Fired Gay Musician’s Meeting with Cardinal Shows Catholic Split on LGBT Issues

September 12, 2014

Supporters pray over Colin Collette during a vigil

Fired church worker Colin Collette will not be returning to his job, even after meeting with Cardinal Francis George of Chicago this week and ongoing protests from parishioners demand that he be rehired.

A subplot to this story, however, is how fractured the American bishops can often be when it comes to LGBT issues.

Collette asked for the meeting to discuss his dismissal as Holy Family Church’s choir director, which came about after Collette posted on social media about his engagement to William Nifong. Collette has previously expressed his desire to return to the staff of Holy Family, where he had worked for more than seventeen years and was loved by the community. A statement on the Cardinal George meeting from the former church employee reported by the Chicago Tribune was positive and quotes him as saying:

” ‘I was incredibly grateful to the cardinal for meeting with me. This is an incredibly difficult time for him [as George is undergoing cancer treatment]…I was moved beyond words that he would meet with me.We prayed together. He was wonderful. He was very pastoral.’ “

Though the cardinal willingly met with Collette, Michael O’Loughlin of Crux reports George placed blame for the “crisis” on the employee and said Collette’s choice to marry now makes working in a Catholic parish “impossible.”

Meanwhile, parishioners at Holy Family continue to demand justice for Collette. The Sunday before Collette’s meeting with the cardinal, supporters held a prayer vigil outside the church. In August, more than 700 people attended an August town hall called by the pastor, Fr. Terry Keehan, and support for Collette was overwhelming. Additionally, music ministers like Kevin Keane have resigned in protest and parishioners like Bill Leece have written to the media demanding an apology from Catholic leadership. One parishioner framed the new reality as, “Everybody was welcome…That’s become a lie.”

While Collette described the meeting with Cardinal George as pastoral, Chicago Catholics saw a different side to the prelate in his weekly column which viciously attacked marriage equality’s progress.

Highlighting the real, but bygone reality of anti-Catholicism in US history, George identifies LGBT advocates as imposing their views on society and anyone who objects “places their citizenship in danger.” Those who consider themselves “progressive” are, for George, the inheritors of the anti-Catholic of the nativists, the Know-Nothings, or the Ku Klux Klan. All of this results in a “crisis of belief” for Catholics, says the cardinal when American society becomes intolerant of those cannot continue discriminating. He sees the situation as comparable to Islam’s Sharia law.

Cardinal George’s arguments are flawed because there is neither a persecution of Catholics in the US nor does he seem to understand Sharia or LGBT issues.

What is notable is the contrast between Cardinal George’s interpersonal behavior, for I do not doubt Collette’s account that he was pastoral, and Cardinal George’s public persona which is harsh and embittered. How does this split develop and why can the cardinal not see that writing the column is pastorally damaging? Doesn’t he see thatLGBT people and their allies are indeed human persons worthy of his respect and compassion?

This fractured behavior, of personally being pastoral while publicly being partisan, is not unique to Cardinal George and by many accounts a few of the most anti-gay bishops are indeed quite compassionate people during personal encounters. As civil marriage equality progresses, church leaders need to address this dissonance that leads to so much damage, including the firing of LGBT church workers.

A new integrated approach is necessary when speaking with and about people who are in same-gender marriages. New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond’s pastorally-inclined response to a Louisiana court’s ruling that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage rights could be one model of moving forward. Francis DeBernardo noted that the archbishop used minimalist language when discussing the marriage case, and shifted the emphasis to his renewed commitment to help LGBT Catholics and their families through pastoral outreach. While not perfect, Aymond’s example could be a way forward in rediscovering the “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” due to the LGBT community by church officials.

At the very least, leaning toward the pastoral could mean an end to the firing of LGBT church workers, many of whom could repeat Colin Collette’s words that “my whole life has been the church. It’s my love. It’s my passion, and I pray for the opportunity to [minister again].”

