LGBT Issues Need to Be on the Agenda of World Meeting of Families

November 21, 2014

Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput seemed to indicate that LGBT issues will not be high on the agenda at next September’s World Meeting of Families to be held in that city.  A National Catholic Reporter article said that Chaput said:

“[The World Meeting of Families] will deal with a wide range of family issues where our religious faith is both needed and tested.

“These are matters that affect all families, not only in the United States but on a world scale. So we want to focus next year not just on the neuralgic sexual issues that seem to dominate the American media.”

Though he did not mention marriage equality or adoption by lesbian and gay couples, since those two topics are very frequently reported on in the American media, it would be hard to imagine that he was not including them in his intention.

Chaput said that the meeting “will deal with a wide range of family issues where our religious faith is both needed and tested.”  He made these comments while attending a Vatican conference on male and female complementarity in marriage.

It will be a grave mistake not to include LGBT issues in the World Meeting of Families.   Almost every family in the United States is touched and affected by such issues, either by having an LGBT family member or because they know someone close to them who is LGBT.  And families headed by LGBT people are becoming increasingly more visible in the U.S. Catholic community.

7f826-archbcharleschaput

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Does Archbishop Chaput think that it is wise to ignore a reality which everyone in the United States is discussing?  The fact that these topics are in the media show that, in fact, they are part of the concerns of families.

Indeed, the World Meeting of Families organizers would do well not only to put these topics on the agenda, but to include as speakers Catholic LGBT people and their relatives to discuss their experience of faith, family, and church.  Why should this segment of the Catholic community be invisible at such an important discussion?

At last month’s Vatican synod on marriage and the family, bishops and cardinals from around the world did not shy away from talking about lesbian and gay people and their families.  And we saw, based on the synod’s interim report, that a large number of them were willing to speak positively about the Christian values found in lesbian and gay relationships.  If the world’s bishops can speak freely about such topics, why shouldn’t Catholic families attending the meeting be able to do so, too? After all, they are the ones most intimately connected to these people and issues.

The National Catholic Reporter article noted that some of the topics that will be included in the meeting will be “poverty and the family, marital intimacy, raising children and the impact of divorce, as well as issues affecting the elderly and the disabled.”  These are certainly important topics that need to be discussed.  But they need to be discussed fully and completely.  Families with LGBT members experience many of these same realities, though their perspectives on them might be somewhat different based on their unique position.  Wouldn’t it be best to have all perspectives represented at an event which calls itself the World Meeting of Families?

New Ways Ministry hopes that Archbishop Chaput will re-think this planning guideline, and that, instead, he will include LGBT voices, including those who affirm their committed relationships and the families they are part of, on the agenda of the World Meeting of Families.  We encourage Catholics to write to him and ask him to make positive approaches to families with LGBT members a priority for next year’s World Meeting of Families.

You can write to Archbishop Chaput at the following postal address:

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Archdiocesan Pastoral Center
222 North 17th Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19103-1299

Or you can send him an email at:

shepherd@chs-adphila.org

He will not know how important LGBT issues are to Catholics unless he hears from them.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Communion Debate: Montana Gay Catholic vs. Cardinal Burke

November 19, 2014

If anyone wants a lesson in sacramental reverence and church faithfulness, no need to look further than the gay couple in Montana who were denied communion at their local parish in September.  You can read about that terrible action by local church officials by clicking here, and read follow-up posts here and here.  The respect for the sacramental life of the Church in the Montana story is in stark comparison to a recently demoted Cardinal who would use the Eucharist as a weapon or reward.

Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick

This week, Helena, Montana’s Independent Record newspaper interviewed Tom Wojtowick and Paul Huff who had been active parishioners at St. Leo the Great parish, Lewistown, for 11 years before their pastor told them that they could not receive communion because they were legally married.

The newspaper article recounts some of the impact that the denial has had, and that one of the husbands continues to attend part of Mass each Sunday at the parish:

“Wojtowick and Huff were willing to write a restoration statement that, in part, would support the concept of marriage in the Catholic faith as between a man and a woman. But they refused the more drastic action of permanent separation.

