’s Papal Picnic at John C. Anderson Apartments with a challenge to the Catholic Church to practice the love it preaches.


“The LGBT community stands on the margins of the Church, yearning for and calling for wholeness, inclusion and justice,” said Winters, who was fired as the director of religious education at Waldron Mercy Academy in June because she’s married to a woman.

“Jesus went to the margins and reintegrated those men and women into their communities,” she added. “Pope Francis, will the Church do the same for this community? We hope that you say yes.”

Vettori followed: “We are here to ask Pope Francis and the bishops of the Church to listen to our faith stories and the stories of countless numbers of LGBT [people] and allow the witness of our lives to inform their theology and reform Catholic Church teaching.”

The pair married in 2007, just before Winters was hired at the Catholic school in Lower Merion Township. Administrators knew of the marriage, but it didn’t become a problem until a parent complained.

Winters said she feels new to the LGBT community because she hadn’t previously participated in advocacy efforts. But she thanked everyone for welcoming her and her spouse into the community and elevating the issue of LGBT church workers who lose their jobs. The Human Rights Campaign invited the couple to the welcoming reception for the pope last week in Washington, D.C.

Winters and Vettori were joined at Anderson Apartments, a low-cost housing complex for LGBT seniors, by Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney, Dignity USA executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke, Dignity Philadelphia president Michael Rocks, Fortunate Families board member Deb Word and PGN publisher Mark Segal.

Kenney, a Catholic, said he couldn’t help but feel angry as details about Winters’ firing became public. He didn’t understand how anyone could be gratified that someone lost his or her job. 

Charles J. Chaput, archbishop of Philadelphia, said in July that the firing showed “character and common sense.”

“When it comes time to stand up for people’s rights against bullies, it’s pretty easy and it’s the right thing to do,” Kenney said. “One of the things that I’m very proud of in my career is bringing straight people who don’t really understand to a level of understanding where they can feel compassion and brotherhood and sisterhood.” 

Segal presented Kenney with a papal portrait in the style of Andy Warhol that included the phrase “Created Equal.” 

Rocks of Dignity Philadelphia invited LGBT Catholics, their families, friends and allies to the inclusive Mass that occurs every Sunday at 7 p.m. at St. Luke and The Epiphany Church, 330 S. 13th St.

“If you’re going to be a Catholic, you can’t be a Catholic alone,” he said, emphasizing the importance of social and spiritual communities.

LGBT commentary

Although Mayor Michael Nutter did not get a chance to personally talk with Pope Francis about LGBT rights, he did make mention of the community before the pope’s speech at Independence Hall on Saturday.

“In America, everyone has rights,” Nutter said before the pontiff addressed the crowd of thousands on issues of immigration and religious freedom.

“Our lesbian, gay and bisexual citizens continue to fight for equality,” he said, noting that they should keep fighting for their rights. “It’s a collective fight, and there are many others fighting with you.”

Nutter did not mention transgender people.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ruled Sept. 2 that transgender people cannot serve as godparents.

“It is evident that this person does not possess the requirement of leading a life according to the faith,” the Vatican said in its announcement. 

A week before the pope’s visit to Philadelphia, Nutter said in a statement that he would like to ask Pope Francis to “end judgment” of LGBT people by those within the church.

Nutter told reporters Sunday night at the conclusion of the pope’s visit that he felt sure Pope Francis had heard his message of support for LGBT rights. 

Whether Pope Francis took that message to heart is unclear.

While on his return flight from his first visit to the United States, a reporter asked the pope if he supported individuals, including government officials, who say they can’t comply with some laws in good conscience. The example of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples was given.

Reporters on the plane translated Pope Francis’ comments. They have not been officially translated, but multiple outlets reported the following response from the pope:

“I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right.”

“Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying, ‘This right, that has merit; this one does not.’”

Pope Francis added that government officials are people as well, and are therefore entitled to conscientious objection as a human right. 

The pope’s comments were expected to be seized upon by supporters of Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Ky., clerk who served five days in jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Davis, an Apostolic Christian, claimed religious objections.

It was reported Wednesday that Davis met privately with the pope during the Washington, D.C., leg of his trip. 

Papal performances

The interview-based play “Full of Grace: Journeys of LGBT Catholics” had several showings last week, and the street-performance group, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, led a blessing of queer families over the weekend at the William Way LGBT Community Center.

“It’s important to provide a welcoming, inclusive space to participate in the conversation of family,” said Chris Bartlett, executive director of William Way. 

He welcomed about 20 people to witness the Solidarity Days of Blessings, led by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

Performers in the group came from Nashville, Atlanta and San Francisco, among other places across the country.

Sister Chiqi-Eata Banenea wore a “Skirt of Ejaculations,” or skirt of small prayers, for people to sign. More than 500 people left blessings on the skirt for family members.

The five sisters at William Way chanted clerical errors of the Church, like denying women reproductive rights and limiting marriage to one woman and one man. They concluded with a reading of “If I were Pope” by Jan Phillips. 

