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


U.S. Bishops on Pope Francis’ Gay-Positive Comments–Part 2

August 14, 2013

Yesterday, we posted comments from bishops and dioceses that tended to downplay Pope Francis’ gay-positive remarks. Today, we will look at comments from these church leaders that were either mixed in their reactions or that welcomed the difference that the pope seemed to be emphasizing.

Archbishop Michael Jackels

Archbishop Michael Jackels

Most of the comments from yesterday tended to stress that nothing had changed because of the pope’s comments.   In the category of “mixed” responses, we can see that some leaders stress continuity in substance, but acknowledge that there has been a tone shift.  Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque, Iowa, stated to RadioIowa.com:

“The Holy Father made some comments that really were not terribly surprising. He just, in essence, repeated what the church taught, has taught for a long time and has written in the catechism of the Catholic Church but he put it in his own, more personal, direct manner.”

In Erie, Pennsylvania, a diocesan official also emphasized the pope’s new tone and approach, in an interview with ErieTVNews.com:

“Father Chris Singer, Chancellor of the Diocese of Erie said, ‘Pope Francis once again has challenged us in his unique refreshing style what is at the core of the church’s teaching and that is that every man and woman is made in the image of God and God meets them where they are at.’  Singer added, ‘So Pope Francis has not made a change at all, he’s just reminding us to treat all people with respect, to meet them where they are and help them to grow in holiness and that’s exactly how Jesus lived.’ “

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Also in the “mixed” category were those bishops who acknowledged something positive about the pope’s comments, but also seemed to want to tone down what they pope’s message was.  In The San Francisco Chronicle,  Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of that city, exemplified this well:

“First, Cordileone praised the Pope Tuesday for ‘reiterating the Church’s love and welcome to all people,’ and said the Church should be a ‘welcome’ and ‘safe’  place for people ‘who experience same sex attraction,’ (and says the Church needs to do a better job on ‘following through’ on being that welcoming place).

“But  Cordileone also wanted to clarify one point:

“ ‘While the Church does not judge individuals, the Church does judge actions,’ Cordileone said. To wit: ‘Any sexual act’ outside the boundaries of a male-female marriage, be it gay or straight, is ‘sinful.’”

While it was refreshing to see Cordileone acknowledge that the church has to do a better on welcoming LGBT people, it is disappointing that he uses “same-sex attraction” and the distinction about judging people versus judging acts.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

The distinction on judging also featured prominently in the comments of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  On NBC’s Today show, Cardinal Dolan stated:

“It’s been a pretty clear teaching of the church based on the words of Jesus that we can’t judge people; we can judge actions.”

Dolan’s message tried to stress the positive about the papal remarks, but he also stressed the sexual ethics teaching.  On one hand, he said:

“What the pope is saying [is] don’t forget forget there is another element to God’s teaching. Namely, that we treat everybody with dignity and respect, that we don’t judge their heart and that we love and respect them.”

But on the other hand, he said:

“Homosexual people deserve love respect and dignity, while homosexual acts are immoral.

“The church’s teaching, which is based on the Bible and God’s revelation, is that sexual love is reserved only between a man and woman in the life-long, life-giving relationship of marriage and any relations outside of that, hetero or homo, would be less than God’s intention. That hasn’t changed.”

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore also sent a mixed message about the pope’s comments.  The Washington Blade reported his comments:

“ ‘The Holy Father is not going to make up church doctrine at a news conference.’ But he added that the church teaches understanding and compassion and that the doors are open.”

Bishop Michael Sheridan

Bishop Michael Sheridan

On the more positive side were some bishops who further commented on the pope’s new approach to gay and lesbian issues. Fox21News.com, in Colorado Springs, carried comments from that city’s Bishop Michael Sheridan, which encouraged a more accepting outlook:

” ‘He speaks to individual people he speaks on a clear level, so it doesn’t surprise me he would stand strong,’ Bishop Sheridan said.

“The Pope’s words mark a sharp shift in tone, but the Bishop said it’s not a change in the church’s teaching.

” ‘Every single human being, heterosexual, homosexual, old, young, is deserving of love and of respect and all human rights, etc,’ Bishop Sheridan explained. ‘This is the clear teaching of the church.’

“Bishop Sheridan said this is how it’s been all along, just maybe not how it’s been perceived.

