Archbishop’s Comments About Sexual Orientation Show the ‘Francis Effect’

November 13, 2014

While LGBT issues have not been a major focus of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meeting in Baltimore this week, one small introduction to these topics may be an indicator that the “Francis effect”–the idea that Pope Francis is influencing Catholic leaders–is having an impact on the American hierarchy.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski

At a press conference on Tuesday, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, Florida, and a member of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, compared the situation of LGBT people in nations with repressive laws to the plight of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

Buzzfeed reported on Wenski’s comments:

“ ‘We have to help people to realize that they should not demonize the undocumented; Nobody should be demonized because of their sexual orientation, etc,’ said Wenski, who is part of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration. Immigration reform is one of the American church’s top policy priorities.

“Wenski was responding to a question from BuzzFeed News about whether the global church had been clear in transmitting the message of  ‘love the sinner/hate the sin’ in its teachings on homosexuality. Wenski, a member of the Bishops’ Working Group on the Life and Dignity of the Human Persons, said that a public opinion study commissioned by the church found many American church members simply interpreted ‘love the sinner but hate the sin’ as ‘hate the sinner.’”

Wenski’s comments are certainly a step in the right direction.  It seems very likely, too, that his remarks have been very influenced by Pope Francis’ new approach to issues like homosexuality, which emphasizes that the Church needs to view such issues through the lens of its social justice tradition, rather than its sexual ethics tradtion.

Why does it seem that Wenski’s attitude is a result of the “Francis effect”?  Because until recently, he has not made supportive of comments for LGBT people, and in fact, some of his comments and actions have been quite negative.  In August of this year, he spoke out against a Florida court’s ruling that same-gender marriage could be approved in that state.  Wenski called the ruling “another salvo in the ‘culture wars’ that ultimately seek to redefine the institution of marriage as solely for adult gratification.”

As chair of the USCCB’s domestic policy committee,  Wenski joined with other bishops to state  great reluctance to accept President Obama’s executive order on non-discrimination, which when it was passed, the USCCB ultimately criticized.

In 2013, he authored a letter to Florida Catholics, instructing them to oppose marriage equality, and he suggested that adoption of same-gender marriage could lead to legalized polygamy.

Before becoming archbishop of Miami, Wenski was the bishop of Orlando, Florida, where he shut down a very successful diocesan outreach to LGBT people.

So, to see him now speak in such compassionate tones forces one to ask, “Why did he change?”  Since the change is very much in line with the pope’s approach, it seems reasonable to infer that Wenski has been influenced by the pontiff.

Rather than condemning him for his earlier comments, I think we should rejoice that his rhetoric is changing.  Regardless of what motivated him to change, it is very beneficial to not only LGBT people, but to the entire Catholic Church that he did. Though he probably still opposes marriage equality, he is still taking a step in the right direction, and that step will help to influence many other Catholics to at least begin to think more positively about LGBT people.

Solid change always happens by little and by little.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry







Ten Years Later: Sister Jeannine and Her Documentary Keep Marching On

November 12, 2014

It’s hard to believe that it has been over ten years since In Good Conscience:  Sister Jeannine Gramick’s Journey of Faith, a documentary chronicling the life and ministry of New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, was released and met with applause, ovations, and awards at film festivals around the world.   And what a decade it has been!  Marriage equality is rapidly becoming the norm in the United States and in many parts of the globe, a new pope is in the Vatican, and Catholics in growing numbers are standing up for justice and equality for LGBT people.

TEN YEARS AGO: Sister Jeannine Gramick and Barbara Rick

To mark this anniversary, there will be a special screening of the inspiring film on Saturday, November 15th in New York City, as part of Believe Out Loud’s Level Ground film festival. (You can purchase tickets by clicking here.)  Both Sister Jeannine and Barbara Rick of Out of The Blue Films, who produced and directed the documentary, will be available for a Q and A session after the film.

Another way that the anniversary is being observed is that Out of The Blue Films is releasing a special tenth anniversary edition which brings viewers up to date with some of the remarkable things that have been happening in the church and the world.  And most importantly, the new version shows that Sister Jeannine is still actively ministering with LGBT people, continuing to resist the Vatican’s 15-year old order that she end such work.