“Huff has left St. Leo and attends St. James Episcopal Church. A number of other former parishioners departed St. Leo’s for the Episcopal church, Wojtowick said.

“Wojtowick attends half the Mass at St. Leo’s on Saturday nights, leaving after the homily, before the Eucharist is served. On Sundays, he often joins Huff at St. James, where he is frequently asked to play piano.

“Huff has said that he won’t return to St. Leo’s unless the ban is reversed. Others wonder why Wojtowick hasn’t taken that step.

“ ‘A lot of people said, “Why don’t you just give up on it?” ‘ he said in a telephone interview. ‘Boy, it’s hard. I invested so much time there, worked with hundreds of people.’

“His family also has been part of the parish for seven generations, dating back to the early 1900s. Both Wojtowick and Huff are lifelong Catholics.”

Not denying that it must be difficult for them both, I admire Wojtowick’s patience and persistence in claiming his rightful place in his local parish.  His witness attests to the fact that the laity are the stronghold of the Church, and that even despicable actions against them by ill-advised clergy will not keep them from claiming their sense of belonging.

Although Bishop Michael Warfel of the Great Falls-Billings diocese met with St. Leo parishioners in September, he has yet to meet with the couple.  But Wojtowick has been persistent:

“In mid-October, Wojtowick, himself a former priest, wrote a lengthy, in-depth piece he titled ‘The Warfel Solution — A Failure to Dialogue.’ He submitted the paper to Warfel.

“In it, Wojtowick maintains that the action Spiering took against the couple regarding divorce and separation, and which Warfel apparently upheld, is unprecedented anywhere else in the United States.

“Wojtowick got a letter from the bishop, who said he perused what Wojtowick had written, and plans to read it. The bishop also offered for the two to sit down for coffee the next time he comes through Lewistown, Wojtowick said.

“ ‘What’s odd to me is the censure comes from Father Spiering [pastor] at St. Leo’s, but the bishop hasn’t acted on it, he hasn’t changed it,’ he said. ‘I never heard anything formal.’ ”

Such persistence speaks of love of the Church and the Eucharist, which in itself, should be evidence enough to have the couple welcomed back to the communion table.

Cardinal Raymond Burke

Contrast this attitude toward the Eucharist with Cardinal Raymond Burke, a Vatican official who was recently demoted from head of the Church’s highest court to a ceremonial position as patron of the Knights of Malta. PinkNews.co.uk reported that Burke remarked to Irish television that communion should be denied to pro-marriage equality politicians:

“Speaking to RTE in Ireland, Burke refused to comment on his demotion, and also would not talk about the upcoming referendum on equal marriage in the country.

“However, he did say he would refuse to give communion to any legislators who voted in favour of equality.

“He said he would have ‘issues giving holy communion’ to Catholic legislators who backed gay rights against church doctrine.”

To me there is a wide chasm between Wojtowick’s respect for the Eucharist, which keeps him going to church even though he is denied full participation, and Burke’s use of the Eucharist as a weapon to intimidate politicians or as a reward for only those he deems politically correct.

Commonweal magazine’s most recent editorial focuses on Burke’s ultra conservative stance, but argues that he should be allowed to continue taking part in church debate about marriage, family, and sexuality which began at this past month’s synod.  But, the editor’s, while championing free debate, are not shy about pointing out the errors in Burke’s way of thinking:

“Yet Burke sets the wrong course for the church by insisting that the questions taken up in the synod were settled centuries ago and need never be revisited. His fear of foisting ‘confusion’ on the faithful is misplaced, especially his claim that no good can come from what the church has traditionally taught are disordered and gravely sinful acts and relationships. That gets the contemporary moral dilemma backwards. Given what the church teaches, what is perplexing for the faithful is the goodness evident in the lives of many divorced and remarried Catholics. Much virtue is also apparent in the loving relationships of same-sex couples, especially in their devotion to their children. Goodness, after all, is properly understood as a grace and a mystery. What is confounding is finding it in places where the church—or at least Cardinal Burke—claims it cannot exist.

