ONE YEAR LATER: Sr. Jeannine Gramick Assesses Pope Francis’ 1st Year

March 10, 2014

ONE YEAR LATER is an afternoon series focusing on the first year of Pope Francis’ papacy. Bondings 2.0 will be running this series all week.  The anniversary of his election is Thursday, March 13th.

A group of Catholic church reform organizations have banded together to organize a website/blog about the pope’s first year:  PopeFrancis365.orgIn addition to LGBT topics, the site includes resources on a variety of issues:  women’s ordination, non-violence, divorce and re-marriage, worker justice, church governance, to name a few.

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, wrote the website’s section on Pope Francis and LGBT issues.  You can link to the website by clicking here.  Below is the main portion of the text, but you need to go to the website to see action items and other resources.

LGBT CATHOLICS

By Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry

Overview

Like the shot heard round the world, “Who am I to judge?” has, without doubt, come to define Pope Francis. His answer to a question about gay priests, asked by a reporter during a press conference on the plane ride back to Rome from World Youth Day celebrations in July 2013, was reprinted in headlines all over the globe. These five words represent an unambiguous departure from the harsh language of his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, toward LGBT persons.

A mere nine months after his election to the papacy, Time magazine named Pope Francis its Person of the Year, in part for his welcome of LGBT people. The Advocate, the leading LGBT magazine, chose him as the single most influential person of 2013 for LGBT people, claiming that, because of Francis, “a significant and unprecedented shift took place this year in how LGBT people are considered by one of the world’s largest faith communities.” Pope Francis is turning into a rock star pontiff as he takes his place on the cover of the Rolling Stone magazine alongside other pop icons of American culture.

Equally Blessed, a coalition of four Catholic groups (Call to Action, Dignity, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry) with a special outreach to LGBT persons and their allies, stated that the pope’s statements are “like rain on a parched land” for their constituents.

Pope Francis has given courage to thousands of Catholics who have been ministering with LGBT persons, many of whom have been penalized by church authorities who do not share Pope Francis’ welcoming vision. For LGBT advocates, Pope Francis is reinvigorating the Spirit called forth by Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council.

The First Year

Pope Francis is the first pope to publicly use the word “gay.” And this, in his first year in 2013! He spoke directly about lesbian and gay persons on his return flight from World Youth Day in July. In August, he gave a lengthy three-part interview to Antonio Spadaro, SJ, the Editor-in-Chief of La Civilta Cattolica in Rome at the request of all the editors of Jesuit magazines worldwide. In this interview Pope Francis elaborated on his remarks about lesbian and gay people. In November in Rome, he addressed the Union of Superiors General, an organization of the heads of religious congregations of men and spoke of new kinds of families, some headed by same-gender couples. Children in these situations present new educational challenges for the Church, he said .

In his famous “Who am I to Judge” statement on the plane from Rio, reporters asked about Italian news reports on a “gay lobby” of clerics at the Vatican, blackmailing each other about sexual exploits. Pope Francis joked that he had never seen the word gay on a Vatican identity card, but in seriousness said there is a distinction between the “fact of a person being gay” and “the fact of a lobby.” “Lobbies are not good,” he said, implying that being gay is good. There was public speculation that Francis was affirming only gay celibate priests, not all gay and lesbian people. He contradicted this theory in the coming months.

“During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.”

In the quote cited above, Pope Francis spoke about freedom and respect for the spiritual life of each person—all in the context of LGBT people. His words, spoken in this context, affirm the decision that most lesbian and gay Catholics have made to follow their conscience regarding sexuality, knowing in their hearts that they are at peace with God. It is particularly reassuring for them to hear such affirmation from the highest authority of our Church.

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being.

In this quote, Francis reiterated his belief that the heart of the Gospel, and therefore the Church’s primary message, is God’s love for the person, not the repetition or enforcement of sterile doctrines about sexuality. His obvious intent is to by-pass offensive words like “intrinsically disordered” and “objectively immoral.” Francis is telling us to think of lesbian and gay individuals as human beings, as persons, instead of associating them with sexual activity.

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context… The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

Pope Francis’ above quote seems to be directly aimed at members of the hierarchy who are obsessed with cultural wars and the hot-button issues of abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. Time magazine pointed out, ”That might not seem like significant progress in the U.S. and other developed nations. But the Pope’s sensitivity to sexual orientation has a different impact in many developing countries, where homo­phobia is institutionalized, widespread and sanctioned.”

What’s Ahead

LGBT Catholics and their advocates are looking ahead for Pope Francis’ leadership in at least two specific areas: anti-discrimination laws and pastoral outreach to same-sex couples.

1.  Non-discrimination 

Uganda’s Parliament recently criminalized homosexuality, including life imprisonment for repeat offenders. Similar persecution of LGBT persons is occurring in Nigeria, Zambia, India, Russia, Croatia, and Jamaica, to name but a few nation states. Catholics and people of faith worldwide are calling on Pope Francis to condemn anti-LGBT laws implemented in several nations recently in a campaign called No More Triangle Nations.

The campaign, organized by New Ways Ministry and Fellowship Global, is a coalition of groups, including some COR groups. It encourages people to contact Pope Francis to urge him to speak out against repressive laws. People can tweet at the Pope (@Pontifex), send him an email (av@pccs.va), or write him a letter (His Holiness Pope Francis, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City State, 00120).

