SYNOD: Belgian Bishop’s Hope: Restore Conscience to Its Rightful Place

October 1, 2014

Yesterday we saw a theologian’s hopes for the synod: that the bishops might be open to the grace of seeing that same-gender marital commitments are sacramentally equal to heterosexual ones.  Today, we will look at what one bishop’s hopes for the synod will be.  I think you will find his thoughts to be filled with promise for a more just and loving church.

Bishop Johan Bonny

In September, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, published a reflection about the upcoming meeting entitled: Synod on the Family:  Expectations of a Diocesan Bishop. I will try to summarize some of what I think are the high points of this essay, but I confess that I will barely scratch the surface of the richness of thought he expresses.  At 22 pages, the essay is not overly long, but it is also packed with so many gems that it is hard do it justice in just one blog post. It is also eminently readable, so I highly encourage interested people to read the entire text, which can be found by clicking here.

Bishop Bonny’s reflections are based, in part, on responses that the Belgian bishops received from the laity, whom they consulted on these topics, as the Vatican had requested.  Bonny, who will not himself be at the synod, remarked that the responses

“stem . . . from the primary stakeholders:  people of today who are committed to work on their relationship, their marriage, their family in the light of the gospel and in connection with the Church.”

In addition to praising the laity, Bonny criticizes the hierarchy, who, he says, did not complete the work of the Second Vatican Council, particularly in the area of marriage and the family. Because of the furor following Humanae Vitae, the birth control encyclical, the idea of conscience “lost its rightful place in a healthy moral-theological reflection.”  So it is no surprise, when a few sentences later, he asks himself “What do I expect from the upcoming Synod?”, his answer is direct:

That it will restore conscience to its rightful place in the teaching of the Church in line with Gaudium et Spes.” [Gaudium et Spes is the Vatican II document which described the primacy of conscience in ethical reflection.]

Bonny explains that the Church’s teaching on marriage cannot be reduced to a few general principles or narrow judgments.  He observes that we can’t characterize the Church’s view on marriage

“by pointing to one period, one pope, one school of moral theology, one language group, one circle of friends, one ecclesial policy.  Every component counts, but no single component can comprise or replace the whole. . . . In short: the teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage and family is to be found in a a broad tradition that has acquired new form and new content down through the centuries.  This narrative is incomplete. Every new era confronts the Church with new questions and challenges.”

His greatest concern is with the fact of “how complex the reality of relationship formation, marriage and family life is today.”  He offers several poignant examples of the many varied family configurations that exist in the contemporary world.   He includes a same-gender couple as one of his examples”

“J and K are are a same-sex couple, married in a registry office.  Their parents have never found their choice a simple one, but at home they’re just as welcome as the other children.  J and K appreciate the attitude of their parents and family very much  They have a problem with the attitude of the Church.”

His recognition of the many different family situations causes him to express another hope for the Synod:

“What are my hopes for the Synod?  That it won’t be a Platonic Synod.  That it won’t withdraw into the distant safety of doctrinal debate and general norms, but will pay heed to the concrete and complex reality of life.”

Indeed, in a later section of his essay, he observes that the ever-changing social contexts of marriage and family life require the Church to be more willing to develop its view on these topics:

“This ever changing context is not intended in itself to be anti-Christian or anti-Church. It is part and parcel of the historical circumstances in which both the Church and individual believers are expected to exercise their responsibility.  It confronts the Church time and again with an important question:  how can its teachings and life in its concreteness encounter and question one another in a productive tension?  In almost all the responses to Rome’s questionnaire, I have read the expectation that the Church would also recognise what is good and valuable in other forms of partnership, forms other than traditional marriage.  I consider such a hope to be justified.”

