Translation Issues Cause Mystery at Synod, While Austrian Cardinal Speaks Clearly About a “Saintly” Same-Gender Couple

October 16, 2014

More news broke today about the way the bishops at the synod are discussing lesbian and gay people in their relatio document, the working text they are using to develop a final set of recommendations.  At the same time, an Austrian cardinal, who has spoken in support of lesbian and gay couples before, gave a ringing endorsement of one such couple that he knew personally.

A new English translation has been issued which changes some of the language that had been issued earlier in the week.  You can read the new translation by clicking here.  (Relevant comparisons of the two translations appear at the end of this post.)

The National Catholic Reporter pointed out some discrepancy and vagueness concerning the new translation.  It seems only the English version of the document was changed, not the original Italian:

“. . . [T]he Italian version of the document from the meeting, known as a synod, remains the same and does not reflect the changes in the English translation.

“Responding to questions from reporters about the change at a briefing Thursday, Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi emphasized that the official language of the synod is Italian and ‘we have said always that the text to refer to is the Italian.’

“Pressed about who had asked for the change and why the English version no longer matches the Italian, Lombardi said the Vatican press office released the revision at the request of the Vatican’s office for the Synod of Bishops and would not provide further details.”

While some of the changes seem to be neutral semantic choices, others may indicate that the bishops want to indicate a different direction.  This second category is important to examine.

For example, in terms of gay and lesbian people’s participation in parish life, the old translation talked of “welcoming these people,” while the new translation speaks of “providing for their needs.”  This could be considered not a minor change, except for the fact that it leaves open the question of who will decide what the “needs” of lesbian and gay people are.   In some cases, lesbian and gay people have gone to church to develop their relationship with God and others, and they have found that parish staff determines that their “needs” are to be supported in celibacy.  Such differing perspectives are problematic.

Another possibly substantial change is in paragraph 51, where the bishops stated that same-gender commitments could not be viewed as equal to heterosexual ones.  In the old translation, they described such commitments as “matrimony,’ and in the new translation, they describe them as “marriage.”  Since “matrimony” is generally used to describe a sacramental union and “marriage” can describe either a sacramental or civil union, it would seem that this change is intended to include the bishops’ opposition to civil marriages for lesbian and gay couples, as well as sacramental ones.

The final possibly substantial changes are in paragraph 52, in which gay and lesbian couples are discussed.  The original translation defined  the members of a couple as “partners,”  and the new translation refers to them as “these persons.”  It seems that the bishops may be reluctant to acknowledge the partnership that exists between the members of a couple.

When describing the support members of a couple offer each other, the first translation described it as “precious,” while the new translation describes it as “valuable.”  Perhaps the bishops felt the first choice was too tender, though an equal argument could be made that changing it to “valuable” strengthens the bond of the relationship.

It is hard to judge these changes since no reason was offered for why new the new word choices were made.  I still think that the relatio offers a more positive welcome to lesbian and gay people than such a high level Catholic Church body has ever made.  The substance of such a welcome, for the most part, remains in tact.

It’s also important to remember that the relatio is an interim document. Translation changes are not as important as whatever possible changes may be coming in the final, definitive synod statement, which should be released some time on Saturday, according to press reports.

The fact remains that the original translation (and to some extent this second one, too) shows that there are many voices in the synod which want a more welcoming stances in the Church towards lesbian and gay people and couples.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn

In the same National Catholic Reporter article which reported on the translation changes,  one such voice came through loud and clear. a statement by Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schonborn at a press conference offered some hope that voices which recognize the goodness and holiness of lesbian and gay couples do exist in the synod.  Here’s the relevant passage from the article:

Although Monday’s document re-emphasizes church teaching against same-sex marriage, it also asks blunt questions about how the wider church treats gay people and if it is offering space for them in the community.

Asked about that change during the Vatican press briefing Thursday — specifically if it meant the church no longer holds that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” — Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said, “The basic principle is that we first look at the person and not the sexual orientation.”

“Every human person has a dignity beyond any other question,” said Schönborn, who is representing the Austrian bishops at the synod. “This does not mean and certainly will not mean that the church can say the respect for every human person means the respect for every human behavior.”

