Why Pick Pope Francis for Person of the Year?

December 13, 2013

Pope Francis was named Time‘s Person of the Year this past Wednesday, and since then voices from all quarters have expounded on just why this new pope is so popular. Beyond Time‘s award, he’s been cited as the most talked about figure on Facebook and has 10 million followers on Twitter (and that in less than nine months). Polling shows Pope Francis has a 92% favorable rating among US Catholics, and he has won praise from outside the Church as well. And what of LGBT issues specifically?

Time‘s write-up for Person of the Year emphasized Pope Francis’ outreach to LGBT people in their decision, and a more merciful tone on homosexuality led to two of the Top 10 Pope Moments Time published earlier this month.

For some, this honor comes from Pope Francis re-prioritizing that which matters most for Catholic Church: pastoral love over canonical judgments, alleviating poverty over regulating relationships, evangelizing with joy over criticizing with doctrine. David Cloutier expands on this at the blog Catholic Moral Theologywriting:

“In its construction of the story, the article effectively distinguishes between talking about ‘change’ and talking about ‘priorities.’ Francis is not so much changing the Church as making clear determinations about the Church’s priorities… which also means ‘change,’ but of a certain sort.”

Certainly, Pope Francis has shown that acceptance and welcome of LGBT people is the first step for Catholics and that combating marriage equality or other LGBT rights are not the Church’s top priorities.

Cloutier also highlights two elements in Time‘s write-up explaining Francis: he is foremost a priest, not a theologian or bureaucrat and he was personally censured by his provincial while lecturing in theology. This may explain his pastoral emphasis and aversion to use heavy-handed measures against anyone. It is precisely this new approach that people have been so receptive too.

Drawing off this, Paul Raushenbush of The Huffington Post writes of Pope Francis’ popularity:

“But why [is everyone talking about the pope]? I think it is because he is so refreshingly different from what people have become accustomed to associate with religious leaders…

“Pope Francis resonates with so many people because he actually lives up to the highest ideals of religion which challenges us to think both about our personal spiritual life alongside the concerns of the ‘other.’…

“His forthright statement like ‘Who am I to judge’ gay people; acknowledgment that atheists can work alongside religious people for the common good, his outreach to people of other faiths, and his amazing critique of economic systems that leave so many in this world hungry and homeless have been like a salve for the global community.”

For some, this honor is a promise of progress to come. Writing at Philly.com, Mark Segal looks forward to Pope Francis’ impact and writes:

“The actual doctrine of the church has not changed, but the message the Pope Francis is sending is more powerful than the doctrines themselves. Francis seems to understand that messages can create instant change, while doctrine can take years. He performs simple gestures as a priest looking after his flock, rather then a bureaucrat, bringing change, excitement and hope…

“If we had a gentler church, the world would be a better place for us all. Pope Francis gives me that hope, and I wish him God’s speed with his mission.”

One interesting final note is that Pope Francis beat out a leading LGBT advocate, Edith Windsor, who was the plaintiff behind the court case which led the US Supreme Court to strike down DOMA earlier this year. For some LGBT advocates, awarding the pope is misguided recognition, as in an opinion piece published by The Baltimore Sun which says:

“The simple phrase ‘who am I to judge?’ reverberated across the LGBT community and got church leaders talking openly about an issue that had been essentially verboten. But actual large-scale change — the kind Windsor sparked — has yet to come.

“Now that Time has honored Pope Francis for preaching compassion and tolerance, citing in part his softening stance on LGBT individuals, the real question is: What’s next?”

Regardless of why Pope Francis won Person of the Year or whether he deserved it among other contenders, Catholics and many others will continue asking the same question of Pope Francis in reconciling the hierarchy with the LGBT community and their allies: what’s next?

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Faith Voices Take on Cardinal Dolan Over NBC Interview

December 4, 2013
Dolan

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s interview with NBC over Thanksgiving weekend sparked controversy after the prelate claimed the hierarchy was not “anti-gay” and had been merely out-marketed” on marriage equality. Bondings 2.0 pointed out in a previous post how the cardinal’s claims are wrong and called for the US bishops to engage in self-reflection. Below are excerpts from commentary on Dolan’s interview from other LGBT and Catholic voices.

