Practicing What We Preach

December 11, 2011

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

There’s an interesting discussion happening over at America‘s blog, thanks to a posting by Michael O’Loughlin on the recent support for civil unions by Archbishop Nichols of Westminster, England.  O’Loughlin, who has posted several insightful musings on LGBT issues and Catholicism, puts Archbishop Nichols’ recent statements in the context of the tension in Catholic teaching between respect for lesbian/gay people while maintaining disapproval of sexual activity and relationships.

O’Loughlin poses a number of thoughtful questions that deserve reflection by bishops, theologians, and all the Catholic faithful:

“The codes I referenced above, which label gay women and men “intrinsically disordered” but then demand they be treated with dignity and respected is confusing, and Nichols seems to be responding as best he can to these dual claims. He has unabashedly upheld the church’s teachings on marriage, which puts him at odds with most in his country. And yet he offers a pastoral response to those gay and lesbian individuals who wish for legal recognition and rights to ensure safety and stability within their families. Are those on the right who attack Nichols concerned more with ideological or theological purity than pastoral concern and love of neighbor? How, then, should pluralist and secular societies treat gays and lesbians? Should their relationships be offered any legal recognition? What about hospital visitation, taxes, and the myriad other rights and responsibilities heterosexual couples take for granted? Is there any way for Catholics to affirm what the church teaches about marriage while respecting other family structures and situations in diverse societies?”

New Ways Ministry has already “dipped our oar” into the discussion on the blog (see the 2nd comment after O’Loughlin’s post),trying to provide theological context for this discussion:

“Theologians have tried for decades to move the magisterium to accept a sexual ethic that is based on the qualities of justice and mutuality that exist in a relationship, not on the biological activity which is performed.  Such an ethic would move our church away from act-centered morality, and into a morality that values the love bond between people.”

One of the great proponents of this school of thought is Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia, who will be a plenary speaker and retreat leader at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in March, 2012.  As noted in the comment to O’Louglin’s post:

“Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, of Australia, has pointed out that if we base our sexual ethic on the Gospel, we will observe that Jesus did not preach about any sexual acts, but He did preach constantly about honoring and valuing right relationships among people.  Such an ethic would help all people and relationships.”

We also tried to offer some historical context for Archbishop Nichols’ support for civil unions:

“Archbishop Nichols’ statement on civil unions is not without precedent in the British church.  In 1979,  the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales Social Welfare Commission, under the leadership of Cardinal Basil Hume, offered this advice to pastoral workers in a document entitled An Introduction to the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People: ‘The pastor may distinguish between irresponsible, indiscriminate sexual activity and the permanent association between two homosexual persons, who feel incapable of enduring a solitary life devoid of sexual expression. This distinction may be borne in mind when offering pastoral advice and establishing the degree of responsibility….’  Nichols’ statement is certainly within the same pragmatic and compassionate tradition.”

Check out O’Louglin’s blog post and join in the discussion either there or here or both.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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