Sr. Jeannine Gramick Comments on Pope Shaking Up Bishops

December 19, 2013
Sr. Jeannine Gramick

Sr. Jeannine Gramick

Pope Francis moved to solidify his reforms in real ways this week by shaking up the Congregation for Bishops, which oversees episcopal appointments worldwide. The pope’s addition of Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC stood in contrast to his removal of Cardinal Raymond Burke, who has led highly conservative factions in the Church through his position at the Vatican. Given the significance of these events, it is worth asking: what could this mean for LGBT issues in the Church?

On Wednesday, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, spoke with MSNBC’s Tamron Hall about the new appointments and prospects for greater justice within the Church itself. When asked about LGBT people and Pope Francis, Sr. Jeannine said:

“I’ve been working in ministry on behalf of LGBT people within the Catholic Church and outside the Catholic Church since the 1970s. I never would have imagined that same-sex marriage would be on the agenda of our country, or of the world, or even of our Church.

“It is heartwarming that Francis is returning to the Gospel and saying do not be obsessed with issues like same-sex marriage or abortion or contraception. He’s telling the Congregation for Bishops that when you look for bishops, appoint bishops who smell like the sheep. In other words, he wants men, priests now, who are in the trenches with the people, who are pastoral and not people who are obsessed with cultural issues.”

You can watch the entire interview by clicking here.

In the National Catholic Reporter , John Allen explained why the Congregation for Bishops matters, and specifically what impact new American leadership could have. Allen writes:

“Under the Vatican’s process for picking bishops, the papal ambassador, or nuncio, in each country is responsible for compiling a list of names of candidates, called a terna, for openings as they arise. That terna is then submitted to the Congregation for Bishops, whose members vote on the final list to be submitted to the pope.

“Although all members vote on every nomination, observers say there’s a natural tendency within the congregation to defer to the members who come from a particular part of the world when a vacancy arises in their region. The American members, therefore, tend to be especially influential in shaping picks for the United States.

“Although in theory the pope is free to ignore the recommendations, in most cases the pope simply takes the top pick submitted by the Congregation for Bishops.”

In a separate piece, John Allen comments more specifically to analyze how the pope is setting up a new generation of “Francis Bishops.” He offers commentary on individual appointments in the piece, which are worth reading and writes:

“Putting in the moderate Wuerl and taking the strongly conservative Burke off couldn’t help but seem a signal of the kind of bishop Francis intends to elevate in the United States…

“There’s equally no doubt, however, that as of Monday, Francis shifted the center of the gravity inside the body responsible for selecting bishops towards the middle — not just with the American members, as it turns out, but across the board.”

As for LGBT issues, it seems Pope Francis wants bishops with a more pastoral and less political tone. While Wuerl has not been a strong ally for the LGBT community, he is notable for what he has not done as much as for what he has. He has not denied Communion to politicians based upon their voting records, and he has hardly been as aggressive in speech against LGBT people as his fellow American bishops.  Moreover, it was Wuerl who, in a nationally renowned news story, removed the priest who denied communion to a Catholic lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral.

When Pope Francis was selected as Person of the Year in both Time and The Advocate, critics have claimed his actions of welcome and outreach to the LGBT community were only words. This shake-up at the Vatican seems to indicate that the pope is trying to solidify words into actions.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Hierarchy Is a Shining Light in Dark Moment for LGBT Rights in India

December 16, 2013

Cardinal Oswald Gracias

India’s Supreme Court reinstated a law that bans homosexuality as a “crime against nature” earlier this week, intensifying divisions between LGBT advocates and the religious communities they blame for this development. Catholic leaders have varied in responding to the Court’s decision, but there are hopeful signs as at least one bishop spoke out against the law.

Outlawing homosexuality in India dates to British colonial rule more than a century ago. Recent legal debates began after a New Delhi court overturned the law in 2009. Anti-LGBT organizations, including faith-based ones, have sought to re-criminalize homosexuality since then. The Supreme Court’s ruling now says it is up to the nation’s legislators to repeal the law if that is what is desired.

The Times of India reports that religious groups have welcomed the ruling, with leaders using extremely homophobic language and advocating “ex-gay therapy” in their statements. Relative to these, Catholic leaders’ remarks have seemed muted and even positive. Archbishop Anil J T Couto of Delhi merely reaffirmed the hierarchy’s position on marriage equality and a spokesperson stated the archdiocese opposed any law that would criminalize homosexuality. Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai is quoted by UCANews.com as saying:

“[T]he Catholic Church has never been opposed to the decriminalisation of homosexuality, because we have never considered gay people criminals. As Christians, we express our full respect for homosexuals. The Catholic Church is opposed to the legalisation of gay marriage, but teaches that homosexuals have the same dignity of every human being and condemns all forms of unjust discrimination, harassment or abuse.”