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, religion editor at The Huffington Post, writes to Dolan with a prophetic reminder that change will, and is, coming from Catholics on LGBT matters:

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush

“No Cardinal Dolan, the Catholic Church hierarchy hasn’t been ‘outmarketed’ on gay marriage, nor have you been ‘caricatured’ as anti-gay. The hard truth is that, while right on so many of the most important issues of our time, the Catholic Church leadership in America is wrong on the question of gay marriage…

“What is happening with increasing speed is that Americans do understand the Catholic Church’s position but that people just don’t agree with its conclusions. In fact, even Catholics themselves don’t agree with the Bishops position as polls show a majority of them are for gay marriage…

“The truth is, the Catholic Church, along with most religious traditions will eventually have to change their positions on LGBT people. It will take a long, long time. I certainly don’t expect to live to see the Catholic Church hierarchy change official dogma on the issue. But I have faith that they will.”

Rick Garcia, a Catholic who works with The Civil Rights Agenda, explains why the bishops are perceived negatively by many in the LGBT and allies community:

Rick Garcia

“The Church is perceived as anti-gay not because it teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman but because its bishops have lied about gay people and our lives, have demonized us and have persecuted priests, Sisters and parishes that minister authentically to gay people and our families.  In addition, some bishops have threatened and tried to intimidate Catholic legislators who support equality and justice for all.

“The Catholic bishops have spent millions of dollars fighting hate crimes legislation and laws banning housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation…Most egregious the bishops have threatened to not support the immigration reform bill if it includes same-sex couples.

“The bishops consistently reduce gay people to their genitals and what they do or do not do with them and a number of bishops have supported and promoted dangers programs that seek to change gay people’s sexual orientation.  The bishops have opposed any legislation or policy changes that would affirm gay people’s right to be treated equitably under the law. That is why the Church is perceived as anti-gay. It is not a caricature it is a sad reality.”

Finally, Bryan Cones at U.S. Catholic questions why America’s bishops seem incapable of recognizing goods, though  imperfect in their eyes:

Bryan Cones

” ‘Blame Hollywood’ is a tried-and-true tactic for losses on the culture war front, but I think the truth on this one is the personal experience of many Americans, Catholics included, of the same-gender relationships in their own family and social circles. And while Dolan may decry the “anti-gay” label that has been applied by many to the Catholic Church, he may want to check in with his brother bishop in Illinois, who responded to same-gender marriage in Illinois with a firebreathing exorcism, blessedly ‘performed’ mostly in Latin. I think most observers would see that as ‘anti-gay.’ …

“Effectively engaging issues of social justice and religious freedom, however, requires something Dolan and his brother bishops seem unwilling to do: accept and expand the good, especially when the perfect is politically out of reach. In both the health care reform and marriage equality debates, the bishops could have grasped the “goods”: a massive prolife victory in the extension of health care in the first, and, in the second, an affirmation of an institution that publicly commits those who enter it to fidelity and stability (albeit an expansion at odds with church teaching). In neither case are the bishops likely to get everything they want, but there are goods to celebrated there nonetheless, and in the case of health care, to be expanded upon.”

On a slightly different note, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show had this to say about Cardinal Dolan’s interview:

“Maybe in this situation it’s not about marketing. Maybe, I don’t know. Maybe the Catholic Church is in this instance in the morally inferior position…”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Another Teacher Is Fired for Marrying; What You Can Do to Stem These Actions

October 19, 2013
Tippi McCullough

Tippi McCullough

Yet another LGBT employee has been fired from a Catholic school, this time in Arksansas. The firing at Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock adds yet another victim to anti-equality thinking, which punishes employees in same-gender marriages or those who support marriage equality.

Tippi McCullough, an English teacher with 15 years experience at the high school run by the Sisters of Mercy, received a phone call on her wedding day warning her against marrying long-time partner, Barb Mariani. The couple had traveled to New Mexico to wed, and less than an hour after doing so were told by principal Diane Wolfe that McCullough was terminated. The Daily Mail reports that the school was notified of the marriage by the diocese, although the school is not commenting on the incident.  The news story reports:
“When Mrs McCullough asked how her marriage had violated the clause [which allows for firings based on lifestyles that contradict Church teaching], Wolfe responded by saying she wasn’t going to have a theological debate and that there was nothing else she could do…

“No law protects McCullough from being fired as a religious institution citing church teaching would be exempt from discrimination laws.”

