African Bishops’ Meetings Reveal Underlying Assumptions About LGBT Issues

July 25, 2014

Two recent meetings of bishops’ conferences in Africa reveal some interesting insights about the way that LGBT issues are viewed by both the Vatican and by Catholic leaders on this continent.

Fr. Andrea Ciucci

In the Republic of the Congo’s capital, Brazzaville, the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa (ACERAC) met and heard from  Fr. Andrea Ciucci, a staff member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family.  In discussing, marriage and the family, Fr. Ciucci explained that one of the biggest threats to this social unit is “gender theory.”  African human rights advocate and blogger Denis Nzioka posted a news story about Ciucci’s comments which described the priest’s position:

He explained that gender identity is an ”increasing problem” for the family in Africa, and is something that is not a natural phenomenon, but rather is being learned through technology and the internet.

“(T)his way of understanding life is not an African problem, but all young African people are connected to the internet, so the younger ones are listening to this” and seeing this “way of humanity, sexuality, and the relationship between a man a woman.”

Although the theory of the internet is “just a hypothesis,” the priest explained that questions regarding gender are very common in African youth, and  Church leaders there are “trying to understand this problem and how this culture of gender is penetrating in Africa and in the different generations of Africans.”

The news story did not elaborate on what Ciucci might have meant by the gender identity problem.  Could it mean new understandings of gender roles or perhaps the more controversial areas of transgender issues or same-sex relationships ?

Cardinal Portella Mbouyou

A comment from Congo’s Cardinal Portella Mbouyou, who is the current chair of  ACERAC might elucidate Ciucci’s remarks.  In discussing marriage, he said:

‘it behooves on us to exercise our doctrinal and pastoral caution to the exogenous threats from the new world ethics which has the goal to deconstruct the moral order regarded as simple socio-cultural construction of an era without any natural basis and therefore likely to be modified at the mercy of desires and individuals, groups and generations.’

Mbouyou’s  quote seems to indicate that the conference is more concerned with the more controversial issues.

One thing that both Mbouyou’s and Ciucci’s comments reveal is an underlying assumption that ideas about sexuality are cultural imports.  Many scholars have pointed out that homosexuality was a part of African culture before Christian missionaries arrived, and that what was imported was not homosexuality, but homophobia.  The recent movements in Uganda and Nigeria to institute harsh penalties on lesbian and gay people have borne out this theory by the fact that it was American fundamentalist churches which fueled and funded the anti-gay ideology.

Bishops at the AMCEA meeting.

At the second African meeting, bishops who are members of the Association of Member Episcopal Conference in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) met in Lilongwe, Malawi, also discussed marriage and family issues, including a specific discussion of homosexuality, according to a news report on AllAfrica.com.

Fr. Andrew Kaufa, a communications officer of AMCEA, struck the note that homosexuality is an imported phenomenon to Africa:

“The church has observed that there are a number of challenges that many families from different African countries are facing which is affecting the preaching of the gospel.

“Many rich countries are imposing strange cultures in poor nations, an issue that calls for discussion and intervention,” Fr. Kaufa said.

He added: “As we try to search for solutions in regard to family matters, the Bishops will also pay attention to the issue of same sex which is at the helm.”

But the news report said that the discussion of homosexuality was “tabled,” which might mean that some bishops had disagreement about certain parts of the conversation.  Malawi, the meeting’s host nation, recently decided not to arrest gay people and to review its anti-gay laws, though homosexuality is still considered criminal in that country.  One of the other member nations of AMCEA is Uganda, which last year added draconian punishments for lesbian and gay people–measures which were implicitly supported by the country’s Catholic bishops.

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Speaking at the AMCEA conference was Archbishop Vincent Paglia, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family.  (You can read the entire text of his talk here.)Paglia made headlines when he spoke favorably of legal protections for same-gender couples.

The archbishop highlighted the same theme that Ciucci mentioned at ACERAC,namely that one of the external forces impacting negatively on African families was the “ideology and theory of gender.”

Paglia also struck out at “individualism” as a threat to the family:

The question of marriage and the family is to be considered in the light of the “individualization” of contemporary society.  Over the last several centuries, we have seen the rise of subjectivity, which is in some ways a positive development because it has made possible the affirmation of the dignity of the individual, but excessive attention to the individual takes society down a dangerous path.  It seems that the “me” is everywhere prevailing over the “us,” and individual over society.

While it is interesting that nowhere in his talk did he mention same-gender relationships or homosexuality, this reference to “individualism,”  and later references to “relativism,” are sometimes used by church leaders as references to lesbian and gay perspectives.

On the other hand, in a long talk about marriage and family, there are very few references to reproduction as a feature of these relationships, which can be seen as moving away from that as a primary focus of the marital bond.

Transgender issues did not receive such a favorable treatment in Paglia’s talk.  Towards the end of his speech he again mentions “gender identity” as an evil, explaining:

“. . . there are a number of cultural and political questions that we cannot avoid, for example gender identity, that is, what does it mean today to be a man or a woman.  We need to be able to give a clear and convincing response to the elimination of sexual differentiation that is being proposed by the new “gender” culture prevailing today in all international contexts.”

Most interesting of all in my read of Paglia’s talk is that all of the positive things he says about marriage and family, all of the hopes families have, and all the challenges that families face, can easily be said about families with LGBT members in them.   When church leaders take off their heterosexist blinders, they will see that LGBT relationships and families are not threats to society, but equally valuable building blocks of our social life together.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

PinkNews.co.uk: “Malawi: Catholic conference to discuss ‘strange culture’ of homosexuality”

 


Mexican Bishop Calls Homophobic People “Sick”

July 17, 2014

Bishop Raul Vera

In an interview with El País newspaper, the outspoken bishop used some of his most powerful arguments yet to show how Catholic leaders need to refine some of their language in regard to LGBT people and marriage equality.  Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“Q. Not long ago you baptized the daughter of a lesbian couple. What do you think about homosexuality?