“Burke will now have more free time to challenge those who think it imperative that the church reconsider the status of the divorced and remarried as well as the nature of homosexuality. And he should. These are not questions that demand a rush to judgment. But if the cardinal wants to be credible, he should refrain from pretending that all church doctrine was cast in stone two millennia ago. The moral questions Catholics face today are as real and as difficult as those faced by the apostles; pat answers did not work then, and will not work now. ‘We shall find ourselves unable to fix an historical point at which the growth of doctrine ceased, and the rule of faith was once and for all settled,’ Cardinal Newman wrote. Bishops should deepen, not simplify, our understanding as well as our faith. Change need not be betrayal.”

For Catholics, communion is the center of our lives.  It is what unites us as one body, despite our many differences and disagreements.  While we debate and discuss matters of personal and public concern, we should never lose sight of our unity as brothers and sisters.  Making the Eucharist a system of rewards and penalties destroys such important unity.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

RTE.ie: “Cardinal would refuse Communion to pro-gay marriage Catholic legislators”

OnTopMag.com: “Cardinal Demoted By Pope Francis Would Deny Communion To Pro-Gay Marriage Lawmakers”

 

 

 


Pope’s Comments on Marriage Raise Questions About His LGBT Outreach

November 18, 2014

In a style which is becoming a hallmark of his papacy, while at the same time raising many questions, Pope Francis addressed the Vatican’s controversial conference on traditional marriage.  As has become his custom, the pope praised theological concepts concerning heterosexual marriage, while at the same time avoiding condemnations or even mentions of gay or lesbian couples, relationships, and marriages.

Pope Francis addresses Vatican conference on marriage.

Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter reported on the main points of the pope’s talk at the conference entitled “Humanum: The Complementarity of Man and Woman”:

” ‘We must not fall into the trap of qualifying [family] with ideological concepts,’ said the pontiff, speaking at an event organized to bolster inter-religious support for the concept of complementarity of men and women in marriage.

” ‘We cannot qualify [the family] with concepts of an ideological nature that only have strength in a moment of history and then fall,’ Francis continued. ‘We cannot talk today of conservative family or progressive family: Family is family.’

” ‘The family is in itself, has a strength in itself,’ said the pontiff.”

(You can read the entire text of the pope’s talk by clicking here, and scrolling down to the end of the news story.)

Pope Francis’ style of not wanting to offend also leaves room for a lot of speculation.  What does he mean by “ideological concepts”?  Since the major push in family laws around the globe focuses on same-gender marriage, it seems that this might be his target.  But the vagueness allows him plausible deniability.  It is easy to get behind his last statement about family strength, but only if he means it in an inclusive and expansive way to denote ALL families.

Other comments during his speech, however, indicate that he did not mean families with single parents or headed by gay or lesbian couples.   McElwee noted the conference’s general reticence to mention same-gender married couples, and noted the pope’s most direct comment on this topic:

“While speakers at the event have shied away from directly addressing or criticizing same-sex unions, most left little doubt about their view of such relationships.

“On that subject, Francis himself said: ‘Children have the right to grow up in a family, with a father and a mother, able to create a suitable environment for their development and their emotional maturation.’

“The pontiff also said ‘today marriage and the family are in crisis.’ “

It would have been better had the pope said that children have a right to grow up in a loving and supported environment, which is the greatest factor in promoting healthy development and emotional maturation.

Interestingly, the only direct reference so far about gay people came from a British representative discussing the mathematician Alan Turing, who was gay:

“[Rabbi Jonathan] Sacks, who also is a member of Britain’s House of Lords, made the only oblique reference to same-sex marriage during Monday’s morning session.

“Mentioning the story of Alan Turing, an early 20th century gay British mathematician who was punished with chemical castration because of his sexual orientation, Sacks said: ‘That’s the kind of world to which we should never return.’

” ‘But our compassion for those who choose to live differently should not prohibit us from being advocates,’ said Sacks, referring to traditional marriage as ‘the best means for which we have discovered for nurturing future generations.’ “

Sacks’ use of the words “choose to live differently” reveals a basic ignorance about the fact that homosexuality is not a choice for people.

The conference at the Vatican was already controversial even before Pope Francis spoke because of the line-up of speakers strongly opposed to same-gender marriage.  The most shocking invitation was Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a notoriously anti-LGBT organization.  Perkins was invited to attend, but not give a speech.

