Are You Better Off One Year After “Who Am I to Judge?”

July 30, 2014

Pope Francis

It has been a year since Pope Francis uttered those famous words which inspired so much hope in those Catholics who work, hope, and pray for LGBT equality and justice: “Who am I to judge?”  So, now a question for LGBT Catholics and their supporters: “Are you better off than you were one year ago?”

Spoken on his plane ride home from World Youth Day in Brazil, the pope’s rhetorical question was stated in regard to gay priests.  But, as the year has worn on, many people began to see that the attitude expressed in those words reflected a new spirit in the papacy, especially with regard to LGBT issues.

That interpretation was confirmed when just little over a month later, Pope Francis, in a remarkably candid personal interview, said that church leaders should not be so “obsessed” with “abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.”

The papacy’s new spirit was evidenced by the fact that throughout the year there seemed to be a lowering of the rhetoric that came from the Vatican in regard to same-gender marriage and LGBT people.  In Pope Francis’ statements about marriage there was a refreshing absence of references to the threat of marriage being redefined.  Indeed, a number of prelates, including Vatican officials, began speaking about the possibility of support for legalized civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Moreover, in the fall, it became public that the pope had written to Kairos, an LGBT Catholic group in Florence, Italy, in response to their letter to him.  And at the end of the year  the pope’s Jesuit parish in Rome even provided a free funeral for a homeless transgender woman when her family rejected her body.

All of this good news was magnified by the announcement in the later autumn that the pope was calling a synod of bishops to discuss marriage and family topics.  Better yet, the Vatican was encouraging bishops to survey the laity about their perspectives on this matter.  Indeed, a question about pastoral care of same-gender couples was listed as one of the issues on which the Vatican wanted lay input.

But to get back the original question:  “Are you better off than you were one year ago?”

For some, lingering question persisted throughout all the media hype surrounding Pope Francis’ approach:  Was all of this just window dressing?  Was this just a “kinder, gentler” Vatican that was still promoting the same negative message regarding LGBT people and issues?  When were the real changes going to happen? Style is one thing, but substance is another.

Over the past year, I’ve mentioned several times that I think that Pope Francis may not be ready to make big changes, but that he seems to be paving the way for such change in the future.  I still think that is true.  But, I’ve also come to think of these symbolic gestures by the pope in a new way lately.  I think that what he is trying to do is to send up some “test balloons” to see how people react to them.

I think the fact that so many bishops have spoken out in favor of civil unions or have had positive things to say about same-gender couples are proofs that the reactions have been somewhat good.  In fact, I’ve noticed that strongly negative statements about same-gender marriage now seem more the exception than the rule.

I admit, however, that American bishops have certainly not been the ones in the forefront of any positive trends.  We here in the United States still have to wait for some more positive changes in the episcopacy here.  San Francisco’s Archbishop Cordileone spoke at the March for Marriage in June, despite calls that he stay away from an event with many anti-gay sponsors.  The U.S. bishops opposed Obama’s executive order barring federal contractors from employment discrimination on the basis of sexual identity and gender expression.  Prelates like Philadelphia’s Archbishop Chaput and Springfield, Illinois’ Bishop Paprocki made some egregious statements regarding marriage.  In the U.S., we still have a long way to go in terms of better leadership on LGBT issues from our nation’s bishops.

But, of course, bishops are not the entire church.  We’ve also witnessed amazing demonstrations of LGBT support from Catholics this year, especially from younger Catholics who have had LGBT teachers fired from their schools.  We’ve seen Catholic politicians come out in strong support of marriage equality and gender identity non-discrimination.  One Illinois lawmaker even quoted Pope Francis when she expressed here support for that state’s marriage equality law.  Throughout the year, we’ve seen an incredible surge of LGBT support on the part of rank and file Catholics.  And many of them have been made more bold and optimistic because of Pope Francis’ statements and gestures.   Even non-Catholics like Edie Windsor, whose marriage equality case was successful at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 and the editors of Time magazine  and The Advocate feel more positively toward the pope.

So, we still have a long way to go, but we should pause for a moment to reflect on how far we have come.

“Are you better off than you were one year ago?”