“A. That is a topic that we have refused to address. The people who say homosexuals are sick are sick themselves. The Church needs to come to them not with condemnation, but with dialogue. We cannot cancel out a person’s richness just because of his or her sexual preference. That is sick, that is heartless, that is lacking common sense.

“Q. Is it not the same with abortion?

“A. I share the Church’s views on abortion, and see it as murder. The difference lies in how you penalize it. Abortion, just like same-sex marriage, has served us subterfuge to tell ourselves that we in the Church have our morals. It is very easy to go against a woman who has an abortion, it poses no trouble and we have support from the ultraconservative right. When there was a national campaign against abortion here, I organized rosary recitations to reflect on the defense of the lives of migrants, miners and women as well as the unborn. But we are hypocrites. It would seem that the only moral rules deal with condemning same-sex couples and abortions. You do that and you’re the perfect Christian.

The full interview, in English, can be read by clicking here.

This is not the first time that Bishop Vera has made strong statements about homophobic people.  Almost a year ago, he made headlines by calling homophobia “a mental illness in which you see gays as depraved and promiscuous. You have to be sick in the head for that.”

At the time of that earlier statement, I made the following comment on this blog, which I think is appropriate to repeat at this time:

“It is wonderful to know that this bishop is speaking out so strongly for lesbian and gay rights.  One caution:  I don’t think that he was using ‘mental illness’ as a technical or clinical term.  From the manner in which he is speaking on the video, he seems to be using it as a rhetorical flourish, more than a diagnosis.  It is interesting to see him turn the tables on homophobic people:  it is usually they who are calling lesbian and gay people ‘mentally ill.’

“And because lesbian and gay people have so often been so mislabeled with that diagnosis, I think we have to be very careful of labeling their opponents in the same way.  In my experience in working with LGBT issues, homophobia is more often a result of ignorance and misguided piety than by a clinical disturbance.”

While noting that distinction, it’s important to recognize that Bishop Vera operates out of deep courage fpr speaking out for all sorts of marginalized groups.  The El País article referred to him as

“the Mexican bishop who holds the record for death threats. He has survived more than one attempt on his life, and his work in favor of missing persons, immigrants, children and juveniles, indigenous populations, prostitutes and pariahs of all types has earned him the undying hatred of many, including the drug rings.”

In the interview, he explains how his work with exploited indigenous communities in southern Mexico taught him about the importance of courage:

“I learned that you have to risk your life if you want to stand on the side of the poor. I learned that in order to defend human life, you have to put your own life on the line. There is no other way to be a shepherd.”

In The Advocate’s report on this story, they noted:

“In 2011, when John Paul II was pope, the Vatican investigated Vera’s work with a gay group. But much has changed under Pope Francis’s leadership.”

The El País article made note of the change of atmosphere in the Church since that time:

“For a long time, Raúl Vera was the Catholic Church’s black sheep, the old-fashioned left-winger. But that was until the ideological earthquake represented by the new pope, Francis I, gave renewed relevance to his words. Now, other bishops are suddenly turning to Vera for guidance.”

Let’s hope and pray that his guidance sways many more bishops to his line of thinking.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


New Employment Contract Clauses Raise a Host of Issues

July 13, 2014

Bishop Michael Barber

Oakland, California’s Bishop Michael Barber issued a statement recently to try to clarify the new clauses added to his diocese’s employment contracts which greatly restrict support for LGBT people and issues.  The problem with his explanation, though, is that he seems to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

The National Catholic Reporter’s Monica Clark noted the sentences in his statement which I find most confusing:

“Responding to apprehensions about a new so-called ‘morality clause’ in the Oakland, Calif., diocese’s teacher contract, Bishop Michael Barber has said he has ‘no intention of monitoring an individual’s personal life. What one does in one’s private life is between them and God.’ But, he added, ‘what concerns me is if someone does something in their private life that becomes public and then becomes a cause of scandal or detracts from the school’s religious mission.’ “

To me the bishop seems to be saying, “I don’t care if you do something that I consider a sin, but I just don’t want it to be public.”   That does not seem like a very pastoral approach to this question at all.

If we take it one step further, another way of interpreting the bishop’s message is that he has a total disregard for an individual’s conscience.  Perhaps he is saying, “You and God may have worked things out, but that won’t fly with me.”

And though the bishop says he does not want to monitor people’s lives, some teachers are suspicious of that promise.  Clark reported:

“Some teachers felt the addition allows the diocese to intrude into their private lives and creates a climate of fear and distrust. For example, if a teacher attended the same-sex wedding of her lesbian niece and a family photo of the event was posted on Facebook, would she be seen as violating the new terms of the contract?”

Indeed, in a number of the firings which have taken place, it was a revelation on Facebook about a marital relationship or support for marriage equality which initiated the unjust action.

Commentator Jocelyn Sideco, who teaches at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland,  has also noted another passage from the new Oakland contract which makes it seem that, in fact, private lives of teachers will be monitored:

“The new contract language puts an explicitness on who teachers are, both in their personal and professional lives. ‘In both the EMPLOYEE’S personal and professional life, the EMPLOYEE is expected to model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals, and to do nothing that tends to bring discredit to the SCHOOL or to the Diocese of Oakland’ (emphasis in original).”

Another O’Dowd H.S. teacher, Kathleen Purcell, is worried about how strictly enforced the contract will be, under this bishop and future ones. KALW Radio cited her thoughts:

“ ‘The bishop says I’m not gonna fire anybody, and I take him at his word,’ Purcell said. ‘But he’s not going to be Bishop forever, and he might change his mind. I don’t think employees should have to be operating under a contract that purports to take away their civil rights and just go on trust.’

“Purcell was let go after refusing to sign the new contract. She says she was not afraid of being targeteit is a matter of principle: before teaching U.S. history at O’Dowd, Purcell was a civil rights lawyer.

“Purcell says she understands Catholic doctrine but she says ‘being a catholic school is not a license to discriminate.’

