New Australian Archbishop Needs to Replace “Logic” With a Dose of Reality

September 24, 2014

The headline in Australia’s Star-Gazette newspaper was intriguing:  “No place for bigotry against gays in Catholic Church, says Sydney’s new archbishop.”  I was ready for some really good news, but my hope was dashed somewhat when I read the story.  I didn’t need to read very far.  The first sentence hurt enough:

“Sydney’s next top Catholic has told the Star Observer he will not stand for homophobia in the church, but he stopped short of distancing himself from comments made two years ago when he said same sex marriage would lead to polygamy.”

Archbishop-elect Anthony Fisher

It might seem that Archbishop-elect Anthony Fisher is a lot better than his predecessor, Cardinal George Pell, who in 2011, according to the newspaper, “compared homosexuality to the ‘flaw’ in a carpet maker’s otherwise perfect carpet.”  It is not so much Farmatta’s opposition to marriage equality which is so surprising or outrageous, but the way that he argues the case is disrespectful to gay and lesbian couples.

In a 2012 essay on same-sex marriage, Fisher raised the specter that marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples will bring about polygamy:

“Now the social engineers have their sights set on removing the ‘man and woman’ part of marriage as well. All that will be left is marriage as an emotional union: it’s enough, as they say, that people love each other. But if marriage is just about feelings and promises, it obviously can’t be limited to a man and a woman: two men or two women might love each other. But on the same logic so might more than two.”

But he didn’t stop there, and he also predicted other travesties:

“If polygamy is irresistible on the ‘all that matters is that they love each other’ line, so is marriage between siblings or between a parents and their (adult) child. Once again this is not just ‘slippery slope’ pessimism: it simply reflects the fact that the advocates of SSM [same-sex marriage] give no account of marriage that would exclude such intimate partnerships from being deemed marriages. Only marriage understood as the kind of comprehensive union I have outlined can resist such ‘morphing.’ “

The simplest answer to this illogical thinking is:  “No one is asking for polygamous or incestuous relationships to be recognized.”   The marriage equality movement arose because there is a natural equality between the love that a gay or lesbian couple share and the love of a heterosexual couple.  The social goods from such love are also the same in both types of couples.  No one is saying the same thing about polygamous or incestuous relationships.  To make the comparison is not a logical argument, but fear-mongering.

But where the archbishop-elect’s line of thinking is most disrespectful by the fact that he sees the advent of marriage equality as a result of the sexual revolution, and not as a question of justice and liberation, as more and more Catholics have begun to see it. Embedded in this line of thinking is that all that matters to gay and lesbian people is to have their sexual relationship recognized.  That is simply not the case.  What they want recognized and protected is their love and commitment to one another, so that their partnership, which might include a family, can develop strongly, can protect their emotional and personal needs, and can contribute to the common good.

The Star-Gazette news article quoted Fisher’s statement on abhorring discrimination:

“Fisher added that he would not tolerate discrimination: ‘The Catholic Church teaches that God is love and that all He has created is good, God loves everyone and there is no place for hatred and bigotry in His Church towards people with same sex attraction.’ ”

Yet, in this very statement he shows, again, disrespect by using the term “same sex attraction” and not “gay and lesbian” which is how the overwhelming majority of such people identify.   If he wants to show that he is concerned about this community, the first thing he should do is to respect their self-identification.  Even Pope Francis uses the word “gay.”

Fisher, like many other members of the hierarchy, needs to learn that if he really wants to welcome LGBT people to the church, he needs to become more knowledgeable about their lives, the nature of their relationships, and about the real forms of injustice and inequality that they experience.  Too often such bishops think that they are being “compassionate,” when in fact, they are being unjust.

Fisher needs to replace his “logic” with a dose of reality.  His first line of business as archbishop should be to open a dialogue with LGBT Catholics to learn about their faith journeys and their gifts.  I don’t think that someone like him is unreformable, but I think he needs to see how his “logical” arguments are, in fact, pastorally and personally harmful.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 


How LGBT-Friendly Are the Appointees to the Synod on Marriage and Family?

September 11, 2014

The Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family is less than one month away.  The Vatican released the names of the bishops who will be participating, as well as a list of the lay observers.

In terms of the bishops who will be participating,  there is a mixed bag on their approach to LGBT issues.  Here are some of the prominent names, with a little bit of their history on LGBT topics:

These are only a handful of the more than 250 appointees, and it is by no means an exhaustive list of people with any sort of record on LGBT issues.  It only includes names of those for whom I had concrete supporting evidence with which to link.  However, others on the list, such as Cardinal George Pell of Australia and now at the Vatican, have a long history of anti-LGBT measures.  Similarly, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising, Germany, are known to be very supportive of LGBT people and topics.

