Is Elton John Correct? Is Pope Francis a ‘Hero’ for LGBT People?

October 31, 2014

Elton John

This week, Pope Francis received exuberant praise from openly gay British rock star, Elton John.  At an annual HIV/AIDS fundraiser, John called the pope his “hero.  The Guardian newspaper explains the context and elaboration of that remark:

“Sir Elton John has called Pope Francis his ‘hero’ for his compassionate drive to accept gay people in the Catholic church.

“At John’s annual AIDS benefit concert in New York City, the singer said Francis was pushing boundaries in the church and told the crowd: “Make this man a saint now, OK?”

“ ‘Ten years ago one of the biggest obstacles in the fight against AIDS was the Catholic church. Today we have a pope that speaks out about it,’ said John, earning cheers from the attendees at Cipriani’s on Wall Street. . . .

” ‘He is a compassionate, loving man who wants everybody to be included in the love of God,’ John said of the pope. ‘It is formidable what he is trying to do against many, many people in the church that oppose [him]. He is courageous and he is fearless, and that’s what we need in the world today.’ ”

Praise from such a prominent secular gay advocate surely shows how positively Pope Francis’ message of inclusion is received by the world beyond the Catholic Church. But it shows something else, too, I think.

Is Elton John right? Is Pope Francis a saint?

Elton John’s praise shows that probably a good portion of the world sees that Pope Francis is trying to develop a new approach to LGBT issues.  Despite the minor setback that the synod’s final report caused in the movement for greater welcome, people are picking up, instead, on the idea that Pope Francis is pushing for greater reforms.

Perception vs. reality?  Pope Francis has certainly done more for LGBT people than any other pope, by his simple and powerful gestures and statements.  Yet, we have yet to hear direct support for LGBT inclusion.  We see him nudging the Church in a direction that is more welcoming, but we don’t see him making bold statements.

Is his nudging a strategy?  For example, would making bold statements alarm too many conservatives?  On the other hand, is his simple nudging a way of simply providing new window dressing for the same old, same old?  Frankly, it’s hard to say.

I tend to be an optimistic person and one who favors pragmatic solutions over ideal ones.  So, I guess I lean toward the side that Pope Francis may be more genuine in his welcome than not.  Part of my perception is that I see the pragmatic effects of his nudging:  pastoral leaders are becoming a little more courageous.  Perhaps not much, but somewhat less fearful.

What do you think?  Is Pope Francis really as good as Elton John says he is?  Why do you think he is or isn’t?  Leave your answer in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Catholic Social Worker Bridges Gaps Between Religious Parents and LGBT Youth

October 29, 2014

Though our society has made great strides towards greater acceptance of LGBT people, it can’t be forgotten that there are still many places where people who are coming to self-awareness and self-acceptance face great struggles.  The wider discussion of LGBT issues in our culture is helping people come out at younger ages because they are more knowledgeable about sexual orientation and gender identity questions than other generations were able to be. But this also means that young LGBT people are facing more family pressures at ages when they are more vulnerable than people in years past who came out when they were more established in their lives.

Caitlin Ryan

Perhaps no one knows more about what theses family pressures are than Caitlin Ryan, PhD, a social worker and researcher, who started the Family Acceptance Project (FAP) at San Francisco State University. The Project, according to their website is “a research, intervention, education and policy initiative that works to prevent health and mental health risks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children and youth, including suicide, homelessness and HIV – in the context of their families.”

Through her research, Ryan, a lesbian woman and a Catholic, has identified scores of responses that families give to their young LGBT members, and shows how the negative responses put these youth at greater risk for poor sexual health, HIV infection, substance use, depression, suicide, and low self-esteem.

In a New York Times profile about her work, Ryan explained that principles from her Catholic upbringing helped to shape the way she approaches her research.  The article describes her early work with HIV patients, and how that opened her eyes and heart to the important work of human reconciliation that needed to be done:

“ ‘I saw something very few people saw,’ Dr. Ryan recalled. ‘This deep, profound connection that superseded dogma and doctrine. I saw the language of the heart.’

“Right then, she recognized her calling: to enable those reconciliations during life rather than at the portal of death. As Dr. Ryan received her validation the way scholars do — publication in peer-reviewed journals, six-figure grants as a principal investigator on research projects, a faculty position at San Francisco State University — she conducted extensive field work among homeless gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teenagers in the Bay Area, as well as with parents of gay children. She and her academic colleagues documented a strong correlation between rejection by families and such dangerous youthful behaviors as drug abuse, unprotected sex and suicide attempts.”

Ryan’s research and educational efforts now extend to specialized resource materials for families from particular faith backgrounds.  As she describes her work, she recognized that though some religious parents may have moral objections to a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity, almost all parents want what is good for their children, and do not want harm to come to them.  Her work builds on this common ground and helps parents to avoid behaviors that can result in harmful outcomes for their children.

