Monday, July 31, 2006

Blessings on Your Ordination, Catholic Women Priests Part 2

My ordination in May 2003 was literally one of the best nights of my life. Surrounded by almost 300 of my family, friends, colleagues, and congregants, I felt a sense of joy, completion, blessing, and God's grace at the moment of ordination that was quite unlike any other experience in my life. When I left the sanctuary that evening for the first time as "the Reverend Debra Haffner", I quite unexpectedly began to sob deeply, filled with both joy and trembling about where this path would take me.

I can't help but wonder what the twelve women in Pittsburgh must be feeling this morning. At 3 p.m. today they will be board a boat in Pittsburgh for a floating ordination ceremony by Roman Catholic Women Priests. Five such ordination ceremonies have previously taken place in Europe and Canada; some of these women priests have been excommunicated. The Pittsburgh diocese has decried the ordination, saying that they "undermine the unity of the church."

I wonder whether the Pittsburgh diocese had anything to say about how the sex abuse scandal among male Roman Catholic priests undermined the unity of the church.

The fact is that a majority of American's Roman Catholics support the ordination of women, just like a majority support contraception and abortion. And the Roman Catholic church is desperate for clergy; the number of priests has been declining for the past forty years. Ironically the online story from the Washington Post that I read about today's ordinations, featured an ad for Vocations Placement, asking people to take a vocational test to see if they are "called to be a Catholic monk, nun, or priest."

My thoughts and prayers will be with these women at 3 p.m. today. They are fulfilling their calling and they are challenging the very church that they love to include them and their gifts fully. I hope today will be one of the best days of their lives.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Roman Catholic Women Priests?

To most of us, this picture hardly looks like a radical act. Women priests bestowing blessings. But these are Roman Catholic women who have been ordained without the sanction of Rome.

I've been in Boston for the past few days, visiting my daughter who is interning for the Boston Women's Health Collective. The front page of the metro section of the Boston Globe this morning features the story of Jean Marie Marchant, who resigned from her position in the Archdiocese of Boston, "because she had secretly participated in a ceremony last year in which she says she was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest." This coming Monday, in Pittsburgh, another 12 women are set to be ordained by Roman Catholic Womenpriests.

My heart and prayers go out to these women -- called to the ministry in the denomination they love that refuses to recognize their gifts or authority. It makes me proud to be part of a movement calling for full inclusion of women in all aspects of religious life, and part of a denomination where more than half of the ordained clergy are women. Today's article reminded me not to take that for granted.

Have a blessed weekend.

Rev. Debra

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Crackdown on Child Sexual Abuse?

I just read an AP story that President Bush signed the "Adam Walsh Act" today. According to the AP writer, it is a "sweeping crackdown on child sexual abuse" and includes a new national registry of sex offenders, tougher penalties for Internet use for child pornography, and required background checks for adopting and foster care parents.

With the exception of the last, I'm not convinced that the bill is actually going to do much to prevent child sexual abuse. A national online registry of people who have served time for sex offenses may give people the illusion of safety, but it ignores the reality that the vast majority of the time children know their abusers well. It isn't strangers that sexually abuse children; it's their parents, step parents, family friends, baby sitters, coaches, teachers, and clergy. They aren't likely to be listed on any registry. The bill, at least as far as I can discern, includes NO money for primary prevention -- educating parents and children on how to protect themselves.

My heart goes out to any family like the Walsh's that have suffered through a missing child and to any person who has suffered child sexual abuse. I don't begin to think that I understand the horror and pain involved. But, I want to see real programs that help prevent abuse from happening in the first place, including efforts to support not demonize offenders who have successfully completed prision terms and treatment.

For information about my book, "A Time to Heal: Keeping Children Safe and Ministering to Sex Offenders" send us an email at

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Washington State Court Says NO to Marriage Equality

I just read the news that the Washington State Court, in a 5 -4 ruling, upheld the state's Defense of Marriage Act in a suit brought by 19 same sex couples for the right to marry.

I am saddened that another state court has decided that there is a constitutional reason to deny marriage to couples of the same sex. And, I am deeply disturbed by the rational of the decision. Like the NY decision a few weeks ago, the Court based their decision on the ability of a couple to biologically procreate.

This is the actual quote: "DOMA is constitutional because...limiting marriage to opposite sex couples furthers procreation, essential to the survival of the human race..."

So, does that mean that fertility tests are next for heterosexual couples seeking to marry in Washington State? Infertile couples can't further procreation (except with the same help available to same sex couples!), neither can couples where the woman is past menopause. But, wait...maybe there needs to be testing to be sure a couple actually is planning to have children before a marriage licensed can be issued? After all, there are many heterosexual couples who choose not to have children despite their fertility ability; perhaps they will be denied the right to get married as well.

