Bishop of Toledo, Ohio Leonard Blair has banned a workshop on homosexual ministry that was scheduled to start on May 1, saying its positions were "not at all in accord" with U.S. bishops’ guidelines and do not present the "full, authentic teaching" of the Catholic Church.
The three-day workshop was offered by New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based group that describes itself as "a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics." According to the Toledo Blade, the workshop was to take place at the Sisters of St. Francis campus in Tiffin, Ohio.
Sally Oberski, director of communications for the Toledo diocese, said that Bishop Blair had sent a letter to Sister Jacquelyn Doepker, head of the Sisters of St. Francis, asking her to cancel the workshop.
According to the Toledo Blade, Bishop Blair in his letter said "the positions of New Ways Ministry are not at all in accord with the guidelines for pastoral care which the bishops of the United States issued in 2006 regarding 'Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination.' Nor does New Ways Ministry present the full, authentic teaching of the Catholic Church on homosexuality."
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways, told the Toledo Blade he was "very disappointed" by Bishop Blair’s decision and said there is a "misconception" about points cited in the bishop’s letter.
"Our programs, especially like the one we were going to have in Tiffin, are designed to help people who are working in Catholic institutions. We are not trying to subvert the church but to build on a positive tradition of welcoming lesbian and gay people that is in the church's teaching and pastoral practice," DeBernardo said.
Reporting that New Ways has been in operation for 32 years, he told the Toledo Blade that the ministry abides by church doctrine, which he said "makes a big distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior."
DeBernardo reported that New Ways Ministry has not held a workshop in the Toledo area for about a dozen years. The last local workshop was held in a non-Catholic setting because of scheduling conflicts and not due to controversy.
Saying he had spoken with Bishop Blair, DeBernardo said the bishop was upset. According to DeBernardo, the bishop said he did not like that New Ways Ministry has occasionally "challenged the bishops or the Vatican to be more understanding of lesbian/gay people."
"But that doesn't mean we're out to destroy the church or to be in opposition of church leaders," DeBernardo told the Toledo Blade.
The Vatican has recently named Bishop Blair to assess the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an organization representing most of the United States’ Catholic nuns, including the Tiffin Franciscans.