McCullough says the school knew of her relationship with Mariani for years  but only offered her an opportunity to resign when the marriage became known to school officials. As has been the norm with such firings, students and the wider Catholic community are rising to defend McCullough. A petition with almost 1,300 signatures appeared on Friday in support of McCullough, who is still weighing her options.

Jezebel also published email correspondence between an alumna, who is now a teacher herself, and Wolfe. In it, the principal defends the school’s decision:

“While I respect your thoughts and concerns, you really have no clue. This was not just my decision. I am only the messenger…It is not for me to decide, judge or disobey the tenets of the church. I was hired to uphold my contractual obligations as a Catholic school administrator and to carry out those functions, as unpleasant as they may be…Do you not think it took moral courage to carry out and uphold the tenets of the church..?”

Sadly, the views expressed by Wolfe indicate not moral courage, but rather a fear too prevalent in Catholic schools when it comes to LGBT issues. Bishops and administrators who are publicly challenged on firings claim it is painful, but necessary and the hierarchy asks lower administrators to enforce this legalism. The pain in Wolfe’s defensive tone is evident.

National Catholic Reporter published an article analyzing this broader trend of firing employees who either are transgender, enter into same-gender marriages, or simply support LGBT rights that notes:

“It’s not news that gay teachers and other employees of Catholic institutions lose their jobs over a same-sex relationship…What’s different in recent years is a growing acceptance of gay marriage among Catholics and gay people’s increasing ability to marry and unwillingness to hide their relationships…

“Such firings, once the private affairs of Catholic schools, whispered about in the teachers’ lounge, now air on the nightly news and circulate on Facebook.”

This discrimination continues, however, because the schools are legally protected due to religious exemptions in non-discrimination laws, even where sexual orientation or gender identity is explicitly protected. They are reminders that even as marriage equality spreads, like in New Jersey this coming Monday, LGBT rights remain unsecured and change is still needed in the Catholic Church.

However, there is hope as Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, told NCR:

” ‘What we know, what everyone knows, Catholic and non-Catholic, is that the younger generation is much more supportive of marriage equality than older generations, which is the indicator that it is the future’…

” ‘I’m heartened by it not only because they’re young but because a lot of them have discussed their support for the teacher in terms of Catholic principles…It’s a good case of the church hierarchy undone by their highest ideals.’ “

One way to make an impact is for Catholics to get their local church institutions to adopt non-discrimination policies that protect sexual orientation, marital status, views on marriage, and gender identity.   We need to get our parishes, schools, and other Church-affiliated institutions to live up to their Catholic principles of non-discrimination and justice.  Speaking out for such policies would help spread the word that there is a Catholic tradition which supports and protects LGBT people.  For more information, you can contact New Ways Ministry at info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


On Spirit Day, Catholics Chart New Course for LGBT Youth

October 17, 2013

SpiritDay13_Graphic_FinalToday is Spirit Day. Millions across the nation will wear purple as a sign of their of their love and support for LGBT youth and for their opposition to bullying. We join GLAAD, the main sponsoring organization, in spreading this message of inclusion and well-being.

LGBT teens and young adults suffer greatly from bullying by peers in person and, increasingly, on the internet. Homo- and trans-phobic harassment against youth leads to vastly higher rates of substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide than the general population.

Rejection from their faith community and religious-based discrimination only compound these problems. For Catholics, Spirit Day is also prime moment for reflection on our Church’s progress and where we are now headed in ministering to younger people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

Last October, . Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s piece on Spirit Day was considered a bold statement, when he reminded Catholics of a prevalent negativity around Catholic LGBT issues from some quarters of the church:

“Many gay and lesbian Catholics have told me (in person, in emails, in notes and letters and in Facebook messages) how alienated they have felt from the church lately.  Perhaps as a result of some of the rhetoric that has been used recently, an increasing number of gay and lesbian Catholics, and gay and lesbian youth in particular, feel marginalized from the church in which they were baptized.”

Fear, hurt, and isolation persist for many LGBT Catholics who experienced decades of damaging language and actions.  Pope Francis, though, has prompted a spirit of renewal that blows through our communities which demands that we act against anti-gay discrimination, especially when it targets youth.