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of ‘Employment Issues,’ click the category to the right. For a full listing of LGBT-related firings, with links for further information, click here. And if you are interested in helping protect LGBT and ally church workers by implementing an inclusive non-discrimination policy at your local parish or Catholic school, more information on how to do this is available by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis’ Words Swayed Illinois Lawmakers to Support Marriage Equality

November 8, 2013

Pope Francis

This week, Illinois became the 15th state to pass marriage equality legislation, and it’s becoming clear from news reports that this was done in no small way because of Catholics in the state, and Pope Francis, too.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?” comments from July seemed to persuade some Catholic lawmakers to vote in favor of marriage equality.  The news story stated:

“The comments sparked a wave of soul-searching by several Catholic lawmakers who had battled to reconcile their religious beliefs with their sworn duty to represent their constituents who were increasingly supportive of gay rights even as Cardinal Francis George remained opposed.”

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan

As evidence, they offered a quote from Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Catholic, who echoed the pope’s famous line as he adapted it to the marriage equality debate:

“For those that just happen to be gay — living in a very harmonious, productive relationship but illegal — who am I to judge that they should be illegal?”

The Chicago Sun-Times  was more expansive in citing Madigan’s remarks:

“House Speaker Michael J. Madigan was one of the final speakers in the debate, giving the bill his blessing, pledging to vote yes and quoting Pope Francis.

“ ‘My thoughts regarding this legislation were formulated before the quote I’m going to offer to all of us,’ Madigan told colleagues, as the packed House chamber fell silent. ‘And the quote that I offer is a quote from Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic church, who is quoted as saying, “If someone is gay, and he searches for the Lord, and he has good will, who am I to judge?”

“ ‘Pope Francis has spoken, and he has articulated the basis of my thinking on this issue,’ said Madigan, who later acknowledged having personally lobbied between five and 10 House Democrats to support Harris’ bill.”

Another Catholic lawmaker who was obviously influenced by Pope Francis is Representative Linda Chapa LaVia (who we quoted yesterday) who explicitly referenced the pope in her explanation of how her faith motivated her to vote for marriage equality:

“As a Catholic follower of Jesus and the pope, Pope Francis, I am clear that our Catholic religious doctrine has at its core love, compassion and justice for all people.”

Representative Linda Chapa LaVia

The Tribune noted that Chapa LaVia had been undecided about her vote, even as late as this past summer.

The Beacon News interviewed Chapa LaVia for an article about how she came to her decision.  The news story stated:

“Over the past two years, Chapa LaVia met with her priest, made visits to area churches and fielded constituent calls. Chapa LaVia faced competing protests at her district office this summer after declaring she was ’50/50′ on the gay marriage issue.”

In addition to her Catholic faith, Chapa La Via also cited her constitutional oath to uphold the law:

“Besides her husband, developer Vernon LaVia, no one knew exactly which way she would vote until she took to the House floor Tuesday. In her speech, Chapa LaVia said she raised her right hand twice on oath to the Constitution of Illinois and to the Constitution of the United States.

“ ‘Both times it was a promise to promote justice for all, not just some people,’ she said.”

LaVia mentioned that”it’s going to be difficult to walk into church,” but she was not the only Catholic who supported the bill:

“Chapa LaVia noted that many other ‘high-ranking Catholics,’ such as Gov. Pat Quinn, House Speaker Mike Madigan and state Rep. Ed Sullivan, one of three GOP House members to vote ‘yes,’ also supported the bill Tuesday. All Latino state House lawmakers and 16 of the 24 Black Caucus members voted in favor of the bill, too, her office said Wednesday.”

Governor Quinn, who signed civil union legislation a few years ago, is ready to sign the marriage equality bill, too.

These high-ranking leaders joined the thousands of ordinary Catholics in the state who supported marriage equality, many of whom were members of the Catholics for Marriage Equality Illinois coalition.  The Illinois Observer reported on a recent state poll which showed that “Illinois voters who identified as Catholic favor gay marriage by a 2-to-1 margin.”

Some Catholic leaders, of course, were vocal opponents of the bill, and were disappointed with the outcome.   RRStar.com reported:

“. . . the Catholic Conference of Illinois issued a statement that said the vote went ‘against the common consensus of the human race’ and undermines the institution of marriage.

” ‘The Catholic Conference of Illinois is deeply disappointed that members of the General Assembly chose to redefine what is outside of its authority — a natural institution like marriage,’ the statement said. ‘We remain concerned about the very real threats to religious liberty that are at stake with the passage of this bill.’ “

Cardinal Francis George

Similarly, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who spoke out numerous times against the bill had this reaction, reported by the Sun-Times:

“It’s no enormous surprise. There was a lot of effort placed into passage of this legislation. I think it’s bad legislation, but we’ve lived with bad laws before. It’ll make some people happy … but it will also, I think, change the nature of our society over a period of time.”

