Cardinal Dolan’s Complaints Are Not Warranted

November 30, 2013
Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Tomorrow morning, NBC-TV will air a pre-taped interview with New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in which the prelate claims that the Catholic Church has been wrongly portrayed as being “anti-gay” because of official support for heterosexual marriage.

USA Today  reports:

“A top Roman Catholic cardinal says he regrets that the church is portrayed as ‘anti-gay’ for supporting traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

“Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, told NBC News that the church has been ‘out-marketed” on the issue by an array of people, including politicians.

” ‘We’ve been caricatured as being anti-gay,’ Dolan said in an interview airing Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. ‘And as much as we’d say, “Wait a minute, we’re pro marriage, we’re pro traditional marriage, we’re not anti anybody,” I don’t know.

” ‘When you have forces like Hollywood, when you have forces like politicians, when you have forces like some opinion-molders that are behind it, it’s a tough battle,’ he said. . . .

” ‘I think I’d be a Pollyanna to say that there doesn’t seem to be kind of a stampede to do this,’ Dolan told David Gregory of Meet the Press. ‘I regret that. I wish that were not the case for the states.’ “

Dolan’s comments are filled with many errors in characterization.  First, “the church” is not against same-gender marriage.  The church hierarchy is defending heterosexual-only.  We know that poll after poll keeps showing that Catholics support marriage equality–and “the church” is rightly defined as ALL the people of God, not just the hierarchy.

Second,  people, especially Catholics, are not being swayed by external forces to support marriage equality.  Catholics are supporting these measures not in spite of their faith, but because of their faith.  Catholic principles of justice, equality, human dignity, protection and support of all families are what are motivating them to support  marriage for lesbian and gay couples.   The more that the hierarchy continues to view this argument as a battle between forces inside and outside the church, the more that these leaders will miss the fact that the Holy Spirit is moving among the laity on this issue.

Third, it is not  because of opposition to marriage equality that people characterize Catholic leadership as anti-gay.  It is because they oppose a whole variety of equality issues–immigration, employment non-discrimination, adoption,  as well as marriage–that people view the hierarchy as anti-gay.  It’s because they deny sacraments to lesbian and gay people and their supporters, because they expel children of lesbian and gay people from Catholic schools, because they fire openly LGBT people from church employment, because they hold exorcisms when marriage equality is enacted, because they compare the gay equality movement to the Ku Klux Klan–and so many other actions and statements–that people perceive the church hierarchy as anti-gay.   And it’s because they miss every opportunity to do or say anything positive that people develop this characterization.

Just look at how people have responded to the few positive things that Pope Francis has said in regard to lesbian and gay people.  While he has not challenged church doctrine, he has found many ways of being affirmative, and people are responding in a wildly positive way.

Cardinal Dolan, and all the U.S. bishops, should stop blaming others and do a thorough examination of their own statements, behaviors, and attitudes in regard to LGBT people and issues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: Illinois Priest Openly Affirms LGBT Couples

November 29, 2013
computer_key_Quotation_MarksWhen Illinois passed marriage equality in mid-November, many Catholics celebrated this expansion of LGBT justicd. Others reacted quite negatively, including Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield who held an exorcism on the day of the law’s signing.Objecting to such an extreme act, Fr. Bill Kienneally of St. Gertrude Parish in Chicago has written a brief, but powerful letter in the Chicago Tribune worth sharing:

“I am a retired pastor of a Catholic church in Edgewater where there are many gay and lesbian couples, many of whom are doing their best to raise children as a family. I admire their constancy and care while they continue to belong to a church that ‘officially’ seems wrongheaded and bizarre in its resistance to legalization of same-sex marriage.

“Lobbying and liturgical pyrotechnics are both costly and embarrassing. At times I have wondered why faithful Muslims do not distance themselves publicly from their fellow believers who perpetuate violence. I wish to distance myself publicly from the misguided efforts of Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield and his rite of exorcism. God bless Gov. Pat Quinn and all who are trying to live a life of faithful love.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Happy 2nd Birthday to Us All!

November 29, 2013

Bondings 2.0 is two years old!  Our actual anniversary date was yesterday, but, since it was Thanksgiving, we waited a day to celebrate!

It is wonderful to celebrate in this season of thanks because here at the blog, we have so much to be thankful for!  When we started the blog two years ago,we really had no idea what shape it would take or if people would find it useful.  My initial hope was that we would be able to find enough material to post something about three times a week.