If you are aware of others on the list who have a record, positive or negative, on LGBT issues, please share your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.  Supporting links would be very helpful.

From my perspective, the most important feature from the list of lay observers is that no publicly LGBT person or couple is named.  The Synod will be examining pastoral responses to families headed by same-gender couples.  Didn’t the Vatican think it would be good to hear from some of them?  If the Vatican has invited heterosexual couples to participate, why did they not invite lesbian and gay couples, too?

Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, offers a critical view of the list in an essay entitled “The makeup of Synod of Bishops on the family is disappointing.”   Reese is disappointed that so many Curia officials will be participating, and he notes that they should be “staff, not policymakers.”  He explained:

“They have all the other weeks of the year to advise the pope. This is the time for bishops from outside of Rome to make their views known.”

Reese observes that the choices of who will be advising the bishops also seems lopsided.

“Half the experts are clerics, which seems strange at a synod on the family. None of the 16 experts is from the United States; 10 are from Europe (including five from Italy), three from Asia, and one each from Mexico, Lebanon and Australia.

“There are more laypeople among the 38 auditors, including 14 married couples, of whom two are from the United States. Many of the observers are employees of the Catholic church or heads of Catholic organizations, including natural family planning organizations.

“For example, one couple from the United States is Jeffrey Heinzen, director of natural family planning in the diocese of La Crosse, Wis., and Alice Heinzen, member of the Natural Family Planning Advisory Board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

Bondings 2.0 will continue to update you on the Synod as the days of preparation progress, and we will try to provide LGBT-relevant information and analysis once the meeting begins.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


St. Vincent de Paul Society Gives Grant to LGBT Center Despite Bishop’s Challenge

September 9, 2014

Yesterday, we reported on some developments in Ireland that showed that Irish Catholics were responding more and more positively to LGBT issues.  We saved one story for its own post, not only because it is a remarkable development, but because it contrasts so strikingly with what sometimes happens here in the States.

The Irish Times reported that Ireland’s St. Vincent de Paul (SVP) Society recently gave a grant of €45,000  to  “Amach! LGBT Galway,”  a resource center which serves the sexual and gender minority community there.  The grant will be disbursed over three years. [Editor's Note:  "Amach" is Gaelic for "out."]

What makes this story even more remarkable is that when Bishop Martin Drennan of Galway objected to the grant and asked for a clarification of the decision, the SVP defended their action, and countered the bishop’s concerns about “moral grounds” with an accounting of how they indeed acted morally.

The Irish Times  reports:

“Bishop Drennan said that ‘on moral grounds we can’t support that.’ Homosexual activity was ‘in our eyes morally wrong behaviour and we cannot put funds at the service of what we don’t believe is morally incorrect.’ His problem was ‘the moral judgement involved.’ The reputation of the SVP ‘has been put in question by this grant,’ he said.”

Initially, according to the newspaper, an SVP official responded that the decision to fund the LGBT group

“was made purely on the basis of need in the Galway area, in the same way as all requests for support are assessed. It does not signify any other motive.”

In an article in The Independent, Jim Walsh, SVP spokesperson, further explained where the grant money came from, and that it did not impact their donations to other needy causes, which totalled about €42 million pounds in 2012.  Walsh stated:

” ‘The money that has been granted comes from a specific fund, the Maureen O’Connell Fund, and so it has no direct connection to any of the other money spent by the SVP,’ Jim Walsh said.

“He rejected suggestions that the money would be better spent on funding those more obviously in poverty, such as those asylum seekers trapped in direct provision or the elderly.”

Indeed,  “Amach! LGBT Galway” itself serves needy clients.  The Indedpent offers this description:

“The centre is intended to be a safe space where LGBT people can address issues and concerns such as prejudice, isolation, loneliness, depression and the lack of opportunities to network with peers.”

An Irish blogger on Gaelick.com points out:

“A popular stereotype is that LGBT people are happy! Fun! And are inundated with disposable income! They are fabulous and ageless men, they live fabulous lives, with fabulous homes and fabulous lifestyles. Everything is rosy, just like on TV or just like in some kind of liberal, south Dublin bubble.

“The reality, according to the evidence, can often be very different.

“LGBT people can experience marginalisation, stigmatisation, difficulty accessing essential services, all of which impacts on our health and well-being.”

