Did the Synod Really Backtrack on Its Positive Statements? Not Quite.

October 15, 2014

Following the positive reception that the Synod’s relatio document, its mid-term report, received in the global media over the past two days, a South African cardinal is saying that the document has been misunderstood.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier

The National Catholic Reporter noted the remarks of Durban’s Cardinal Wilfrid Napier:

“One of the prelates participating in the Synod of Bishops on the family has sharply criticized the landmark document the meeting released Monday, saying its message of openness to modern society has put the prelates in ‘a position that is virtually irredeemable.

” ‘The message has gone out: This is what the synod is saying, this is what the Catholic church is saying,’ South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier said at a Vatican press conference Tuesday.

” ‘And it’s not what we’re saying at all,’ Napier said. ‘No matter how we try correcting that … there’s no way of retrieving it.’

” ‘The message has gone out and it’s not a true message,’ he continued. ‘Whatever we say hereafter is going to be as if we’re doing some damage control.’ “

The cardinal was commenting on the fact that the relatio is only an interim report, which will continue to be debated during the coming week.  And, even at that, nothing from it will be definitive since this extraordinary synod is only preliminary to the ordinary synod which will occur in October 2015.   The relatio is only a discussion of what has been said in the synod so far.

But, this qualification doesn’t mean that the relatio isn’t good news.  For instance, Napier himself seemed to backtrack from these seemingly backtracking comments.  The National Catholic Reporter stated:

“Speaking later at the Vatican press conference, Napier seemed to back away from his criticism. Asked if he would want the meeting to rescind the document, he responded: ‘That’s rather radical, I think, because the relatio actually has a lot of very good, very good things.’

” ‘It would be like saying, “Let’s take back the words that the synod fathers used in the synod hall,” he said. ‘A lot of it is what was actually said.’

” ‘Some of the … dissatisfaction is that individual things that [were] said by individuals … are put in here as if they really do reflect the feeling of the whole synod,’ the cardinal continued.”

And two Catholic LGBT leaders in the U.S. offered reasons to still consider the relatio  as good news.  CNN.com reported:

” ‘I actually don’t think this is as much of a backtrack as we usually see!’ said Marianne Duddy-Burke, head of the gay rights group Dignity USA.

” ‘I think that response to this report was swift and intense, and I’m sure many bishops want to be sure people aren’t reading more into it than is there,’ she continued. ‘However, it is undeniable that there has never been any Vatican document that made positive, respectful statements about same-sex relationships, so that is an undeniable breakthrough.’

“Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, echoed that sentiment.

“‘Regardless of the fact that this is a working document, it is still significant in that it reveals a strong current of affirmative attitudes at high levels in the church towards lesbian and gay people,’ he said.”

In a second news articleThe National Catholic Reporter noted that the debate about the relatio has already begun:

“. . . 41 prelates at the synod made speeches about the text [of the relatio], suggesting additions or changes. Unlike previous synods, the Vatican is not releasing the texts of the speeches made by the prelates.

“According to an unofficial Vatican summary of those remarks, released Tuesday, the prelates praised Monday’s document, but also raised some concerns.”  [You can read the full text of the summary by clicking here.]

The summary of the topic of homosexuality stated:

“In relation to homosexuals, moreover, the need for welcome was highlighted, but with the just produced, so that the impression of a positive evaluation of such a tendency on the part of the Church is not created. The same care was advised with regard to cohabitation.”

So much is yet to be discussed by the synod, but with evidence that there are voices in that body which support positive changes regarding LGBT issues, as well as other marriage and family topics, is reason to give hope.   At the very least, it means that we still have representatives on the inside working for a more inclusive church for LGBT people, which means there will very likely be some steps forward.  So, we can keep hoping, but we still should keep working and praying.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


SYNOD: New Ways Ministry Welcomes Church’s New Approach to Gay and Lesbian People

October 13, 2014

The Synod

The Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family has released a relatio, its mid-term report, and it has encouraging statements. You can read the entire text of the relatio by clicking here.  Below is the response of New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, Francis DeBernardo, to this news:

“The relatio offers some very hopeful directions in the way that Church leaders should address lesbian and gay people and their families.  I hope that local bishops and pastors will respond to the relatio’s challenges with new ways of welcome and acceptance.

