Why Did Catholic Numbers on LGBT Acceptance Dip So Much In Recent Study?

September 16, 2014

On this blog, we are always very excited to report on statistics and surveys which show that Catholic lay people’s support of LGBT people and issues continues to grow. We also like to report on the many ways that Catholic parishes are welcoming and including LGBT people as full members of their communities.  But last week, a Duke University report showed that while in most Christian denominations acceptance of LGBT people is on the rise, the only group which the study said showed a decrease is Catholicism. What gives?

An Associated Press article describes the good news and the bad news in Duke University’s National Congregations Study:

“Overall, the study found acceptance of gay and lesbian members in American congregations increased from 37 percent to 48 percent over the six-year period. Acceptance of gays and lesbians as volunteer leaders increased from 18 percent to 26 percent. . . .

“Perhaps surprisingly, given the support for gays and lesbians among Catholics in general, representatives of the Catholic churches surveyed expressed less acceptance of gay and lesbian members in 2012 than in 2006. Interview subjects were asked specifically whether openly gay or lesbian couples in committed relationships would be permitted to be full-fledged members of the congregation.

“In 2006, 74 percent of those surveyed said yes. That number decreased to 53 percent in 2012. While the decrease is large, the rate of acceptance still remains higher than that for all congregations surveyed, 48 percent.

“Asked whether the same couples would be permitted to hold any volunteer leadership position that was open to other members, 39 percent of Catholic respondents said yes in 2006 but only 26 percent said the same in 2012. That is the same as the number for all congregations surveyed.”

So, while Catholics still are more accepting than all other Christian denominations surveyed, the statistics seem to show that acceptance is dwindling.

Or is it?

The news story provided some interpretations of the data from several Catholic scholars and analysts:

“Thomas Reese, a senior analyst with the National Catholic Reporter, thought it might reflect the fact that younger Catholic clergy tend to be more conservative than their older counterparts. Mary Ellen Konieczny, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, suggested the change might reflect a growing emphasis by the bishops on issues of homosexuality over that period.

“Both agreed that those attitudes were not indicative of what people sitting in the pews think.

“Konieczny and others said they thought the answers might be significantly different if the same questions were asked today.

“The survey was taken ‘before Francis got into the papacy, and I believe he would have made a difference,’ said William D’Antonio, a senior fellow at Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies. ‘Francis has lowered the focus on sexual matters and increased the concern for the poor and needy.’ “

A Religion News Service story adds another voice which offers similar analysis:

“The Rev. James Martin, editor at large for the Jesuit magazine America, observed, ‘During those years, U.S. bishops were much more vocal against gay marriage. It’s only been in the last year or two — since the election of Pope Francis — that the church has begun opening up on this.’ ”

The Huffington Post’s Antonia Blumeberg offers a comparative analysis for why Catholic numbers are going down while other Christian churches’ numbers are going up:

“While the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality remains seated in the somewhat vague but hopeful words of Pope Francis, ‘Who am I to judge?’, other church bodies have taken more definitive action to promote LGBT equality. In June the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted in a landmark decision to allow same-sex marriages, following in the footsteps of the U.S. Episcopal Church which made the same decision two years prior.”

In an interview with London’s Daily MailMark Chaves, the author of the study, provided his own interpretation for the decline in Catholic numbers:

“Chaves suggested this may be due in part to fallout from the child sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church, which some associate with homosexuality.”

But, perhaps the most important reason for the change is in how the data was collected.  One Bondings 2.0 reader provided the following information:

“The National Congregation Study data were collected 2 to 2.5 years ago, in 50-minute interviews with each congregation’s key clergyperson. Roman Catholic rules, including LGBT acceptance, are set by the Vatican, regardless of local public policy. Therefore, the answers from the Roman Catholic clergy reflected Vatican rules, whereas the answers from other clergy reflected local democratic policy.

“Consequently, the very low acceptance rate for LGBT worshipers reported by Roman Catholic clergy would be very high if reported by Roman Catholic congregants.

“The survey’s apparent discrepancy arises only because the interviewers didn’t adjust the survey to accommodate the uniquely Catholic gap between what clergy dictate vs. what congregants believe. Other faiths don’t have this gap.

So, while the Catholic statistics appear sobering, there does seem to be some explanation for them, and they may not accurately paint the full picture of the Catholic community.  Still, even though the report reflects only Catholic leadership’s views,  that is evidence that there is still work to be done with Catholics, especially their leaders.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley: LGBT Church Worker Firings “Need to be Rectified”

September 15, 2014

Cardinal Sean O’Malley seated among other panelists at Crux event. (photo credit: The Boston Globe)

In a one-to-one conversation following a public speaking engagement, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley said that the firing of church workers because of LGBT issues is a situation that “needs to be rectified,” becoming the first prelate to speak against this trend.

