What Makes a Catholic Family–Especially When Discord About LGBT Members Exists?

October 26, 2014

Peter Manseau

A recent piece in The New York Times asked the provocative question, “What is a Catholic Family?” Today, Bondings 2.0 samples a few reflections on Catholic families, and we hope our readers will continue the discussion ‘Comments’ section below by sharing a bit about what “family” means to you.

The original esssay by Peter Manseau was published in mid-October, during the Synod,  and  it includes historical background on just how greatly Catholic understandings of marriage and family life have changed over the centuries. He writes the synod’s discussions are “an indication that the idea of family is again evolving in Rome.” What does he mean by ‘again’?

Manseau reminds Catholics that, in the church’s earliest days, marriage was second to celibacy for it was “full of situations regarded as unpleasant by the saintly.” This mentality is pervasive up through the Second Vatican Council, and unofficialy today. In the  16th century’s Council of Trent, the participants noted the “pastoral issues” of their time such as kidnapped brides, and priests who were marrying. Of this, Manseau writes:

“In every instance, the question of who might constitute a family was a matter of how far those involved fell short of an unattainable ideal.

“Which is perhaps not so far from the supposedly ‘wounded’ and ‘irregular’ families that are largely the focus of the synod’s report…the synod’s bishops have not opened a big tent welcoming all those mentioned to fully participate in the life of the Catholic Church, and indeed they are unlikely to do so.

“Yet even quibbling over words of qualified welcome, they have reminded the faithful that their church has developed over time through conflict and contradiction, and may again.”

Manseau concludes with an allusion to the Holy Family–” a woman who conceived a child before she was married, a chaste stepfather who nearly divorced her as a result, and that original sign of contradiction, the human son of God”–and he asks two questions: “What family is not wounded?” and “Was any family ever more irregular than that?”

Anne Marie DeMint

In an essay for the Washington Post, Elizabeth Tenety explores one Catholic family’s struggle to welcome and to love their lesbian daughter and sister, Anne Marie DeMent. Tenety opens her piece on the 30-year-old from Maryland by writing:

“It’s hard to come out as gay…It is even harder when your parents are profoundly committed conservative Catholics, your brother is a prominent priest who represents traditional church views on Fox News, and you were raised to believe that everything the church teaches is true.”

DeMent came out to a highly conservative Catholic family, a family that her brother, celebrity priest Fr. Jonathan Morris, called an “idyllic Catholic family.” Her parents did not respond well, nor did extended relatives who used pastorally damaging language. Yet, she found her wife, Katie, to be “life-giving” and the two were married four years ago after DeMent recognized the Catholic Church was wrong on homosexuality and marriage equality.

Her family, however, has not fully evolved. Her mother, Sharon Morris, says “We’re trying to figure out what love is…We wanted to live our whole life for God.” DeMent’s parents and brother skipped the wedding, though a few siblings were present, and since then the couple has not been welcomed to Christmas.

The arrival of Pope Francis changed some of DeMent’s relationships, healed divisions between siblings, and even led to a softening tone from her brother, Fr. Morris, in his public appearances. As for her mother’s journey:

“When people try to remind Sharon Morris that the Catholic Church ‘loves the sinner but not the sin,’ she says: ‘It goes through me, because I think, “You don’t know my daughter. Do you know your own sin?” ‘ “

“Talking about gays as if ‘they’re a different creature…affects me differently now…That’s why I consider this [experience] a great grace.’ “

DeMent acknowledges the struggle, but continues to press on in relating to her conservative Catholic family.  She offers these inspiring words, perhaps the most Christian quote in the article:

” ‘I truly do not want to strong-arm or persuade my siblings or my parents to at any point go against their conscience in trying to accept me. And vice versa…I don’t want to move away from my personal conscience or what I think is right just in order to have this relationship…

” ‘That’s where, for me, my fundamental call for life is to pursue that. To pursue the good, to pursue love. When it hurts, to be able to look at my sister and understand that we might have these differences but that our learning to love each other is what lasts, is what is everlasting. . . . We’re called to a radical trust in love, a radical trust in each other, as our way forward.’ “

Indeed, growing up in my own family, it was a most radical love which held us together in diversity and even stark differences.  When asking what makes a Catholic family, I fathom the answer is something involving trust, love, and care. And I know DeMent and I are not the only ones who share this experience of love.