The National Catholic Reporter’s  Jamie Manson interviewed Rick recently to discuss the impact of the film and a need for an update of it.  Rick explained what motivated her to undertake the project in the first place:

“I stumbled across something in The New York Times about an American nun who was refusing to be silent over her ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics. I remember just sitting up as straight as can be in my chair. I was like, ‘Oh my God, she is really doing something powerful.’

“This is a woman who is doing something revolutionary by refusing to be silenced by the patriarchal hierarchy of the Vatican. That just resonated very deeply with me: a woman standing up without fear (or in spite of fear) and saying, ‘I refuse to collaborate on my own oppression.’ That just hit such a deep chord in me.”

Rick reflects on what she learned about Sister Jeannine as she made the film:

“Her ability to speak truth to power and to deal with her enemies who outrank her really sets her apart. I’m so impressed by her persistence and her humor, her love for humanity, her dogged nature. She’s just determined. She just doesn’t give up. I really think she is a prophet. She has been fighting the way forward many decades. She was inspired by her friend Dominic, who asked, ‘Sister, what is the Catholic church doing for my gay brothers and sisters?’ That is the question that has hounded her for whole life.”

The filmmaker also commented on why she thinks Sister Jeannine’s story is so compelling:

“I think she was a part of this transformation that has happened in the treatment of gay and lesbian Catholics and gay and lesbian people throughout the world. She is part of the realization that all people are deserving of love, rights, respect and marriage. There was no talk of same-sex marriage 10 years ago. It’s very powerful to see how much the world has changed. I like to think that this film had a very tiny part to play in all that. The world was in the process in of changing, and we were documenting a little piece of that change. It’s one of the reasons that we wanted to revisit the film.”

Rick says the new film will be shorter and more effective, while also updating some of the content to reflect the changes that have occurred in the world and the church.  The producer is still trying to raise funds to finish the new edition.  To find out more about the new version and to make a donation to its production, visit the film’s website by clicking here.

If you would like to order a copy of the original film, you can do so by visiting New Ways Ministry’s online bookstore, and clicking on the button below the In Good Conscience icon.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Making Compassion and Kindness Our Response to Anti-LGBT Faith Leaders

November 11, 2014

One of the most common questions that I have been asked by people in my years of ministry in the LGBT Catholic community is “Why are some bishops so stubborn against changing policy and practices in the church concerning LGBT people?”

It’s a good question, and one that I wish I knew the exact answer to.  Many people speculate that the reason is because bishops who espouse anti-gay attitudes are, in fact, gay themselves.  There’s good research to show that homophobic people are actually fearful of their own homoerotic feelings.  But I think that this answer, while certainly true of some bishops, is not the complete answer.  It can sometimes be a satisfying answer because it seems to fit in with popular notions of psychology, but I think it misses some other dynamics which are at work in their attitudes.

Australia’s recently posted an essay entitled “How to Approach the Abominable ‘No’-Men” in which author Rob MacPherson tries to make sense of why some Catholic bishops remain so anti-gay.  I think he offers some interesting analyses.

Taking the recent synod as his jumping off point for his discussion of Catholicism, MacPherson tries to make sense of a group he calls ” ‘The Abominable “No”-men”…privileged folk who are reflexively conditioned to find “no” an easier response to ANY change toward social equity, because it has fewer letters than “yes.” ‘ “

Summarizing the thesis of Dr. Robert Ciardini’s study Influence, MacPherson states:

“. . . [P]eople have a strong psychological tendency to stick to what they’ve always said and done, fearing they otherwise might appear, weak, vacillating, scatter-brained, or even mad. Neither logic nor evidence can shift this (witness the current climate change debate). If they appear inconsistent, they stand to lose trust and respect, and therefore social status. ‘

MacPherson claims that strong and vocal opposition actually reveals “vulnerability and fear,” not strength and courage:

“. . . [W]hen they splutter and roar, what we are witnessing is not so much simple chest-beating aggression, but what we might call ‘privilege erosion’—the sense that their barely-acknowledged privileges are slipping away from under their feet, and their own self-inflicted blindness to that privilege opening up like a sink-hole.”