“The most significant aspects are that Catholic communities are offered the challenge of ‘accepting and valuing’ lesbian and gay people’s sexual orientation, and the recognition that lesbian and gay people ‘have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.’    These recognitions are total reversals of earlier church statements which labelled such an orientation as “objectively disordered” and which viewed gay and lesbian people in faith communities as problems and suspect persons.  Though the relatio also speaks about the importance of not ‘compromising Catholic doctrine on family and matrimony,’  the move toward accepting and valuing the gifts of gay and lesbian people is a major step forward.
“Although same-gender marriages are not recognized–which is not a surprise–it is very significant that the relatio recognizes that gay and lesbian couples offer one another ‘mutual aid to the point of sacrifice [which] constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.’  This recognition of the holiness of gay and lesbian couples is an important development, and I think it can lead to further developments of full recognition in years to come.
“What is also significant and hopeful is what is not said.  In stating that same-gender marriages are not accepted by the hierarchy, there is no vicious condemnation of them, as previous hierarchical statements have.  We don’t see the gloom and doom and apocalyptic horror that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI and their followers have foretold because of the advent of same-gender marriages.
“Most worrisome, however, is the suggestion that international bodies should not ‘pressure’ pastors to accept ‘gender ideology.’   Gender ideology is an empty, catch-all phrase to mean anything that church leaders don’t want to accept about gender.   Yet, the influence that many international bodies are trying to exert is that of protecting the civil and human rights of LGBT people, so that their identities are not criminalized, and so that they don’t suffer penalties and violence.   It’s very disappointing that the relatio doesn’t make this distinction and that the human rights of LGBT are not explicitly mentioned as worthy of defending.  Defending LGBT human rights is a pro-life and pro-family measure.
“I hope that the statement of accepting the children of lesbian and gay couples will trickle down to parishes where such children have been excluded from sacramental life and educational opportunities.
“Perhaps the most welcome statement, in terms of general approaches to marriage, family, and sexuality, is the admonition: The indispensable biblical-theological study is to be accompanied by dialog, at all levels.’
“This call to dialogue has been absent in church discussions of sexuality for way too long.  It presents the hope that future changes that are even more welcoming and accepting of lesbian and gay people and their families can develop down the road.  Once church leaders engage in dialogue with lesbian and gay Catholics, I am confident that these leaders will see the deep faith, love, and witness to the Gospel that is active in their lives and loves.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

SYNOD: Two Cardinals Make Opposite Statements about Lesbian and Gay People

October 11, 2014

ROME, Italy–At the synod on Friday, a German cardinal made a plea for recognizing the value and worth of committed same-gender relationships.  On the same day, an American cardinal’s comments about gay and lesbian people revealed the prelate’s ignorance more than they revealed any truth about homosexuality.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who is a member of Pope Francis’ advisory council of eight cardinals, gave support for couples, but also offered a qualification.  The National Catholic Reporter carried his comments:

“The church must also take a differentiated view of homosexuality, Marx said.

” ‘One simply cannot say that a faithful homosexual relationship that has held for decades is nothing,’ he said, as that is too ‘forceful’ a standpoint.

” ‘We just mustn’t lump things together and measure everything with the same yardstick, but must differentiate and take a closer look, which doesn’t mean that I endorse homosexuality as a whole,’ he added.”

That final qualification is somewhat curious.  How can Marx support committed relationships but not embrace homosexuality as a whole?  Without further information, I can only speculate.  Does he mean that what is important is relationship, but that non-procreative sexual activity is not approved?  Are his remarks calculated to be provisional so that he might appeal to more conservative bishops who might not yet fully agree with him?  When he says that we shouldn’t measure everything with the same yardstick, does that mean that he is favor of a separate sexual ethic for heterosexuals and homosexuals?

One or more of these may be true. Or perhaps the cardinal means something entirely.  The vagueness of his answer is evidence of the fact that while the discussion of homosexuality at the synod is a welcome change, there still needs to be a more robust discussion of this topic by church leaders.  Let’s hope that this synod is only the beginning of such a discussion, and that future discussions will be more in-depth and will include the voices of lesbian and gay people and couples.

If you have any ideas of what Cardinal Marx might have meant by his remarks, please post them in the “Comments” section of this post.