Two interesting notes in this story. First, in addition to heading up the Mumbai Archdiocese and India’s bishops’ conference, Gracias is also a member of the eight member Council of Cardinals formed to advise Pope Francis. The pope has been noted for his pastoral tone when speaking about LGBT people and his emphasis away from social issues.

Second, India’s Christians are a minority struggling for recognition of their own rights. In the same week that homosexuality was criminalized, police injured Catholic demonstrators, including ten nuns, and arrested Archbishop Couto. Relations between the government and the Catholic Church are contentious, as UCANews.com reports. Defending all minority rights, including LGBT equality aside from marriage, is seemingly a position with which leading Catholic voices seem comfortable.

With elections about to occur in the coming week, and conservative nationalist politicians gaining popularity, it seems unlikely India’s government will act to decriminalize homosexuality. That said, the Catholic Church in India now has a concrete opportunity to act upon oft-stated teachings against LGBT discrimination and continue to speak out and work against this law.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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


USCCB To Elect New President: What Could This Mean for LGBT Issues?

November 3, 2013

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) upcoming fall assembly starts next week, and the bishops will elect a new president and vice-president.  It’s always important to watch who they will elect, but this year there is more curiosity than usual for it’s the first time they’ll be making such a choice under Pope Francis. The Conference released the ten candidates’ names recently, leading to speculation about who will be elected and what this will mean for the American Church. Bondings 2.0 offers brief commentaries on several candidates below, along with provided links for you to read more.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans made headlines in October for new initiatives aimed at welcoming those on the margins in his diocese. These include greater outreach to LGBT Catholics, as well as blessing a new center to assist transient populations.  According to The Advocate, (archdiocesan newspaper), when he blessed the new facility he said: “ ‘This is an opportunity for us as a church to open wide our arms and our hearts and say all are welcome…Part of respecting people is respecting their freedom.’ ” In June, Aymond apologized to the LGBT community for the Church’s silence in 1973 after 32 people were killed and dozens wounded in an arson fire at a New Orleans gay bar.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., of Philadelphia has a less positive record on LGBT issues. He is noted for ejecting children with same-gender parents access

Archbishop Charles Chaput

from Catholic school and voicing the antipathy of right-wing Catholics towards Pope Francis’ more welcoming style, even as a Villanova University study (in his own archdiocese) identified LGBT issues as a leading cause of declining Church attendance. Chaput is known to deny Communion.

Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Spokane, Washington led in more open ways around the often controversial issues of commencements speakers and marriage

Bishop Blaise Cupich

Bishop Blaise Cupich

equality. When other bishops cancelled and censored speakers at Catholic colleges, Cupich supported Gonzaga University’s decision to honor Archbishop Desmond Tutu for his anti-apartheid work, even while he endorses marriage equality. When Washington State was debating a referendum on marriage equality in 2012, the bishop called for a more civil and honest conversation about Catholic positions on equality. While not perfect, he was praised for advocating a compassionate and civil tone in what can otherwise be harmful debates.

Archbishop Jose Gomez

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles is a leading Hispanic Catholic figure and presides over one of the US’ largest archdioceses.  Gomez opposed the teaching of LGBT history in California state education and signed onto a letter by several bishops opposing the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act because it now includes ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as protected classes.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky has sometimes said the right things, but is hindered by a lack of action backing up his words. Earlier this year, he called for a greater respect in how the Church speaks about LGBT people, even as he reaffirmed the bishops’ anti-marriage equality stance as a former chairman of their Ad Hoc

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

Committee for the Defense of Marriage. His outreach to gay and lesbian people has been to welcome a Louisville chapter of Courage, instead of reaching out to the city’s several gay-friendly parishes.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore has been a leading opponent of equal rights for LGBT among the Catholic hierarchy. Lori led the USCCB’s “Fortnight for Freedom” in 2012, which claimed the Catholic Church’s freedom was being attacked in part because of expanding LGBT equality, and he continues to chair the Conference’s committee on religious liberty. After moving to Baltimore, he opposed marriage equality in Maryland.  After the state’s voters confirmed the new law through a referendum (in part due to

Archbishop William Lori

Archbishop William Lori

Catholics), he called for a doubling down in opposing this new reality. On Pope Francis, he initially tried to downplay gay-friendly comments, but in a hopeful sign said he will now rethink statements on LGBT and other controversial matters to see if they truly bring people to the Gospel.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit was mentioned in the Detroit Free Press earlier this year for his comments about pro-LGBT Catholics refraining from Communion. In

Archbishop Allen Vigneron

Archbishop Allen Vigneron

April, the archbishop stirred up controversy when he said Catholics who support marriage equality should refrain from presenting themselves for Communion, though he did not ban them outright.  His comments prompted outcry from Catholic parents in Michigan, and from Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton (links here and here) and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson.