“ ‘These are contentious issues in the church, about which faithful Catholics have very different conscientious positions. And what this contract language does is to place employees personal lives in the middle of that fight. And that’s cruel.’ ”

On the bright side, KALW Radio reports that the bishop has entered into dialogue with Catholics about the issue, and there is a possibility of a change of heart:

“The Bishop . . . met with teachers and students at two schools, including O’Dowd, at the end of the school year. Many say they were encouraged by the open dialogue. The Bishop says he is considering removing the controversial language from next years contract. For now though, it remains unchanged.”

Oakland is not the only diocese to institute new contract clauses. (For a complete list of firings and contract clause additions, check out this blog’s “Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT Issues” page.) One of the most public protests of new clauses has been in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  Catholic parishioner Judy Hampel penned an op-ed at Cincinnati.com in which she says that it’s now time for Catholic to challenge their leaders on questions of discrimination against LGBT people:

“I’m trying to describe a not-uncommon experience that leaves many Catholics straddling a thorny pew: Should we stay, and hope and wait for a new vision for our faith community, or should we leave in protest before we find ourselves counted among those who would perpetuate such a dark legacy for the sake of tradition? Until recently, many of us never even considered a third possibility: challenging these egregious teachings openly by voicing our concerns. There is a very real danger that, whether we leave or stay, we are perpetuating a dark regime as long as we are silent. . . .

“It’s time to make up for lost time. It’s time for all Catholics and anyone else who will join us to collectively call to task all leaders and followers of any religion, sect or denomination that indulges in discriminatory doctrines and practices. Because, let’s face it, one of the most compelling forces inhibiting universal justice is intolerance toward others, which is often perpetuated by religious archaisms.”

It may very well be that time that Hampel describes.  According to a 2013 U.S. Catholic poll of 743 Catholics,  nearly 70% (or over 500 people) would not sign a loyalty oath if it was required for volunteer ministry in their parish.

With numbers like that, church leaders need to re-think not only the morality, but also the practicality, or instituting new contract clauses.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


A Few Steps Forward, and then Some Back, on Marriage Equality

July 12, 2014

Bishop Marcel Sanchez Sorondo

There’s been good news and bad news recently regarding Catholic leaders’ opinions on legal protections for same-gender couples.  The surprising thing is that the good news comes from the Vatican.

Queering The Church tipped us off to a Buzzfeed article that looks at the progress of Italy’s proposed civil unions bill, long stalemated in part

because of the Vatican’s previous opposition.  That’s right, “previous.”  The Buzzfeed article indicates that change seems to be happening:

“But there are also signs of a thaw within Vatican City. Monsignor Marcel Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Science, Vatican offices that engage with research on society, told Buzzfeed in an interview last week at an event inside the Vatican walls in which Italian politicians were participating that the church is solidly against any law that makes ‘complete [equivalence] of the normal [matrimony] and the gay,’ but if legislation clearly distinguishes between them, ‘that is another question, and this is accepted by the church.’ ”

[Editor's note:  Though Buzzfeed  refers to Sorondo as "Monsignor," he is actually an Argentine bishop.  In Argentina, as in many Latin American nations, a bishop is referred to as "Monseñor."]

Terence Weldon, at Queering The Church points out the significance of this monsignor’s statement:

“What makes Monsignor Sorondo’s observation particularly interesting right now, is his position with PASS [the Pontifical Academy of Science and Social Science]. Although Vatican documents pay lip service to the importance of paying due attention to the findings of both social and natural science, in practice, the published guidance on homosexuality and on queer families have largely ignored the scientific evidence, especially on the matter of gay adoption. That could be about to change. In the working document prepared for the bishops’ forthcoming synod on marriage and family, there is an acknowledgement that there is a need for better understanding of the science, and that some questions should be referred to the academy.

” ’117. Many responses and observations call for theological study in dialogue with the human sciences to develop a multi-faceted look at the phenomenon of homosexuality. Others recommend collaborating with specific entities, e.g., the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences and the Pontifical Academy for Life…..’ “

In Indiana, however, Catholic bishops issued a strong rebuke to a court decision there which overturned the state’s constitutional ban against same-gender marriage.  WTHR.com reported that the bishops said:

” ‘The Church upholds the dignity of every human person, including persons with same-sex attraction, whom we accept and love as our brothers and sisters. At the same time, the Church upholds the dignity and sanctity of marriage as a natural union established by God between one man and one woman, intended towards the establishment of a family in which children are born, raised, and nurtured.’

“The bishops explain that because God is its author, ‘it is not within the power of any institution, religious or secular to redefine marriage.’ “

Similarly, this week in Colorado, the Catholic bishops there roundly criticized a court decision to overturn the state’s constitutional ban on same-gender marriage.  Their statement, which repeats many of the same arguments of the Indiana bishops, can be read by clicking here.

In nearby, Missouri, Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis also criticized the decision by that city’s mayor to issue marriage licenses to four same-gender couples.  The Riverfront Times carried a column criticizing the archbishop for such a statement, particularly after his recent disappointing testimony on clerical sex abuse where he answered that  he “did not remember” when he learned that pedophilia was a crime.

So, we take a few steps forward, and one step back.  Little by little. That’s how all real and lasting change happens.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The Elkhart Truth: “Catholic Bishops of Indiana respond to Indiana same-sex marriage ruling”

LGBTQNation.com:  “St. Louis Archdiocese condemns city for issuing same-sex marriage licenses”

 

 


Will US Bishops Stop Obsessing About Marriage At Last?

July 7, 2014

The National Catholic Reporter published an editorial last week firmly criticizing the American bishops’ ongoing involvement in the now terminal debate over same-gender marriage rights.

NCR‘s jumping off point is San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s recent appearance at the March for Marriage, which places the Church in league with anti-gay groups like the National Organization for Marriage who have ties to international LGBT persecutions in places like Uganda and Russia. Of this, NCR writes:

“No amount of claiming the church’s love for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community will disguise the reality of the company one has to keep in order to further the cause of opposing same-sex unions.”