For me, the answer is “yes!”

(What’s your answer?  Post your response to that question in the “Comments” section of this post.)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 


Two Bishops Who Don’t Seem to Understand “Who Am I to Judge?”

July 26, 2014

As we come upon the one year-anniversary of Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?” statement on July 29th , it looks like some bishops have not yet “gotten the memo” on stressing mercy and not judgment, while perhaps some others are “getting with the program.”  Today we will look at two recent negative examples from prominent U.S. prelates, while tomorrow we will look at how one gay-friendly prelate has been recognized by the pope.

The two negative examples from the U.S.:

Archbishop Charles Chaput, Philadelphia

Philadelphia Gay News  (PGN) reported on a letter that a local man received recently from Chaput in which the archbishop’s tone can only be described as snide.

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Silverman sent a copy of his letter to the archbishop, and received a response on archdiocesan letterhead and signed by Chaput, containing the following statements:

“I received your letter.

“Thanks for giving me instructions on what the Catholic Church should teach. I’m always astonished when people who aren’t believers give me those kind of instructions.

“As I am sure you know from basic logic class, an exception does not make a rule. The nature of marriage itself is about children. That’s how you and I came into this world.”

Silverman said that he assumed the archbishop surmised that he is not Catholic based on his last name.

PGN  quoted a reaction from Ken Gavin, the archdiocesan spokesperson, who would not confirm if Chaput sent the letter:

“Archbishop Chaput makes every effort to respond to all those who write to him on various topics and issues. He considers this correspondence private and would expect that individuals who write to him would respect that privacy.”

Silverman has forwarded Chaput’s letter to Pope Francis.

Did Chaput need to use such a snide tone, especially to someone who is not of his faith?  Of course, such an attitude only makes Chaput himself seem small, but others, too, besides Silverman, will be hurt by such a callous expression.

Cardinal Francis George, Chicago

Cardinal Francis George

Cardinal Francis George

Another snide example was recently offered by Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago.  In a column about religious liberty in his diocesan newspaper, George took a swipe at marriage equality proponents by saying they are “on the wrong side of nature.”   This phrase is presumably a parody of marriage equality proponents’ use of “on the wrong side of history” to describe those opposed to such measures.

George’s quotation, in context, reads:

“Americans are concerned about the economy, and rightly so. We are concerned with the loss of our place in the world, and rightly so. We should also be concerned that we are on the wrong side of what nature teaches us and therefore, at least over the long run, headed for historical failure as a society.”

George’s negative style is exemplified in one of the arguments that he uses earlier in the essay:

“What has happened to our vaunted American liberties? Except for property rights, they are all being traded off in favor of freedom of sexual expression. That ‘freedom’ has become the trump card in almost every social dispute. While the public conversation plays the game of liberal versus conservative, there is really only one issue: freedom versus tyranny, a tyranny masquerading as compassion and suppressing legally differences that seem to threaten abstract ‘equality.’ ”

Herein lies a big part of the problem with such an attitude:  George’s language reveals that he sees the question of marriage equality as being primarily about sex and not about love or relationship.  There is not only a failure to see beyond sex, but also to see beyond political reality.   In my reading of Pope Francis’ remarks of the past year, he seems more concerned about human reality than the political one.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

ChicagoPride.com:  “Cardinal Francis George: Gay marriage proponents on ‘wrong side of nature'”

 


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

 

 

 

 

 


QUOTE TO NOTE: Antonio Banderas on Homophobes and Pope Francis

June 20, 2014

computer_key_Quotation_MarksMovie star Antonio Banderas recently spoke out in support of LGBT people and about his hopes for the papacy of Pope Francis.  LatinTimes.com reported his statements:

Antonio Banderas

“To those who believe that homosexuals are sick people, I would say that the real sufferers are the homophobes. Those who judge others from an irrational and intolerant point of view are those who really have a serious problem that must be solved . In this sense, I think that homosexuals lead a much healthier life. . . .