” ‘It’s a shame, unfortunately, some individual people, Catholics and non-Catholics, do not act that way. But that isn’t what the church says it says we owe respect and love to every human being,’ he affirmed.”

Bishop David Walkowiak

Bishop David Walkowiak

Bishop David Walkowiak of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was even stronger in mirroring the pope’s accepting words.  In an article on MLive.com, he offered encouragement to follow the pope’s lead of respecting human dignity and was not afraid to criticize the older approach to these issues:

“ ‘The church has not said much about homosexuality and when it has it’s reiterated the teachings,’ said the Most Rev. David Walkowiak, bishop of the Diocese of Grand Rapids that includes more than 180,000 Catholics in 11 West Michigan counties. ‘That is helpful. It’s true. But the tone is usually one which is not a source of encouragement or a source of support.

” ‘We’re hoping that the pope’s tone sets a hope and an attitude that if you come to the church you will be respected, you will be welcomed, you will receive the support of the sacraments. My hope would be that people with same-sex attraction would feel more encouraged to walk into a Catholic church.’

“Walkowiak said the pope’s comment responded specifically to a question about gay priests, who ‘are called to celibacy’ regardless of their sexual orientation. But the pope’s ‘sympathetic’ remarks signal a more pastoral tone on gays in general, if not a change in church doctrine on homosexuality, he said.

“ ‘Certainly, the church’s teaching is not going to change during a press conference on a trans-Atlantic flight,’ Walkowiak said. But ‘he reminded us that whomever you’re interacting with, they should be welcomed and treated with sympathy and compassion and love,’ he said.

” ‘(Practicing gays) need to be accorded respect, compassion and support,’ Walkowiak said. ‘That’s the Christian outlook of how to treat people.’ “

Bishop Howard Hubbard

Bishop Howard Hubbard

Albany, New York’s Bishop Howard Hubbard also emphasized the new pastoral tone of the papacy, in his interview with the Times-Union:

” ‘Pope Francis’ comments on homosexuality in general and specifically on accepting candidates for the priesthood who have a homosexual orientation reveal the pastoral tone and approach he has taken since assuming his responsibilities as the spiritual leader of our Roman Catholic Christian community,’ Albany Roman Catholic Bishop Howard J. Hubbard said Monday.

“Hubbard said Francis’ statements reflect the church’s teaching about the ‘sacred dignity and worth of every person, regardless of one’s sexual orientation.’ “

Bishop David Zubik

Bishop David Zubik

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh also emphasized the new pastoral approach that Pope Francis is taking.  In the Post-Gazette, he stated:

“He is saying things that the church has already said, but he is saying them in ways that people can understand. Pope John Paul II was a philosopher. Pope Benedict XVI is a theologian. Pope Francis is a pastor. … He tells us that you have to know your people, you have to know what their struggles are.”

Reading yesterday’s and today’s posts together, you can get the impression that some bishops want things to remain the same, others are mixed, and still others are welcoming the new attitude in the church that Pope Francis seems to want.

–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


In Wave of Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes, Cardinal Dolan Essentially Silent

May 30, 2013

New Yorkers stand up against recent hate crimes in rallies around the city

More than two dozen anti-LGBT hate crimes have plagued New York City this spring, including the murder of a young gay man Mark Carson. As residents unite to demand safe communities, many Catholics are questioning the near silence of Cardinal Timothy Dolan on this wave of anti-gay violence after his positive comments at Easter that the Church must reach out to LGBT people.

The New Civil Rights Movement reports that Cardinal Dolan spoke for only nineteen seconds on the matter at the end of his weekly radio show. His remarks are quoted in full:

“’You look at even the violence in our own city with some homosexuals who have recently been beaten and killed…I mean that’s just awful, that flies in the face of divine justice. Every human life deserves dignity and respect, right? Anytime life is attacked we all suffer.’”

His comments came after public questions from LGBT advocates about why the cardinal remained silent on the increasing violence, and instead pushed for anti-marriage equality sermons this past Sunday. These voices included Joseph Amodeo at The Huffington Post who notes solidarity statements from Catholic parishes in the NYC area. Even the National Organization on Marriage condemned the violence. Amodeo writes:

“In the absence of a clear and unconditional condemnation of these hate crimes, Cardinal Dolan’s silence is symptomatic of the culture of silence that continues to plague the hierarchy of the Catholic Church…

“If Cardinal Dolan truly wants to express the message that “all are welcome,” then he must break this dangerous silence, condemn these acts of hate, and stand in solidarity with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the face of prejudice. Passive homophobia can no longer be accepted as the status quo in our churches, because conditional statements of welcome…provide a breeding ground for intolerance.”

