U.S. Catholics Make Known Their Opinions on Marriage and Family Issues

February 22, 2014

In the past few weeks, we’ve posted about a few international bishops’ conferences reporting about what they have learned from their surveys of their lay people on matters of marriage and family life, in anticipation of the October 2014 Synod in Rome on those topics.  More and more bishops’ conferences are starting to disclose the responses to these surveys, and we will be reporting on them in the coming days.

Noticeably absent has been any report from the U.S. bishops, and this is probably due to the fact that very few of them made the survey available to their laity.   To remedy this omission of the voices of U.S. lay Catholics, a network of Catholic reform organizations sent out the survey to their members, and yesterday they have released a report on the compiled responses.  Released by member groups of the Catholic Organizations for Renewal and entitled Voices of the People: Responses to the Vatican Survey in Preparation for the Extraordinary Synod on the Familythe report provides statistics on the information gathered from over 16,000 respondents.   According to a press release, the report categorized responses under seven major themes:

  1. Pastoral care urgently needed
  2. Pedagogical/evangelism challenges
  3. Separated, divorced and remarried Catholics
  4. Same-sex marriage
  5. Women in the Church
  6. Sexual abuse scandals
  7. Skepticism and hope.

The survey responses were analyzed by an independent reviewer, Dr. Peter J. Fagan, M.Div., PhD., from the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in Baltimore, Maryland. 53% of the respondents identified as weekly church-goers, higher than the national average of 31% of Catholics who do so.

On the issue of  marriage equality, the report offers the following evaluation of Catholic attitudes:

“There  is  a  law  recognizing  marriage  equality  in  the  states  of  57  percent  of  the   respondents  (Q29)  and  marriage  equality  is  very  important  for  26  percent  of  the   respondents  and  extremely  important  for  47  percent  (Q33*).

“Respondents  were  asked  to  judge  the  attitudes  of  their  diocese,  parish  and  small   faith  communities  toward  both  marriage  equality  and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a   committed  partnership  (Q30).  As  the  geography  of  the  entity  became  more  local  and   familiar,  i.e.  from  diocese  to  parish  to  faith  community,  the  respondents’  judged  that   the  attitudes  were  less  hostile,  less  condemning  and  less  negative  and  became  more   supportive,  even  highly  supportive.  This  pattern  applied  to  both  marriage  equality   and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a  committed  relationship.    One  third  of  respondents  viewed  their  dioceses  as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage  equality  (37  percent)  and  same-­‐ sex  couples  (35  percent);  their  parishes  as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage   equality  (11  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (13  percent);  and  their  faith  communities   as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage  equality  (3  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (4   percent).

“Asked  about  attitudinal  support  of  marriage  equality  and  same-­‐sex  couples,  the   inverse  pattern  applied:  the  more  local,  the  more  support  for  marriage  equality  and   same-­‐sex  couples  in  a  committed  partnership  (Q30).    Seven  percent  of  dioceses  were   seen  being  at  least  somewhat  supportive  of  both  situations,  as  did  thirty  one  percent   of  parishes  and  two  thirds  of  small  faith  communities.    The  striking  contrast  in  this   inverse  pattern  is  the  discrepancy  between  the  dioceses  perceived  as  hostile  and   condemning  toward  marriage  equality  (37  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (35   percent)  and  the  perception  of  the  respondents’  small  faith  communities  attitudes  as   being  highly  supportive  of  marriage  equality  (45  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a   committed  partnership  (47  percent). “

The entire report concludes with the following observation from the analyst:

There  can  be  no  conclusion  to  this  Report  because  it  is  offered  as  participation  to   the  dialogue  and  discernment  leading  up  to  the  Extraordinary  Synod  on  the  Family   to  be  held  in  the  Vatican  during  October  2014.    However,  if  we  were  to  try  to   capture  what  the  respondents  have  said  in  one  sentence,  we  turn  to  voice  of  Pope   Francis  when  he  wrote,

“ ‘The  Church  must  be  a  place  of  mercy  freely  given,  where  everyone  can  feel   welcomed,  loved,  forgiven  and  encouraged  to  live  the  good  life  of  the  Gospel.’   (Evangelii  Gaudium,  #114)

“If  there  were  one  near-­‐universal  hope  of  the  over  16,000  respondents  to  this  Survey,   it  would  be  that  this  vision  of  the  church  would  become  a  pastoral  reality.”

