Ignorance of Catholic Teaching Warps Cardinal’s Comments on Homosexuality

September 7, 2014

Cardinal Onaiyekan

A recent interview with Nigeria’s Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja, illustrates one important reason why LGBT people still do not have full equality in the Catholic Church:  Church leaders do not know their own teaching and they publicly speak mistakes about it.

The cardinal was interviewed recently by The Sun, a national newspaper in Nigeria.   During the interview, the reporter asked:

“Do you foresee the Catholic Church sustaining its stance on gay marriage in the future?”

The cardinal’s complete answer to the question was:

“Unfortunately, we are living in a world where these things have now become quite acceptable but for the fact that they are acceptable doesn’t mean that they are right. The Catholic Church considers itself as carrying the banner of the truth in the world that has allowed itself to be so badly deceived.

“On gay marriage or homosexuality in general, everybody knows that the Catholic Church is about the only group that among the Christian groups that has stood very firmly against it and we insist that it is against God’s will. Therefore, it is not a question of something for us to discuss and decide whether we shall accept it or not. Even if people don’t like us for it, our church has always said homosexuality is unnatural and marriage is between a man and a woman. There is no such thing as marriage between two men or marriage between two women. Whatever they do among themselves should not be called marriage. There is no question of the Catholic Church changing its positions on this matter.”

What’s wrong with that statement?  Well, for one thing, church teaching does not state that homosexuality is “unnatural.”  In one of the earliest Vatican statements on homosexuality in the modern era, 1975’s Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethicsthe Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) wrote:

“A distinction is drawn, and it seems with some reason, between homosexuals whose tenecy. . . is transitory or at least no incurable; and homosexuals who are definitively such because of some kind of innate instinct. . . “

The particular term, “innate instinct,” indicates that the Vatican does not label a homosexual orientation as “unnatural.”   In The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which appeared almost two decades later, the Vatican discussed homosexuality, saying, in part:

“Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained.”

and

“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible.”

While the CDF also used the term “objective disorder” to describe a homosexual orientation, it is important to underline that the term does not refer to a medical or psychological condition, but to moral evaluation.  In the 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, the CDF wrote:

“Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”

Moreover, Church teaching never makes a blanket against “homosexuality,” as Cardinal Onaiyekan does.  Church teaching makes a distinction between homosexual people and homosexual acts.  As the above quotation indicates, the Church does not morally disapprove of homosexual people (“not a sin”), but it does not morally approve of homosexual activity.   Lumping both people and acts under the title “homosexuality” is not responsible use of language, and neither does it show a careful awareness of Church teaching.

Thus, though Church teaching, based on natural law philosophy, does not approve of any sexual activity between people of the same gender, it does not describe either the act or the person as “unnatural.”   I grant that this is a very fine, nuanced distinction, and, even at that, is still problematic.   But it is important to make the distinction to see that someone like Cardinal Onaiyekan either does not understand the Church’s official position or is describing this position carelessly, perhaps influenced by his own prejudiced opinions on the matter.

Personally, I do not like splitting hairs like this theologically, but it is important to do so because of the tremendous harm that the cardinal’s words can have, especially in a nation like Nigeria where homosexuality is criminalized.  Such ignorance or carelessness on the part of a Church official fuels the homophobia that causes violence.

Finally, some comments in regard to the cardinal’s statement:

“On gay marriage or homosexuality in general, everybody knows that the Catholic Church is about the only group that among the Christian groups that has stood very firmly against it and we insist that it is against God’s will.”

First of all, in Africa, as elsewhere, the Catholic Church is not the only religious institution which opposes same-gender marriage, and, as we saw above, the Church does not condemn “homosexuality in general.” More importantly, though, using language to describe homosexuality as “against God’s will” again strengthens negative attitudes which often lead to physical and emotional harm.  In fact, the Catechism says of homosexual people:

“These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives. . . “

and

“They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Cardinal Onaiyekan, and, indeed, other Church leaders, have expressed statements that reveal more ignorance than wisdom on the topic.  For an earlier post about this topic, click here.

It is astonishing that someone in Cardinal Onaiyekan’s position would be so ignorant or careless regarding Church teaching.  To me, it is an indication that cultural attitudes and personal biases, unfortunately, creep into our church’s official rhetoric.  Such mis-education is harmful to LGBT people, the wider Church, and Cardinal Onaiyekan himself.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related post

Bondings 2.0:  “Nigerian Bishops Support Anti-Gay Law; Help Get the Pope to Speak Out

 

 


NEWS NOTES: September 2, 2014

September 2, 2014

News NotesHere are some items that you might find of interest:

1) Catholics United, a faith-based political organization, has called on Archbishop Charles Chaput to do more to show support for transgender people in the wake of the suicide of a transgender young man, Riley Moscatel, in Philadelphia.   Moscatel was raised Catholic and had a Catholic funeral.

