Archbishop Kurtz’s Election as New USCCB President Signals Ambiguous Direction for Conference

November 13, 2013

Archbishop Kurtz with Cardinal Dolan

America’s Catholic bishops have spoken. Yesterday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) elected a new president and vice-president for the first time since Pope Francis was elected, choosing Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston for the respective roles.

Observers viewed this leadership election as a sign of how the US hierarchy is responding to a pope noted for his mercy, welcome, and emphasis on the marginalized.

While pasts are not blueprints for the future, neither Kurtz nor DiNardo’s records leave LGBT advocates optimistic. Kurtz chaired the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage until 2010 and was one of three signatories on a letter to Congress opposing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. More locally, he has established a Courage chapter in Louisville while remaining distant from gay-friendly parishes. Kurtz did not support a local nondiscrimination bill inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity in 2012.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, was on hand at the bishops’ meeting in Baltimore where the election took place.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette captured his reaction to the bishops’ move not to choose a more LGBT-friendly leader:

” ‘[Pope] Francis is a game-changer,’ said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a national group advocating for gay and lesbian Catholics, one of several liberal advocates who spoke with reporters outside the bishops’ meeting area at the Baltimore Waterfront Marriott. ‘The U.S. bishops seem to be playing by yesterday’s playbook.’ “

What signs of hope remain for Catholics who want a more inclusive Catholic community in the US? Whispers in the Loggia says of the two newly elected bishops:

“On the wider front, meanwhile, after two headstrong, high-profile presidencies in a row that exponentially amplified the body’s voice in the national public square, the duo now in place are decidedly more reserved and consensus-driven, and the impact of that shift on the conference’s level and tone of advocacy bears watching. Yet perhaps most intriguingly of all, both the new president and his deputy were parish priests upon and until their appointment as bishops… and it’s admittedly difficult to remember the last time that was the case.”

David Gibson writes at Religion News Service that the bishops did not choose a known culture warrior like Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelpahia, but also sidelined bishops who more closely correspond with Pope Francis. He also reports that honest conversations on the USCCB’s direction in coming years will occur today and tomorrow:

“The real debates were expected to go on behind closed doors in sessions that will last through  Thursday. Church sources say the bishops are expected to have frank talks about contentious issues like their stance against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.

“But they are also expected to discuss the larger direction of the hierarchy. The election of Pope Francis and his oft-repeated desire to push the bishops in a new, more pastoral direction have unsettled the bishops, who in recent years were already divided and often unable to agree on major statements or initiatives.

“Many of the bishops meeting here said the conference was in something of a holding pattern, waiting to see who Francis will name to leading U.S. dioceses and whether he can recast the U.S. hierarchy in his mold and perhaps leave it more unified.”

The election of the new president provided an insight into some of the lesser-known demographics of the bishops’ conference. Michael Sean Winters points out at the National Catholic Reporter:

“Three years ago, Chaput also ran for the presidency and vice presidency of the conference. And he lost then too, with almost the same number of votes. Turns out there is a significant number of bishops who like the culture warrior approach. And if the nuncio wants to know just how many bishops in the US do not really much like Pope Francis, he now knows precisely: 87.”

It is helpful to recall the papal conclave last spring, when many LGBT advocates and progressive Catholics expected another pope in the model of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Even after Pope Francis’ election was announced, ambiguity abounded on where he would lead the Church. Studying his actions in Argentina left many concerned with reforming the hierarchy’s positions sexuality discouraged.

However, the Spirit is alive and well with Pope Francis who has preached open doors, demanded non-judgement, and encouraged new ways of thinking about marriage and family issues. Will Archbishop Kurtz truly seek to “warm hearts and heal wounds,” as he offered in a press conference following his election today, or will it be more of the same?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Courage Ministry Instituted in Archdiocese of Louisville

October 21, 2012

The Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky, has instituted a Courage ministry which is intended to help gay and lesbian people lead chaste lives.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that the institution of such a group is not without controversy.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

While Archbishop Joseph Kurtz maintains that the group’s goal is “both to promote the dignity of every human being and promote chaste living,” others see that Courage may hurt more than it helps.

The Courier-Journal notes:

“Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, a Louisville gay-rights group, said he’s a confirmed Catholic who has avoided the church for years because of its stance on homosexuality.’It’s repressive and really unhealthy for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, to suggest one can suppress an entire part of who they are,’ Hartman said.

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo is also quoted, noting that Courage does not employ a complete approach to the gay or lesbian person, but focuses solely on potential sexual activity:

“ ‘Courage views the homosexual orientation as a defect and as a burden rather than as a gift to be embraced and as an integral part of someone’s personality,’ DeBernardo said.

“Pastoral care, DeBernardo said, is ‘not about teaching’ but ‘about working with the person you have in front of you, in the situations they find themselves in.’ For many gays and lesbians, he said, their biggest struggles involve ‘alienation from family or integrating into society and church life.’ ”

The Archdiocese of Louisville has several gay-friendly parishes which take a more comprehensive approach to pastoral care.  The news article describes one:

“The Cathedral of the Assumption, for example, describes itself on its home page as ‘an oasis of prayer, a beacon of social justice, and a family where no one needs to be invisible because of their race, social or economic background, marital status or sexual orientation.’ ”

Courage as a ministry has been controversial because  it uses a twelve-step model to try to help people remain chaste, thus treating sexual orientation as if it were an addiction.

Moreover, even though Courage officially does not require a person to try to change his or her sexual orientation, some chapters have offered such “therapy” as an option. The Courier Journal reports:

“[Angelo] Sabella [assistant to the director of Courage] said Courage does not itself conduct therapy that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation — an approach that the American Psychological Association says is unlikely to succeed and poses ‘some risk of harm.’ The state of California in September prohibited therapists from using change therapy with minors.

“But Sabella said the group has invited advocates for change therapy to talk with Courage groups to let participants know about it. ‘It’s not for everybody,’ he said, but he did not rule out a divinely fostered change in orientation.

“ ‘If a soul really is desiring with his heart and puts forth the amount of effort and by God’s grace, maybe that person will experience opposite-sex attraction at some time, but who’s to say?’ Sabella said.

“But that view itself is harmful, DeBernardo said.

“ ‘By taking that negative view, they almost guarantee that people are going to come to want to change their orientation,’ he said.”

Bondings 2.0 commented previously on the Courage ministry back in January of this year when the Archdiocese of Hartford instituted a group.  The comment we made back then still applies:

“The main problem I see with the Courage ministry is that it primarily views lesbian/gay people in terms of sexual activity.  This approach does not consider lesbian/gay people as whole people, but narrowly defines them in terms of sex.

“Lesbian/Gay people are so much more than their sexuality, and ministry with them should address the totality of their lives.  For example, lesbian/gay people  have often suffered alienation, marginalization, and oppression, and these factors need to be addressed, too.  They are also people who have come to a remarkable and wondrous discovery about themselves that is very different from the majority of the population–a difference which should be celebrated.  Lesbian/Gay people may have experienced harsh messages from church authorities which may have affected their relationship with God which may need healing.  Most importantly, lesbian/Gay people have spiritual gifts which they long to bring to the church community, so ministry with them could focus on opportunities for them to share these gifts.

“In short, a ministry which primarily focuses on the possibility of sexual activity is a very stunted ministry.    It is a model of ministry which ignores a great deal about the human person and how they can be integrated into a community.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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