Italian Bishops’ Conference Head Calls for Dialogue Without “Taboo”

May 15, 2014

The world synod on marriage and the family, scheduled at the Vatican in October 2014, has sparked a lively debate in church circles on issues concerning sexuality, gender, and relationships, with a number of bishops acknowledging that it is time for a frank discussion on these topics to happen.

Bishop Nunzio Galantino

Perhaps no call for such a dialogue has hit so close to home, so to speak, than the recent statement from the head of the Italian bishops’ conference in which he said:

My wish for the Italian Church is that it is able to listen without any taboo to the arguments in favour of married priests, the Eucharist for the divorced, and homosexuality.”

Those are the words of  Bishop Nunzio Galantino, of the Cassano all’Jonio diocese in southern Italy, quoted by the Italian newspaper, La Nazione, and reported in English by The Tablet.   Galantino’s words take on an added significance because he was appointed  head of the Italian bishops conference by Pope Francis himself.

Echoing Pope Francis’ sentiment from a September 2014 interview that church leaders had become too “obsessed” with abortion, Bishop Galantino added to his call for dialogue with: 

“In the past we have concentrated too much on abortion and euthanasia. It mustn’t be this way because in the middle there’s real life which is constantly changing.”

Galantino was optimistic that the current pope offered the possibility of change in the areas of church teaching regarding sexuality and marriage.  The bishop said:

“With Pope Francis the Italian Church has an extraordinary opportunity to reposition itself on spiritual moral and cultural beliefs.”

Not all are as optimistic as this Italian prelate though.  Pope Francis’ recent off-hand comments on the topics of economics and on whether a divorced and remarried woman should be able to receive communion have come under scrutiny by some commentators who note the consternation that the pope’s casually dropped provocative statements can cause.

J. Peter Nixon, a blogger at dotCommonweal, reflected on how much weight and authority certain forms of papal communication actually have:

“So it has come to this.  We are now debating the doctrinal authority of papal tweets and phone calls.

“As David Gibson reports, the latest controversy in papal communication was a three-word tweet in Latin–Iniquitas radix malorum–that has been translated into English as “inequality is the root of social evil.”  This followed only days after the dust up over the pope’s phone call to a divorced and remarried woman where he allegedly encouraged her to receive communion.”

Nixon makes a good point when he says that our modern world focuses too much on papal pronouncements at the expense of the rest of the church:

The question that must be asked–particularly in light of Sunday’s canonizations–is whether this increasingly obsessive focus on the opinions, theology, spirituality and personal witness of the pope is a healthy thing for the Church.   The purpose of authority in the Church is to form a community that can bring forth “a great cloud of witnesses,” not to place the burden of that witness on a single individual.  The primary role of those authorities is to be coaches, referees and groundskeepers.  All of us, however, have the responsibility of playing the “beautiful game” that is following Jesus Christ.

While I agree with him, I also think that Pope Francis needs to be more explicit and clear in his statements.  I’ve said before that the pope’s ambiguity can cause problems, and that sooner or later he will need to be more direct about where he stands.  In her National Catholic Reporter column, Jamie Manson highlighted Pope Francis’ ambiguity problem in regard to both the case of the Ugandan anti-gay law and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s (CDF) censure of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).  On Uganda, Manson points out:

“He [Pope Francis] took no action when Ugandan Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga publicly lauded the president of Uganda for passing an extreme anti-homosexuality law, a law that clearly violates the Catholic church’s teaching to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.”

Her analysis of the many ways that his statements agree with the CDF about their charges against LCWR is too rich with detail to summarize here, and I recommend that you read her entire column.

During the synod this fall, many opinions are going to be bandied about by church leaders, theologians, pundits, and laity. Some reports have already shown that bishops seem open to the idea of debating church teaching on a number of topics, based on what they have learned from surveying their laity.  Whether he tweets, makes a phone call, or gives an interview to the press, Pope Francis is going to have to be clear about what direction he wants to take our church on these important issues.  I hope and pray that Bishop Galantino’s optimism about the possibility for change under Pope Francis is well-founded.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles 

Bay Area Reporter: LGBT Catholics react to Vatican survey results”

Religion News Service: “Conservatives squawk over pope’s tweet on inequality”

America: “Vatican: Phone Call Didn’t Change Church Teaching”

dotCommonweal: Pope’s man in Italy on abortion, homosexuality & Communion for the divorced & remarried”

Religion News Service: Church ‘obsessed’ with abortion — again? Pope’s Italian ally issues another wake-up call

For Bondings 2.o’s past coverage of synod news, please click on “Synod 2014″ under the “Categories” tab in the right hand column of this page.