Cordileone is given credit for affirming the Church’s commitment to upholding each person’s dignity, regardless of sexual orientation, but with a major caveat. NCR writes:

“Underlying the sincere declarations of love for all of the God’s children is the real nub of the issue, the language that stings no matter how one might try to disguise its harshness beneath theological nuance. The church has declared that people of homosexual orientation are objectively disordered. With that understanding, the church effectively tells the LGBT community that it must quarantine its sexual reality, its affections and its members’ love of one another in order to be welcome in its worship spaces and among its ministries.

“Perhaps that inherent contradiction — professing to uphold the dignity of all while simultaneously requiring some to block off an integral part of who they are in order to be a member of the community in good standing — is the reason the church is losing the battle in the courts and at the ballot box.

NCR notes the disparity between what the bishops have said–that same-gender marriage threatens heterosexual marriage, that children need a mother and father, that Catholic priests will be forced to perform weddings they disagree with–and the reality that all the aforementioned has proven to be false. In light of this disparity, NCR asks why the bishops are even fighting this issue.  The editorial concludes:

“It is mystifying, with so many social problems needing attention, to watch so much of the U.S. Catholic leadership obsessed with these sexual matters. The fact is that people of other than traditional sexual orientation no longer engage in self-sequester or quarantine. That age has passed, and it has little to do with willful disregard for church teaching and far more to do with a growing understanding of the complexity and diversity of humankind.”

Leaders like Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison and Archbishop Cordileone will still release bombastic statements against LGBT people. Bishops like Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland reflect more of Pope Francis’ call to be merciful, though he still opposes equal marriage rights.

Yet, not all Church leaders want to keep fighting it appears. Perhaps they have experienced the ‘reality check’ called for by Catholics a few weeks ago. The above instances of extremism are actually evidence of a new reality: opposing marriage equality is less a united effort by the American Church and more the cause of individual bishops obsessed with stopping LGBT rights. Brian Roewe summarizes the varied episcopal responses to marriage equality’s legalization, noting:

“In most states that have seen bans thrown out, bishops have issued joint statements through their policy arms, but not all have made comment of their own. New Mexico’s bishops issued a statement in December that counted fewer than 60 words; Texas’ 15 bishops issued a three-paragraph statement.”

These statements are hardly the prioritized and bombastic opposition to marriage equality once common for bishops, and they seem more in keeping with statements released by state conferences on a host of other legislative and judicial issues. Could it be that these bishops realize, as Pope Francis has insisted, that truly pressing issues of social justice, like immigration, demand their attention instead?

Sidelining the political and legal fight also means there is room to honestly address pastoral care and the strengthening of family life in a society which now embraces LGBT rights. Roewe ends his column quoting St. Louis University theology professor Julie Rubio, who says:

” ‘I think people are ready for a different conversation…’

“Where the bishops’ discussion of marriage so far has been almost exclusively in terms of fighting same-sex marriage, Rubio sees others arenas to turn the discussion: issues of single-parent families, divorce, broken families, and the needs of children.

“Turning the gaze away from federal courts and toward parishes and individual couples’ struggles offers another starting point for strengthening marriage.

” ‘Talk to married couples and talk to single parents, talk to younger people who are dating and thinking about marriage, and ask them what they need’.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is still dominated by men who seem determined to stop LGBT rights. There are others, however, who seem to understand Pope Francis’ admonition to stop ‘obsessing’ over same-gender marriage and build up the common good instead. Let’s hope this latter group’s voices are amplified more and more in the discourse over LGBT issues in the U.S. Church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Religious Leaders Want Right to Discriminate in Obama’s LGBT Executive Order

July 6, 2014

President Obama meets with Pope Francis, who has asked Catholic leaders to refrain from judging LGBT people and instead build up the common good for all

Prominent Catholics have teamed with other religious leaders in calling on President Barack Obama to include extensive religious exemptions in his promised executive order which will state that federal contractors cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. These religious leaders are attempting to enshrine anti-LGBT discrimination into law, and to further mask it as religious belief.  Such an action raises troubling questions on just where the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in America is focused.

Fourteen religious leaders with close ties to the president submitted a letter to the White House on Tuesday, including Catholic Charities CEO Fr. Larry Snyder and Dr. Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America. Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post reports:

“The letter reminds Obama of his own earlier faith-based opposition to same-sex marriage, as well as the government’s massive partnerships with faith-based social service groups that work on issues including housing, disaster relief and hunger…

“The signers said they supported the executive order — ‘we have great appreciation for your commitment to human dignity and justice, and we share those values with you”’— but said an exemption is essential.”

UPDATE:  Another, similar letter asking for a religious exemption, sent to Obama with 138 signatures from religious leaders, has also been made public.

The White House has refused to comment on the letters thus far, though Schneck said he is hopeful that an exemption could be worked out.

Additionally, several bishops who chair committees at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released their own statement against the executive order. Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter writes:

” ‘Because we do not know how the executive order will define these critically important terms [sexual orientation and gender identity], or if it will provide sufficient (or any) religious freedom protection, we cannot provide substantive comment on the order,’ state the bishops.

” ‘On the other hand, when the U.S. Senate recently passed legislation on the same topic, we raised detailed objections to that legislation,’ they continue, asking those interested to review their previous comments on the Senate legislation…

“Friday’s statement was signed by four U.S. bishops’ committee chairmen: San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chairman of the bishops’ subcommittee for the promotion and defense of marriage; Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of their domestic policy committee; Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, chairman of their ad hoc committee for religious liberty; and St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt, chair of their committee on doctrine.”

At least two bishops who signed the letter, Archbishops Cordileone and Nienstedt, have been heavily criticized lately for their aggressive opposition to marriage equality. Cordileone appeared alongside anti-LGBT groups in June at the March for Marriage, even while 30,000 Catholics asked him to forgo the event. Nienstedt is currently being investigated for multiple allegations that he made sexual advances on priests and seminarians.

LGBT advocates have long opposed religious exemptions, and several like the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Get Equal have withdrawn support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in its current form over such exemptions. Chuck Colbert writes in PrideSource about this ongoing debate around exemptions, noting the near absence of such exemptions in previous civil rights legislation. He reports:

“Advocates for LGBT equality maintain the proposed religious exemption, unprecedented in civil rights legislation, would in effect gut the non-discrimination protections…

“On the matter of social conservatives’ efforts to empower discrimination against LGBTs, Jay Michaelson, Ph.D. offered his assessment.