So what do you think? What makes a Catholic family? How do families respond in love when there are differences? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: Synod Responses from Around the Globe

October 25, 2014

NewsThe synod on the family has certainly prompted an immense amount of journalistic response and analysis.  Bondings 2.0 has tried to keep up with it in the best way that we can, selecting what we thought have been important articles or responses which highlight significant points.  We could not, of course, deal with everything that we found, but we know that some of you may be interested in reading further on this topic.  So, we present these “News Notes” on the synod for those who can’t seem to get enough of this important milestone in Catholic LGBT history.  This first installment carries perspectives from various parts of the globe:

1.  London’s Catholic Herald newspaper editorialized that the synod was like an “unfinished icon,” noting that “Icon painters say that prayer is essential to their work, and so the bishops have paused for a year of reflection, before meeting again for the second, larger family synod. We, too, should be praying that the synod fathers create a compelling image of Christ.”

2.  Italy’s Sandro Magister, a veteran Vatican observer, gives an insider’s look as to exactly how two of Pope Francis’ followers were able to open up the discussion in the synod toward a more inclusive view of homosexuality.  His analysis is part of La Repubblica’s online faith portal.

3. From Uganda, a nation which the institution and then repeal of a repressive anti-gay law, Nicholas Opiyo, a human rights and constitutional lawyer, penned a CNN.com op-ed noting that “I suggest that this is not a turning point particularly for the African Catholic community, but rather the start of an openness in debate that will take a long time to change the Church’s doctrinal teaching. In a deeply conservative Church that has for a long time viewed homosexuality as ‘an intrinsically disordered, contrary to natural law and cannot be approved under any circumstances,’ it will take more than a Synod statement to arrive at a turning point on the subject of homosexuality. A change in the doctrinal teaching/catechism of the church will take a long time and protracted debate in the Catholic community.”

4.  LGBT Catholics in the Diocese of Westminster, the archdiocesan pastoral outreach in and around the city of London, England, issued a response which said the synod’s final report “fails significantly to reflect the welcoming and pastorally sensitive discussions which took place during the first week of the Synod.”  However, noting that the vote was close, and that this report is not the final word, the ministry called upon “upon the Vatican and local Bishops’ Conferences to institute Listening Processes over the coming year, to include LGBT people, parents, and other family members, alongside theologians and experienced pastoral ministers.”

5.  Filipino gay rights advocate Danton Remoto, had been happy with the relatio’s first draft but, in the International Business Timeshe added:  “We don’t expect major earthquakes to happen [during the synod] because the Catholic Church is an old institution and change will not happen overnight.”

6.  Filipina gay rights advocate Claire DeLeon told GMA News Online a mixed response to the synod’s report: “We are quite disappointed but we are appreciative that this issue has been opened for discussion.”  She added that the negative perception of LGBT people seems to be disappearing, and that the future of the discussion in the Catholic Church holds promise.

7. Ireland’s RTE News carried the response of Brian Sheehan, the head of the Irish Gay and Lesbian Equality Network: “It’s disappointing that a majority of bishops at the synod didn’t follow the Pope’s leadership and seek to include lesbian and gay people within the Catholic Church. Elements within the church are out of step in the laity. The reality is that there’s been a huge positive change in attitudes over the last 20 years to lesbian and gay people. And Irish people, the majority of whom are Catholics, warmly embrace their lesbian and gay family members and friends and their loving relationships. It’s a missed opportunity that the church didn’t seek to reflect that reality. “

8.  AsianJournal.com reported on the statement of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, Philippines, who said: “Let us not stereotype persons, countries, local churches. We are here, all of us have something to contribute. But all of us are also learning This Synod is unique because it’s happening in two stages. We have the whole year to continue studying and continue consulting people.”

