Pope Francis Offers Respect for Gay Priests, Signaling a New Papal Direction

July 29, 2013

In what is probably his most gay-friendly statement to date, Pope Francis said that he will not judge gay priests, and he respects their vocation.

Pope Francis on plane

Pope Francis on plane

The New York Times quotes his response to a reporter’s question about gay priests, asked during a press conference on the plane ride back to Rome from World Youth Day celebrations in Brazil:

 “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

This is probably the clearest break with his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  Benedict issued an instruction to bishops not to accept gay candidates for the seminary, a policy that was being considered under John Paul’s papacy.

The Chicago Tribune expanded on the pope’s comments on this topic:

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well.  It says they should not be marginalized because of this (orientation) but that they must be integrated into society.

“”The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem.”

The pope was answering a question about his statement last month concerning a “gay lobby” in the Vatican, so his reference to lobbies above probably refers to that context.

The Tribune also noted that Francis joked about his “gay lobby” comment:

“You see a lot written about the gay lobby. I still have not seen anyone in the Vatican with an identity card saying they are gay.”

The New York Times expanded on the gay lobby comment, and also allegations of gay trysts happening among staff at the Vatican Bank:

“Reporters on the plane said that the pope had been candid and high-spirited and didn’t dodge a single question, even thanking the person who asked about reports of a ‘gay lobby’ inside the Vatican, and about Italian press reports that one of the advisers he had appointed to look into the Vatican Bank had been accused of having gay trysts.

“Francis said he had investigated the reports and found them groundless. He added that while such a lobby would be an issue, he did not have anything against gays and that their sins should be forgiven, media reports said. He said that while homosexuals should be treated with dignity, using sexual orientation for blackmail or pressure was a different matter.”

Many people have been waiting for a clear message from Pope Francis on LGBT issues, and it seems like this one indicates he will take a decidedly different approach than his immediate predecessors had done.

Some will say that this is not enough, that he still refers to sins of homosexuals, but I think the important thing is the question of emphasis.  While his predecessors emphasized sin in relationship to LGBT people, Pope Francis looks like he will be emphasizing human dignity, respect, and social integration.  Even if he doesn’t drop the sin language, this is still a major step forward, and one that can pave the way for further advancements down the road.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Maine Catholics Urge Others to Vote Their Consciences on Marriage Equality Referendum

October 30, 2012

As we come into the final week before Election Day, Catholics in Maine are becoming more public about their support for the state’s referendum to legalize marriage equality, while the Catholic bishop there is becoming more vocal about his opposition.

Catholics for Marriage Equality, the state’s organization of Catholic in favor of the referendum, took out quarter-page ads in three Maine newspapers this past Sunday urging people to vote for marriage equality.  100 Catholics across the state put their names to the ad to show their support.

In a Boston Globe news story, Anne Underwood, the lead organizer of Catholics for Marriage Equality, explained the background for the ad statement:

Anne Underwood

‘‘ ‘The premise is we support marriage for same-sex couples because it’s a matter of conscience,’’ said Underwood, an attorney from Topsham. ‘’And Catholics have an obligation to form their own consciences, especially on political issues and issues of morality.’ ’’

(You can view a video clip of an interview with Underwood by clicking here.)

The same news story quotes former governor of Maine, John Baldacci, a Catholic who is a strong supporter of marriage equality:

‘‘While we’re tremendously respectful, we also recognize that God gave us the ability of free choice and to be able to follow our hearts. When we see people who want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, that’s something we should be praising and supporting.’’

Baldacci recently hosted two spaghetti dinners to raise awareness for the marriage equality referendum.

Meanwhile, the state’s Bishop Richard Malone, the state’s Catholic ordinary who is governing the diocese from his new diocese in Buffalo, New York, issued a statement that any Catholic who votes for marriage equality is opposing Catholic doctrine.  He stated, in part:

Bishop Richard Malone

‘‘A Catholic whose conscience has been properly formed by scripture and church teachings cannot justify a vote for a candidate or referendum question that opposes the teachings of the church. The definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, open to the birth of children, is a matter of established Catholic doctrine.’’

In response to the bishop’s statement, a Catholics for Marriage Equality spokesperson encouraged Catholics to vote as their conscience directs them:

“ ‘Emotionally, I have to say I’m disappointed and embarrassed a little bit that he would put out a statement like this,’ Frank O’Hara of Catholics for Marriage Equality said Thursday in a telephone interview. ‘In some respect, I think the bishop is overstepping the bounds of church teaching by telling Catholics how we should vote on an issue.’ ”

“O’Hara, 62, of Hallowell said he and other Catholics who support same-sex marriage will be voting their consciences on Election Day.