Earlier in the evening, the cardinal publicly spoke positively of the need to include and minister to the LGBT community in light of Pope Francis’ new vision for the church.

O’Malley’s public appearance on Thursday, September 11th, was at a launch event for Crux, the Boston Globe’s new website for “all things Catholic.” The program was held at the Jesuit-run Boston College. O’Malley was part of a panel of experts discussing the papacy of Pope Francis.

At the end of the event, after the crowd had dissipated, I had the opportunity to thank Cardinal O’Malley one-on-one for his compassionate remarks earlier in the evening about the LGBT community.

As we spoke, the cardinal told me that we must first convince people we love them before talking about the Ten Commandments. I pointed out that it has been hard to convince LGBT Catholics and their allies of this love when so many church workers have had LGBT-related employ-ment disputes with Catholic schools and parishes. Responding to my comment, Cardinal O’Malley said this trend was a situation that “needs to be rectified.”

O’Malley also indicated that not all church positions require a Catholic marriage.  Most of the employment disputes involved same-sex couples legally marrying, announcing an intention to marry, or publicly acknowledging a long-term committed relationship.

Earlier, in a period when panelists answered audience questions, Cardinal O’Malley answered a question which I had submitted:

Given Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy and welcome, can we expect improved pastoral care and inclusion for those who are LGBT, especially when almost 20 US church workers have been fired in 2014 for their sexual orientation, gender, or marital status?

The cardinal’s answer is in full below, and you can also watch it at Crux by clicking here and starting the video at 1:29:00:

“I think the Holy Father’s notion of mercy and inclusion is going to make a big difference in the way that the church responds to and ministers to people of homosexual orientation. The Holy Father is talking about reaching out to the periphery and very often this is a group that is on the periphery. It is not necessarily that the church is going to change doctrine, but, as somebody said, the Holy Father hasn’t changed the lyrics, but he’s changed the melody. I think the context of love and mercy and community is the context in which all of the church’s teachings must be presented, including the more difficult ones. The same could be said about abortion and so many others. It is only when people realize that we love them that they will be open to hear the truth we want to share with them.”

You can read a full account of the event from Michael O’Loughlin of Crux found by clicking here. Other panelists that evening were Hosffman Espino of Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, John Allen, Jr. of Crux, Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard University, and Robert Christian of Millennial.

Cardinal O’Malley’s inclusive statements are typical of his merciful leadership style in Boston, leadership which led Pope Francis to appoint him to to a unique papal advisory council of eight cardinals, positioning him as the American prelate closest to the pope. O’Malley himself was considered to be a papal candidate before Francis’ election, and one resigned Catholic priest listed Boston’s cardinal as the most gay-friendly of the candidates.

What struck me most last Thursday was the cardinal’s willing admission that terminating church workers due to their sexual orientation or marital status is indeed problematic.  Catholic prelates have, at best, remained silent, and, at worst, supported discriminatory actions, in the more than forty public instances where a church employee left over LGBT issues. Cardinal O’Malley’s statement that these firings “need to be rectified” is an episcopal echo of the tens of thousands of Catholics and people of faith who have long stood by mistreated LGBT and ally church workers. Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will recognize that even as the resignations and firings increase, so too do the rallies, petitions, and online outreach in solidarity with fired teachers like Barb Webb, Olivia Reichert and Christina Gambaro.

I hope Cardinal O’Malley will use his prominent position to help end situations where LGBT and ally church workers face discrimination and exclusion. It could be a major step in incarnating a church where all are truly welcome. As it is, the cardinal’s kind words and frank admission are a wonderful start — and for them, I am most grateful.

Cardinal O’Malley is the first bishop to acknowledge that these employment actions are a problem.  Let’s hope and pray that he will not be the last.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Communities Stand Beside Fired Lesbian Teachers

September 14, 2014

Supporters of Barbara Webb from around the world show their support

Supporters of two fired church workers have continued their ongoing protests in Michigan and Missouri, responding to the latest in at least twenty employment disputes at Catholic institutions in 2014 that have been related to LGBT issues.

Marian High School

Community members at Marian High School, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, are standing by Barbara Webb, the lesbian chemistry teacher and coach fired in August for becoming pregnant outside marriage. More than 100 school community members have twice rallied at the school’s entrance and plan to do the same today. Online, a Facebook page called “I Stand with Barb Webb” has gained nearly 5,000 followers, a Change.org petition has gained more than 34,000 signatures, and there is a website, www.standwithbarb.com.