One bright initiative is called Anti-Bullying Learning and Teaching Resources (ALTER), sponsored by the Diocese of Wollongong, Australia. Responding to the rapid rise in bullying through cell phones and social media, the diocese’s Catholic Education Office produced a video (which you can view below) and a resource kit for adults in leadership.

Of note is the use of the word “gay” in the video, revealing an openness to the realities of the students it hopes to help. The Office explains:

“Fix You was deliberately designed to include significant contribution from Diocesan primary and secondary students. To maintain the integrity of this concept, when asked to list words commonly used to bully and to hurt, students were adamant the word ‘gay’ be included. In explanation, it was our students’ reality that this word was often used as a weapon and that verbal bullying was an experience known to most students. Consequently, this term has been included in the sequence of words depicting how bullying brands someone and how this can leave lifelong scars.”

The Office provides an improved commentary on homosexuality that focuses on respecting people’s dignity and ending injustice. They recommend that educators use the word “gay” in their classroom discussions.

This Spirit Day, Pope Francis’ handful of olive branches to the LGBT community has changed the tone by his comment “Who am I to judge?“, his America interview, or his handwritten note to gay Catholics in Italy. Leaders in the American hierarchy have been slow to follow his lead, but the Catholic laity  continue to advance into greater inclusion.

As Catholics, we at New Ways Ministry support Spirit Day, compelled by our faith to end bullying and sustain LGBT youth as they come to know themselves, their community, and God.  We’ve changed our profile picture on Facebook to purple in honor of Spirit Day, and we invite you to do the same as a sign of support.  If you use Twitter, consider using #SpiritDay in your tweets about support for LGBT youth today.

Why not share the graphic above with your friends on Facebook? You can copy and paste it from this post or you can find it on the New Ways Ministry Facebook page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Justice Antonin Scalia Misusing Catholic Faith to Promote Anti-Gay Bias

October 13, 2013

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Just weeks ago, Pope Francis shook up the Catholic Church with a wide-ranging and welcome interview that included positive words about gay and lesbian people. Now, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is making waves in an interview with New York Magazine where he speaks about his Catholic faith and homosexuality.

Justice Scalia is normally an outspoken Catholic, but he offered little when asked about Pope Francis. The interviewer pressed him on the issue of homosexuality, asking (New York Magazine’s questions are in bold):

“I was wondering what kind of personal exposure you might have had to this sea change [of LGBT rights].

“I have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual. Everybody does.

“Have any of them come out to you?

“No. No. Not that I know of.”

He is asked in the interview whether his views on homosexuality have “softened” given the pope’s new welcome of gay and lesbian people, but Scalia is unable to understand how they could soften because in his mind the issue is set Catholic doctrine. The interviewer asks how these personal views affect his role on the Supreme Court, and Scalia answers:

“I still think it’s Catholic teaching that [homosexuality is] wrong. Okay? But I don’t hate the people that engage in it. In my legal opinions, all I’ve said is that I don’t think the Constitution requires the people to adopt one view or the other…

“Maybe the world is spinning toward a wider acceptance of homosexual rights, and here’s Scalia, standing athwart it. At least standing athwart it as a constitutional entitlement. But I have never been custodian of my legacy. When I’m dead and gone, I’ll either be sublimely happy or terribly unhappy.”

He pivots from here into a lengthy discussion of heaven and hell, the Devil, and atheism, all of which you can find here.

Yet, as a justice on the US’ top court and a prominent Catholic, Scalia’s record on LGBT issues is less “standing athwart” on legal grounds and more a clearly defined legacy of anti-gay bias rooted in his understanding of the Catholic faith.

Right Wing Watch offers a rundown of Scalia’s harshest moments against the LGBT community, as when he previously compared homosexuality to murder and cruelty against animals or when he wrote a scathing opinion in Lawrence v. Texas that would justify discrimination against gay people. Then there is the unusual step the justice took in reading aloud from the bench his blistering dissent when the Supreme Court struck down DOMA this past June.

It appears Pope Francis’ effect on Justice Scalia is minimal given the New York Magazine interview, and it is doubtful the justice would act like other Catholics on the court in endorsing the rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. It is also clear in his language that Scalia continues to view homosexuality in terms of sexual acts, instead of as an integral part of a person’s identity. It is telling that someone as well-connected as the justice claims to know no gay people personally, and does little to show compassion, sensitivity, or respect for them as the Church asks of him.