9.  At Ekklesia.co.uk, Savi Hensman reviewed the synod, and included an important quote from Bishops Geoffrey Robinson at The Ways of Love,” an international theological conference in Rome, which immediately preceded the synod. In regard to sexual teaching, Robinson said:  “Why should we turn to some abstraction in determining what is natural rather than to the actual lived experience of human beings? Why should we say that homosexuals are acting against nature when they are acting in accordance with the only nature they have ever experienced?” Hensman concluded the blog post by noting: “Many others too in the Roman Catholic church have been reflecting on how Gospel values can be reflected more truly in approaches to sexuality, and the Synod on the Family has encouraged greater openness about the diversity of views and experiences. What is more, Catholics are part of a wider Christian community where numerous others have been thinking seriously about sexual ethics. Moving beyond the use of depersonalising language and mere assertions which fail to convince, while remaining true to what is richest in the Christian heritage, is a challenging task for the churches as a whole.”

10. In the UK’s Telegraph, Cristo Foufas says that “Gay people shouldn’t care what the Catholic Church thinks.”  In this op-ed, Foufas expresses being tired of the Vatican’s traditional attitude toward homosexuality: “Whilst It’s heartening that there finally seems to be a Pope who is trying to build bridges with the gay community, it seems that the suggestion of being respectful, sensitive and welcoming to a minority group was just too much for some conservative Catholic bishops to bear. . . . It should come as no surprise that a good number of senior Catholic bishops in the synod are bigoted homophobes. What other explanation can there be for making a choice not to support and welcome a minority community who have no choice in their orientation at all? It’s exactly the same way that racists choose to hold prejudice against those people who haven’t an ounce of control over their skin colour. Hate rarely has logic.”

11. Australia’s Jesuit online magazine, Eureka Streetcarried an editorial by Andrew Hamilton a consulting editor, examined the controversy of the dramatic change between the relatio’s two incarnations:

“It reflected partly an evident failure of the initial document to read accurately the sentiments of the participants. The voting on the amendments shows that clearly.  Such failure is inevitable in any such draft: that is why the final document reflects the definitive view of a meeting.

“In this case the controversy reflects another significant feature of transparent public conversation: the influence of the media. After the first draft public comments by the Bishops seemed exercised as much by the common journalists’ view that it heralded a rethinking of the Catholic understanding of homosexual relationships than by the content of the document. At all events they recast the document in order to close the door on these perceived implications of the draft. 

“This way of proceeding is understandable, but its disadvantages are also worth reflecting on. When phrases like ‘people who are homosexual must be ‘welcomed’, the ‘gifts and qualities’ of gay people and the ‘precious support’ they can offer one another are pulled from a public draft, the public perception is that they are not simply withdrawn from the text but that their opposites are commended. So people are to be made unwelcome, have no gifts and their support is valueless. The Catholic Church will now have much work to do to persuade people that this is not its meaning. .  . 

“If Pope Francis’ assessment of the Synod is as positive as I believe it is, we may expect from him dramatic gestures of encounter and compassion to God’s love that will reframe the questions addressed by the Synod in terms of the Gospel. “

12. The UK’s Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement welcomed the synod’s final report with Chief Executive Tracey Byrne saying, ‘The outcome of the Synod represents a significant shift in thinking and a brave move by those willing to affirm their support for gay and lesbian people. A substantial majority of the cardinals, only slightly short of the two-thirds majority needed, voted in support of the draft statement, and it’s being reported that a number who voted against the statement did so because they felt it did not go far enough in its support for gay and lesbian people. Pope Francis is to be applauded for convening the Synod, and for providing an opportunity for Catholics around the world to contribute to this ongoing process of listening and discernment in such an open way.”  You can read Byrne’s full statement by clicking here.

13.  London’s Guardian newspaper praised Pope Francis for his management of the synod, but also concluded with this cautionary note and call to action: “This is the Catholic church. The surest sign that things are changing will be a barrage of announcements that nothing has changed, can change, or will change. In this view, the doctrine can only be developed into a more refined expression of the same eternal truths, even if its interpretation becomes the exact opposite. But however the official formulation is refined, the practice on the ground, in parishes, must now change. The old and rigid artificial unity is now smashed. In that sense Pope Francis, and the liberals, have already won.”