Scott Barrow and Robert Choiniere, the creators of “Full of Grace,” hosted four showings last week. They said they had been conducting interviews and adding them to the play as recently as five minutes before curtain. A conversation with Winters, the Catholic school teacher fired for being a lesbian, was added for the Philadelphia performances.

There was a palpable shift in the audience as her part, performed by an actress, approached near the end of the show. You could see people leaning forward in their seats, hanging on every word.

In the play, the actress as Winters relates her experience as a candidate to become a nun as part of the Sisters of Mercy. But she never enters the novitiate because she meets Vettori in the religious community and decides she wants to get married.

Winters and Vettori travel to Boston in May 2007 to get married, and three months later, Winters is hired at Waldron Mercy Academy in Lower Merion Township. 

“We have some very conservative parents here,” the actress reading for Winters says the principal told Winters. “You might not want to tell them, but the teachers and staff will support you.”

Despite one mother complaining, most of the parents were on fire to support Winters, said the actress reading Winters.

“It’s two visions of Church that are colliding,” the Winters character said, noting the difference between the Church preaching God’s love when, in practice, it seems that love applies only to certain people. 

Nine actors portrayed at least 20 people throughout “Full of Grace,” including one named Dorothy, a trans woman who jokes it’s a good thing the Church has no teaching on her.

Another person summed up the thesis of the play: “Yes, it’s hard to be gay and Catholic. It’s hard to be anything and Catholic.”

Gender identity and Catholicism 

New Ways Ministry, an advocacy group for LGBT Catholics, hosted a workshop on gender identity at Arch Street United Methodist Church as the pope arrived in Philadelphia.

About 30 people attended “Transforming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholic Perspectives.” Julie Chovanes, a trans lawyer in Philadelphia who is married with four children; delfin bautista, who identifies as gender-queer or two spirit; Nicole Santamaria, an intersex woman from El Salvador; and Vilma Santamaria, Nicole’s mother, shared their life experiences. All were raised Catholic and some still practice the religion.

“My Latino identity informs and enriches and challenges my trans identity, which enriches and challenges my faith identity,” said bautista, whose preferred pronoun is “they.” They noted it embodies their masculine and feminine sides.

“You inhabit those worlds regardless of how you present,” said bautista, who works as a college administrator in Ohio. “I have the beard for safety. People don’t question me. People don’t harass me.” 

bautista said they often wear jeans and T-shirts, but in safe spaces they wear skirts and like to play with gender-bending combinations. They have been married for 13 years to their husband.

Nicole Santamaria described the challenges of coming out in the Latino community. She said she knew she was a girl from the age of 3, but she had been assigned as a male at birth. Her father, a macho man, would hit her until she stopped saying she was a girl. When Santamaria reached puberty, however, her breasts began to develop. 

At 16, she had the opportunity to go to Costa Rica, where she first saw a doctor about her gender identity. She said the doctor initially thought she was a cisgender female who wanted to transition to male.

“People don’t know you’re intersex,” Santamaria said she heard from her friends. They told her, “Don’t say nothing.”

But she said she knew it would not be healthy to ignore her identity.

“I’ll tell you something,” she said. “I won’t do that.”

She returned to El Salvador but, as time went on, she faced more and more harassment in the streets. Santamaria said she was terrified of men attempting to rape her and then murdering her when they discovered she was intersex.

She moved to Washington, D.C., a few years ago. 

“God gave me the opportunity to survive,” Santamaria said. “If God saved me, it is for a reason.”   

bautista echoed the sentiment that God loves all creations.

“We are created in the queerness and diversity of God,” they said. “If God created men and women in the divine image, what does that say about God? Maybe God is trans.”

Gay and celibate at the World Meeting of Families

Ten families from Fortunate Families, a national organization for Catholic parents with LGBT children, attended the World Meeting of Families at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.

Deb Word, a board member with the organization, traveled from Memphis, Tenn. She said although the crowd was very conservative, plenty of people were interested in the organization in one-on-one conversations.

“You had to have conversations in small pieces,” Word said. “Some people started out gruff and then would say, ‘I have a gay son.’ Some people are struggling with being Catholic and having a gay child.”

Word, whose son is gay, attended the sole session at the World Meeting of Families that discussed LGBT issues. 

Ron Belgau, a celibate gay Catholic, discussed his life choices along with his mother, Beverly Belgau. The two had practiced as Baptists before converting to Catholicism in the 1990s.

Word said Belgau explained that he doesn’t condemn other people for their choices, but that for him celibacy as a gay man felt like the right path. Belgau and his mother talked a lot about being “convicted of sin,” which Word said is more a Baptist concept than a Catholic one.

Belgau also told audience members that it was the first time his mother was speaking about his sexuality. He urged her to participate with him in the World Meeting of Families. Word said Belgau asked audience members to be kind to his mother.

Word said Belgau’s mother spoke about worrying that something bad might happen to her son because he is gay. 

After their presentation, Word said she got a chance to ask Belgau a question. She said the two were graceful with each other.

Word said she ended her comments by saying, “Please don’t assume that we love our kids less or that we don’t love grandchildren that come to us in any way.” 

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