Social change reveals something to these fearful leaders that they were not even aware of beforehand:

‘Because they have never noticed their unfair advantages, all they see is that they are worse off, and therefore threatened. A society that once was ordered for their convenience alone, no longer fits. Thus they are apt to feel persecuted.’

I think we can’t underestimate the fear that people have about any changes in society or any institution that deal with gender, such as sexual orientation or gender identity.  I don’t think such fear excuses these negative attitudes, but I think it is important to be aware of these forces.  For whatever reason, gender is a powerful force.  This is particularly true in an institution like the church which has for so long valued men over all other gender identities.  I think it’s important to be aware that these forces often play powerful unseen roles in people’s behaviors.

While I certainly understand the anger that some people feel toward church leaders who have been so virulently anti-LGBT, lately my dominant feeling towards these prelates has been sadness.  In not being able to allow themselves to simply learn about LGBT people, they are missing out on some of the holiest and most positive acts of faith, liberation, and love in the world today.  So sad that they are missing the joy of this most Christian party.

MacPherson offers some very wise and Christian advice to those who witness these “no”-men.  He says the best thing for people to do is:

“. . . to approach these seemingly dangerous creatures, not judging or vilifying them, but challenging ourselves to recognize their fear as genuine and understandable, mustering what compassion we can for their feelings of distress, and remaining patient and persistent in offering a better way forward.

“Once upon a traditional time, qualities like understanding, compassion, patience, and persistence were called ‘virtues’. We’re going to need them as we try to approach our own Abominable ‘No’-men as their familiar world melts away, and a new, more just one, evolves into being.”

In an unrelated story this weekend, MacPherson’s advice was exemplified by a Catholic lesbian woman in Houston, Texas.  When faith-based anti gay protestors demonstrated this weekend, in that city, a counter-demonstration to negate their hate emerged, and KHOU-TV  reported on the response of Tiera Ortiz-Rodriguez, chapter president of Dignity Houston, a Catholic community of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics.:

“We want to have compassion and kindness as our response.”

Yes, we must never give up speaking out and advocating for justice, but we must do so in such a way that our opponents do not become our enemies.  We must be committed to work for their enlightenment and liberation from their own fears.  Not easy work, but like everything else, it can be accomplished by little and by little.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Two Sacramental Stories Show How Divided Our Church Is By LGBT Issues

November 7, 2014

Two stories from London’s Tablet magazine show how far our Church has come on LGBT issues, and also how far we yet have to go.

One story reports on a parish priest in Bürglen, Switzerland, who blessed a lesbian couple’s relationship in a public ceremony in the parish church.  The Tablet  said it was “a service closely resembling a marriage ceremony.”

In the short article, Fr. Wendelin Bucheli explained his rationale for granting the couple’s request that their partnership be blessed:

“The question he had asked himself and those he consulted was, ‘Can I perform this blessing in the name of God and is it God’s will?’ The conclusion he had come to was, ‘As animals, cars and even weapons are blessed nowadays, why should it not be possible to bless a couple who want to go their way with God?’ ‘As for the form [of the service], this blessing was not very different from a church marriage [ceremony],’ he added.”

The story reminds us of the growing trend of positive statements and regard that many church leaders, including some high-ranking cardinals and bishops, have been exhibiting over the past few years.  It is also reminiscent of the Bondings 2.0 post a couple of months ago which described a New York City parish bulletin affirming the 44-year relationship of a lesbian couple who are parishioners.

The positive vibes of this Swiss story, though, are somewhat dampened by the fact that another Tablet story recently described the experience of a gay Catholic man who was denied absolution during the sacrament of reconciliation because of his sexuality.  Aaron Saunderson-Cross, a 29 year-old gay Catholic in an eight year-old committed relationship, was denied absolution during one of his regular experiences of the sacrament of reconciliation.  He describes the occurrence:

“For the first time ever, the priest refused me absolution. The experience left me angered, saddened and confused.