” ‘Religious conservatives have really succeeded at ‘moving the goalposts’ here. Just two years ago, this kind of broad exemption was a huge compromise for the Obama administration, in the context of the Affordable Care Act. Now, ENDA’s backers are offering it up as the default position. That is a huge, silent victory. And we all know what the ultimate goal is: Religious exemptions for anyone who wants one, including corporations and individuals. That would represent a tragic erosion of the rule of law’…

” ‘Employment non-discrimination is vitally important, but at what cost?…Hopefully, progressive members of Congress will insist on an appropriate, narrow exemption for churches and religious functionaries, while rejecting this over-broad one that would leave hospital orderlies, school cafeteria workers and shopping mall security guards without protection.’ “

After last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, the idea that corporations could discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity does not seem so far fetched. You can read Bondings 2.0 initial reporting on the Court’s decision and potential impacts by clicking here.

Michael Sean Winters, in his third post on the proposed executive order, asks a pivotal question: “Why do we need to have this fight?…Why do the leaders of the Church want to have this fight, on this issue?” Reading up on the USCCB’s backgrounder on ENDA, Winters explores why the bishops seek religious exemptions in the first place. Apparently, they are concerned that employers would provide healthcare and “other fringe benefits” to same-gender partners. Of this, Winters writes:

“Health coverage is not properly termed a ‘fringe benefit’ by leaders of a Church that has repeatedly taught that access to health care is a basic human right. Our nation has a particularly quirky way of delivering health care coverage, through employers. It makes no sense, to be sure, but it is what it is. But, it is not clear to me how the providing of such benefits can be seen as ‘facilitating or cooperating with same-sex sexual relationships.’ The employee engaged in a same sex relationship is not looking for approval or permission from his employer. He or she is looking for health care benefits from the employer. If there is a heterosexual, married couple, they may, on their free time, be engaged in any manner of activities that the Church would not endorse, but we do not investigate that.”

Looking to the past, when Cardinal William Levada, formerly of San Francisco, negotiated with that city when extensive non-discrimination policies were passed, Winters believes the bishops need not have fought at all:

“I do not see how hiring someone who is a good teacher or a good counselor or a good cook, and who keeps their private life private, requires us to sniff around their bedrooms…

“Twelve or even ten years ago, if the leadership of the USCCB had followed the +Levada model…I suspect we would be in a better place, the culture wars would be diminished, and the Church would not have the aggressively litigious face it wears today…The culture warriors in the conference decided that instead of trying to balance the dignity and legitimate interests of gay people in gaining access to benefits, we were going to dig in, to fight, draw a line in the sand.”

Winters points to younger Catholics’ views as the best evidence that the bishops’ unceasing opposition to LGBT rights is becoming fringe itself:

“I encourage them to go to any place that young people hang out and ask them their thoughts on same sex relationships. Those young people do not feel threatened by gay people. Those young people will not discourse on the threats to religious liberty. Those young people will ask simple, and better, questions such as: ‘Why not help people gain access to health care?’ That is a question the USCCB has failed to ask, let alone answer, in this situation. If the conference did ask that question, they would be less likely to take to the barricades.”

It remains an open question how Catholic institutions, and specifically those like Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services which contract with the federal government, will respond to the upcoming executive order. For inspiration, they could turn to Catholic Vice President Joe Biden who many credit with moving the Obama administration towards greater LGBT equality. Hopefully, cooler hearts and clearer minds will prevail and realize the common good is far better advanced by protecting LGBT rights and continuing the good work of the Church in relationship with the government.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

National Catholic Reporter, “Faith leaders call for religious exemption from LGBT executive order


Even an Apology from Singapore Archbishop Causes Harm and Displays Ignorance

July 5, 2014

Archbishop William Goh of Singapore

Singapore’s Archbishop William Goh has apologized to lesbian and gay Catholics for disparaging remarks he made in late June, which has satsified some who now seek furthered dialogue and angered others in the small Asian nation.

Goh released the first open letter to Catholics in the archdiocese on June 21, allegedly in an attempt to make clear the hierarchy’s position on family. Gay Asia News reports on the contents, quoting parts of the letter:

“The Church ‘recognizes that there are individuals who are attracted to people of the same sex’ but ‘continues to maintain, that the family, comprising a father, mother and children, remains the basic building block of society,’ he said.

“It ‘upholds the view that LGBT sexual relationships are not in accordance with the plan of God,’ he said adding that ‘this kind of lifestyle should not be promoted by Catholics as it is detrimental to society, is not helpful to integral human development and contrary to Christian values.’

“In his letter he prays that ‘the Holy Spirit restore them to wholeness.’ “

Goh included language about the need for the Church to show “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” towards LGBT people and to oppose discrimination, though Singapore still criminalizes homosexuality in a law dating to the days of British rule. The archdiocese’s 300,000 Catholics are a small minority at about 5.7% of the nation’s population, and the archbishop’s comments come as LGBT rights are an increasingly debated issue there.

Prominent Singapore political leader Vincent Wijeysingha, who is gay and was raised Catholic, lashed out at Archbishop Goh’s comments, saying:

” ‘The Catholic leadership has remained silent on the real problems that face our world…Today, it has no authority whatsoever, moral or otherwise, to comment on whom I can and cannot love.’ “

Last week, Archbishop Goh released a second letter apologizing for harm caused by the aforementioned statements on homosexuality. He recognized that many had “expressed hurt, anger and disappointment” due to his words, writing:

“I apologize if my initial statement conveyed insensitivity as from your feedback, I have come to realize that there is much variation in thought and lifestyle within this community. I want you to know that I am not indifferent to your pain and frustration, as I see many Catholics with same-sex orientation for spiritual support, counselling [sic] and healing.”

