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


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”

 


Do Bishops or Politicians Know More About Catholics and LGBT Issues?

May 21, 2014

A couple in Malta celebrates new national progress on LGBT equality.

Recent news out of Malta concerning Catholics and sexuality/gender issues seems to contradict information released by the nation’s Catholic bishops about the opinions of Catholics there on marriage and family topics.

This tiny, heavily-Catholic island nation has witnessed some important progressive political developments lately in terms of LGBT issues and Catholicism, yet the bishops report seems to indicate that Catholics are satisfied with traditional church teaching in these arenas.

Last month, we reported that this country approved civil unions for lesbian and gay couples, including the right to adopt, though the Catholic bishops there strongly opposed the measure.   Furthermore, Malta also made history in the area of transgender equality by becoming the first nation in Europe to protect transgender people in a constitution.  Malta Today reported:

“Malta has become the first European state to have gender identity in its constitution following the proposed amendment that was approved yesterday evening in parliament.”

Yet, according to data released recently by the Maltese Catholic bishops, the Catholic community in this country responded in a very traditional way to the survey about marriage and family issues in anticipation of the upcoming world synod on these topics.  According to The National Catholic Reporter here are some of the results:

  • Nearly 50 percent of Maltese accept and live by the church’s teaching on birth control, and nearly 20 percent said they ignored the church’s teaching on birth control.
  • 62.5 percent agreed that marriage is the indissoluble union between a man and a woman that has children as a goal; 3.8 percent disagreed with this statement and 5.8 percent was unsure; 25.4 percent didn’t answer.
  • 43 percent said not allowing divorced and remarried couples to receive the sacraments was a cause of pain, and 14.7 percent said they have felt this pain; 17.2 percent said divorced or remarried couples should be allowed to receive Communion.

The Maltese survey statistics are one of the few sets of data that bishops around the globe have released that show that Catholics in the pews seem to support church teaching.  Almost every other set showed great dissatisfaction by the laity in the areas of teaching about marriage and family.  (For more information about other survey results, click on the “Synod 2014″ link under the “Categories” heading in the column at the right of this page.)

So what can count for this difference between political reality in this nation which is 98% Catholic and the responses given to the survey by Catholics?  Perhaps the bishops did not get a random sample of Catholics responding to their questionnaire.  Perhaps people responded in a “false positive” sort of way because they did not want to appear to be dissenting from church teaching.  Perhaps people are happy for their government to be more progressive about marriage and sexuality, but they do not want their church to be so.

So, while the news report noted that the Maltese bishops were “surprised but reassured by the findings of the survey,” perhaps they need to do some serious soul-searching.  One other possibility for the discrepancy highlights a possible serious pastoral problem.  Perhaps many of the nation’s Catholics are disaffected or alienated from the church, and did not receive the survey.   

This possibility raises an important concern for bishops not only in Malta, but worldwide. As they gather for the synod, they need to take into account not only the opinions of Catholics in the pews, but also those who have left the pews because they found church teachings on marriage and family life not consistent with what their consciences were telling them.

Malta had a powerful glimmer of hope in this regard this past week. Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna, who was the prominent spokesperson for the hierarchy’s opposition to the civil unions bill, took a more reconciliatory step by meeting with members of Drachma, the Catholic LGBT group in Malta.

Pink News reported that Scicluna took part in an event for the International Day Against Homophobia, which was celebrated world-wide on May 17th.   The bishop, who during the civil unions debate had declared such recognition as a “grave moral act” was not the only Maltese Catholic leader who showed up for the event.  Pink News reported:

“Bishop Scicluna along with a number of other priests were joined by dignitaries from Maltese political parties in support of Drachma and their work with LGBT people.”

Such a gesture of reconciliation with the LGBT community is very much in line with what Jesuit Father James Martin called for in a recent article in America magazine.   More gestures of outreach and reconciliation are needed in our church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Italian Bishops’ Conference Head Calls for Dialogue Without “Taboo”

May 15, 2014

The world synod on marriage and the family, scheduled at the Vatican in October 2014, has sparked a lively debate in church circles on issues concerning sexuality, gender, and relationships, with a number of bishops acknowledging that it is time for a frank discussion on these topics to happen.

Bishop Nunzio Galantino

Perhaps no call for such a dialogue has hit so close to home, so to speak, than the recent statement from the head of the Italian bishops’ conference in which he said:

My wish for the Italian Church is that it is able to listen without any taboo to the arguments in favour of married priests, the Eucharist for the divorced, and homosexuality.”