In an Associated Press account of the story, Nicole Winfield framed the pope’s talk within the context of appealing to Church traditionalists:

“Pope Francis is seeking to reassure the church’s right-wing base that he’s not a renegade bent on changing church doctrine on family issues — weeks after a Vatican meeting of bishops initially proposed a radical welcome for gays and divorced Catholics.”

Similarly, British journalist Nick Squires said he thought the pope “appeared to bow to pressure from Catholic conservatives.”

I disagree with Winfield and Squires.  I think that what we are seeing is what Pope Francis has been doing for a long time:  defending traditional doctrine, but avoiding angering those who oppose it.  Is this a strategy that can work for the long haul?  How long will it be before people start asking for more specifics?

Specifics might be something he will need to work on when he visits the U.S. next September to participate in the World Meeting of Families, an appearance that he confirmed yesterday.  The event in Philadelphia is expected to draw over 1.5 million people.  No other details were given about any other stops the pope might make on his U.S. visit.

This pope has done more for engendering good will among LGBT people than any other Catholic leader.  He would do well to learn how his statements, which seem to be intended not to offend, actually cause harm to the people he is supposedly trying to welcome to the Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Crux: “Pope confirms US trip, defends traditional family”

The Telegraph: “Pope: children need mother and a father”

News.va: “Pope Francis: I will go to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families”

Religion News Service: “Philadelphia gets ready to host Pope Francis following official papal announcement”

Bondings 2.o: “Pope Francis Needs to Speak Clearly on LGBT Issues,”  April 12, 2014

 


WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? U.K. Bishops Open Dialogue; U.S. Bishops Should Do the Same

November 17, 2014

“WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?” is  Bondings 2.0′s series on how Catholics–the hierarchy and laity–can prepare for the Synod on Marriage and Family that will take place at the Vatican in October 2015. If you would like to consider contributing a post to this series, please click here

The news of a slate of mostly conservative bishops being elected to represent the U.S. church at the synod on marriage and the family in Rome next October was disappointing.  However, across the Atlantic, news about the synod preparatory plans of the bishops of England and Wales are much more optimistic.

The Tablet reports that these British bishops are going to “launch a wide-ranging consultation of parishes and clergy ahead of next year’s Synod on the Family.”  The article reports:

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

“Following their biannual plenary meeting in Leeds this week, the bishops would like a period of spiritual reflection in each parish and, separately, to hear the experiences of clergy on the main “pastoral challenges” they encounter with families.

“Speaking at a press conference on Friday Cardinal Vincent Nichols said that material would be sent out to parishes and clergy after Christmas. The period of reflection should go on until June or July of next year ahead of the synod in October 2015.

“ ‘It is not so much a request for opinions as a request for testimony,’ Cardinal Vincent Nichols said at the bishops’ conference offices in London.

“ ‘You will recall that the two great features of the synod in October was on the one hand for it to give a resounding trumpet call in support of marriage and stability of family life, and on the other hand express and strengthen the pastoral response of the Church in a wide variety of difficult and pressurised situations. We hope the material we prepare will find that same balance.’ ”

Nichols also made a point of saying that the results of such discussions should be made public.  When a synod organizer sent a questionnaire to bishops last year to disseminate to the laity, the Vatican asked that the results not be made public.

Such an open discussion is what is needed here in the United States, and it was exactly that kind of discussion that Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic groups that work for LGBT equality, asked of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) last week.  Coalition members–Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry–sent a letter to the conference last week in which they asked the bishops the following:

Equally Blessed Logo“To prepare for this upcoming event, we urge each of you to initiate a wide conversation with Catholics in your dioceses on marriage, sexuality, and family life, so that so that you can better understand how these realities are experienced by people of faith who actively work to discern how to follow God’s Will.  Since LGBT issues figured so prominently in this past October’s sessions, and since no openly LGBT person provided testimony at these events, it will be necessary to initiate those conversations with LGBT Catholics and their families, in particular. . . .