He then went on to explain the Church’s teaching at length, as he understands it. Notable statements from this second letter include the following, which seem based on questionable assumptions:

  • “Hence when science seems to contradict divine revelation as taught in the Bible, our faith must hold fast to the Word of God even if we cannot agree…There are many texts in sacred scripture which explicitly state that sexual relationships between those of the same gender are not permissible.”
  • “Whether same-sex orientation is due to nature or nurture is something that science has not proven conclusively. If it were so, there would be no debate. To date, there has been no concrete discovery of a homosexual gene but only inferential studies from behavioural observation to postulate nature. In contrary, we find that upbringing, culture or education may play a part in nurturing persons with same-sex attraction. In addition, inner wounds inflicted on a person in-utero or in childhood through sexual abuse or otherwise, can also nurture this. In this respect, healing of such wounds may quell any tendencies as seen by several individuals who lost their attraction for the same sex after encountering inner healing of their childhood wounds.”
  • “While the argument is that the child may still receive love from both partners who are in a stable same-sex relationship, the lack of a parental figure as portrayed by a member of the opposite sex may still render the child at risk…Those who come from same-sex parentage share how they face an identity crisis as to their sexuality and orientation and their confusion as to how they should relate to people of different sexes. Some also shared the tendency to be unfaithful and to have multiple sexual partners.”

At the second letter’s end, Goh announced the creation of a new pastoral group to help “those with same-sex orientation” to live chastely. You can read the full letter here.

Pink Dot, a grassroots LGBT organization, released a statement saying they were “heartened that this constructive debate is taking place within the Catholic Church under the leadership of Pope Francis” and hope it will inspire other communities to follow suit.

As is often the case, the real scandal regarding LGBT people is the misinformed and vicious attacks against them that some bishops feel are necessary. Archbishop Goh’s initial letter was meant to clarify Church teaching, but instead he created a damaging pastoral situation that captured news headlines. His second letter reveals a deep misunderstanding about homosexuality, the relationship between faith and science, a responsible exegesis of Scripture, and the truth about children raised by same-gender parents.

Diverse views are integral to being part of the Catholic community, and the bishops are free to have differing opinions on LGBT issues, just as Catholic lay people do. That said, the situation in Singapore reveals how essential it is for bishops to speak from an educated perspective and be clear with their words. Hopefully, Archbishop Goh will use this controversy as an opportunity to overcome his ignorance by sitting down with LGBT Catholics and their allies to listen and learn.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Two Archbishops’ Gay-Related Stories Show How Our Church Needs to Grow

July 3, 2014

Two archbishops from the United States made headlines this week related to gay issues.  Each story leaves me with a different feeling, though neither one is a good feeling.

Archbishop John Nienstedt

Archbishop John Nienstedt

The bigger of the two stories centered on Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul, Minnesota.  A news report from Commonweal informed the world that multiple allegations have emerged that Nienstedt made sexual advances toward priests, seminarians, and other men.  The archbishop strongly denied the veracity of these claims.

Nienstedt ordered an investigation of allegations against him, and the archdiocese hired a Twin Cities law firm to conduct the investigation.  In his statement, the archbishop said that he did so because that is what he would do with allegations made against any other priest, too.

This story is complicated by a number of factors.  First, there is Nienstedt’s record of very strong anti-gay comments, many of which were made during Minnesota’s debate about a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-gender marriage in 2012.  Second, Nienstedt has already been under fire because of mishandling of sex abuse claims against some of his priests.

Naturally, one of this story’s most popular responses has been to note the irony of witnessing someone who has been strongly homophobic in his speech possibly turning out to be homosexual himself.   When this accusation is made, it is sometimes made with glee, probably because to many people’s eyes and ears it is so obviously a personal problem when someone becomes so obsessed with homosexuality.   We have seen this behavior so often in our public and private lives:  people hate most in others what they really hate about themselves, and usually cannot admit about themselves.

These allegations have to be further investigated, but should it turn out that they are true, I think I will be sadder, rather than happier, to learn this reality.  To me, what it would mean is that the homophobia in our church and in our world had so affected this particular man that his ability to respond with love towards himself and others was extremely stunted.  I am angry at the harm he has caused others, but I find myself strangely sympathetic towards him if it turns out that he caused even greater harm to himself.

Archbishop Rembert Weakland

The second story, reported briefly in only the Catholic press, focused on the fact that, for the second time, Archbishop Rembert Weakland, the former archbishop of Milwaukee, was refused retirement residency at a Benedictine abbey.

Weakland, a Benedictine monk and former head of the worldwide Benedictine community of men, resigned as archbishop after it became public that he had had a sexual relationship with another man and that he had paid the man to be quiet about their involvement.   The relationship was not pedophilia and it was consensual.

Days after Weakland announced these facts, he expressed repentance publicly, celebrating a Mass where he asked for forgiveness.

The National Catholic Reporter noted that the rejection for residency came from St. Vincent Archabbey, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the same abbey where Weakland entered the community when he was 18 and lived for 20 years.  Although though the abbot of the community did not speak to the paper, Weakland offered his own thoughts about why he was refused:

“The Vatican recently laicized a Latrobe monk accused of misconduct, Mark Gruber, whose presence was creating some turmoil in the community. ‘The atmosphere was not a good one for me to return to,’ Weakland wrote. ‘Thus I will not be returning to Latrobe right now and at age 87 one never know what can happen in the future.’ “

The news story went on to explain the archbishop’s life since retirement:

“In Milwaukee, Weakland leads a low-profile life. He lives alone in an apartment and is said to attend daily Mass. He has no public role in the church, and when the current archbishop celebrates Mass and prays for the pope and bishops living in the diocese by name, Weakland is not mentioned. He was not allowed to deliver a homily at an annual priest retreat some years ago.”

This story leaves me feeling very sad–for Weakland, for the Benedictines, for our Church.  As in the Nienstedt case, we see how it is possible that fear of same-sex feelings and relationships can lead to behavior which harms one’s self and others.