14. Lebanon’s The Daily Star published reactions to the synod’s final report including one from Ute Eberl, a German family counselor who attended the meeting.  She said that the event got the church “out of its comfort zone … to hear about real life for families around the world.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Notre Dame Offers Benefits to Same-Sex Couples, While Set to Host “Gay in Christ” Conference

October 25, 2014

University of Notre Dame’s campus

The University of Notre Dame’s progress on LGBT issues has been a gradual process, but one that is making headway since the unveiling of the University’s pastoral plan in 2012. Still, recent incidents show a campus in tension on this path to full inclusion.

Last week, Notre Dame and its sister school, Saint Mary’s College, notified employees that benefits would now be available to same-gender spouses as marriage equality becomes law in Indiana. A university email obtained by the South Bend Tribune, said in part:

“This means that the law in Indiana now recognizes same-sex marriages and the University will extend benefits to all legally married spouses, including same-sex spouses…

“Notre Dame is a Catholic university and endorses a Catholic view of marriage. However, it will follow the relevant civil law and begin to implement this change immediately.”

Notre Dame is one of the first religiously-affiliated colleges to observe the new law, as other Christian universities are refusing to comply with the latest court rulings. One staff member who is openly gay, Aaron Nichols, said of the announcement:

” ‘Being an out staff member, I feel a lot more confident that my concerns are being heard and responded to…The university is no longer acting in a vacuum…That makes me proud to be ND.’ “

However, not all members of the Notre Dame community are reacting positively. Aleteia reports that Holy Cross Father Wison D. Miscamble, a history professor, spoke with young alumni in Washington, DC on the topic: “For Notre Dame: Battling for the Heart and Soul of a Catholic University.” He gave out Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins’ personal email and encouraged alumni to write negatively of the decision.

Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend added his criticism, saying Notre Dame should have waited for a “study of what the law requires” so that Catholic institutions are not “compelled to cooperate in the application of the law redefining marriage.” In response, President Jenkins said Rhoades was consulted before and after the decision’s announcement, and a University spokesperson defended Notre Dame’s decision.

Additionally, the University is set to host a traditionally inclined conference titled “Gay in Christ.” The conference, hosted by the Institute for Church Life and the Gender Relations Center, will “explore how Catholic institutions can coexist comfortable with gay Catholics” and focus on pastoral outreach, according to Indiana Public Radio.

Institute director John Cavadini said the conference has been a point of controversy on campus, adding:

” ‘I feel like our imaginations get cramped. . . We get caught in ways of thinking and don’t allow ourselves to think a little bit farther and this conference is meant to help us think a little bit farther.’ “

However, the conference is not as open ended as Cavadini portrays it. “Gay in Christ” focuses on outreach to “self-identified gay Catholics who accept Church teaching,” and speakers are predominantly Catholics advocating celibacy as the only option for lesbian and gay people. In fact, a writer for Slate recently highlighted the conference and torturously argued that the path of celibacy could be a path for acceptance of lesbian and gay people in the Church.

Bondings 2.0 has previously covered how dangerous and damaging mandatory celibacy can be for LGBT persons, the majority of whom do not discern that God is inviting them to such a lifestyle.

While Notre Dame is to be commended for the several initiatives it has made in enacting the pastoral plan, “Beloved Friends and Allies,” the presence of such a conference on campus proves there is still work to be done.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Actress Ellen Page & Singer Ariana Grande Criticize Catholics’ Anti-LGBT Actions

October 24, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 8.14.11 AMAfter a month of synod coverage, Bondings 2.0 changes pace and offers some recent celebrity news relating to Catholic LGBT issues. Yet, these two items are not throw away items because their impact on younger Catholics’ faith is probably far greater than anything which happened during the last month’s synod.

High School Denies Access for Ellen Page Film

A New York Catholic high school has reversed its decision to allow Ellen Page’s new movie about a same-gender couple’s fight for legal recognition to film on the school’s campus.

Salesian High School in New Rochelle, NY had approved a request for Freeheld to film, but later told production staff that was no longer possible. According to BuzzFeed,

“Michael Shamberg, Freeheld’s producer, told BuzzFeed News that he then appealed to Salesian’s principal, John Flaherty, who told Shamberg to send an email that he could forward to Father John Serio, the school’s president. After doing that, Shamberg never heard back from Serio, and Freeheld shot the scene somewhere else.