One cardinal yesterday was very clear and forthright regarding homosexuality, but, unfortunately, his statement revealed his own ignorance about gay and lesbian people than any truth about same-gender relationships.

Cardinal Raymond Burke

Cardinal Raymond Burke, who used to be the head of the St. Louis archdiocese and now has a Vatican office, bizarrely stated that children should be kept away from gay and lesbian family members.  The Huffington Post  reported his comments:

“We wouldn’t, if it were another kind of relationship — something that was profoundly disordered and harmful — we wouldn’t expose our children to that relationship, to the direct experience of it. And neither should we do it in the context of a family member who not only suffers from same-sex attraction, but who has chosen to live out that attraction, to act upon it, committing acts which are always and everywhere wrong, evil.”

Michael Sean Winters, who blogs at The National Catholic Reportersaid that Burke was

“. . . appallingly tone deaf. . . If the rumors are true and +Burke is about to be dispatched to the Knights of Malta, I hope the appointment comes with a ban on giving him a microphone. This man’s inability to speak with even a whiff of human compassion is intrinsically disordered if you ask me.”

The ignorance of such remarks by such a high-ranking prelate remind us that while the synod’s discussion of LGBT issues is very welcome, we still have a long way to go in regard to becoming a more welcome church.  On the positive side, one bishop here in Rome told me that Burke’s comments may do some good by the fact that they highlight the ridiculousness of anti-gay attitudes and that a number of bishops will probably be turned off by such a statement.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


SYNOD: Malta Bishop’s Talk Was Influenced By Parents of LGBT People

October 10, 2014

ROME, Italy–The news from the Vatican’s synod on marriage and the family yesterday contained an important lesson about the power of Catholic parents advocating for their LGBT children.

Bishop Mario Grech

Bishop Mario Grech, bishop of Gozo, and the president of the bishops’ conference of Malta, gave a talk to the synod in which he called for a church that is more accepting of its’ LGBT members.  What was not apparent from his speech, though, is the fact that much of his evolution in thinking about these matters happened because he has been in dialogue with a group of Maltese Catholic parents of LGBT people for several years.  (You can read his entire talk by clicking here.)

Drachma Parents, the affiliated organization of Drachma, Malta’s Catholic LGBT organization, which is coordinated by Joseanne and Joseph Peregin, has been meeting with the bishop for several years to share their stories of love, struggle, and acceptance of their LGBT children.  Joseanne shared the story of the organization’s work at the October 3rd international theological conference “The Ways of Love,” held in Rome.  (You can read two previous blog posts about this conference by clicking here and here.)

At the Synod, Bishop Grech told his brother bishops:

“We know very well that, as our Lord himself promised to give his Spirit to guide us to all truth (cfr. Jn 16:13) and in a spirit of complete trust in his word, the doctrine of the faith is capable of progressively acquiring a greater depth. We must not change or twist the Gospel of the Family in such a way that would lead to its disfigurement. Today’s family, however, also quite commonly includes the following scenarios: the situation of a man and woman, both divorced and who now live together in a second relationship; or the case where a son or a daughter profess to be gay; or that given context whereby the exercise of responsible fatherhood proves to be a constant hurdle; relationships that are torn apart by failure; or the challenge of having to live in a framework which renders incomprehensible the very concepts of natural law… We need to know our families very well if we are to offer them the Gospel in a practical way. A good point of departure would be in our choice of language – may it be the language of a Church that is both merciful and brings healing. I must confess to facing the urgency of this need while listening to families of homosexuals as well as to the same persons having such an orientation and who feel wounded by the language directed towards them in certain texts, for instance in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997 edition, §2358); these persons consequently struggle both with maintaining their faith alive as well as cultivating their sense of filial belonging to the Church. It is necessary to learn to speak that language which is known to contemporary human beings and who acknowledge it as a way of conveying the truth and the charity of the Gospel: “If we wish to adapt to people’s language and to reach them with God’s word, we need to share in their lives and pay loving attention to them.” (Evangelii Gaudium [EG] 158).”

He also urged the synod participants to be creative in finding new ways to address contemporary family situations:

“Creativity in both the language as well as in the pastoral attitude towards persons who find themselves in difficult pastoral situations requires far more than a mere external modification. On the contrary, it demands the sustained pursuit of new answers alongside new pastoral approaches some of which can be extracted from the teachings of the Church Fathers. It is desirable that such situations be closely examined with theological erudition together with a pastoral mindset, in order for suitable pastoral solutions that are built upon deepened doctrinal considerations to be obtained.”