Those are the words of  Bishop Nunzio Galantino, of the Cassano all’Jonio diocese in southern Italy, quoted by the Italian newspaper, La Nazione, and reported in English by The Tablet.   Galantino’s words take on an added significance because he was appointed  head of the Italian bishops conference by Pope Francis himself.

Echoing Pope Francis’ sentiment from a September 2014 interview that church leaders had become too “obsessed” with abortion, Bishop Galantino added to his call for dialogue with: 

“In the past we have concentrated too much on abortion and euthanasia. It mustn’t be this way because in the middle there’s real life which is constantly changing.”

Galantino was optimistic that the current pope offered the possibility of change in the areas of church teaching regarding sexuality and marriage.  The bishop said:

“With Pope Francis the Italian Church has an extraordinary opportunity to reposition itself on spiritual moral and cultural beliefs.”

Not all are as optimistic as this Italian prelate though.  Pope Francis’ recent off-hand comments on the topics of economics and on whether a divorced and remarried woman should be able to receive communion have come under scrutiny by some commentators who note the consternation that the pope’s casually dropped provocative statements can cause.

J. Peter Nixon, a blogger at dotCommonweal, reflected on how much weight and authority certain forms of papal communication actually have:

“So it has come to this.  We are now debating the doctrinal authority of papal tweets and phone calls.

“As David Gibson reports, the latest controversy in papal communication was a three-word tweet in Latin–Iniquitas radix malorum–that has been translated into English as “inequality is the root of social evil.”  This followed only days after the dust up over the pope’s phone call to a divorced and remarried woman where he allegedly encouraged her to receive communion.”

Nixon makes a good point when he says that our modern world focuses too much on papal pronouncements at the expense of the rest of the church:

The question that must be asked–particularly in light of Sunday’s canonizations–is whether this increasingly obsessive focus on the opinions, theology, spirituality and personal witness of the pope is a healthy thing for the Church.   The purpose of authority in the Church is to form a community that can bring forth “a great cloud of witnesses,” not to place the burden of that witness on a single individual.  The primary role of those authorities is to be coaches, referees and groundskeepers.  All of us, however, have the responsibility of playing the “beautiful game” that is following Jesus Christ.

While I agree with him, I also think that Pope Francis needs to be more explicit and clear in his statements.  I’ve said before that the pope’s ambiguity can cause problems, and that sooner or later he will need to be more direct about where he stands.  In her National Catholic Reporter column, Jamie Manson highlighted Pope Francis’ ambiguity problem in regard to both the case of the Ugandan anti-gay law and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s (CDF) censure of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).  On Uganda, Manson points out:

“He [Pope Francis] took no action when Ugandan Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga publicly lauded the president of Uganda for passing an extreme anti-homosexuality law, a law that clearly violates the Catholic church’s teaching to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.”

Her analysis of the many ways that his statements agree with the CDF about their charges against LCWR is too rich with detail to summarize here, and I recommend that you read her entire column.

During the synod this fall, many opinions are going to be bandied about by church leaders, theologians, pundits, and laity. Some reports have already shown that bishops seem open to the idea of debating church teaching on a number of topics, based on what they have learned from surveying their laity.  Whether he tweets, makes a phone call, or gives an interview to the press, Pope Francis is going to have to be clear about what direction he wants to take our church on these important issues.  I hope and pray that Bishop Galantino’s optimism about the possibility for change under Pope Francis is well-founded.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles 

Bay Area Reporter: LGBT Catholics react to Vatican survey results”

Religion News Service: “Conservatives squawk over pope’s tweet on inequality”

America: “Vatican: Phone Call Didn’t Change Church Teaching”

dotCommonweal: Pope’s man in Italy on abortion, homosexuality & Communion for the divorced & remarried”

Religion News Service: Church ‘obsessed’ with abortion — again? Pope’s Italian ally issues another wake-up call

For Bondings 2.o’s past coverage of synod news, please click on “Synod 2014″ under the “Categories” tab in the right hand column of this page.


SYNOD SHORTS: Vatican Censorship? Theory-Practice Gap? Fragmentation? Western Bias?

April 21, 2014

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin

SYNOD SHORTS is a new, occasional series designed to bring you news about the upcoming Vatican Synod on Marriage and Family, scheduled for October 2014.  Since so much news is generated about this meeting, we hope that this feature will help keep you informed, particularly on news relating to LGBT issues and the synod.