Her research fosters reconciliation and helps people, regardless of their morality, to protect young people.  Indeed, Ryan sees the spiritual side to her work, and self-effacingly noted in the Times profile:

“ ‘I’m still a Catholic schoolgirl,’ said Dr. Ryan, who regularly attends church to this day. ‘Modesty and humility were values that were instilled in me. I don’t feel right taking credit. It’s not my work. It’s a spiritual practice and a sacred trust.’ ”

Ryan is a featured speaker at this year’s Call To Action conference in Memphis, November 7th to 9th.  Along with Fortunate Families President Deb Word, she will be conducting a day-long program entitled “Parent Day of Advocacy, Support, and Reflection.”  The conference brochure offers this description:

“This pre-session day will be spent with parents and families of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children and is also open to those who advocate for LGBTQ persons. Education and prayerful reflection the morning session will include a presentation by Dr. Caitlin Ryan on the Family Acceptance Project’s award winning Best Practices approach to prevent suicide and homelessness for LGBTQ youth. The afternoon will concentrate on parent stories, shared reflections and spiritual direction.”

For more information about the day, click here.

Caitlin Ryan’s work is life-saving.  The fact that she can work with parents who would usually be described as “homophobic” or “transphobic” and can help them to follow their hearts to do what is best for their child’s well-being is a blessing for all. It forces me to wonder:  Wouldn’t it be great if such a program existed for Catholic Church leaders to deal in healthy ways with the LGBT people in their congregations?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


NEWS NOTES: Synod Perspectives from Catholic Writers and Commentators

October 27, 2014

News NotesContinuing to follow-through on our promise to provide links to the wealth of opinion and analysis that the synod on the family has generated, we offer these links to articles from the Catholic press or by Catholic authors and commentators:

1.  In The Washington Blade, Kathi Wolfe offers her views on the synod, noting that Catholic feminist theologian Mary Hunt pointed out an important shortcoming of the synod participants who were all celiibats men: “They don’t make the mature adult decisions that you make when you’re part of a family unit – with spouses and children.”

2.   Women-Church Convergence, a coalition of feminist Catholic groups, issued a statement affirming the holiness of all families, and criticized the synod for failing to include the voices of women in the decision-making process, saying in part: “A group of men who fail to protect the children of our Church from sexual abuse, and who repeatedly sacrifice children to shield the offenders, has no credibility saying anything about what families need. A group of men who have no need for contraception has no standing to deny women access to appropriate reproductive health services. A group of men without experience of wedded life has no right to legislate who should and should not be married. The egregious omission of women and families in forming Church policy has a devastating impact on Catholics and others worldwide.”

3.  Writing at AlJazeera.com, Nathan Schneider observes that part of the reason LGBT issues were not more positively accepted at the synod is because the call for equality still remains a Western value: “The conversation about same-sex partnerships has hardly even begun on the Catholic time scale, and in the context of a global church. Just because some of us in certain parts of the world are sold on an idea doesn’t mean we can impose it on the whole church; that’s a habit of the church’s colonizing past that needs to be put to rest. The Roman Catholic Church has stretched over the centuries to incorporate the gifts of non-European cultures, and it still has much stretching left to do.”

4.  Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a commentator for America magazine, wrote about “The Promise of Synod 2014,” pointing out a number of important contributions the synod process made, including these three:

  • “The 2014 Synod elevated the conversation. Whispered questions about why Aunt Jane never goes to Communion and why Uncle Jack never married have made it into the parlor. The presence in the church community of people who divorced and remarried without an annulment and lesbians and gays found a healthy acknowledgement. . . .
  • “The church acknowledges there may be pastoral solutions to long-standing problems. Nothing heals better than fresh air. For many, the pain silently endured by people forced to the fringes has developed individuals beloved in their families for their generosity and kindness and particular sensitivity. Now they just might receive some of the generosity, kindness and sensitivity they’ve offered others for years.
  • “There is proof that doctrine is not dead. What’s dead does not change; what is alive does. So long as doctrine addresses current reality it shows it is alive and holds meaning for people today.”

5.  At Crux.com, Michael O’Loughlin presented a variety of opinions about the synod from Catholics concerned about LGBT issues, including Deb Word, president of Fortunate Families, who said:  “The conversation that began at the Synod on the Family isn’t over — in fact it’s just beginning. . . .[P]ro-gay Catholic groups will keep reaching out to the bishops to offer suggestions about how the Catholic Church can better minister to Catholic families like mine.”