The reality has been much different.  Though we limit ourselves to stories and essays concerning topics that are both Catholic and LGBT, we have found that there is something every day to post.  The intersection of Catholicism with LGBT topics is certainly a hot news beat!  we’re happy, proud, and grateful to say that since November 28, 2011, we have posted something to this blog every day, including Saturdays and Sundays, and sometimes we have posted twice or even three times a day.  The news just keeps coming!

Since this blog “experiment” began two years ago, we’ve expanded in many ways. First, we’ve developed several occasional series:

1)  Campus Chronicles:  to report on items concerning college and university campuses, where so much good is happening on LGBT issues.

2)  News Notes:  brief synopses of stories that are not “meaty” enough for their own individual post.

3)  Quote to Note:  pithy and insightful quotations from news stories and essays that we think will spark your thinking, tickle your funny bone, or renew your hope.

4) All Are Welcome:  Posts about how Catholic parishes and faith communities can increase their welcome to LGBT people.

5) Spiritual and Scriptural Reflections:  Personal, reflective essays that examine the connection between the experiences of the LGBT community in light of our faith.   Coming on the four Sundays of Advent will be a Scriptural reflection series by New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder Sister Jeannine Gramick and Associate Director Matthew Myers.

And, of course, an important part of this blog is the contributions made by our readers in the “Comments” sections of the various posts.  We’ve been inspired and enlightened by the comments that have been submitted, and we marvel at the quality of thought and heart that our readers exhibit.  For this, we are especially thankful!

Some folks have asked for guidelines or “etiquette” for posts.  We only have a few:

  1. Please keep your comments relevant to the content of the post.
  2. Please refrain from name-calling or other personal attacks.  Challenge the person’s ideas and arguments instead of insulting the person.
  3. Please use only civil language; no profanities.
  4. We will not approve any comments that we deem to be pastorally or personally harmful to our readers.

Our goal is to approve as many comments as possible, as quickly as possible.  Occasionally we will edit comments to remove any of the objectionable material mentioned above, if we feel that there is enough other “post-worthy” material in the comment submitted.  A comment that we need to edit may take a little bit longer to post to the blog.

What we have discovered is that the blog, which was intended to be primarily a news source, has really become an online community where people have been sharing thoughts, observations, spiritual insights, personal struggles and victories, and, most of all, renewing one another’s hopes for a church and a world where LGBT people are treated equally and justly.  We have been blessed by this discussion, and we hope that you will continue to participate in this community by posting your ideas and reflections.

Since Day One, our readership has continued to expand!  We marvel how almost every day we get new followers to our blog, or to our Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social media outlets which promote the blog’s posts.  We’re happy, grateful, and proud to say that our blog followers include many leaders in the worlds of Catholicism, LGBT activism and organizing, journalism, and academia. Indeed our posts have been quoted and re-blogged on major websites and news outlets around the globe! We continue to marvel at the many stories we’ve learned about from our readers of the many wonderful things you are all doing in your parishes, schools, and home communities.  We appreciate the many “tips” and “leads” you have provided us that have developed into posts on the blog.

We will continue the birthday celebration of the blog on Monday and Tuesday with two additional posts related to this milestone. Our birthday wish  is that many of you derive as much hope and inspiration from the material presented here as we receive from your involvement and support!  We look forward to sharing the future together with all of you!

–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Happy Thanksgiving! For What Are You Thankful?

November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving to all Bondings 2.0 readers!   We hope that you have much to be thankful for this year.

Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast has this to say about thankfulness, in his book, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer:

“Everything is gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is the measure of our gratefulness. And gratefulness is the measure of our aliveness. Are we not dead to whatever we take for granted?”

At New Ways Ministry, we are very thankful for many things this year.  Our main staff members each offered their top three items for which they are thankful, and they are printed below.

What are you thankful for this year, especially items that may pertain to Catholic LGBT issues?  We invite you to share your items in the “Comments” section of this post.

At New Ways Ministry, we are very thankful for many things this year.  Our main staff members each offered their top three items for which they are thankful.  Here they are:

Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director:

1.  All of New Ways Ministry’s friends and supporters, who by their prayers and financial donations keep our ministry strong and vibrant.

2. Catholics in the pews who continually speak out for equality and justice for LGBT people, particularly in the areas of marriage equality and employment non-discrimination.