He concluded on a note of urgency:

“At the very heart of the Gospel of the family is found the salvation of every human person, even of those who find themselves in uncomfortable pastoral situations. It is our duty as Pastors to proclaim the Gospel of salvation even to them. This is an urgent duty because humans are going through such trajectories today: therefore the time to answer to this plea from God’s People is now. “

Joseanne Peregin speaking at the international theological conference in Rome.

Joseanne Peregin speaking at the international theological conference in Rome.

I had the pleasure of spending a few days and meals in Rome with Joseanne and Joseph Peregin, and I found them to be people of deep faith, prayer, and love.   They reminded me of the many Catholic parents I meet in the United States who are part of Fortunate Families. Joseanne credits New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick with the inspiration for forming the Drachma Parents group. It was after hearing Sister Jeannine give a talk in Malta in 2004 that Joseanne and other parents decided to form the group.

During Joseanne’s talk at the October 3rd international theological conference, she described the experience of herself and her husband’s coming to acceptance of their gay son, and then she explained:

“It seems almost all parents feel this initial shock. Confusion and fear paralyze most parents. But for us Roman Catholics, an added concern is what the Church says about homosexuality. I realized that, when it comes to the LGBT reality, there are many misconceptions and myths that enwrap people in doubt and fear. Although we may have some laws in place that protect the rights of homosexuals, there is still a long way to go until we see the change in culture and mentality that is needed. One of the very first challenges parents of gay children must face is: ‘What will people say?’ but then in Catholic Malta, the second one is: ‘What does the Catholic Church say?’ Unfortunately, this is where many parents get confused and this is where pastoral care is felt most lacking.”

Joseanne also offered some wisdom about pastoral care:

“To me, pastoral care is about meeting people where they stand and building a friendship with those who feel isolated, distant or cut-off from the Church or even their families – with those who are on the periphery of society – focusing therefore on emotional support and spiritual care.

“As Christians we must stand by the side of the poor and rejected, even if it causes us discomfort and humiliation. But there is still a lot of hostility and judgment out there. Our Christian communities need to build bridges and dialogue with those who are at the periphery of society. We need to offer them a SAFE SPACE where they can continue their faith journey. A SAFE SPACE where they can share their vulnerabilities.”

And she also gave advice for advocacy, which, as Bishop Grech’s talk illustrates, was very effective in her case:

“Something else that works is sending emails to the Bishop. Whenever I listened to a priest’s homily that was delivered with a prejudice tone against gays or whenever the Drachma Community celebrated a wonderful Christmas or Easter Mass, I would write to my Bishop to inform him and give him a most vivid description of the event.

“Like me, other members of Drachma took different initiatives. Eventually, this led to building enough interest in the pastoral work of Drachma and some important follow-up meetings were held with the Bishops. Last February the Drachma Parents Group wrote a letter to the Bishop with specific recommendations for the upcoming Synod. And on May 17th IDAHO [International Day Against Homophobia] Mass was celebrated by the Bishop and was made public in the media. This was an important pastoral gesture by our Bishop which also helped to heal some wounds (especially after the Civil Union Law). Recently, I was also invited to give my input during a consultation meeting with the Bishop representing Malta at the Synod and I was one of 20 such advisors – so these humble initiatives are helping to build bridges, gain credibility and strengthen dialogue in the church.”

Joseanne concluded with pastoral advice that I pray all the synod bishops–indeed, all bishops and pastoral ministers–would follow:

“In my view, taking the hostility experienced by LGBTIs upon ourselves, and choosing to defend them instead of judge them, is perhaps the need I see most urgent and universal right now in the life of the church. We need to help stop the bullying that goes on in schools. We need to help persuade countries to change their laws starting with those countries that still consider homosexuality to be a crime. The Church can lead by example.

“It needs to address this phenomenon by first showing it is on the side of gays and ready to defend them, with the same determination as when we defend the unborn child. It is important that we reduce the number of attempted suicides by educating people, so as to respect diversity. Immediately following the Bishops’ Synod, the Catholic Church would do well to implement better ways of expressing its support in a concrete and outward way. We should insist on this. If we don’t, who will?

