Cardinal Turkson’s Remarks on Anti-Gay Law Deserve a Closer Look

March 5, 2014

Cardinal Peter Turkson

Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council on Peace and Justice, criticized Uganda’s anti-gay law while urging donor nations to sustain their aid commitments. Though his comments have been celebrated by gay advocates, a closer look reveals a more troubling understanding of LGBT issues by the cardinal.

Turkson made his comments at a conference titled “The Church and Human Rights” in Slovakia when he remarked to the media that “homosexuals are not criminals” and should not be imprisoned for their sexual identity, according to The Advocate. The cardinal, who is originally from Ghana, echoed several Ugandan organizations in requesting that the international community continue delivering aid, despite the new law. More than $115 million in funding has been pulled since the anti-gay law was passed, while the US and others are still evaluating their commitments.

This negative evaluation of the new law is a shift for Turkson, who once defended Uganda’s anti-gay bill when it included the death penalty as a potential sentence for LGBT people and said prejudices by some Africans were understandable. Turkson has also blamed gay priests for the sexual abuse crisis.  Perhaps his shift on this law is due to the influence of Pope Francis, who has taken a much more compassionate approach to LGBT issues than his predecessors.

However, Turkson’s address on religious liberty to the conference reiterated his belief that LGBT equality was not a human rights consideration. A closer look sets his comment to reporters in context, with the text posted by Vatican Radio:

“Another example is the use of the term ‘gender’ to suggest that sex is not biologically grounded as male and female but is simply a social construct or produced by what individuals think or feel they are. Moreover, attempts to recognize those engaging in homosexual behaviour as a specific group to be accorded human rights go beyond the protection to be guaranteed to all people under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Related to this is the suggestion that marriage could somehow be redefined, despite the fact that marriage is, by nature, between one man and one woman for their mutual love and increase of the human family, as affirmed in international law. Such positions distort reality because they attempt to rewrite human nature, which de natura cannot be rewritten.”

Turkson quoted Chicago Cardinal Francis George’s opposition to marriage equality and reiterated verbatim the Catechism’s words on welcoming gay people with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” concluding that section with:

“Thus, while the Church regrets the discordance between homosexual behaviour as such and what we understand as the norm for God-given human nature, she upholds the integrity of everyone’s rights. See our Lord’s reaction when the townspeople wished to stone a woman to death for adultery: He managed to preserve her life and bodily security (John 8:1-11).”

Turkson’s four words that “homosexuals are not criminals” have been reported as a positive sign. The underlying reality is that he remains far from Pope Francis’ unconditioned call to protect every person’s dignity and for the Church to show love to LGBT people. The cardinal’s shift from supporting executions for gay Ugandans to a most basic recognition of LGBT people’s dignity is progress, but the Church’s leaders must respond with far more when anti-LGBT discrimination and violence is on the rise.  We hope that his words will give courage to the Ugandan bishops’ conference, which has yet to make a statement about the new law.

Perhaps Cardinal Turkson needs another conversation with Sr. Jeannine Gramick, as happened last fall. You can read about that here.

While it is good that Turkson made the remark, we still need stronger words from the Vatican about anti-gay laws around the world.  You can encourage Pope Francis to make a strong statement against these laws by joining the #PopeSpeakOut Twitter campaign.

–Bob Shine and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


What Are You Giving Up?

March 5, 2014

LentPeriodically in Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.

“What are you giving up?” 

I know Lent is approaching when I start to hear this question. Even a couple of my non-Catholic friends ask me. I usually offer some vague non-committal response because, like my New Year’s resolutions, I don’t like it when other people notice when I inevitably depart from my Lenten intentions. But each year I give up something nonetheless.

I was taught that giving up something during Lent brought me closer to God by sharing in the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary. If I didn’t feel a bit deprived, then it wasn’t working. So, this year. I intended to forgo coffee, which is an admirable sacrifice for a guy with a Starbucks monkey on his back. I was planning to reap the spiritual fruits of my sacrifice because I could unite my (admittedly very minor) suffering with that of Christ. How noble! But now that Ash Wednesday is here, I’m starting to think that I might have missed the mark. Let me explain.

I recently read an article by Fr. Joseph Donders, who paraphrased St. Augustine on fasting: “Don’t believe that fasting suffices. Fasting punishes you, but it does not restore your brother… How many poor people could be nourished by the meal you did not take today?” Perhaps my original understanding of Lenten sacrifice was a bit self-centered and more navel-gazing than anything. It was all about “me and Jesus” rather than “me, Jesus, and my neighbor.” Giving something up for Lent is not an end in itself; rather, it should readily redirect my attention from myself toward others.