With LGBT rights expanding in the US and Pope Francis preaching words of welcome, the moment is prime for the justice to reconsider how he speaks about and interacts with gay people. Perhaps acknowledging those he knows who are LGBT identified is a start. Perhaps he could consider aspects of his Catholic faith, like the dignity of each person and the common good pf all, when it comes to homosexuality. Perhaps he could simply start by echoing Pope Francis’ words in interviews and say, “Who am I to judge?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Bishops Try to Stem Marriage Equality’s Spread in the U.S.

October 6, 2013

As marriage equality becomes an emerging reality in the United States, opponents are employing new challenges in court and elsewhere to limit the spread and, in some cases, punish supporters of LGBT people. Below, Bondings 2.0 offers several incidents across the country that have made headlines with links provided if you wish to read more.

Michigan

In Detroit, arguments open on October 16th for a federal court case challenging the state’s ban on same-gender marriages and stirring up anti-equality opponents in defense of the ban. Equality advocates are hopeful that the US Supreme Court’s decision in June to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act will help their case against a similar state-level ban passed by Michigan in 2004.

Initially, the two plaintiffs, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, who are partnered with three children, challenged a Michigan law denying them adoption rights. The lawsuit grew, and the Detroit Free Press now reports the case has now drawn the attention of the Catholic hierarchy:

“U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman has allowed other parties to file arguments in the case. The Michigan Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Roman Catholic Church, said ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ must be avoided yet marriage should remain between a man and a woman.”

Yet, others are filing in support of the DeBoer and Rowse.  Professors at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School wrote a brief that said, in part:

“Ours is not a constitution of caste or class. It is not a constitution that allows a political majority to subordinate a defenseless minority just because it can…It is not a constitution that turns its back on any class, much less a class that is morally blameless.”

U.S. Congress

At the federal level, more than 60 members of the House of Representatives brought forth legislation that would shelter those wishing to discriminate against same-gender couples under the name, “Marriage and Religious Freedom Act.” Religion News Service notes:

“The bill signifies a shift in strategy for gay marriage opponents: Increasingly resigned to the reality that they’re unlikely to stop gay marriage, they’re now trying to blunt its impact by carving out explicit protections for dissenters…

“Under Labrador’s bill, no institution could lose its federal tax-exempt status because it promotes traditional marriage. Neither could the federal government deny a grant, contract or employment to a person or institution based on their belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.”

The bill has the support of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, among other anti-equality organizations, who claim it protects those who do not agree with LGBT rights. Marriage equality advocates counter that  the bill would provide a legal basis for discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. With the government preoccupied with budget considerations, it looks like this bill will not become law. However, the actions reveal the Catholic hierarchy’s insistence on mitigating the legal rights of LGBT people and perpetuates the idea recently expressed in Hawaii that ‘just discrimination’ exists.

North Carolina

Catholic bishops have withdrawn from the North Carolina Council of Churches because some of the members support marriage equality, just as Pope Francis called the hierarchy to stop obsessing about the issueReligion News Service reports:

“For more than 30 years, North Carolina enjoyed a unique ecumenical alliance between Protestant and Catholics. The state council’s members advocated as one on issues such as economic justice, equality and peace…

“But in a joint statement, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh and Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte, said the alliance has resulted in religious leaders being associated with positions ‘that are at times in contradiction with their practice and the teaching of their faith.’

“Specifically, the more liberal state council opposed a state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. The amendment passed in 2012 with the enthusiastic support of the two Catholic dioceses.”

Lack of Catholic support will cost the Council about ten percent of their budget, but more distressing is the lack of Christian unity that it reveals and the lost efforts on common justice issues.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


In Australia, Shifting Leadership Leaves Marriage An Open Question

September 29, 2013

Kevin Rudd, left, and Tony Abbott, right.

After the defeat of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently, anti-marriage equality leaders in Australia are using this moment to stall progress and leaving legislation for equal marriage rights an open question.