“Now is the time for bishops in the U.S. to replicate Pope Francis’ process on the local level by opening up a conversation on marriage, family, and sexuality. Many Catholics, especially LGBT people and their families, have waited decades for such an opportunity, and have been heartened by the fact that this year’s synod opened up this much needed discussion.”

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo, writing for the Equally Blessed coalition, posted an essay on Advocate.com explaining the importance of such a dialogue:

“Since LGBT issues caused so much discussion and disagreement, it will be especially important for U.S. bishops to open a dialogue with LGBT Catholics and their families. This synod showed that there were a majority of bishops who were willing to recognize that lesbian and gay people “have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” in the words of an early draft report. Similarly, that same report noted that the “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice” that same-sex partners offer one another “constitutes a precious support” in the couple’s life. It’s important for U.S. bishops to explore these ideas, and the best way of doing so is to listen intently to those closest to these issues. . . .

“The synod’s free and open discussion among bishops must be replicated in local churches. The Catholic laity are an educated and insightful resource. More importantly, they are the true experts on the topics of marriage, family, and sexual expression, since they are the people who live these realities every day, not the bishops. While Catholics develop their theology from scripture, tradition, and nature, they also develop it from examining the lived experience of people of faith. What leader of any organization would want to ignore the perspectives of the people who know an issue because they live it? . . .

“Last year a number of bishops complained that they could not gather input from laity because they only had two months to do so. Now they have 11 months, which is plenty of time to circulate surveys, hold listening sessions, meet with leaders, and post response forms on diocesan websites. When the bishops want to get a message out about opposing some legislative or judicial measure, they do not seem to lack in creativity in using all sorts of media to alert Catholics. Let’s see them use the same creativity to gather opinions on these matters.”

The U.S. bishops need to be encouraged to open such a dialogue, therefore we urge you to write to your local bishop and ask him for such a possibility.  Use some of the arguments and language from this blog post, the Equally Blessed letter, or the Advocate.com essay to make your point.  You can even start the dialogue yourself by sharing your personal story with your bishop so that he can see the faith lives of LGBT people and families, and also see the situations, positive and negative, that they encounter in their local churches.

#BishopsListen model sign. A blank form can be downloaded from the Equally Blessed website.

Equally Blessed is also promoting a Facebook  and Twitter campaign to encourage people to contact their local bishops.  Here’s how it works:

“Take a photo with a #BishopsListen sign to ask your local bishop to listen to families like yours. Then post your photo on facebook or twitter with the hashtag #bishopslisten, or email your photo to coordinator@equally-blessed.org.”

You can read more about the campaign by clicking here.

The U.S. bishops need to follow the example of the U.K. bishops.  But it is probably going to take the encouragement of the laity to get them to do so.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related posts

Queering the Church:  “For English Catholics, a ‘Request for Testimony’ ”

Bondings 2.0: “WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Writing Letters to Our Bishops

 

 


Will Bishops Elected to Synod 2015 Be Good for LGBT Issues?

November 16, 2014

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting this week ended with the announcement of the names of bishops elected to represent the United States at the synod on marriage and family to be held at the Vatican in October 2015.  What will this election mean for LGBT issues?

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

The four main delegates elected were Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston (who are, respecitvely, president and vice president of the USCCB), Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles.

Selected as alternates were Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and Archbishop-elect Blase Cupich of Chicago.  Both Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC may also be attending the meeting because they are part of the synod planning committee.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo

David Gibson of Religion News Service described the choices as a “mixed slate,” noting that it included some “outspoken culture warriors who are sometimes viewed as out of step with Pope Francis’ priorities.”

For LGBT issues, perhaps the most worrisome of these choices are Chaput, Gomez, and Cordileone.  Chaput has been a vocal opponent of this past month’s preparatory synod, saying that it caused confusion and that confusion is “of the devil.”

Gomez opposed the teaching of LGBT history in California public schools.  He also opposed the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act because it now includes ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as protected classes.

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Cordileone is the USCCB’s chairman of the Defense of Marriage Committee, and a vocal opponent of marriage equality.

Gibson quoted Fr. Thomas Reese’s comments about the election:

“ ‘If they wanted to send the people closest to the pope they would have elected Sean O’Malley and Blase Cupich. But they didn’t,’ said the Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst for National Catholic Reporter who first reported the slate of names.

“ ‘It is just where they are right now,’ Reese said. ‘The majority of the conference doesn’t know what to do with the pope. The bishops are like deer in the headlights, and they don’t know which way to jump.’ ”

(You can read Fr. Reese’s full evaluation of the bishops’ meeting by clicking here.)

Archbishop Jose Gomez

Archbishop-elect Blase Cupich is perhaps the best choice they made in terms of LGBT issues.  He is widely viewed as a moderate, and when he was appointed as head of the Chicago archdiocese, this blog welcomed the decision as a fresh change from Cardinal Francis George who was, at times, openly antagonistic to the LGBT community.

So, should we give up hope for any positive changes at next year’s synod?  No.  Certainly, not yet.  First of all, this slate must first be approved by the Vatican.  And even if it does get approved, we need to remember that the Americans will only be a tiny percentage of the other bishops there, and we don’t know yet who they will be.

This news, however, should be a wake-up call to Catholics in the U.S. who support LGBT equality.  We need to make our voices heard to our local bishops who can let these representatives know what American Catholics believe.  The church is not a democracy, but its leaders do have a responsibility to consider the opinions of the laity on matters where the laity have expertise.  Marriage, family, and sexuality are certainly within that purview.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

CruxNow.com: Report: US bishops elect delegates to 2015 Synod on the Family

 

 

 


To Answer “What Is Marriage Now?” Lesbian & Gay Couples Must Be Included

November 15, 2014

These days, it is rare indeed that I read an argument about marriage equality that doesn’t remind me of other arguments that I’ve read in the past.  It seems that we have kind of reached the saturation point for arguments on this issue, having discussed this topic seriously for well over a decade now.

That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised to read Gerald W. Schlabach’s essay, “What Is Marriage Now?  A Pauline Case for Same-Sex Marriage,” in The Christian Century this week. His essay deserves to be read in its entirety (which you can do so by clicking here), but in this blog post, I will try to highlight a few of what I think are the most insightful parts of his thinking.

Schlabach, who is a Catholic professor of moral theology at the University of Thomas in Minnesota, develops the idea that allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry will strengthen marriage for all couples, and will do so because such an extension of the marriage institution will help us understand what is its essence. His thesis is:

“Extending the blessings of marriage to same-sex couples by recognizing their lifelong unions fully as marriage could allow the church to speak all the more clearly to what deeply and rightly concerns those who seek to uphold the sanctity of marriage.”

He uses as his jumping off point St. Paul’s famous line about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 that “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” or as it is more commonly quoted from the King James translation “It is better to marry than to burn.”

One of the many things which make his argument unique is that he argues acknowledges the social power that marriage has in stabilizing individuals and society, as well as acknowledging the beauty of sexual expression and its importance in a couple’s overall sense of intimacy.

Schlabach doesn’t argue from the more common, progressive position of justice and equality, but states, instead:

“. . . . [S]ome of the best reasons to support same-sex marriage turn out to be deeply conservative ones. This suggests how the Pauline remark might provide the church with a framework for proclaiming a message of good news for all sides. It offers good news for those who are deeply concerned that we continue to hallow the institution of marriage as the only appropriate place for intimate sexual union. And it offers good news for those who are deeply concerned that people of same-sex orientation be allowed equal opportunity to flourish as human beings—that the covenanted bonds of sexual intimacy play just as much of a role in their lives.”

Gerald Schlabach

Schlabach’s interpretation of St. Paul’s admonition is a very insightful one, that raises the remark above a simple denigration of lust.  He looks at the key words as metaphors for deeper understandings about the power of marriage, beyond a cure for concupiscence:

“ ‘To burn’ may stand for all the ways that we human beings, left to ourselves, live only for ourselves, our own pleasures, and our own survival. By contrast, ‘to marry’ may signal the way that all of us (even those who do so in a vocation of lifelong celibacy) learn to bend our desires away from ourselves, become vulnerable to the desires of others, and bend toward the service of others.”

Schlabach upholds St. Augustine’s ideas about the three “goods” of marriage: permanence, faithfulness, and fruitfulness, yet he expands these beyond the more traditional understandings:

“Christian interpreters today may continue to see procreation and child rearing as the prototypical expression of fruitfulness, but not as the only one. Every Christian marriage should face outward in hospitality and service to others.

“Together with permanence, therefore, faithfulness has come to stand for all the ways that couples bind their lives together. Spouses do not practice faithfulness only by giving their bodies exclusively to one another in sexual intimacy, but by together changing dirty diapers and washing dirty dishes, by promising long and tiring care amid illness and aging, by offering small favors on very ordinary days.”

These new understandings of these “goods” can be easily applied to lesbian and gay couples as they are to heterosexual ones. Perhaps the most important part of his essay is in his understanding that traditional views about marriage are not for heterosexual couples only.

Schlabach takes traditionalists to task for equating homosexuality with the current licentious sexual mores of “contingency,” engaging in sex when it is convenient, like making a consumer choice.  He also challenges the progressive arguments which make marriage, in the words of writer David Brooks, seem like “a really good employee benefits plan.”

Instead the moral theology professor discerns a more important definition of marriage which is based on intimate relationship, not sexual convenience or economic advantage:

“Marriage can and should remain a covenant and a forming of the one flesh of kinship, rather than a mere contract forming a mere partnership. . . .

“Marriage will indeed be subject to endless reinvention unless we recognize it as more than a contract. Instead we should recognize and insist that marriage is the communally sealed bond of lifelong intimate mutual care between two people that creates humanity’s most basic unit of kinship, thus allowing human beings to build sustained networks of society.”

This view of marriage allows him to see the beauty and power of sexual expression, not procreation as the main force which establishes a couple’s union:

“Procreation will always be the prototypical sign of a widening kinship network. But as spouses in any healthy marriage know, including infertile ones, kinship is already being formed in tender, other-directed sexual pleasuring. Such pleasure bonds a couple by promising and rewarding all the other ways of being together in mutual care and service through days, years, and decades.”

Schabach concludes his essay with advice to pastoral leaders:

“. . .[T]he church and its leaders need great pastoral wisdom to do two things simultaneously:

  • Walk back from the culture of contingency by explaining and insisting in fresh ways that God intends for active sexuality to belong uniquely to marriage.
  • Work compassionately with those who have embraced the relative fidelity of cohabitation, even if they have not yet moved to embrace a covenant of marriage or a vocation of celibacy.

“If we aim for these two goals, Christians will be better able to speak clearly and work energetically because together we’ll affirm that marriage is good—for everyone.”

His advice would be important for bishops at next year’s synod on marriage and the family to consider.

If your appetite has been whetted for a new understanding of marriage and the marriage equality debate, I strongly recommend that you read Schlabach’s essay in its entirety by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Bishops’ Meeting Spotlights Tensions About Pope Francis and LGBT Issues

November 14, 2014

Though the U.S. bishops’ meeting in Baltimore this week has not produced anything substantial in terms of policy, the news coming from that gathering focused on the split reaction that bishops have had to Pope Francis’ call for a more open church.

Of course, not all bishops fear the pope’s new approach.  In fact, some seem to be emulating his style, as I will point out later in this post.  First, I’d like to examine the tension that appears to exist in the bishops’ conference with regard to Pope Francis. Such an examination may be fruitful because the same dynamic of tension exists in the discussion of LGBT issues in the church.

New York Times article entitled “U.S. Bishops Struggle to Follow Lead of Francis” contained quotations from two different bishops which showed, I think, some of the underlying assumptions that guide responses to Francis.

Archbishop-elect Blase Cupich

Archbishop-elect Blase Cupich, who will soon lead the archdiocese of Chicago said:

“The pope is saying some very challenging things for people. He’s not saying, this is the law and you follow it and you get to heaven. He’s saying we have to do something about our world today that’s suffering, people are being excluded, neglected. We have a responsibility, and he’s calling people to task.”

But a few paragraphs later, the former archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, had a totally opposite evaluation of the pope:

Cardinal Francis George

“He says wonderful things, but he doesn’t put them together all the time, so you’re left at times puzzling over what his intention is. What he says is clear enough, but what does he want us to do?”

Those two quotations sum up a lot for me.  While Cupich emphasized that the pope is not ordering people to follow rules, George’s response is a question which asks the pope to provide the bishops with definite direction.  To me, that distinction underlines a difference in the church between people who are more comfortable with discussion and discernment versus those who are more comfortable with authority and obedience.

The National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters estimates that “As many as half of the bishops are those who simply do not understand what Pope Francis is trying to achieve.”  He thinks 25% “are genuinely enthusiastic about Pope Francis,” and another 25% are “digging in, resisting the pope, hoping it will all blow over quickly.”

In a Religion News Service article by David Gibson, church observer Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia blog, described the distinction between the bishops’ camps using different language:

“The prelates know they can’t go back to the way things were, said Palmo, who was covering the annual fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which runs through Thursday.

“But, he said, they are still trying to figure out how to adapt Francis’ flexible pastoral style to their local situations. ‘When you come from an institutional mindset,’ as Palmo said many American bishops do, ‘that’s going to create some apprehension.’ ”

Many of the news reports seem to focus on the fact that many of the U.S. bishops fall into the “authority and obedience” camp.  But other reports have been sprinkled with quotations showing that some bishops are following Pope Francis’ lead.

Bishop Thomas Tobin

For instance,  Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, who a few weeks ago referred to the synod as “rather Protestant,” and who has been a strong opponent of marriage equality, seemed to acknowledge past errors in pastoral practice.  Michael O’Loughlin of CruxNow.com, interviewed Tobin at the meeting :

“As for his letter condemning same-sex marriage, Tobin acknowledged that gay Catholics seek ‘a sense of welcoming’ in the Church. He said that he believes the Church is open to them, but ‘have we always expressed that very clearly? I’m not so sure.’ ”

In a second article, O’Loughlin of CruxNow.com reported on Archbishop Joseph Kurtz’ presidential address to the conference:

“Kurtz defended the pope’s emerging “culture of encounter,” with its emphasis on mercy over judgment, embracing those not living in accord with Church teaching, and more directly assisting the poor and disadvantaged. He likened Francis’ philosophy to his own visits to the homes of parishioners when he was a pastor.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

“ ‘When I’d come to someone’s home, I wouldn’t start by telling them how I’d rearrange their furniture. In the same way, I wouldn’t begin by giving them a list of rules to follow. . . .’

“ ‘I would then invite them to follow Christ, and I’d offer to accompany them as we, together, follow the Gospel invitation to turn from sin and journey along the way,’ he said. ‘Such an approach isn’t in opposition to Church teachings; it’s an affirmation of them. . . .’

“Notably absent from the address was a direct condemnation of same-sex marriage or even talk of threats to marriage, discussion of which had become a mainstay of the bishops’ group under Kurtz’ predecessor, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan.”

Kurtz did seem to be playing both sides of the coin, however, since in the same address he also heavily praised “St. John Paul II’s remarkable vision of marriage and family life as developed in his theology of the body.”

And Peter Smith, reporting for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazettenoted:

“Bishops, however, maintained they would continue opposition to legalized same-sex marriage and linked the issue to their outspoken campaign for religious liberty, which they say is being challenged by gay-rights legislation.”

As I mentioned, this same dynamic exists in the debate about LGBT issues in the church.  Should we be a church of welcome or of rules? Which is more important:  “discussion and discernment” or “authority and obedience”?  “A flexible pastoral style” or “an institutional mindset”?  A ministry of accompaniment or Theology of the Body?

It comes down to a simple dichotomy that Catholics have been noting for decades regarding LGBT issues:  social justice or sexual ethics?  Which of these moral traditions should govern how the Church approaches LGBT persons?  Pope Francis has elevated that distinction to the front and center of the church’s discussion on marriage, sexuality, and the family.

I hope and pray for a Church where social justice and concern for individuals is primary. I will watch with continued interest to see how this debate, now amplified, will play out.

This year’s bishops’ meeting may not have delivered anything memorable in terms of statements or policies, but it sure did help to make apparent this important tension in our Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


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