He said he thinks “the church will … always maintain that the fundamental gift of God’s creation is difference and relation between man and woman,” the cardinal also said he knows a same-sex couple in Austria that “are marvelous human persons.”

One of the partners in the couple, he said, became severely ill, and the other partner cared for them. The care, Schönborn said, “was saintly. Full stop.”

To me, Schonborn’s avoidance of discussing “intrinsically disordered” indicates that he recognizes this term as not useful.  His discussion of the “basic principle” of accepting the person indicates that someone’s sexual orientation is not an issue for him.  And though he supports marriage as a heterosexual-only institution, he is able to praise, in the highest terms, the love that exists between two men or two women.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s a major step.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Related articles

Al-Jazeera: “Vatican waters down ‘welcome note’ to gays”

Huffington Post: Now The English Speaking Catholic Church Will ‘Provide for Homosexuals’ Not Welcome Them”


Comparison of Translations

The relevant passages of the two translations are reproduced for you here, juxtaposing the old translation with the new one. The first paragraph of each pair is the version that was released Monday.  The second paragraph of each pair, in italics, is the version released on Thursday, with changes marked in boldface italics.

50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing [...] them [...] a place of fellowship in our communities? Oftentimes, they want to encounter a Church which offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of this, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

51. The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.

51. The question of homosexuality requires serious reflection on how to devise realistic approaches to affective growth, human development and maturation in the Gospel, while integrating the sexual aspect, all of which constitute an important educative challenge. Moreover, the Church affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same level as marriage between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that the pastor’s outlook be pressured or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations based on gender ideology.

52. Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.
52. Without denying the moral problems associated with homosexual unions, there are instances where mutual assistance to the point of sacrifice is a valuable support in the life of these persons. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to [...] children who live with same-sex couples and stresses that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.

Catholics: Go Purple Today for #SpiritDay in Support of LGBT Youth!

October 16, 2014

SpiritDay13_Graphic_FinalToday, millions will ‘go purple’ to support LGBT youth and take a stand against all-too-prevalent bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  They’ll be wearing purple and using purple on social media as a way to show that they are supporting #Spirit Day, an annual event sponsored by GLAAD, and endorsed by New Ways Ministry and many other organizations. Catholics have actively participated in past years, impelled by their faith to protect some of the most vulnerable in this world — and I hope you’ll join (again) today!

Bullying among youth is always wrong, and worse still when LGBT teens and young adults are targeted because they often suffer from in person and online harassment at greatly elevated levels. Bullying, and the causative stigmas and phobias which it produces, leads LGBT youth to have higher rates of substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide.

Feeling excluded from one’s faith community or internalizing religious-based discrimination by church authorities can compound these problems. That is why Catholic participation as visible witnesses to a more loving and inclusive church are so important. As Fr. James Martin commented on #SpiritDay in past years, “This should be a no-brainer for Catholics, who are called by Christ to support those who suffer or struggle in any way, particularly those on the margins…You shall love your LGBT neighbor as yourself.

How can Catholics participate in #SpiritDay? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Go Purple: Wear purple today and change your social media pictures through GLAAD’s website, available here.
  2. Spread the Word: Engage those you encounter in a conversation about why you, as a Catholic LGBT advocate, are participating today.
  3. Use the hashtag #SpiritDay on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook to make your support of LGBT youth more public.
  4. Educate Yourself: Read more about issues impacting LGBT youth, such as suicide, bullying, and homelessness. Bondings 2.0 offers the following posts as a start:
  5. Reach Out to a Youth You Know: Send a message to an LGBT youth in your life to let him/her know of your love and support, especially because you are Catholic.

I close with a video posted at Young Adult Catholics. It is from an Irish priest, Fr. Donal Godfrey, who speaks about the suicide of his gay friend, a reminder of both why #SpiritDay is so necessary and why Catholics must continue our efforts for a just and inclusive church. You can watch the video below or by clicking here.

For more information on #SpiritDay, which is a project of GLAAD, visit their website at

Go purple!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Did the Synod Really Backtrack on Its Positive Statements? Not Quite.