“Yes, our church is tired of pompous judgmental statements – it is tired of clashing symbols and empty words – people want to see real people, real testimonies of hope and love, people who listen, who make themselves available and who are ready to offer their time and their friendship.

“So whoever feels lost, hidden or forgotten in the church would be pleased to find us busy right now, (like the woman in the Drachma parable  in Luke 15) sweeping up the whole house of God and causing a household stir. They would be happy to know that we value and celebrate their worth and are doing whatever we can to build an inclusive Church. And hopefully, we will REJOICE with our friends, including the Bishops and the Pope!”

(You can read the entire text of Joseanne’s talk by clicking here.)

It is wonderful that the bishops in the synod are finally starting to talk in more compassionate and realistic ways about lesbian and gay people. But we must remember that their episcopal voices have often been taught about the ways of love from parents, pastoral ministers, and LGBT people themselves.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


SYNOD: We Can Hope for Some Change, But Let’s Hope It’s More Courageous Than Nigerian Archbishop

October 9, 2014

ROME, Italy–This has certainly been an exciting week for the Catholic Church!  Sometimes, I have to pinch myself to make sure that what I am reading is really happening.  For many decades Catholics have been calling on the hierarchy to at least have a dialogue about sexuality, marriage, and family issues, and it seems that the dialogue has begun.  No doubt, it is imperfect.  There are certainly not the dialogue members that need to be there–especially LGBT people and their families.  But it is a first step, and that is good.

Of course, I have to also be on guard against getting caught up in some of the sensational headlines, tweets, and Facebook posts that I have seen.  Many people, including press representatives, seem caught up in the euphoria of the moment and are heralding changes in Catholic teaching, when such is not the case.  We have indeed seen an important opening in the discussion these last few days, with bishops sharing their ideas about marriage and family, and listening to at least some of the laity on this matter.  We haven’t seen discussion like that among church leaders at all in my lifetime–and I’m in my mid-50s.  But the beginning of a discussion does not equal change.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

According to Vatican Radio, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of London, England, welcomed the new atmosphere of discussion:

“Cardinal Nichols pointed out it’s too early to draw any conclusions from these first sessions, yet it does seem clear that this first Synod of Francis’ pontificate is shaping up for a much more honest and down-to-earth discussion than most bishops have experienced here in the Vatican over recent decades.”

One thing, perhaps that we can hope for, is a change in language.  On Tuesday, at a press briefing, Basilian Father Thomas Rosica told reporters that bishops had discussed language about sexuality used in church discourse:

“Language such as ‘living in sin,’ ‘intrinsically disordered,’ or ‘contraceptive mentality’ are not necessarily words that invite people to draw closer to Christ and the Church.”

So many Catholics have been asking for almost 30 years for the terms “intrinsically disordered” and “objective disorder,” which refer primarily to homosexuality, to be changed.  Terencce Weldon, at Queering The Church, commented:

“For lesbian and gay people, this is nothing new, but it is something that the bishops needed to hear. Indeed, even some of those who are already aware of the harmful effects and warning against them, may not realize the depth of the damage that is done. They may understand that it is one of the factors that turns many our community away from the Catholic Church, as noted in the press briefing – but do they understand that it is also quite literally, destructive of lives, especially young lives?”

There was also a glimmer that there may be openness to recognizing value in relationships that are not legally or ecclesiastically considered “married.”  According to Vatican Radio:

“Fr Lombardi used an analogy from the Second Vatican Council which led to profound changes in the Catholic Church’s relations with other Christians and people of other religious traditions. During the Council, bishops agreed that while the fullness of Christ’s Church “subsists” only in the Catholic Church, important elements of truth and holiness also exist in other churches and faith communities. In a similar way, he said, valid and important elements of true love and holiness can also exist in a relationship that does not conform to the full vision of an ideal Catholic marriage.”

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama

On Wednesday, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, Nigeria, offered the following explanation of what the synod might and might not do. The National Catholic Reporter quotes his reflections at a press conference:

“What we are trying to examine is the pastoral approach that could be done differently. The doctrines remain the same. We are not going to invent new doctrines … or suppress doctrines that the church has practiced for years.”

Kaigama is probably right, but that doesn’t mean that doctrine won’t eventually change.  In the church, a change in pastoral practice usually leads toward a change in doctrine, and not the other way around.

