Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Shame on Bill Donohue and His Ad in the NY Times

Bill Donohue of The Catholic Life League is the worst kind of bully.

Many years ago, he and I appeared on a national television program together. He was intimidating, condescending, and offensive. He's one of the few people I won't appear in the media with because of how he has treated me.

Yesterday, he published a full page ad in the New York Times titled "Going for the Vatican Jugular."

It said in part, "The Times continues to editorialize about the 'pedophilia crisis' when all along it's been a homosexual crisis." He writes that "homosexuality does not cause predatory behavior, and most gay priests are not molesters, [but] most of the molesters have been gay." He goes on to say that the NYT is covering this story because of "abortion, gay marriage, and women's ordination."

I'm guessing you just felt as outraged as I did reading those words. No, Mr. Donahue, it's a crisis because Roman Catholic priests around the world sexually abused children and youth -- and then the hierarchy covered it up, moved those priests to different parishes where they would abuse again, and failed to take action. The sexual orientation of those priests is irrelevant and unknown to anyone but themselves. What is known is that they abused their power, violated their moral commitments, and scarred their victims for life. What is known is that Church officials turned their back on these young people rather than act to end the violence against them. What is known from this ad, Mr. Donohue, is that you are using this crisis to support your own homophobia and anti-gay stances.

What is also clear is that you don't extend your concern to the survivors. Mr. Donohue's ad yesterday NEVER ONCE mentioned the victims of the priests who abused them, except for a snarky line about an organization of survivors. It is inconceivable to me that The Catholic League should cast blame on the NYT for covering this story rather than showing ANY compassion or concern for the thousands of people who priests have violated. Shame on you, Mr. Donohue.

But don't bullies always blame the victim?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Up To The Pope

The latest revelations about sexual abuse against children by Roman Catholic priests are nothing short of morally revolting. The story of Father Lawrence Murphy, who abused more than 200 deaf boys in Milwaukee over decades, despite the boys' speaking out and calling for help, should outrage us all. The new revelations from Germany and other European countries add to the understanding that pedophile priests are, in the words of my colleague, Dan Maguire, "a global Catholic Church pandemic."

"It went up to the Pope", a formerly Roman Catholic friend said to me yesterday, with tears in her eyes. "How is it possible that people knew and didn't stop it?"

Unfortunately, the answer is that people all along the Catholic hierarchy did know, and chose to move the priests rather than directly address the crimes that were being committed against children. Yes, crimes.

And in a secular world, those authorities would be held criminally accountable for their behavior. It is not enough for the Pope to apologize, as he did to victims last week. It is unconscionable when Catholic spokespersons try to explain away the lack of action as being part of another time, when people didn't talk as much about child abuse.

It is a testament to the power of Catholicism in people's lives that these past 30 years of revelations haven't driven its followers from the church. It is hard to imagine that if countless liberal church clergy were found to have been abusers that our churches wouldn't be empty. I can't even imagine what would happen to the field of sexology if even one of our certified professionals had this history.

The fact that the Catholic Church, in the midst of this scandal, continues to speak out on other people's sexual decisions is astonishing. It's time for them to stop pontificating against abortion and homosexuality and birth control and the role of women. In light of these recent revelations, it's time to take the log out of their eyes and start with the sexual immorality in their own house.

It's up to the Pope. Pope Benedict XVI, the world is watching and waiting.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Part 2 - The Marriage Message: “Marriage could be . . .”

Rev. Haffner is on the road this week. This guest blog is by Kate Ott, who directs the Religious Institute's Seminary Project and provides sexuality education training to teens, parents, and clergy.

Marriage is and should be defined by many characteristics. Unfortunately, in legal and cultural debates about marriage between two men or two women, we have lost a significant opportunity as people of faith to think creatively about what makes for a just, loving marriage. Yesterday, my colleague, Tim Palmer wrote about marriage equality as a right of any two people to “join” marriage. We can also consider marriage equality as "re-defining" marriage as equal partnership!

I truly believe marriage equality is terrifying to some people because it by definition gets rid of the necessity for gender/sex based categories in marriage. Many of us still define marriage based on things that women should do and things that men should do (gender roles). And there are some who still believe gender roles are grounded in our biology. In society and our faith communities, we continue to give gender roles unequal value. Much of Christian theology about marriage is founded on these ideas.

Marriage equality doesn't mean we will erase differences based on gender (or anything else) in our relationships. As I say to my children on a regular basis, “Equality doesn’t mean sameness.” Equality means our differences are valued “equally.” Equality in our marriages would allow us to celebrate the diversity of blessings two people bring to each other -- blessings that are free of falsely imposed gender stereotypes that harm both men and women. Some people are good at fixing leaky faucets, others are great cooks, some like doing the bills, others are good at childrearing -- finding the balance is evidence of true partnership.