October 15, 2014

Following the positive reception that the Synod’s relatio document, its mid-term report, received in the global media over the past two days, a South African cardinal is saying that the document has been misunderstood.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier

The National Catholic Reporter noted the remarks of Durban’s Cardinal Wilfrid Napier:

“One of the prelates participating in the Synod of Bishops on the family has sharply criticized the landmark document the meeting released Monday, saying its message of openness to modern society has put the prelates in ‘a position that is virtually irredeemable.

” ‘The message has gone out: This is what the synod is saying, this is what the Catholic church is saying,’ South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier said at a Vatican press conference Tuesday.

” ‘And it’s not what we’re saying at all,’ Napier said. ‘No matter how we try correcting that … there’s no way of retrieving it.’

” ‘The message has gone out and it’s not a true message,’ he continued. ‘Whatever we say hereafter is going to be as if we’re doing some damage control.’ “

The cardinal was commenting on the fact that the relatio is only an interim report, which will continue to be debated during the coming week.  And, even at that, nothing from it will be definitive since this extraordinary synod is only preliminary to the ordinary synod which will occur in October 2015.   The relatio is only a discussion of what has been said in the synod so far.

But, this qualification doesn’t mean that the relatio isn’t good news.  For instance, Napier himself seemed to backtrack from these seemingly backtracking comments.  The National Catholic Reporter stated:

“Speaking later at the Vatican press conference, Napier seemed to back away from his criticism. Asked if he would want the meeting to rescind the document, he responded: ‘That’s rather radical, I think, because the relatio actually has a lot of very good, very good things.’

” ‘It would be like saying, “Let’s take back the words that the synod fathers used in the synod hall,” he said. ‘A lot of it is what was actually said.’

” ‘Some of the … dissatisfaction is that individual things that [were] said by individuals … are put in here as if they really do reflect the feeling of the whole synod,’ the cardinal continued.”

And two Catholic LGBT leaders in the U.S. offered reasons to still consider the relatio  as good news. reported:

” ‘I actually don’t think this is as much of a backtrack as we usually see!’ said Marianne Duddy-Burke, head of the gay rights group Dignity USA.

” ‘I think that response to this report was swift and intense, and I’m sure many bishops want to be sure people aren’t reading more into it than is there,’ she continued. ‘However, it is undeniable that there has never been any Vatican document that made positive, respectful statements about same-sex relationships, so that is an undeniable breakthrough.’

“Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, echoed that sentiment.

“‘Regardless of the fact that this is a working document, it is still significant in that it reveals a strong current of affirmative attitudes at high levels in the church towards lesbian and gay people,’ he said.”

In a second news articleThe National Catholic Reporter noted that the debate about the relatio has already begun:

“. . . 41 prelates at the synod made speeches about the text [of the relatio], suggesting additions or changes. Unlike previous synods, the Vatican is not releasing the texts of the speeches made by the prelates.

“According to an unofficial Vatican summary of those remarks, released Tuesday, the prelates praised Monday’s document, but also raised some concerns.”  [You can read the full text of the summary by clicking here.]

The summary of the topic of homosexuality stated:

“In relation to homosexuals, moreover, the need for welcome was highlighted, but with the just produced, so that the impression of a positive evaluation of such a tendency on the part of the Church is not created. The same care was advised with regard to cohabitation.”

So much is yet to be discussed by the synod, but with evidence that there are voices in that body which support positive changes regarding LGBT issues, as well as other marriage and family topics, is reason to give hope.   At the very least, it means that we still have representatives on the inside working for a more inclusive church for LGBT people, which means there will very likely be some steps forward.  So, we can keep hoping, but we still should keep working and praying.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


SYNOD: Catholics, Media Respond to Bishops’ Report Calling it “Revolutionary” & a “Pastoral Earthquake”

October 14, 2014
Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 8.07.31 PM

Tweet from @JoshJMac of @NCRonline

Revolutionary earthquake or unofficial report? This question about the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops’ relatio post disceptationem, or mid-term report, released yesterday is generating commentary from all quarters of the Catholic Church and media.

Bondings 2.0 offers a sampling below, including links for further reading accompanying each quote.