"Survival of the human race" may have been a justification for marriage in biblical times, but Genesis 2 recognized that people marry for companionship, emotional attachment, and sex. Procreation isn't even mentioned in this account of creation.

Perhaps the five judges in Washington State would have been more honest if they had just admitted that they were uncomfortable with same sex sexual behavior and same sex couples and left it at that. As it stands, their decision legitimizes discrimination and denies the rights of marriage to loving same sex couples.

Endangering Teenage Women

The Senate voted yesterday 65 - 34 to make it a crime for anyone but a parent to help a teenage girl obtain an abortion in a neighboring state without parental consent.

I couldn't help but wonder how many of those supporting the bill have ever talked with a desperate pregnant teenage woman. I flashed back to my years as director of counseling at the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Washington, D.C. where at times we provided confidential pregnancy alternatives counseling to daughters of Members of Congress. I some times had to remind myself and our counselors that our responsibility was to our clients even if their parent was actively working to eliminate abortion services.

I strongly support parental involvement whenever possible for teenagers facing unplanned pregnancies. But yesterday's vote doesn't increase that involvement; it just means that some teenage girls will choose to travel on their own without any adult support rather than continue a pregnancy or seek their parent's consent.

The Senators appear to be more concerned about punishing teenage girls than preventing teenage pregnancies in the first place. How else can they explain that they rejected in a 51 to 48 vote an amendment to the bill that would have created programs to prevent teeenage pregnancy?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Faith and Science

This morning's New York Times includes a review of several new books on the relationship of religion and science, most notably debates about whether the theory of evolution and belief in a higher power can co-exist.

You can read it at

I have to admit to finding this debate tiresome. Having just spent two weeks in the Galapagos Islands, the inspiration for Darwin's work on evolution, the answer for me is clearly both. During my days on the islands with the animals, one could see and understand Darwin's observations first hand. In fact, we read Darwin's journal while we were on vacation and were struck by how little had changed since the voyage of the Beagle. But I also felt God's prescence keenly in the glorious experience of worlds unshaped by human intervention. I see no conflict in my training as a public health scientist and my training as a faith leader. I think I may skip adding these seven new books to the collection growing on my nightstand to be read.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Tell Your Senator How to Really Protect Teenagers

The Senate will be voting on what has been labeled the Child Custody Protection Act (CCPA) tomorrow. The CCPA would make it a federal crime for anyone other than a young woman’s parent—including a grandparent, aunt, or religious counselor—to accompany a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion unless the minor first complies with her home-state’s parental involvement laws.

That's right -- a federal crime. Let's say a young woman is pregnant because of familial incest and her own state prohibits abortion except with parental consent. She goes to her minister or rabbi -- or her grandmother -- for help to get to the neighboring state where such consent isn't required. It would be a federal crime for them to offer help. Instead, the girl is told she must tell her parents or continue the pregnancy or make the trip on her own. Perhaps they should have labeled this bill the Teen Endangerment Act.

Now, I believe that in most cases, young people need the support of their parents and families in making a decision about an unplanned pregnancy. I also know that most young people will involve their parents, especially with other supportive adults helping them to do so. But, in the past thirty years, I have counseled young women where such knowledge would have put her at grave physical, psychological, and/or economic risk. I live in a state where young people have the ability to make pregnancy-related decisions without parental consent, but that's not true in most states anymore.

The CCPA will not protect adolescents, it will only punish them for getting pregnant, maybe for having had sex. The Senate will be offered the opportunity to vote tomorrow on two amendments to support teenage pregnancy prevention services as a real alternative.

The Senate switchboard number is 202-224-3121. Let your Senator know that as a person of faith you support teen pregnancy programs that work not jail terms for clergy and grandparents.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Thoughts after the Galapagos

I'm back from a ten day trip to the Galapagos Islands. This bird is a blue footed booby, beginning his mating dance by lifting his foot for a partner. We saw hundreds of these exquisite birds, along with pelicans, herons, egrets, finches, and mocking birds. I swam with sea lions and great tortoises, and we sea kayaked in some of the most peaceful places on earth. I felt graced and grateful every day.

The animals on the Galapagos Islands are not afraid of humans -- they haven't been hurt by us so they welcomed us to share their space for a little while. How sharply that contrasted with the news bulletins from the Middle East in the past two weeks. I wrote many sermon passages in my mind.

