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New pro-LGBT Catholic group has Chicago ties
by Chuck Colbert

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Yet another Catholic group has formed to advocate justice for LGBT faithful within the church and marriage equality in civil society.

The new group, called Equally Blessed, is a coalition formed by four long-standing Catholic organizations. They include Chicago-based Call to Action, Dignity/USA, Fortunate Families and New Ways Ministry.

"Equally Blessed proclaims what most U.S. Catholics already believe," said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity/USA, in a Sept. 30 press statement announcing the coalition. "The laws of our land and the policies of our church should mandate fairness, justice and equality for all.

Dignity's participation, said Duddy-Burke in a follow up telephone interview, marks a shift or change in the organization's vision, away from only providing "sanctuary," she explained, toward a "vision of what it means to talk about a church in the world where LGBT people are fully included and fully equal."

In the wake of a recent spate of gay teen suicides, the message for children is paramount. "Imagine," Duddy-Burke said, "what it would be like for a kid coming out in a church to know that no matter where I am— I am made in the image and likeness of God and my sexuality is a blessing."

Equally Blessed is an outgrowth of a two-year consultation with approximately two dozen Catholic faith leaders, sponsored by the Arcus Foundation, a leading philanthropic global fonder of social justice for LGBT rights.

The idea is to "build a pro-LGBT Catholic movement in the United States," said Tom Kam, Arcus' deputy director of LGBT programs and director of the religion and values program. The movement's overarching vision, he said over the telephone, is to affirm "moral equality" for gay people.

Opponents of LGBT equality, Kam explained, often operate under the assumption "there's something flawed about our community, something dangerous," specifically "our sexual morality" and the "morality of us as a people by our [ very ] nature." The long-term goal of moral equality is demonstrating that gay people "are at our core no better nor worse than our heterosexual counterparts."

To affirm the moral equality of LGBT persons directly challenges Catholic Church doctrine, which teaches homosexual personhood and sexual relations to be an "objective disorder" and "intrinsic evil," even going so far as to say gay and lesbian couples who parent children are doing "violence" to them.

Meanwhile, leaders of Equally Blessed say that accelerated anti-gay action and rhetoric by the church hierarchy demonstrates a need for faithful pro-gay equality Catholic voices.

For example, the Knights of Columbus are opposing gay marriage in Minnesota, where it has become a 2010 gubernatorial campaign issue.

Last year in Maine, the Portland Catholic diocese and many others nationwide spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in a successful ballot measure campaign to roll back same-sex marriage rights approved by the Legislature and signed into law by a Catholic governor.

Denver's Archbishop Charles Chaput recently approved the expulsion of a lesbian couple's daughter from a parochial school.

In Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriage is now legal, Archbishop Donald Wuerl withholds benefits from the spouses of newly hired straight employees so that the archdiocese can legally withhold those benefits from the spouses of gay employees.

"These unjust actions do not speak for us," said Nicole Sotelo, coordinator of Call To Action's JustChurch program, in a statement. "We are called to follow the teachings of Jesus who welcomed everyone and challenged religious leaders when they fell short of that ideal."

Founded in Chicago, Call To Action ( CTA ) is an independent, progressive national Catholic reform and renewal movement working for justice and equality in the Church and society. CTA claims 25,000 national members, with 53 local chapters make for many additional members.

Each of the four organizations brings specific expertise to the coalition. For example, Fortunate Families, based in Rochester, N.Y., ministers primarily with Catholic parents, explained Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata. "We are a national network of Catholic parents who reach out in support and encourage each other to work for welcome and justice in the Church for our LGBT daughters," they said, adding, "We are in contact with some 600 parents plus another 1600 or so pastoral ministers and other supporters who may benefit from our ministry."

Located in Mount Rainier, Md., New Ways Ministry is a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities. New Ways Ministry brings the perspective of "middle managers," or those who "impact pastoral practice directly," said Executive Director Francis DeBernardo, referring to theologians, priests, nuns and other pastoral ministers within the Catholic Church.

Equally Blessed has not yet asked Catholics for Equality to join. In fact, the organization's leaders were surprised by the announcement of the coalition's formation. And yet, said acting executive director Phil Attey, "Catholics for Equality is encouraged that our sister church reform and ministerial groups are working to advance LGBT issues in the public sector and look forward to hearing more as they begin to develop their campaign."

True enough, Catholics for Equality and Equally Blessed fit within the Arcus Foundation's strategic objective of achieving moral equality. "We have invested and will continue to invest in this strategy" of empowering "Catholic faith leaders to speak from within the Catholic justice tradition," Kam said. "The emergence of faithful Catholic voices that strongly speak of the goodness and beauty of the LGBT community gives me great joy and hope."

Copyright 2010 Chuck Colbert. All rights reserved.

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