LGBT foundation aims to counter Vatican family synod
An LGBT activist foundation headed by a former Obama White House staffer gave a $200,000 grant to a dissenting Catholic coalition to target the upcoming Synod on the Family and World Youth Day.
The Michigan-based Arcus Foundation gave the 2014 grant to Dignity USA “to support pro-LGBT faith advocates to influence and counter the narrative of the Catholic Church and its ultra-conservative affiliates.”
“The effort will build advocacy and visibility in connection with two special events, the Synod of the Family and World Youth Day,” the foundation said on its website.
An extraordinary bishops' synod will meet in Rome this Oct. 5-19 to address pastoral challenges related to the family. The synod has been the subject of significant media coverage and speculation.
On June 26, synod organizers released the synod's preparatory document, a broad-ranging document which among other topics summarized Catholic teaching on homosexuality. It discussed the bishops' desire to consider the pastoral response to homosexuality, to Catholics in homosexual relationships, and to any children raised under those unions.
That same day, Dignity USA president Marianne Duddy-Burke attacked the document, claiming it showed “a rigid adherence to existing teaching.” The organization's statement charged that the document “shows no openness to change in hurtful teachings.”
Dignity USA has also been active in protests against Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco's participation in the March for Marriage, a movement intended to support marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
The Arcus Foundation's March 2014 grant announcement said the Dignity USA funding was for the Equally Blessed Coalition, which includes Dignity USA, Call To Action, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.
All of the groups have a history of promoting the rejection of Catholic teaching. In 2010 and 2011 New Ways Ministry, which has also received Arcus Foundation funding, drew a response from leading U.S. bishops who said the organization does not adhere to Catholic teaching.
The Arcus Foundation said the coalition will “amplify pro-LGBT voices within the Catholic Church in preparation for significant international gatherings planned by Catholic bishops and the Vatican.”
According to the foundation, the funding was part of an effort to engage “open-minded religious leaders who can use their influence to shift public views away from prejudice.”
The Equally Blessed coalition is presently seeking families who are willing to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in 2015 “to speak out for LGBT inclusion in the Church,” a flier posted on the coalition website states.
The coalition also helped support self-identified LGBT youth travel to World Youth Day in Rio in 2013, with the goal of raising awareness about gender and sexuality issues and “challenging harmful teachings and pastoral practices that dehumanize,” the coalition website said.
The Arcus Foundation has close ties to the Obama administration, contributing $1 million to the State Department’s Global Equality Fund. The LGBT advocacy fund has spent about $12 million worldwide, the Associated Press reported in June.
Other ties include Kevin Jennings, the foundation’s executive director since July 2012. President Obama in 2009 appointed Jennings as assistant deputy U.S. Secretary of Education and head of the White House's Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools.
Jennings, a former high school teacher, is the founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which has advanced LGBT activism in thousands of U.S. secondary schools.
Critics saw his programs against school bullying as working to marginalize concerns about the immorality of promoting homosexual behavior. He also came under heavy criticism for his radical connections.
Jennings’ partner Jeff Davis, in a 2008 speech, said when he met Jennings in the early 1990s Jennings was a member of ACT UP, an AIDS patient advocacy group whose activism included disruptive protests in churches. In 1992 some members’ protests during Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City included the desecration of the Eucharist.
In a 1997 speech Jennings said he was “inspired” by early homosexual activist Harry Hay. He edited a gay and lesbian history reader for high school and college students that profiled Hay. Jennings’ critics have pointed out that Hay was also a vocal supporter of the pedophile advocacy group NAMBLA.
Jennings also came under criticism for his response to a male high school student who Jennings said came to him for advice after the teen engaged in sexual conduct with an older man in a Boston bus station restroom in 1988.
He said he listened and offered advice. In Jennings' later comments on the incident, he said he told the student he hoped he used a condom, CNN reported in 2009.
Jennings' accounts described the teen as a 15-year-old, under the age of consent in Massachusetts. The student later came forward, saying there had been no sexual contact and that he was above the age of legal consent in Massachusetts at the time of his conversation with Jennings.
Jennings left the Obama Administration in 2011.
The Arcus Foundation was founded by Jon M. Stryker, an heir to the fortune produced by the Stryker Corporation medical devices manufacturer. The Arcus Foundation had almost $171.2 million in assets and total revenue of $29.8 million in 2012, its tax forms state. It gave $28.6 million in grants that year.
The Arcus Foundation is also a financial supporter of the Citizen Engagement Lab Education Fund, giving it a $75,000 grant in 2014 “to present a faith-based challenge to religious institutions and leaders that abuse religious freedom,” the foundation’s grant list said. The grant announcement said the campaigns would promote “greater visibility” for Christians who “denounce the abuse of religious-freedom arguments to oppose full equality for LGBT persons.”
That education fund’s “Faithful America” project has led several recent campaigns against the Catholic Church and other Catholic organizations.
Its petition drives include one protesting the moral standards of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s teacher contracts. Another supports students at a Washington state Catholic high school who protested the departure of a vice principal who had entered a same-sex “marriage.” A third petition protested to the Arizona legislature’s proposed expansion of religious freedom protections.
Another campaign called on Cardinal Francis George to cancel his celebration of Mass at the Courage Conference, a gathering of Catholics with same-sex attraction who aim to be faithful to Catholic teaching and practice. That campaign objected to the presence of therapists who believe that sexual orientation can be modified.
The Arcus Foundation’s 2014 grant to Dignity USA follows a 2012 grant of $200,000 to the organization to support the Equally Blessed coalition, tax forms show.
In 2012 the coalition issued a report attacking the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Knights of Columbus for their work to maintain the legal definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
The report was then used by Catholics United, a Democrat-leaning advocacy organization that has received significant funding from the Arcus Foundation ally the Colorado-based Gill Foundation.
The Gill Foundation’s founder, entrepreneur Tim Gill, has been a close political collaborator with Jon Stryker’s sister Pat.
The Gill Foundation’s Movement Advancement Project, which has received grants from the Arcus Foundation, has organized strategy to advance LGBT advocacy within U.S. religious denominations, seminaries, clergy coalitions and media “to counter religious opposition,” the Gill Foundation’s 2006 annual report said.
Dignity USA’s January 2012 newsletter suggests the Arcus Foundation committed at least $370,000 to the Equally Blessed Coalition for 2012-2013, though the grant totals reported on the foundation website do not match this claim.
The Arcus Foundation has also given $250,000 to the pro-abortion group Catholics for Choice. It has made many six-figure donations to Protestant churches and organizations, as well as to secular universities.
In 2010, the foundation gave $100,000 to Fairfield University, a Catholic Jesuit institution in Connecticut, to hold forums and disseminate information that the Arcus Foundation said would “expand the current discussion on homosexuality within Roman Catholicism to include the diverse opinions of progressive Catholic thought leaders and theologians.”
The university then held sexuality seminars in collaboration with Fordham University in New York. Then-bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport and New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan voiced concerns that the seminars might encourage the rejection of Church teaching, but said that both university’s presidents had assured them they would “not be a vehicle for dissent.”