Kaigama himself showed the possibility of change.  On Wednesday, he told a synod press briefing that the Catholic Church in his country did not support the law applying harsh penalties to people convicted of homosexuality.  This is a reversal of his opinions at the time the law was being enacted.  The Tablet reports Kaigama’s statements:

“ ‘We are not supporting the criminalisation of people with different sexual orientations,’ Archbishop Kaigama stressed. ‘We would defend any person with homosexual orientation who is being harassed, who is being imprisoned, who is being punished.’

“He added: ‘The Government may want to punish them – we don’t. In fact we will tell the Government to stop punishing those with different orientations.’ ”

This is a surprising change given that some months back the news about his stance was much different:

From Bondings 2.0, on March 7, 2014, quoting a Religion News Service story:

 “In a January letter on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy of Nigeria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos praised Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan for his ‘courageous and wise decision’ in signing the legislation. Kaigama said it would protect Nigeria ‘against the conspiracy of the developed world to make our country and continent, the dumping ground for the promotion of all immoral practices.’ “

From Bondings 2.0, on February 13, 2014, quoting an Advocate.com story:

“Ignatius Kaigama, archbishop of the Middle Belt region of Jos, told SaharaTV that Catholic bishops in Nigeria ‘thank God that this bill was passed,’ and in a letter sent to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, called the law ‘a courageous one and a clear indication of the ability of our great country to stand shoulders high in the protection of our Nigerian and African most valued cultures of the institution of marriage.’ ”

At the synod press conference, Kaigama defended his record, saying that he only meant to support the law’s opposition to marriage for same-gender couples.  The Tablet reports:

“. . . the archbishop said the Church only supported the elements of the law that set out that marriage is between a man and a woman. He added that there had been a “gross misinterpretation” of this by the media.”

Perhaps that is true, but the archbishop must take responsibility for the fact that in a volatile political debate, his supposedly nuanced comments are insufficient and ineffective.  Why didn’t he speak out clearly and strongly against the portions of the bill that imposed harsh penalties for orientation?  If indeed he did not support the bill in its entirety, why did he only praise the parts he liked and not condemn the parts he did not like?  This example shows how silence on the part of church leaders is often complicity in the homophobia which fuels repression and violence.

The synod will surely hold many more surprises.  Let’s hope that most of them are more edifying than the much delayed “clarification”of the Nigerian archbishop.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


SYNOD: Same-Gender Couples Mentioned in Synod Talk, But Not In a Very Positive Way

October 7, 2014

The issues of same-gender relationships made its debut at the Synod on Marriage and the Family on Monday in a talk by a married couple on evangelization.  And while it was exciting to see same-gender couples finally mentioned in a Vatican meeting as something other than pariahs, their statement certainly wasn’t a clear endorsement, for which we still wait, hope, and pray.

Ron and Mavis Pirola, who are the chairs of the Australian Catholic Marriage and Family Council, were discussing the challenges of presenting church teaching to the modern world, nothing that  “We need new ways and relatable language to touch peoples’ hearts.”  According to The Vatican Insider, the couple elaborated on this idea:

“ ‘The domestic church’ represented by the family, ‘has much to offer the wider Church in its evangelizing role,’ the couple continued. ‘For example, the Church constantly faces the tension of upholding the truth while expressing compassion and mercy. Families face this tension all the time.’ The couple went on to illustrate this with an example relating to homosexuality. ‘Friends of ours were planning their Christmas family gathering when their gay son said he wanted to bring his partner home too. They fully believed in the Church’s teachings and they knew their grandchildren would see them welcome the son and his partner into the family. Their response could be summed up in three words, “He is our son.” ‘ “

The couple commented on their’ friends’ response by saying that it was

“a model of evangelization for parishes as they respond  to similar situations in their neighbourhood! The Church’s teaching role and its main mission to let the world know of God’s love.”

The welcome, yes, is very important. And it is admirable that they are encouraging parishes to welcome LGBT people as this couple weclomed their son and his partner. But it is hard to interpret what the Pirolas’ silence about the evaluation of the gay couple’s relationship is.  Does it mean that they accept the couple or that they don’t want to talk about the relationship?  It is hard to say.  The clause “the Church constantly faces the tension of upholding the truth while expressing compassion and mercy” makes me think that their intention is the latter.  When “truth,” “compassion,” “mercy” are all in the same sentence in an official church context, it usually means that the speaker does not support the idea of full equality for LGBT people and their relationships.