Ted Olson, who is a life-long conservative Republican and now defending marriage equality in the courts, wrote in Newsweek, “Marriage is one of the basic building blocks of our neighborhoods and our nation. At its best, it is a stable bond between two individuals who work to create a loving household and a social and economic partnership. We encourage couples to marry because the commitments they make to one another provide benefits not only to themselves but also to their families and communities. Marriage requires thinking beyond one's own needs. It transforms two individuals into a union based on shared aspirations, and in doing so establishes a formal investment in the well-being of society.”

I fully concur. I hope we have not missed the moment as a nation and as communities of faith to talk about what marriage could be. Given the woeful success of heterosexual marriages, our faith communities might consider the importance of requiring more in-depth pre-marital counseling, providing on-going marriage enrichment opportunities, and promoting equality in our relationships.

Marriage equality won’t happen for any two people without hard work, honesty, dedication, and communication. Successful, happy, and fulfilled marriages have more to do with those qualities than genitalia or gender roles ever will!

What do you think makes a marriage “a marriage”?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Marriage Message: "We are normal people."

Rev. Haffner is on the road this week. This guest blog is by Tim Palmer, who leads the Religious Institute's LGBT inclusion initiatives.

Equality California has asked me (and tens of thousands of others) to help “craft marriage messaging that works.” They sent along a report from Freedom to Marry summarizing findings from 75 research studies on marriage for same-sex couples, as well as a summary of what EQCA has learned from thousands of face-to-face conversations with Californians who voted for Proposition 8 in 2008.

I am skeptical about this “messaging” business. If marriage equality were simply a matter of finding the right slogans, we would have it by now. It’s not so much the words we use in one campaign or even in one conversation – it’s the fact that we wage campaigns and have conversations, over and over again, that attitudes begin to shift.

Fortunately, that is what Freedom to Marry prescribes. Its report is not a set of talking points, but a strategic assessment that recognizes that resistance to marriage rights for same-sex couples “takes time and engagement to resolve." If nothing else, the setbacks suffered in California and Maine have taught us how to frame a stronger argument. For instance:
  • Emphasize that same-sex couples want to join marriage – not change it, redefine it, or even rename it. The goal is not to establish “gay marriage,” but to remove the restrictions that prohibit gay people from marrying.
  • Speak to the heart first, then the head. Invoking simple fairness and the golden rule are proving to be more effective than sterile appeals for rights.
  • Show the commitment of gay couples who are already doing the work of marriage in everyday life.
This last point calls to mind the recent story of the lesbian couple in Colorado whose children were turned out of their Catholic primary school. The ensuing controversy compelled two women who would have preferred their privacy to make a public statement.

“We are normal people,” they write. “We have two children, a nice house, and a dog. We both hold professional jobs in the community. You would likely pass us on the street and not take much notice.” The women – both lifelong Catholics, whose children have been baptized in the faith – go on to describe their commitment to the church and their hopes for their children to receive a Catholic education.

These are parents, not activists. They are not arguing that the church must change its doctrine of marriage. They are appealing, rather, for “positive changes in the hearts and minds of others.”

“It is easy to have ideas and opinions when they are abstract,” they write. “When you meet the real people you are judging, you sometimes see things differently. We will continue to raise our children with strong Catholic values and hold faith that through our actions, we are doing our part to create a more loving, inclusive world.”

Sounds like a winning message to me.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education -- It's back...

Read that title in your most ominous, scary movie tone.

Because, unbelievably, this is the program that just won't die. I think we all believed we had driven a stake through it. The Congressional evaluation found that abstinence-only sexuality education didn't help young people delay. Other studies found that it actually increased the numbers of young people having oral and anal sex, and discouraged them from using contraception when they did have sexual intercourse. President Obama deleted it from his budget. Even half the states had rejected the money.

And yet, there it is again...$250 million dollars in the health care reconciliation bill.

How did that happen? Well, I'm guessing it's about lobbying, connections, the organized right, and the huge abstinence-only-until-marriage industry that has grown up since 1997.

What it's not about is our young people. The evidence is clear -- programs that teach young people about sexuality, stress abstinence and sexual limit setting, and provide information on STD and pregnancy prevention help young people delay sexual activity and protect themselves when they do become sexually involved. Only one abstinence-only program has been shown to help young people delay -- it was at the sixth- and seventh-grade level, and it was not a fear- based program. It didn't tell them not to have sex until they were married -- but not to have sex now. Surely we all support that.