6.  Jesuit Father James Martin has been quoted widely in the religious and secular press on the synod’s report and processes.  In addition, he has written two online essays which provide insights:

  1. In an America magazine blog post, “Five Things the Synod Just Did,” Martin notes that the meeting brought a new conversation to the Church, and that the pope’s process very much reflects the Jesuit value of “discernment.”
  2. Fr. Martin elaborated on the above theme in a separate essay for Reuters.com, in which he discussed “What the Synod of Bishops that discussed divorced, LGBT Catholics did – and didn’t – do.”  In both essays he stresses the point that the real answers will be discussed at the 2015 synod.

7.  In a National Catholic Reporter blog post which carries the opinions about the synod from three Catholic academics, Julie Hanlon Rubio of St. Louis University, author of Family Ethics: Practices for Christians, stated: “The major shifts I see at work in the document released today are these: a willingness to see the diversity of Catholic families and listen to their ideas, a desire to find creative pastoral solutions that allow the church to welcome everyone, and a willingness to see good in the imperfect. All of shifts seem rooted in a more fundamental move to imitate Jesus, especially embracing his call for mercy.”

8.  The Baltimore Sun reported on a group of about 30 Catholic LGBT advocates who held a prayer vigil at the city’s Basilica of the Assumption of the BVM on the day that the synod’s final report was issued.  The event was organized by the Human Rights Campaign and Call To Action.

9.  During the synod, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) ran a series of blog posts written by Catholic leaders about their hopes for the meeting and the future of the Church.  These posts were written by HRC’s Lisbeth Melendez Rivera,  the Pacific School of Religion’s Bernard Schlager, DignityUSA’s Jim Smith, Call To Action’s Ellen Euclide, transgender leader Hilary Howes, Cincinnati’s Anna Brown, and  New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo.

10.  In a National Catholic Reporter blog post.  Sister Christine Schenck, CSJ, former executive director of FutureChurch, offered this suggestion: “It is my sincere hope that church leaders will actively seek out the lived experiences of divorced and remarried and gay and lesbian Catholics before making any decisions about pastoral practice. They should also listen carefully to Catholic parents using unapproved methods of family planning.”

11. Catholics in San Antonio, Texas, responded to the synod in an article in The San Antonio Express-News.  Members of the local Dignity chapter expressed their views, and Fr. Stephen Bernal, a local pastor offered the hope:  “We believe the Holy Father is very simply wanting us to look at all people the way God looks at them — with love and understanding and compassion — that everyone is a precious gift.”

12. In a very tongue-in-cheek essay on Philly.com, Orlando Barone says that the synod’s unfinished business leaves him in a quandary about whether or not he should invite lesbian/gay people and divorced/remarried Catholics to his Thanksgiving dinner.  He ends, however, on a very serious note:  “My imagination falters in its efforts to conjure anything more awful than lifting the Bread of Life and turning it into a rock to throw at the lost sheep, the prodigal son, the woman caught in adultery. I could never allow such a horrible thing to happen at my Thanksgiving table. I pray the church, following its pope’s lead, will not allow such a thing to happen at its Thanksgiving table, the Table of Jesus, the Bread of Life.”

13. Fordham University theology professor Patrick Hornbeck penned a CNN.com essay in which he explains that neither the first draft nor the final report of the synod went far enough in dealing with LGBT issues.  He concluded:  “Many believe that the synod reversed course with regard to LGBT people and same-sex unions. But that reversal seems much less dramatic when one considers the full implications of the synod’s much-celebrated initial document. Far from accepting and celebrating same-sex relationships as the signs of divine and human love that so many people — gay, straight, Catholic, non-Catholic — are finding in them, that document actually charted a path where those relationships could at best have only been tolerated in the church. It is clear that by avoiding a more searching examination of the presumptions about gender and sexuality that Catholic theology has inherited, the synod members did not fully confront the truly seismic anthropological, cultural and theological shifts that have occurred in the past few decades.”

14. In an essay on NJLive.com, Father Alexander Santora, a pastor in Hoboken, praised the synod’s attempts to affirm LGBT people, and noted that though a rocky road is still ahead, there is reason for hope:  “. . . [T]his process is filled with land mines, most notably some conservative prelates, even in the Vatican curia, who do not want any change in tone, theology or teaching. But that also happened at the Second Vatican Council and St. John XXIII dispatched them graciously. Francis has been compared to John and some see his two-year synod process as almost important as the teachings that emanated from Vatican II.”

15. Dignity/New York voices were featured in a CBSNews.com report on synod reactions, including the opinion of longtime member Brendan Fay, who said: “We may not personally need the affirmation [of Vatican bishops] because we have found that among ourselves.”

16. Though much of the synod headlines focused on LGBT issues and divorce, National Catholic Reporter columnist, Jamie Manson, a Catholic lesbian, asks the question: “Why isn’t anyone talking about the synod’s paragraphs on contraception?”