“I think the Catholic Church more needs to pay more attention to the real needs of the people are, and hopefully the arrival of a Latin American pope will help Catholics evolve and be better connected with others.  Pope Francis helps the institution to make huge strides in this area.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Edie Windsor Is “Thrilled” with Pope Francis’ Famous Comment

June 9, 2014

 

Edie Windsor

Edie Windsor, the lesbian woman who was the plaintiff in the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, has made a statement that she is “thrilled” with Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?”

Gay Star News reported on Windsor’s comments:

‘ ‘His bully pulpit has a great deal of meaning,’ Windsor said this week in an interview with HuffPost Live.

“‘I was in Provincetown, (Massachusetts), the day the papers said the quote of the Pope as saying, “Who am I to judge?” I went around people’s tables at the breakfast saying, “Did you see this? Will you imagine this?”‘ “

Windsor was especially touched by how the pope’s comments will affect parents of LGBT people:

” ‘Right now, it thrills me,’ Windsor said of the Pope’s words. ‘I think of all the serious Catholic mothers who felt freed when he said that – free to love their kids.’ “

Windsor is both wrong and right.   While it is true that the pope’s comments will help many Catholic parents and families,  there have been many such families who have already accepted and loved their LGBT children.  The work of the Fortunate Families ministry has been supporting, instructing, and encouraging Catholic parents for over ten years now.  Indeed, as we’ve noted before, Catholic parents of LGBT people are already some of the strongest advocates for LGBT justice and equality in church and society.

Where Windsor is very right, though, is in the fact that Pope Francis’ comment, as simple and offhand as it was, can have tremendous impact on the church.  In addition to Catholic parents who may be confused about what their religion might say about LGBT people, many others in the church have been powerfully moved by the pope’s remarks.  Back in the fall of 2013, we commented on how even though his statement did not change doctrine about same-gender relationships, it does have an impact on the tone of church leaders and can strongly affect attitudes of church people, which in turn will affect practice, and in turn, again, eventually affect doctrine.

What we do hope and pray for, though, is that Pope Francis will make clearer and more explicit welcoming statements about LGBT issues, and that he will encourage some of the U.S. bishops to do likewise.   The October Vatican Synod on Marriage and Family is one step that has great potential for the pope to be more affirming.  The World Meeting of Families, sponsored by the Vatican and taking place in Philadelphia in September 2015, will also be another one.  If you are interested in joining pro-LGBT Catholic families as pilgrims to this event, click here, to see what the Equally Blessed coalition (of which New Ways Ministry is a member)  is planning.

Most importantly,  Pope Francis could do the church a great favor by speaking out right now against discriminatory employment contracts that several U.S. dioceses are enacting that negatively impact LGBT people and allies.   And, as we’ve been encouraging for months now, he needs to speak out about the enactment of laws which criminalize homosexuality, which have been legislated in several countries around the globe and contemplated by others.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related post

March 28, 2013:Catholic Activists Helped Bring Marriage Equality Case to the Supreme Court”

 


British Catholic Lesbian Leader Meets With Close Papal Advisor

May 31, 2014

Ruby Almeida and Cardinal Oswald Gracias

A British Catholic lesbian leader has met with one of Pope Francis’ most trusted advisors, and she discussed outreach to LGBT people with him, reports QueeringTheChurch.com.  

Ruby Almeida, the chair of Quest, a British Catholic LGBT organization, met with Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai, India, while she visited the country on a personal trip.  During her visit with Gracias, who is one of the eight cardinals that Pope Francis has chosen to be part of his closest advisory council, Almeida discussed LGBT experience with him, and received a very favorable response. In a report to the Quest governing committee, she writes:

“On a recent trip to India, I took  some of our new Quest leaflets when I met with a group of local lgbts. We had an in depth discussion about the reality of their lives under a colonial law that does not recognise their rights as Indian citizens. A few individuals were keen to try and set up something similar to Quest, to act as contact point for social and pastoral support for lgbts. Whilst there I was also able to organise a meeting with Cardinal Oswald Gracias who is one of the Group of Eight Cardinals to help reform the Church. I took along a young gay man who is actively involved in lgbt issues there and is also an organiser for Pride in Mumbai. ! ! The Cardinal was very welcoming and interested in the problems that Catholic lgbts face in India. He was honest enough to say that he was not aware of the difficulties and pain that they suffered as he isolated from grass roots issues and only aware of what he is informed of by his advisers. I suggested to him that if he could appoint a priest as a point of contact for the gay community, so that their needs could be addressed and a level of support could be made available. The possibility of a Mass under the banner of ‘all are welcome’ was also something in which Cardinal Gracias showed an interest, and the hope is that this could be the start of something positive for the Catholic gay community there.”

Terence Weldon, who is the editor and main contributor of QueeringTheChurch.comcommented on this encounter:

“What excites me about this meeting, is simply that it took place, and that we’ve had an attentive hearing from a man so close to the pope, and who will surely be influential in the synod on marriage and family.

“What disappoints me (but doesn’t surprise me) is that he confessed to knowing so little about the real hardships faced by ordinary gay and lesbian people, as he is ‘removed from grassroots issues.’ That is precisely the problem with the Catholic cardinals and bishops as a group  they are necessarily far removed from real life issues at the coal face, especially those concerning sex, marriage and family – and yet they continue to pontificate to the rest of us on issues of which they are largely ignorant.”

I agree with Weldon.  I think this is a wonderful and important step for the Catholic LGBT movement!  Cardinal Gracias has already shown he can be courageous about LGBT issues when last year he was India’s only religious leader to speak out against the possible re-criminalization of homosexuality in that country.  The fact that he is also so close to Pope Francis means that his opinion on these matters can have a lot of weight. In addition to being a close papal advisor, Gracias is also President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and Secretary General of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, so his influence can also be horizontal to other bishops, as well as vertical to the Vatican and Pope Francis.

And we also know that a personal encounter can move someone so much more than any theological or political argument about LGBT issues.  Almeida’s account of the meeting indicates that Gracias’ heart indeed seems to have been opened.  This is certainly an occasion for prayers of joy and thanksgiving!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Space Aliens and Exorcisms: What Are the Lessons for Catholic LGBT Advocates?

May 26, 2014

The most bizarre news stories that have come across my computer desktop in the last few weeks have to be those that have focused around space aliens and exorcisms.  Are there any lessons in these topics that Catholic advocates for LGBT people can learn?

Space aliens made headlines because of Pope Francis’ well-noted line that if Martians showed up on earth and asked to be baptized, he would do so.  Out of context, the statement sounds extremely bizarre, but in the context of the homily he was giving, the pope’s comments make some sense.  He was trying to make the point that the Spirit of God, not our human prejudices, should lead us to act.  Catholic News Service provided context for the pope’s remarks, which were given in a homily on Acts 11:1-18:

“From the very beginnings of Christianity, the pope said, church leaders and members have been tempted at times to block the Holy Spirit’s path or try to control it.

” ‘When the Lord shows us the way, who are we to say, “No, Lord, it is not prudent! No, let’s do it this way” he said. ‘Who are we to close doors?’

“Many parishes, Pope Francis said, have ushers to open the church doors and welcome people in, ‘but there has never been a ministry for those who close the doors. Never.’ “

When Gay Star News ran the story about aliens, they did so with the headline:  “Pope Francis will not marry gay couples, but will baptize aliens.”   While that is true enough, it is a little misleading, too, since the pope did not make any comment at the time about marrying gay couples.  Moreover, the Gay Star News story doesn’t even mention marriage in the body of the text.

But more importantly, it misses the point that Pope Francis’ message was actually a message of welcome, of saying the church is open for all, even those who we might think of as the most “alien” to ourselves.  To me, that is a wonderful message of welcome to Catholics who feel marginalized, such as many LGBT Catholics do.

What is also wonderful about this story is that Pope Francis’ question,”Who are we to close doors?” so beautifully echoes his famous comments about gay priests, “Who am I to judge?”  It seems that Pope Francis is building up a theme in his pontificate of cautioning people from feeling too arrogant.

The news stories about the exorcisms might be a little more complicated.  The Washington Post  ran a story about Pope Francis’ seeming interest in the reality of the devil and the rite of exorcism.  Entitled “A modern pope gets old school on the Devil,” the article notes:

“After his little more than a year atop the Throne of St. Peter, Francis’s teachings on Satan are already regarded as the most old school of any pope since at least Paul VI, whose papacy in the 1960s and 1970s fully embraced the notion of hellish forces plotting to deliver mankind unto damnation.

“Largely under the radar, theologians and Vatican insiders say, Francis has not only dwelled far more on Satan in sermons and speeches than his recent predecessors have, but also sought to rekindle the Devil’s image as a supernatural entity with the forces­ of evil at his beck and call.”

The article explores Catholic history and ideas about the devil, but where the topic becomes problematic for Catholic LGBT advocates is when it quotes a priest who is a practicing Catholic exorcist and an experience he had on an airplane:

“. . . [T]he Rev. Cesar Truqui, an exorcist based in Switzerland, recounted one experience he had aboard a Swissair flight. ‘Two lesbians,’ he said, had sat behind him on the plane. Soon afterward, he said, he felt Satan’s presence. As he silently sought to repel the evil spirit through prayer, one of the women, he said, began growling demonically and threw chocolates at his head.

“Asked how he knew the woman was possessed, he said that ‘once you hear a Satanic growl, you never forget it. It’s like smelling Margherita pizza for the first time. It’s something you never forget.’ ”

The  homophobia in such a comment makes one realize that so much of “devil talk” relies more on people’s own prejudices, and less on a belief in objective evil.

It’s not just Catholicism that runs this risk of prejudicial Satan-labeling when it comes to lesbian and gay people.  Certain Charismatic Christian groups are also involved in such activity.  Slate.com’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote an article that took a look “Inside The Horrifying World of Gay Exorcisms.”   He cites a very reliable source, credible because he experienced such an exorcism:

“Roland Stringfellow, a pastor of the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, notes that these denominations spiritualize just about everything and believe that people have a spirit for every problem. Homosexuality, to these religions, is its own discrete problem—one even more troubling than alcoholism or drug addiction. Accordingly, Charismatic congregations are eager to cast the ‘demon’ of homosexuality out of gay people through exorcism, often in public at the altar of a church.

“Stringfellow himself was subject to such an exorcism when he was in college and was still closeted.

“ ‘I was trying to get rid of my same-sex attractions,’ he told me. ‘The person at the altar yelled so everyone could hear: “Demon of homosexuality! Come out of this young man!” And he smacked me on my forehead to “slay me in the spirit.”A friend had to get me up from the altar, pick me up, and get me back to my seat, because I was absolutely mortified. My secret had now been announced, proclaimed, to all of these individuals.’ ”

Professor Mathew Schmalz, College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit school, acknowledges a belief in the reality of the Devil, but he notes that the recent rise of interest in Satan can be dangerous.  Schmalz concludes a Huffington Post article on the topic with the following concluding paragraph:

“As a Catholic, I do believe that Satan exists and that there is something both intellectually and psychologically valuable in understanding evil as an objective force or entity. But I was also always taught that Lucifer was the most beautiful of the angels — and that evil can come under the most beguiling and attractive forms. For this reason, we have to be very careful where we see the Devil. When you try to cast out demons, it’s all too easy to conjure more in the process.”

Schmalz’ caution is one that U.S. Catholic bishops should heed, especially when they ramp up their rhetoric, a la Springfield, Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki, to insinuate that marriage equality is the work of the devil.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


U.S. Catholics Stand with Nuns As Vatican Crackdown Re-Emerges

May 19, 2014

Nun Justice supporters vigil outside the US bishops conference in 2012

The Vatican’s heavy-handed investigations of U.S. women religious appeared to be fading away under Pope Francis. Critiquing the nuns for focusing too heavily on social justice, including equality for LGBT people, did not seem to fit within the new pope’s vision for the Church. Developments since late April have challenged these assumptions, leading progressive Catholics to act.

The Nun Justice Project, a coalition of church reform organizations that includes New Ways Ministry, released an open letter to Pope Francis defending the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and a petition for Catholics to sign. The letter, which you can read about in the National Catholic Reporter, says, in part:

“We write with respect and gratitude for your extraordinary leadership in our Church.