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami authored a letter to Catholics in which he opposed marriage equality by saying that it would open  up the path to polygamy.  Prior to being made archbishop of Miami, he was bishop of Orlando, Florida, where he closed down a well-established diocesan ministry to lesbian and gay people.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston offered non-committal words about gay people this past summer after Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” interview.  The Associated Press  reported:

“The cardinal says all persons are children of God and must be afforded respect, dignity and love as a person created in the image and likeness of god.  This applies equally to persons of same sex orientation.”
Back in 2009, DiNardo was one of a number of U.S. prelates who opposed the University of Notre Dame’s invitation to President Barack Obama as its commencement speaker.

Archbishop Dennis Schnurr

Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati was the USCCB General Secretary in 1997 when the U.S. bishops published Always Our Children, their landmark document on ministry to families with lesbian and gay daughters and sons.  This past summer, he wrote an op-ed for Cincinnati.com, opposing the Supreme Court decisions upholding marriage equality.  In that essay, he put quotation marks around “marriage” whenever it referred to same-sex marriage.

–Bob Shine and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Malta Bishop Apologizes to Lesbian and Gay People While Opposing Civil Unions’ Bill

October 28, 2013

Bishop Charles Scicluna

A Catholic bishop from Malta made a surprising statement on a popular television talk show in that country when he apologized over the airways for the hurt that Catholic leaders have caused lesbian and gay people.

Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna appeared on “Xarabank,” hosted by Peppi Azzopardi, to discuss that nation’s civil unions bill, which the Catholics bishop there oppose, in part because it would allow lesbian and gay couples to adopt children.  The Malta Independent reported on the bishop’s words, which were in response to comments from gay couples who were guests on the show who :

“The bishop was confronted by gay couples who refuse to understand why the Church continues to make obstacles for them to have same rights as heterosexual couples.

“Scicluna did not mince his words and, while holding his ground on the teachings of the Church that marriage should be exclusive to the union between men and women, he made a historical statement by asking the gay community for forgiveness for each time those representing the Church made their (gays) life miserable and harder.”

His apology received applause from the gay guests and the studio audience.  Bishop Scicluna’s apology, while a good step, is not to be confused with strong support for lesbian and gay people.  Just last week, he published a letter opposing the civil unions bill in The Times of Malta  In the letter, he stated:

“In a nutshell marriage is for the family. It is not simply a socially recognised partnership. The proposed bill intends to put all this behind us in the name of the asserted equality of same sex (homosexual) couples to couples of different sex (heterosexual) couples.

“This asserted equality is a no-brainer when we deal with human dignity and the right to freedom from unjust discrimination. It does not stand the test of logic when it comes to the openness to the gift of parenthood.”

You can watch a video of the apology below, however the bishop and the others speak in Maltese.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeTJzfGUdc0

This is not the first time that Bishop Scicluna has made headlines with statements critical of a doctrinaire approach to lesbian and gay people.  In February of this year, he criticized a public letter by a Catholic man who said that lesbian and gay people can only experience lust, and not love.  Scicluna refuted the letter writer, saying that was not the teaching of the church.

Bondings 2.0 recently questioned the Maltese bishops’ opposition to the civil unions bill because they did so by quoting Pope Francis’ call for a more open attitude towards lesbian and gay people, which seemed somewhat incongruous.

The question this newer story raises is: can an apology be sincere when the bishop opposes legalizing civil unions for lesbian and gay couples?   Can someone authentically hold these two positions?    Post your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


US Catholics Praise Pope Francis in Polling and Words

September 25, 2013

Frank Bruni

Polling done by The Huffington Post and YouGov reveals that 81% of American Catholics believe Pope Francis is having a positive impact on the Church, with negative ratings in the single digits.

In answer to another question in the survey

“. . . 46 percent of U.S. Catholics think Francis’ remarks, during [his recent] interview [in America magazine], reflect a ‘good change’ in church direction, while 20 percent say his take on the issues ‘doesn’t go far enough in changing church policy.’

“Just 15 percent of Catholics said the pope strayed ‘too far from traditional church values,’ while 19 percent were unsure how they felt.”

Commentaries on Pope Francis’ interview reflect this warmness as Catholics spoke more personally and practically on how the pope is making waves. Below, Bondings 2.0 provides previews of articles that are worth reading in their entirety by clicking on the provided links.

Frank Bruni, a gay columnist in the New York Times, wrote about the pope’s humility in a piece titled, “The Pope’s Radical Whisper.” Bruni writes:

“But it wasn’t the particulars of Pope Francis’ groundbreaking message in an interview published last week that stopped me in my tracks, gave fresh hope to many embittered Catholics and caused hardened commentators to perk up.