Ron and Mavis Pirola

The Pirolas’ follow-up example seems to support a conservative interpretation of their statements about the gay couple.  They illustrated their point with a different story, but with another condescending remark:

“A divorced friend of ours says that sometimes she doesn’t feel fully accepted in her parish. However, she turns up to Mass regularly and uncomplainingly with her children. For the rest of her parish she should be a model of courage and commitment in the face of adversity. From people like her we learn to recognize that we all carry an element of brokenness in our lives. Appreciating our own brokenness helps enormously to reduce our tendency to be judgemental of others which is such a block for evangelisation.”

The remark is condescending because it doesn’t at all take into account what the divorced women’s feelings and perception about the situation might be.  The married couple attribute positive spiritual motivations to a woman who may not be experiencing these at all.

Gay and lesbian issues were not expected to make their debut on Wednesday, when the synod addresses “Difficult Pastoral Issues,” which is where pastoral care of families headed by same-sex couples was listed.  Martin Pendergast, a British Catholic LGBT advocate has wondered how the synod will be able to discuss such pastoral care without actually having a same-sex couple or openly lesbian or gay person speak at the synod.  The inadequacy of the Pirolas’ comment shows the problem of having others speak for a group of which they are not a member.  Indeed, they were not only speaking as lesbian and gay people, but they weren’t even speaking of parents of such people, as their example came from the experience of their friends, not themselves.

When Pope Francis opened the synod he asked the bishops and cardinal to speak “boldly” and not worry about offending him.  Although the Pirolas are not members of the hierarchy, their language and examples certainly don’t fit into the category of bold speaking.  Their intervention is one small step forward in that it acknowledged how Catholic families love their LGBT members, but it is a step which also reveals how many steps our Church still has to go to reach full justice and equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


SYNOD: Bishop Geoffrey Robinson: Sexual Ethics Should Be Based on Jesus’ Teaching

October 5, 2014

Here in Rome, where church officials are preparing for the opening of the extraordinary synod on marriage and family today, the mood is high, and many people here are saying, that it’s really difficult to say what the outcome of the meeting will be.  There is much hope for change in many of the issues concerning marriage, family, sexuality, but many people are saying that the composition of the synod participants, the fact that the process of this synod–including the request for input from the laity–and how influential in which direction Pope Francis will be all make it difficult to predict outcomes.

IMG_0297

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson at the “Ways of Love” conference in Rome.

One bishop’s voice was heard loudly and clearly in Rome in the last few days, not by church leaders, but by Catholic LGBT people and ally advocates.  Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary of Sydney, Australia, spoke at the Ways Of Love conference on pastoral care with LGBT people, about which we posted yesterday.  The gathering in Rome was to discuss new possible approaches to LGBT people that the synod could take.  Bishop Robinson, who many readers may remember spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in 2012, outlined a new approach to sexual ethics for the Church that would recognize the goodness and holiness of same-sex committed relationships.  His talk was a highlight of the conference, and I will try to outline some of the main points below.

Bishop Robinson began by dismantling some of the crippling assumptions that underline current church teaching, most particularly the idea that sexual sins are among the most grievous that humans might commit:

“Striking a king or president has always been considered a more serious offence than striking an ordinary citizen. In line with this, it was said, the greatest king by far is God, so an offence against God is far more serious than an offence against a mere human being.

“Because all sexual sins were seen as direct offences against God, they were, therefore, all seen as most serious sins. Sexual sins were seen as on the same level as the other sin that is directly against God, blasphemy, and this helps to explain why, in the Catholic Church, sexual morality has long been given a quite exaggerated importance.

“For centuries the Church has taught that every sexual sin is a mortal sin. In this field, it was held, there are no venial sins. . . .

“This teaching fostered belief in an incredibly angry God, for this God would condemn a person to an eternity in hell for a single unrepented moment of deliberate pleasure arising from sexual desire. This idea of God is totally contrary to the entire idea of God that Jesus presented to us, and I cannot accept it.

“My first rebellion against Church teaching on sex came, therefore, not directly from a rejection of what the Church said about sex, but a rejection of the false god that this teaching presented.”

