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CHICAGO (ChurchMilitant.com) - The eighth annual weekend symposium of the dissident group New Ways Ministry, an organization that pushes to abolish Church teaching on homosexuality, took place over the weekend. Church Militant previously reported that Bp. John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky would be one of the speakers at the conference, titled "Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis."
In addition to Stowe, other prominent guests included Bp. Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, Sr. Simone Campbell of Nuns on the Bus fame, and Fr. Bryan Massingale of Fordham University, speaking on the topic of "Pope Francis, Social Ethics, and LGBT People." Topics of discussion included "Lesbian Nuns: Gift to the Church" and "Transgender & Intersex Identities and the Family."
When Church Militant initially reported on the scandal of Stowe's participation in this dissident conference, the bishop lashed out at this apostolate, calling Church Militant "self-appointed watchdogs of orthodoxy."
Bishop Stowe spoke on a radio program in December trying to paint a sympathetic portrait of the dissident, pro-gay group censured by the Vatican. "I have come to know individuals who are associated with New Ways Ministry," he said. "Everyone of them that I have spoken to are genuine, sincere people of faith who are trying to reconcile their own sexual orientation with the Church that they love and that they have been raised in."
The tweets sent out by New Ways Ministry over the weekend, however, show a different picture than a group of adults with hurt feelings who want a "kinder" approach to gay sex. The caption on one photo sent out by the group reads "Lisa Fullam, theologian at @JSTSCU, making the case for same-sex marriage in the Church."
A volunteer with Church Militant's Resistance chapter in Chicago attended the event and spoke with Michael Maher, a speaker at the symposium who specializes in research on Catholic youth and LGBT issues. In the middle of his interview, a man named Michael approached the volunteer and asked to see his press credentials. The volunteer, not a formal member of the press, said he was merely asking some questions, and Michael told him he was forbidden to speak to anyone at the symposium because of the "sensitive" nature of the topic.
The volunteer was followed the rest of the night by Michael as well as another woman to ensure he did not interact with anyone at the symposium.
The volunteer noted the disproportionate number of older people attending the conference. "I would say that about 70 percent of the attendees were age 60 or above," he observed. "About 20 percent of the attendees were 35–59, and I would say the remaining 10 percent were under 35."
This may explain the scarce discussion of the conference on Twitter, often used by the younger crowd. The hashtag #nwm17, the Twitter tag for discussion of the conference, appears in only 50 tweets on Twitter, 38 of which were from the New Ways Ministry account. The other 12 were from groups and presenters at the conference.
On Facebook, the New Ways Ministry page posted a total of four posts during the whole conference. New Ways Ministry YouTube channel has a total of eight videos uploaded, ever. Any notable presence of millenials at the conference would generate a much larger social media discussion. But it doesn't appear that the organization tried to put up a facade of youth presence and social media buzz about their meeting.
The member of Church Militant Resistance asked Maher what he learned at the conference, and Maher paused for a moment and said he thought Fr. Massingale's speech was "excellent."
Massingale was one of the main speakers at this year's L.A. Religious Education Congress, where he distorted Church teaching on homosexuality. According to Michael Voris reporting from the conference:
[Massingale] said Catholics were not duty-bound to obey Church doctrine, but rather they may respectfully consider them in their moral decisions, and then arrive at their own conclusions on how to lead their moral lives — even if they are at variance with the Magisterium.
When Maher was asked what determines if something is morally right or wrong, he indicated it was the person's conscience, which he called the "dialogue between the world around us and God."
Echoing a question that has been asked at the annual March for Life with surprising results among youth, when the member of Church Militant's Resistance asked if Catholicism was the one true faith, Maher said that although the Catholic Church may be in a "special position," many religions have their own elements of truth.
When asked about the possibility of women priests or even transgender priests one day, Maher approved both possibilities.