Was England Silenced by the Vatican?

The Tablet reported that the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has cited the Vatican as their reason not to publish findings from an online survey designed to elicit lay opinion on marriage and family which they made available last fall. The bishops were hailed at the time for posting the Vatican’s questionnaire online and 16,600 responses were received. When called upon by Catholics to release the results, a conference spokesperson said the synod’s secretary general, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, told Cardinal Vincent Nichols that responses should be kept private.

The spokesperson for the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales also stated that the Vatican’s request was that all episcopal conferences withhold results , though this is unconfirmed and already bishops in Germany, Austria, and elsewhere have made the questionnaire responses public.

A church reform group known as “A Call to Action” (ACTA) wrote a letter to the British bishops’ conference that quoted Baldisseri as saying the very opposite of what Nichols has stated.  ACTA stated:

“[Baldisseri] has said the results of the questionnaire show the ‘urgency of recognising the lived reality of the people and of beginning a pastoral dialogue with those who have distanced themselves from the Church.’ The letter, which praises the bishops’ decision to publish the survey online, then states: ‘Withholding the results cannot be a promising way to begin that pastoral dialogue.’ “

Cardinal Baldisseri has also engaged in this participatory process himself, hosting a forum in early April called “Listening to the family. Uncertainty and expectations.” According to Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter, the forum held at the Pontifical Gregorian University  in Rome focused on issues related to family life, and it included scholars and married people sharing their wisdom through small group discussions.

Outside of England, the decision is mixed on whether to release findings from the questionnaire responses or keep them for bishops alone. Irish and some American bishops have been more open, while Canadian bishops are remaining quiet.

In Ireland, a theory-practice gap

The Irish Times reports that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin called Catholic teaching on sexuality and family life, including same-gender relationships, “disconnected from real life experiences of families — and not just be younger people.” He said it was “poorly understood…[and] accepted,” saying there was a “theory-practice gap” between what the Church teaches and how it is lived out. The Times reports further:

“On same sex relations ‘some saw the church’s position as being purely negative and judgemental…Many felt that there should be some way of civilly recognising stable same-sex unions, but there was a clear hesitancy, uneasiness and opposition with regard to marriage for same sex unions,’ he said.”

Martin has previously spoken strongly in favor of the dignity of lesbian and gay people. Earlier this year, he said that to be anti-gay was to be anti-God and has called for a more respectful tone in the debate over marriage rights. The Irish bishops reversed a March decision to withhold the results and made them public. In a statement reported on by the National Catholic Reporter, they said:

” ‘The church’s teaching in these sensitive areas [of sexuality and family life] is often not experienced as realistic, compassionate, or life-enhancing.’ “

Canadian Fragmentation

Canadian bishops followed a plan similar to the Americans by leaving the decision to engage lay consultation up to each bishop, creating a fragmented situation. Only 13 of 73 diocese made it available online, which, according to president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Archbishop Paul -André Durocher, gave the country’s prelates a “good read” of the pastoral situation.

Critique from India

Dr. Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, a lay woman in India, is voicing concerns that the Synod of Bishops is not sufficiently global and is concerned with Western problems. She writes in UCA News:

“My own reading of the questionnaire found two critical lacunae. As a woman functioning in an interfaith family for the past 25 years in a subcontinent where women form the anawim - or ‘poor ones’ – vulnerable, exploited, marginalized, I felt excluded. I found no attempt to elicit information about the status of women in the family, a factor so crucial to the health of the family.

“Interfaith marriages were another silent zone in the questionnaire…Unfortunately the focus of the questionnaire was on divorced Catholics and same-sex unions. I wish there had been more sensitivity to the concerns of Asia.”

Her comments echo those of the Japanese bishops, who earlier this year wrote about the Vatican’s questionnaire being irrelevant to their pastoral reality. Rethinking marriage and family must entail the wisdom of a global Catholic community. For a thoughtful analysis of the global community’s challenge to Catholicism, read Jesuit Jeremy Zipple’s analysis at The Jesuit Post.

Check Bondings 2.0 regularly for more updates on the Synod or enter your email in the upper right hand corner to subscribe to the blog for daily posts delivered to your email. For our previous posts on the Synod, click on “Synod 2014″ in the “Categories” list to the right.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis Needs to Speak Clearly on LGBT Issues

April 12, 2014

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has made his most specific and critical statement about families headed by same-gender couples by stating that children should be raised “in the complementarity of the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother.”

The Advocate’s Michael O’Loughlin reported that the remarks were made in the context of an address to a delegation from the International Catholic Child Bureau.  The pope’s comments, in context, were:

“it is necessary to emphasize the right of children to grow up within a family, with a father and a mother able to create a suitable environment for their development and emotional maturity. Continuing to mature in the relationship, in the complementarity of the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother, and thus preparing the way for emotional maturity.”

Pope Francis further stated:

“Working for human rights presupposes keeping anthropological formation alive, being well-prepared regarding the reality of the human person, and knowing how to respond to the problems and challenges posed by contemporary cultures and mentalities that are spread by the mass media. . . .

“At times it is necessary to flee; at times it is necessary to stop to protect oneself; and at times one must fight. But always with tenderness.”

For those who have been lifted up by the pope’s more positive remarks on LGBT issues, these new words will come as a shock.  Though the pontiff has been developing a reputation as being progressive, many have warned all along that his thinking on women and gender have needed development.  Since the heart of these remarks focus on the outdated concept of “gender complementarity,” it seems reasonable to attribute these remarks, in part, to this blind spot of his.

Regardless of its origin in the pope’s thinking, this remark shows that Francis still needs to learn a lot about LGBT people and their families.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that he seems open to learning more about sexuality and gender issues, witnessed in his call for lay people to provide their opinions on marriage and family issues in anticipation of the October 2014 synod on those topics.

This new statement seems to be stated in the typical style that Pope Francis has used over the past year: while he expresses support for heterosexual marriage and family structures, he definitely avoids any direct attacks against LGBT people and relationships.  It sometimes seemed that his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, went out of his way to criticize and condemn LGBT issues.  That is not Pope Francis’ style.  In a recent general audience he spoke about the beauty of heterosexual marriage, but did not use the praise of that institution as an occasion to explicitly disparage same-gender relationships.  Here’s what he said at the Vatican on April 2nd, according to Religion News Service:

“When a man and a woman celebrate the sacrament of marriage, God is reflected in them. . . .

“As ‘one flesh’, they become living icons of God’s love in our world, building up the Church in unity and fidelity. The image of God is the married couple — not just the man, not just the woman, but both.”

He appears to be using the same strategy in the new example of praising families about headed by heterosexual couples.  We don’t see him using accusations that children raised by same-gender couples experience “violence,” as Benedict often said.   Instead, Francis remains silent on the topic.

While silence is not ideal, it is a welcome relief, and a good first step.  But it is also not enough.  While Francis has made some exciting and encouraging statements, some of them have been ambiguous, allowing some to develop strange interpretations, and sometimes forcing people to guess at what he meant.

Pope Francis could clear this up by making a clear, strongly positive statement on LGBT issues which will clear up any doubt about where he stands on these matters.  Of course, we would most like him to speak clearly and forcefully against anti-LGBT laws that are being enacted around the globe.  Or he could support employment rights for LGBT people working in Catholic institutions.  A statement of support to LGBT youth who experience bullying and other forms of violence would also be helpful.  (What kind of statement would you want the pope to make?  Write your thoughts in a “Comment” to this post.)

If he needs any help formulating such statements, we are glad to help him. He can just give us a phone call–something that we know he likes to do!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


NCR Editorial Raises Questions, Expresses Hope Amid Synod Survey Results

April 1, 2014

As international bishops continue releasing survey results for the Synod on Bishops on marriage & family life this fall, the National Catholic Reporter is raising questions about why more American prelates did not participate.

Last fall, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops announced it would follow the ‘usual process’ for the Vatican’s unusual request to consult with Catholics “immediately” and “as widely as possible.” Michael O’Loughlin, on behalf of NCR, explored what this meant in reality for synod preparations by US dioceses.

It appears 78 dioceses made survey information easily available to the public, using a combination of online data gathering, direct consultations, and reports from parishes or diocesan offices. Only about a dozen released the results, including an extremely honest article from Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg. In a blog post on how NCR put together O’Loughlin’s article, editor Dennis Coday notes of the bishops’ lackluster participation:

“We are reporting that 76 dioceses out of nearly 200 publicly and actively sought some kind consultation with their people…

“Now, certainly, more than 76 dioceses could have turned in reports to the Vatican — it doesn’t seem logical that nearly two-thirds of U.S. dioceses wouldn’t respond to a Vatican request for information — but we don’t know what that number would be. We also have no idea whom they consulted, let alone what they reported.

“That not knowing is the story behind the story of the questionnaire.”

In a follow-up post a week later, Coday promised an updated report based upon reader input, adding a few diocese and also speaking to the incredible dismay Catholics expressed when their dioceses were missing. He writes as well of a “shadow category” for when it was unclear whether the diocese responded or not:

“And most of the people I heard from are engaged, practicing Catholics: ‘I didn’t hear anything about the questionnaire even though I am on my parish’s pastoral council,’ a woman from a Western state wrote me.

“This woman’s diocese — and still the vast majority of dioceses — falls into what I call the ‘shadow category,’ where we can’t figure out what the diocese did. This doesn’t mean that the bishop did not consult broadly or that he didn’t report back to the people he consulted what he heard, but we can’t find any easily, publicly available information that describes the process he used or what he did with the data.”

And what of those diocese which did release results? O’Loughlin concludes that the data shows “American Catholics have questions about the church’s teachings on a range of family-related issues.” You can read his full breakdown of several diocese’s reports here. Also of interest is that Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore were among the bishops calling for professional research organizations to conduct the consultations next time. There have also been voices of the small, eight-week timeline dioceses had for information collection.

Noting that Pope Francis urged participants at last summer’s World Youth Day to ‘make a mess,’ National Catholic Reporter’s editorial on this issue claims messiness is truly the pope’s modus operandi and this  is most evident by how he has handled preparations for the Synod. From there, NCR writes about the American response to these preparations:

“The story of how bishops responded or didn’t respond to the sharing of the questionnaire in the United States and beyond has been described in nearly every issue of this newspaper since…

“The bishops in this country approached the questionnaire in a variety of ways. Those who did their best to consult with the widest possible cross section of their dioceses and then tried even in limited ways to respond to or report back what they had heard deserve a good deal of praise. It’s exciting to see bishops reaching out like this. Our hope is that it portends a return to the consultations the bishops conducted in the 1980s around their peace and economic pastoral letters. Those exercises created national conversations that brought the church together if ‘not in unanimity’ at least in ‘unity in the richness of diversity.’ “

Now, the office charged with organizing the synod will collate the survey results into a working paper for bishops and NCR expresses their hope that there will be “more creative messiness” as a result. The editorial makes two conclusions from the data available so far:

“We think it is important to bring up two points: First, the majority of responses that have been reported publicly are coming only from the Western world. One of the few exceptions is the report from the Japanese bishops, which actually closely matched what we are hearing from North America and Europe. We have yet to hear from the developing world, where Catholicism is growing, and which we suspect will have unique perspectives that the universal church cannot ignore…

“The second thing to remember is that the responses about rejected church teaching are only half the story. It is especially important that bishops and clergy remember this. The other half of the story is the eagerness that Catholics felt when given the chance to participate in this survey of Catholic family life. Certain teachings or aspects of certain teachings have been rejected, but what shines through is the desire to be part of the church community.”

The editorial expresses hope that Catholics’ enthusiasm to participate and express their views on family life is a foundation for improved pastoral responses amid new realities. It specifically cites the spread of marriage equality as an example of where pastoral responses can grow, even where there is disagreement:

“A number of the U.S. bishops report among their respondents the ambiguity Catholics feel toward same-sex marriage that mirrors public opinion surveys and election polls. Many Catholics haven’t accepted same-sex marriage as valid, but in places as different as St. Petersburg, Fla., Stockton, Calif., and Davenport, Iowa, respondents say that individuals in same-sex relationships should have pastoral care and be made to feel welcome, and children in whatever family configuration they are in deserve to be accepted and nurtured.”

You can read the full editorial from the National Catholic Reporter by clicking here. You can read Bondings 2.0‘s continuing coverage of this Synod of Bishops by accessing the ‘Synod 2014‘ category to the right or by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


German Bishop Calls for Sexual Ethics Overhaul, While U.S. Prelates Cling to Past

March 10, 2014

Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier

A German bishop has recently called for an overhaul of the Church’s sexual teachings in light of responses to the Vatican’s survey on marriage and family released last fall. Meanwhile, high-profile American prelates are holding firm to anti-LGBT teachings and exemplify why at least one columnist is calling for bishops to get on board with Pope Francis.

Bishop Stephan Ackermann of the Trier diocese was being interviewed by a German publication when he made remarks suggesting the hierarchy must rethink sexual ethics, as survey responses revealed how far church teachings are from the reality of lay Catholics’ lives. National Catholic Reporter quotes the bishop on several topics, indicative of his broader point:

“Declaring a second marriage after a divorce a perpetual mortal sin, and under no circumstances allowing remarried divorced people ever to receive the Sacraments, was not helpful, he said and added, ‘We bishops will have to make suggestions here. We must strengthen people’s sense of responsibility and then respect their decisions of conscience.’…

“As far as homosexual relationships were concerned, the church would have to appeal to people’s sense of responsibility, he continued. ‘The Christian concept of the human being emanates from the polarity of the sexes but we cannot simply say homosexuality is unnatural,’ he explained. While the church must ‘hold fast’ to the uniqueness of marriage between a man and a woman, it could not just ignore registered same-sex unions where the couples had promised to be faithful to and responsible for one another.”

Ackermann faced a divided re-action from the German hierarchy, with bishops both criticizing and affirming his call for open discussion. Last month, the episcopal conference in Germany released a report on the survey results which claimed Catholics view the hierarchy’s sexual ethics as unrealistic and merciless. A group of leading theologians released their own responses, affirming the need to rethink sexuality and relationships in their call for a ‘new paradigm.’

Also rejecting calls for reform of sexual teaching are Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and Cardinal Raymond Burke. Cordileone, who heads up the US bishops’ Committee for the Defense of Marriage, recently wrote letters supporting the State Marriage Defense Act of 2014, a federal bill. The bill was introduced by Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Randy Weber, both of Texas, and the archbishop affirmed their bill saying marriage needs “to be preserved and strengthened, not redefined.” It would force the federal government to grant marriage benefits based upon where a couple resides, and not where they were married, thereby denying same-gender couples nationwide many benefits now open to them.

In Rome, Cardinal Burke, who was recently removed from a prominent position at the Congregation of Bishops, wrote a letter in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s newspaper, affirming Pope Francis’ opposition to marriage equality. Burke had harsh words for LGBT advocates, claiming they have twisted the pope’s words, and criticized indirectly the pope’s shift in tone and in emphasis when it comes to divisive cultural topics. National Catholic Reporter reports further:

“Burke said he was prompted to write his column after a recent visit to the U.S. in which he became alarmed that so many people wanted to know whether the pope’s statements about not judging gays and his stress on mercy and welcoming everyone augured a change in church doctrine.”

Burke’s words are those of a once powerful bishop who increasingly finds himself at the margins of Pope Francis’ Vatican. Perhaps bishops, like Cordileone and Burke, who oppose LGBT equality might follow the pope’s lead more suggests John Gehring of Faith in Public Life.  In a National Catholic Reporter essay he states:

“Un-Christian behavior on the part of Christians is as old as Christianity itself. Jesus had to remind the Pharisees again and again that their prideful defense of the letter of the law led them to defile the law’s spirit of justice, love and compassion.

“Pope Francis has brought an unexpected season of renewal and hope for the Catholic Church not because he is a liberal or a conservative. He is inspiring so many because he acts like a Christian should act. Not a bad starting point for Catholic clergy and anyone who tries to follow in the footsteps of Christ.”

Not a bad start at all.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


A Handful of American Clergy Release Synod Survey Results

March 6, 2014

Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, FL

Bishops conferences from Germany to Japan are releasing reports on their surveying and consultation in preparation for this fall’s Synod on Marriage and Family Life. The opinions expressed, which reflect strong disagreement by the laity with regard to church teaching, are not a surprise to many.  What is news, however, is that we are finally hearing bishops acknowledge that much of the laity have rejected the hierarchy’s teachings on sexuality and marriage.

Absent from these recent reports was anything from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which left it to individual dioceses to collect information as they deemed appropriate. Most bishops chose to consult clergy and diocesan offices, but not even all did that much.

At least two prelates, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg and Bishop David O’Connell of Trenton, have released statements on diocesan survey results. In addition, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston spoke about the survey at a press conference. Perhaps most interesting are the responses one anonymous priest wrote which Religion News Service published.

Lynch was among the handful of American bishops actively seeking lay input for the survey. Writing on his blog, the bishop summarizes the 6,800 responses he received, and blames a “too short” timeline for hindering more outreach. Of the results, Lynch writes that they are largely from Catholics attending Mass each week and “do not represent the feelings of those who have fallen away from the practice of their faith, are angry or frustrated or feel alienated by the Church. How I wish I could have heard from them as well.” Regarding LGBT matters, Lynch continues:

“1. There was very strong support for the notion that marriage (which I believe they understood as sacramental marriage) is between one man and one woman.

“2. Having said that, it was also clear that the respondents felt that the Church needed to be better prepared to respond to the reality of same-sex marriage.  In addition, many respondents felt that the people involved in such relationships believe that the Church has turned its back on them.

“3. The respondents generally tended to suggest that the Church needed to be kinder and gentler to those who identify themselves as gay and lesbian, be less judgmental and more welcoming.

“4. Very clearly stated was the opinion that an adopted child of same-sex parents should be treated in the Church exactly the same as a child born of a traditional marriage between a man and a woman.”

These results mimic the findings from other surveys, and Lynch admits changes that are perhaps necessary must come from the universal church. Yet, what makes Lynch’s post most interesting is the pastoral initiatives he promises:

“I have made it known that I will not tolerate any discrimination or anything which smacks of the punitive to children of same-sex couples. I think all representatives of the Church’s many ministries can be kinder, gentler, more welcoming and less judgmental of those who find our praxis and preaching on marriage and family life to be at odds with their experiences…

“Finally, if the ‘choir’ is singing this anthem, imagine what we might have heard had we had the time and access to those alienated, fallen-away, hurt or frustrated. Pope Francis’ call to hightail it to the trenches, to the difficult and smelly parts of the people of God to bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ is not only a call to serve the economically impoverished but the spiritually impoverished, so often of our own making.”

Bishop David O’Connell of Trenton

In New Jersey, Bishop O’Connell included survey results in his  “State of the Diocese” report, which had been released on the diocesan website. 1,007 responses were received, mostly from lay people who were predominantly women and married. Unlike Lynch, O’Connell spent several paragraphs discrediting the respondents as lacking in knowledge of Church teaching and providing misguided responses. On LGBT matters, he writes:

“Similarly, a significant number of respondents raised questions about the Church’s position on same sex marriage, many expressing sympathy for those with a homosexual orientation…

“Although the task of reading the voluminous pages of responses to the questionnaire was arduous, it did provide a snapshot — albeit very small — into some of the trends in Catholic thinking.  What impact the questionnaire will have on the extraordinary synod itself remains to be seen.  As Bishop, I did feel that I should offer some sense of the information gleaned from my review.”

Further downplaying the synod and the survey is Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston who is also the vice-president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In his own archdiocese, responses to the survey posted online were limited, and he only reached out to established councils for input. DiNardo claimed marriage equality was not an issue Catholics in his diocese would like discussed.  Additionally, there was not strong support for reforming the teachings on divorced and remarried Catholics. National Catholic Reporter reports further on the cardinal’s attempts to curb expectations for the synod:

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston

“Asked if knew how the Vatican synod office would deal with the responses to the questionnaire from the world’s bishops, said to number in the tens of thousands of pages, DiNardo said he did not know.

” ‘I’m looking at just what we sent in, and I’m saying you multiply that by 180 dioceses in the United States, I don’t know what they’re going to do…Even if they summarized everything [by country] and sent it over, there are 152 countries.’ “

These prelates are simply admitting what most American Catholics believe about LGBT people and their relationships. Most interesting are responses published by Mark Silk of Religion News Service of an anonymous American priest, which are worth a read in their entirety. Below are a sampling of these responses, with questions included:

“b) In those cases where the Church’s teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice? If so, what are they?

“Yes there are difficulties. From Humanae Vitae forward, one driving principle behind these teachings seems to be an argument from authority. The Church says it, you must believe it, that settles it. Any questioning – even by people of faith and sufficient scholarly credentials and long years of service to the Church – has been seen as some sort of disloyalty or bad faith. However, arguments framed with this authoritarian bent may produce little formal push-back but rather create indifference even from devout Catholics…Credible teaching has to be open to question and must offer cogent and defensible reasons in order to be taken seriously…

“a) What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?

“It is hard to define the term ‘natural law’ as understood by the church. Any exploration of the historical origin of this term and its use by Catholic theologians runs into serious problems. It relies heavily on an outdated and factually erroneous understanding of the nature of reality – which is dynamic, not static. ‘Truth’ has evolved, it is not ‘perennial.’ Only God’s love is constant. Church teachings have changed and must continue to change in order for the message of Jesus Christ to make sense to new generations.

“b) Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?

“This is changing as acceptance of same-sex unions takes root in various global cultures. Natural law itself as understood by the church is not intelligible to anyone who has high school or college knowledge of physics, biology or human psychology…

“b) What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?