Organizational sponsors of the survey project from Catholic Organizations for Renewal include American Catholic Council, Call To Action, CORPUS, DignityUSA, Federation of Christian Ministries/Roman Catholic Faith Community Council, FutureChurch, New Ways Ministry, RAPPORT, Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference, Voice of the Faithful, and Women’s Ordination Conference.   Other supporting organizations include Catholic Church Reform, Fortunate Families, and Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER).

You can read some of the qualitative responses to the survey either in English or Spanish.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


How to Offer Input for Synod on Family Is Mired in Confusion

November 12, 2013

Since the Vatican asked for Catholic input to inform next fall’s Synod of Bishops, ambiguity reigns among lay people, clergy, and, it appears, even the Vatican. Directions to disseminate it “immediately” and “as widely as possible” accompanied the Vatican’s release of the 39-question survey, but how this is incarnated is less clear and limited interpretations in the US have left many unhappy.

Officials at the Vatican seem conflicted on what exactly the Synod is asking of bishops and lay people. National Catholic Reporter notes remarks by Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, general-secretary of the Synod, as potentially clarifying:

“Baldisseri said pastors were expected to provide summaries of the views and experiences of parishioners and that their findings would be ‘channeled’ in turn through national bishops’ conferences for ultimate consideration by the synod.

“Individual Catholics are welcome to communicate their views directly to the synod’s offices at the Vatican, Baldisseri said. His staff is preparing the synod’s working document, which should be published in May.”

Also unclear is what weight responses from non-episcopal voices will carry in the Synod, and even what the Synod’s scope will entail:

“[Archbishop Bruno] Forte said he wanted to emphasize the ‘pastoral slant’ of the theme as ‘a perspective through which the Holy Father invites us to look upon the value of the family and the challenges it faces today.’

” ‘It is not, therefore, a matter of debating doctrinal questions…But rather how to understand how to effectively proclaim the Gospel of the family in the times we are living, characterized by a clear social and spiritual crisis.’ “

As for the US bishops, their conference has closed off any broader consultation with Catholics and asks only for bishops to send their personal observations. This path has left many dissatisfied, and several bishops and past staff at the USCCB called the letters from the Vatican and the Conference conflicting messages.

Coincidentally, the Archdiocese of Detroit published a questionnaire for Catholics about the quality of parish life and local church issues which is unrelated to the upcoming synod. This survey, according to National Catholic Reporter, skips topics such as marriage equality and the archdiocese’s spokesperson went to lengths separating it from the Vatican’s request for Catholic input.

Equally dissatisfied are many American Catholics who desire their voices be heard at the Synod and question what impact this effort will actually have in reforming Church practices. Catholic Organizations for Renewal has launched its own survey, based on the Vatican’s questions, and is available to be completed by clicking here.

Linda Pinto, the facilitator of Catholic Organizations for Renewal, a leadership forum of US progressive Catholic organizations said, “U.S. Catholics have been happily surprised that the Vatican is seeking input on issues like divorce and remarriage, use of contraception, same-sex marriage, and what kind of pastoral practice is effective and appropriate. They have been disappointed that there was not a vehicle for them to give their input. That’s why we created this on-line survey. Lay Catholics have strong feelings and a great deal of experience on these matters. Our voices, along with those of our bishops, need to be heard.”

Organizational sponsors of the survey project from Catholic Organizations for Renewal (COR) include American Catholic Council, Call To Action, CORPUS, DignityUSA, Federation of Christian Ministries/Roman Catholic Faith Community Council, FutureChurch, New Ways Ministry, RAPPORT, Roman Catholic WomenPriests, Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference, Voice of the Faithful, and Women’s Ordination Conference. Other supporting organizations include Catholic Church Reform, Fortunate Families, and Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER). Additional organizations are being invited to sponsor the project, and to encourage their members to complete it.

“We want this survey to reach as many U.S. Catholics as possible,” said Pinto. “These are important issues, and our goal is that everyone who wants to have input should have that chance. How our Church ministers to people is of concern to all of us.”

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good have also launched a survey to gather Catholic input in the US in place of the bishops’ silence.

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo was interviewed on MSNBC-TV’s News Nation program last week about the survey and he supported the idea of lay people providing their opinions to the synod.  “The Church teaches that lay people have a right and a duty to express their opinions to their leaders in areas in which they have competence,”  DeBernardo stated.  “Who but lay people have greater competence in the areas of sexuality, gender, and relationships, since they live those realities every day.”