3.  Pope Francis, who renews our hope by stretching out his hands to those who society and the church have harmed by their words, decisions, actions.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder:

1.  I am thankful for three wonderful co-workers who make it a joy to advocate for LGBT inclusion in the church.

2.  I am thankful that Pope Francis placed questions about same-sex unions on the Vatican survey in preparation for the 2014 Synod on the Family.

3.  I am thankful that a high school President in New York welcomed a gay couple to attend their junior prom together and hopeful that this will encourage other Catholic administrators to practice just policies in their institutions.

Matt Myers, Associate Director:

1.  Openly gay priests and lesbian women religious who faithfully serve the People of God with integrity and compassion.

2.  LGBT Catholics who remain active members of their parishes and dioceses, despite sometimes feeling marginalized or overlooked.

3. Pope Francis and his ongoing ministry of healing, reconciliation, and welcome.

Bob Shine,  Social Media Coordinator:

1.  Pope Francis, who’s preaching about open doors and a Church that is home for all is made real by his acts of love and inclusion.

 2. Emerging education and advocacy by Catholics for transgender justice and equality, especially in higher education.
3.  A sense of excitement and joy at being Catholic for the first time,  as lay people respond to Pope Francis’ call at World Youth Day to “make a mess” in our dioceses.

The Complex and Layered Meanings in Pope Francis’ New Document

November 27, 2013

Pope Francis

As more people begin to scrutinize Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), new details emerge which show that in regards to LGBT issues, the new document shows a complex picture.

The New York Times reports that buried in a footnote to the document is a reference to the U.S. bishops’ 2006 document, Ministry to Persons with Homosexual Inclinations:  Guidelines for Pastoral Carewhich promoted the traditional definition of a homosexual orientation as an objective disorder.  The Times reports:

“Nowhere in the document did Francis speak explicitly of homosexuality or same-sex marriage. However, he said the church should not give in to ‘moral relativism,’ and cited with approval a document written by the bishops of the United States on ministering to people with ‘homosexual inclination.’ The pope said the American bishops are right that the church must insist on ‘objective moral norms which are valid for everyone’ — even when the church is perceived by supporters of gay rights as promoting prejudice and interfering with individual freedom.”

This detail is a clearer indication that Pope Francis does not seem inclined to change the teaching on homosexuality.  That notion had been clear since he first started speaking about gay and lesbian issues back in July with his “Who am I to judge?” interview, in which he also did uphold the Catechism’s teaching on homosexuality.  I’ve noted before that it looks like Pope Francis’s road to change in the church won’t be a straight one.

But while in content Pope Francis remains traditional, many people, including myself,  perceive he is opening up a process that will eventually lead to positive developments in church teaching.  For example, Martin Pendergast, a long-time Catholic advocate for LGBT equality in the United Kingdom, offered what he saw as two important selections from the document which point to the possibility of change in the Church, which I had overlooked in yesterday’s post on this topic.

In the first selection, the pope is calling for decentralization of authority in the church:

“Countless issues involving evangelization today might be discussed here, but I have chosen not to explore these many questions which call for further reflection and study. Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization.’ ”  (Introduction, section 16)

In the second selection, the pope acknowledges that not all Church teachings hold the same weight:

“All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel. In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead. In this sense, the Second Vatican Council explained, ‘in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or a ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith’.[38] This holds true as much for the dogmas of faith as for the whole corpus of the Church’s teaching, including her moral teaching.” (chapter 1, section 36)

What gives me hope from this document, despite the fact that it does not challenge the traditional teaching on homosexuality, is that there is an openness and humility that seem to get at the core of the Christian message.  Having a pope who is interested in the opinions of the laity, who stresses dialogue and the possibility of change, who stresses diversity and decentralization, who acknowledges the role of science, who seeks to update old traditions can only mean that the road ahead is filled with possibilities.  (All of the items mentioned in the previous sentence were included in yesterday’s blog post on excerpts from the papal document.)