The incoming archbishop for Canberra and Goulburn called for a moratorium on any marriage related legislation. The Canberra Times reports that Archbishop-Elect Christopher Prowse publicly questioned a proposed bill that would equalize marriage rights because of the “fragile moment” that “heterosexual married life” is in. He continued:

” ‘I would be calling for more of a moratorium to suspend pending legislation so that we, over the next period of time, can discuss this in a more reasoned way, where both subjective and objective arguments can be put forward and discussed in an atmosphere of calm and reason, particularly holding forward the importance of traditional marriage and its role in society. ”’

Of note is the shift that Archbishop-Elect Prowse brings to the archdiocese from his predecessor Bishop Pat Power who, while opposing marriage equality, spoke kindly of gay and lesbian people. Power is on record as saying:

” ‘I think it is really important to honour homosexual people and to understand that if that is their orientation, that is the way God has made them’…

” ‘If they are expressing their sexuality in a particular way, I don’t know I would want to be too judgmental about that. I think God is often kinder in any judgments that would be made than sometimes other Christians are.’ “

Alongside ecclesial shifts are political ones. In mid-September elections, Kevin Rudd, who is Catholic and made a strong defense of marriage equality because of his faith only days before the election, lost a re-election bid for prime minister. His opponent, Tony Abbott who is also Catholic, ran on a strong record opposing equal rights for LGBT people. Many credit Abbott’s victory with the internal failings of Rudd’s Labor Party and not their positions on marriage equality.

It appears that marriage equality is stalled at the federal level, but LGBT advocates remain hopeful that provincial legislatures can pass laws in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Similar to the United States, progress on marriage will be ‘incremental’ according to one columnist in The Guardian.

Not yet accounted for are recent comments by Pope Francis that the Church should no longer focus on marriage politically, and perhaps this will mean there is room to grow equal rights in Australia under Abbott’s government. There is also the reality that the new prime minister’s openlylesbian sister is pressuring him to advance LGBT rights.

If you missed Bondings 2.0‘s coverage of Kevin Rudd’s faith-filled defense of marriage equality, you can watch the video clip here. It is well worth a view. 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Australia’s Catholic Prime Minister Defends Marriage Equality

September 8, 2013

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia

As Australians cast their ballots this weekend, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s promise to pass marriage equality within 100 days of the election will be fresh on their mind. Rudd, who is Catholic, made a strong defense of equality on national television this past Tuesday while responding to an audience member’s question, and cited his Catholic faith at several points.

Abbot led in recent polls, but regardless of the election’s outcome, Rudd’s public witness as a practicing Catholic is worth celebrating. A full essay on why he evolved in favor of equal marriage can be read on The Australian‘s website.

A local Christian pastor asked the prime minister about his evolution on marriage equality on the popular Australian television show “Q&A,”  The pastor wondered whether this evolution was merely politicking to win votes,  BBC News reports that Rudd changed his position on the issue in May, while his opponent, Tony Abbot, remains sharply opposed to equal marriage rights.

You can view the video and text for key moments of the exchange this week on “Q&A” below.


After the pastor finished his question, Rudd first addressed the issue of sexual orientation using the language of an ‘informed conscience':

” ‘I concluded in my conscience — through an informed conscience and a Christian conscience — it was the right thing to do [supporting marriage equality] and let me tell you why. Number one, I do not believe people when they are born choose their sexuality…And therefore the idea that this is somehow an abnormal condition is just wrong. I don’t get that…Secondly if you accept that it is natural and normal for someone to be gay because that’s the way they are, then it follows from that I don’t think it is right to say that if these two folk here who are in love with each other and of the same gender should be denied the opportunity for legal recognition of the duration their relationship by having marriage equality.’ “

Afterwards, Rudd asked for clarification from the pastor on why Christians should oppose equal marriage rights. The pastor cited Scripture and ended with the challenge, “If you call yourself a Christian, then why don’t you believe the words of Jesus in the Bible?” The prime minister responded with a rejection of fundamentalism by saying:

“If I were to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition…For goodness sake, the human condition and social conditions change. What is the fundamental principle that the New Testament? It is one of universal love. Loving your fellow man. And if we get obsessed with a particular definition of that through a form of sexuality then I think we’re missing the centrality of what the gospel — whether you call it a social gospel, a personal gospel, or a spiritual gospel is all is all about…If you think homosexuality is unnatural condition then, frankly, I cannot agree with you based on any element of the science and, therefore, if a person’s sexuality is as they are made, then you’ve got to ask the second question: should their loving relationships be legally recognized and the conclusion I’ve reached is that they should.”