The cardinal also indicated that gay and lesbian couples who marry legally would not be eligible to receive communion:

“If someone is living in a lifestyle that is publicly against the Gospel as interpreted in the church, whether heterosexual or they’re gay, no, they don’t take communion. But that’s the discipline of the sacrament that applies to everybody, not just to gays.”

Yet, it seems that Catholics in the state are paying more attention to Pope Francis than to the local hierarchy when it comes to LGBT issues.  In fact, the bishops’ opposition seems to be having a somewhat  counter-productive effect for their position.  The poll mentioned above also had results that showed that when Catholics were told that bishops opposed marriage equality, this information actually increased support for the legislation.  The Illinois Observer reported:

“Catholic voters actually offered more support for marriage equality legislation when told that some public figures, including Cardinal George and Catholic bishops, oppose marriage between same-sex couples, according to a new poll by Fako & Associates of Lisle, IL, a national public opinion research firm. . . .

“Catholics supported marriage fairness 61 percent to 32 percent; Catholic support increased to 63 percent, 31 percent opposed, when read the balanced statement that included the bishops’ opposition.”

For more information on Catholics who support marriage equality, visit the Catholics for Marriage Equality website and “like” them on Facebook.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Immigrant Rights’ Groups Cut Budgets Because of Loss of Catholic Funds

October 21, 2013

We reported a few weeks back about the Illinois’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) de-funding of Immigrants’ rights groups because of their support for the state’s marriage equality law.  There was hope that they would be able to raise money from individuals to re-coup the $300,000 of Catholic money that supported their immigration work.

 

Lawrence Benito

The Chicago Tribune indicates that these groups have started to cut their programs and services because they have been unable to match the cut funds. Only $91,000 has been raised.   The news report notes that the leaders of these organizations are very disappointed, but still stand by their decision to support marriage equality on the principle of justice.  Lawrence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights stated:

“We knew there would be some push-back, but we didn’t really fully understand the extent at which this could play out. Our only regret was the process by which we made the decision. Since then … we’ve come to the same conclusion. As an organization dedicated to justice, fairness and equality, we saw this issue as consistent with those principles.”

The CCHD’s decision to take back funding has, however, left many of these immigration leaders bewildered about the Catholic church’s support of immigration rights:

” ‘The groups they’ve chosen to defund are working on a variety of issues in their communities,’ said Jeanne Kracher, executive director of the Crossroads Fund of Chicago, the foundation administering the emergency money. ‘None of them have dropped what they’re doing and exclusively started working on gay marriage. It just seemed odd to say: “Last week we thought you were great but this week, we don’t. ” ‘ “

And Benito, quoted above, said:

“We wouldn’t be where we are today in the fight for immigration reform without the support and partnership of the Catholic Church both locally and nationally. We have consistent values in terms of immigration reform.”

Cardinal Francis George

Cardinal Francis George

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago defended the CCHD with the following statement:

“Jesus is merciful, but he is not stupid. He knows the difference between right and wrong. Manipulating both immigrants and the church for political advantage is wrong.”

Not only is his bluntness inelegant, but it also illustrates a trend that another Illinois Catholic official said is operating among the hierarchy around immigration reform and marriage equality.  The Chicago Tribune  reported this bit concerning a national immigration reform bill and its effect on the hierarchy’s position:

“Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, proposed amending the immigration reform bill to include foreign-born, same-sex spouses. Leahy eventually withheld the amendment, but church leaders already felt betrayed.

“Anthony Suarez-Abraham, head of the Chicago Archdiocese’s office for peace and justice, said that after Leahy’s action, U.S. bishops put everyone on high alert for attempts to combine gay rights and immigration reform elsewhere. So when the state’s immigrant rights coalition endorsed gay marriage, it struck a nerve.”