“Privately, among priests, religious and laity – compassion and understanding. Publicly, statements and actions that run the spectrum from the ridiculous to the scandalous. One cardinal attributes the ‘success’ of these laws to poor ‘marketing’ by the church. Another mean-spirited and theologically deficient bishop actually ‘exorcised’ the state legislature for passing a same-sex marriage bill. The Holy Father needs to extend some public discipline for statements and actions like these which seriously erode the already flagging credibility of the Catholic Church in the USA. To work against same sex marriage, church leaders have entered into ‘alliances’ with such groups as the Mormons, spent huge sums of diocesan money to alter political outcomes (i.e. state referenda), and even appointed a man of great insensitivity on this issue to head the cultural capital of Gay America: the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The cluelessness of the American hierarchy and their friends in the Vatican could not be more on display than it has been in these past few years over this issue…

“d) In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?

“The answer is clear cut: we care for the children, baptize them, love them, provide a community of caring and inclusion and try to approach the issue of their parents union with compassion, love, and respect.”

Several months remain before the Synod, and what impact these widespread consultations may have is unknown. However, we hope that bishops and clergy will respond like Bishop Lynch and begin immediately implementing pastoral changes to further create an LGBT-inclusive Church. You can read Bondings 2.0‘s continuing coverage of these results by typing ‘Synod’ in the Search box to the right.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

National Catholic Reporter, “Bishop: Synod questionnaire shows most reject teaching on contraceptives

National Catholic Reporter, “Studies of US Catholics Provide Insight on Synod Questions


Pope Francis’ Letter to All Families Hopeful Sign as Synod on Family Life Approaches

February 27, 2014

Pope Francis and the world’s cardinals in consistory at the Vatican.

Following last week’s consistory of cardinals, Pope Francis has written an open letter to families around the world asking for prayers and promising to include their voices in October’s synod on marriage and family life. There are also new details about what exactly happened during that consistory of 150 cardinals, as well as developments on how the Synod will take shape.

The letter was published Tuesday by Pope Francis as a means of further explaining  the upcoming synod, as the pope hoped to “come into your homes.” National Catholic Reporter quotes the letter as saying, in part:

” ‘This important meeting will involve all the People of God — bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful of the particular churches of the entire world — all of whom are actively participating in preparations for the meeting through practical suggestions and the crucial support of prayer”…

“Saying the synod is ‘dedicated in a special way to you, to your vocation and mission in the Church and in society; to the challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children; and the role of the family in the life of the Church,’ the pope asks to ‘pray intensely’ for its success.”

Pope Francis concluded the letter with a blessing for “every family” without distinction.

Around the same time, the pope had been meeting with cardinals for closed-door discussions on family life which included comments from the pope, a two-hour address by German Cardinal Walter Kasper, and follow-up from 43 other cardinals. Discussion was said to include the matter of divorced and remarried Catholics, marriage preparations, and John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” according to reports from the National Catholic Reporter. It seems LGBT people and their relationships were not discussed, an ambiguous sign as there were neither condemnations nor positive discourse that had been public.

Elsewhere, the synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri spoke about the overall impression he had of responses coming in from the Vatican’s questionnaire released last fall. About 80% of national bishops’ conferences and 60% of Vatican congregations had submitted their responses, as well as 700 responses from Catholic organizations globally. According to the Catholic Herald, the cardinal said in an interview:

“[T]he responses show ‘much suffering, especially by those who feel excluded or abandoned by the Church because they find themselves in a state of life that does not correspond to the Church’s doctrine and discipline’…

“By urging bishops around the world to conduct the broadest consultation possible given the brief amount of time allotted, synod officials ‘sparked a spontaneous reaction that may seem surprising, but is actually proof of how necessary it is to go out of our offices’ to where people really live, he said.

“The results compiled by the bishops’ conferences, he said, show ‘the urgency of recognising the lived reality of the people and of beginning a pastoral dialogue with those who have distanced themselves from the Church for various reasons’.”

Finally, the names of the synod’s three presidents were announced during the consistory: Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris, Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila, Cardinal Raymundo Assis of Aparecida. They will rotate chairing the synod in October, and at least one, Cardinal Vingt-Trois, has a murky record on marriage equality after warning of the violence which might erupt if France passed equal marriage rights in 2013.

You can read Bondings 2.0‘s past coverage of survey results by typing ‘Synod’ in the Search box to the right.  We will be updating you, as more reports come in.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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