John Allen, writing in The National Catholic Reportersummarizes what he sees as Pope Francis’ outline for reform, which includes many of the items mentioned above.  Allen writes:

  • He calls for a “conversion of the papacy,” saying he wants to promote “a sound decentralization” and candidly admitting that in recent years “we have made little progress” on that front.
  • He suggests that bishops’ conferences ought to be given “a juridical status … including genuine doctrinal authority.” In effect, that would amount to a reversal of a 1998 Vatican ruling under John Paul II that only individual bishops in concert with the pope, and not episcopal conferences, have such authority.
  • Francis says the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” insisting that “the doors of the sacraments” must not “be closed for simply any reason.” His language could have implications not only for divorced and remarried Catholics, but also calls for refusing the Eucharist to politicians or others who do not uphold church teaching on some matters.
  • He calls for collaborative leadership, saying bishops and pastors must use “the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear.”
  • Francis criticizes forces within the church who seem to lust for “veritable witch hunts,” asking rhetorically, “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”
  • He cautions against “ostentatious preoccupation” for liturgy and doctrine as opposed to ensuring that the Gospel has “a real impact” on people and engages “the concrete needs of the present time.”

Pope Francis may not be the radical reformer that many have hoped for.  But for those who trust that the Holy Spirit is moving among the laity of the church and who have longed for the possibility of discussion of diversity of opinions, Pope Francis’ project seems to open up a new possibility of hope.

Clearly, this is not the kind of pope that we had gotten used to over the last four decades. And clearly, this new document is complex and layered.  Bondings 2.0 will continue to provide analysis and commentary of this document, especially as it relates to LGBT issues, as we become aware of them.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry




Lay Consultation Challenges Are A Result of Bishops’ Reluctance

November 27, 2013

In the wake of Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, which has been well received worldwide, there is a renewed urgency for the faithful to make their voices heard before next fall’s Synod of Bishops on the Family. Commentaries on what this input could mean, the challenge of collecting it, and how Catholic voices could affect change have popped up at the same time as a number of online surveys.

Reporting on the challenges of collecting Catholic input “as widely as possible,” which the Vatican directed bishops to do, Joshua McElwee writes at National Catholic Reporter:

“Organizing such an effort, said several coordinators of bishops’ previous attempts to engage in wide-range listening, takes time, dedication and a sincere desire to listen to the everyday experiences of Catholics — regardless of whether their viewpoints fall outside the bounds of strict adherence to church teaching.

“It also depends on the ability of those doing the collection of the data to sort it and then find ways to interpret what it means.”

Looking to the past, these periods of consultations were measured in years, not months or even weeks as is the current timeline. The process by which bishops should prepare for the synod is complicated and requires far more efforts than American Catholics have seen to this point, according to a former staff member at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

“Dolores Leckey, a former U.S. bishops’ staffer who spearheaded their preparations for the 1987 Synod on the laity, said preparations for that event unfolded over two years and included listening sessions held by priests and bishops in parishes across the country and wide submission of suggestions on the topic to the bishops’ national office…

“Taking lessons from her experience in the 1980s, Leckey said the U.S. bishops today should ‘try to get people to talk about what their life is like, what are their problems, what do they need from the church, what’s the major pastoral issue for them.’

” ‘If, in truth, the parish, as an agent of the church, is there to help people along the way, I would want to find out what is it that they perceive they need…’ “

A handful of dioceses (three in Iowa, Philadelphia, and Baltimore), some national bishops conferences (notably Belgium and the joint conference of England and Wales), as well as church reform organizations (Catholic Organizations for Renewal and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good) have released surveys. There is little indication of how the data will be compiled and not much time to elicit responses. More troubling is the reluctance with which bishops in the US are reaching out to the Catholic faithful, as they have been asked by the Vatican to do, given the relatively short time available before the Synod in 2014.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, explained to the National Catholic Reporter that regardless of unknowns and impediments from the bishops, Catholics must use raises their voices in this moment. The import is less about compiling data than truly listening to faithful Catholics who want renewal in their Church:

“What is really going to be heard here is sort of the cries of the people, in some ways when they are talking about their pastoral needs and where they are seeing them being met, and where they’re not being met through the church structure”…

“The fact that these questions are being raised, and there seems to be an opportunity to talk about pastoral needs of people in real situations is very exciting for Catholics”

Bondings 2.0 is providing a list of available surveys, so find one  and send your thoughts to Pope Francis! You can find the listing here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

How Will Pope’s New Document Affect LGBT Issues?

November 26, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has issued an Apostolic Exhortation entitled “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”).  The focus on the document is on renewing the evangelization efforts of the church, which he rightly envisions as the entire People of God.  It is a document which does not shy away from examining how church structures, including the Vatican and the papacy, need to reform in order to make this renewal of evangelization possible.