Joshua McElwee, Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, has provided quality coverage of the proceedings and you can read his reports on the relatio here and here. On Twitter, McElwee also commented:

“Reading this #Synod14 document, I don’t know what to say. It feels like a whole new church, a whole new tone, a whole new posture. Wow.”

Fr. James Martin

Fr. James Martin

Jesuit Fr. James Martin, who strongly condemned Catholic fear and hatred of LGBT people as “scandalous and sinful” last week, writes about the “revolutionary change” happening in the relatio. Stating on Twitter that similar statements about gay people and their relationships would have led to his silencing only five years ago, he adds at America:

“This is something that even a few years ago would have been unthinkable, from even the most open-minded of prelates–that is, a statement of outright praise for the contribution of gays and lesbians, with no caveat and no reflexive mention of sin…That any church document would praise same-sex “partners” in any way (and even use the word “partners”) is astonishing…Nowhere in the document are such terms as “intrinsically disordered,” “objectively disordered,” or even the idea of “disinterested friendships” among gays and lesbians, which was used just recently…

“Clearly Pope Francis’s call for openness at the beginning of the Synod has allowed the bishops to listen carefully, to speak their minds and to be open to new ways of thinking.  As was the case at the Second Vatican Council, the participants may have gone into this Synod not expecting much openness or change, but the Holy Spirit is afoot.”

John Thavis

Vatican journalist John Thavis also highlights just how different this document is by calling the relatio a “pastoral earthquake” that comes after a series of tremors. He continues:

“The document clearly reflects Pope Francis’ desire to adopt a more merciful pastoral approach on marriage and family issues. It is subject to revisions by the bishops this week, and in its final form will be used as part of a church-wide reflection leading to the second synod session in October 2015.”

Terence Weldon

Terence Weldon

Terence Weldon of Queering the Church observes that the document is significant for what it fails to mention as much as for what is mentioned, writing:

“It now seems possible that the anticipated change could be substantially greater than most observers had anticipated. Consider not only the specific words in the text above, but also what was NOT said. For example, it is stated that the Church cannot accept gay marriage, but there is no condemnation of civil unions, or of same – sex relationships in general, nor is gay marriage listed in the opening description of threats to the family.”

Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo

New Ways Ministry executive director Francis DeBernardo writes at CNN:

“Quite simply, this is a total reversal of earlier church statements that labelled such an orientation as ‘objectively disordered,’ and which viewed gay and lesbian people in faith communities as problems and suspect persons…Although this document does not go as far as I and many others would like, I think it is important to remember that doctrinal change in the church starts with a change in language and tone, which leads to a change in pastoral attitudes and practices, which eventually leads to doctrine.

“This call to dialogue has been absent in church discussions of sexuality for way too long. It presents the hope that future changes that are even more welcoming and accepting of lesbian and gay people and their families can develop down the road.  Once church leaders engage in dialogue with lesbian and gay Catholics, I am confident that these leaders will see the deep faith, love, and witness to the gospel that is active in their lives and loves…I hope that local bishops and pastors will respond to these challenges with new ways of welcome and acceptance.”

Equally Blessed LogoEqually Blessed, a coalition of Fortunate Families, DignityUSA, Call to Action, and New Ways Ministry that advocates for LGBT justice and equality in the church, said in a statement:

“We are thrilled that the synod is recognizing what Catholics in the pews have long known: that LGBT individuals are a sacred part of our parish communities and bring immeasurable gifts to the church. We hope these words from the synod will inspire the US Bishops to celebrate the contributions LGBT people make to Catholic schools, hospitals and parishes. In recent years, dozens of dedicated Catholic employees in the United States have been fired because of their gender identity, sexual orientation or marital status. We pray that these strong words from the synod will make these witch hunts a thing of the past, and will encourage Catholic dioceses and institutions to more fully celebrate the unique gifts LGBT employees bring to the workplace.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke

DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke noted how far the synod leaders have come since they first issued documents about the meeting in the past year:

“The tone in this midterm report is remarkably different from preliminary documents prior to the Extraordinary Synod. Those were marked by a sense of frustration with how Church teachings were not being well-received or followed in today’s world. This report has more of a sense of humility, and an emphasis on meeting people where they are at. It is much more pastoral.”