“’The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “man must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience,’” O’Hara said in a statement issued late Thursday afternoon by Catholics for Marriage Equality. ‘Bishops cannot ask Catholics to vote against their consciences. No council has ever given them the authority to dictate obedience in matters of politics and civil government.’

“O’Hara agreed with Malone that Catholics for Marriage Equality does not speak for the Catholic church or every Catholic in Maine.

“ ‘We do, however, speak for an important group of Catholics, all of whom are part of the universal church,’ he said. ‘In this perspective, the bishop does not speak for all Catholics either, at least insofar as politics and government are concerned.’ “

In a related item, the Knights of Columbus have recently donated $100,000 to the campaign in Maine opposed to the marriage equality referendum, according to a news story in the Kennebec Journal. 

--Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Emmy Winner ‘Modern Family’ Leads the Way in Catholic Values

September 24, 2012

ABC’s comedy series, Modern Family, won four Emmy Awards last night:  best comedy series, best director (Steve Levitan), best supporting actress (Julie Bowen), and best supporting actor (Eric Stonestreet).

The series, which features the experiences of an extended family which includes a gay couple who’ve adopted a baby girl, was honored earlier this year by the Catholics in Media Associates, which noted that the show

“. . . remains far and away the best prime-time sitcom: crisp and farcical, but very kind. This fast-paced mockumentary perfectly captures the experience of parenthood.”

In anticipation of the Emmy Awards, Sister Rose Pacatte, offered her own analysis of her favorite shows in a National Catholic Reporter blog post which included her take on Modern Family:

“Jay’s [the show's patriarch] family represents the new reality of today’s American family (Catholic or otherwise), though it is not divorce and remarriage, but the gay couple with a child is what upsets many viewers. Certainly many families may not have gay or divorced and remarried members, but the reality is, many do. They always did, but we didn’t see them in the comforting idealistic television of the ’50s, ’60s and into the ’70s. Some viewers may not approve of the gay couple or the gay couple adopting a child on a mainstream network television show. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has clear teaching about homosexuality and clear teaching on how to treat homosexual persons, that they “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” This is how I interpret “Modern Family.” After all, Thanksgiving dinner comes to all of us, when family members gather from far and wide, and “Modern Family” offers a way of being. When from one year to the next, you have no idea who will show up at the table, who they will bring along, if they will be the same gender as the year before — and if they are moving back to the neighborhood and may be in your life every day. Television is entertainment and not Sunday school (the film critic Roger Ebert said this about film, but the same goes for television), and you do not have to condone homosexuality to find seeds of the consistent paradox that is the Gospel in “Modern Family.” Yes, television does normalize behaviors and flattens values into a smorgasbord. But television is an opportunity for people of faith because it forms a metaphorical table around which we can gather and talk about things that matter.”

Modern Family does indeed present the gay couple, Cameron and Mitchell, with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity”–probably more so than any other gay characters have ever been presented on television.  It would be hard for even the most virulent anti-gay person watching the show to be too critical of Cameron and Mitchell because they are presented in such a loving fashion.  As Sister Rose states:

“I remain astonished at the writers, who are able to get so many layers of humanity into 21 minutes.”

Besides being entertaining, such authentic and human presentation of not only gay people, but the other characters in this contemporary family, can only help our society grow in understanding diversity.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Bishop Cupich’s Message of Compassion Should Become a Message of Justice

August 7, 2012

Bishop Blaise Cupich

In his blog on the National Catholic Reporter  website, Michael Sean Winters rightly praises Spokane’s Bishop Blaise Cupich for a rare, and perhaps unique, bit of civility from a member of the Catholic hierarchy in discussing marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.   While praise is certainly due to Bishop Cupich for his compassionate approach, his way of dealing with the issue also highlights that what is still missing from the Catholic hierarchy in their dealings with LGBT people is the message of justice.