“I accept the irregularity of my situation as existing outside of the Church’s normative structures of family life and yet I am resolved, by God’s grace in the life of ‘complete continence’ (Familiaris Consortio 84), to live out my call to holiness as detailed in Lumen Gentium.

“It is always difficult when visiting a new confessor and language so often fails in our feeble attempts to give a full account of the complexity of our lives . . .”

From the depth of reflection that Saunderson-Cross, who converted to Catholicism five years ago, expresses in his blog post, it is obvious that he has studiously and prayerfully informed and resolved his conscience.  One comment particularly stands out as he describes the confessor’s response to learning about the partnered relationship:

” [The] bonds of affection that are Providential in our redemption are less important to the homophobic mind than the presumption of our genital transgressions.”

The denial of absolution does not fit in with the more pastoral approach towards gay and lesbian Catholics that was promoted at the synod, particularly by London’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols.  Saunderson-Cross writes:

“I returned to that priest the next afternoon. He distinguished between being refused and deferred absolution, yet this distinction failed to acknowledge my relationship – in Cardinal Peter Erdo’s words from the recent Synod – in the ‘light of the law of graduality’ which Cardinal Nichols explains is a ‘law of pastoral moral theology which permits people, all of us, to take one step at a time in our search for holiness in our lives.’ The grace of sacramental absolution is ‘sweetness to the soul and health to the body’ (Proverbs 16:24) and necessary to the mental health of gay Catholics who labour in faith to integrate their lives to the perfect will of God.”

The story was resolved by the penitent returning to his regular confession to receive absolution.  The discouraging aspect of this story reminds us of so many times that LGBT Catholics are denied sacraments.  Pope Francis’ message of pastoral outreach and inclusion cannot be implemented soon enough.

Just like the synod of a few weeks ago, these two stories show how much opinion in our our Church is divided about LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: Final List of Links on the Synod

November 5, 2014

News NotesOver the past few weeks, we have been supplying you with links to news articles and opinions pieces about the synod.  We’ve covered, general responses, international items, Catholic commentators, and today, for the final installment, we provide you with a list of links to reactions from bishops, Anglican leaders, and from religious and secular news commentators:

1. reported that Bishop Paul Bradley of Kalamzoo, Michigan, thought the draft relatio’s comment on “gifts and qualities” of lesbian and gay people was “a beautiful way to say just because a person or a couple are not living in complete harmony with the church in a moral way people are called to live, that does not negate that there’s any good in them.”

2.  The Tampa Bay Times carried comments from St. Petersburg’s Bishop Robert Lynch, who said that the synod was “an important moment of honesty and collegiality.”  He also noted that his diocese “wants to see us welcome members of the gay and lesbian community.”

3.  The Christian Post reported that New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan called synod discussion on gay and lesbian people an “evolution,”  not a “revolution.”   Dolan also compared Pope Francis to Jesus, saying that the pope “never ceases to surprise us. Just when you think you might have him figured out, he offers another fresh innovative way of looking, that talk to which you just referred at the close of the synod was nothing less than inspirational. He spoke from the heart. He spoke about himself as the Pope and the church and he challenged all of us. And it reminds me of Jesus. Always walking down the road, and never forgetting the people on either side.”

4. Gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson penned an essay for The Daily Beast in which he praised Pope Francis’ compassionate leadership, yet he also noted: “. . . [T]he Roman Catholic Church is a large ship to turn around on such matters, even with such a kindly and well-intentioned captain at the helm. He has to contend with much more conservative bishops, archbishops, and cardinals appointed by his two immediate predecessors. And like the President of the United States, he must work with an entrenched bureaucracy that was in place long before his arrival and will still be in place long after his departure.”

5.  In a Telegraph column, John Bingham quotes Bishop Paul Butler, an Anglican observer at the synod, noting that the British bishop felt that Vatican officials at the synod exhibited a “lack of awareness” of real life in their opposition to a more welcoming approach to gay and lesbian people. Butler said: “The Rome-based Cardinals seemed more concerned to ensure the doctrine is maintained. There seemed a lack of awareness of what it is really like in the parishes in remote villages and mega-cities.”