Both alumnae and students are appealing to the Catholic social justice tradition ingrained in them by Marian as the reason for their actions, reports the Detroit Free Press:

“Amber Mazza Cunnings, a 2001 Marian graduate, said the movement is about bringing light to a social injustice she said the school teaches its students to confront.

” ‘Marian teaches us about social justice in profound ways…This is a human rights issue. There’s a mother and a child involved. (Standing up for them) is what we were taught to do.’

“Brigid Johnson, 17, a senior at Marian, said the teacher’s absence was not explained to students. Teachers have told students they are forbidden to speak about it, she said.

” ‘I was just really kind of disappointed…We’re taught, as Christians and Catholics, about love and forgiveness and acceptance. So the first thing that came to mind was, “What could we do?” ‘ ”

Speaking with Michigan Radio, Johnson said that firing a pregnant mother “does not seem to be supporting life, or anyone’s life,” a nod to the school’s pro-life identity. Another student has commented, “After all, Marian was named after a woman with a nontraditional pregnancy.”

A Marian employee, speaking anonymously to WZZM 13, said faculty are supportive of Webb and some have even offered to resign in protest. The employee also expressed concern for students, who are “visibly upset” and yet unable to discuss Webb’s firing per school officials’ orders. Senior Brigid Johnson commented on the situation for students as well, saying:

” ‘Lower classmen … don’t know what’s happening right now just because they’re new, and no one’s talking about it. So I hope we can bring it to light and teach these younger students that we are accepting and we are loving and you’re safe here.’ “

Marian president Sister Lenore Pochelski is still declining to comment beyond confirming Webb is no longer employed, though this incident has received widespread international and media attention.

This is not the first time Marian High School has fired a lesbian employee. Charlene Genther was let go in 2006 after coming at as gay in a book she authored, and said Webb had been supportive then and that the two speak daily now.

Barbara Webb has said she would not return to Marian if offered her job back, but identified this movement around the firing as something bigger with import for the school community, and especially LGBT students:

” ‘It’s not about me anymore…Really, it never was. It’s time for the students at Marian to have an outlet. There’s no (Gay-Straight Alliance) club for students to express themselves. It’s time to change the outlook for the future.’ “

To add your voice in support of Barbara Webb, you can sign the petition at Change.org or connect through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. More information is available on the movement’s website.

Cor Jesu Academy

Members of the Cor Jesu Academy community, St. Louis, Missouri, are similarly protesting after two educators were fired from the chool. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, dozens rallied last week for Olivia Reichert and Christina Gambaro who lost their jobs due to their same-sex relationship. Those attending included LGBT advocates and other Christian groups who expressed solidarity with students at Cor Jesu who identify as LGBT.

Rev. Wes Mullins of the Metropolitan Community Church cited Pope Francis in her explanation:

” ‘If the pope says that, what is Cor Jesu doing?…Where is their message of Jesus’ love and grace in their actions? Because we don’t see it.’

” ‘If you’re a student there, do you really feel safe talking to any of the teachers now?…Are you going to talk to a principal now? I wouldn’t.’ “

A letter to the editor from a gay Catholic, Andrew Brown, sets the Cor Jesu firings in the larger context of LGBT discrimination. Brown uses his faith and these firings to call for legislative action in Missouri:

“As a graduate student at the Brown School of Social Work, I am passionate about ending all injustices, including discrimination for being gay. As a gay Catholic, it deeply hurts me to see a school that represents my church discriminating against someone who is gay just like me…

“LGBT people face similar discrimination in nonreligious workplaces throughout Missouri. One way to improve this situation is the passage of legislation that protects LGBT people from discrimination. The Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, which would supply basic protections in workplaces across Missouri, must be passed in order to ensure equality for all citizens.”

Non-discrimination laws would help protect LGBT workers, but these have often contained religious exemptions allowing faith-based institutions leniency. One way to make an impact at Catholic institutions would be implementing an inclusive non-discrimination policy at your local parish or Catholic school. More information on how to do this is available through New Ways Ministry by clicking here.

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 to further information, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


St. Patrick’s Day Parade’s LGBT Decision Irks Church Traditionalists

September 13, 2014

Cardinal Dolan greets a NYC police officer at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Fallout from the decision to allow an openly LGBT group to march in New York’s 2015 St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which will be led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan as grand marshall, continued this week.  Many conservative Catholic organizations have been upset both by the parade committee’s decision to be inclusive and Dolan’s acceptance of the change.

