Croatia Defies Catholic Bishops by Legally Recognizing Same-Gender Couples

July 16, 2014

Pro-equality demonstration in Croatia

Croatian government officials challenged the predominantly Catholic nation’s ban on marriage equality by passing a law recognizing same-gender couples, directly opposing Church leaders who have vigorously opposed any LGBT rights.

Lawmakers approved the Life Partnership Act on Tuesday, the fulfillment of Prime Minister Zoran Milonavic’s promise to rectify problems created by a same-gender marriage ban approved via referendum last December. The new law grants gay couples all the rights of marriage except adoption. Ahram Online reports further:

“Gay rights activists hailed the legislation in the largely conservative EU member state, which is strongly influenced by the powerful Roman Catholic Church.

” ‘Croatia made a historic step forward to stand along progressive countries which have already resolved the issue,’ Iva Tomecic, editor-in-chief of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) news portal CroL, told AFP.

” ‘From now on same-sex couples and families can finally legally regulate their unions… knowing that the country where they live, work and pay taxes is treating them as equal citizens,’ she said.”

Croatian voters amended the constitution last year to limit marriage to one man and one, although many questioned whether that is how people feel given turnout was only 35% and that a high level of anti-European Union sentiments may have contributed.

Moreovoer, the Catholic hierarchy was heavily involved in the campaign behind the anti-marriage equality amendment, advocating for it from the pulpits and organizing more than 750,000 signatures in a nation of just 4.4 million people. Anti-LGBT activists have already expressed their disappointment with the law, but there seems to be little room to challenge it as the Croatian Constitutional Court said last year’s referendum “cannot limit in any way the future development of legislative regulations concerning civil unions between same-sex partners.”

In light of this new law, it seems appropriate to reiterate the questions about pastoral care for LGBT people and the larger Croatian Church posed by Bondings 2.0 last December:

“Having succeeded in banning marriage rights for same-gender couples, it remains unknown how the Catholic hierarchy will now respond to LGBT people in Croatia…

“With nearly 90% of the population being Catholic, how the Church hierarchy responds in these new circumstances will have a tremendous impact. It’s worth asking whether bishops and conservative leaders will seek to heal wounds created by the divisive amendment and pursue pastoral tones. Or will they seek to suppress further rights for LGBT people and families, such as opposing civil union legislation.”

With civil unions approved for same-gender couples and few options to oppose them left, let us hope Croatia’s bishops will end their crusade against LGBT rights once and for all.

–Bob Shine, 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”

 

 


Fired Gay Teacher Files Legal Complaint in a Case Where Ironies Abound

July 11, 2014

The running controversy over LGBT people being fired from jobs in Catholic schools and parishes has mostly quieted down in the last month.  That silence, though, is probably due more to the fact that schools are on break and parishes are in “lite” mode for the summer than because of any moratorium on firings.

Flint Dollar

The topic surfaced again this week with news that one fired teacher is filing an equal opportunity claim against the Catholic school that fired him.

Flint Dollar, who was fired from his job as a music teacher at Mount de Sales Academy, Macon, Georgia, when it was learned that he intended to marry a man.

Dollar has had a difficult time seeking legal recourse in this situation.  This week, his lawyer announced that they found grounds to make a legal case against the school.  National Public Radio reports:

Since neither federal law nor state law in Georgia expressly forbids employers from discriminating against gays, it initially seemed like there was nothing Dollar could do. But Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which turned 50 this week, does prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. Dollar’s lawyer, Charles Cox, sees an opening there.

“When you fire somebody because they are engaging in a same-sex marriage, I think that pretty clearly fits with gender discrimination,” Cox says. “You’re being fired because you’re not complying with traditional gender stereotypes, and that’s wrong, and we believe it’s unlawful.”

Though this strategy has been tried before in courts and failed, there is hope in this case because of a legal precedent set in April of this year:

“. . . [A] judge in Washington made a ruling in a lawsuit brought by federal employee Peter TerVeer. TerVeer claims his supervisor at the Library of Congress made his work life miserable because TerVeer is gay.