6.  In a Malta Today blog post,  Mario Gerarda, founder of Drachma, Malta’s LGBT Catholic organization, stated that one of the greatest contributions of the synod was the opening up of a needed discussion: “Elements within the Catholic Church have been debating this issue for quite a while, but I think it’s crucial that the higher echelons of the Church hierarchy are finally putting this issue at the forefront of their agenda.”

7.  National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie Manson criticized the synod (and Church government, generally) for not taking women’s perspectives seriously.  Her criticism also went further: “Add to that the unseemly, if not deeply pathological, reality that a significant number of these bishops, who cannot decide whether gays and lesbians have gifts to offer to the church, are themselves closeted gay men.”

8.  Guardian commentator David Marr criticized the synod and its too-optimistic supporters because nothing about church teaching on homosexuality actually changed because of the meeting:  “I am still bound for hell. Nothing the bishops discussed in Rome over the past few weeks will save me and my kind from damnation. They considered some soft rhetoric but never questioned that sex between men must remain a grave sin.”

9.  International Business Times reporter Zoe Mintz collected a sampling of online comments about the synod in an article entitled “Majority Of Catholics Support Gays And Lesbians: LGBT Community Reacts To Synod Report Online.”

10. MSNBC’s Nick Ramsey looks at “The ‘silver lining’ to the Vatican’s backslide on LGBTQ issues” by evaluating comments from Catholic writers.

11. New York’s Daily News columnist Mike Lupica assesses the synod positively in an essay entitled “Pope Francis’ talk on gays moves Catholic Church into modern era — and out of 17th century.”

12. According to writer Matt Northrup, the synod may not have produced a positive final report for LGBT people, but the meeting’s process holds promise for future progress: “The revisions to these documents underscore LGBT Catholics’ continuing lack of power, but the ways in which the Church is now conducting these meetings may pave the way for progress.”

13.’s John Sutter says that if synod participants are serious about welcoming lesbian and gay people, there are “3 ways the Catholic church should embrace gay rights” :  1) Make a serious push for LGBT rights in Africa; 2) Embrace same-sex marriage; 3) Stop the firings of gay teachers.

14. Ron and Mavis Pirola, the Australian couple who were the first people to mention gay issues at the synod, gave a video interview to Eureka Streeta Jesuit publication.  Ron explained that although gay partnerships are against Church teaching, “the fundamental thing, the default position, is always the love of the person.”  Mavis said that one of the points they were trying to make about the story of their friends’ acceptance of a gay son and his partner was that “the wider Church can learn from the lived experience of family life, which is complex, but there’s so much love in families.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry




WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Writing Letters to Our Bishops

November 5, 2014

Today, Bondings 2.0 inaugurates a new occasional series:  “Where Do We Go From Here?  The Road to Synod 2015.”  Over the course of the next several months, we will be featuring posts by a variety of contributors examining the question of what Catholics—laity and leaders—can do over the coming year as the Church prepares for the October 2015 Synod on Marriage and Family.  Some of these will be original posts written for this blog, and some will be synopses and comments on articles originally published elsewhere.

This past October’s preparatory synod was remarkable for the openness of discussion about many topics, especially lesbian and gay issues.  The conversation about sexuality has finally begun in the Church!  Though the final report was not what we had hoped for, we now know that there are a number of bishops who are willing to speak out towards a more compassionate and equal pastoral approach for LGBT people.

Instead of dwelling on the past, let’s look toward the future.  How do we get from this significant milestone to a more positive significant milestone at the 2015 meeting?

All Bondings 2.0 readers are invited to participate in this discussion by sending us their own answer to the question “Where do we go from here?”   Guidelines for potential posts can be found by clicking here.   You can submit your short essays to: 

For the first installment in this series, we feature a National Catholic Reporter essay written by New Ways Ministry co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick. She starts off her essay by criticizing the bishops at the synod for backtracking on their earlier, more positive draft report:

“Do these bishops know what it means to show a pastoral face? Wasn’t this synod called to discuss ‘pastoral issues?’ LGBT persons and their allies did not make excessive demands. They were seeking some kind words of welcome.”