The document does not discuss sexuality, gender, or LGBT issues.  In fact, in chapter two, he outlines many of today’s social ills, and unlike the previous two popes, he does not single out any sexuality issues for discussion here.  His only reference to these topics is a passing one, and noteworthy for NOT naming any hot-button issues such as same-gender marriage:

“The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born ‘of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life’.[60] ”  (chapter 2, section 66)

As we’ve noted before, Pope Francis may not be ready to make wholesale changes in church doctrine on LGBT issues, but he does seem intent on establishing reforms which can eventually lead to such needed changes. While sexuality is not discussed in this new document, there are many topics in it that can pave the way for the church hierarchy to renew itself in regard to these concerns.   I’ve excerpted a few of them below.  In the coming week, we hope to provide more analysis and commentary on this newly-released document as it becomes available.

1. Reforming the Papacy

“Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization.” (chapter 1, section 32)

2.  Updating long-standing traditions which have become irrelevant

“In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives. Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God ‘are very few’.[47] Citing Saint Augustine, he noted that the precepts subsequently enjoined by the Church should be insisted upon with moderation ‘so as not to burden the lives of the faithful’ and make our religion a form of servitude, whereas ‘God’s mercy has willed that we should be free’.[48] This warning, issued many centuries ago, is most timely today. It ought to be one of the criteria to be taken into account in considering a the reform of the Church and her preaching which would enable it to reach everyone.” (chapter 1, section 43)

3.  On welcoming all to church and not withholding communion

“The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself ‘the door': baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.[51] These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”  (chapter  1, section 47)

4. The importance and role of the laity in the church

“Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the People of God. The minority – ordained ministers – are at their service. There has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church. We can count on many lay persons, although still not nearly enough, who have a deeply-rooted sense of community and great fidelity to the tasks of charity, catechesis and the celebration of the faith. At the same time, a clear awareness of this responsibility of the laity, grounded in their baptism and confirmation, does not appear in the same way in all places. In some cases, it is because lay persons have not been given the formation needed to take on important responsibilities. In others, it is because in their particular Churches room has not been made for them to speak and to act, due to an excessive clericalism which keeps them away from decision-making. Even if many are now involved in the lay ministries, this involvement is not reflected in a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political and economic sectors. It often remains tied to tasks within the Church, without a real commitment to applying the Gospel to the transformation of society. The formation of the laity and the evangelization of professional and intellectual life represent a significant pastoral challenge.”  (chapter 2, section 102)

5.  The call for all to be evangelizers

“In all the baptized, from first to last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelization. The people of God is holy thanks to this anointing, which makes it infallible in credendo. This means that it does not err in faith, even though it may not find words to explain that faith. The Spirit guides it in truth and leads it to salvation.[96] As part of his mysterious love for humanity, God furnishes the totality of the faithful with aninstinct of faith – sensus fidei – which helps them to discern what is truly of God. The presence of the Spirit gives Christians a certain connaturality with divine realities, and a wisdom which enables them to grasp those realities intuitively, even when they lack the wherewithal to give them precise expression.

“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.” (chapter 3, sections 119-120)

6.  The importance of dialogue and listening

“In this preaching, which is always respectful and gentle, the first step is personal dialogue, when the other person speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs.” (chapter 3, section 128)

7. Changing the church’s teaching on social issues and the importance of science

“The Church’s teachings concerning contingent situations are subject to new and further developments and can be open to discussion, yet we cannot help but be concrete – without presuming to enter into details – lest the great social principles remain mere generalities which challenge no one. There is a need to draw practical conclusions, so that they ‘will have greater impact on the complexities of current situations’.[148] The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being.” (chapter 4, section 182)
“. . .  neither the Pope nor the Church have a monopoly on the interpretation of social realities or the proposal of solutions to contemporary problems. Here I can repeat the insightful observation of Pope Paul VI: ‘In the face of such widely varying situations, it is difficult for us to utter a unified message and to put forward a solution which has universal validity. This is not our ambition, nor is it our mission. It is up to the Christian communities to analyze with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country’.[152] ” (chapter 4, section 184)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Was It Intellectually Possible for Pope Benedict to Support Marriage Equality?