Prime Minister Rudd echoes the beliefs of many Catholics that same-gender relationships are both good and deserving of legal recognition from the government.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Writer to Conservative Bishops: “Watch. Listen. You Might Learn Something.”

August 19, 2013

Pope Francis’ press conference on the return flight from Brazil

Last week, Bondings 2.0 reported on Catholic bishops’ varied responses to Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” comment. Some welcomed the remark, others disapproved, and yet more tried to convince the world there was nothing new to it.  Michael Sean Winters comments on bishops’ responses in National Catholic Reporter with an eye towards those bishops struggling with the pope’s new leadership.

The responses of anti-LGBT Catholics caused Winters to rethink the role of and vision for bishops in our Church, as he writes:

“It would be amusing, if it were not so sad, to see many conservative Catholics attempt to qualify Pope Francis’ comment – ‘who am I to judge?’ – when asked about the circumstance of a Vatican prelate against whom charges of homosexual conduct were leveled…

“More troubling have been the reactions of some bishops. Emblematic would be the statement issued by San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

“Here is a man who clearly thinks that his primary duty as pastor is to defend the moral law. Certainly, his words do not suggest he has ever talked to gay people and acquired the ‘smell of the sheep’ from them. In an early section of the statement, in which he affirms the dignity of all people, including gay people, there is a lack of human warmth that is astounding.”

Winters points out that American bishops have reduced the moral law to sexual ethics as a sole focus, but instead of criticizing this errant narrowing he asks the larger question: are bishops first and foremost supposed to defend the moral law?

The columnist provides a brief historical rundown on morality from Scriptural roots to contemporary contexts. Of Jesus’ teachings and the first Christians, Winters writes:

“More importantly, Jesus called His disciples not just to a strict moral life, but to a prior stance towards other human beings, especially those in need, and reserved to Himself the judgment of others, a judgment He dispenses with great mercy: ‘Than neither do I condemn you,’ he said to the woman caught in the act of adultery.

“The early Church was certainly aware of the need for the moral law, but that concern did not dominate the early Church.”

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters

Of the modern world, Winters makes two points. First, religions are forced to jettison faith and keep just their ethics when they speak publicly. When a Catholic bishop’s primary role is just a defender of the moral law not only are they ignoring the broader thoughts of early Christianity, Winters also contends they concede to negative modern trends of secularization:

“A religious leader who presents himself primarily as a defender of the moral law has accepted secular norms in restricting his ministry. The leaders of the Church must be ministers of God’s mercy as much as they are teachers of the moral law. That, it seems to me is the essence of what Pope Francis is trying to tell the entire Church, but especially the clergy. Francis is trying to re-establish the authority of Jesus by following His admonition to leave the judging to God.”

Second, Archbishop Cordileone’s statement, among others, employed the argument that Catholics judge actions, not people and this thinking furthers the modern notion that morality is an abstract exercise. Referencing the philosopher Immanuel Kant, Winters criticizes those who fail to concern themselves with the “messiness of actual moral decision-making” and “live at the level of abstract principles” alone. He quotes a priest friend who writes:

“…it was bizarre [for Cordileone] to state ‘that we don’t judge people but we judge actions. Actions are done by people so how can you not really judge an action without some of the judgment falling on the person? The pope of course did not make this distinction because he saw that mercy has to enter into the equation and also because the pope is not a Kantian…”

These realities mean a negative answer to his initial question, namely that bishops are not primarily defenders of the moral law. Bishops are more than ethical voices, they should be pastors foremost, and Winters suggests this is one of Pope Francis’ major themes for his fellow clergy. Bishops must preach about Christ first and enter into life of those whom they serve (certainly themes Pope Francis has preached heavily on). Bishops, like all clergy, should express mercy.

And Winters’ suggestion for those uncomfortable with a pope who wants bishops to show mercy and enter the messiness of real life ethics? He concludes:

“Instead of trying to parse the new pope’s words in ways that empty them of their content, I suggest that those bishops who are wrestling with how to respond to Pope Francis’ way of leading the Church be quiet for bit. Watch. Listen. You might learn something. Pope Francis is getting us back to the basics of discipleship. When he stated, ‘who am I to judge?’ he was not overturning 2,000 years of moral teaching but he was inviting Christians to place themselves in the crowd, stones in hand, gathered around the woman caught in adultery, and to listen to the words of the Master: ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’ “

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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