“It was the sweetness in his timbre, the meekness of his posture. It was the revelation that a man can wear the loftiest of miters without having his head swell to fit it, and can hold an office to which the term “infallible” is often attached without forgetting his failings. In the interview, Francis called himself naïve, worried that he’d been rash in the past and made clear that the flock harbored as much wisdom as the shepherds. Instead of commanding people to follow him, he invited them to join him. And did so gently, in what felt like a whisper.

“What a surprising portrait of modesty in a church that had lost touch with it.”

Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ

From the perspective of clergy, Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese spoke with NPR about what Pope Francis’ words could mean for those in ministry. Many priests and religious are supportive of LGBT people, but refrain from publicly speaking out due to fear. Fr. Reese believes the pope could mean less fear and more liberation among clergy to minister as they desire:

“I think it will [shape how priests act]. I’ve, you know, heard from other priests how delighted and affirmed they are by what he is saying. I think this is going to liberate a lot of people, a lot of priests in their preaching to say the kinds of things that the pope has said. I mean, frankly, five years ago I would have been afraid to say the very things that the pope himself is saying today. So, I think this is going to liberate a lot of priests.”

Critiquing the ‘culture wars’ mentality of the American bishops that has led many Catholics to leave their parishes over LGBT equality and other issues, James Salt of Catholics United writes at Fox News about a new trend he is witnessing among progressive Catholics:

James Salt

“But with his message of love and inclusion, Francis is, hopefully, staunching this trend. With his words and actions, he is showing us how a more authentic and humble expression of our faith can inspire a culture.

“I can personally attest this fact. Speaking for myself and for many of my friends, we can say for the first time in many years that we see signs of hope from the leadership of our church…

“So this Sunday, I expect to see more faces of formerly lost sheep in the pews. I know many of my progressive friends are planning to give Sunday services a second look.”

Kate Childs-Graham

Kate Childs-Graham

Kate Childs Graham wondered about those very bishops’ response to Pope Francis in a Quote to Note last week, and now suggests silence on LGBT issues as a good first step for the American hierarchy in The Guardian, writing:

“All I could think was, ‘This guy gets it’. He gets what Catholics have been saying for years. He gets that Catholics don’t want our hierarchy to have limited views that don’t reflect our own. He gets why so many Catholics have been searching for the nearest exit. He gets that things need to change…

“Since Francis’ election, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops hasn’t seemed to reverse course. The bishops are still advocating against the rights of LGBT people with both money and voice…Perhaps the bishops can’t go cold turkey and they need to wean themselves off their ‘obsession’ – Francis’ word – with abortion and gay and transgender people. I’d suggest silence as a good option.”

Fr. Peter Daly

Fr. Peter Daly, who writes the column, “Parish Diary” in the National Catholic Reporter lauded Pope Francis as a fellow pastor for re-emphasizing the role of mercy, reconciliation, and healing in parishes:

“A good pastor will eventually get around to moral issues, but our first words should be good news, not rules. As Pope Francis puts it, ‘The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.’…

“The Christian life is not so much about rules as it is about relationships. It’s about a relationship with Christ and with each other. If you don’t have a relationship with someone, they won’t care if you quote the rule book to them. If you do have a relationship with someone, you probably won’t need to quote the rules. That’s what St. Paul means by the law of love…

“Pope Francis recognizes the complexity of life. People must be seen in the context of their lives. I tell the catechumens that God sees our lives as a movie, not a snapshot. It’s God’s view of the life that the church should be trying to take.

“I admired John Paul II. I respected Benedict. But I think I could love Francis.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: Coming Back to Church

September 21, 2013

computer_key_Quotation_MarksKate Childs Graham, the co-president of Call to Action, spoke with MSNBC about Pope Francis’ recent interview. She echoed many of the commentators in welcoming his remarks, but added a new trend she is witnessing: people of all walks returning to the Church. Childs Graham told the television host:

Kate Childs-Graham

Kate Childs-Graham

“I experienced the interview through the Holy Trinity of the New York Times, Facebook, and Twitter…More inspiring than the Pope’s words as progressive as they were was the people on Facebook and Twitter, Catholics, non-Catholics, people who have felt marginalized by the Church, who have left the Church saying: ‘Yes, this is what we have been saying for years and it is finally being reflected by our leaders.’…

That said, Childs Graham ended by asking the question many Catholics have about the bishops in America:

 “The question is now we’ve got this CEO talking the talk, we’ve the worker bees, people in the pews, who’ve been saying this for years. The question really lies in middle management, the bishops. What are they going to do with this information?…Are they going to find this new balance with me, Pope Francis, and progressive Catholics like us?”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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