Cardinal George’s blunt tone is uncharitable, at best.  In my opinion, it is statements such as his that Pope Francis may have been referring to when he said that some church leaders were obsessed with gay marriage.  Such crass bluntness is unbecoming of a church leader, and it seems to indicate some over-investment in the topic.  Regardless of how much someone may differ from his point of view, no one deserves to be spoken to so arrogantly.   His comments disregard his interlocutor,  reflect poorly  on himself, and do a great disservice to Jesus and the entire church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


The Mostly Ambivalent Responses by U.S. Bishops to Pope Francis

October 8, 2013

For more than two weeks, my email inbox has been swamped with messages from folks sending me links to articles and essays responding to Pope Francis’ Jesuit magazine interview, in which he chastised church leaders for being too obsessed with gay issues.    Early on, we tried providing you with some of the best of the responses, and you can read those here, here, here, and here.

But as I sifted through all these emails, one group that has remained pretty silent on the matter have been the U.S. bishops themselves.  Now, I admit that I did not do a major web search for every U.S. bishop to see what he might have said about the interview.  Yet, their remarks did not seem prominent in most of the news stories that I saw on the topic.

What is more surprising is that while almost everyone else in the U.S., Catholic and non-Catholic alike, were pleasantly surprised and astonished by what they detected as a new tone from the papacy, the few bishops who did make public responses tended to downplay any innovation on the part of Pope Francis. Their responses reflect a strong ambivalence about the pope’s new direction.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan 3

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was one of the first bishops to respond.  As president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he is the spokesperson for the conference, and so many media outlets were interested in what he had to say.

In a New York Times  interview, he called the pope’s words “a breath of fresh air,” yet then went on to stress continuity, not change, in the papal message:

“ ‘One of the lines that nobody seems to be paying attention to was when he said I’m a loyal son of the church,’ he said. ‘He knows that the highest and most sacred responsibility is to pass on the timeless teaching of the church.’ “

What’s odd is that most people saw as more significant Pope Francis’ admission of himself as a sinner, which he described as the most “accurate” description of himself.   Furthermore, while Dolan sees the pope’s job as passing on “timeless teaching,” Pope Francis in the interview emphasized the development of church teaching through history.

And  while most commentators noted the compassionate and merciful tone in the pope’s words, Dolan seemed to see some sort of loophole for church leaders to continue to criticize:

“What he’s saying is that we have to think of a more effective way to do it, because if the church comes off as a scold, it’s counterproductive. If the church comes off as a loving, embracing mother, who periodically has to correct her children, then we will be effective.”

Dolan also tried to shift the reason why bishops speak so much about abortion and homosexuality to the media.  On Top Magazine reported that Dolan mentioned the following in a television interview, responding to a reporter’s question about whether bishops were obsessed about these topics:

“I wonder if we all spend too much time talking about that. I mean you guys would admit that’s usually the things you ask me about, right? So, I don’t know if it’s just the church that seems obsessed with those issues. It seems to be culture, society,”

Cardinal Francis George

Cardinal Francis George

Like Dolan,  Cardinal Francis George of Chicago also seemed to want to shift the cause for “obsession” to the general society, not to the bishops.  In The Chicago Tribune, he stated:

“If the society is obsessed with those issues, then the church will respond. If the society doesn’t bring them up, the church won’t respond.”

Also like Dolan, George wanted to retain some form of judgmentalism for church leaders.  He stated:

“Everybody is welcome,but not everything we do can be acceptable. Not everything I do, and not everything anybody else does. . . .

“His position was, ‘Don’t judge a person.’ It wasn’t anything about saying, ‘Don’t judge an action as moral or immoral.’ It was taken to say we shouldn’t judge the activity.”

Bishop David O'Connell

Bishop David O’Connell

Bishop David O’Connell tried to downplay any change that might be reflected in the pope’s words.   In a CNN interview, he said:

“I think it is a slight departure .  .  .  .This was an interview. This was not an instant of papal pronouncement or teaching, . . .This pope is accustomed to speak off the cuff, and to speak in a very common way with people, and I think that’s what you saw in this interview.

“He really was just sharing some of his thoughts and reflections.”

Madison, Wisconsin’s Bishop Robert Morlino offered perhaps the most stubborn refusal to recognizing any change in the papacy.  In an email sent to Channel 3000, Morlino stated:

Bishop Robert Morlino

Bishop Robert Morlino

“The Pope is clearly offering his good pastoral counsel about our being, first and foremost, ministers of Jesus’ love and mercy. This is something that every member of Christ’s Church should take to heart and make part of their evangelization efforts. Given the confusion about Pope Francis’ statements that has emerged from the media coverage to date, I think it’s inopportune to offer extensive observations which will probably be subjected to like misinterpretation. I think that, analogous to the “spirit of Vatican II”, a distorted “spirit of Pope Francis” is being concocted which is equally, if not more misleading. For me, it is not prudent to respond further to the Holy Father’s remarks at this time.”