Message to Nuns: ‘Be Not Afraid’

April 23, 2012

The initial news cycle centered on the Vatican’s attempted suppression of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the leading organization of U.S. nuns, seems to be dying down.  However, make no mistake: the story is not over! The most important piece of it is yet to come:  How will the nuns respond to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) decision to place an archbishop in charge of their conference, in effect, displacing the women’s leadership of themselves?

At New Ways Ministry, which has had its own encounters with the CDF, it is clear that the recent statement from this hierarchical office is designed to silence dissent by instilling fear, not only from the LCWR, but from other sectors of the church, too.  The Vatican no longer has a Grand Inquisitor to physically torture or jail people it calls “dissenters,” so the only tool left to silence them is fear.

We have seen this time and again at New Ways Ministry.  Whenever the Vatican makes a strong statement against LGBT people, one of the most widespread reactions and responses from church people is to be afraid.  Yes, there are many who express anger and outrage, but many, many more respond quietly by silencing themselves, afraid that if they speak out that they, too, will experience the wrath of Church authorities.

Fear, however, is not the full story.  I believe that though church authorities might be instilling fear through their actions, there is another reality present in these situations.  I believe that when fear is present,  God is calling us to courage.  Though it may seem that the LCWR has few options at this juncture (see the posting about canon law guiding this case), they do, in fact, have the option to respond courageously, relying on God’s power instead of the power of human beings–themselves or their oppressors.

When the CDF tried to suppress Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, by telling her that she could not do pastoral work with lesbian/gay people and that she could not speak about the Vatican’s investigation of her ministry, she responded with a simple statement filled with eloquent courage, “I choose not to participate in my own oppression.”

Those who see the injustice of the CDF’s attempt to suppress LCWR need to respond with similar courage.  Now is not the time to be afraid, worried, or despairing.  We must rely on our God who promised to be with us and guide us in our times of need.  The only thing we can ever change is ourselves and our responses, not other people or situations.  We have the choice at this juncture to respond with courage.

The LCWR leadership has announced that they will be consulting their members, the heads of women’s religious communities around the country, as to how to respond to the CDF announcement.   One thing that ordinary Catholics  can do is to exercise a ministry of en-courage-ment by writing to the leaders of nuns’ communities that we know and love, and letting them know that they have the support of Catholics in their time of need.   We need to let our Sisters know that they are not alone, and that the Catholic people stand courageously in solidarity with them.  If we want LCWR to respond with courage to this situation, we must en-courage the Sisters that we know and love.

(If you do not know the names and addresses of the leaders of the community of nuns who have ministered to you, ask a local nun for their contact information or call/email New Ways Ministry, and we will help you get that information.  New Ways Ministry phone: 301-277-5674; email: info@NewWaysMinistry.org .)

You don’t have to write a long letter.   Just let the Sisters know that you are praying for them, that you are grateful for their ministry, that you want them to continue to be prophetic, and that you will support them.

In doing so, you will be spreading one of Jesus’ most consistent Gospel messages:  “Be not afraid.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Previous Bondings 2.0 posts on the CDF-LCWR story (with some of the links each post contains):

1) April 18:  Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns; New Ways Ministry’s Response
Links: Associated Press article; CDF document.

2) April 19:  Sister Joan Chittister & Sister Simone Campbell Respond to Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns
          Links: National Catholic Reporter (NCR) article; Religion News Service article by David Gibson; New York Times article.

3) April 20:  Can There Really Be “Collaboration” Between the Vatican and LCWR?
          Links:  Cardinal Levada’s letter; NCR article on how LCWR learned of the Vatican’s action; NCR article on canon law relevant to the case.

4) April 21:  Support for U.S. Nuns Spreads Quickly Among Catholics and Others
Links:  Online petition in support of nuns; New York Times editorial supporting nuns; U.S. Catholic magazine analysis of CDF document.

5) April 22: Comments on LCWR Action from National Catholic LGBT Organizations
Links:  MSNBC interviews with New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick and DignityUSA’s Jeff Stone; Washington Post article.