The lesson that I take from both of these news stories is that we still have  a lot to learn in our church not only about sexuality, but also about forgiveness.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Minnesota Public Radio: Archbishop authorized secret investigation of himself”

Star Tribune: Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt faces new sex claims”

National Catholic Reporter: Report: Minnesota Archbishop Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships”

TwinCities.com: “Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships, ex-official says”

The Wild Reed: “Has Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Shadow” Finally Caught Up With Him?”

 

 


Synod Document is First, Not Last, Word on Marriage and Family Issues

June 27, 2014

One of baseball legend Yogi Berra’s memorable quotations is “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

I was reminded of the wisdom of that sentence yesterday when I first heard the news that the Vatican has issued the working paper (in Latin, the instrumentum laboris) for the upcoming synod on marriage and the family to take place in Rome this coming October.   There have been high hopes for this meeting, especially since the Vatican has asked lay people for their opinions on various topics, and especially since several bishops have noted that lay opinion has been strongly calling fo r changes on certain aspects of church teaching on marriage and family.

But the content of the document released yesterday does not seem to signal any hope for change.  Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter synthesized the document in this way:

“Struggles faced by faithful around the world in following Catholic teachings stem mainly from ineffective education in those teachings and the pervasive effect of a relativistic culture, states the guiding document for an upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family.

“The document, anticipated by many Catholics as a barometer for what to expect from the synod, also strongly reinforces church teachings regarding the indissolubility of marriage, the restriction of marriage to heterosexual couples, and that partners must be open to having children.

“At the same time, the document states, the church must respond with mercy to the struggles of families to adhere to sometimes controversial teachings — like those prohibiting divorce and remarriage, contraception, cohabitation, and same-sex marriage — and ‘support her children on the path of reconciliation.’ “

While it is commendable that the document is stressing Pope Francis’ constant themes of mercy and of meeting people in whatever situation they are living, the troublesome part of the document is that it views the secular world as a problem, rather than as a dialogue partner.  McElwee’s synthesis continued:

“Responses to the synod office’s global consultation — which saw bishops’ conferences around the world answer a long questionnaire on how Catholics perceive church teachings — were ‘in agreement on the underlying reasons for the difficulty in accepting Church teaching,’ the document states.

“Among those reasons: ‘the hedonistic culture; relativism; materialism; individualism; the growing secularism; the prevalence of ideas that lead to an excessive, selfish liberalization of morals; … [and] a culture which rejects making permanent choices.’ “

I’ve no doubt that some of these factors affect the way some people approach church teaching, however, I have met far too many people who disagree with church teaching on matters of marriage, sexuality, gender, and family who are motivated, instead, by a deep faith.  Their positions were arrived at after much study, reflection, discussion, and prayer.  Their disagreements grow out of their lived and examined faith, not some worldly “monsters” that this document discusses.

This is the same kind of thinking that was evident in the International Theological Commission’s document “‘Sensus Fidei’ in the Life of the Church,” which was published on the Vatican’s website.   You can read the summary of that document here, and you can read an excellent commentary by seasoned religion journalist Ken Briggs here.

If the bishops of the world ignore the reality that disagreement comes out of a deep faith, they do so at great peril to themselves and to the church.

On LGBT issues, the document is not totally problematic.  For example, Reuters’ news story on the document focused on the fact that there seems to be some agreement already that children of lesbian and gay couples should not be prohibited from baptism.   The story quotes the document:

“. . . .when people living in [same-sex] unions request a child’s baptism, almost all the responses emphasize that the child must be received with the same care, tenderness and concern which is given to other children.”

Some other sections are half-good, half-bad.  For instance, there is a recognition that the Church must engage with the scientific world on the issue of homosexuality:

“Many responses and observations call for theological study in dialogue with the human sciences to develop a multi-faceted look at the phenomenon of homosexuality.”

That’s good.  That’s a difference from the 1986 Vatican document on homosexuality which said the Church did not need science.

Yet this good statement is undercut by the statement which immediately follows it, which says that the dialogue with science should be conducted through Vatican offices:

“Others recommend collaborating with specific entities, e.g., the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences and the Pontifical Academy for Life, in thoroughly examining the anthropological and theological aspects of human sexuality and the sexual difference between man and woman in order to address the issue of gender ideology.”

It’s hard to think that Vatican officials will learn anything new if they conduct their inquiries with a closed or biased mindset.

There is also a recognition that Church leaders have not always been good at developing pastoral ministry with gay and lesbian people, particularly those in committed relationships:

“On the whole, the extreme reactions to these unions, whether compromising or uncompromising, do not seem to have facilitated the development of an effective pastoral programme which is consistent with the Magisterium and compassionate towards the persons concerned.”

Yet, a few paragraphs later, the document states:

“The great challenge will be to develop a ministry which can maintain the proper balance between accepting persons in a spirit of compassion and gradually guiding them to authentic human and Christian maturity. In this regard, some conferences refer to certain organizations as successful models for such a ministry.”

If by “authentic human and Christian maturity,” the bishops are saying that ministry should help gay and lesbian people develop a healthy acceptance of their sexuality and the formation of their adult consciences, I’d be all for it.  Yet, sadly, I don’t think that is what they mean.

All of this brings me back to “It ain’t over till it’s over.”  Let’s remember that this document is the first word on the synod, not the last word.  It’s true that it doesn’t get off on a positive note, but I believe that there will be some interesting debate in October and that we won’t know the final outcome until the meeting closes.  Let’s remember that this synod will most likely be very different from those held under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI when the instrumentum laboris was often written by the Vatican Curia, and bishops in synod were simply asked to rubber-stamp it.  Pope Francis has already shown that he wants more discussion and collegiality from bishops.

More harmful than the specific remarks on lesbian and gay people, though, are the remarks that the reason that Catholics don’t agree with church teaching is because they have succumbed to a secular mindset.  We’ve heard that remark time and again from U.S. bishops, especially in the context of same-gender marriage, but it is simply not the whole truth.  It’s very convenient to have a scapegoat. It’s much more challenging to face up to the reality that faithful Catholics are calling for change.