Robinson also objected to the presumption that the Church’s sexual ethics should be based on judging the solely of sexual acts:

“. . . [T]he teaching of the Church is based on a consideration of what is seen as the God-given nature of the physical acts in themselves, rather than on these acts as actions of human beings. And it continues to do this at a time when the whole trend in moral theology is in the opposite direction.

“As a result it gets into impossible difficulties in analysing physical acts without a context of human relations. For example, some married couples find that there is a blockage preventing the sperm from reaching the ovum, but that in a simple procedure a doctor can take the husband’s sperm and insert it into the wife in such a way that is passes the blockage and enables conception. But the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith condemned this action because the physical act was not considered “integral”, even though the entire reason for this intervention was precisely that the couple wanted their marriage to be both unitive and procreative.

“The Church’s arguments concerning sex are based solely on the physical act in itself rather than on the physical act as an action affecting persons and relationships.”

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New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo and Sister Jeannine Gramick at the “Ways of Love” conference in Rome.

Focusing in on lesbian and gay sexuality in particular, Robinson challenged the presumption of “natural law theory” opposing same-gender relationships:

“It was God who created a world in which there are both heterosexuals and homosexuals. This was not a mistake on God’s part that human beings are meant to repair; it is simply an undeniable part of God’s creation.

“The only sexual acts that are natural to homosexuals are homosexual acts. This is not a free choice they have made between two things that are equally attractive to them, but something that is deeply embedded in their nature, something they cannot simply cast aside. Homosexual acts come naturally to them, heterosexual acts do not. They cannot perform what the Church would call ‘natural’ acts in a way that is natural to them.

“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?

“The Church claims that it is basing itself on ‘natural law,’ but a natural law based on abstractions is a false natural law. Indeed, it brings the whole concept of natural law into disrepute.”

The bishop began an outline of a new basis for sexual ethics, based more on the teachings of Jesus than on any other outside philosophical theory.  He began this section of his talk by quoting Scripture:

“ ‘If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea’ (Mk.9:42).

“ ‘Then they will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”(Mt.25:44-45)

“In these two quotations Jesus identifies with the weakest persons in the community, and tells us that any harm done to them is a harm done to himself.

“I suggest that this harm done to people is the real sin in matters of sex, the only sin that angers God.

“I suggest, therefore, that we should look at sexual morality in terms of the good or harm done to persons and the relationships between them rather than in terms of a direct offence against God.

“Following from this, may we say that sexual pleasure, like all other pleasure, is in itself morally neutral, neither good nor bad? Is it rather the circumstances affecting persons and relationships that make this pleasure good or bad, e.g. a good pleasure for a married couple seeking reconciliation after a disagreement, a bad pleasure for a man committing rape?”

After critiquing a reigning ethic of sex in the contemporary world that only cautions people to “do no harm,”  Bishop Robinson supplies an ethic based more on the commandment to love our neighbor:

“I suggest that the central questions concerning sexual morality are: Are we moving towards a genuinely Christian ethic if we base our sexual actions on a profound respect for the relationships that give meaning, purpose and direction to human life, and on loving our neighbour as we would want our neighbour to love us?

“Within this context, may we ask whether a sexual act is morally right when, positively, it is based on a genuine love of neighbour, that is, a genuine desire for what is good for the other person, rather than solely on self-interest, and, negatively, contains no damaging elements such as harm to a third person, any form of coercion or deceit, or any harm to the ability of sex to express love? . . . .

“Many would object that what I have proposed would not give a clear and simple rule to people. But God never promised us that everything in the moral life would be clear and simple. Morality is not just about doing right things; it is also about struggling to know what is the right thing to do. It is not just about doing what everyone else around us is doing; it is about taking a genuine personal responsibility for everything we do. And it is about being profoundly sensitive to the needs and vulnerabilities of the people with whom we interact.”

To catch all of Bishop Robinson’s nuances, examples, and explanations, I urge all who are interested in this topic to read his entire text which can be found on the conference’s website.  You will be enriched by reading all of Bishop Robinson’s nuances, examples, and explanations, as well as additional arguments.

As the synod opens today, I pray that other bishops will listen to voices like Bishop Robinson’s, whose approach to all sexuality is so rooted in the teachings of Jesus.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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