NBC News  reports on several Catholic reform leaders and theologians offering their input, quoting Professor Thomas Groome of Boston College as saying:

” ‘To my knowledge, it’s the first time in the history of the magisterium have genuinely attempted to consult the laity’…

” ‘All of these things have been closed issues and you could be fired for even talking about them. Raising these questions and polling people — it at least signals something other than a closed mind. You have to thank God for small mercies.’ “

NBC News also quotes Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA:

” ‘It’s pretty astonishing…’

“I think it demonstrates a grounding in the practical realities of the world,’ Duddy-Burke said, though she cautioned that the real test is if the Vatican agrees to hear from a diverse range of families at the actual synod.

Amid this confusion, Michael O’Loughlin writes at Religion News Service about his hopes for the Synod, especially in regard to LGBT issues. He notes that, recently, the term ‘family’ is synonymous with the anti-LGBT agenda of Catholics who opposed equal rights, or worse acted harshly against gay and lesbian people. However, with Pope Francis, O’Loughlin has more positive hopes:

“Perhaps the synod will lead to divorced and remarried Catholics having access to communion. And, maybe, too, it’ll lead to the rights of all children, including those being raised by two parents of the same gender, to be baptized and to attend religious education classes and Catholic schools. Recognizing the impact of quality work on family life, perhaps the church will support the rights of LGBT people in employment law, or at least the rights to hold jobs at Catholic institutions. Parishes might consider ways to make non-traditional families feel like they are valued parts of the faith community. Or, maybe, the synod won’t address LGBT people and families at all. Which would be an improvement, too.”

Whether or not the Synod will take up LGBT family matters is, as expected, unclear. Regardless, it is important for LGBT-affirming Catholics to make their voices heard through the surveys offered by Catholic Organizations for Renewal and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: August 19, 2013

August 19, 2013

News NotesHere are some items that may be of interest:

1) Using hyperbolic language, the Catholic bishops in England released a document responding to that nation’s passage of marriage equality earlier this year. The document reiterated common messages from the hierarchy, while adding new concepts about Catholics being alienated in their own country because of the new law. You can read more at The Catholic Register. Marriage equality in England has at least one columnist asking if the Catholic Church should remove itself from marriage altogether.

2) Responding to the firing of educator Carla Hale this spring for marrying her wife, one set of Catholic parents began wondering about a Catholic burial for their gay son. While several Catholic officials and funeral directors assured them the institution denies a Catholic burial in only the most extreme instances, these parents remain dissatisfied. Alternatively, one gay Catholic man told The Columbus Dispatch: ” ‘One place the Catholic Church is really, really, really nice about is death.’ “

3)In the African nation of Cameroon, more anti-gay prosecutions and the seeming assassination of prominent advocate Eric Lembembe caused LGBT rights organizations to demand better conditions from the civil and religious authorities in Cameroon who support homophobic language and acts. LGBT advocates said in a statement reported by France 24: ” ‘The religious authorities, the Cameroonian Roman Catholic Church in particular, take a position on homosexuality in order to incite violence,’ ” Cameroon, where about a quarter of the population are Catholic, is one of the worst nations for LGBT rights.

4) A Michigan high school student won a lawsuit in which he claimed his First Amendment rights were violated during a 2010 classroom interaction. The student claimed his Catholic faith did not allow him to accept LGBT people, and was then written up by his teacher for disruptive behavior. Some observers in Education Week believe this case could have broader implications in the tension over free speech in schools and anti-bullying policies that seek to protect sexual orientation and gender identity.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: July 18, 2013

July 18, 2013

News NotesHere are some items you might find of interest:

1) Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the retired Vicar General of the Rome diocese, responded to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions on marriage equality by calling same-sex marriage an “illusion,”  reports On Top magazine. 

2) New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo published an op-ed on Advocate.com explaining that while Catholic bishops may decry the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions, Catholic lay people are rejoicing at the news.

3) The mother of a gay son reflects on her participation in the “Dirty Hands” demonstration at New York’s St. Patrick Cathedral.  Her thoughts can be read in a Fortunate Families blog post.

4) St. Louis, Missouri’s Catholic Action Network for Social Justice participated in their city’s Pride Festival, spreading a message of  Catholic inclusion and welcome, reports RiverfrontTimes.com.

5) Alaskan U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Catholic and a Republican, has announced her support for marriage equality, according to an op-ed published on her website.  Relevant excerpts can be found in a news story on TV.msnbc.com.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


As England Passes Equal Marriage, Catholic Church Given Opportunity to Grow

July 18, 2013

A rainbow double-decker bus passes by London’s Parliament.