Principal Flaherty later told BuzzFeed in a statement that “all are welcomed at Salesian High School” and the school focuses on “helping the less fortunate.” In appealing to administrators, Shamberg told them the film is “about recognizing the dignity of a woman who was a brave civil servant” and further:

” ‘I believe the theme of the movie is what Pope Francis recognized when he called for the church to welcome and accept gay people.’ “

Freeheld, which stars Page, as well as Julianne Moore, tells the real life story of a lesbian couple’s fight for domestic partner benefits when one of them, a police detective, becomes terminally ill with lung cancer. Page, who herself came out as gay earlier this year, tweeted support for LGBT students following the incident:

“Using religion to justify bigotry makes me sad. Sending my support 2 the LGBT students at the school who I hope r able 2 find acceptance.”

Ariana Grande with brother Frankie

Ariana Grande Leaves Catholicism

Pop singer Ariana Grande publicly announced she was leaving the Catholic Church because of LGBT issues. The UK daily The Telegraph reported:

“Grande was raised a Catholic, but in adolescence began questioning her faith out of love and support for her brother, who is gay. ‘When my brother was told that God didn’t love him I was like, “OK, that’s not cool.” They were building a Kabbalah centre in Florida so we both checked it out and really had a connection with it.’ “

Commenting on Grande’s decision, GLAAD News Director Ross Murray noted that Grande, and her celebrity brother Frankie, did not abandon the church, but were “actively chased away from the faith they were nurtured in.” Murray continues:

“This isn’t just about the Roman Catholic Church, although they get more than their share of attention. All faith communities need to examine what their message is, not just because that message is damaging to the people who have to hear and internalize them (although it is), but for the health and future of the faith. It may be easy for some traditions to write off the LGBT people they lose by these messages. What they often don’t count on is how much they lose the rest of their membership.

“I ask for each of us who identify as people of faith to examine our messages, and what impact those messages have, not just on the LGBT people themselves, but on the rest of those who are hearing.  Does our message match what we’ve learned about God to be true? Do we best share the gospel by pushing people away? Are we letting our light shine so that we can glorify our God in heaven? Are our words producing good fruit?”

As the global church asks some of these same questions during the ongoing synodal process around marriage and family life, it is worth reflecting on how the above incidents are forming faith in younger Catholics. Though the synod made secular media, it is not likely that teenage and young adult Catholics followed the happenings too closely — and making sense of it even baffled journalists in Rome at times.

What is far more formative are the tweets and public statements of figures like Ellen Page and Ariana Grande in portraying the Catholic Church as opposing LGBT people. That message sticks in youth’s minds. When coupled with personal experiences of discrimination and prejudice by Catholic institutions, like Salesian High School, it is a highly potent “vaccine against faith” as Pope Francis phrased it.

While younger Catholics are overwhelmingly pro-equality, they are also far more willing to walk away from Catholic faith and find religious homes elsewhere. All the episcopal deliberations in the world are irrelevant if the public perception about Catholicism remain unchanged.

Perhaps Pope Francis’ greatest gift is his ability to produce “tweet-able” statements in support of LGBT people, like his famous “Who am I to judge?”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Archbishop Wilton Gregory & Other Prelates: Church’s Welcome to LGBT People Needs Improvement

October 24, 2014

Archbishop Wilton Gregory

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who previously headed the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote about the synod for his weekly column in The Georgia Bulletin, the archdiocesan newspaper.  He interpreted the synod through the lens of a recent meeting with the parents of LGBT children, described as “well worth the wait” and a “superb encounter.” Gregory continues:

“Like parents everywhere they love their children, and like faithful Catholics they also love our Church. Yet they also are deeply troubled to feel that our Church does not love their children, and therein is the conflict that fills and saddens their hearts.

“As parents, they have all faced and accepted the reality of having a child who has openly shared their sexual orientation with them in trust and in the hope of being lovingly received as a son or daughter. As devoted parents, they obviously reacted with concern that their child’s revelation would become the source of hurt and discrimination. They know that it too often does bring rejection and insult to a child that they love and cherish.

“What they hope for now is that our Church will become more loving and understanding of the worth and dignity of their children.”