November 26, 2013

The recent marriage equality debate in Illinois produced a lot of important arguments, especially from Catholics who supported the passage of the new law. For instance, as we noted a few weeks back, several Catholic legislators appealed to Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?” comment to support their endorsement of marriage equality.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

In an op-ed essay in The Chicago Sun-Times, Cristina Traina, a Northwestern University  professor of religious studies and scholar of Catholic ethics builds on the idea of papal thinking as an avenue to support marriage equality.  

Entitled “Unnecessary roughing: Why Catholic bishops should be more accepting of gay marriage,”  Traina argues that Catholics, because of their moral tradition, should not only accept, but actively work for marriage equality.  This imperative, she asserts, comes not only from Pope Francis, but from his more conservative-minded predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.  She explains:

“Pope Francis certainly has not promoted same-sex marriage — especially in the Church. But he and his predecessor, Benedict XVI, both have made arguments that suggest their willingness to distinguish the low bar of public policy and civil law from the high bar of Christian moral ideals. Most importantly, they and others in the Catholic hierarchy seem to see these laws and policies as means of nudging people toward spiritual and moral renewal.”

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Traina leads her readers carefully through the confusing realm of what she calls “Vatican-speak” to explain how she arrived at this conclusion.  For example, Pope Francis’ Vatican has already recognized that same-sex marriage is a phenomenon that needs to be approached in a new pastoral way.  Noting that the Vatican is polling Catholics worldwide what their thoughts on same-sex marriage are,  Traina states:

“With the clear assumption that same-sex marriage is a cultural reality, the poll is trying to determine how the Church should minister to gay and lesbian couples and their families.”

From this point, she goes even further, by bringing in the sophisticated moral reasoning that Pope Benedict used when discussing condom use:

“The last example brings us to Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2010, according to an explosion of newswires, reversed Catholic teaching, cautiously approving the use of condoms to reduce transmission of HIV/AIDS. What the pope actually said — as the Vatican quickly confirmed — was quite different but no less important.

“He argued that for a person who has been practicing unprotected sex, using condoms out of concern for others ‘can be a first step in the direction of moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.’

“Though the Church disapproves of condoms, the reasoning goes, using them for the right reasons might lead a person gradually toward greater moral concern and away from a self-indulgent approach to sex.

“The implication is that the Vatican is beginning to view ‘irregular’ behavior like condom use and same-sex marriage as opportunity rather than as threat. Without abandoning its rejection of either, it shows signs of seeing both as indications of people’s aspirations to love, fidelity and concern for others — as nascent yearnings toward a holy life.”

This style of reasoning offers the U.S. bishops an example of how they can acknowledge and support marriage equality:

“Pope Benedict acknowledged the integrity of people who want to use condoms to forestall the spread of an often-fatal disease, though the Catholic Church teaches that sex should be confined to marriage and that monogamy and abstinence are better protection than condoms against HIV/AIDS. American bishops could follow suit by acknowledging the integrity of same-sex couples who want to marry, declare their fidelity, and raise children together, though the Catholic Church teaches that marriage should be confined to heterosexual couples.”

Traina concludes with a hope for the future:

“The implication of the popes’ actions is clear: marriage equality could be an important stepping stone to a holy life and therefore just might be good law.”

Catholic moral reasoning provides an intellectual basis for the Church to support marriage equality.  Traina’s argument shows that even someone like Pope Benedict, who opposed marriage equality on one hand, could also have used his own moral values and processes to support it.  One implication of Traina’s argument is that it shows that opposition to marriage equality is probably motivated by something other than intellectual reasoning.   Discussion of marriage equality–or any sexuality issue, for that matter–always involves more than one’s head, but also the person’s emotions and level of comfortability.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Love Trans-Formed Over the Weekend

November 25, 2013

Participants at New Ways Ministry’s “Trans-forming Love” workshop.

Love was trans-formed near Baltimore on Saturday, November 23rd, as Catholics gathered for New Ways Ministry’s workshop “Trans-forming Love”  which addressed transgender issues from a variety of perspectives. Participants from as far as Chicago and New England gathered for prayer, reflection, and education during the daylong workshop. They were parents, friends, spouses,pastoral ministers, allies, and transgender people themselves.  The workshop was held at the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart convent.

The morning began with prayer, followed by a presentation from Dr. Edgardo Menvielle, MD of Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. Dr. Menvielle shared his story of how his psychiatric career migrated into the care of gender variant children. He helped participants understand terminology and concepts particular to discussions of gender identity and diversity, as well as sharing clinical insights.