“Sadly, we also write with concern and dismay at the behavior that Cardinal Gerhard Müller recently exhibited toward women leaders of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and especially toward Dr. Elizabeth Johnson CSJ.

“Cardinal Müller’s preemptive public criticism of LCWR leadership and Dr. Johnson, one of the most beloved and respected theologians in the world, eclipsed any opportunity for public dialogue.

“This communicates that faithful Catholic female leaders are disrespected and discounted in our Church.”

The letter continues by asking Pope Francis to remove the reform mandate against LCWR and to publicly apologize to LCWR and Dr. Johnson.

The latest chapter of the controversy between the Vatican and the nuns started when Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who heads up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave a statement at the opening of meetings between Vatican officials and LCWR’s leadership that Dennis Coday, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, described as “the most direct and confrontational language since the Vatican began to rein in” American sisters in 2012. The cardinal claimed LCWR was not abiding by the mandate, including failing to have speakers at their annual assembly approved, honoring theologian Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ who had been investigated by the US bishops’ doctrinal committee (though he did not specifically name her in the statement), and promoting conscious evolution by having author Barbara Marx Hubbard address an LCWR assembly. Archbishop of Seattle J. Peter Sartain, who is overseeing the mandate’s implementation, said he agreed with Müller’s statement.

In response, LCWR’s leadership initially released a statement which said there had been respectful dialogue. A further statement affirmed their commitment to dialogue, but said meetings with the Vatican have “broken down” and “mistrust has developed.”

Meanwhile, Catholics have questioned what all this means in relation to Pope Francis who, like American nuns, has championed social justice and tried to create a more welcoming Church. NCR columnist Jamie Manson writes that Catholics must admit Pope Francis agrees with the mandate against LCWR, based on some of his recent statements about nuns and about some of the topics that Müller addressed. Commentator Phyllis Zagano seeks an “evolution of consciousness” from the Vatican, borrowing from one of the theological perspectives critiqued by Müller. Sister of Loretto Maureen Fiedler has called on the pope to intervene on behalf of the sisters. Seasoned religion journalist Ken Briggs asks the questions behind many of these pieces:

“If the pope has agreed with yet another censuring of Sister Johnson, what does that say about him and his convincing humility. And if he’s appalled by the Congregation’s treatment, why doesn’t he step in and put a stop to it?”

Lastly, The Guardian columnist Sadhbh Walshe writes:

“The really disheartening thing about the pope’s unwillingness to end the nuns’ censure – indeed, about his unwillingness to openly support them – is that his stated values are no different than the ones the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is being punished for carrying out…

“Whatever this week’s censure of nuns – who are in trouble precisely for stressing social justice issues over abortion, gay marriage and birth control – says about the pope’s dedication to his stated mission, one thing is more clear than ever: if the church continues to pressure analready-dwindling population of nuns to abandon its social justice work, Pope Francis may undermine his own agenda, just as much as some power players at the Vatican hope to undermine the nuns on and off the bus.”

There is one hopeful note about Pope Francis and LCWR, reported by David Gibson of Religion News Service, which is that Cardinal Walter Kasper, known as the “pope’s theologian” downplayed Müller’s remarks during a presentation at Fordham University. Gibson wrote:

“On Monday, Kasper told the audience that after Francis praised him by name just days after his election, ‘an old cardinal came to him and said, ‘Holy Father, you cannot do this! There are heresies in this book!’

“As Francis recounted the story to Kasper, he said, the pope smiled and added: ‘This enters in one ear and goes out the other.’

“Asked about Johnson and another feminist theologian, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, whose views have also been disputed by the hierarchy, Kasper said that he has known them both for years and added: ‘I esteem them both.’…

“He said that the criticism of Johnson ‘is not a tragedy and we will overcome,’ and he noted that St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval theologian now considered one of the greatest minds in the church, was condemned by his bishop and lived under a shadow for years.

” ‘So she is in good company!’ Kasper said of Johnson.”

Part of the Vatican’s criticisms of American women religious and LCWR in 2012 included their support for LGBT people and New Ways Ministry. We encourage you to sign the petition and spread the word about the Nun Justice Project, which you can access here.

–Bob Shine, 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.


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