17.  Gay Catholic blogger Terence Weldon, who posts at  QueeringTheChurch.com, summed up the synod with the headline: “For Gay Catholics, Nothing Has Changed – Everything Is Changing.”  At the conclusion, he notes: “Above all, what has changed is the simple fact that what for so long was presented as “constant and unchanging tradition”, delivered from on high to a meek and acquiescent laity, is now firmly up for frank discussion. That has already occurred at the synod in a manner that would have been unthinkable under the previous two popes, and will now be starting worldwide, at all levels of the Church.”

18. USA Today queried college students about the synod in an article entitled “New Vatican document stirs discussion and hope among Catholic students” and found that they welcomed the meeting and its open discussion.
19.  New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo and DignityUSA’s Marianne Duddy-Burke gave their responses to the synod’s final document in an article by The Advocate entitled “After Catholic Synod: Disappointment, Yet Hope Remains.”
20. New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo gave further reactions to the synod when he appeared on MSNBC’s News Nation with Tamron Hall.  You can view that segment by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


NEWS NOTES: Synod Responses from Around the Globe

October 25, 2014

NewsThe synod on the family has certainly prompted an immense amount of journalistic response and analysis.  Bondings 2.0 has tried to keep up with it in the best way that we can, selecting what we thought have been important articles or responses which highlight significant points.  We could not, of course, deal with everything that we found, but we know that some of you may be interested in reading further on this topic.  So, we present these “News Notes” on the synod for those who can’t seem to get enough of this important milestone in Catholic LGBT history.  This first installment carries perspectives from various parts of the globe:

1.  London’s Catholic Herald newspaper editorialized that the synod was like an “unfinished icon,” noting that “Icon painters say that prayer is essential to their work, and so the bishops have paused for a year of reflection, before meeting again for the second, larger family synod. We, too, should be praying that the synod fathers create a compelling image of Christ.”

2.  Italy’s Sandro Magister, a veteran Vatican observer, gives an insider’s look as to exactly how two of Pope Francis’ followers were able to open up the discussion in the synod toward a more inclusive view of homosexuality.  His analysis is part of La Repubblica’s online faith portal.

3. From Uganda, a nation which the institution and then repeal of a repressive anti-gay law, Nicholas Opiyo, a human rights and constitutional lawyer, penned a CNN.com op-ed noting that “I suggest that this is not a turning point particularly for the African Catholic community, but rather the start of an openness in debate that will take a long time to change the Church’s doctrinal teaching. In a deeply conservative Church that has for a long time viewed homosexuality as ‘an intrinsically disordered, contrary to natural law and cannot be approved under any circumstances,’ it will take more than a Synod statement to arrive at a turning point on the subject of homosexuality. A change in the doctrinal teaching/catechism of the church will take a long time and protracted debate in the Catholic community.”

4.  LGBT Catholics in the Diocese of Westminster, the archdiocesan pastoral outreach in and around the city of London, England, issued a response which said the synod’s final report “fails significantly to reflect the welcoming and pastorally sensitive discussions which took place during the first week of the Synod.”  However, noting that the vote was close, and that this report is not the final word, the ministry called upon “upon the Vatican and local Bishops’ Conferences to institute Listening Processes over the coming year, to include LGBT people, parents, and other family members, alongside theologians and experienced pastoral ministers.”

5.  Filipino gay rights advocate Danton Remoto, had been happy with the relatio’s first draft but, in the International Business Timeshe added:  “We don’t expect major earthquakes to happen [during the synod] because the Catholic Church is an old institution and change will not happen overnight.”

6.  Filipina gay rights advocate Claire DeLeon told GMA News Online a mixed response to the synod’s report: “We are quite disappointed but we are appreciative that this issue has been opened for discussion.”  She added that the negative perception of LGBT people seems to be disappearing, and that the future of the discussion in the Catholic Church holds promise.

7. Ireland’s RTE News carried the response of Brian Sheehan, the head of the Irish Gay and Lesbian Equality Network: “It’s disappointing that a majority of bishops at the synod didn’t follow the Pope’s leadership and seek to include lesbian and gay people within the Catholic Church. Elements within the church are out of step in the laity. The reality is that there’s been a huge positive change in attitudes over the last 20 years to lesbian and gay people. And Irish people, the majority of whom are Catholics, warmly embrace their lesbian and gay family members and friends and their loving relationships. It’s a missed opportunity that the church didn’t seek to reflect that reality. “

8.  AsianJournal.com reported on the statement of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, Philippines, who said: “Let us not stereotype persons, countries, local churches. We are here, all of us have something to contribute. But all of us are also learning This Synod is unique because it’s happening in two stages. We have the whole year to continue studying and continue consulting people.”