But, criticizing the past synod was not Sr. Jeannine’s main aim.  Instead, she intended to talk about the future:

“As we move ahead to the Ordinary Synod on the Family in October 2015, LGBT Catholics and their allies have a lot of work to do. It is the work of conversations and discussions with our bishops. Now is the time for LGBT Catholics, their parents, and friends to raise their voices and tell their stories to church leaders.

“I am reminded of a story told by Bishop Joseph Sullivan of Brooklyn before his tragic death last year in an auto accident. In one of his conversations with New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Bishop Sullivan mentioned that the language used in church documents or public statements from bishops is often perceived as harsh and unfeeling by LGBT people and their friends. Cardinal Dolan responded that the people he hears from tell him the language is not severe enough.

“How can we expect our church leaders to open their hearts to conversion if we do not provide them with stories for their ears to hear? How can we complain that bishops are insensitive to what LGBT people suffer if we do not take the time to dialogue with them?”

In conclusion, she urged all individuals to take personal responsibility and write to their local bishops, and even to the pope:

“It is time for each of us to write a letter or ask for some dialogue time with our bishop. The “culture warriors” are continually phoning, writing letters or meeting bishops to communicate their opinions. It is time for our bishops to understand that these attitudes represent a minority view. The bishops need to hear from the progressive members of our church.

“There is one more letter I feel we should write. It is a letter to Pope Francis, asking him to appoint some LGBT persons and couples as official observers to the Extraordinary Synod so that the bishops can hear personal testimonies of the faith life of LGBT Catholics. I remember the colorful banner that some members of the National Coalition of American Nuns unfurled in St. Peter’s Square in 1994 during the Synod on Religious Life. ‘No speaking about us without us,’ the nuns said. It may be time to do what the sisters said.”

Again, Bondings 2.0  is interested in your ideas about how to move forward to the 2015 synod.  Click here for more information.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Vatican Marriage Conference Can Endanger the Good Will Pope Francis Has Built

November 4, 2014

Any good will from gay and lesbian people that was won because of the open discussions at the recent extraordinary synod on marriage and the family will evaporate quickly if events like the one announced yesterday become the order of the day. The Vatican revealed that a major interfaith conference on complementarity in marriage will take place there on November 17-19 of this year.  The meeting is sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity are co-sponsors.

According to a Catholic News Service article on the America magazine website, the conference, entitled “Complementarity of Man and Woman,” will feature

“more than 30 speakers representing 23 countries and various Christian churches, as well as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism and Sikhism.”

Pope Francis will give an opening address at the meeting, and we will need  to listen closely to his remarks to see how strongly he defends the church’s traditional view of marriage, the place of complementarity in marriage, and what he might say about same-gender couples.  His remarks in the past on this topic have refreshingly avoided the harsh rhetoric against marriage equality that his predecessors frequently employed.  Speaking at a conference focused on such a pointed topic as complementarity will mean that his rhetoric needs to be very sophisticated if he wants to maintain his otherwise welcoming overtures to lesbian and gay people.  If his praise for complementarity becomes exclusive, he endangers the good will he has built up with LGBT Catholics over the past year and a half.

Of course, in and of itself, a conference on finding ways to support heterosexual marriage is not a bad idea.  But focusing on complementarity, and holding it up as the only ideal for intimate relationships, places same-gender relationships in an inferior position. Moreover, complementarity has been widely criticized as a sexist idea since it reinforces traditional gender roles which put women in inferior positions.  Support heterosexual couples in their marital commitments:  Yes.  Support complementarity as a goal and requirement of marriage: No.’s Inés San Martín explained how “complementarity” is a loaded term in contemporary church discussions:

“Complementarity comes up frequently in Catholic circles as part of the intellectual basis for opposing same-sex marriage, on the grounds that the natural differences between men and women reflect the divine plan for marriage as a union between the two sexes. Given that many of the flash points at the synod revolved around homosexuality and marriage, the agenda for the looming conference seems destined to bring them back to the fore.