2) In Alberta, Canada,  St. Albert Catholic High alumnus Brent Saccucci is one of 10 recipients of the University of Alberta’s 2014 Peter Lougheed Scholarship, according to The St. Albert Gazette.  Saccuci, a gay man, studies education, and he is active in addressing inequities in schools, especially around young students of colour and those who are LGBTQ.

3)  Elliot Wehrle, a student at Mother Teresa Catholic High School in Ottawa, Canada, was the youth marshal for Ottawa Pride this past month.  Wehrle wrote Break Before Bend, a musical about coming out, which was performed at the school in March.

4) In the heavily Catholic nation of Ecuador, President Rafael Correa, has allowed same-sex couples in civil unions to list their status on their national identification cards, similar to the way marital status is listed.  Same-sex marriage is not legal in the country.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Indian Lay Leader: Synod Must Bring LGBT People ‘In From the Cold’

August 28, 2014

Virginia Saldanha

What does Virginia Saldanha want from this fall’s Synod concerning marriage and family life? Bringing LGBT people ‘in from the cold’ would be a good start.

Saldanha, who is former executive secretary of the Office of Laity for the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, recently wrote an op-ed in UCA News that expresses just that desire and shares her thoughts on what LGBT issues look like for Catholics in India.

She begins by noting that Synod questionnaire responses regarding whether one’s Catholic community accepted  same-gender marriage were overwhelmingly negative, prompting her to why her fellow Catholics are “so strongly homophobic.” Saldanha lays out some of the anti-gay beliefs present in Indian society:

“Is it because we have heard some priests say that homosexuality is sinful so by inference, homosexuals are bad people?

“I recall one religious sister involved in the family ministry exclaim with horror, ‘homosexuality is spreading rapidly in the West, and soon it will spread to Asia’. It sounded like she was talking about an epidemic.

“Sections of Church authority imply that homosexuals choose their sexual orientation. Or worse still, feminists are blamed for the ‘problem’. They argue that women have become so liberated that they make poor ‘wife material’. So women have chosen to shack up together and men prefer to be with other men, making homosexuality so common.”

Indian society still adheres to rigid gender roles, which Saldanha cites as one reasons so many young gay men have killed themselves. She continues:

“Our insensitive and conservative Indian society has ensured that life will be hell for homosexuals who are looked upon as deviants…Homosexuals suffer much because they agonize over their sexuality that is seen as abnormal. They are born that way and do not choose their sexuality. Adolescence can be quite traumatic for these young people; parents who are judgmental only compound their problems.”

One specific problem she notes is that heterosexual marriages are arranged by parents for lesbian or gay children who live outside of India. These children return to India and are married to please their parents, but return to lives in Western societies where “the hapless bride is left alone and bewildered in a foreign country, while the young man continues to live life as he did before.” Saldanha says the choice then is to either divorce or continue living a lie, both of which are an “injustice to both partners.”

Saldanha concludes strongly, with a call to both Indian Catholics and the Synod to expand the church’s welcome for and acceptance of LGBT people:

“Today young people have the courage to be honest and open about their sexuality, but we have to be open and sensitive to allow them the freedom to be who they are. A group of lay people from different parts of India who gathered to deliberate on issues they wish to discus at the Synod, hope that the Synod fathers will take note of the reality of homosexuals and show them the understanding and inclusiveness of Jesus to live their life as they were created to be. The group wants ‘the third gender [to] be respected not only by all Catholics but especially the official Church.’

“Jesus was inclusive and welcoming to all so he would not force homosexuals to remain in the closet. Let us hope that the Catholic Church will have the courage to be inclusive like Jesus and Pope Francis and say ‘who are we to judge’, and allow homosexuals the opportunity to live their lives in freedom and truth.”

Whether or not the bishops will take up same-gender couples or LGBT pastoral care at the Synod is not solidified. Saldanha’s piece should remind them that LGBT issues are not merely a ‘Western’ problem, but are present throughout the universal church. Though the specific causes of homphobia and transphobia may vary by location, it would not be hard for the Synod to make a statement which affirms the dignity and goodness of LGBT people and seeks their full inclusion in the church and the world. Even if the teaching on same-gender marriage is not changed, at the very least it is indeed time to bring LGBT people “in from the cold.”