9.  At Ekklesia.co.uk, Savi Hensman reviewed the synod, and included an important quote from Bishops Geoffrey Robinson at The Ways of Love,” an international theological conference in Rome, which immediately preceded the synod. In regard to sexual teaching, Robinson said:  “Why should we turn to some abstraction in determining what is natural rather than to the actual lived experience of human beings? Why should we say that homosexuals are acting against nature when they are acting in accordance with the only nature they have ever experienced?” Hensman concluded the blog post by noting: “Many others too in the Roman Catholic church have been reflecting on how Gospel values can be reflected more truly in approaches to sexuality, and the Synod on the Family has encouraged greater openness about the diversity of views and experiences. What is more, Catholics are part of a wider Christian community where numerous others have been thinking seriously about sexual ethics. Moving beyond the use of depersonalising language and mere assertions which fail to convince, while remaining true to what is richest in the Christian heritage, is a challenging task for the churches as a whole.”

10. In the UK’s Telegraph, Cristo Foufas says that “Gay people shouldn’t care what the Catholic Church thinks.”  In this op-ed, Foufas expresses being tired of the Vatican’s traditional attitude toward homosexuality: “Whilst It’s heartening that there finally seems to be a Pope who is trying to build bridges with the gay community, it seems that the suggestion of being respectful, sensitive and welcoming to a minority group was just too much for some conservative Catholic bishops to bear. . . . It should come as no surprise that a good number of senior Catholic bishops in the synod are bigoted homophobes. What other explanation can there be for making a choice not to support and welcome a minority community who have no choice in their orientation at all? It’s exactly the same way that racists choose to hold prejudice against those people who haven’t an ounce of control over their skin colour. Hate rarely has logic.”

11. Australia’s Jesuit online magazine, Eureka Streetcarried an editorial by Andrew Hamilton a consulting editor, examined the controversy of the dramatic change between the relatio’s two incarnations:

“It reflected partly an evident failure of the initial document to read accurately the sentiments of the participants. The voting on the amendments shows that clearly.  Such failure is inevitable in any such draft: that is why the final document reflects the definitive view of a meeting.

“In this case the controversy reflects another significant feature of transparent public conversation: the influence of the media. After the first draft public comments by the Bishops seemed exercised as much by the common journalists’ view that it heralded a rethinking of the Catholic understanding of homosexual relationships than by the content of the document. At all events they recast the document in order to close the door on these perceived implications of the draft. 

“This way of proceeding is understandable, but its disadvantages are also worth reflecting on. When phrases like ‘people who are homosexual must be ‘welcomed’, the ‘gifts and qualities’ of gay people and the ‘precious support’ they can offer one another are pulled from a public draft, the public perception is that they are not simply withdrawn from the text but that their opposites are commended. So people are to be made unwelcome, have no gifts and their support is valueless. The Catholic Church will now have much work to do to persuade people that this is not its meaning. .  . 

“If Pope Francis’ assessment of the Synod is as positive as I believe it is, we may expect from him dramatic gestures of encounter and compassion to God’s love that will reframe the questions addressed by the Synod in terms of the Gospel. “

12. The UK’s Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement welcomed the synod’s final report with Chief Executive Tracey Byrne saying, ‘The outcome of the Synod represents a significant shift in thinking and a brave move by those willing to affirm their support for gay and lesbian people. A substantial majority of the cardinals, only slightly short of the two-thirds majority needed, voted in support of the draft statement, and it’s being reported that a number who voted against the statement did so because they felt it did not go far enough in its support for gay and lesbian people. Pope Francis is to be applauded for convening the Synod, and for providing an opportunity for Catholics around the world to contribute to this ongoing process of listening and discernment in such an open way.”  You can read Byrne’s full statement by clicking here.

13.  London’s Guardian newspaper praised Pope Francis for his management of the synod, but also concluded with this cautionary note and call to action: “This is the Catholic church. The surest sign that things are changing will be a barrage of announcements that nothing has changed, can change, or will change. In this view, the doctrine can only be developed into a more refined expression of the same eternal truths, even if its interpretation becomes the exact opposite. But however the official formulation is refined, the practice on the ground, in parishes, must now change. The old and rigid artificial unity is now smashed. In that sense Pope Francis, and the liberals, have already won.”

14. Lebanon’s The Daily Star published reactions to the synod’s final report including one from Ute Eberl, a German family counselor who attended the meeting.  She said that the event got the church “out of its comfort zone … to hear about real life for families around the world.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Pope Francis on Synod: ‘God is not afraid of new things’

October 22, 2014

Reactions to the Synod on Marriage and Family’s final report has dominated the religion headlines for the past few days, and it seems like anyone and everyone is chiming in on the discussion, trying to evaluate what was good and bad in the final document and the entire experience of the synod. It’s good to get all these perspectives.

Pope Francis

But there is one person’s perspective that may carry a little more weight than many others:  Pope Francis.  He hasn’t written an op-ed or given an interview or appeared on a talk show an, but some of his statements since this weekend seem to indicate the pope’s evaluation of the synod, and it certainly looks like he, too, is hopeful for greater discussion on many issues in the months ahead.