“Complementarity has also been invoked by recent popes to defend the Church’s ban on women priests, on the grounds that men and women play different but equally important roles in Catholicism.”

But what makes this conference particularly disappointing is that Vatican leaders have invited representatives from other faiths to come and present their views on marriage, yet the Catholic hierarchy has yet to have a public and serious discussion with members of their own church who have views on marriage which differ from the traditional heterosexual model.   A Religion News Service story on The National Catholic Reporter website described the background of some of those who are invited:

“. . . [T]he conference will include Muslim and Jewish representatives, as well as American leading evangelicals like megachurch pastor Rick Warren and Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore.Organizers say the new conference will show that while the Catholic hierarchy is split on how to address contemporary challenges to marriage and family life, the church can nonetheless seek common ground with religious leaders outside the Vatican. . . .

” ‘I am willing to go anywhere, when asked, to bear witness to what we as evangelical Protestants believe about marriage and the gospel, especially in times in which marriage is culturally imperiled,’ said Moore, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. . . .

“The conference will include Wael Farouq, a Muslim and president of the Tawasul Cultural Center in Cairo; Henry B. Eyring, an top-ranking apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and Manmohan Singh of the World Sikh Council.”

The Catholic News Service story detailed more of the participants:

“. . . Mercy Sister Prudence Allen, former chair of the philosophy department at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, whom Pope Francis named to the International Theological Commission in September.

“Other notable speakers will include Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of Great Britain, and Anglican Bishops N.T. Wright and Michael Nazir-Ali.” also mentioned two more participants: Jacqueline Cooke-Rivers, a doctoral fellow in African and African-American Studies at Harvard University, and Johann Christoph Arnold, a pastor with the Bruderhof Communities.

Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, who will host the September 2015 World Meeting of Families, will also be a speaker.  After the synod, Chaput had commented on that meeting, stating: “I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was of confusion.”   Given his strong opposition to the synod’s more open discussions, it makes one wonder if this event will be used to repudiate any of the more positive messages that came out of  the bishops’ discussions last month.

Conference organizers say that the conference’s purpose is to

“examine and propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman, in order to support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society.”

Helen Alvare, a Catholic commentator known for her conservative positions, is the spokesperson for the event, and she told that she sees the meeting is being very much in line with Pope Francis’ call for wide discussion:

“For Alvare, the exchange is an answer to Pope Francis’ call to ‘look, listen, face reality, [and] get people from around the world to tell us their situation.’

“ ‘I know I’m not seeing things,’ she said. ‘With his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and his final speech at the synod, he’s telling us to open the dialogue. Solidarity between religions and cultures is possible.’ “

If Pope Francis truly wants to open the dialogue, he should host a Vatican meeting to listen to and interact with LGBT Catholics and other advocates of marriage equality to hear their points of view.  Hosting a conference for those who agree with the church’s traditional view of marriage is not something new and it is not something needed.  Vatican officials, and the world, have heard that position over and over and over.  Opening the dialogue would occur if the all points of view were heard.  And solidarity with conservative religious leaders is less important than solidarity with LGBT Catholics and their supporters, who have been asking for a dialogue with the Catholic hierarchy for decades now.

At the conclusion of the conference, participants will issue a “Declaration on Marriage.”  Key to this document will be how it describes and evaluates same-gender couples and marriage equality laws.  Even though the Vatican is not ready to recognize same-gender couples, they should still be able to find a way to support heterosexual couples without relying on devaluing lesbian/gay relationships, or promoting sexist notions of complementarity.

Pope Francis, known for outreach and reconciliation, may have his work cut out for himself after this conference is over.  His best option is to give equal time to at least Catholic advocates who are working to ensure that all couples and families that are based on loving relationships are recognized and blessed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Christianity Today: Pope Francis Wants To Know What Rick Warren, Russell Moore, N. T. Wright Think about Marriage”






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