Gregory admitted that many of these children had encountered a “hostile environment” at church, stemming from language about them that is “unwelcoming and condemnatory” and leading to a lack of welcome. The archbishop writes:

“I assured them that the Church must welcome all of her sons and daughters—no matter what their sexual orientation or life situation might be—and that we have not always done so with a spirit of compassion and understanding. I spoke of the distinction that our Church makes between orientation and behavior, which admittedly needs reexamination and development.

“We are all called to conversion—not just some members of the Church.”

Finally, Gregory laid out pastoral actions that go behind his kind words, including appointing a deacon as liaison for the parents’ group, inviting pastors in to speak about challenges to welcoming all, and celebrating Mass during the parents group’s fall retreat. Gregory concluded:

“I ask all of us to pray for them and their children that we might together discover ways to draw them closer to the heart of the Church—where they belong and where there is always room. I am very glad to know that the Bishops’ Synod is asking these very same questions right now in Rome!”

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, current USCCB president and a synod participant, spoke favorably of the synod sessions to the National Catholic Reporter. He  repeatedly noted this synod is a middle step in an ongoing process. To understand the synod, Kurtz appealed pastorally to his experiences as a parish priest, saying:

“My view is that when we talk about people who are in irregular situations…I would approach it the same way I did when I was a pastor doing parish visitations.

“I would enter into the home of someone, I would seek to acknowledge the good that I saw — the good in those people — and then invite them to accompany me to Christ and to a fuller understanding of the church. Even to the point at that point of conversion. And I would always say, ‘Hey, we are all in the process of conversion.’ I come as an imperfect pastor…

“Now, as I think our summary said, this is not in opposition to the beauty of the church’s teachings. No, this is in a sense an affirmation of the church’s teachings. Let’s begin by seeing people where they are, and let’s accompany them to the light of Christ and the fullness of the light of Christ.”

Kurtz also depicted the synod and the whole church’s discussion on marriage and family issues currently underway as a family:

“I really do believe that when a family comes together, a family comes together to discern. Gosh, I hope we don’t always define that as debate. Now, sad would that family be if they didn’t have the freedom to express those differences so that they could come together in truth and charity.

“I guess I’m still hopeful. I feel that the process is doing what it’s supposed to do.”

Kurtz’s interview with the National Catholic Reporter‘s Joshua McElwee is available here, and contains Kurtz’s firsthand account of the synod’s inner workings.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Further south, 4 WWL reported Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, who is one of two candidates for USCCB secretary next month, said the following in his homily on Sunday:

” ‘The Holy Father is saying we still have to reach out to people who have same-sex orientation. We have to reach out to people who desire same-sex marriage. We can['t] just eliminate them.’…

” ‘I think that there are really people who believe, unfortunately, that the church is against people who are or we don’t honor or give dignity to people who are of same sex orientation, and that is not true.’ “

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger

Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger spoke positively about the synod, and added a message to gay Catholics as well, saying:

” ‘We are only at a beginning, but I’m happy to see the Holy Father is willing to take the risk of encouraging people to speak frankly so that no one feels that their voice is silenced.’…

” ‘I like to say to say to gay Catholics, and to all Catholics, and I would also say to non-Catholics as well too to people of every faith, we love everyone, as the person that God created them to be.’ “

These more positive responses are in stark contrast to American bishops’ comments that the synod was “rather Protestant” and the “of the devil,” about which Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday. It is clear, however, that even the reluctant US episcopacy is catching up to Pope Francis’ merciful and welcoming style. Their words ultimately affirm the pope’s comment as the synod concluded last week that “God is not afraid of new things,” with the implication that neither should we be.

As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gears up for their November meetings, let us pray the words of the newly beatified Pope Paul VI that these statements will only grow: “Come, holy Spirit!”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Two U.S. Bishops Claim Synod Reflected “The Devil” and Was “Rather Protestant”

October 23, 2014
Bishop Thomas Tobin

Bishop Thomas Tobin

Pope Francis has many fans, but Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia are more clearly than ever not among that fandom. Both prelates lodged some of the harshest criticisms of the synod yet, comparing the meeting to Protestantism and even calling it the work of the devil.