There was both bad news and good news for sexual rights while I was on vacation. The House voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment. The Senate voted 63 to 37 to expand federally funded embryonic stem cell research, and then the President vetoed it. The House released a report that said that the vast majority of federally funded "pregnancy resource centers" lie to women about the side effects of abortion procedures, and the FDA approved a new implantable contraceptive method. The President decideded to give an impromptu neck rub to the German Prime Minister to her obvious dismay.

Right now, I'm missing the blue heron and the blue footed booby and days that asked me to do nothing but pay attention to the wonders of creation. I'll start commenting on the world again tomorrow. For now, think about what your life would be if no one had ever hurt you.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Gone Fishing

I'll be on vacation until July 21st. Why not use this as an opportunity to visit the web site of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing and find out more about our ministry? Or scroll through the archives on the blog, and tell me which ones are your favorites.
Leave a comment about your favorite one of my blog entries, send me an email at with your snail mail address, and we'll send you a complimentary poster of the Religious Declaration. Have a blessed two weeks!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

New York Court of Appeals Says NO

Last July 10, 2005, I had the privilege of performing a commitment ceremony for two friends of mine on their 50th anniversary in their apartment in New York City. Surrounded by their dear friends, they spoke of their life together, their love for each other, and their hopes that one day I would be able to perform a legal wedding ceremony for them. They had had a civil union in Vermont, they were registered as domestic partners in NYC, I offered the same blessings as I would at any marriage, they had shared an entire lifetime, BUT, they still wanted to call themselves married in the eyes of the state.

And I had hoped that I'd get to perform just such a ceremony after the Court of Appeals decided the LAMBDA case. Instead, the Court earlier today ruled 4 -2 that current law in NY does not permit gay and lesbian couples to marry.

My heart broke when I read that news. Not just for my friends Peter and Kenneth, not just for the couples I married in New Paltz in 2004 under threat of arrest, but for all the couples and all the families who were once again told that they really didn't deserve the same rights as straight couples and families. I believe that civil marriage is a civil right, but more -- I believe that when love is present, the sacred is in our midst. Surely God hears the cries of those families once again denied today.

Andrew Sullivan and Me!

At 6:30 am this morning, I discovered that 300 people had read my blog today. I thought there was something wrong with the counter. When I investigated, I discovered that author and columnist Andrew Sullivan had included a link to my blog on Rush and Viagra in his post this morning. As of a few minutes ago, I had had 5600 visitors to my blog today.

Up until today, my daily high was I'm pretty excited about this connection. And I hope some of these people will be curious enough about the connection between sexuality and religion to return to find out more. After all, how many sexologist ministers can there be in the blogosphere?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Now, What Will Be The Media's Excuse?

Faith in Public Life is a new organization "founded by America's diverse faith leaders to strengthen faith movements sharing a call to pursue justice and the common good."

Their new web site has been in development for the last year, and it is a wonderful resource for people of faith working on social justice issues. Want to know who is in your area working on AIDS or homelessness or poverty or the war in Iraq? Click on "Mapping Faith." Need to find out who is blogging about faith issues from a progressive perspective or who might be a good speaker? This site can help you.

I am very pleased to be included in their new "Voicing Faith Media Bureau." The list includes such people as Sister Joan Chittister, Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf, Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, Rev. Dr. Susan Thistelthwaite, and other national religious leaders who are working for social justice. Reporters and producers will no longer be able to say that they just didn't know who to call when they want a mainstream or progressive religious point of view for a story. I'm honored to be listed and hopeful that this will help the media find progressive religious voices on sexual justice issues.

Check out their web site and let me know what you think.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Happy July 4th!

Happy Fourth of July!

I'm back from St. Louis and the annual meeting of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists.

I conducted a short multifaith worship service on Saturday morning at 8:00 am. I was concerned that only a few people would get up for the service. But, there were close to 50 people there -- sex educators, sex counselors, sex therapists. People in their twenties to people in their late seventies. Straight people, gay people, bisexual people, people of transgendered experience. People of faith and people of little faith. Maybe even people of no faith who were curious.

It turned out there was a workshop starting immediately at 8:30 am in the same room. We had a little bit of trouble with the ipod music system that my 13 year old son had figured out for me before I left Connecticut. I had to cut my sermon back as I was delivering it.

None of that mattered. The service came together. We sang together, clapped together, spoke the names of people in our hearts, prayed together, and the sermon "worked." The spirit was present.

No more so than the concluding hymn. We spontaneously joined hands and together sang the chorus of Jason Shelton's moving hymn, "Standing on the Side of Love." Tears ran down many faces as we joined our hearts and voices together:

"Hands joined together, our hearts beat as one,
Emboldened by faith, we dare to proclaim,
We are standing on the side of love."

So may it be on this holiday of liberty and freedom.