“LGBT rights attorney Greg Nevins, who is helping with TerVeer’s case, explains how TerVeer sued under Title VII:

” ‘His romantic or intimate interest in men is something that the women workers at the office were not penalized for, but he was,’ Nevins says. ‘He made that claim in federal district court, and the court allowed it to proceed, despite a motion to dismiss by the Department of Justice.’ “

“Now the TerVeer case is giving hope to people like Dollar. He’s filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, alleging sex discrimination.”

The Georgia Voice also notes another precedent that Dollar’s lawyer raised:

“Cox also cites Glenn v. Brumby, the Eleventh Circuit court case from 2011 which found that the Georgia General Assembly fired activist Vandy Beth Glenn due to her being transgender, which was a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution that protects against gender discrimination.

“ ‘The same thing applies to same-sex marriage because that’s not conforming to traditional gender stereotypes,’ Cox says.”

The Dollar case has sparked a variety of commentary examining some of the moral questions involved in the action of firing.  Back in June, David Oedel, a law professor, wrote about some of the ironies of the case:

“In its employee handbook and website, the school articulates policies of nondiscrimination as to ‘sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,’ ‘marital status’ and ‘any other characteristic or status that is protected by federal, state, or local law.’

“Federal law protects the right to travel to other states and avail oneself of the benefits of other states’ laws, so the school apparently accepts Dollar’s right to go to Minnesota, join in a same-sex marriage, and have that marriage honored by federal law. Georgia doesn’t legally have to respect such a marriage, and neither did Mount de Sales — until the school adopted its nondiscrimination policy and made promises to Dollar.

“There’s little ambiguity about Roman Catholic teachings on promise-keeping. The church endorses keeping promises, such as those between church-married partners and, presumably, promises Mount de Sales apparently made to Dollar to hire and retain Dollar despite his sexual orientation, committed relationship and marriage plans.”

The school’s action is surprising to Oedel, given the progressive history of the institution:

“It wouldn’t have been a stretch for Dollar to take the school at its word because the school is known in Macon as a path-breaking institution. Mount de Sales was the first school here publicly to educate those of various faiths, first to integrate and first to embrace such a wide-open nondiscrimination policy. From some national press, though, you’d think the school is a regressive horror-chamber.”

And the contradiction goes even deeper:

“One wonders what St. Francis de Sales, for whom the school is named, would think. Francis famously advocated charity over penance. Where is Christ’s charity in firing Dollar now?”

For comprehensive coverage of all the firings, click on “Employment Issues” in the “Categories” box in the right-hand column of this page.  You can find a complete list of fired employees on this blog’s “Catholicism, Employment, & LGBT Issues” page. 

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Related articles:

The Telegraph: “Fired Mount de Sales band director files EEOC claim”

The Telegraph: “Bigotry, prejudice and grace”

 

 


Are Vatican Officials ‘Feeling with the Church’?

July 8, 2014

Do you disagree with the hierarchy’s explication of a certain Church teaching? If so, then it is likely you misunderstand the teaching due to a lack of proper education, according to the Vatican-appointed International Theological Commission.  This thought was expressed in the Commission’s recent document, Sensus fidei’ in the Life of the Church.

The Commission is composed of theologians appointed by Pope Benedict XVI tasked with further understanding the concepts sensus fidei and sensus fidelium, defined in a  Catholic News Service article as “the capacity of individual of individual believers and of the church as a whole to discern the truth of faith.” Cindy Wooden explores the document further, quoting it at length:

“When a significant portion of the Catholic faithful ignore or reject a church teaching, it is often — but not always — a sign that social and cultural pressures are weakening their faith or that church leaders simply have not found a way to explain the teaching, said members of the International Theological Commission…

“Particularly drawing on the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, members of the theological commission rejected the idea that Catholic laity are to blindly obey everything the pope and bishops tell them. However, the document emphasized the importance of assuming church leaders are correct, trying to understand the basis for their teaching…before claiming to be able to discern that a church teaching needs adjustment…

” ‘The sensus fidei also is essential in helping the church respond to modern problems and challenges because it gives “an intuition as to the right way forward amid the uncertainties and ambiguities of history, and a capacity to listen discerningly to what human culture and the progress of the sciences are saying,’ the document said.”