Perhaps one of the most stinging and controversial criticisms came from Monsginor Charles Pope, a pastor and blogger in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.  The Archdiocese of Washington removed Msgr. Pope’s blog post from their site. In the post, Pope stated, in part:

“Now the St. Patrick’s Parade is becoming of parade of disorder, chaos, and fake unity. Let’s be honest: St. Patrick’s Day nationally has become a disgraceful display of drunkenness and foolishness in the middle of Lent that more often embarrasses the memory of Patrick than honors it.

“In New York City in particularthe ‘parade’ is devolving into a farcical and hateful ridicule of the faith that St. Patrick preached.

“It’s time to cancel the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Al Smith Dinner and all the other ‘Catholic’ traditions that have been hijacked by the world. Better for Catholics to enter their churches and get down on their knees on St. Patrick’s Day to pray in reparation for the foolishness, and to pray for this confused world to return to its senses.”

Msgr. Pope is right about the drunkenness and foolishness of St. Patrick’s Day, but it must be noted that those behaviors have gone on for the many decades when LGBT groups were not allowed to march.

The Archdiocese of Washington is to be commended for removing this post from their site, as such vindictive commentary is pastorally damaging.  The Archdiocese has made no comment as to why they removed the post, though, and it would have been better if they had made a clear repudiation of Msgr. Pope’s attack.

While the conservative Catholic blogosphere was red hot all week with people claiming that Dolan and the parade committees were traitorous, another pastoral voice came from America magazine correspondent Sister Mary Ann Walsh, RSM.  In a blog post on the magazine’s website,  Walsh defended Dolan by pointing out the pastoral message that his parade presence was setting.  In making that defense, Walsh also touches on some other important issues and re-frames them as pastoral concerns:

“. . . Cardinal Dolan also has pastoral obligations. Many Catholics are gay, are related to gays, have gay friends. That is a reality to be dealt with. The U.S. bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family voted in 1997 on a statement ‘Always Our Children,’ that addressed the relationship between parents and their gay children. It drew fierce opposition from a number of people, but it cleared the air and comforted families who felt torn between what they understood to be church teaching and the natural love of mothers and fathers for children.

“Where to draw the line?

“Can a gay person participate in the corporal works of mercy, for example, by working in a church sponsored soup kitchen? Why not? Feeding the hungry is a religious obligation that crosses religious lines and is well rooted in Christianity.

“Can a gay person take up the collection at Mass? It’s a service, not a doctrine. Why not?

” . . . Cardinal Dolan’s position on the parade is the pastoral one; you don’t reject people for who they are. If a parent of a gay or lesbian child asked if they should invite their child to Thanksgiving dinner, any decent church person would say yes. When torn between being pastoral or political, a basic understanding of what it means to be a church community demands that pastoral take the day.”

It is refreshing to read these words from Sister Mary Ann, who for many years was a spokesperson for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and who often defended some of their pastorally harmful stances.  Perhaps it is one more sign of the new era of openness being led by Pope Francis.

Perhaps the best news about the conservative protest of the St. Patrick’s Day decision is that the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights has announced that it will withdraw from the parade next year.  The leader of this group made wildly outlandish and ridiculous claims about LGBT people throughout his career, and most recently, about their participation in the parade.  We elected not to report on them here because they were beyond the standards of civil discourse and reasoned discussion.

In David Gibson’s Religion News Service article about the conservative Catholic camp’s criticism of Dolan, the reporter alludes to the influence of Pope Francis on Dolan’s approach to the parade issue:

“. . . Dolan clearly seems to be comfortable with the more inclusive posture adopted by Pope Francis.

The cardinal last month gave a lengthy interview to the Boston Globe’s Vatican expert, John Allen, in which Dolan indicated that the days of the culture wars in the church were coming to a close.

The effort to withhold Communion from pro-choice Catholic pols “is in the past,” he said. And he also said that Francis wants pastoral, social justice-focused bishops “who would not be associated with any one ideological camp.”

Perhaps a new day is dawning.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


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


How LGBT-Friendly Are the Appointees to the Synod on Marriage and Family?

September 11, 2014

The Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family is less than one month away.  The Vatican released the names of the bishops who will be participating, as well as a list of the lay observers.

In terms of the bishops who will be participating,  there is a mixed bag on their approach to LGBT issues.  Here are some of the prominent names, with a little bit of their history on LGBT topics:

These are only a handful of the more than 250 appointees, and it is by no means an exhaustive list of people with any sort of record on LGBT issues.  It only includes names of those for whom I had concrete supporting evidence with which to link.  However, others on the list, such as Cardinal George Pell of Australia and now at the Vatican, have a long history of anti-LGBT measures.  Similarly, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising, Germany, are known to be very supportive of LGBT people and topics.