Bishop Thomas Tobin

Bishop Thomas Tobin

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, was enthusiastic in his praise for the pope’s comments, though some wondered about the sincerity of his praise since only a short time before the papal interview, he had written in his diocesan newspaper that he was “a little bit disappointed” in the new pope for not mentioning abortion enough.  Tobin told The Providence Journal:

“I enthusiastically welcome the balanced and inclusive approach our Holy Father is bringing to the pastoral ministry of the church. . . .

“Being a Catholic does not mean having to choose between doctrine and charity, between truth and love. It includes both.”

Archbishop William Lori

Archbishop William Lori

Perhaps the most genuine response from a bishop came from Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, Maryland.  Lori, an ardent and vocal opponent of marriage equalitly, who is also the U.S. bishops’ point person on religious liberty, told the Associated Press:

“Every time I make a statement about one of these things, I will certainly take another look at it and ask, ‘Does this really lead people back to the heart of the Gospel?’ “

I consider this response most “genuine” because it alone acknowledges that bishops may not have been considering this question about the gospel before uttering statements in the past.

John Allen, a Vatican analyst for The National Catholic Reporter, recently commented on why it might take a while before Pope Francis’ “imprint” will be seen among the American bishops.  He posits that Pope Francis seems to be taking his time making changes in the Vatican administration, which could influence the type of bishops appointed.  Additionally, since few American bishops are at or near retirement age of 75, it might take a while before Pope Francis has an opportunity to replace them.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Donors Fill the Gap When Bishops Cut Funds Because of Marriage Equality Support

October 3, 2013
Two months ago, immigrants’ rights organizations in Chicago lost funding from the US bishops over their support of marriage equality. Now, the National Catholic Reporter reveals an impressive effort underway to replace lost grants from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), a an anti-poverty program of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.The collaborative effort, called Solidarity Fund, hopes to raise $300,000 from charitable foundations this year to support almost a dozen immigration-focused organizations located in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

These organizations received grants from CCHD, and they were also affiliated with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees Rights, which endorsed marriage equality in May.  The coalition had stated:

“While we recognize that there are differences of opinion within immigrant and faith-based communities regarding same-sex marriages, including among our members, the majority of our members — and therefore our organization — believe that a full respect for our state’s and our nation’s diversity demands that we not discriminate based on whom we love, and that we call upon an end to such discrimination in our local, state, and federal laws.”

This statement triggered a response from the US bishops asking any organizations receiving CCHD grants to withdraw from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees Rights or lose their funding. The news report explains what happened in ensuing weeks:

“A month later, a group of Chicago Catholics wrote an open letter in the Chicago Tribune to Cardinal Francis George, accusing him of using immigrants ‘as pawns in a political battle,’ and urged him to reconsider rescinding the groups’ funding.

“A day later, George responded that the board of the immigrant and refugee coalition, not he, cut the funding by endorsing same-sex marriage and said the church continues to support immigrants and immigration reform through other organizations.”

One of these immigrants rights’ groups spoke of the  impossible decision to forgo funding or withdraw from the statewide immigration reform coalition:

“For the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative, [Executive Director Leone Jose] Bicchieri said the archdiocese contacted him several times in an effort to find a solution, but ultimately, he and his staff determined, given their focus, it didn’t make sense for their organization to sever ties with coalition.

“‘We felt that now was not a time to even consider splintering off from a coalition around immigration reform,’…adding that he was hopeful for future opportunities for collaboration with the Chicago archdiocese.”

The actions of Cardinal George and CCHD are harming efforts to assist migrants and achieve immigration reform. Defunding organizations over LGBT issues forces these groups to commit limited resources to respond to the bishops’ narrow concerns and leaves them less capable of enacting charity and justice for immigrants, a position the Catholic Church strongly endorses. It is an inspiration that the Solidarity Fund is acting swiftly to make up the funding through donors, but this politicking and crisis management model leaves all sides worse off.