You can read the full piece at ucanews.com by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Open Letter to Pope Francis: Help Save My Vocation

August 22, 2014
Benjamin Brenkert

Benjamin Brenkert

Guest Blogger: In an open letter to Pope Francis,  Benjamin Brenkert explains his decision to leave the Jesuits because of LGBTQ issues, and asks the pontiff to be stronger in his statements about LGBTQ equality.

Dear Pope Francis,

              In your time as Pope, your commitment to poverty has awakened the world to the evils of globalization, capitalism, and materialism. Many now understand poverty to be a structural sin and a social evil. Through your public statements you have sparked the interest of Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and atheists. The world looks to you as a shepherd, a man filled with the joy of the Gospel.

Yet, while you have focused on physical and material poverty, members of my community–lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and queer/questioning men, women and youth–have been neglected. They remain on the frontiers, the margins, living spiritually poor lives. Some need the voice of Cardinals like Walter Kasper to tell them that God loves them. Others know that God loves them, but Church leadership rejects them as disordered and disoriented. Your prophetic question “Who am I to judge?” encourages people everywhere to have a non-judgmental attitude towards members of the LGBTQ community. But being non-judgmental is not enough; especially when Jesus tells us to be like the Good Samaritan and “Go, Do likewise.”

But who am I to write you?

As an openly gay man, I’ve spent the past 10 years pursuing the priesthood in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). I am full of gratitude for this time. I loved being a Jesuit, a son of St. Ignatius of Loyola. This July, I left the Jesuits in good standing.

Today, I can no longer justly or freely pursue ordination to the priesthood as a gay man in a Church where gay men and lesbian women are being fired from their jobs. The last straw for me was when a married lesbian social justice minister was fired from a Jesuit parish in Kansas City. 

Such marginalization is contrary to what many have called the “Francis Effect.” These firings negate your emphasis on eradicating poverty because the firings bring men and women closer to physical and material poverty. Firing people because of their sexuality, or their right to marry, is discriminatory. It is unjust, especially since many Catholic institutions have employment non-discrimination disclaimers that state they are equal opportunity employers that comply with all federal, state and local laws which prohibit discrimination in employment based on race, color, national origin, age, gender, religion, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, veteran status and arrest record.

In my decision letter to my Provincial I noted my awareness of how LGBTQ injustice contradicts the Gospel. Furthermore,  I pointed out how anti-gay legislation in countries like Uganda and Russia, and the subsequent lack of action by the Church, led me to start questioning my membership in the Church. As I pray about why I left the Society of Jesus, because of LGBTQ injustice in the Church, I continue to pray St. Ignatius’ Suscipe Prayer:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own. You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

I pray that God continues to give me the grace to fulfill my vows, to respond to the needs of our world, an Incarnated reality that needs an ecumenical Church–one that responds to the needs of the physically and spiritually poor together, as evidenced by Matthew 25. I long to not be a safe outsider or a fringe character.  Yet, I, an openly gay man, was told by my superiors to focus on other pastoral concerns. Why?

As an openly gay man I sought ordination because of God’s calling me to the priesthood. From the age of 15 I prayed to understand that question. I prayed not to run but to be found. Time and again vocation directors, spiritual directors, and superiors tested my deepest desires, my holiest longing, these men saw me as oriented not disordered, available to the priesthood for good and holy reasons.

As I entered the Jesuit Novitiate, God helped me to know myself, to see myself as a fully self-loving and integrated gay man. Over time, I saw that I had gifts to offer as a sensitive, empathic, joyful, loving, prayerful, articulate, multi-dimensional, well-educated minister. I understand myself to be priestly, despite my humanness and frailty.

Pope Francis, with my vocation evolving, I remain priestly. I write you to help save my vocation, whatever that might be in the future. I ask you to instruct the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to tell Catholic institutions not to fire any more LGBTQ Catholics.  I ask you to speak out against laws that criminalize and oppress LGBTQ people around the globe. These actions would bring true life to your statement “Whom am I to judge?”

As I continue my transition as a member of the laity, I am reminded that like every Jesuit, I am “a sinner yet called to be a companion of Jesus as our founder Saint Ignatius of Loyola was.” And like many of my Jesuit brothers worldwide, gay or straight, I still reflect on the three principle questions of Jesuit and Ignatian prayer: “What have I done for Jesus?, What am I doing for Jesus?, and What will I do for Jesus?” For this, I am full of gratitude.

As a former Jesuit, I know that at the core of Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises is a meeting of God, others, and self. This meeting takes place in a dynamic way that draws on our human and godly desires for relationship and love. In short, it is a pilgrimage that places Jesus at the center of one’s life. This pilgrimage is open to homosexuals and heterosexuals. Jesus instructed us all to be good Samaritans,to “Go, Do Likewise.”