As for Cardinal Dolan’s spot on the radio show, Amodeo spoke critically of the passing comment by the cardinal as an insufficient response to injustice and hopes it is only the beginning of greater solidarity from the hierarchy with the LGBT community. Recent activity on Cardinal Dolan’s Facebook reveal New Yorkers are dissatisfied with what amounts to continued silence weeks into this uptick in hate crimes. Many are questioning if the cardinal is paying attention to Pope Francis’ welcoming messaging in Rome, which will be the topic of an upcoming blog post.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Are LGBT Catholics At Home In the Church?

May 27, 2013
David Gibson of Religion News Service

This spring, several Catholic bishops made positive comments about LGBT people within Catholicism, including remarks by Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Easter and several Vatican officials endorsing civil unions.

In light of actions contradicting the welcoming message, David Gibson of Religion News Service poses an interesting question to several Catholics in recent headlines, “Can gay Catholics find a home in the Catholic Church?” He writes of the tensions:

“It’s still not clear what the second step [after Dolan's positive remarks] in this fraught process might be, or even if there is a second step. And there are signs that things may only get more complicated…

“Moreover, as Americans — and American Catholics — grow increasingly accepting of homosexuality, and as foes of gay rights grow increasingly determined, conflict at the parish level seems inevitable. The uneasy ‘Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell’ policy that once allowed gay and lesbian Catholics to take church positions is clashing with their increasing visibility in the form of marriage licenses or wedding announcements.”

Francis DeBernardo
Francis DeBernardo

Gibson details the firings of Nicholas Coppola and Carla Hale, while Bondings 2.0 has reported on these and several other cases in recent months that are making LGBT-Catholic relations strained. Gibson quotes Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, who questions how these actions fit with other Catholic principles about justice.

“’How just is it to fire someone whose life or practices are not in accord with official church teaching?’…

“’Where do you draw the line?…Do you get fired if you have remarried without an annulment? Do you get fired if you don’t attend Mass on Sunday regularly? Do you get fired because you are a Protestant who does not recognize the Catholic hierarchical structure?’”

Yet, not only are LGBT advocates within the Catholic Church worried, priests and others in ministry recognize the increasing frequency of these conflicts at local levels:

“’The fact is that it is going to get worse,’ said the pastor of a large Midwest parish who has had to fend off complaints about a lesbian member of his staff. As critics become more insistent, and as gay and lesbian Catholics become more public, he fears the resulting controversies will take a serious toll on the church.

“’We have to come to some kind of pastoral accommodation,’ he said.

Fr. Joe Muth

New Ways Ministry hosts a listing of gay-friendly parishes, which has grown to over 200 from just 20 a decade ago that are making pastoral accommodations. One parish with extensive experience doing LGBT ministry is St. Matthew’s in Baltimore, led by Fr. Joe Muth

“Gays and lesbians ‘just move into the regular life of the church’ at St. Matthew’s, Muth said, as he believes is perfectly normal.

“But he also said they are aware of the ‘sensitivity’ of their presence, so they have made a concerted effort to reach out to other groups in the parish, and the parish has also made sure to include one of Baltimore’s bishops in meetings.

“That dialogue has been invaluable, he said, and he has received few complaints or protests.”

Fr. Muth acknowledges that the framework is troubled, and limitations on engaging marriage equality or having LGBT ministers in public relations remain due to the bishops’ pressure. Gibson continues:

“In fact, the patchwork nature of the responses is part of the problem, say gay advocates. ‘It’s not that there is a witch hunt out there,’ said DeBernardo. ‘But there are witch hunters. … For the most part I don’t think bishops go after these folks. They don’t create controversy; they only respond to controversy.’

“At the moment, there are no guidelines to help pastors and parishioners deal with these issues, and there doesn’t seem to be an effort to develop anything comprehensive’…

“’Right now it’s a step-by-step process of helping people to be church,’ said Muth, of St. Matthew’s in Baltimore. ‘That’s the way I see it.’”

This piecemeal approach to solving the increasing number of parish conflicts does not seem sufficient to some, and leaves us asking LGBT Catholics, family, friends, and allies the very same question with which Gibson titled his article: Can gay Catholics find a home in the Catholic Church?