Likewise, St. John Chrysostom offers this insight: “Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him.” The primary beneficiary of my Lenten sacrifice should not be myself, but my neighbor in need. Self-denial frees my mind and my resources. What money or time I do not spend on myself, I need to spend for the benefit of others. And that’s the crux of the issue – giving something up during Lent requires me not only to think about the needs of others, but to do something to meet those needs.

Most recently, Pope Francis in his Lenten message emphasizes the connection between self-denial and charitable outreach: “We would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty.” Lent rescues me from myself and frees me to think about others – particularly those who suffer from poverty. From now onward, perhaps I will change the annual Lenten question from “What am I giving up?” to “How can I share with my neighbors in need?” I think the latter question more accurately reflects what we are called by the Gospel to do each Lent. I’m still going to give up coffee for Lent, but not quite for the same reasons as when I started. I hope your Lenten season is filled with many spiritual gifts – and perhaps you might join me in asking, “How can I share with my neighbors in need?”

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Loyola Chicago Limits Weddings to Straight Catholics

March 5, 2014

Madonna Della Strada Chapel at Loyola Chicago

Illinois’ first same-gender couples were married last week after a judge’s ruling found withholding marriage licenses until June 1 of this year to be unconstitutional. At the same time, Loyola University in Chicago, a Jesuit institution, began implementing a new policy banning same-gender couples and others from marrying on its campus.

The new policy comes as a response to one lesbian alumna’s request to marry at Loyola, denied by the University on the basis they only allowed marriages recognized by the state of Illinois. At the time of her request, marriage equality was not in effect in the state. In Bondings 2.0‘s previous coverage of that incident, students and alumni had expressed hope that Loyola would use Illinois’ passage of marriage equality as a way to welcome same-gender couples.

Until now, there had been no official policy about on-campus weddings and only about 15 ceremonies were hosted in a given year. DNAinfo Chicago reports on what the new policy entails:

“The policy, enacted in December, allows only Catholic-sanctioned weddings — between a man and a woman — at the school’s iconic Madonna della Strada Chapel in Rogers Park. All other ceremonies would be forbidden campuswide, university officials said…

“Wedding receptions, regardless of religious or gender identification, would be permitted in any of the university’s other venues, like at Loyola’s popular Cuneo Mansion and Gardens in Vernon Hills, Ill…”

Though specifically targeting same-gender couples, this will also exclude mixed-gender marriages by alumni from other religious traditions or civil ceremonies. There are questions surrounding the legality of this new policy, with the Windy City Timereporting:

“Loyola’s religious affiliation and mission affords the university exemptions granted under the equal-marriage law, which states that religious organizations are not required to provide their facilities for wedding ceremonies and receptions…

“However, the law’s definition of ‘religious facilities’ states that educational facilities are not exempt. With Loyola’s standing as both a religious organization and an educational institution, there could be room for interpretation based on how the law is worded. But the wedding and reception venues offered by the university aren’t necessarily used for educational purposes.”

Regardless, students and alumni are disappointed that Loyola did not make the right decision morally speaking. Paul Kubicki, the head of a campus LGBT group, said students were “exceptionally disappointed” and stated further:

” ‘Instead of sort of taking the braver approach and embracing the LGBTQ community as they have in the past, they’ve stopped short’…

” ‘It will be indigestible to the community as a whole. I think a lot of people really resent it…I can’t imagine it sticking around for very much longer.’ “

The students have support in alumni, as well as the local community. Michael Jarecki is a 2001 graduate who will withhold from donating or supporting the school while this policy remains.  He told DNAinfo Chicago:

” ‘I was extremely disappointed because that policy is not reflective of the Loyola that I know…To me, this seems like two steps backwards.’…

” ‘If Loyola doesn’t see there are consequences to their actions, it won’t change…Why go through the work to promote Loyola when they are personally rejecting me as a gay man?’ “

The Huffington Post’s report of this new policy places it within the context of a larger trend within contemporary Catholicism:

“Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the LGBT Catholic organization DignityUSA, told The Huffington Post Loyola’s policy is consistent with actions by other Catholic institutions in response to same-sex marriage legalization.

” ‘As gay marriage comes to more and more places, the Catholic landscape gets more complex,’ Duddy-Burke said. ‘Bishops reach out to churches and give these kinds of orders: Priests are told not to do this, not to officiate and not even be present at same-sex weddings.’ “

Illinois’ implementation of equal marriage rights was a prime opportunity for Loyola University in Chicago to augment an existing commitment to LGBT inclusion, but administrators missed it. The Loyola community now excludes far too many couples and their families from committing to each other in love.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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