Linda Karle-Nelson

Catholic LGBT advocate Linda Karle-Nelson, who has a gay son, expressed her excitement to the Detroit Free Press, citing Pope Francis as the catalyst for this shifting tone:

“It’s all the result of this pope…If he hadn’t come in, I don’t think this would have happened…He’s made it possible for people to start thinking in a new way…This is an answer to a million prayers. Nothing like we ever thought we would hear…It’s such a 180 degrees from what we hear from the Catholic bishops in the United States. This is going to bring them up short and they’re going to have to start thinking in a new way.”

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter notes that the USCCB made progress in recognizing the dignity of lesbian and gay people in its 1997 document, Always Our Children, and he noted:

“Then, it seemed like the conference took two steps – maybe a dozen steps – back from their own document in the past decade or so as the shape of the conference changed. In any event, the times they are a changin’ and it feels great.”

Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese offers a helpful summary of the document, noting especially the relatio‘s positive and engaging tone, of which he writes:

“Listening, accompanying, respecting, valuing, discerning, welcoming, dialogue are words repeated throughout the new document being discussed by the synod of bishops in Rome this week. Words of condemnation and marginalization were avoided…However these discussions develop, it is clear that the church is embarking on them with a new pastoral style that is more compassionate and affirming.”

Elizabeth Dias

Less optimistic was Time religion correspondent Elizabeth Dias who said the relatio is “a long way from actual policy change.” She writes:

“The relatio is not a proscriptive text. It is not a decree. It is not doctrine, and certainly not a doctrinal shift. It is also not final…But it is also important to remember that the Synod on the Family is almost a two-year-long process, and this snapshot is just that, a snapshot of one week in that process. There will be more such snapshot documents in the coming months…Looking for revolution can be misleading. It can mar the actual story of what is and what is not happening.”

Robert Mickens

However, longtime Vatican correspondent Robert Mickens says this synod is not so much earthquake as icebreaker and rather than this document being an end, it is merely a beginning on the road to change. He writes:

“Plain and simple: The real work must take place in the weeks and months ahead, between the sessions, as occurred at the Second Vatican Council. But the experts (“periti“) the bishops should be calling upon to be involved…should principally be the Catholic faithful of all walks of life and of varying experiences, not just priest-theologians…And so should gay Catholics, including those in stable partnerships and leadership roles in the church. They exist and should be recognized openly.

“No topic related to these issues should be feared. None should be excluded from discussions…The pope has only broken the ice. Soon the real work will begin.”

Meanwhile, American LGBT organizations like GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign positively covered relatio as a sign of progress.   A variety of conservative and progressive voices responded to the document in an Associated Press story.

In closing, the Philippines’ Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle has perhaps the best summary of what this document may mean and how the Synod proceeds: “So the drama continues.” The relatio is a hopeful sign for many, but there is a week left in this Synod and a year until the next one begins. The Holy Spirit may still have surprises in store.

To read Bondings 2.0‘s continuing coverage of the synod, including New Ways Ministry’s statement on the relatio, click the ‘Synod 2014‘ category to the right or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

SYNOD: New Ways Ministry Welcomes Church’s New Approach to Gay and Lesbian People

October 13, 2014

The Synod

The Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family has released a relatio, its mid-term report, and it has encouraging statements. You can read the entire text of the relatio by clicking here.  Below is the response of New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, Francis DeBernardo, to this news:

“The relatio offers some very hopeful directions in the way that Church leaders should address lesbian and gay people and their families.  I hope that local bishops and pastors will respond to the relatio’s challenges with new ways of welcome and acceptance.