On Saturday, just before the final report was released, Pope Francis addressed the synod participants and praised the process and collegiality that the meeting produced:

“I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of ‘Synod,’ a path of solidarity, a ‘journey together.’

“And it has been ‘a journey’ – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people. Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the Synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life.”

Later in the speech, the pope listed a variety of temptations that the synod participants may have experienced, including one of thinking of themselves only as conservators of tradition and as vague and confusing politicians:

“The temptation to neglect the ‘depositum fidei’ [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them ‘byzantinisms,’ I think, these things…”

Pope Francis expanded on this message the following day when, in the homily at the synod’s closing Mass, he told the bishops:

“God is not afraid of new things. That is why he is continuously surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.”

Reuters pointed out that Francis even went so far as to keep many of the earlier discussions of pastoral welcome for lesbian and gay people as a live topic, even though those ideas did not receive the required 2/3rds vote:

“Voting tallies released by the Vatican showed that three controversial articles, including the final version of one concerning gays, won an absolute majority but failed to get the two-thirds vote needed for a broad consensus.

“But the pope decided to keep even the botched articles, which would have been deleted under normal synod rules, in the final document, meaning the themes will be discussed locally ahead of next year’s assembly.”

Jonathan Capehart, in a Washington Post blog, said that Francis’ approach will have a great effect on the coming discussions, and even next year’s synod:

“If the pope and the bishops can engage in a rational and respectful discussion about same-sex relationships, so can the rest of the flock. That’s the genie that is out of the bottle.

“. . . By the time the bishops reconvene next October to finalize the synod document, we might be looking at a very different outcome.”

Bishop Mario Grech

One telling sign of the pope’s support of LGBT issues comes from the fact that it looks like Maltese Bishop Mario Grech, who gave a speech in support of LGBT welcome, may become the next archbishop of Malta.  The Independent reported:

“. . . [A]n anecdote from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Rome that reached this newsroom some days ago from people very close to Mgr Grech has become all the more pertinent.

“Pope Francis, it seems, was extremely pleased with the Gozo Bishop’s address to the Synod on 8 October. So much so that the next morning, over breakfast at Casa Marta, Pope Francis tapped Mgr Grech on the shoulder and complimented him on his speech. That, people close to Mgr Grech informed this newsroom, was followed by another friendly pat on the back during the next coffee break.”

We have one more source which shows what may be going on in the mind of Pope Francis.  During the synod, Cardinal Walter Kasper flew to Austria to give a speech to the theology faculty at the University of Vienna.  The National Catholic Reporter noted that during his speech he offered some insights into Pope Francis’ modus operandi:

“He said Francis is deliberately treading in the footsteps of Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, both of whom wanted to interpret the unalterable Gospel message ‘in the light of the signs of the times.’ However, Francis ‘cannot be attributed to any theological school,’ he said. The pope is a practical man who prefers direct encounters with people and for whom reality takes preference over ideas, he added.

“The cardinal then explained how a special Argentine variation of liberation theology based on ‘the theology of the people,’ with a particular sensitivity for regional piety and characterized by the concept of reconciliation, had a formative influence on Francis. This has nothing to do with the classical form of liberation theology and its class war ideology, which the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith condemned, Kasper said.

“The pope’s theology and his vision for the church is centered on the Gospel mandate, the good tidings of a merciful God, and the concept of the People of God, which Vatican II had underlined, Kasper said. Francis outlined much of this in his apostolic letter, Evangelii Gaudium, which was, so to speak, the blueprint of his pontificate. He wanted ‘the People of God, every single one them, to participate in the church’ and for the church to be a ‘listening church which has an open ear to the People of God,’ Kasper said.”

From his statements and gestures, it seems that Pope Francis is leading the way for next year’s synod to be even more remarkable than this past one was in terms of openness and discussion.  As Jonathan Capehart wrote in his blog post entitled: “Pope Francis and gays will win by losing this round on synod draft”:

“What the synod did at the outset on paper, Pope Francis has been doing since ascending to the papacy. He’s been talking about gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church with an unheard-of humanity and care. So what that the more conservative bishops succeeded in watering down the gay paragraphs so much they couldn’t get the two-thirds majority necessary to include them in the new document released on Oct. 18. They may have won this battle, but they aren’t going to win the bigger battle with this pope.”

To read other synod responses from commentators, click here and here.  To read New Ways Ministry’s responses, click here and here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The Daily Beast: “Pope Francis Wins a Battle to Welcome Gays in the Church”

The Daily Mail: “Pope Francis plays long game to reform Catholic Church”

 


And Yet . . .

October 19, 2014

I was a teenager when the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would have made gender equality the law of the land, was defeated.  The outcome was difficult to accept because after a strong campaign for passage of the amendment, it ended in a narrow defeat.   I always remember the lead sentence of a magazine article, which, summed up the mixed emotions of coming so close, but ultimately being defeated, by using only two words:  “And yet.”