Tobin, in a blog post for the Diocese of Providence’s website, wrote some “random thoughts” on the synod and included the following points:

“The concept of having a representative body of the Church voting on doctrinal applications and pastoral solutions strikes me as being rather Protestant…

“Have we learned that it’s probably not a good idea to publish half-baked minutes of candid discussions about sensitive topics, especially when we know that the secular media will hijack the preliminary discussions for their own agendas?

“Pope Francis is fond of ‘creating a mess.’ Mission accomplished.”

What is is striking is Tobin’s apparent ignorance about the Catholic community’s history. For centuries, consensus-based decision making, synodal debates (and even, sometimes, fistfights), popular election of church leaders, and fierce controversies carried out publicly were normative rather than unique occurrences. Representative bodies are indeed found in Protestant communities today, but they are also deeply Catholic. In appealing to tradition, Tobin seems to miss the tradition of persistent messiness present since the church’s earliest days in Jerusalem.

Tobin also added an endorsement of the recently demoted Cardinal Raymond Burke, calling the cardinal, who routinely criticizes Pope Francis and LGBT advocates alike, “a principled, articulate and fearless spokesman.” Tobin has been lukewarm in his evaluations of the pope previously, and vigorously opposed marriage equality before Rhode Island, the state with the highest number of Catholics per capita, became the 10th state to legalize it.

Archbishop Charles Chaput

According to US CatholicChaput was in Manhattan for a lecture sponsored by a conservative publication when he made his remarks disparaging the synod. The archbishop commented on the synod, which he did not attend, during a question period, saying:

” ‘I was very disturbed by what happened…I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was one of confusion.’ …

” ‘None of us are welcomed on our own terms in the church. We are welcomed on Jesus’ terms…That’s what it means to be a Christian. You submit yourself to Jesus and his teaching. You don’t re-create your own body of spirituality.’ “

At the same lecture, the theme of which was a comparison of traditionalist Catholics’ “internal exile” to the Babylonian exile in the Hebrew Scriptures, Chaput harshly attacked the spread of marriage equality. Characterizing LGBT advocates as dishonest and hateful, he suggested that Catholic priests refuse to officiate civil marriages “as a matter of principled resistance.” Ironically, he suggested American bishops do so “in the spirit of candor encouraged by Pope Francis” which he also attacked.

Interestingly, it is Archbishop Chaput who is set to host Pope Francis and delegations from across the world for the 2015 World Meeting of Families. We can only speculate on how the pope, who has called for church to be a “home for all” and a “field hospital” will get along with a bishop who, even after the synod, speaks of LGBT people’s human rights advancement as a point of conflict which “purifies the church and…clarifies the character of the enemies who hate her.” Or, as Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter writes of it: “This is a train wreck waiting to happen.”

Yet, what Chaput and Tobin seemingly miss is that their ability to so strongly and so publicly criticize the pope is itself a sign of progress in the church. Under Francis’ predecessors, such frank discussions were stifled and people were silenced. Perhaps they do not dislike that the church is “rather Protestant” and “confused” as much as they claim to?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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Pope Francis on Synod: ‘God is not afraid of new things’

October 22, 2014

Reactions to the Synod on Marriage and Family’s final report has dominated the religion headlines for the past few days, and it seems like anyone and everyone is chiming in on the discussion, trying to evaluate what was good and bad in the final document and the entire experience of the synod. It’s good to get all these perspectives.

Pope Francis

But there is one person’s perspective that may carry a little more weight than many others:  Pope Francis.  He hasn’t written an op-ed or given an interview or appeared on a talk show an, but some of his statements since this weekend seem to indicate the pope’s evaluation of the synod, and it certainly looks like he, too, is hopeful for greater discussion on many issues in the months ahead.

On Saturday, just before the final report was released, Pope Francis addressed the synod participants and praised the process and collegiality that the meeting produced:

“I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of ‘Synod,’ a path of solidarity, a ‘journey together.’

“And it has been ‘a journey’ – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people. Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the Synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life.”