The statistics used to support the above claim are staggering, especially on the situation of LGBT people in Ireland.  The numbers strongly support the SVP statement that the grant was given to an “excluded and marginalised group in need.”

The main question that arises for me from this story is “Why does Bishop Drennan think of morality only in terms of sexual morality and not the morality of helping a population that has been ostracized, under-served, and in need of healing and reconciliation?”  The SVP obviously saw morality in much broader terms than the bishop did.

An equally important point to make, though, is that the SVP action contrasts greatly with many recent actions in the U.S. where Catholic funds have been withdrawn from social service agencies because of LGBT issues.  In all the cases, the funds were withdrawn not even because the agencies were serving LGBT clients, but because from time to time they acted in coalition with LGBT organizations.  You can read about all those actions by clicking here.

Obviously, Catholic leaders in the U.S. have something to learn about humility, charity, and a-political service from Ireland’s St. Vincent de Paul Society.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Ireland’s Catholics March Onward for LGBT Equality

September 8, 2014

St. Paul community members marching in Newry Pride

Ireland has been a heavily Catholic nation historically, and Catholics have become more LGBT-supportive in recent years, and particularly in recent weeks. Below, Bondings 2.0 offers a round up of several Catholic LGBT stories emerging from Eire.

Catholic Students Stand Out in Pride Parade

Students from St. Paul’s High School in Bessbrook, Northern Ireland, participated in local Pride celebrations last weekend, led by principal and noted proponent of Catholic education Jarlath Burns. St. Paul’s is one of the country’s largest secondary schools and their delegation during the Newry parade in County Armagh is thought to be a first. Upperclass students received an invitation to march in the parade via the school’s Facebook page, which noted:

” ‘We are proud to be a school that embraces diversity and promotes inclusivity, further demonstrating commitment to our Catholic ethos…The rainbow flag will be flown at the school to mark our support for equality for all.’ “

Burns, facing some criticism, explained his decision to the Irish Independent saying:

” ‘We just wanted to walk to show solidarity with what is a marginalised group in our society, to show them compassion, dignity and respect’…

” ‘Schools should not be places where students are ridiculed or made feel isolated…We are proud to be a Catholic school and it because of that we decided to walk as a group and give Christian witness’…

” ‘It may have been controversial but we have to challenge ourselves and the status quo…We can’t be bound by tradition. It’s in that context that we decided to march and I’m very proud of what we did.’ “

This latest news comes as Irish Catholic schools awaken to the problem of LGBT bullying, with many religious institutions in the Republic of Ireland already participating in the government’s “Stand Up! Awareness Week” and implementing LGBT education into curricula.

If you’re on Facebook, you can view further photos of St. Paul students marching by clicking here. If you’re on Twitter, consider thanking St. Paul’s Bessbrook (@StPaulsBBrook) for its inclusive witness, and also thank Burns (@jburns832) for his ongoing leadership.

Dubliners March for Marriage Equality

Irish Catholics were among the thousands who marched through Dublin in support of marriage equality earlier this month, reports NewsTalk. The march comes as the Republic of Ireland prepares for a constitutional referendum on the issue to be held early next year, with early polls indicating only 20% of voters opposing legal recognition for same-gender couples. Marriage equality is also supported by Taoiseach [Prime Minister] Enda Kenny and several high-profile ministers. The Irish Catholic bishops oppose the measure and have threatened to withdraw from civil marriage processes if it passes, though many observers believe their influence in Irish politics is limited and wanes further as time progresses.

Mary McAleese

McAleese Advertisement Banned

Former Irish President Mary McAleese has routinely condemned the church’s hierarchy for their approach to and teachings on homosexuality, calling for Catholics to rethink sexual ethics in light of modern science and knowledge. For this, and her support of women’s ordination, an Australian Catholic newspaper, the Catholic Weekly, has banned advertisements for McAleese’s upcoming appearance at Sydney’s “Catalyst for Renewal,” an event focused on the discussion of Catholic issues later this month. Irish Central reports that the paper’s editor Peter Rosengren said that neither he nor the Church “see homosexuality as a sin.”  The newspaper article noted that Rosengren added:

“. . .that having once employed a gay person at his newspaper he believed he had achieved a special degree of insight into homosexuality.”

 

In a related note, Irish Americans can now celebrate a more inclusive St. Patrick’s Day in 2015 as the New York City parade will feature an explicitly LGBT contingent and be led by Cardinal Dolan who said he welcomed the decision. For Irish Catholics of all types, the rainbows of inclusion and welcome continue to grow and grow!

Stay tuned for another post with good news from Ireland later this week!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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


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