“And yet” is exactly how I feel this weekend, after a week of anticipating that the synod of bishops would do the right thing and approve its draft statements which were so welcoming of lesbian and gay people.  Certainly, the final negative outcome was disappointing. And yet.

And yet, the welcoming statements in the final report only lost acceptance by a handful of votes that would have been needed to achieve the required 2/3rds majority.  Similarly, the votes for the more restrictive language,which was approved, did so also only by the most narrow of margins, showing significant opposition to this approach.

And yet, we caught a rare glimpse of the fact that there are many bishops who are speaking out for changes in the ways that the Church approach LGBT people.

And yet, we witnessed an unprecedented week where discussion and disagreement among the hierarchy was evident in the media.

And yet, we saw how ready and willing Catholic people are to accept changes in the Church on a variety of marriage, family, and sexuality issues.

And yet, we have a pope who seems willing to push for a more inclusive and welcoming Church.

John Allen, a veteran Vatican observer, commented on the closeness of the votes in a Crux.com article which looked at how the final report addressed the issues of homosexuality and divorce/remarriage:

“Paragraphs on those two points were the only items that failed to receive a two-thirds majority of the Synod of Bishops in voting on its final document. While there’s no magic to the two-thirds threshold in this sort of Vatican ballot, the results clearly reflect a divided hierarchy on both issues.

“Despite considerably more cautious language, both items drew significant ‘no’ votes: The paragraph on gays and lesbians had a vote of 118-62 and that on the divorced and remarried drew 104 in favor and 74 opposed.

 “A Vatican spokesman said that means they did not reflect ‘a strong consensus of the entire synod.’ ”
Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter summarized Pope Francis’ final address to the synod, in which he stressed his oft-repeated message of inclusive welcome:

“Referencing a talk he gave the synod when it began its work Oct. 6, Francis said ‘it was necessary to live … with tranquility and also with interior peace because the synod takes place with Peter and under Peter and the presence of the pope is the guarantee for all.’

” ‘The task of the pope is to guarantee the unity of the church; to remind pastors that their first duty is to feed the flock — feed the flock — that the Lord has entrusted to them and try to search to welcome — with fatherhood and mercy and without false fears –the lost sheep,’ he said.

“Then, saying, ‘I made a mistake,’ Francis corrected himself: ‘I said welcome. Go find them!’ “

Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Those of us who advocate for LGBT equality in the Church can be glad that we heard words this week from Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx that change in the Church is obviously something that can happen.  The National Catholic Reporter carried some of his comments:

“Addressing a key question raised by the Synod of Bishops on the family, a German cardinal said Friday that church doctrine can change over time.

“The church’s doctrine, Cardinal Reinhard Marx said, ‘doesn’t depend on the spirit of time but can develop over time.’

” ‘Saying that the doctrine will never change is a restrictive view of things,’ Marx said at a Vatican press conference Friday.

” ‘The core of the Catholic church remains the Gospel, but have we discovered everything?’ he asked. ‘This is what I doubt.'”

Marx was specific about LGBT issues, too:

“Marx said: ‘homosexuals are not condemned by the church for their sexual orientation.’

“Making a difference between gay couples who have monogamous relationships for decades and gay persons who are promiscuous, Marx continued: ‘I cannot simply say that everything is black or everything is white.’

” ‘We cannot say that since you are homosexual, you cannot experience the Gospel,’ Marx said. ‘This is impossible to me.’ “

Vatican Radio summarized other points made by Cardinal Marx, under a headline that “Pope Is Seeking Input to Take Church Forward” :

“Cardinal Marx from Munich noted that in Germany many committed Catholics are asking how the Church can be more inclusive of those who are divorced and remarried or living in homosexual relationships. Exclusion is not the language of the Church, he said, insisting that Catholics must move away from a ‘black and white…all or nothing’ vocabulary. While there are significantly different perspectives at the Synod, according to a bishops’ cultural experiences or personal encounters, the cardinal said Pope Francis is seeking input that can take the Church forward, open new doors and discover new possibilities for bringing the Gospel to men and women today. The Pope did not invite us to two Synods, he remarked with a smile,  to hear us simply repeat what we’ve always been saying!”

As with many situations in life, we can choose between looking at the glass as half-empty or half full.  A half-empty approach to the news of the final report might focus only on the fact that the positive messages on gay and lesbian people did not get approved.  But a CNN.com headline shows a half-full perspective.  The headline reads:  “Catholics bishops: No agreement on gays and lesbians.”    Similarly, a New York Times article on the report carried this headline:  “No Consensus at Vatican as Synod Ends.”