The document is respectful of lay people in its words, saying they have a “right to be heard.” Yet, it also urges scrutiny when the laity do voice their beliefs as those who dissent are, at times, responsible for “promoting deviations from the Christian faith, particularly on moral issues.” The hierarchy is only criticized for failing at explaining teachings which Catholics reject.

Several bloggers rightly criticized the document, released around the same time as the Instrumentum laboris for this fall’s Synod. Kelly Stewart, a former staff member of New Ways Ministry, blogged at the National Catholic Reporter:

“But defenders of sexual and reproductive orthodoxy seem to assume, again and again, that feminists, LGBT people, progressives, and many mainstream Catholics disagree with official teaching because they don’t know what they’re talking about. This assumption grounds the central argument of “Sensus Fidei”…

“So if most laypeople reject official teaching on a given issue, it must be because they don’t understand it. If they don’t understand it, it must be because of weak faith, cultural brainwashing, or poor catechesis…

” ‘Consideration’ and ‘consultation,’ it seems, are useful insofar as they help institutional church leaders more effectively explain our lives to us. Listening to laypeople isn’t about learning anything substantively new, then. It’s about learning how to talk differently about the same teachings. A way for church leaders to repackage widely rejected ideas and go on explaining gender to women, homosexuality to gays and lesbians, and marriage to married couples — whether or not they know what they’re talking about.”

Fellow blogger Ken Briggs writes in a similar vein:

“If you’re a Catholic who disagrees with something your church teaches, you’re invited by the hierarchy to examine what’s wrong with you…The idea that intelligent, well schooled Catholics maturely and soundly examine the church’s logic and find it to be mistaken and/or contrary to their faith experience never enters the picture…

“What cripples this attempt to rationalize dissent from the outset is the prior assumption that officially declared teaching is virtually infallible. It must be protected like a mother grizzly her cubs. The ‘faithful’ may have lots of ‘sense’ but it’s not welcome if it clashes with unalterable Truth. It’s a show of supreme confidence, of course, but reveals a cavernous insecurity about the ability of doctrine explained even correctly to hold its own. If the judgment against women priests were so convincing, for example, why did Pope John Paul II forbid Catholics from even discussing it? Such matters give witness to the simple question that threatens the shaky thinking: ‘what if the dissenters are right?’ “

One criticism often leveled at more progressive Catholics is that they fail to “feel with the Church” or sentire cum ecclesia, an ambiguous term never clearly defined in such criticisms. Pope Francis recently included dissenting Catholics among three groups he considers “half-Catholics,” alongside rigid traditionalists, and those who use the Church for personal gain.To flip the question, I wonder whether the unnamed theologians behind this document, and Cardinal Gerard Mueller of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who signed off on the document, are themselves now “feeling with the Church.”The Church, as is often repeated, is the People of God, the vast majority of whom are lay people living in the larger world rather than in an ecclesiastical institution. More than ever, these lay people are educated and engaged in the life of the Church, and they are challenging traditional understandings of sexuality, marriage, family life from their positions of faith and experience. To ‘feel with the Church’ today should mean to take the sensus fidelium seriously and respect the laity’s rightful place in the teaching ministry of the Church.

The Commission’s document makes clear that some Vatican officials are not ready to listen and learn from the laity, seriously engaging our perspectives and even our disagreements in the common cause to understand and enact the Gospels. There is much good in the era of Pope Francis, but this document reveals just how much change is still needed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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


Jesuit Priest in Chile Endorses Marriage Equality

June 30, 2014

Father Felipe Berrios

A Jesuit priest in Chile has come out supporting marriage equality as that nation’s president seeks further rights for LGBT people.

Fr. Felipe Berrios, a noted author and columnist, made the remarks in an interview with Emol.com after returning from four years of work in Burundi and Congo. The priest’s endorsement comes as Chilean political leaders seek to legalize same-gender marriages under President Michelle Bachelet. Gay Star News reports Berrios said:

” ‘What’s the matter with gay marriage?…Homosexuals are God’s children…He created homosexuals and lesbians, and God is proud of who they are.Why not let them get married? Enough already…The problem is in us, in our misunderstanding of them.’