With love and affection,

Ben Brenkert

 

Related resources

Bondings 2.0  “Catholicism, Employment, & LGBT Issues”

Call To Action:  Church Worker Justice

The Riverdale Press: “Priestly, but no longer a candidate for priesthood”


Ugandan Archbishop: Do No Harm to Gay and Lesbian People

August 20, 2014

Archbishop John Baptist Odama

Amid reports that six LGBT people were stoned to death in Uganda last week, Archbishop John Baptist Odama is calling on his fellow Ugandans to respect the rule of law — and the lives of lesbian and gay people.

Odama, who heads the Uganda Episcopal Conference as well as the Archdiocese of Gulu, is quoted by PinkNews as saying:

” ‘Let us learn to love God’s human creatures…It is not that I am advocating for homosexual practice in the country, but we should not take laws into our hands to harm and hate the homosexuals because we all have weaknesses.’

” ‘The country has been struggling to have a law to criminalises [sic] homosexuality…However, the struggle has been frustrated by the constitutional courts.’

” ‘People should not take the laws into their hands and harm homosexuals, since they are also human beings though with different sexual feelings.’ “

Odama references a Ugandan court’s recent decision to strike down the nation’s Anti-Homosexuality Act in his comments. The former law, once known as the “Kill the Gays” bill because at one time it contained a death penalty provision for LGBT people, ended up mandating life imprisonment for those convicted of homosexual activity, and it banned the promotion of homosexuality. The court invalidated it on the technicality that Parliament did not have quorum when a vote on the Act was called. Legislators are now trying to re-pass a similar law having made procedural changes.

This is the first time in nearly four years of debate about this bill that a bishop in Uganda, where more than 40% of people are Catholic, has spoken up for the lives and dignity of LGBT people. In 2012, the Uganda’s bishops reversed their opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Act. After it was passed in 2014, the bishops conference remained quiet for weeks before several announced their support publicly at Easter.

However, Catholics worldwide have condemned anti-gay legislation at each step. Figures like Jesuit Fr. James Martiformer US ambassador to the Vatican Thomas Melady, and the papal nuncio to Uganda have all condemned the law, as well as organizations like the Equally Blessed coalition  and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development. Students and alumni of Catholic colleges have organized against the law. In Uganda, Frank Mugisha, a gay advocate who is Catholic, has courageously led the struggle for LGBT justice.

Archbishop Odama’s statement is a hopeful, if limited, sign that the Catholic hierarchy is waking up to reality that such laws foster discrimination and violence against LGBT people. These laws also hinder HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, a point made clear by Catholic officials during July’s 20th International AIDS Conference.

But there is one voice noticeably absent as anti-gay laws increase, and that is Pope Francis. Even after people of faith worldwide have asked Pope Francis to clearly and openly condemn anti-gay legislation through the #PopeSpeakOut Twitter campaign, there has been no message from the pontiff. Bondings 2.0 has previously questioned why the pope has remained silent on this issue, and wondered how Catholics are to respond when church leaders, such as the Ugandan bishops, not only allow, but support anti-LGBT policies.

New Ways Ministry welcomes Archbishop Odama’s words, but we reiterate our request that Pope Francis take action to save lives and protect human dignity. If you would like to add your voice to the #PopeSpeakOut efforts through email, Facebook, and Twitter, click here.  Please share the news about this campaign with your contacts and social media networks.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Public School Religion Teacher in Canary Islands Fired by Catholic Bishop

August 15, 2014

Catholic education will continue to suffer as more LGBT and ally educators are fired.

Luis Alberto González taught as a married gay man for two years, but, for the first time in fifteen years, he will not be returning to school this fall.  He was told by a local bishop it is “no longer appropriate” that he teach religion at a public school in the Canary Islands, a Spanish autonomous community off the coast of Africa.

González, formerly a Catholic priest, married his husband in 2012.  Aware that Spanish law grants Catholic bishops hiring and firing abilities related to religion teachers in public schools, González was forthright and wrote to his local bishop about the marriage. In letter to the editor entitled “Good News” to the Spanish daily El País, González wrote:

“I got married civilly to another man in 2012. The fact would not be very significant except that I work in Lanzarote as a professor of Religion at two institutes. At the end of the school year in which the union took place, I considered it appropriate, for openness, put my job in the bishop’s hands (in writing even)…

“Therefore, I assumed I would be fired, but my employment contract has been renewed year after year. Either the bishop of Canarias doesn’t consider the matter very important, or he’s taking a new approach to the issue in his jurisdiction. In either case, it’s good news.”