Marriage equality is finally legal in the United Kingdom after receiving ‘Royal Assent’ from Queen Elizabeth yesterday, making it the 18th nation to enact equal marriage rights. Now, it will be up to the British public and their religious leaders to implement the new law without further conflict — and perhaps the Catholic Church can seize this opportunity to improve relations with the LGBT community there.

After final approval from the two legislative chambers then the queen, same-gender couples will be able to marry starting next summer. The Huffington Post reports that several British politicians spoke to the importance of this legislation for LGBT people in their nation, including Culture Secretary Maria Miller:

“[She] said ‘marriage is the bedrock of our society and now irrespective of sexuality everyone in British society can make that commitment’.

” ‘It is a wonderful achievement and whilst this legislation may be about marriage, its impact is so much wider. Making marriage available to all couples demonstrates our society’s respect for all individuals regardless of their sexuality’…

” ‘It demonstrates the importance we attach to being able to live freely. It says so much about the society that we are and the society that we want to live in.’ “

Also championing the new law are LGBT advocates like Stonewall UK’s director Ben Summerskill, who are sensitive to the religious issues at play. Summerskill gave an extended interview to The Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Westminster (London) recently where he spoke positively of religion’s relationship in society and in regards to LGBT equality. He calls himself a “critical friend” of Christian churches, not an opponent and continues:

“ ‘I think that one thing the Roman Catholic Church has not been good at is wrestling with these sorts of issues in a constructive and supportive way. Lesbians and gay people in the Church of England might be dissatisfied with what it’s done, but it’s a church that wrestled with these issues. For a gay Roman Catholic, there is no acknowledgment that there is a community of interest within the Church.’…

“ ‘I think it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that many denominations have been insufficiently energetic in addressing some of the hatred and prejudice…Well, there’s no doubt some of them have encouraged it. But I’m wary of caricaturing a whole denomination. Of course there are good things [in the Catholic Church]. There are good things in all churches that bring people together. We now work directly with 500 schools, with a third of local authorities, on dealing with homophobic bullying. And those include Roman Catholic faith schools, which take the issue incredibly seriously. They are exemplary in the way they deal with these issues.’ “

In the United Kingdom, examples of Catholics positively engaging LGBT issues, as one London school did, are contrasted with hyperbolic statements from the Catholic bishops who previously threatened to stop performing marriages if the nation legalized equal marriage rights. Now that the law is in effect, the example of Ben Summerskill and other ‘critical friends’ of the Catholic Church should be guiding influences so that all families are provided for and welcomed by their parishes as same-gender Catholic couples begin to marry.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


New Ways Ministry Welcomes Supreme Court Decisions on Marriage Equality

June 26, 2013
Supreme Court

Supreme Court

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry on the Supreme Court’s decisions about marriage equality:

The Supreme Court’s decisions today that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and that marriage equality should be revived in California feel like “justice rolling down like a river,” in the words of the prophet Amos. While Catholic bishops will not welcome these decisions, the people in the pews of Catholic parishes across the country are ecstatic that these major injustices against their lesbian and gay friends and family members are now dissolved.  We thank the Court for these decisions, and we give thanks to God for answering our many prayers seeking justice.

Catholic lay people across the U.S. and in California have worked hard to support their deeply held Catholic belief that equal treatment by our government’s laws should be extended to lesbian and gay couples who want to marry.  Catholics hold this belief because of their faith, not in spite of it.  Our Catholic social justice tradition motivates us to work for strong families and expansive social protections, and these can only be achieved when all families are treated fairly and equally under the law.

These Supreme Court decisions are definitely not the final word on marriage equality in our nation.  Much work remains to be done.  And Catholics will be part of that work in state and national campaigns to facilitate marriage equality and to end other injustices against LGBT people such as discriminatory immigration policies.   Catholics will stand with those of other faiths to show that religious people do not support discrimination.

Catholics also have work to do within our own church.  We are ashamed and dismayed that our bishops are often the most vocal opponents of marriage equality.  Their statements often reveal a stunning ignorance of lesbian and gay lives and a lack of compassion that is unbecoming of faith leaders.  Catholics pray that today’s Supreme Court decisions will open our bishops’ eyes so that they will at least meet and dialogue with lesbian and gay Catholics and their families.  If the bishops do this, they will witness firsthand how the Gospel of justice and love which they preach is practiced by those they consider the least in their flocks.

New Ways Ministry is a 36-year old national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBT people and the Catholic Church.  For more information visit http://www.NewWaysMinistry.org.


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