If you are aware of others on the list who have a record, positive or negative, on LGBT issues, please share your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.  Supporting links would be very helpful.

From my perspective, the most important feature from the list of lay observers is that no publicly LGBT person or couple is named.  The Synod will be examining pastoral responses to families headed by same-gender couples.  Didn’t the Vatican think it would be good to hear from some of them?  If the Vatican has invited heterosexual couples to participate, why did they not invite lesbian and gay couples, too?

Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, offers a critical view of the list in an essay entitled “The makeup of Synod of Bishops on the family is disappointing.”   Reese is disappointed that so many Curia officials will be participating, and he notes that they should be “staff, not policymakers.”  He explained:

“They have all the other weeks of the year to advise the pope. This is the time for bishops from outside of Rome to make their views known.”

Reese observes that the choices of who will be advising the bishops also seems lopsided.

“Half the experts are clerics, which seems strange at a synod on the family. None of the 16 experts is from the United States; 10 are from Europe (including five from Italy), three from Asia, and one each from Mexico, Lebanon and Australia.

“There are more laypeople among the 38 auditors, including 14 married couples, of whom two are from the United States. Many of the observers are employees of the Catholic church or heads of Catholic organizations, including natural family planning organizations.

“For example, one couple from the United States is Jeffrey Heinzen, director of natural family planning in the diocese of La Crosse, Wis., and Alice Heinzen, member of the Natural Family Planning Advisory Board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

Bondings 2.0 will continue to update you on the Synod as the days of preparation progress, and we will try to provide LGBT-relevant information and analysis once the meeting begins.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Louisiana Archbishop Stresses Pastoral Over Political in Marriage Case

September 10, 2014

A reporter once asked me what I thought of bishops who protest that their statements against marriage equality were not homophobic.  I answered that I thought the bishops sometimes don’t realize how demeaning their statements about marriage are to gay and lesbian people.  Because they often don’t know the experience of gay and lesbian couples, they often make vicious statements about marriage equality, and often make legal and political statements and not pastoral ones.  I think that many of them don’t even recognize how damaging their words and thoughts are.

Last week in Louisiana, a federal judge upheld the state’s definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman, thus ruling out any possibility of marriage equality (without changing that law first).  While Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage,  gave a response based on legality, it is interesting that Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans instead used the opportunity to stress the idea of pastoral ministry to LGBT people.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Although Aymond supported the decision, in an interview he stated that

“It is my hope that through our pastoral ministry to the Catholic LGBT community we can minister to their spiritual needs and walk with them through their life journeys because as our brothers and sisters and children of God they must be loved and respected and always treated with dignity.”

What’s remarkable about this statement?  Well, first of all Aymond refers to “LGBT Catholics,” a term that few bishops would even dare breathe.  Instead of “LGBT,” they usually say “those with same-sex attractions.”   That, in itself, is a step forward.

Second, he stresses the idea of pastoral ministry focusing on spiritual needs and accompaniment, not on requiring celibacy.  That, too, is a step forward.

Aymond seems to have an awareness that there is more to LGBT people’s lives and experiences than just sexual matters.  He also seems more concerned about pastoral ministry than about politics.

The archbishop did support the decision, but he did so using very low-key rhetoric:

“The redefinition of marriage is a moral one for us as Catholics. We as Catholics believe marriage is defined in the Bible and through our Catholic Church teaching as a union between a man and a woman.”

My sense is that Archbishop Aymond has had some pastoral experience with LGBT people, and that he recognizes the consequences of any language that he might use.  It is not the first time since he has been archbishop of New Orleans that he has done something positive in regard to LGBT issues.  In 2013, he apologized for the Church’s silence in 1973 after 32 people were killed and dozens wounded in an arson fire at a New Orleans gay bar.  Also that year, he expressed openness to welcoming all to the Church, noting: “Part of respecting people is respecting their freedom.”

The U.S. bishops should learn from Aymond’s example, which seems to be very much in the mold of Pope Francis.  Yet, just recently the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops joined with other religious organizations to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to make a decide against the states’ constitutional right to enact marriage equality laws. According to an Associated Press story:

“The religious groups urged the Supreme Court on the basis of tradition and religious freedom to uphold a state’s right to disallow gay and lesbian couples to wed.”

The Supreme Court has not said yet if it would hear the case or not.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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