(Bondings 2.0 will continue to report on various responses and interpretations of this document in the coming days and weeks, so check back for further posts.  For previous posts on the upcoming synod, click “Synod 2014″ in the “Categories” section in the right hand column of this page.)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Associated Press: “Vatican concedes many Catholics ignore core teaching on sex and contraception”

Catholic News Service: “Synod document cites cultural and economic threats to family”

 


Is it Possible for Bishops to Move Away from Marriage Equality Opposition?

June 26, 2014

Last week’s appearance of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone at the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) March in Washington, DC, inspired several journalists to look more closely at the relationship between the Catholic hierarchy and anti-marriage equality groups.

While we’ve noted before that there is a growing trend in the church of some church leaders speaking favorably of lesbian and gay couples, the road to full acceptance still is a long one.  Some of the new insights that these journalists have expressed show that a new relationship between Catholic leaders and the issue of marriage equality, while a challenge, is possible.

The challenge comes from some of the “strange bedfellows” that some bishops are connecting with, politically speaking.  Jeremy Hooper, at the Human Rights Campaign’s NOM Exposed blog, points out that in addition to Cordileone’s appearance at the rally, he also continues working behind the scenes with NOM leaders.   He was listed as a host of a recent strategy meeting in Princeton, New Jersey, with several of NOM’s top leaders and associates.

Will this continued association with NOM continue? The National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters says that it shouldn’t.  In a recent column, he questioned Cordileone’s involvement at the rally because he sees NOM as  “dedicated to a strategy that is not only counter-productive, which is bad enough, but a strategy that is profoundly un-Christian.”

Winters offers evidence of NOM’s role in stirring up anti-gay legislation aborad as a major reason Cordileone should not have participated in the event:

“Their president, Brian Brown, spent time strategizing in Russia, encouraging that country’s parliament to enact harsh anti-gay laws that do not reflect the kind of love Archbishop Cordileone called for in his speech yesterday. The Uganda parliamentarian, David Bahati, who authored that country’s truly draconian anti-gay laws acknowledges the influence of U.S.-based groups in encouraging him and helping him, including the shadowy ‘Fellowship.’

“NOM’s stateside efforts are not much better. They are smart enough to know that promoting a law that would call for killing gays is a non-starter. But, they apparently are not smart enough to recognize that the great threats to marriage in our day have nothing to do with what gays do. Among the great threats to marriage is a hook-up culture that is to human love what laissez-faire economics is to the world of commerce and finance, a libertarianism in action which, like all that flows from that ‘poisoned spring,’ as Pope Pius XI termed it, devastates the Gospel.”

Winters concludes with a warning to bishops about how they need to shape their future rhetoric and action on the question of marriage:

“Finally, if the leaders of the Church are to become credible again on the issue of marriage, they cannot simultaneously insist that they are not motivated by anti-gay bigotry and then give speeches at rallies organized by bigots. This is not guilt by association. It is recognizing that such participation is a counter-witness to the Gospel. Archbishop Cordileone’s comments about loving those who do not share the Church’s teachings on marriage are, I am sure, sincere, but he betrays his own words when he demonstrates common cause with the architects of draconian laws that seek to deny the human dignity of gays and lesbians. This is obvious to the rest of us. One wonders why it was not obvious to +Cordileone.”

Pope Francis

The role that Pope Francis is playing in the bishops’ rhetoric on marriage equality and other issues is also an important factor that needs to be considered.  U.S. Catholic’s Scott Alessi notes the ambiguity and ambivalence that seems to characterize the U.S. bishops’ desire to follow Francis’ lead in taking a softer tone in regard to marriage equality and LGBT issues.  Noting that some headlines about the recent United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting proclaimed concord with Pope Francis, while others asserted a striking difference between the bishops and the pontiff,  Alessi writes:

“As is often the case with such things, the reality is somewhere in the middle. The bishops are a large and diverse group, and I don’t think anyone realistically could have anticipated a radical shift in the conference’s overall agenda. Some bishops have surely been taking the pope’s words to heart and thinking about how that impacts their work, while others are much less concerned with what’s being said in Rome than they are with what is happening in their own backyard.”

U.S. News and World Report published an insightful essay with a title that explains the confusion surrounding the “Francis factor”:  “When It Comes to Same-Sex Marriage, Both Sides Claim Pope Francis.”     On the pro-marraige equality side, the article quotes Michael Sherrad, executive director of Faithful America:

“Pope Francis has powerfully inspired countless Catholics and other Christians to a new vision for how the church can be compassionate. Unfortunately too many – not all, but too many – of the bishops in the United States and their conservative activist allies have really flouted what Pope Francis has had to say about gay and lesbian people.”

On the anti-marriage equality side, the writer quotes Chris Plant,  regional director of NOM:

“[Plant says that] Pope Francis’s tone is in line with the approach he sees his organization taking on the issue. ‘He is focusing on the fact that our dialogue ought to be civil,’ Plant says. ‘We absolutely ask for it to be a civil.’ ”

The U.S. News and World Report article also quoted a seasoned Catholic Church observer, noting the pope’s influence on the debate:

“ ‘I think he wants to move a little bit beyond the culture wars, at least certainly key issues in the culture wars,’ says Rev. Thomas P. Rausch, a Jesuit priest and a professor of Catholic theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. ‘He can’t simply change the church’s teachings – the whole church has to be involved in that. But he can change the way that the church is perceived in terms of the range of issues it addresses. And I suspect that is what he wants to do.’ “

In a recent interview with Faith in Public Life’s John Gehring, Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, former president of the USCCB and archbishop emeritus of Galveston-Houston, Texas, offered words of wisdom for how Pope Francis’ more compassionate approach can succeed:

“We have to take what he is saying seriously. We need bishops who reflect his style, and laypeople have to be involved so that this Francis era is not just a passing moment but salt and light for our church for many years to come.”

What I like about Fiorenza’s remarks is that he reminds us that if the more compassionate approach is to come about, it depends on lay people, as much as on bishops.  We need to remind ourselves of this reality when the going gets tough.  A new relationship between marriage equality and Catholic leadership is possible–but we’re the ones who have to help it along.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


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