Share your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below about if it is possible, and how you remain Catholic.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Long Island Catholics Under Scrutiny for LGBT Support

May 15, 2013

Nicholas Coppola & husband, David Crespo, outside their Long Island parish (Credit: Long Island Newsday)

LGBT Catholics on Long Island are making their voices heard after Nicholas Coppola was removed from ministry for marrying his husband, David. These Catholics’ opinions are varied and complex, as reported in Long Island Newsday this week:

“Kathy and her partner, devoted Roman Catholics who are gay, feel welcome in their Suffolk County parish.

“But when the time came to baptize their children, they chose to have a private ceremony rather than stand with straight parents in a group baptism at Sunday Mass.

“Acceptance, they have decided, means keeping a low profile. The couple don’t hide their sexual orientation, but they don’t flaunt it either…

“For gay and lesbian Catholics on Long Island, home of the nation’s fifth-largest diocese, participation in a church…is fraught with complexities. Some, like Kathy, feel a general sense of acceptance, but within unspoken boundaries. Others are so alienated they won’t go inside a Catholic church.”

Involvement by LGBT Catholics is particularly strained on Long Island after the ousting of Nicholas Coppola from several volunteer ministries once he had married his husband. However, in contrast to the hierarchy’s harsh LGBT policies  on Long Island and nationwide, American Catholics support LGBT equality. The Newsday piece continues with comments from several LGBT advocates:

“‘There’s been a great shift in the last couple of decades and particularly in the last two to three years,’ said Jeannine Gramick, a nun with the Sisters of Loretto order, who founded the Maryland-based New Ways Ministry to seek acceptance for gays and lesbians in the church. ‘More and more gay Catholics are beginning to realize that non-gay Catholics in the pew are supportive,’ Gramick said.

“She and other advocates said the church hierarchy is not keeping up. Gay and lesbian Catholics are ‘leaving the church in droves,’ Gramick said. ‘It’s heartbreaking.’”

“Mary Kane, 50, head of the Suffolk chapter of Dignity, a national gay Catholic advocacy group, said it is hit or miss for gays and lesbians seeking a friendly parish on Long Island.

“‘There are very welcoming parishes, and there are some parishes where gay and lesbian couples don’t feel welcome or don’t go back,’ she said.

“Many parishes seem to operate on a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell basis,’ Kane said. ‘A lot of it depends on the priest.’”

Other LGBT Catholics described their experiences of alienation from Long Island parishes, which mirrors  the trend nationwide:

“Jamie Manson, of Long Beach, still feels excluded. She attended Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville — a ‘wonderful experience’ — majored in theology at St. John’s University, and received a master’s degree in Catholic theology and ethics at Yale Divinity School.

“Yet as a lesbian she feels so alienated from the Catholic Church she rarely steps inside one, except for weddings and funerals. ‘It’s so empty having nowhere to go — you feel like you are spiritually homeless,’ said Manson, 36.

“Dennis McCarthy, a longtime lay leader at Our Lady of the Snow parish in Blue Point, said the church has fallen behind the times. Until the church accepts gays and lesbians and adopts ‘a different attitude toward the role of women in the church,’ such as allowing them to be deacons and eventually priests, ‘I think they’re generally going to have a problem going forward,’ he said.

“Gays should hold ministerial positions and be allowed ‘participation in any way’ in parish life, McCarthy said.”

The  trend of firing LGBT educators, or even those assumed to be gay, and removing inclusive efforts at the parish level seems to be increasing, even as leading American bishops, like Cardinal Dolan of New York, claim to work at making Catholic churches more welcoming while closing the doors.

What have your experiences been in Catholic parishes where you live?  Share your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Dignity/Detroit Celebrates 39th Anniversary Amid Protests

May 7, 2013

The same weekend Catholic parents held vigil in Detroit to affirm their LGBT children’s place in the Church, an anti-gay organization protested Dignity/Detroit’s 39th anniversary celebrations at Marygrove College, Detroit.

Only about twenty protestors showed up to oppose the anniversary Mass.  They were upset that the Catholic college granted permission for Dignity/Detroit to hold a liturgy on its campus. Protesters gathered at the edge of Marygrove College, where they claimed to defend ‘traditional marriage’ and Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s assertion that pro-LGBT Catholics should not receive Communion.