” ‘I want to be clear: Gays and lesbians are children of God and are called to holiness as we all are. They are not second-class citizens or have different kinds of sin and they will help us to broaden our concept of sexuality.’ “

Fr. Berrios’ open and vocal endorsement of civil marriage equality adds to the growing number of Catholic bishops and clergy who are speaking out in support of same-gender couples. New Ways Ministry has compiled a listing of these Church leaders–mostly bishops, archbishops, and cardinals–and prominent Catholics who have made positive remarks about same-gender couples, civil unions, and marriage equality since 2011. You can access the listing by clicking here.  Each entry contains links to Bondings 2.0 posts and news coverage.

With the Vatican’s working paper for this fall’s Synod of Bishops on marriage and family disappointing many LGBT advocates, and baptisms seemingly loom as the next ‘battleground’ for LGBT issues in the Church, let us hope more Catholic leaders will have Fr. Berrios’ courage to speak out publicly and without equivocation for LGBT people and their families.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic LGBT Advocates React to ‘Disappointing’ Synod Working Paper

June 29, 2014

Sr. Joan Chittister

In May, Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister wrote that the upcoming Synod of Bishops on marriage and family life would be a chance for Church leaders to “do things right.” However, the Vatican’s working paper (in Latin, instrumentum laboris) released this week is leaving many observers and Catholic LGBT advocates with the impression all is not quite right.

The working paper, which Bondings 2.0 covered earlier this week, compiled questionnaire responses from around the world with the aim of furthering discussions at the meeting this fall.

Equally Blessed LogoEqually Blessed, a coalition of four Catholic organizations seeking LGBT equality, released a statement expressing its members’ disappointment with the working paper. The coalition members are Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry. Thestatement said, in part:

“We are disheartened that the challenges of families trying to reconcile their unambiguous love for their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) family members and Church teachings that are too often harsh and divisive are not addressed…

“The Bishops once again claim that the problem is not that their teachings clash with the Biblical teaching of love, but that Catholics are unaware of the teachings. Catholics are not unaware, rather they have long struggled with these teachings, and ultimately reject them as inconsistent with the Gospel. US Bishops have spent millions of dollars defending their right to discriminate against our families, a fact that increases the alienation of many families from the Church.

“We are living the faith we love and speaking up for the Church we believe in.  Celebrating the diversity in our Church is integral to our understanding of a faith that stands up for those on the margins and recognizes the face of God in everyone.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke

In a separate statement for DignityUSA, executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke said:

“Many Catholics hoped that the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family would be an opportunity for real dialogue with Church leaders on issues that are very important in our day to day life. Instead, what we see is a rigid adherence to existing teaching, and what we hear are complaints that the people of the Church are misinformed or uneducated. This is a gross simplification and incredibly insulting…

“It fails to show any acknowledgement of the profound love and commitment shared by many same-sex couples, minimizes the realities of LGBT people raising children, and fails to offer any hope to families who love their LGBT members unconditionally, but struggle with Church teachings that are too often demeaning. Furthermore, the bishops continue to show a severe lack of understanding of transgender identities. If they begin to truly listening to our transgender kin, they will learn much.”

Jim FitzGerald

Call To Action’s opinion was expressed by executive director Jim Fitzgerald:

“When Catholics heard last year that the leaders of their Church were seeking feedback on the topic of ministry to the family, they responded enthusiastically, sharing their experiences, insights and desires. Catholics believed it was a new moment in which leadership would listen and honor their voices, experiences and wisdom…

“While today’s report is a disappointment, today’s Catholics are not. They do get it: they understand perfectly well the call to love rooted in the Gospel. Catholic parishes, schools and communities across the country will continue to live with love, welcoming our brothers and sisters who’ve struggled through divorce, remarried with love, stood proudly as LGBT persons or used contraception when creating their family.”

While disappointment is a common reaction for many, Francis DeBernardo reminded Bondings 2.0 readers on Thursday that this working paper is not the last word on marriage and family.