Dr. Edgardo Menvielle

Dr. Edgardo Menvielle

Most pointedly, he spoke of the particular needs of gender variant children, who may or may not ultimately be transgender. Transgender youth are at increased risk of violence, depression and suicide, risky sexual behaviors, and homelessness. Peer victimization at young ages leads to lifelong problems with social acceptance and self-worth, and he continued:

“If you’ve been bullied as a child, you don’t get over it. It tends to affect people in profound ways.”

Dr. Menvielle attributes many of the challenges transgender people face to social factors, such as how one’s family, friends or co-workers might respond or how culture, philosophical, and religious factors could affect their well-being. Given these realities, it was easy for participants to extrapolate how pastoral care of transgender people in the Catholic Church is a necessary, needed step.

After a lunch break, participants heard from Hilary Howes, a transgender Catholic woman who spoke to the personal, spiritual, and religious aspects of transgender people’s lives. Howes shared her story of transitioning eighteen years ago, and then about her efforts to advocate for transgender rights. She noted that each person’s life, especially those on the margins, is a parable that instructs.


Hilary Howes

Howes also discussed her participation in the Transgender Religious Roundtable which hopes to go beyond just welcoming transgender people into faith communities. Howes said of this effort:

“Our idea was: what do we bring to the party? What is it that we [transgender people] do that is unique to religious institutions? In other traditions, transgender people hold a very special place and in Western culture we needed to define that.”

Specific to the Catholic community, Howes was asked why transgender people would stay Catholic and she replied:

“I’ll have to admit that for a lot of transgender people raised in the Catholic Church they have been so harmed by the Catholic community that they have left church. I know a number of Lutherans and Episcopalians that were raised Catholic.

“The reality is that there is no teaching by the Roman Catholic Church on transgender people. There are those who make claims; there is nothing that has been substantiated. Every priest I’ve talked to and a couple of bishops have been very supportive and understanding. They have not found any incompatibility with being transgender and Catholic.

“For me, one reason I stay Catholic is the ritual. I’m deeply called to that. It’s highly symbolic to me as an artist and a creative person. There’s a convenience factor too with my wife being Catholic.”

You can read more on Howes’ blog, TogetherStyle, where she also provides resources for transgender people. There are also resources available for promoting inclusive faith communities from the Institute for Welcoming Resources.

The day concluded with a closing prayer, part of which is included below for the reflection of Bondings 2.0 readers:

“We give you thanks, O God our Creator, because you have given us life. You have made us in your image and breathed your Spirit into us. We are alive with the divinity that you manifest in us. We have been touched by you, O God.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Young Gay Scientist Awarded by Vatican

November 24, 2013

Jack Andraka

Maryland’s Jack Andraka is only 16 years old, but already he has broken ground in cancer research — and Catholic culture.

The Vatican recently awarded him for scientific efforts, but others, including Andraka, note the importance of this award, given that this prodigy is also openly gay.

Andraka received the International Giuseppe Sciacca Award for developing a pancreatic cancer early-detection test. The award is presented in Rome to young people who have made outstanding progress in their given field, and is named after an architecture student who died at 26.

The Advocate reports on Andraka’s cancer research for which the young man has won many other awards and media appearances:

“Andraka’s test for pancreatic cancer is significant because this is one of the deadliest forms of the disease, difficult to detect before it has affected other organs. He is in negotiations with a couple of biotech firms to refine and market the test, which would likely be available to the public in five to 10 years.”

In an interview with a Baltimore-area radio station, Andraka, a native of Anne Arundel County, spoke more about the cultural step that has been taken by the Vatican awarding a young gay man. He is quoted by WBAL as saying:

” ‘It’s really amazing to be recognized by the Vatican, especially as a gay scientist. I mean this would be unheard of just a few years ago. To be part of this bridge of progress is really amazing…’ “

“It just shows how much the world has grown to accept people that are gay and are LGBT. It’s really amazing.”

Andraka not only advocates for more LGBT inclusion in the Church, but in scientific fields as well where he claims diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity is lacking. To hear Andraka speak about LGBT inclusion, among several other topics, you can watch a video interview with him here.

Pope Francis has asked for open doors to the LGBT community. The Vatican’s recognition that LGBT people contribute countless gifts to our world when it comes to Andraka should be followed up with more positive outreach and dialogue. Hopefully, this one award foreshadows many good developments to come.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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