However, the minor protest did not impede the Mass and the Detroit Free Press reports:

“A group of gay rights advocates staged a counter-demonstration on the other side of the college entrance, carrying a large rainbow flag. One attendant of the mass came out and challenged the protestors.

“‘The message of Jesus is love and acceptance,’ said Rick Gillon of Detroit. He said as church attendance across Christian denominations is falling, Christians should welcome people through church doors rather than push them away.”

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

The Mass was presided over by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who recently said all are welcome in the Catholic community in response to the archbishop’s exclusionary statements, along with other priests who minister with Dignity/Detroit. He received two standing ovations during the liturgy. One of the preacher’s at the Mass spoke about the protests:

“Justin Kelly, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Detroit Mercy, said he was one of many preachers speaking at the evening mass. He said the protestors had every right to be there, but that he had no issue ministering to gay and lesbian parishioners.

“’They’re fellow Christians and I believe it would not be following the example of Jesus to exclude them,’ he said.”

For it’s part, the Archdiocese of Detroit remained neutral on the matter of Marygrove College hosting Dignity/Detroit’s Masses, saying through a spokesperson to CBS Detroit:

“‘There are hundreds of Masses celebrated in the Detroit archdiocese every weekend…It’s always Archbishop Vigneron’s expectation that these liturgies are conducted in full conformity with the Catholic Church’s teachings and practices.’”

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke of Dignity/USA responded to the Detroit controversies with this statement:

“Our faith is very important to us…Most Catholics would be appalled to know that fellow Catholics cannot easily access our sacraments, have a Mass. We also believe we are all children of a loving God and should be able to worship in peace.”

The matter of LGBT Catholics finding communities to worship has been highlighted in recent weeks, with comments by Archbishop Vigneron and Cardinal Timothy Dolan sparking demonstrations and outcry. Bondings 2.0 previously reported on the New York City Catholics threatened with arrest for entering St. Patrick’s Cathedral with ‘dirty hands.’

As American bishops continue closing church doors in the face of LGBT Catholics, their families, and their allies, Pope Francis preaches instead on being a church of ‘yes’ that welcomes all. During Mass last week, the new pope said:

“We ask the Lord that the Holy Spirit help us always to become a community of love, of love for Jesus who loved us so much. A community of this ‘yes’…A community of open doors. And it defends us from the temptation…to seek a para-evangelical purity, from being a community of ‘no’.”


Perhaps the American hierarchy should take a cue from Rome and try opening church doors, instead of literally closing them — modeling their efforts after the many gay–friendly parishes, Dignity chapters, including Detroit, gay-friendly Catholic colleges, and intentional Eucharistic communities– all who have decades of positive ministry could be a good start.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NYC Catholics Denied Entrance to Church Due To ‘Dirty Hands’

May 6, 2013
Charcoaled hands outside of St. Patrick's Cathedral

‘Dirty hands’ outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Catholics in New York City held a public witness this past weekend objecting to recent comments made by Cardinal Dolan, who wrote that welcoming LGBT people into the Church is equivalent to asking someone to wash their dirty hands before dinner.

Advocates attempted to enter St. Patrick’s Cathedral for 10:15am Mass on Sunday with hands covered in charcoal, symbolically alluding to the cardinal’s statements about dirty hands.  The demonstrators were denied access by church security, and the NYC’ Police Department’s LGBT liaison informed them that only after washing their hands would they be allowed to enter.

One participant, Joseph Amodeo, wrote about his experiences in The Huffington Postand the pain the literal exclusion of those witnessing from Mass:

“Today, myself and others knocked at the door of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but the door was not opened, rather it was slammed in our faces…until today, I have never been denied a seat at Christ’s table. In fact, today marks the first day that I have ever felt disowned, abandoned, and lost…

“In response to the Archdiocese’s threat of arrest, we opted to remain outside where we stood in silent vigil with our palms turned out facing toward the main doors of Cathedral…[that] doors closed as we stood outside seem now to capture well the chill that we felt from the Cathedral’s staff as well as the Cardinal. Our peaceful presence was responded to with a resounding ‘you are not welcome.’…

“As someone who was reared Roman Catholic from the moment of birth, I have always known the Church and its community of believers to be a place of welcome and affirmation…Today, this childhood experience of ‘church’ stands in stark contrast to the cold and heartless response of the Archdiocese of New York and Cardinal Dolan to our presence at the Cathedral earlier today.”