Perhaps the wittiest response to this document came from veteran church observer Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, who quipped:

“The document acknowledges that ‘the primary task of the church is to proclaim the beauty of the vocation to love,’ but there is little beautiful or inspiring in this document. If married life is as boring and joyless as this document, I am glad I am celibate.”

There is still time for bishops to listen to Sr. Chittister’s words from earlier this year, when she expressed caution and  hope about the synod:

“The first time the church found itself in major public discredit, the reformers of the 16th century were crying out for serious review of both the theology and practices of the church. They railed against clericalism, the wealth of the church, the use of arcane language that distanced the laity from its inner operations and made them second-class citizens, the sale of relics, the conferral of indulgences in exchange for alms, and a theology that left laypeople to be docile and unthinking consumers of a faith long bereft of either witness or spiritual energy.

“The answer of the church at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) to these concerns was 150 anathemas at the very thought of change.

“Or, in other words, Trent’s answer to the pressure for renewal of the church was more of the same. Only this time, they went even further and added an index of forbidden books to dampen any more of that kind of thinking in the future; the total rejection of the vernacular to make general discussion of just about anything ecclesiastical impossible for laypeople; greater episcopal control; and more and better rules for everything else.

“But the need for change and real renewal never went away.”

Chittister points out that, similarly the bishops are gathering to address the question of reform and renewal and there is a chance to “get it right” in how the institutional Church will respond to a changing world:

“Thinking may be the sign of a healthy group, but it is not the sign of a complacent, tractable or acquiescent group. Once people begin to think together, community sets in, energy sets in, possibility sets in, and new life sets in. For them all.

“Trent’s 150 anathemas were a mistake that lost half of Europe to the church, that divided the Christian community for 400 years, that plunged Catholicism into the Dark Ages of thought, and that left the Christian witness adrift in “the scandal of division.”

“From where I stand, it looks as if we have been given another opportunity to do it right this time. The only question is whether or not the bishops who were entrusted with gathering the answers of the laity to these questions will start at all. Let alone go all the way.”

If there is one hopeful sign in all of this, it is Pope Francis. He has both the ability to influence the Synod towards a more compassionate and inclusive conclusion and the belief that dialogue can help the Church resolve all problems, as he reiterated in a homily last May:

” ‘By sharing, discussing and praying, all problems in the Church can be resolved, with the certainty that gossip, envy and jealousy never lead to concord, harmony and peace. There too it was the Holy Spirit who crowned this understanding and this enables us to understand that, when we let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, it leads us to harmony, unity and respect for different gifts and talents’.”

Let us pray that this Synod’s working paper will be treated much like the documents released at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, which were thrown out and rewritten entirely to insure the joy of the Gospel and a positive view of the world were included.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Will Baptisms Be Celebrated According to Love or the Law?

June 28, 2014

Lourdes Badillo and Cristal Cobas preparing to baptize their child

Recent debates over baptism for children of same-gender parents received into the Church, may mean baptism is an upcoming point of conflict with newborn children right in the middle.

David Gibson of Religion News Service takes up this question, explaining what had been the status quo until recently:

“The default position for most bishops — reiterated in a major Vatican document released on Thursday (June 26) — is that if the parents pledge to raise the child Catholic, then no girl or boy should be refused baptism.

“They generally let parish priests make the final call and let them administer the sacrament, though it is usually done in a private ceremony with the biological parent — not the adoptive mother or father — listed on the baptismal certificate.”

The Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin recently changed procedures on how it handles same-gender couples who wish to have a child baptized. This announcement comes shortly after a judge’s ruling legalized marriage equality in that state, a judicial decision which Madison’s Bishop Robert Morlino vociferously criticized. The Wisconsin State Journal’s report said the two decisions appear unconnected, and the diocese’s decision was developed before marriage equality became law.