2.  Same-Sex Couples

In a speech to the Union of Superiors General in November 2013, Pope Francis described families headed by same-gender couples as one of the new educational challenges facing the Church.

Pope Francis has publicly advocated civil unions, but not gay marriage, for same-sex couples. From this speech, it is difficult to ascertain the extent of his sympathy for gay couples. He cast same-sex couples in a negative light by recalling sadly that a little girl told her teacher, “My mother’s girlfriend doesn’t love me.” However, he showed concern that we not give these children “a vaccine against faith” by showing hostility to their parents.

If the pope is serious about “proclaiming Christ to a generation that is changing,” as he said in this speech, he needs to listen humbly to those in the changing generation. His solicitation of input from the laity for the 2014 Synod on the Family is a good first start, but more needs to be done. For example, he could speak about workers’ rights, particularly the injustice of firing someone in a same-sex relationship, for issues unrelated to job performance.

Conclusion

Pope Francis has provided unexpected exhilaration for LGBT advocates. As Mark Segal, a leading gay activist, observed, “The actual doctrine of the church has not changed, but the message that Pope Francis is sending is more powerful than the doctrines themselves. Francis seems to understand that messages can create instant change, while doctrine can take years. He performs simple gestures as a priest looking after his flock.”

      The Advocate succinctly concluded, “Pope Francis is still not pro-gay by today’s standard…But what Francis does say about LGBT people has already caused reflection and consternation within his church.” His example has made a difference. The pope’s influence is not in making policy changes, but in setting the tone that will enable change to bubble up from below.

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–Post by Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


German Bishop Calls for Sexual Ethics Overhaul, While U.S. Prelates Cling to Past

March 10, 2014

Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier

A German bishop has recently called for an overhaul of the Church’s sexual teachings in light of responses to the Vatican’s survey on marriage and family released last fall. Meanwhile, high-profile American prelates are holding firm to anti-LGBT teachings and exemplify why at least one columnist is calling for bishops to get on board with Pope Francis.

Bishop Stephan Ackermann of the Trier diocese was being interviewed by a German publication when he made remarks suggesting the hierarchy must rethink sexual ethics, as survey responses revealed how far church teachings are from the reality of lay Catholics’ lives. National Catholic Reporter quotes the bishop on several topics, indicative of his broader point:

“Declaring a second marriage after a divorce a perpetual mortal sin, and under no circumstances allowing remarried divorced people ever to receive the Sacraments, was not helpful, he said and added, ‘We bishops will have to make suggestions here. We must strengthen people’s sense of responsibility and then respect their decisions of conscience.’…

“As far as homosexual relationships were concerned, the church would have to appeal to people’s sense of responsibility, he continued. ‘The Christian concept of the human being emanates from the polarity of the sexes but we cannot simply say homosexuality is unnatural,’ he explained. While the church must ‘hold fast’ to the uniqueness of marriage between a man and a woman, it could not just ignore registered same-sex unions where the couples had promised to be faithful to and responsible for one another.”

Ackermann faced a divided re-action from the German hierarchy, with bishops both criticizing and affirming his call for open discussion. Last month, the episcopal conference in Germany released a report on the survey results which claimed Catholics view the hierarchy’s sexual ethics as unrealistic and merciless. A group of leading theologians released their own responses, affirming the need to rethink sexuality and relationships in their call for a ‘new paradigm.’

Also rejecting calls for reform of sexual teaching are Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and Cardinal Raymond Burke. Cordileone, who heads up the US bishops’ Committee for the Defense of Marriage, recently wrote letters supporting the State Marriage Defense Act of 2014, a federal bill. The bill was introduced by Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Randy Weber, both of Texas, and the archbishop affirmed their bill saying marriage needs “to be preserved and strengthened, not redefined.” It would force the federal government to grant marriage benefits based upon where a couple resides, and not where they were married, thereby denying same-gender couples nationwide many benefits now open to them.

In Rome, Cardinal Burke, who was recently removed from a prominent position at the Congregation of Bishops, wrote a letter in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s newspaper, affirming Pope Francis’ opposition to marriage equality. Burke had harsh words for LGBT advocates, claiming they have twisted the pope’s words, and criticized indirectly the pope’s shift in tone and in emphasis when it comes to divisive cultural topics. National Catholic Reporter reports further:

“Burke said he was prompted to write his column after a recent visit to the U.S. in which he became alarmed that so many people wanted to know whether the pope’s statements about not judging gays and his stress on mercy and welcoming everyone augured a change in church doctrine.”

Burke’s words are those of a once powerful bishop who increasingly finds himself at the margins of Pope Francis’ Vatican. Perhaps bishops, like Cordileone and Burke, who oppose LGBT equality might follow the pope’s lead more suggests John Gehring of Faith in Public Life.  In a National Catholic Reporter essay he states:

“Un-Christian behavior on the part of Christians is as old as Christianity itself. Jesus had to remind the Pharisees again and again that their prideful defense of the letter of the law led them to defile the law’s spirit of justice, love and compassion.

“Pope Francis has brought an unexpected season of renewal and hope for the Catholic Church not because he is a liberal or a conservative. He is inspiring so many because he acts like a Christian should act. Not a bad starting point for Catholic clergy and anyone who tries to follow in the footsteps of Christ.”

Not a bad start at all.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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