Comments on LCWR Action from National Catholic LGBT Organizations

April 22, 2012

Commentary on the Vatican’s attempt to control the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) continues to make headlines, as more Catholic religious leaders offer their thoughts on the April 18th announcement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Two New Ways Ministry representatives and a DignityUSA representative have appeared in major media on the issue in the last few days.  Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry co-founder, appeared on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell show along with Jeff Stone, DignityUSA’s director of media relations.  In that interview, Sister Jeannine stated:

“We women come from a different conception of  ‘church’ from the Vatican.  We are following. . . the Second Vatican Council which was in the 1960′s talked about the ‘church’ as a community.  And in a community, people disagree. But in a totalitarian institution, there is no disagreement.  This is the clash that we are seeing.”

Jeff Stone

Jeff Stone commented:

“The highest law of the Catholic Church is the law of conscience.  Pope Benedict himself has spoken eloquently about it. Even if you find your conscience is in disagreement even with the words of the pope, you are obligated in your conscience to follow your conscience.”

You can watch the entire interview of these two leaders by clicking here.

In a Washington Post article entitled “American nuns stunned by Vatican accusation of ‘radical feminism,’ crackdown” Sister Patricia McDermott, RSM, New Ways Ministry advisory board member and President of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, struck a similar note to Sister Jeannine, in noting that women and men in the Church have different approaches:

Sister Patricia McDermott

“McDermott said the connection between priests and nuns has been weakening. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, she said, ‘the mutuality and respect was extraordinary, feeling we were all in this together.’

Today, she said, different approaches to a changing society and the role of the church means ‘that sense of hospitality, many of us would say, is growing dimmer.’ ”

Sister Julie Viera

In the same article, Sister Julie Viera, IHM, (who is not associated with either New Ways Ministry or DignityUSA) observed that though nuns take a vow of obedience, that vow is clearly defined:

“[O]ur vow of obedience applies to God . . . it doesn’t reside in a bishop, a body of bishops or even the pope. For us, that sense of obedience has to do with listening deeply to the call of the spirit.”

These commentators join a host of others, including Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, renwoned Catholic author, and Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, executive director of NETWORK, who have already criticized the Vatican’s directive.   You can read about Sister Joan’s comments here, and Sister Simone’s comments here and here.  For New Ways Ministry’s statement, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Sister Joan Chittister & Sister Simone Campbell Respond to Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns

April 19, 2012

We’re continuing our coverage of the news which broke yesterday that the Vatican has appointed an overseer to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the association of heads of nuns’ communities in the U.S.   The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) article on the action highlights the tasks that the appointee, Archbishop Peter Sartrain of Seattle, will undertake:

  • Revising LCWR statutes;
  • Reviewing LCWR plans and programs;
  • Creating new programs for the organization;
  • Reviewing and offering guidance on the application of liturgical texts; and
  • Reviewing LCWR’s affiliations with other organizations, citing specifically NETWORK and the Resource Center for Religious Institutes.

“According to the [Vatican] letter, Sartain’s mandate runs for ‘up to five years, as deemed necessary.’ Sartain is also expected to set up an advisory team including clergy and women religious, to ‘work collaboratively’ with LCWR officers and to ‘report on the progress of this work to the Holy See.’ “

Sister Joan Chittister

LCWR has yet to issue a statement concerning the statement from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), but the NCR article quotes  a response to the announcement from Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, the renowned Catholic author and speaker, who is a past-president of LCWR:

“Although LCWR officers did not immediately return requests for comment on this story, a former leader of the group told NCR that the appointment and the order for the group to revise itself was ‘actually immoral.’

” ‘Within the canonical framework, there is only one way I can see to deal with this,’ said Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister, who has served as president of the group as well as in various leadership positions. (Chittister also writes a column for NCR.) ‘They would have to disband canonically and regroup as an unofficial interest group.

” ‘That would be the only way to maintain growth and nourish their congregational charisms and the charism of the LCWR, which is to help religious communities assess the signs of the time. If everything you do has to be approved by somebody outside, then you’re giving your charism away, and you’re certainly demeaning the ability of women to make distinctions.’ “

David Gibson, a premier reporter on Catholic issues, noted in a Religion News Service story appearing in USA Today, that concern about the nuns’ silence on marriage equality was referred to in the Vatican directive:

“. . . ‘[C]rucial’ issues like ‘the church’s biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes church teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.’ “

The criticism of LCWR’s approach to lesbian/gay issues is also explicitly referenced in the Vatican document:

“In this wider context, the CDF notes the absence of initiatives by the LCWR aimed at promoting the reception of the Church’s teaching, especially on difficult issues such as Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis [in which the pope said there could be no discussion on women's ordination in the church] and Church teaching about homosexuality.”

As Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday, the Vatican’s criticism of LCWR’s approach to lesbian/gay issues also included nuns’ support of New Ways Ministry.  From the Vatican document:

“Policies of Corporate Dissent. The Cardinal [William Levada, CDF Prefect] spoke of this issue in reference to letters the CDF received from “Leadership Teams” of various Congregations, among them LCWR officers, protesting the Holy See’s actions regarding the question of women’s ordination and of a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons, e.g. letters about New Ways Ministry’s conferences. The terms of the letters suggest that these sisters collectively take a position not in agreement with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. It is a serious matter when these Leadership Teams are not providing effective leadership and example to their communities, but place themselves outside the Church’s teaching.”

You can read New Ways Ministry’s response to this criticism here.

Sister Simone Campbell

Besides New Ways Ministry, another Catholic organization, NETWORK, a national social justice lobbying group, was also cited in the CDF’s criticism of LCWR.  The New York Times article explains the reference and reports NETWORK’s  reaction:

“ ‘I’m stunned,’ said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby founded by sisters. Her group was also cited in the Vatican document, along with the Leadership Conference, for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping  ‘silent’ on abortion and same-sex marriage.

“ ‘I would imagine that it was our health care letter that made them mad,’ Sister Campbell said. ‘We haven’t violated any teaching, we have just been raising questions and interpreting politics.’ ”

In 2010, NETWORK supported President Obama’s health care bill, while the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed it.

Bondings 2.0 will be following the news and commentary on the decision about LCWR in the coming days and weeks.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns; New Ways Ministry’s Response

April 18, 2012

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has announced that it will appoint an Archbishop Delegate to oversee the activities of  the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the national association of the heads of nuns’ communities throughout the United States.    An Associated Press article  about this action says the Vatican cited the organization

” . . .for using materials that ‘do not promote church teaching’ on family life and sexuality, for sometimes taking positions in opposition to the nation’s bishops and for being ‘silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States.’ ”

You can read the full text of the CDF document here.

Because support for New Ways Ministry was mentioned in this document as one of the factors leading up to this doctrinal investigation of LCWR,  Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry issued the following statement today:

“For all of our 35-year history, New Ways Ministry has been strongly supported by Catholic women religious in the United States.  This support, manifested by so many generous and courageous acts, has, indeed, been the backbone of our bridge-building ministry for lesbian/gay Catholics and the wider church community.

“So, it was with great dismay that we learned that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) today released a document on the recent ”Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious,” (LCWR) in which the Congregation announced the appointment of an Archbishop Delegate to oversee LCWR’s activities.   We are even more deeply saddened that support of New Ways Ministry by women’s religious communities and by LCWR leaders was singled out as one of the reasons that a doctrinal assessment was undertaken.  From the document:

“ ‘Policies of Corporate Dissent. The Cardinal [William Levada, CDF Prefect] spoke of this issue in reference to letters the CDF received from “Leadership Teams” of various Congregations, among them LCWR officers, protesting the Holy See’s actions regarding the question of women’s ordination and of a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons, e.g. letters about New Ways Ministry’s conferences. The terms of the letters suggest that these sisters collectively take a position not in agreement with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. It is a serious matter when these Leadership Teams are not providing effective leadership and example to their communities, but place themselves outside the Church’s teaching.’

“In 2007, many leadership teams of women’s religious communities wrote to the CDF to express their concern about the CDF’s directive to the Archbishop of St. Paul, Minnesota, to deny permission to our organization to celebrate the Eucharist at our national conference in that archdiocese.  As far as we are aware, the content of these letters questioned the Vatican’s denial of the Eucharist without addressing the other issues of pastoral care of lesbian and gay people or Catholic teaching on human sexuality.

“The CDF’s criticism of receiving letters seems intended to silence discussion of important issues in the church.  Why are Vatican leaders afraid to hear what women religious think on topics such as homosexuality that is being so widely discussed in all other quarters of society?  The Catholic faith is a living faith that requires dialogue and discussion, not only to thrive, but also to be a viable witness of God’s love in the world.

“If the leadership of the Catholic Church is unwilling to listen to the idea of the leaders of some of its most dedicated members, then our Church will never be able to grow or to respond in a Gospel way to the needs of our world. The CDF’s repressive action towards LCWR further erodes Catholicism’s ability to be a vital force in the world.

“New Ways Ministry, in gratitude for all we have received from women’s religious communities, pledges our prayerful support to LCWR and all its members during this period of trial.  We know that our God, who has graced these women with gifts of justice, fortitude, and wisdom, will guide and sustain them at this critical time. “

Stay tuned for news and commentary as this story develops.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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