“The most significant aspects are that Catholic communities are offered the challenge of ‘accepting and valuing’ lesbian and gay people’s sexual orientation, and the recognition that lesbian and gay people ‘have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.’    These recognitions are total reversals of earlier church statements which labelled such an orientation as “objectively disordered” and which viewed gay and lesbian people in faith communities as problems and suspect persons.  Though the relatio also speaks about the importance of not ‘compromising Catholic doctrine on family and matrimony,’  the move toward accepting and valuing the gifts of gay and lesbian people is a major step forward.
“Although same-gender marriages are not recognized–which is not a surprise–it is very significant that the relatio recognizes that gay and lesbian couples offer one another ‘mutual aid to the point of sacrifice [which] constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.’  This recognition of the holiness of gay and lesbian couples is an important development, and I think it can lead to further developments of full recognition in years to come.
“What is also significant and hopeful is what is not said.  In stating that same-gender marriages are not accepted by the hierarchy, there is no vicious condemnation of them, as previous hierarchical statements have.  We don’t see the gloom and doom and apocalyptic horror that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI and their followers have foretold because of the advent of same-gender marriages.
“Most worrisome, however, is the suggestion that international bodies should not ‘pressure’ pastors to accept ‘gender ideology.’   Gender ideology is an empty, catch-all phrase to mean anything that church leaders don’t want to accept about gender.   Yet, the influence that many international bodies are trying to exert is that of protecting the civil and human rights of LGBT people, so that their identities are not criminalized, and so that they don’t suffer penalties and violence.   It’s very disappointing that the relatio doesn’t make this distinction and that the human rights of LGBT are not explicitly mentioned as worthy of defending.  Defending LGBT human rights is a pro-life and pro-family measure.
“I hope that the statement of accepting the children of lesbian and gay couples will trickle down to parishes where such children have been excluded from sacramental life and educational opportunities.
“Perhaps the most welcome statement, in terms of general approaches to marriage, family, and sexuality, is the admonition: The indispensable biblical-theological study is to be accompanied by dialog, at all levels.’
“This call to dialogue has been absent in church discussions of sexuality for way too long.  It presents the hope that future changes that are even more welcoming and accepting of lesbian and gay people and their families can develop down the road.  Once church leaders engage in dialogue with lesbian and gay Catholics, I am confident that these leaders will see the deep faith, love, and witness to the Gospel that is active in their lives and loves.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

DignityUSA Highlights Transgender Spirituality in Essay Series

October 13, 2014

James & Evelyn Whitehead

DignityUSA’s fall newsletter focused on transgender spirituality through three essays by James and Evelyn Whitehead, who open the discussion by saying it is “time to talk” about the sometimes forgotten “T” in LGBT.

The first essay, “Forsaking the Normal: Biblical Tales of Transformation,” explores Scripture where paradoxes and exceptions, rather than what is considered normal, are valued. Transformations abound in the examples they cite, leading the Whiteheads to write:

“A life that will not fit comfortably into the binary reality of male or female is not ‘normal.’ But, as we have seen, normalcy carries little weight in the biblical stories that tell of transformations that unseat our confident grasp of reality. Paradox and miracles are the stuff of Scripture. Does not the odyssey of a transgender person fit in this narrative of grace?”

Given that love is overly abundant in a divine economy and nature is wildly diverse, the lives of those identifying as gender diverse must be considered “not as deviance but as splendid variety.”

The second essay, “Graceful Bodies and the Play of Gender,” raises questions about how society forms gender and, relatedly, plays with gender in popular culture before explaining the biological and psychological factors at play with transgender identities.

The dissonance when anatomy and gender identity do not coincide can lead to lengthy interior journeys, often ending when a transgender person transitions, defined as “the courageous effort to integrate one’s inner gender identity with outward gender expressions. For the person undergoing it, their loved ones, and the communities, this can be a very spiritual journey.” The Whiteheads write:

“In a life of discipleship, as we follow the path of Jesus Christ, cultural differences and prejudices begin to fall away. We come to see that human nature is not simply a biologically determined essence; we recognize that ‘the natural is not primarily what we are given, but rather what we are called to become.’ We become more capable of welcoming those who differ from us, even those whom society has rejected. In our support for transgender persons, compassion and justice embrace as we glimpse intimations of the coming Reign of God.”