But this new program will likely continue the same lies and the same withholding of information that we've seen since the late 1990s. It's wrong.

Speak up. Join our new Faithful Voices Network at and add your voice as a person of faith for sexuality education.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Is It Sex Yet?

The Kinsey Institute released a fascinating study last week that showed that adults don't agree on what "sex" is.

95% of people said that penile-vaginal sex was "sex," but 11% said it wasn't sex if the man didn't have an orgasm, and 18% of men over 65 said it wasn't sex if a condom was used. (They don't appear to have asked whether it was sex if a womn didn't have an orgasm during intercourse.) Only 80% of respondents said that anal intercourse was sex, and only 70% said that oral sex was.

It's no wonder then that the teens I work with don't seem to know what "sex" is, either. They routinely tell me that oral sex isn't sex.

And I routinely tell them that I think it is. And that so is any kind of physically intimate behavior with a partner. In fact, I think it's sex if you've moved beyond any behavior you would comfortably do with someone else in a public setting.

The cultural belief that it's only sex if Part A goes into Part B is harmful on so many levels. It pressures teenagers to take risks that they may not be ready for. It leads some teens to engage in unprotected anal sex rather than lose their virginity. It devalues most sex between gay men and lesbians. It's why men with prostate problems or other medical conditions that lead to untreatable erectile dysfunction give up all sexual contact with their wives, because they can't do the "real thing." It makes sexual play goal-oriented, with one behavior privileged over others, rather than honoring all the ways partners can give and receive pleasure. It makes people who prefer other sexual activities feel they have to have intercourse anyway.

I could go on and on.

What would change if we adults think, practice and teach young people that sex is physical intimacy with a partner, designed to give and receive pleasure, and that it is the relationship that is important, not the specific acts?

Tell me what you think.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Celebrate DC, Speak Out Against Virginia

Last Friday, the Attorney General of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, sent a letter to every college and university in the state to rescind their policies banning discrimination on sexual orientation. He says only he can approve such policies.

He seems to forget that he doesn't get to rewrite the Constitution. Equality Virginia has ways for you to get involved. The Governor of Virginia has yet to rein him in.

And two politicians made national news this week: Democrat Congressman Eric Massa resigned, at least in part because of an ethics panel investigation that he groped male staffers in this office, and California State Senator Roy Ashburn, one of the most anti-gay voting members, came out as gay after photos of him were taken leaving a gay bar.

These three news items stand in sharp contrast to the glorious celebrations in Washington, D.C. yesterday as the first same-sex couples were legally wed there. Check out HRC for some moving videos.

D.C. is the harbinger of what will be. Cuccinelli's action stands out as a desperate grasping to hold on to a world where discrimination is allowed. Massa and Ashburn remind us how far we have to go to help people live their sexual lives with integrity.

For this minister, they are reminders that the work for equality and for affirming everyone's sexual orientation and gender identity is not over...but that with God's grace and all of our actions, one day it will be.

Want to get involved? Take a minute today and sign the Faithful Voices pledge.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Religious Institute to D.C. Catholic Charities: These are NOT Family Values

Marriage equality begins in Washington, D.C. this morning.

Today is the first day that same sex couples can be married legally in the District of Columbia. It's one more step towards marriage equality for all.

Not everyone is celebrating in D.C. The D.C. office of Catholic Charities is protesting the decision with two actions that are to my mind religious hypocrisy. They've told the DC government that they will stop their foster care and adoption services rather than have to comply with government law, and this week, they announced that they would stop providing benefits to any new employee's spouse rather than have to cover a gay or lesbian's spouse.

So because they oppose the rights of same sex couples to marry, they are closing services for children without families and denying health benefits to the partners of their employees. This from an organization with a commitment to families and children. Their mission says that "we bring help for today and hope for the future to the most vulnerable among us."

Unless I guess that includes the LGBT community, who don't apparently according to these recent actions, deserve the same rights as everyone else.

What kind of family values are these?? What kind of religious values are these?

To read the statement I released to the press yesterday, go to

And if you live in D.C. and/or are Catholic, why not write Catholic Charities and tell them what you think about their decisions. Their address is 924 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Criminal Miscarriage or Miscarriage of Justice?

Did you know that the state of Utah has just passed legislation (waiting for the Governor's signature) that criminalizes some miscarriages?

I wrote about this on the Huffington Post on Friday:

The comments are fascinating, and I'd love you to join that discussion.

To the person who asked, "are they trying to create tests to overturn Roe?"

Uh, yes. Not just in Utah, but in states across the country.

I hope you're speaking out for reproductive justice.