This perspective highlights the fact that though traditionalists may have had the votes in this round, the experience of the synod points to the fact of significant disagreement on how to approach LGBT issues.  That’s a hopeful point.

On Friday, October 17th, the day before the report was issued, The New York Times editorialized about the experience of the synod, and they offered this hopeful conclusion to their opinions:

“The synod did not call for doctrinal changes on birth control. But it said — perhaps in a euphemistic effort to seem less than absolute on the subject — that what is required is ‘a realistic language that is able to start from listening to people.’

“Beyond specific issues, a welcome tone of conciliation and outreach defined the synod report, as in the recognition that gay Catholics yearn for ‘a welcoming home’ in the church. In this and other ways, the synod marks a hopeful beginning of what undoubtedly will be a difficult but fascinating worldwide debate on the future of the modern church.”

Even with Saturday’s disappointment, it is still important to remember that we have already seen a “fascinating worldwide debate on the future of the modern church,” and that it will very likely only become more fascinating in the coming months .

Galileo

Today, we say “And yet.”  But, as we look toward next year’s synod, we can say, “And yet, possibly. . . .”

I’m reminded this weekend of another famous “And yet” statement.  When Galileo was forced under the threat of execution to deny his claim that the earth moved around the sun, and not the other way around, it is said that immediately after his recanting, he whispered under his breath about the earth, “Eppur si muove.” “And yet, it moves.”  May we all have the fortitude and confidence of Galileo as we continue on with this important discussion in the Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Religion News Service:  “Catholic bishops narrowly reject a wider welcome to gays, divorced Catholics.”

New York Times: “What Is a Catholic Family?

 


Synod Final Report Disappoints, But Significant Progress Is Made In the Process

October 18, 2014

The synod on marriage and family has released its final report.  You can read it by clicking here, though, so far, it has only been released in Italian. (Try Google Translate or another translation program.)  The passages on lesbian and gay issues are numbers 55 and 56.

The following is the statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, responding to the final report of the synod on marriage and the family:

The synod’s final report significantly backtracks on LGBT issues from the draft released earlier this week, but the synod’s process and openness to discussion provides hope for further development down the road, particularly at next year’s synod, where the make-up of the participants will be larger and more diverse, including many more pastorally-oriented bishops.

It’s very disappointing that the Synod’s final report did not retain the gracious welcome to lesbian and gay people that the draft of the report included.  Instead, the bishops have taken a narrow view of pastoral care by defining it simply as opposition to marriage for same-gender couples. Additionally, their further comment about supposed “international pressure” to accept same-gender marriage selfishly views the hierarchy as the victims, not LGBT people who receive unjust and oppressive treatment by governments, church, families, and society.

Pastoral care should focus on for LGBT people as total human beings, many of whom have suffered significant alienation and personal harm, and not just as sexual beings.  Pastoral care should also focus on the gifts that LGBT people bring to the Church, something that the earlier draft highlighted.

One major error the bishops made in the final report was to quote the Vatican’s 2003 document condemning same-gender marriage, which referred to adoption by gay and lesbian couples as a form of “violence” toward the children.  Such language is pastorally harmful and destructive to any welcome to lesbian and gay people.

It’s important, however, to keep two things in mind.  First, the paragraphs on homosexuality which did not receive the required 2/3rds vote, and which were more welcoming of LGBT people, failed by only a handful of votes, indicating significant support from a majority of bishops. Second, this report is not the final word, but as a Vatican spokesperson explained, it is still a working document which will be discussed in the coming year.

What was good about this two-week long meeting?  The real value of this synod is that it has started the discussion among the hierarchy on LGBT issues which has been going on for decades among the lay people and theologians in the Church.  The bishops began to catch up, and I don’t think that the discussion will stop here, but will only continue, with more promising outcomes for LGBT people and their families in the future.

It is not surprising that the paragraphs on lesbian and gay people proved to be among the most controversial of the synod’s proceedings.  The paragraphs on homosexuality were among those that received the lowest affirmative votes.  This result shows that there is still much to be examined and explored on LGBT issues in the Church.  Let’s hope and pray that at next year’s synod, the bishops will invite lesbian and gay people and couples to give their personal testimonies, so that the bishops can learn first-hand about their experiences of faith and love.

More importantly, though this synod revealed that there are some strong voices for LGBT equality and for change in church teaching, something which was not known clearly before the meeting.  Now that these voices have been bold enough to speak, more bishops who think like them will surely follow their example.  The biggest problem in the Church up to this point has not been lack of support among the hierarchy on LGBT issues, but lack of courage for those bishops to speak out what they truly think.  The silence has ended.  Nothing will be the same.

Between now and next year’s synod, the discussion in the Catholic Church–at all levels–on LGBT issues, as well as other issues of family and sexuality, will be more open and robust than it has ever been.  That is a very good thing!

New Ways Ministry is a 37-year old national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBT people and the wider Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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