Winters writes:

“I would like to call readers’ attention to a pastoral letter read at all Masses this past weekend in the Diocese of Spokane from Bishop Blase Cupich. Washington State will have a referendum on same sex marriage this November, even though Washington State already has civil unions that confer all the rights that attend to marriage on same-sex partners. The debate has generated a lot of strong feelings and, in his letter, Bishop Cupich addresses those feelings:

Admittedly, the conflicting positions of this issue are deeply held and passionately argued. Proponents of the redefinition of marriage are often motivated by compassion for those who have shown courage in refusing to live in the fear of being rejected for their sexual orientation. It is a compassion that is very personal, for those who have suffered and continue to suffer are close and beloved friends and family members. It is also a compassion forged in reaction to tragic national stories of violence against homosexuals, of verbal attacks that demean their human dignity, and of suicides by teens who have struggled with their sexual identity or have been bullied because of it. As a result, supporters of the referendum often speak passionately of the need to rebalance the scales of justice. This tends to frame the issue as a matter of equality in the minds of many people, a value that is deeply etched in our nation’s psyche.Likewise, many opponents of the law redefining marriage have close friends and family members who are gay or lesbian. They too recognize the importance of creating a supporting environment in society for everyone to live a full, happy and secure life. Yet, they also have sincere concerns about what a redefinition of marriage will mean for the good of society and the family, both of which face new strains in our modern world. They are asking the public to take a serious and dispassionate look at what a radical break with centuries of marriage law and practice will mean.

“What is remarkable about these paragraphs is that Bishop Cupich does not demean those whose views are different from his own. He does not distort or mischaracterize those views. Indeed, he recognizes that, seen from a certain point of view, these attitudes are entirely understandable. I dare say that any proponent of same sex marriage would have to allow that the bishop’s words are not only not incendiary, they are the fruit of a desire to understand, evidence of a stance of primordial respect for all people.”

I, too, want to praise Bishop Cupich for inserting some reasoned compassion into this contentious debate.  His statements, however, also serve as a reminder that what he said is not really enough at this time.  Catholic supporters of marriage equality already know what motivates their passion for the issue.  But hearing their motivations characterized by someone who opposes their position is not completely satisfactory, especially when the motivations are characterized as simply having soft hearts.

Catholics who support marriage equality indeed are motivated by compassion, but they are more strongly motivated by justice.    Marriage equality is not simply a matter of feeling sorry for people, but about the passion for justice that the Catholic social justice tradition has burned into their hearts.  Catholics who support marriage equality do so because they want to see human dignity protected, families strengthened, and equality promoted.

More importantly,  Bishop Cupich’s statements beg the question:  If he understands that marriage equality supporters have sincere motivations for their positions, why doesn’t he and other bishops meet with such supporters to dialogue about their deeply-held and faith-filled ideas?  Catholic marriage equality supporters don’t need or want acknowledgement from bishops that their ideas are valid.  They already know that. What they want is an opportunity to share those ideas with church officials in adult conversations, guided by both faith and reason.

Winters concludes his blog post on Bishop Cupich’s statement by praising the model of civility and compassion that the Spokane bishop offers, particularly in reminding all Catholics that the magisterium condemns discrimination against LGBT people:

“He then goes on to cite a document issued by the bishops, Ministry to Persons With a Homosexual Inclination, which in turn cites both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This last is especially bracing given the usual media narrative that the Catholic Church hates gays.

It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs.

“Sadly, too many Catholics, on the blogosphere, in the pulpit, and at the water cooler, do not echo these words from the CDF, still less that kind of language found in Bishop Cupich’s truly remarkable letter. I am not a fan of the culture warrior model, but admit there are times when I wonder if the culture is not moving in certain ways that are so hostile to the Church, that such a model will become unavoidable. But, now, when I despair that such may be the case, I can re-read this letter to the Catholics of Spokane and take heart. We can be faithful and reasonable, faithful and respectful, faithful and persuasive. We must, as Catholics and as Americans, care about our culture, but we don’t have to dress up as warriors to express our concern, and Bishop Cupich has shown the way.”

Again, while I would like to join in the praise of the bishop’s even-handedness, I take exception to Winters’ analysis of it.  Catholics who support marriage equality do not want or need “kinder, gentler” bishops whose compassion for LGBT people can be used to more persuasively argue against justice and equality for LGBT people.  While we certainly need fewer bishops who are culture warriors, we don’t need any whose compassion can be used as a persuasive tool to win people over to positions which are unjust.

What we do need are bishops who will open their minds and hearts to the Catholics who disagree with them.  We need bishops who are not merely defensive, but proactive in seeking out solutions that respond to the active faith of all Catholics.  We need bishops who not only feel sorry for LGBT people, but who respect their consciences and their faith journeys.  We need bishops who respond positively to Catholic people crying for justice, instead of identifying such people as enemies.

Bishop Cupich has certainly taken a first step in these directions, and he rightly deserves praise for his efforts.  I hope that he will be encouraged to take bolder ones in the future.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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