Spanish Nun: Same-Gender Relationships Are a ‘Sacrament’ of God’s Love

July 21, 2014

Spain’s Sister Teresa Forcades is a well-known activist for women’s rights, political autonomy in her home country and region, and economic justice. She has been labeled “Europe’s Most Radical Nun,” and she challenges the Church as often as she challenges unjust structures in society.

This Benedictine nun is also an advocate for LGBT people, offering the following insights in an interview earlier this year. Sr. Forcades goes beyond allowing for LGBT people to express themselves sexually and have relationships to celebrate them as profound and beautiful signs of God’s love in the world:

Sr. Teresa Forcades

“The religious analysis that understands sex as something that is intended for procreation is a utilitarian view of human love and is contrary to Christian spirituality. To surrender to the mystery of an interpersonal relationship is to surrender to growing towards being an image of God, towards incarnating what God represents on earth. Upon entering, you receive a gift, that this union could engender a child, but that’s perfectly compatible with you being able to be responsible and use contraception when you please…

“So I think that homosexual love is perfectly understandable to the church, because it has what is essential: it’s not having children, but an open intimacy to an interpersonal relationship that includes respect for the integrity of the other. Two people who love one another, desire one another, and respect one another are giving testimony: this is the sacrament, a visible sign — like baptism — that’s saying, ‘This creature is accepted in this community as any other.’ Trinitarian theology says that all sacraments are an embodiment of God’s love. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are different but they are not complementary. Love is not necessity; it’s not when I need you because I’m missing something. It can’t be utilitarian love.”

A tip of the hat to Michael Bayly who writes on on Catholic LGBT issues at The Wild Reed for drawing attention to Sr. Forcades’ powerful words. She has long been a proponent of LGBT rights, and a recent profile in The Guardian notes of Sr. Teresa:

“Before she took her vows in 1997, Forcades tested the other nuns by giving a talk on a group of gay Catholics who celebrated their sexuality as a gift from God. She was humbled by the nuns’ humane reaction and, so, joined them.”

In March, Sr. Teresa visited Baltimore and lectured on a variety of justice-related issues. She views change in the Catholic Church as many do, a bottom-up effort, saying:

“When I talk about church, we talk about how the Gospel inspired us. There are many kinds of church, and I identify with the people at the bottom, at the base. Many people have a hope that the Catholic church might change because of the pope, but if you look at history, change comes from bottom up, not from top down.”

You can read more about that visit in the National Catholic Reporter or read a profile of Sr. Teresa in The Guardian by clicking here.

From her lips to the bishops’ ears! But, in the meantime, it is those same-gender couples living out this sacrament of God’s love who are not waiting for change in the Church, but creating it from the bottom up. Gratitude that Sr. Teresa is willing to speak that truth to power, as she so often does!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Are Vatican Officials ‘Feeling with the Church’?

July 8, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fellow blogger Ken Briggs writes in a similar vein:

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

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

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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”

 


British Cardinal Offers New Perspective on Context of Sexuality

June 17, 2014

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

When Britain’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols addressed the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict last week, the standard news coverage of the event highlighted his description of  war-time rape and sexual degradation as “a most fundamental denial of human dignity and a most gross breach of a person’s human rights.”

But another passage from his talk at the London meeting did not get as much exposure, though I think it is much more significant and newsworthy. In his speech,  Nichols offered a different definition of sexuality than is usually promoted by Catholic bishops.  During his talk he stated (emphasis added):

“Human sexuality is a strong and vital component of our humanity and of each person’s nature. The exercise of that sexuality, in sexual relations, is something that touches the deepest aspect of our identity and personhood. A fundamental aspect of the Church’s teaching about sex is that sexual acts must always take place within the context of authentic freedom. This is because, properly understood, human sexuality has the capacity to unite two people, body and spirit, at the deepest level, in a completeness of self-giving that has within it the call to a permanent commitment between them and which, of its nature is open towards the creation of new human life. What is most relevant in this teaching for us today is that there is no place in sexual relations for brutality, aggression or any kind of de-humanisation of a person.”