Later in the speech, the pope listed a variety of temptations that the synod participants may have experienced, including one of thinking of themselves only as conservators of tradition and as vague and confusing politicians:

“The temptation to neglect the ‘depositum fidei’ [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them ‘byzantinisms,’ I think, these things…”

Pope Francis expanded on this message the following day when, in the homily at the synod’s closing Mass, he told the bishops:

“God is not afraid of new things. That is why he is continuously surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.”

Reuters pointed out that Francis even went so far as to keep many of the earlier discussions of pastoral welcome for lesbian and gay people as a live topic, even though those ideas did not receive the required 2/3rds vote:

“Voting tallies released by the Vatican showed that three controversial articles, including the final version of one concerning gays, won an absolute majority but failed to get the two-thirds vote needed for a broad consensus.

“But the pope decided to keep even the botched articles, which would have been deleted under normal synod rules, in the final document, meaning the themes will be discussed locally ahead of next year’s assembly.”

Jonathan Capehart, in a Washington Post blog, said that Francis’ approach will have a great effect on the coming discussions, and even next year’s synod:

“If the pope and the bishops can engage in a rational and respectful discussion about same-sex relationships, so can the rest of the flock. That’s the genie that is out of the bottle.

“. . . By the time the bishops reconvene next October to finalize the synod document, we might be looking at a very different outcome.”

Bishop Mario Grech

One telling sign of the pope’s support of LGBT issues comes from the fact that it looks like Maltese Bishop Mario Grech, who gave a speech in support of LGBT welcome, may become the next archbishop of Malta.  The Independent reported:

“. . . [A]n anecdote from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Rome that reached this newsroom some days ago from people very close to Mgr Grech has become all the more pertinent.

“Pope Francis, it seems, was extremely pleased with the Gozo Bishop’s address to the Synod on 8 October. So much so that the next morning, over breakfast at Casa Marta, Pope Francis tapped Mgr Grech on the shoulder and complimented him on his speech. That, people close to Mgr Grech informed this newsroom, was followed by another friendly pat on the back during the next coffee break.”

We have one more source which shows what may be going on in the mind of Pope Francis.  During the synod, Cardinal Walter Kasper flew to Austria to give a speech to the theology faculty at the University of Vienna.  The National Catholic Reporter noted that during his speech he offered some insights into Pope Francis’ modus operandi:

“He said Francis is deliberately treading in the footsteps of Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, both of whom wanted to interpret the unalterable Gospel message ‘in the light of the signs of the times.’ However, Francis ‘cannot be attributed to any theological school,’ he said. The pope is a practical man who prefers direct encounters with people and for whom reality takes preference over ideas, he added.

“The cardinal then explained how a special Argentine variation of liberation theology based on ‘the theology of the people,’ with a particular sensitivity for regional piety and characterized by the concept of reconciliation, had a formative influence on Francis. This has nothing to do with the classical form of liberation theology and its class war ideology, which the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith condemned, Kasper said.

“The pope’s theology and his vision for the church is centered on the Gospel mandate, the good tidings of a merciful God, and the concept of the People of God, which Vatican II had underlined, Kasper said. Francis outlined much of this in his apostolic letter, Evangelii Gaudium, which was, so to speak, the blueprint of his pontificate. He wanted ‘the People of God, every single one them, to participate in the church’ and for the church to be a ‘listening church which has an open ear to the People of God,’ Kasper said.”

From his statements and gestures, it seems that Pope Francis is leading the way for next year’s synod to be even more remarkable than this past one was in terms of openness and discussion.  As Jonathan Capehart wrote in his blog post entitled: “Pope Francis and gays will win by losing this round on synod draft”:

“What the synod did at the outset on paper, Pope Francis has been doing since ascending to the papacy. He’s been talking about gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church with an unheard-of humanity and care. So what that the more conservative bishops succeeded in watering down the gay paragraphs so much they couldn’t get the two-thirds majority necessary to include them in the new document released on Oct. 18. They may have won this battle, but they aren’t going to win the bigger battle with this pope.”

To read other synod responses from commentators, click here and here.  To read New Ways Ministry’s responses, click here and here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The Daily Beast: “Pope Francis Wins a Battle to Welcome Gays in the Church”

The Daily Mail: “Pope Francis plays long game to reform Catholic Church”

 


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