However, even with emotions raw and the rejection still present, Amodeo realizes that it is not those standing outside who are most challenged, but the clergy and staff inside:

“I realize now that it is not I who stands at this crossroad, but rather the Cardinal himself. He stands at point at which he can choose to see the inherent dignity present in all people or to follow a path laid with judgment and accusation.

“Today, I don’t stand at a crossroad, but rather I find myself standing at the threshold of a door. I and others are standing at the doorway to the Church knocking, seeking, and asking. By this action, I hope that the doors of the Cathedral will be opened to us not on a conditional basis, but rather with the understanding that we are all created in the image and likeness of God.”

A related action in Detroit occurred this same weekend, as parents of LGBT children witnessed outside archdiocesan offices after Archbishop Vigneron told supporters of LGBT equality to refrain from Communion. Clearly, more and more Catholics, LGBT and allies alike, are recognizing the problem is with those who would exclude, are also finding the energy to stand up and speak out. New Ways Ministry applauds both groups who witnessed this weekend.

For more photos of the event, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Cardinal Dolan: All Are Welcome, But. . .

April 26, 2013
Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Cardinal Timothy Dolan made headlines at the beginning of April because he acknowledged that the church could do better in terms of outreach to lesbian and gay people.   Commentators all over the U.S. offered him suggestions as to how he could begin better outreach. A month later, though, and Dolan has not shown any evidence of following any of this advice.  Instead, he  has offered a blog post on hospitality which offers, quite frankly, a bizarre notion of welcome, and he particularly mentions lesbian and gay people in this unusual message.

On his personal blog, Dolan recounts a story from his childhood when his playmate, Freddie, was invited to dinner, but first admonished to wash his hands before eating.   While he claims that as a child he was excited that his friend was welcome, he also notes that he learned the lesson that “All are welcome, but. . . .”  And he thinks that is a good lesson to learn.  His words:

“Simple enough . . . common sense . . . you are a most welcome and respected member now of our table, our household, dad was saying, but, there are a few very natural expectations this family has.  Like, wash your hands!…

“So it is with the supernatural family we call the Church:all are welcome!

“But, welcome to what?  To a community that will love and respect you, but which has rather clear expectations defining it, revealed by God in the Bible, through His Son, Jesus, instilled in the human heart, and taught by His Church.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find this notion to be welcoming at all.  I find it condescending.  Dolan continues:

“We love and respect everyone . . . but that doesn’t necessarily mean we love and respect their actions.

“Who  a person is?  We love and respect him or her . . .

“What a person does?  Truth may require that we tell the person we love that such actions are not consonant with what God has revealed.

“We can never judge a person . . . but, we can judge a person’s actions.”

So, Dolan wants an escape clause:  he still wants to be able to sit in judgment about something.  Humans judge.  It’s part of our condition.  But when we are trying to offer a welcome, we do best to check our judgments, and instead observe and listen in holy dialogue.  We do best to take off our shoes on the holy ground of someone else’s life and experiences.

Dolan doesn’t see it this way.  In his view, he has the right to tell people that they are dirty, and then the presumption of calling that a welcome:

“Freddie and I were loved and welcomed at our family table, but the clear expectation was, no dirty hands!”

And then, most stingingly, Dolan offers examples of people that the church wants to welcome while at the same time standing in judgment of :  alcoholics,  greedy businessmen, exploitative capitalists, women who’ve had an abortion, and. . . . lesbian and gay people.    Does he not see how offensive that notion is to include lesbian and gay people with those who are physically challenged or who have moral choices to make?  Being gay or lesbian is not an activity or an action or a choice one makes.

Another offensive angle on this commentary is the Scripture story that Dolan uses to justify his prejudice–the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11):

Jesus did it best.  Remember the woman caught in adultery?  The elders were going to stone her.  At the words of Jesus, they walked away.

“Is there no one left to condemn you?”  the Lord tenderly asked the accused woman.

“No one, Sir,” she whispered.

“Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus concluded.  “Now go, but sin no more.”

Hate the sin; love the sinner . . .

Another lesson to be learned from this story is that religious people can often let their penchant for judgment get the better of them and forget that love and welcome are more important than judgment.  And also that Jesus does not condemn her, even before he knows whether or not she will continue her patterns.