CCHD promotes their work with the phrase, “Fight Poverty. Defend Human Dignity.” As a former intern with them, I know well the deep impact the CCHD has had in rectifying injustices in the US and building up a more just society. It is one of the American Church’s true accomplishments since Vatican II. Yet, actions like the defunding in Chicago leave me wondering why the bishops equivocate whose dignity Catholics will defend and why so many must be hurt for their crusade against civil marriage equality.

To donate to the Solidarity Fund, you can visit their website here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: September 10, 2013

September 10, 2013

NewsHere are some items that you may find of interest:

1) William Hudson, who resigned his position at Totino-Grace High School, a Minneapolis Catholic school, because of his committed relationship with another man, has found a new job, reports Minnesota.cbs.local.com.  Hudson, who in the past had a top level position at the National Catholic Education Association, will become the director of institutional advancement at Mounds Park Academy, a non-denominational school in St. Paul, Minnesota.

2) New Jersey’s new law banning reparative therapy to try to change one’s homosexual orientation is being challenged in federal court by a group of Christian counselors, according to Religion News ServiceThe law was signed by N.J.’s Catholic governor, Chris Christie, who has been praised for his measure by a Catholic writer on America magazine’s blog. 

3) Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George said he doesn’t believe that it is inevitable that same-sex marriage will be legalized in Illinois, where a bill is still being considered in the state legislature.  In an interview with The Chicago Sun-TimesGeorge said he did not think that legislators had enough votes to pass the bill.   Mark Brown, the writer who interviewed the cardinal, wrote a second piece on George’s views on marriage where he included much more extensive quotes.

4) Last weekBondings 2.0 reported on Hawaii’s Bishop Larry Silva writing a strongly worded pastoral letter opposing that state’s proposed marriage equality law.   CivilBeat.com took apart the bishop’s argument, including debunking his claim that marriage equality will cause more youth suicides.  You can read their entire analysis here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


U.S. Bishops on Pope Francis’ Gay-Positive Comments–Part 1

August 13, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Many people have commented on Pope Francis’ gay-positive statements on his flight home from World Youth Day last week.  One group that has not received as much attention for their commentary, however, are the U.S. bishops themselves.  Only statements made on two morning news shows by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, made any kind of national headlines.

But in local newspapers around the country bishops and/or diocesan officials did make statements commenting on the pope’s remarks.  These comments deserve some examination because they reveal not only these bishops’ approach to gay and lesbian issues, but also how they view the magisterium of the church and perhaps even the new pope.  A variety of themes emerge from looking at the bishops’ statements.

Today’s post will examine the responses which tended to downplay the pope’s comments, and tomorrow’s post will look the responses which saw some change in the pope’s message.

(Before I start the examination of these comments, I must make a note that in many cases the local bishop was not available for comment, often because he was out of town.  In those instances, I will be relying on the responses of a diocesan official.)

Despite the fact that the pope’s comments made headlines around the world in every form of news media imaginable, one dominant theme that the bishops expressed was surprise that people were interested in what the pope had to say about gay people.  They tried to emphasize that the pope had not made any serious change in church teaching.

One good example of this theme came from Bishop Robert Vasa of the Santa Rosa Diocese, California.    The Press Democrat newspaper in his city had the following message from him:

Bishop Robert Vasa

Bishop Robert Vasa

“. . . . Bishop Vasa said these comments were anything but ‘groundbreaking’ and echoed certain paragraphs from the catechism of the Catholic Church.

” ‘I don’t know that I would see them as any more conciliatory than the church documents have always been,’ he said. . . .

“In several news reports, Pope Francis’ statements Monday were contrasted with former Pope Benedict XVI’s signing of a document in 2005 that said men with gay tendencies should not be allowed to become priests.

“Bishop Vasa said the pope made no statements contradicting his predecessor.

” ‘I don’t know that those are necessarily two different statements,’ he said. . . .

“Bishop Vasa said the candid nature of the pope’s press conference, where the pontiff was not afraid to answer questions, was a reflection of the church’s new leader.

” ‘He is his own man. He is not afraid to engage with discussion of matters in secular society that may be controversial,’ Vasa said.