(The entire text of his talk can be read or listened to on the Vatican Radio website. A hat-tip to Martin Pendergast, longtime Catholic LGBT advocate in London, for alerting me to this section of the speech.)

What I find significant here is that Nichols substitutes “authentic freedom” for “Christian marriage,” which is the usual way that bishops describe the required moral context of sexual acts.

And while he includes procreation as one of the capacities of sexuality, it is not among the primary ones that he listed.  Instead, the primary capacities are the uniting of persons, the deep intimate bond, the act of self-giving, and the quality of permanent commitment.

His description is significant because it echoes what many contemporary Catholic theologians have been saying about sexuality for many years now: that the traditional emphases on marriage and procreation are not sufficient to ethically describe sexual activity and sexual relationships.

Sister Margaret Farley, RSM

Specifically, many of the concepts he mentions can be found in the work of Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, a Catholic theologian, whose book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, lays out a number of criteria for ethical sexual relationships.  Among the concepts she describes are: do no unjust harm, free consent, mutuality, equality, commitment, fruitfulness, social justice.  (For a fuller description of these concepts, click here.)

Though Sister Farley’s sexual ethics were censured by the Vatican two years ago, it seems that her ideas are filtering up into hierarchical discourse

It is not surprising that we would find these more contemporary theological views about sexuality in discourse from Cardinal Nichols.  Just last week, we reported on how the British bishops’ conference which he leads has made some enlightened remarks concerning transgender people and civil unions.

Almost three years ago, Cardinal Nichols was the first Catholic prelate to call for civil unions for same-gender couples. His  call for such recognition set off a number of other bishops and church leaders following suit.  You can find a comprehensive list of such statements here.

Since his statement differs so greatly than what is usually said or expected from a member of the Catholic hierarchy, I can’t help but assume that it was indeed deliberate on his part to make this distinct point.  His statement may signal a growing awareness on the part of some hierarchical leaders that a new Catholic vision for sexuality is badly needed.

–Francis DeBernardo

 


On Being a Lesbian, Married to a Man, and Catholic

June 5, 2014

Cristina Traina

Cristina Traina is a Catholic professor of religion at Northwestern University, just outside of Chicago.  She is also a lesbian. She is also the wife of a male Lutheran minister and the mother of three grown children who have all become Methodists.

In an interview with the La Grange Sun-Times recently, Traina spoke of her faith life, her affective life, and the life of the Catholic Church.

Though her family and faith situation may not be run-of-the-mill (but then again, whose is?) Traina has experienced many of the familiar challenges that many Catholic LGBT people and allies experience.  For example, there’s the age-old question of being simultaneously Catholic and LGBT.

Q: You identify as gay—how did your struggle with sexuality overlap with your struggle with religion? Because especially the Roman Catholic Church has very strong opinions about being gay.

Traina: Interestingly, I didn’t have a big religious struggle about it. One of the reasons is that I grew up in a very strangely wonderful Catholic community as a child …

In my opinion, the church was the community. The church was the people that were gathered around, celebrating Mass, interested in each other’s lives, helping each others children grow up, dealing with each other’s griefs. So, when I decided to come out, my church was still my community.

Questions like that for Traina also go beyond the obvious “How can you be gay and Catholic?” since she identifies as a lesbian and remains married to a man:

Q: . . .[H]ow can you be gay, Catholic and married to a man? I think that’s my essential question.

Traina: Ah. Well, gay, Catholic and married to a man … It’s because we had a long, wonderful relationship all the way along. We’ve raised children together, we’re very close to each other, and we’re big promoters of each other’s worlds and activities. And there’s no way that I ever wanted to be separated from him.