The third and final essay, “Transgender Lives and Catholic Hospitality,” the Whiteheads examine a faithful response to the problem today where transgender people are still quite invisible to society. While legal advances and some faith outreach are underway in protecting the rights of and promoting welcome to transgender people, much work remains. Catholicism’s long-emphasized virtue of hospitality is one possible source for the church to respond to those who are gender diverse, as it includes both the welcome and compassionate care which all people desire.

James and Evelyn Whitehead, a theologian and developmental psychologist respectively, have written widely on contemporary Christian spirituality, including LGBT issues. Offered here are only brief summaries of what are rich essays helpful for those desiring to know more about transgender issues overall, and those desiring a spiritual reflection on the infinite goodness and diversity of God’s creation. You can find each essay in full by clicking here.

In addition, this is only part one of DignityUSA’s exploration of transgender spirituality and Bondings 2.0 will update as this series emerges. You can read more about DignityUSA itself in a recent write up at Believe Out Loud, available here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Fr. James Martin: Holy Spirit Invites Us to Find New Ways in Welcoming LGBT Catholics

October 12, 2014

Icon of Matthew Shepherd by Fr. William McNichols

Jesuit Fr. James Martin, a noted Catholic author and speaker, reacted strongly to LGBT hatred on Facebook and Twitter this week, following negative comments on his posts about the firing of gay church workers and discussions on same-sex couples during the Synod.

Martin posted New York Times columnist Frank Bruni’s latest column, titled “The Church’s Gay Obsession.” In the piece, Bruni again highlighted the growing number of church workers who lost their jobs in 2014 due to LGBT-related employment disputes. Martin commented on the link:

“Why does it seem that some Catholic parishes and schools fire employees only over the issue of same-sex marriage? What about adherence to other church teachings? And what of those employees who aren’t Catholic, and therefore don’t subscribe to even more basic church teachings–the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Trinity? An opinion piece on the selectivity of such litmus tests.”

Less than twenty-four hours later, Martin asked the discussion around that post to stop because he was “worn out deleting all the homophobic comments.”

Martin also posted several LGBT-themed pieces about the synod on marriage and family life currently happening in Rome, including theologian James Alison’s remarks at a pre-conference, and the testimony of an Australian lay couple who made headlines for speaking openly about same-sex couples. Each post produced hundreds of comments, not all of which were positive.

Fr. James Martin

Fr. James Martin

This week’s experience led Fr. Martin to offer an evening meditation with an accompanying icon of Matthew Shepherd from artist Fr. William McNichols. That meditation said, in part:

“Today I received dozens of messages from LGBT Catholics expressing their pain, after having read some of the comments on this page. It’s not surprising that they feel so much pain. I’m sad to say that too many Catholics, in almost every corner of our church, from chanceries to sacristies to homes, still harbor hatred and fear of gays and lesbians. It’s not only scandalous but sinful.

“But there are other reasons for their pain. Some people may not know that over 20 percent of hate crimes are violence against people based on their sexual orientation (the vast majority being LGBT people). Or that LGBT youth are in this country four times more likely to commit suicide. Worldwide, in five countries and in parts of two others, homosexuality is still punishable with the death penalty, while a further 70 countries imprison citizens because of their sexual orientation.

“Today’s Gospel, in which Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan, may also speak to us about LGBT persons. For the parable is not only about being compassionate to someone in need, but how the carrier of grace is often the one who has been rejected, despised and marginalized.

“So tonight, perhaps we could pray for our LGBT brothers and sisters. Let us pray for an end to violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, as well as an end to the kind of language, especially within our church, that may lead to hatred for, rejection of, or violence against gays. And let us work so that every gay person feels as welcome as everyone else does in the church into which they were called at their baptism–by God.”

One final note is that Fr. Martin posted a link just yesterday on the Synod’s approach to LGBT issues thus far, adding his comment that:

“I believe that the Holy Spirit is inviting us to find new ways to welcome LGBT Catholics as our brothers and sisters in Christ. Because that is what they are.”

This is not the first time Fr. James Martin has posted and spoken publicly about the need for greater pastoral care and inclusion when it comes to LGBT people, but this week has produced some of his strongest and most moving comments. To find him on Facebook, click here and to follow him on Twitter, click here.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the synod from Rome, click the ‘Synod 2014‘ category to the right or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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