Authority for requests from same-gender couples shifted from the parish priest, who could use pastoral sensitivity when addressing a sometimes challenging situation, to the diocese’s office of the vicar general. Monsignor James Bartylla is the current vicar general, and author of the memo announcing the procedural change. He wrote, in part, that there are

” ‘a plethora of difficulties, challenges, and considerations associated with these unnatural unions (including scandal) linked with the baptism of a child, and such considerations touch upon theology, canon law, pastoral approach, liturgical adaptation, and sacramental recording…please seek consultation and coordination with the office of the vicar general, since each case must be evaluated individually.’ “

Gibson’s report highlights the problems that could emerge from Madison’s policy targeting same-gender couples, especially if it is adopted by other bishops across the country:

” ‘While this process might protect couples from the negative whims of a local pastor, Bishop Morlino has such a strong record against supporting lesbian and gay people that I worry he might be more restrictive about baptizing their children than most local priests would be,’ said Francis DeBernardo, head of New Ways Ministry, a leading advocacy group for gay Catholics.

“If that happens, he said, it ‘has the potential to blow up into a pastoral disaster.’ …

“DeBernardo said the problem with a policy that focuses specifically on gay parents is that it ‘stigmatizes lesbian and gay couples as being more suspect than any other parents.’

” ‘It is very likely that no parents that present a child for baptism are perfectly following all church rules,’ he said. ‘Why single out only lesbian and gay parents for further scrutiny?’ “

Commenting on the baptism question, Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese said:

” ‘In general, the Catholic church does not punish the child for the sins of the parents…As archbishop of Buenos Aires, (Pope) Francis got angry at priests who would not baptize children born out of wedlock. I would presume the same principle applies here.’ “

Indeed, at least two bishops are following Pope Francis’ lead. In April, an Argentine bishop welcomed the baptism of the child of a lesbian couple, Karina Villarroel and Soledad Ortiz. There are now reports that Bishop Raul Vera Lopez, of Saltillo, Mexico baptized the child of a lesbian couple, Lourdes Badillo and Cristal Cobas. Bishop Vera Lopez has previously made headlines for his support of lesbian and gay people, even calling homophobia a mental illness at one point. Banderas News reports further:

“The bishop met two weeks ago with Pope Francis in Rome, and according to the Mexican newspaper Excelsior, the prelate discussed his views of ‘caring for vulnerable groups, such as the lesbian-gay community’ with the pope.

” ‘I have been open and given clarity to homosexual couples or whatever…But some groups within the Church say I promote promiscuity, those are conservative groups that harm pastoral care. Who am I to judge? The Pope has the same attitude as Christ did’ …

” ‘If I find the natural daughter of one of two women, how can I deny her baptism? If the parents seek it, it’s because there is a Christian faith,’ he explained to the media.”

These more inclusive practices around baptism, and more broadly, the pastoral welcome that LGBT people and their partners received, stand in stark contrast to those who would make marriage more difficult for these families. Perhaps Bishop Morlino would do well to read a reflection by Benedict Luckhurst published by Quest, a UK LGBT advocacy group.  Luckhurts urges the Church to live by love, not the law. Of Mark 7:1-4 which describes Jesus observing Jewish purity laws, he writes:

“The ritual hand, dish and pot washing practised by the Pharisees – there is no evidence to show that this was a widespread practice among Jews – likely sprang from a fear that they could have come into contact with ritually unclean things in the course of daily use.

“This obsession with purity gave rise to a sharp rebuke from Jesus. Labelling the righteous Pharisees as hypocrites he quotes to them from Isaiah, ‘This people honours me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me. Their reverence of me is worthless, the lessons they teach are nothing but human commandments’ (29:13)…

“A little over a year has passed since the Papal Conclave of 2013 that elected Pope Francis I. I am reminded of words he spoke in his interview for Jesuit journals throughout the world: ‘The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you . . .How are we treating the people of God? I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbour. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin. The structural and organisational reforms are secondary – that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost.’ 

As LGBT rights and acceptance become the rule rather than exceptions in society, clergy and pastoral ministers are faced with a choice: to welcome all in love and celebrate baptisms openly or to adhere so strictly to the law which could cause pastoral damage. The Church must stop baptisms from becoming a battleground over LGBT rights before it even starts. Let’s pray (and urge) our Church’s leaders to be people who are not afraid to be ‘unclean’ when it means following love above all.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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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