Exclusive: Swiss Catholic money targets African bishops ahead of synod

Exclusive: Swiss Catholic money targets African bishops ahead of synod

Swiss francs. Credit: Marcel Grieder via Flickr.
Swiss francs. Credit: Marcel Grieder via Flickr.

.- The Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund and a major U.S. foundation have helped fund an LGBT activist project intended to counter West African bishops at the Catholic Church’s Synod on the Family.

The Netherlands-based European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups originally planned to make a documentary film of self-identified LGBT Catholics in Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon.

“Reacting to the extremely negative influence from bishops from Western Africa on the final document of the Family Synod 14, we found it important to bring the voices of LGBT Catholics from this region to broader attention,” the European Forum said in its 2014-2015 activity report.

The forum’s activities report said the project was funded by the Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund Fastenopfer and the Arcus Foundation. The wealthy U.S.-based foundation has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to LGBT activist groups to target the synod.

But Fastenopfer is a Catholic development organization. It traditionally raises its funds during Lenten almsgiving. Its Italian-language name is Sacrificio Quaresimale, which means “Lenten Sacrifice.”

Bishop Felix Gmur of Basel, Switzerland is president of the Lenten fund’s foundation council, which oversees the NGO’s directors group. Two of the nine members of the foundation council are named by the Conference of Swiss Bishops, with the rest being named by a separate body.

Michael Brinkschroeder, who until this year was co-president of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, said that Fastenopfer’s support was in the form of a small project grant. He told CNA Aug. 10 that the grant was under 15,000 Swiss Francs (about $15,300) and was approved by the fund’s executive director. The grant did not have to be approved by the foundation council or its president, Bishop Gmur.

Romana Buchel of Fastenopfer told CNA Aug. 7 that the film project did not take place as planned because the filmmaker “suddenly had fear of flight” and left the plane at a transit stop. She said the interviews were collected from “afflicted people, from collaborators.”

She said the material “will be used for written works of sensibilization (sic) regarding the second Synod of the Family.”

The European Forum’s activity report similarly noted the filmmaker’s health problems. It said that due to a funding shortfall, the project’s interviewer could not reach Cameroon.

Instead, the project took the form of a written report based on interviews, to be included in a book.

The European Forum aims to publish the book under the name of a new global group of LGBT activists, the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, whose creation was announced in June. This book will include “other important documents” and lectures from a conference held in Rome last year before the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. It will be published in Italian in print form and in English as an e-book before October 2015.

The Catholic Church’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family, held in October 2014 to prepare for the October 2015 synod, was marked by a significant split between African bishops and a primarily European faction of bishops. Controversial issues included how the synod should address church ministry to homosexuals.

On May 25, leaders of the German, French and Swiss bishops, theologians and select journalists met at an unannounced meeting at the Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. The meeting included theological reflection and a discussion of goals for the Synod on the Family. Some of the speakers advocated changing Catholic teaching on contraception, homosexual acts, and communion for the divorced and civilly remarried.

Critics of the meeting dubbed it a “shadow council.” Bishop Gmur was one of the three Swiss bishops reportedly at the meeting.

CNA contacted the Diocese of Basel for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

The European Forum activity report does not say how much the Arcus Foundation gave to support the European Forum’s video project. However, the report notes a $134,000 Arcus grant from 2013 to combat “religion-based homophobia in Europe” and to help the forum improve its ability to mobilize as “the main faith-based LGBT advocate in the region.”

The activity report said the forum will draft, test and use “a counter-narrative to traditional values and gender ideology” in various faith contexts from 2014-2016, with a special focus on “advocacy opportunities” like the 2015 synod, the Pan-Orthodox Synod in 2016, and efforts in the World Council of Churches.

The Arcus Foundation’s grant listings also show a $262,500 grant in 2015 to assist the European Forum’s response to “anti-LGBT opposition.” The foundation’s Jan. 20 grant announcement said the forum intended to use the grant to “pursue its successful strategy of shifting traditional views” and “responding to homophobic Catholic Church family synod decisions.”

Brinkschroeder told CNA that the European Forum had the impression that several African Catholic bishops and bishop conferences had not been willing to fulfill what he characterized as “their Christian duty to avoid signs in support of such unjust and violent discriminations and to protect the dignity of every human person.”

He objected to bishops’ support for increased penalties in Nigeria and Cameroon’s laws against homosexual behavior, some of which criminalize attempts to enter a same-sex marriage or displays of public affection between same-sex couples.

Brinkschroeder said that the purpose of the project was “not to blame any specific bishop” but to bring attention to the experiences of Catholic LGBT people from the region he said are usually ignored and suffer “severe discrimination and violations of their rights.”

Brinkschroeder and his organization were highly critical of the 2014 synod’s final document.

In an October 22, 2014 statement, Brinkschroeder characterized the synod outcome as “a disaster for gays and lesbians.” The European Forum criticized the final document for removing a “positive evaluation” of same-sex couples and the treatment of children they might raise. The forum also criticized the final document’s paragraph rejecting the use of international aid to force poor countries to recognize same-sex “marriage.”

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics’ first official assembly, titled “LGBT Voices to the Synod,” will take place Oct. 1-4 in Rome. It will also hold a public conference, titled “Ways of Love,” to promote what it considers best practices for Catholic LGBT ministry.

Last year the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups sponsored the October 2014 “Ways of Love” conference in Rome. The conference’s keynote speaker was the controversial retired auxiliary bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Sydney, whose book was rebuked by Australia’s Catholic bishops for doctrinal problems.

The 2014 conference had financial support from the Netherlands Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. The Dutch government and the Arcus Foundation are partners of the U.S. State Department’s Global Equality Fund, which is helping promote LGBT activism around the world. The 2014 conference’s organizing committee included representatives of the U.S. dissenting Catholic groups New Ways Ministry and Dignity USA, which have received $200,000 in Arcus backing to conduct synod-related advocacy.

Recently, the two American groups called for same-sex “marriage” to be recognized as a Catholic sacrament. The groups are part of the Equally Blessed Coalition, which is holding an LGBT advocacy event in September to coincide with the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, when Pope Francis will visit the U.S.

The European Forum has also received funding from the businessman George Soros’ Open Society Institute. The forum took part in an Open Society institute conference in Barcelona in September 2014 about reaching the “movable middle.” The forum contributed to conference sessions in partnership with the pro-abortion group Catholics for Choice and the European Parliamentary Forum for Population and Development, its activity report says.
 

Tags: Catholic News, Synod, Synod on the Family, Arcus Foundation, European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups