SYNOD: Belgian Bishop’s Hope: Restore Conscience to Its Rightful Place

October 1, 2014

Yesterday we saw a theologian’s hopes for the synod: that the bishops might be open to the grace of seeing that same-gender marital commitments are sacramentally equal to heterosexual ones.  Today, we will look at what one bishop’s hopes for the synod will be.  I think you will find his thoughts to be filled with promise for a more just and loving church.

Bishop Johan Bonny

In September, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, published a reflection about the upcoming meeting entitled: Synod on the Family:  Expectations of a Diocesan Bishop. I will try to summarize some of what I think are the high points of this essay, but I confess that I will barely scratch the surface of the richness of thought he expresses.  At 22 pages, the essay is not overly long, but it is also packed with so many gems that it is hard do it justice in just one blog post. It is also eminently readable, so I highly encourage interested people to read the entire text, which can be found by clicking here.

Bishop Bonny’s reflections are based, in part, on responses that the Belgian bishops received from the laity, whom they consulted on these topics, as the Vatican had requested.  Bonny, who will not himself be at the synod, remarked that the responses

“stem . . . from the primary stakeholders:  people of today who are committed to work on their relationship, their marriage, their family in the light of the gospel and in connection with the Church.”

In addition to praising the laity, Bonny criticizes the hierarchy, who, he says, did not complete the work of the Second Vatican Council, particularly in the area of marriage and the family. Because of the furor following Humanae Vitae, the birth control encyclical, the idea of conscience “lost its rightful place in a healthy moral-theological reflection.”  So it is no surprise, when a few sentences later, he asks himself “What do I expect from the upcoming Synod?”, his answer is direct:

That it will restore conscience to its rightful place in the teaching of the Church in line with Gaudium et Spes.” [Gaudium et Spes is the Vatican II document which described the primacy of conscience in ethical reflection.]

Bonny explains that the Church’s teaching on marriage cannot be reduced to a few general principles or narrow judgments.  He observes that we can’t characterize the Church’s view on marriage

“by pointing to one period, one pope, one school of moral theology, one language group, one circle of friends, one ecclesial policy.  Every component counts, but no single component can comprise or replace the whole. . . . In short: the teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage and family is to be found in a a broad tradition that has acquired new form and new content down through the centuries.  This narrative is incomplete. Every new era confronts the Church with new questions and challenges.”

His greatest concern is with the fact of “how complex the reality of relationship formation, marriage and family life is today.”  He offers several poignant examples of the many varied family configurations that exist in the contemporary world.   He includes a same-gender couple as one of his examples”

“J and K are are a same-sex couple, married in a registry office.  Their parents have never found their choice a simple one, but at home they’re just as welcome as the other children.  J and K appreciate the attitude of their parents and family very much  They have a problem with the attitude of the Church.”

His recognition of the many different family situations causes him to express another hope for the Synod:

“What are my hopes for the Synod?  That it won’t be a Platonic Synod.  That it won’t withdraw into the distant safety of doctrinal debate and general norms, but will pay heed to the concrete and complex reality of life.”

Indeed, in a later section of his essay, he observes that the ever-changing social contexts of marriage and family life require the Church to be more willing to develop its view on these topics:

“This ever changing context is not intended in itself to be anti-Christian or anti-Church. It is part and parcel of the historical circumstances in which both the Church and individual believers are expected to exercise their responsibility.  It confronts the Church time and again with an important question:  how can its teachings and life in its concreteness encounter and question one another in a productive tension?  In almost all the responses to Rome’s questionnaire, I have read the expectation that the Church would also recognise what is good and valuable in other forms of partnership, forms other than traditional marriage.  I consider such a hope to be justified.”

This spirit of dialogue is evident in the seventh section of the essay, entitled “The Proclamation of the Gospel. ” After criticizing church leaders for being too defensive against outside influences, he turns to Jesus as the model for welcome and conversation:

“Jesus opened his heart and his arms to people whoever they were and whatever their experience in life.  There were no walls or boundaries around his mercy and compassion. . . . He entered into dialogue with unexpected dialogue partners and accepted invitations to dine with people of questionable character.  He wasn’t particular or exclusive in his choice of friends or table companions, not even in his choice of apostles.These are the tracks on which Jesus placed Church.  In its relationship with the world and the people who live in it, the Church should exhibit the same openness and compassion as its founder.”

In his conclusion, Bonny offers a hope that the Synod will institute continued conversation among hierarchy, laity, and many other experts:

“The Synod would be least beneficial in my opinion if it were to draw a few practical conclusions in haste. It would be better advised to initiate a differentiated process in which as many people as possible consider themselves interested parties:  bishops, moral theologians, canonists, pastors, academics and politicians, and particularly the married couples and families who are at the focus of the Synod.”

Here’s just quick review of the topics I covered:  praise for the expertise of the laity,  promotion of the idea of conscience, the need for the Church to develop its teaching, recognition that  family life is complex,  recognition that committed relationships other than heterosexual marriage are holy, using Jesus’ ministry as a model for outreach to the marginalized.  Few bishops tackle even one of those topics, let alone all of them.  And the remainder of the document examines further ones:  collegiality, how the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI squashed theological discussion, natural law, the sense of the faithful, to name a few.

I hope that enough Synod participants have read Bishop Bonny’s reflection, and that they are open to the wisdom it contains.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

The Tablet: Belgian bishop urges real dialogue at Synod

 

 

 


SYNOD: Theologian Argues for Bishops to Bless Same-Gender Marriages

September 30, 2014

Although there is a lot of excitement about the upcoming Vatican synod on marriage and family life, that hope is a little dampened by the fact that only bishops will be participating in the sessions.  While it is true that bishops were encouraged to consult their laity about various topics, including pastoral care of families headed by same-gender couples, not all bishops did so, and those that did sometimes interpreted negative evaluations to church teaching as being caused by poor catechesis and communication.  That is simply not the case.  For many, many Catholics, their criticism of church teaching on divorce, contraception, same-gender relationships, comes from their lived experience of faith, and many years of study and reflection.

Sister Margaret Farley

One Catholic theologian who has influenced many Catholics’ thinking on sexuality is Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, Professor Emerita of Christian Ethics at Yale University Divinity School.  We’ve reported on Sister Farley’s work before, and even have a summary of her framework for sexual ethics outlined on another blog page.

Recently, The Tablet featured an essay by Farley in their series which is looking ahead to the synod.  She used this opportunity to argue that there is no good reason to limit marriage only to heterosexual couples.  She begins her argument with an historical assessment:

“For so long as the Catholic tradition considered sex as justified only when it is intended for the procreation of children and for so long as gender complementarity was seen as the only natural context for sex, there was, of course, no room for any positive valuation of homosexual relationships.

“In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, these foundations of sexual ethics began to be questioned. New biblical, theological and historical studies of the roots of moral norms, new understandings of sexuality itself and new shifts in economic and social life all contributed to major developments even in Catholic ethics. The dominant historical motifs all underwent significant changes. The idea that the procreation of children is the sole justification of sexual activity is gone (the shift is visible in the documents of Vatican II, in Humanae Vitae and subsequent church teaching). The view of sexuality as fundamentally disordered is also pretty much gone from Catholic thought. Although moral theologians still underline the potential of sex for sinfulness (as in sex abuse, rape, exploitation, adultery and so forth), the preoccupation with its destructive power that used to dominate Catholic discussion of sex has been seriously modified.

“Rigid stereotypes of male/female complementarity have also been softened: gender equality, the mutuality of sexual relationships, an appreciation of shared possibilities and responsibilities now appear in middle-of-the-road Catholic theologies of marriage and family, as well as in official church documents and papal teaching.”

Her analysis of the role of gender in marriage discussions as compared to other discussions is a key to her argument.  She summarizes the traditional view, and then points out an important inconsistency:

“Sex is natural and good in itself in loving heterosexual relations, but sex once again becomes a thing of danger and disorder in gay and lesbian relationships. We are careful not to make sharp distinctions between male and female roles when we talk about the education of girls, career opportunities for women, and shared parenting, but fundamental gender difference suddenly reappears when critics take aim at an acceptance of same-sex relations. “

Farley moves away from a definition of marriage as being primarily a procreative institution, and she notes that theologians are moving toward a definition that stresses relationship:

“Many theologians see the mutual consent of the partners in the form of a covenant or binding contract as the core reality of marriage, and ‘marital’ commitment as a special sort of covenant or commitment. It includes a commitment to love and to accept being loved – with a love that is sexual but not only sexual. It is an exclusive commitment. And it is a commitment to a framework for living and loving, to a permanent blending of loves, a weaving of a fabric of life together, that embraces both moments of powerful intensity and the ‘everydayness’ of life.”

With new understandings of gender in the theological world, we can recognize that gender is not an essential factor in a marriage union.  Farley explains:

“For many, marriage is understood as between two persons, two equal persons. For each person, the gender of the other matters. But for the institution and sacrament of marriage, it need not matter. In a world where it would not matter whether persons were gay or straight, marriage would still be as important as it is today. Indeed, it might finally be as important as it should be.”

The real sacramentality of marriage, argues Farley, comes not from gender differentiation, procreation, or ritual, but in the ordinary living out of the commitment two people make to one another:

“The marital sacrament is in the event of covenanting, of ‘marrying,’ but is also in the life that continues from there. The grace of committed love – shaped and grounded in faith – is not all at once. The story of commitments is in their beginnings and in their end. But it is the ‘in between’ that counts the most. Like our lives in every respect, love has a past, a present and a future. The meaning of the past is in the present, and the meaning of the present will be revealed more fully only in the future. Time is within us. Hence, the Sacrament of Marriage is in the everyday, in the choices to ratify commitments, the efforts to grow in patience, understanding, forgiveness and the ‘little by little’ of welcoming love.

“All of this is true, or can be true, of same-sex marriages, as of all marriages. These same-sex marriages include imagining and making a world in which unjust discrimination ceases to exist. Their journeys perhaps require the courage to refuse to be outsiders, or to let ignorance and irrational bigotry threaten the hope for a better world. For this, they can hope in sacramental grace, and (because grace is not an automatic track to or guarantee of fuller life) they can work with this grace.”

Farley’s analysis provides a most Catholic evaluation of what is essential in marriage, and reflects the ways in which humankind has grown into a more equal and just view of persons, gender, and relationships.  It would be great if the bishops in synod could hear her analysis so that they could take this very holy and healthy view of relationships into consideration as they deliberate about pastoral care in the areas of marriage, sexuality, and family.

If you are a subscriber to The Tablet,  you can read the entire essay by Sister Margaret Farley by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Praying for Synod and for New Ways Ministry’s Presence in Rome and Portugal

September 28, 2014

One week from today, Pope Francis will open the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to discuss the topic, The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.  For Catholic LGBT advocates, there has been great anticipation of the event, perhaps mainly because Pope Francis asked the bishops of the world to consult the laity on marriage and family topics, and, even more so, because pastoral care of families headed by same-gender couples was one of the areas for which input was sought.

Today has been set aside as a day of prayer for the Synod, and Pope Francis has composed a Prayer to the Holy Family for the Synod.   You can access this prayer, and other prayer intentions for the Synod, by clicking here.   Of course, we ask that you include in your prayer for the Synod that the concerns of families with LGBT members or those headed by same-gender couples will be heard and responded to pastorally by the bishops.

When the Synod opens on Sunday, October 5th, New Ways Ministry representatives will be in Rome.  Both Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder, and Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, will be traveling there to participate in several events surrounding the Synod, and also with the hope that they will be able to provide a pro-LGBT voice in the public discussions of the Synod that the media will offer.  In addition, DeBernardo will travel to Portugal for the first international meeting of Catholic LGBT groups.

Joining them, too, in Rome will be Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia.  Bishop Robinson spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in 2012, where he called for a total re-vamping of the Church’s system of sexual ethics.

The following are the various events that these three people will participate in:

  • “The Ways of Love: International Conference on pastoral care with homosexual and trans people,” Friday October 3, 2014, at the Waldensian Faculty of Theology, Aula Magna, via Pietro Cossa 40, Rome.  For more information, and to see the line-up of speakers, click here.    (For a previous blog post about this event, click here.)
  • “Lets’s witness our hope,”  a forum for Italian Christian LGBT groups, Saturday and Sunday, October 4-5, 2014, at Centro Pellegrini Santa Teresa Couderc, Via Vincenzo Ambrosio 9, Rome.  For more information about this event, click here.
  • “The Path from the 2014 Synod to the 2015 Synod: The Pastoral Challenges for Welcoming LGBT people,” a lecture by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, Wednesday, October 8, 2014,  Via Marianna Dionigi, 59, Rome.  This lecture is sponsored by Nuova Proposta, a Christian LGBT organization in Rome.  For more information, click here.
  • “When Identity Becomes a Crime: Criminalization of Homosexuality Globally,” an international conference, Saturday, October 11, 2014, 4:30-6:3o pm, at the Capitoline Museum, Sala Pietro da’ Cortona, piazza del Campidoglio 1, Rome. The speakers will be Frank Mugisha, a Ugandan LGBT activist, Jules Eloundou, a human rights defender from Cameroon, André du Plessis, UN program and advocacy director for ILGA World, and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s executive director. Dr. Michael Brinkschröder, a co-president of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, will moderate.  Bishops participating in the Synod are invited to attend.   The event is sponsored by the City of Rome and Dutch Ministry’s Department of Education, Science & Culture.

While in Europe, New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo will also travel to Portugal to attend a meeting of Catholic LGBT groups from around the globe who are gathering to discuss the inauguration of a world-wide association for those who work for LGBT equality in the Church.  The meeting will be held in the city of Portimão on October 6-8, 2014.

28 organizations from 16 different countries will be attending this first World Congress of Catholic Homosexual Associations.   Organized by Rumos Novos,  a Portugese Catholic gay and lesbian group (whose name, incidentally, translates as “New Ways”), this meeting’s theme will be “Building Bridges.”  According to the meeting’s website:

“This congress invites us to look with serenity and deepness towards our Church and our life, allowing that on ‘both sides of the bridge’ light can brighten the view of all, often distorted  by prejudices, fears and sorrows.”

DeBernardo will be a speaker at the conference, addressing the topic of the gifts that LGBT people bring to the Church.

José Leote, the coordinator of the conference, in an interview with Algarve Daily News, said the meeting’s participants will send a letter to Pope Francis.  They will ask the pope, among other things, that gay and lesbian people will experience “integration at all levels of the Church and the possibility of working in parishes without the stigma of sexual orientation.”

The Portugal News described the two-pronged parts of this meeting:

“The congress will take part in two phases, the first being a public phase and open to anyone interested, and a second part reserved for representatives of the associations in which the basis of the future World Organisation is to be set.”

While New Ways Ministry asks for your prayers for the Synod, especially that LGBT concerns will be heard, we also ask your prayers for Sister Jeannine and Francis DeBernardo, as they journey to these events.  Please pray that God will bless them with wisdom, courage, and fortitude during these important events.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


New Australian Archbishop Needs to Replace “Logic” With a Dose of Reality

September 24, 2014

The headline in Australia’s Star-Gazette newspaper was intriguing:  “No place for bigotry against gays in Catholic Church, says Sydney’s new archbishop.”  I was ready for some really good news, but my hope was dashed somewhat when I read the story.  I didn’t need to read very far.  The first sentence hurt enough:

“Sydney’s next top Catholic has told the Star Observer he will not stand for homophobia in the church, but he stopped short of distancing himself from comments made two years ago when he said same sex marriage would lead to polygamy.”

Archbishop-elect Anthony Fisher

It might seem that Archbishop-elect Anthony Fisher is a lot better than his predecessor, Cardinal George Pell, who in 2011, according to the newspaper, “compared homosexuality to the ‘flaw’ in a carpet maker’s otherwise perfect carpet.”  It is not so much Farmatta’s opposition to marriage equality which is so surprising or outrageous, but the way that he argues the case is disrespectful to gay and lesbian couples.

In a 2012 essay on same-sex marriage, Fisher raised the specter that marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples will bring about polygamy:

“Now the social engineers have their sights set on removing the ‘man and woman’ part of marriage as well. All that will be left is marriage as an emotional union: it’s enough, as they say, that people love each other. But if marriage is just about feelings and promises, it obviously can’t be limited to a man and a woman: two men or two women might love each other. But on the same logic so might more than two.”

But he didn’t stop there, and he also predicted other travesties:

“If polygamy is irresistible on the ‘all that matters is that they love each other’ line, so is marriage between siblings or between a parents and their (adult) child. Once again this is not just ‘slippery slope’ pessimism: it simply reflects the fact that the advocates of SSM [same-sex marriage] give no account of marriage that would exclude such intimate partnerships from being deemed marriages. Only marriage understood as the kind of comprehensive union I have outlined can resist such ‘morphing.’ “

The simplest answer to this illogical thinking is:  “No one is asking for polygamous or incestuous relationships to be recognized.”   The marriage equality movement arose because there is a natural equality between the love that a gay or lesbian couple share and the love of a heterosexual couple.  The social goods from such love are also the same in both types of couples.  No one is saying the same thing about polygamous or incestuous relationships.  To make the comparison is not a logical argument, but fear-mongering.

But where the archbishop-elect’s line of thinking is most disrespectful by the fact that he sees the advent of marriage equality as a result of the sexual revolution, and not as a question of justice and liberation, as more and more Catholics have begun to see it. Embedded in this line of thinking is that all that matters to gay and lesbian people is to have their sexual relationship recognized.  That is simply not the case.  What they want recognized and protected is their love and commitment to one another, so that their partnership, which might include a family, can develop strongly, can protect their emotional and personal needs, and can contribute to the common good.

The Star-Gazette news article quoted Fisher’s statement on abhorring discrimination:

“Fisher added that he would not tolerate discrimination: ‘The Catholic Church teaches that God is love and that all He has created is good, God loves everyone and there is no place for hatred and bigotry in His Church towards people with same sex attraction.’ ”

Yet, in this very statement he shows, again, disrespect by using the term “same sex attraction” and not “gay and lesbian” which is how the overwhelming majority of such people identify.   If he wants to show that he is concerned about this community, the first thing he should do is to respect their self-identification.  Even Pope Francis uses the word “gay.”

Fisher, like many other members of the hierarchy, needs to learn that if he really wants to welcome LGBT people to the church, he needs to become more knowledgeable about their lives, the nature of their relationships, and about the real forms of injustice and inequality that they experience.  Too often such bishops think that they are being “compassionate,” when in fact, they are being unjust.

Fisher needs to replace his “logic” with a dose of reality.  His first line of business as archbishop should be to open a dialogue with LGBT Catholics to learn about their faith journeys and their gifts.  I don’t think that someone like him is unreformable, but I think he needs to see how his “logical” arguments are, in fact, pastorally and personally harmful.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 


Montana Bishop’s Divided Thinking in Communion Denial Case

September 23, 2014

When the pastor of St. Leo parish in Lewiston, Montana, found out that a gay couple there had been joined in a civil marriage, his response was to tell them they were not longer welcome at communion or to participate in any of the parish’s volunteer ministries, even though both had been actively involved in many of them for a number of years.

Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick

In the Great Falls TribuneRev. Samuel Spiering acknowledged he had learned about the relationship of Paul Huff, 73, and Tom Wojtowick, 66, through a rumor, though the couple did confirm it.  To make matters worse, Spiering offered a resolution which requires the couple to deny their commitment to one another.  The Tribune states:

“Huff and Wojtowick were also told that to regain full privileges within St. Leo’s, they must first obtain a divorce, cease living together and write a statement renouncing their prior marriage.”

Bishop Michael Warfel of the Great Falls-Billings diocese supported the pastor’s decision, noting, in The Billings Gazette:

“Warfel said he knows Wojtowick and Huff ‘to be good people.’

“ ‘This is not animus against someone who happens to be a homosexual; this issue is the same-sex marriage,’ he said. ‘A lot of people put those two together, and obviously there’s a connection, but it’s not the same thing.’

“Warfel called same-sex marriage ‘the issue of our era,’ acknowledging that in the U.S., polls show that support for it has edged higher than those who oppose it. But the fact remains that stands in conflict with Catholic teachings.

“ ‘As a Catholic bishop I have a responsibility to uphold our teaching of marriage between one man and one woman,’ Warfel said. . . .

“ ‘Either I uphold what Catholic teachings are or, by ignoring it or permitting it, I’m saying I disagree with what I’m ordained to uphold,’ Warfel said.”

For me, the bishop’s statements very clearly show the problem with this kind of thinking. While on the one hand, he knows, in reality, that these men are “good people,”  his theoretical ideas about what are the proper uses of sexuality force him to reject them.  His heart tells him one thing, but his head tells him something else.  I hope that he would use this opportunity to discern a little deeper how to resolve that dividing of responses.

Although he claims to want to uphold church teaching, he seems intent on only upholding the church’s teaching on marriage, not any teachings on effective pastoral ministry, the human dignity of gay and lesbian people, the respect for people’s conscience decisions.  When and why did the teaching on marriage trump all other teachings?  When and why does church teaching ask the bishop to deny what he knows from his own experience that these two men are “good people” ?

As in similar cases of dismissal, many people in the parish have come to the support of this couple.  Over the weekend, Warfel had a meeting with parishioners to discuss the situation, but according to The Great Falls Tribune“No substantive changes have resulted.”

The dismissal occurred even though the couple had explained that their marriage was not intended as a challenge to church teaching.  According to the Associated Press:

“Wojtowick said the men married in Seattle in May 2013 so they could make medical and financial decisions for each other.

“During an Aug. 25 conference call with Spiering, Warfel and other diocesan officials, Huff and Wojtowick agreed to write a restoration statement that, in part, would support the concept of marriage being between a man and a woman, Huff said.”

Others have joined in support of Huff and Wojtowick.  Patheos blogger John Shore thinks that Pope Francis should be involved in this situation:

“ ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin.’ Which means, of course, ‘Homosexuality is an abominable offense to God.’

“Which is a morally reprehensible thing to say—especially, of course, to a gay person—and especially to a gay person who has given their life to honoring the very God they’re now being told—and being told by His authorities on earth, no less—finds them, purely by virtue of them being the person they were created to be, repugnant to Him.

“Please, please join me in calling upon the good Pope Francis, in his role as defender of the weak and champion of the oppressed, to recognize the moral travesty being visited upon Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick, of the tiny parish of St. Leo in Lewistown, MT, as an absolutely stupendous opportunity for the Catholic Church to once and for all come down unequivocally on the right and just side of the homosexual issue.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA points out a list of injustices evident in the pastor’s decision:

  • It is unjust for Church leaders to ban people from the Eucharist because of who they are or whom they love.
  • It is unjust for Church leaders to single out LGBT people for dismissal from ministry and leadership roles, when others who disagree with Church teaching do not suffer the same penalties.
  • It is unjust for Church leaders to bar LGBT people from exercising their civil rights.
  • It is unjust for Church leaders to demand that a couple separate and divorce.

As our church leaders prepare to begin discussing marriage and family issues in the upcoming synod, one topic that appears to be attracting a lot of attention is doing away with the ban on divorced and remarried people from receiving the Eucharist.  That would be a welcome change which would bring pastoral comfort to so many individuals and families.

Church leaders should also offer similar attention to gay and lesbian couples who choose to marry civilly.  They, too, should not be denied access to the Eucharistic table.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Queering the Church:  “When a Priest DEMANDS that a Couple Divorce!”

 

 

 


SYNOD: Great Expectations Loom for Upcoming Marriage and Family Meeting

September 22, 2014

Over the next few weeks, Bondings 2.0 will be preparing a number of posts related to the upcoming extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family, to be held at the Vatican, October 5-19, 2014.  This post is the first in the series.  Future posts in this series will be identified by the word “SYNOD” in the headline.

I sense that the general mood about the upcoming Vatican Synod on Marriage and the Family, October 5-19, 2014, in Rome, is summed up best by the title of John Wilkins’ Commonweal article about the meeting:  “Great Expectations.”

There is a strong feeling among a lot of Catholics I meet, especially those who work for LGBT equality in the Church, that this meeting could be a turning point for a welcoming and just ministry.  The expectations are understandably high:  Pope Francis, who called the meeting is certainly the most gay-friendly pope of modern times; the Vatican asked bishops to consult with the laity in their dioceses about various topics concerning marriage and the family, including pastoral outreach to families headed by same-gender couples; many bishops and church officials have already made many statements about their new openness to same-gender couples; some of these more gay-friendly bishops, in fact, have been appointed as synod participants.

I acknowledge that I often have those same great expectations, but in other moments, I remind myself that change in the Church happens slowly, and that perhaps the best thing to hope from the Synod is one more further step down the road to full equality.  And by the way,  this synod is, in fact, an extraordinary synod, which is in preparation for a proper synod on these topics to be held October 4-25, 2015, where many more bishops will be participating and where all the real decisions will be made.

Pat Perriello, in The National Catholic Reporter, offers the following suggestion about what to expect from this year’s synod:

“Although it is true that no definitive answers will come out of the October session of the synod, it is still critically important. October will set the tone of whether the bishops are inclined to move forward or to stand still. It will take a supreme effort by Pope Francis and his allies to move this lumbering giant of the church. It will also take the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters, columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, recently did a four-part series of essays on the upcoming synod, and devoted the second part to gay and lesbian issues.  In one sense, he offers his own “great expectations”:

“The Synod cannot be silent on an issue like pastoral care for gays and lesbians. But, I hope that whatever comes from the Synod does not to read like it was written by an anti-gay bigot. I hope that the thoroughly misunderstood language about “intrinsically disordered” will be dropped as counter-productive and offensive. I hope the Synod will, without qualification, affirm the innate human dignity of all God’s children, including His gay and lesbian children. I also hope that on this issue, as on others, the Synod will help reawaken a less act-centered understanding of human sinfulness, that isolates certain actions, usually violations of the sixth and ninth commandments, while neglecting all else. I hope they will abandon the idea that the Church should oppose gay rights in civil legislation – it is time to disentangle the Sacrament of Matrimony from civil marriage. And, most importantly, I hope the Synod will follow the Holy Father’s lead and ask itself how it can bring the great news of God’s mercy to those Catholics who are gay and lesbian. For any of this to happen, the Synod Fathers must be attuned to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, whose presence was vouchsafed to the Church by Jesus Christ. Then, and only then, will the Synod bear fruit, on this issue and any other. “

As he arrives at this conclusion, Winters makes some interesting points about the Church’s relationship with lesbian and gay people:

“In the history of the Church, no group of people, except the Jews, have been treated worse than gays and lesbians. And, like the Church’s treatment of the Jews, it is sometimes difficult to discern whether the Church was merely reflecting cultural biases extant at the time, or generating the animus on its own, or, more often, a mix of both. . . . [T]he dominant story of how gays and lesbians have been treated in Western culture is framed by a singular fact that turns out to be wrong. For centuries, people, including churchmen, believed that gay acts were the result of an aberrant choice, an instance of a heterosexual person engaged in a perverse act. We now know that a certain segment of the population, probably no more than three or four percent, experience homosexuality not as a choice but as a given, and for them, acting on their desire is not aberrant. That may not fit our moral categories, but there is no denying the fact that our cultural and ecclesial understanding of homosexuality has been distorted by a factual mistake for a very long time.”

And as for the U.S. bishops, Winters states:

” . . . [N]othing excuses their response to the same-sex marriage phenomenon. It has been pathetic. If you know this one discrete thing about a person – he or she is gay – then, well, I am not going to bake her wedding cake and I am not going to allow his partner to get health care benefits. The response from the bishops is all the more remarkable because they certainly were less combative when the states began enacting no-fault divorce laws in the late 60s and early 70s. The issue of homosexuality seems to have hit a nerve.”

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Columnist Jamie Manson is not quite optimistic about the Synod, noting that no LGBT people are among the lay people who have been invited as observers, and that many of the others are people with strong track records defending natural family planning.  But Manson offers a corrective from moral theologian Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, about how synod participants might conduct themselves:

“Farley coined the phrase ‘the grace of self-doubt’ as a way for religious people to resist the temptations of self-righteousness and certitude. The grace of self-doubt is essential for individual and ethical discernment because it recognizes that our moral theories often prove limited when applied to real-life circumstances.

“It is grace, she writes, that ‘allows us to listen to the experience of others, take seriously reasons that are alternative to our own, rethink our own last word.’

“Farley believes that the laity, clergy, theologians and church leaders should participate in a shared search for moral insight. ‘The voice of the church is muted,’ she explains, when ‘it does not represent the wisdom of a genuine discerning church.’ “

Cardinal Walter Kasper

I consider this to be very wise counsel.  I think should be coupled with the advice of Cardinal Walter Kasper.  The German cardinal had been invited by Pope Francis to address a February 2014 consistory of cardinals in preparation for the synod.  Entitled “The Gospel of the Family,” Kasper’s talk urged the cardinals to be open to modern realities and cautioned them against retrenchment.  In his Commonweal  essay,John Wilkins cites a part of Kasper’s talk, which I hope all synod participants will take to heart:

“[Kasper] reminded them that there were ‘great expectations’ in the church—and also, he might have added, in the world. If the church did not take steps but stayed where it was, it would cause ‘terrible disappointment.’ As ‘witnesses of hope,’ they must not be led by fear of change. Let them show ‘courage’ and ‘above all biblical candor.’ He warned: ‘If we don’t want that, then we should not hold a synod on this topic, because then the situation would be worse afterwards than before.’ ”

Let us keep the synod bishops our prayers that they may be open to the possibility of change.

What are your expectations of the Synod?  What would you like to see happen?  What do you think might be possible to happen? What do you think will happen?  Post your reflections in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Why Did Catholic Numbers on LGBT Acceptance Dip So Much In Recent Study?

September 16, 2014

On this blog, we are always very excited to report on statistics and surveys which show that Catholic lay people’s support of LGBT people and issues continues to grow. We also like to report on the many ways that Catholic parishes are welcoming and including LGBT people as full members of their communities.  But last week, a Duke University report showed that while in most Christian denominations acceptance of LGBT people is on the rise, the only group which the study said showed a decrease is Catholicism. What gives?

An Associated Press article describes the good news and the bad news in Duke University’s National Congregations Study:

“Overall, the study found acceptance of gay and lesbian members in American congregations increased from 37 percent to 48 percent over the six-year period. Acceptance of gays and lesbians as volunteer leaders increased from 18 percent to 26 percent. . . .

“Perhaps surprisingly, given the support for gays and lesbians among Catholics in general, representatives of the Catholic churches surveyed expressed less acceptance of gay and lesbian members in 2012 than in 2006. Interview subjects were asked specifically whether openly gay or lesbian couples in committed relationships would be permitted to be full-fledged members of the congregation.

“In 2006, 74 percent of those surveyed said yes. That number decreased to 53 percent in 2012. While the decrease is large, the rate of acceptance still remains higher than that for all congregations surveyed, 48 percent.

“Asked whether the same couples would be permitted to hold any volunteer leadership position that was open to other members, 39 percent of Catholic respondents said yes in 2006 but only 26 percent said the same in 2012. That is the same as the number for all congregations surveyed.”

So, while Catholics still are more accepting than all other Christian denominations surveyed, the statistics seem to show that acceptance is dwindling.

Or is it?

The news story provided some interpretations of the data from several Catholic scholars and analysts:

“Thomas Reese, a senior analyst with the National Catholic Reporter, thought it might reflect the fact that younger Catholic clergy tend to be more conservative than their older counterparts. Mary Ellen Konieczny, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, suggested the change might reflect a growing emphasis by the bishops on issues of homosexuality over that period.

“Both agreed that those attitudes were not indicative of what people sitting in the pews think.

“Konieczny and others said they thought the answers might be significantly different if the same questions were asked today.

“The survey was taken ‘before Francis got into the papacy, and I believe he would have made a difference,’ said William D’Antonio, a senior fellow at Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies. ‘Francis has lowered the focus on sexual matters and increased the concern for the poor and needy.’ “

A Religion News Service story adds another voice which offers similar analysis:

“The Rev. James Martin, editor at large for the Jesuit magazine America, observed, ‘During those years, U.S. bishops were much more vocal against gay marriage. It’s only been in the last year or two — since the election of Pope Francis — that the church has begun opening up on this.’ ”

The Huffington Post’s Antonia Blumeberg offers a comparative analysis for why Catholic numbers are going down while other Christian churches’ numbers are going up:

“While the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality remains seated in the somewhat vague but hopeful words of Pope Francis, ‘Who am I to judge?’, other church bodies have taken more definitive action to promote LGBT equality. In June the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted in a landmark decision to allow same-sex marriages, following in the footsteps of the U.S. Episcopal Church which made the same decision two years prior.”

In an interview with London’s Daily MailMark Chaves, the author of the study, provided his own interpretation for the decline in Catholic numbers:

“Chaves suggested this may be due in part to fallout from the child sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church, which some associate with homosexuality.”

But, perhaps the most important reason for the change is in how the data was collected. Ned Flaherty, a writer in Boston, provided the following information:

“The National Congregation Study data were collected 2 to 2.5 years ago, in 50-minute interviews with each congregation’s key clergyperson. Roman Catholic rules, including LGBT acceptance, are set by the Vatican, regardless of local public policy. Therefore, the answers from the Roman Catholic clergy reflected Vatican rules, whereas the answers from other clergy reflected local democratic policy.

“Consequently, the very low acceptance rate for LGBT worshipers reported by Roman Catholic clergy would be very high if reported by Roman Catholic congregants.

“The survey’s apparent discrepancy arises only because the interviewers didn’t adjust the survey to accommodate the uniquely Catholic gap between what clergy dictate vs. what congregants believe. Other faiths don’t have this gap.

So, while the Catholic statistics appear sobering, there does seem to be some explanation for them, and they may not accurately paint the full picture of the Catholic community.  Still, even though the report reflects only Catholic leadership’s views,  that is evidence that there is still work to be done with Catholics, especially their leaders.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


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