” ‘But at the same time, he holds true to the clear teachings of the church. Nothing in what he said suggested acceptance of gay priests or otherwise engaging in homosexual acts.’ “

In the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, a diocesan official followed along the line of the “continuity” theme, but made a point of adding some comments about celibacy, in an interview with The Providence Journal:

 “ ‘In a sense, the Holy Father has said nothing new, and his comments only echo the Catholic Church’s consistent position that priests are still called to a life of celibate chastity and that homosexuals are welcome in the church,’ the Diocese of Providence’s chancellor, the Rev. Timothy Reilly said Monday night.”

Bishop Michael Jarrell

Bishop Michael Jarrell

Other bishops and dioceses that only discussed continuity with church teaching in the pope’s comments include Bishop Michael Jarrell of the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana; the Diocese of Portland, Maine, and the Diocese of Sacramento, California; the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska.  (You can read their statements if you follow the links to the news stories which carried them.)

The spokesperson for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida, argued for continuity, too, but he also chose to stress that church teaching is really about “sin” in his comments to The Tampa Tribune:

“The comment doesn’t bode any shift in Catholic policy on the topic, said John Morris, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg. He acknowledged a lot of people around the world will hear and read the statement and interpret it in different ways.

” ‘I don’t think this signals any kind of change in what the church is doing,” Morris said Monday. ‘It’s just going at it from different angle.’

“The Catholic Church traditionally has called homosexuality a sin and opposed gay marriage, and the pope’s statement Monday does not change that, Morris said.

” ‘I don’t know if this nudges (the church) in a different direction,’ he said. ‘The church always has had its stance on sins. The church accepts everyone. The sin is the issue.’ “

Cardinal Francis George

Cardinal Francis George

While many commentators viewed the pope’s comments as stressing the human dignity aspect of church teaching on homosexuality over the sexual ethics teaching, Chicago’s Cardinal George, in a National Catholic Reporter  article seems to think that the sexual ethics teaching was prominent in the papal remarks:

“Chicago Cardinal Francis George said in a statement Monday that the pope ‘reaffirmed the teaching of the Catholic faith and other religions that homosexual genital relations are morally wrong. The pope also reaffirmed the church’s teaching that every man and woman should be accepted with love, including those with same-sex orientation.’ “

The Archdiocese of St. Louis, in a statement quoted on FirstCoastNews.com, also viewed the pope’s comments primarily in terms of sexual behavior:

“The Archdiocese of St. Louis supports the remarks by Pope Francis which reiterate church teaching that homosexuals are welcome in the church but homosexual activity is forbidden. The Catholic Church teaches that all people are called to responsibility when it comes to sexuality, whether homosexual or heterosexual, priest or lay person. She believes that all sexual activity belongs within a marriage between a man and a woman.

“The Catholic Church does not condemn people for having same-sex attraction. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states quite clearly that homosexual persons ‘must be accepted with compassion, respect and sensitivity.’ The Catechism adds that ‘Every sign of unjust discrimination must be avoided.’

“While the Catholic Church objects to homosexual activity, she does not object to homosexuals.”

Archbishop Allen Vigneron

Archbishop Allen Vigneron

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit had what was probably the harshest interpretation of the pope’s comments.  The city’s Free Press recorded his response:

“But for Archbishop Allen Vigneron, spiritual head of metro Detroit’s 1.3 million Catholics, the pope “didn’t say anything different.”

“ ‘There’s no change’ on the Catholic Church’s view on homosexuality, Vigneron told the Free Press this week. ‘He may have had his own Pope Francis way of putting it, different from maybe the way Pope Benedict would put it, but they’re saying the same things.’ ”

“While some have said Pope Francis struck a new tone with regard to gay people, Vigneron said the worldwide leader of Catholics reiterated what is already in Catholic doctrine, which opposes homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Vigneron said the pope made it clear that gays must try to ‘repent and put their lives in order.’

“ ‘The pope presented the church’s Catholic teaching … endorsed it, and then called us to live up to it, especially to live up to assisting those who have challenges to keep the commandments, and to embrace them when they repent and put their lives in order,’ Vigneron explained.

“ ‘We will do what we can to sustain the definition of marriage as traditional marriage in our Michigan life,’ Vigneron said.

I label Vigneron’s statement the “harshest” because he managed to include references to repentance and marriage law into his comments, while Pope Francis did not even allude to either of these.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post which features bishops’ comments that are a bit more positive in their outlook.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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