It wasn’t the question of, “Oh gee, I want a divorce.” It is how do I manage to be a lesbian and be married to a man? Right? And that has been the journey, but it has been important for me to surround myself with really wonderful women who are of various sexual orientations. And who are wonderful supports. And that has been just key.

But reconciling faith and sexuality is also a different question than why one remains within a faith tradition.  Traina’s thoughts are instructive:

Q: But then why stay in the Roman Catholic Church? Because there are plenty of other denominations who are more understanding.

Traina: That is what my kids wonder as well. “Mom, why are you Catholic?” Right? This is the question.

After a certain point, you look around, and you say, “Well, they don’t really need an ethicist who thinks it’s OK to be gay in the Episcopalian Church. Well they might in Nigeria, but they don’t in the United States. So I hang out here, for that reason.

Q: So is it changed from within? Is that what you are advocating?

Traina: Yes, I am advocating change from within because, change from without generally ends up being fracture. Right? And there are a lot of things that I really value about my religious tradition, which I wouldn’t want to lose.

Long-time readers of Bondings 2.0 may remember Traina’s involvement in the Illinois Catholics for Marriage Equality movement last fall when that state was debating, and eventually passed, a marriage equality law.  We featured an op-ed she wrote on the proposed law.   In the recent interview, Traina reflects on the issue of marriage equality:

Q: Regarding homosexuality, Pope Francis was recently reported as saying, “Who am I to judge?” What is your take on that? What is the direction we are going?

Traina: Well, we have to remember that when we are talking about the Roman Catholic Church’s direction, we need to take our vitamins and think in terms of centuries.

Roman Catholicism has expanded its understanding of human rights, significantly, over a long period of time. Right? And the right to marry is one of the civil rights that we are talking about, and it is also begun to understand sexuality differently over time.

And so it is pretty likely that very soon Roman Catholics will be able to accept and deal with the idea of same sex marriage, because same sex marriage, is after all, being proposed as a civil function, not a religious one. It’s going to take Roman Catholics a very long time to get to the point of accepting same sex marriage as a sacrament.

For me, Traina’s story illustrates the wonderful diversity and complexity of love, sexuality, and commitment, as well as some of the many and varied reasons that people remain Catholic even though it sometimes seems that doing so is an impossible struggle.

You can watch the full interview of Traina below:

 

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


What’s So Doctrinal About Gender Normative Clothing?

May 20, 2014

Jessica Urbina, left, with a friend for senior portraits

A San Francisco high school had removed a student’s yearbook photo because the young woman wore a tuxedo for her senior photos. Though the high school is now apologizing and reversing its decision, the punitive action raises the question of how strongly Catholic authorities will enforce gender norms that are no longer relevant.  This incident also shows the reconciliatory power of dialgoue.

Jessica Urbina is graduating from Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep this year and, like many seniors, had formal photos done for the yearbook. Last week, administrators announced they would not allow Urbina’s photo to be published because she did not wear a dress, as mandated by the archdiocese.

In response, students have worn bowties to class as a protest, and many have posted to social media outlets using the hashtag #JessicasTux with supportive messages and photos of themselves wearing ties. Call to Action, a Catholic justice organization, encouraged Catholics to join the students’ protests and submit their own pictures on Twitter.

Yesterday, news broke that Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep will in fact be including Urbina’s picture and is apologizing for its initial decision to exclude her. In a public letter, President John Scudder, Jr. and Principal Gary Cannon explained this recent development as the result of conversations with the Urbina family. They wrote:

 “After that meeting, it was clear that the school had not adequately communicated to Jessica or her parents the decision made several months ago regarding senior portraits. As in past school years, any senior who sat for senior portraits but did not conform to the dress code did not have a portrait included in the portrait pages of the yearbook. Given the nature of this specific case, however, we believe that decision, while conforming with our policy, was wrong. Moreover, the lack of communication with the family led to even greater anguish as it proved unexpected to the student and family as it came at the very end of the school year.”

The administrators also announced the school’s policy change about senior portraits, stating:

“We agree with our students who showed solidarity with their classmate that the current policy regarding senior portraits is not adequate to meet the needs of our families or our mission. We will involve our students, families, and Board in crafting the updated policy…

“While we cannot undo the impact of this decision, the lack of adequate communication, nor the impact of the last few days, we can move forward in a manner that we believe represents the best of our school community.”

Moving forward will mean including Urbina’s photo in her tuxedo in venues where other senior portraits are used. The school also offered to reprint the yearbooks, but the Urbina family suggested alternatives for including Jessica’s photo, so as not to delay students from receiving the yearbooks now. Most striking is the conciliatory and reflective conclusion to the letter:

“While we believe SHC to be a safe and supportive environment for all, this situation has reminded us that we still have much growth to achieve. While many gay and lesbian alumni and students have commented on the inclusive, supportive aspect of our school community, others have remarked on some prejudice that still exists. As a school, we must better learn how to support our students who are navigating issues of gender identity.

“Many people suggest that the past few days have been deeply revealing about our school community. We agree. We are an imperfect community that can and does fail. We are a community that is open to self-reflection, and to the constructive criticism and leadership of its students, as well as to the criticism from members of our broader community. We are a community that strives to grow, improve and do what is right. We are a community that sees, in all situations, an opportunity to learn. While we would have preferred to have this learning be less public than the current situation, especially for the impact it has on individuals and families, we are a community open to sharing our struggles and joys with the wider world so that we can all learn from each other, whether from successes or failures. More than 300 years ago, St. John Baptist de La Salle, one of our founders, said that our students will learn far more from us by our actions than by the words we speak. This is one of those moments…

“In our final words to our student, Jessica, and all our other LGBT students, past, present and future, we repeat the final words of the [US] Bishops [in their pastoral letter, Always Our Children]. ‘In you God’s love is revealed. You are always our children.’ “

While this story had a positive ending, we still need to address the question of why this incident, and the harm done to Jessica, occurred at all. The Archdiocese of San Francisco mandating that women wear dresses for senior photos is not based in Church teaching, nor does it emerge from wise pastoral practice. It is silly and outdated, and nothing more than a naked attempt by the hierarchy to suppress contemporary understandings of gender.

Let’s hope that Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep’s example, both in how damaging their mistake was and in their willingness to learn through the process of dialogue,will inform other Church institutions such that they will avoid future incidents.

-Bob Shine, 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


Why Do LGBT People Feel the Catholic Church Hates Them?

May 18, 2014

Yesterday, May 17th, was the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.  In Italy, at least 11 of the prayer vigils for this day to show opposition to oppression against sexual and gender minorities were hosted by Catholic parishes, including at least one basilica.   In this most Catholic of nations, it seems, some people take seriously the church’s teaching condemning discrimination, prejudice, and violence against LGBT people.

Catholic support for this important church teaching is relatively minor among the Catholic hierarchy here in the United States.  Our leaders here tend to ignore the fact that the church teaches that lesbian and gay people must be accepted with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”  While they may often express that sentiment in words, they are less likely to take any action whatsoever to show that they truly accept that teaching.  Instead, they tend to focus only on the church’s sexual teachings.

Fr. James Martin, SJ

Jesuit Father James Martin, a well-known writer and lecturer, examines this dilemma in a column in America magazine this week.  His essay is well-worth reading in full, and you can do so by clicking here. In this blog post,  I will comment on some excerpts from the essay.

Martin tries to explain to his audience why so many gay and lesbian people feel that the Catholic Church hates them.  He states:

“Let me suggest a reason beyond the fact that many gays and lesbians disagree with church teaching on homosexual acts: only rarely do opponents of same-sex marriage say something positive about gays and lesbians without appending a warning against sin. The language surrounding gay and lesbian Catholics is framed primarily, sometimes exclusively, in terms of sin. For example, ‘We love our gay brothers and sisters—but they must not engage in sexual activity.’ Is any other group of Catholics addressed in this fashion? Imagine someone beginning a parish talk on married life by saying, ‘We love married Catholics—but adultery is a mortal sin.’ With no other group does the church so reflexively link the group’s identity to sin.”