I recommend to Dolan (and to others) to read the ground-breaking book, Jesus, An Historical Approximation (Convivium Press, 2009), in which Spanish theologian Jose Pagola, proves the idea that Jesus’ model of ministry was to welcome all people–even those the religious authorities called sinners–and tell them that they are loved by an all-gracious God, regardless of whether or not they will decide to refrain from what others might consider sin.   That  is what welcome is all about.  Welcome with no “buts” or conditions.

Cardinal Dolan has a long way to go to learn about welcoming not only LGBT people, but all people, too.  We all have to continually learn this lesson for ourselves, and practice it fearlessly and generously.

New Ways Ministry repeats its offer to meet with Cardinal Dolan to help him understand effective ways of pastoral outreach to LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Bishop Gumbleton Preaches on Christ’s Radical Welcome for All

April 19, 2013
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

Responding to statements by Detroit’s Archbishop Allen Vigneron suggesting pro-marriage equality Catholics  refrain from  Communion, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton instead told Catholics last week, “Don’t stop coming to Communion.” He expanded that message of inclusivity in his weekly National Catholic Reporter column, “The Peace Pulpit,” and in an extensive interview with Democracy Now.

Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, Bishop Gumbleton reflected on last Sunday’s Gospel reading (John 21:1-19) and the implications for how we form a church after Jesus appears post-Resurrection to the disciples. He concludes that the church is a place where all, without condition or exception, are welcomed:

“As we go on in what happens on this occasion, we discover a couple of things about that mission. One is how it has to be totally inclusive. You don’t push anybody out of the community. You draw everybody in, until you have — in John’s Gospel, he often uses large numbers to make a point by exaggeration. Back when he changed water into wine, when Jesus did that, John said, ‘There were six jugs of water with thirty gallons of each,’ he’s making a point. Thirty gallons in six jugs, that’s a lot of wine, but they certainly didn’t drink it all on that occasion. John is simply making a point: there’s no limit to what God can do. So this occasion, when they’re fishing, the net is bulging with fish, bulging, but it doesn’t break. See, everybody can come in…

“It’s something we need to remember, that we’re not to push people away from the church. We’re supposed to draw them in. We want everyone to be part of this community of the disciples of Jesus.”

Bishop Gumbleton also notes the Gospel teaches us about community leadership and inclusivity:

“Again, I want to emphasize that the disciples were just learning this, how to be the community of disciples, how to be the church. There wasn’t a predetermined plan with institutional guidelines and laws developed and so on. No, none of that. They had to struggle to understand how to be the community of disciples of Jesus…

“But here, right at the beginning, it’s altogether different. It’s to be a leadership of love…

“That’s the kind of church we have to be working toward becoming part of — following that leadership of love, not a leadership of power and authority and penances and penalties and exclusions and so on, but a leadership that says love.

“Love is the only thing that really counts in this community of disciples of Jesus; love and leadership of the church throughout all the members of the church. The whole community would be a community of disciples who love one another and who proclaim that love to the world around us and who carry out the mission of Jesus by drawing all into this community of disciples.

“We establish the church by doing this promulgation of love wherever we go, not just by our words, but by our actions. When we become that kind of a church, from the Pope right through the whole community, then that’s when we’ll be a sign to the world that will draw the world to enter into the reign of God and bring fullness of God’s reign into reality — a reign of love, a reign that will be peace and justice for all.”

Bishop Gumbleton is a long-standing advocate for welcoming the LGBT community within the Catholic Church, and he spoke for nearly an hour with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now last week about many issues of justice, church reform, and his personal journey. Within that, Bishop Gumbleton noted the importance of conscience in the Church’s relationship with gay and lesbian individuals:

“No one can judge the conscience of any other person. And homosexual people have to deal with who they are, how they express intimacy and love. And I am sure, based on the teaching of the church, also that, before anything else, a person’s own individual conscience gives guidance to how that person must act, and no one can interfere with that. And that’s teaching that goes right back to the beginning of the church…That’s their conscience decision, and it’s between each person and God. And that’s church teaching. And so, how individuals deal with their homosexuality is something that we have to respect.”

In Bishop Gumbleton’s wisdom, a clear plan for clergy in reaching out to the LGBT community is available in this model of radical inclusivity. Cardinal Dolan recently remarked about the need for improved relations between the church and LGBT people. He would do well to listen his fellow bishop who preaches Christ’s radical inclusivity, the primacy of conscience, and most of all, love.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 891 other followers