However, it seems the “Good News” letter has now led to his firing. The Diocese of Canarias reported he has been fired by the bishop.  In a fax to González, the diocese explained:

“For reasons of doctrine and morality and under canon law, your suitability as a religion teacher is retracted.”

There is some confusion as the Canary Island’s Ministry of Education still lists González as a teacher and Deputy Minister of Education Manuela Armas said there had been no communication to his office from the diocese.

For his part,González is resigned to the firing and said he “knew it could happen.” González asserts that he may no longer meet criteria for religion teachers set forth by the Spanish hierarchy, and he is only demanding that he be fairly compensated and allowed to access unemployment benefits.

More broadly, González wonders about the “manipulation of beliefs by those who have power in religion” and says Catholicism should not institutionally seek to ‘get into’ every aspect of people’s lives. Iglesia Descalza reports that the fired educator remains hopeful and has promised to remain in the Catholic Church to continue affecting change:

“The teacher argues that ‘there are elements of the citizenry, such as the people who make up the educational community, who don’t think it’s bad for someone who is gay and married to teach religion, but as you go up the pyramid of the Catholic hierarchy, one is aware that they’re on a different wavelength, advocating certain themes, including ones that could be considered medieval.’ …

” ‘There will always be those who will say that the Church is like a club. If you don’t want to be there, go. I, however, argue — and I’ve been a priest — that you can help change it from within…The Church itself has to be revised, take up these debates normally and face them.’ “

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

El País (in Spanish): “El Obispado de Canarias expulsa a un profesor gay casado”

Iglesia Descalza (English translation of  El País article): “Diocese of Canarias expels married gay teacher”


Liberian Archbishop Signs Statement Linking Ebola and Homosexuality

August 8, 2014

Archbishop Lewis Zeiglier

Liberia’s top Catholic official join more than 100 religious leaders in linking that nation’s Ebola outbreak to homosexuality, lending his support to a prejudiced and potentially dangerous statement according to The Daily Observer.

Archbishop Lewis Zeiglier of Monrovia joined a Liberia Council of Churches meeting this week, which discussed a “spiritual response” to the epidemic that has claimed more than 1,000 lives in West Africa and caused a state of emergency in several nations. The meeting, a potential response to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s comments that ignorance and religious practices were contributing to Ebola’s spread, released a unanimous resolution which said in part:

“God is angry with Liberia, and that Ebola is a plague. Liberians have to pray and seek God’s forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism, etc.) that continue to penetrate our society. As Christians, we must repent and seek God’s forgiveness.”

The resolution also suggested the government restrict movement for three days of fasting and prayer, something which Liberia’s Catholics had already done this week.

Being gay is illegal in Liberia and same-gender marriages are banned, which has been insufficient for some politicians and clergy. Legislation was introduced in 2012 that would have sentenced anyone convicted of being in such a marriage to death. A Catholic priest used his Easter homily to attack President Sirleaf’s silence on the question of marriage equality.

AmericaBlog points out that Archbishop Zeiglier himself harshly condemned lesbian and gay people in April, warning that God would punish Liberia if it allowed same-sex marriage:

“The Archbishop said Liberians are ‘whole-heartedly’ engaging themselves in this act and that is being promoted in the country.

“The Catholic Archbishop also stated: ‘Where are we going as Liberians if we are advocating for homosexuality? Are we not calling for curses upon ourselves? How will a man marry his fellow man, this is an abomination. These are the same things that brought down Sodom and Gomorrah.’ “

Negative comments against LGBT people are often made by members of the Catholic hierarchy, but Archbishop Zeiglier’s support for a resolution linking the deadly Ebola outbreak and homosexuality is particularly dangerous. In an anti-gay climate like Liberia’s, an archbishop’s words can easily be used to justify discrimination and violence against LGBT people. This is doubly true when an epidemic like Ebola has created a climate of intensified fear and people are seeking an easy scapegoat.

When several African bishops made anti-gay comments in May, essentially endorsing the discrimination of LGBT people, Bondings 2.0 asked how the Church can respond. At that time, we quoted CNN columnist LZ Granderson who called on Catholics to end their silence on anti-gay laws, writing:

“To move Pope Francis’ question from a global headline to global change, Christians must stop allowing silence to be the de facto weapon of choice against the senseless persecution of gay people.”

Looking for a first step to make your voice heard and counter voices like Archbishop Zeigliers? Participate (again if you have already) in the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, asking Pope Francis to condemn in no uncertain terms laws and language which encourages prejudice and violence against LGBT people. To find out more information and take action, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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