I agree with him, and I would go even a little further:  no other group in the church is discussed primarily in terms of sex as gay and lesbian people are.  I would imagine that in terms of  sheer power of sexual urgency and desire, adolescents and young adults are probably the people most interested in sexual activity out of the entire human population.  Yet, church leaders do not always refer to sexual temptation when they discuss or welcome young people to the church, as they do with gay and lesbian people.  The focus of youth ministry in dioceses and parishes is not on sexual behavior, as some dioceses and parishes would like gay and lesbian outreach to be.  Young people’s concerns are not shunned or ignored because it might seem to give the indication that church leaders are approving of non-marital sexual activity, yet that is routinely done to gay and lesbian people.  Indeed, the highest office of the church offers World Youth Day to let young people know that they are welcome in the Church.  Where is World LGBT Day?

In addition to being thought of primarily as sinners, lesbian and gay people resent that they are thought of primarily as sexual, as if no other aspect of their life mattered, and as if that was the primary factor defining their lives.

Martin offers the gospel story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) as a model for how church leaders can approach gay and lesbian people.  He analyzes the important features of this story about Jesus welcoming a much reviled tax collector:

“Notice that Jesus shows love for Zacchaeus even before the man has promised to do anything. That is, Jesus loves him first, by offering to dine with him, a powerful sign of welcome in that time. Jesus does not say, ‘Zacchaeus, you’re a sinful person because you’re gouging people with taxes collected for the oppressive occupying power, but even though you’re a public sinner, I love you anyway.’ He simply loves him—first.

“The story of Zacchaeus illustrates an important difference between the ministry of John the Baptist and of Jesus. For John the Baptist, conversion came first, then communion. First you repent of your sins; then you are welcomed into the community. For Jesus, the opposite was more often the case; first, Jesus welcomed the person, and conversion followed. It’s not loving the sinner; it’s simply loving.

“This is the kind of welcome that LGBT people want from the church.  It is the kind of welcome that all people want from the church.  LGBT people want this kind of welcome not because they are a special category of sinners, but, because they are, like most people, average, garden-variety sinners.  Pope Francis illustrated this profound human reality last September during his groundbreaking interview with a Jesuit magazine.  When asked who Jorge Bergoglio is, the pope answered, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

Martin concludes with some tips about how the church can show its love for gay and lesbian people more deeply:

“First, it would mean listening to their experiences—all their experiences, what their lives are like as a whole. Second, it would mean valuing their contributions to the church. Where would our church be without gays and lesbians—as music ministers, pastoral ministers, teachers, clergy and religious, hospital chaplains and directors of religious education? Infinitely poorer. Finally, it would mean publicly acknowledging their individual contributions: that is, saying that a particular gay Catholic has made a difference in our parish, our school, our diocese. This would help remind people that they are an important part of the body of Christ.”

While, yes, I agree with Martin here, there is also a sense of regret upon reading the passage because for the past two years we have been witnessing dismissals of LGBT people from church employment, a total devaluing of their gifts and personhood.  Yes, this type of welcome is urgently needed, not just for a positive message, but to correct the terribly negative message that firings have sent.

It’s important, too, that LGBT people’s spiritual gifts are also acknowledged and affirmed. The particular journeys that LGBT people go on to accept, affirm, and announce their identities to others often results in incredible spiritual gifts that are not as readily attained by others.  For instance, their journeys often provide them with a strong sense about telling the truth, a deep reservoir of courage to  stand up to fear and rejection, a profound sense of God’s love, and a new respect for the primacy of their consciences. Amazing gifts that they can offer to the rest of the church!

As Fr. Martin concludes, they are indeed an important part of the Body of Christ.

–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.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 965 other followers