This spirit of dialogue is evident in the seventh section of the essay, entitled “The Proclamation of the Gospel. ” After criticizing church leaders for being too defensive against outside influences, he turns to Jesus as the model for welcome and conversation:

“Jesus opened his heart and his arms to people whoever they were and whatever their experience in life.  There were no walls or boundaries around his mercy and compassion. . . . He entered into dialogue with unexpected dialogue partners and accepted invitations to dine with people of questionable character.  He wasn’t particular or exclusive in his choice of friends or table companions, not even in his choice of apostles.These are the tracks on which Jesus placed Church.  In its relationship with the world and the people who live in it, the Church should exhibit the same openness and compassion as its founder.”

In his conclusion, Bonny offers a hope that the Synod will institute continued conversation among hierarchy, laity, and many other experts:

“The Synod would be least beneficial in my opinion if it were to draw a few practical conclusions in haste. It would be better advised to initiate a differentiated process in which as many people as possible consider themselves interested parties:  bishops, moral theologians, canonists, pastors, academics and politicians, and particularly the married couples and families who are at the focus of the Synod.”

Here’s just quick review of the topics I covered:  praise for the expertise of the laity,  promotion of the idea of conscience, the need for the Church to develop its teaching, recognition that  family life is complex,  recognition that committed relationships other than heterosexual marriage are holy, using Jesus’ ministry as a model for outreach to the marginalized.  Few bishops tackle even one of those topics, let alone all of them.  And the remainder of the document examines further ones:  collegiality, how the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI squashed theological discussion, natural law, the sense of the faithful, to name a few.

I hope that enough Synod participants have read Bishop Bonny’s reflection, and that they are open to the wisdom it contains.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

The Tablet: Belgian bishop urges real dialogue at Synod

 

 

 


QUOTE TO NOTE: Pope Francis on Freedom & Conscience

July 9, 2013

computer_key_Quotation_MarksPope Francis used his weekly Angelus address to discuss conscience and freedom as aspects of the Catholic faith, emphasizing what many LGBT Catholics and their allies already know about these central Catholic teachings. The Pope speaks about Jesus’ determined journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel, where he will meet death, and how faith is always accepted and never imposed even for Jesus. He continues:

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

“All this makes us think. It tells us, for example, the importance, even for Jesus, of conscience: listening in his heart to the Father’s voice, and following it…Jesus wants us free, and this freedom – where is it found? It is to be found in the inner dialogue with God in conscience. If a Christian does not know how to talk with God, does not know how to listen to God, in his own conscience, then he is not free – he is not free.

“So we also must learn to listen more to our conscience. Be careful, however: this does not mean we ought to follow our ego, do whatever interests us, whatever suits us, whatever pleases us. That is not conscience. Conscience is the interior space in which we can listen to and hear the truth, the good, the voice of God. It is the inner place of our relationship with Him, who speaks to our heart and helps us to discern, to understand the path we ought to take, and once the decision is made, to move forward, to remain faithful.”

Advocates for more inclusive Catholic communities that welcome all, including those bound by conscience to challenge existing unjust structures, can take hope that Pope Francis may respect conscience more than his predecessors.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Bishop Gumbleton Preaches on Christ’s Radical Welcome for All

April 19, 2013
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Laity & Church Workers Compel Bishop to Retract Orthodoxy Test

March 23, 2013

Bishop Robert Vasa

Bishop Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa temporarily retracted an addendum in the contracts of Catholic educators that required them to affirm obedience to the hierarchy and its teachings. The bishop’s actions resulted from swift and public outcry from affected employees and those in the diocese who strongly objected to this orthodoxy addendum, which included adherence on LGBT issues.

If the measure had passed, educators would have been required to assent to the faith addendum, titled “Bearing Witness,” or risk losing their job regardless of personal religious affiliation. National Catholic Reporter reports on the requirements contained within the addendum:

“…they agree they are ‘a ministerial agent of the bishop’ and that they reject ‘modern errors’ that ‘gravely offend human dignity,’ including ‘but not limited to’ contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia.

“The roughly 400-word addendum requires all teachers and administrators — Catholic and non-Catholic — to ‘agree that it is my duty, to the best of my ability, to believe, teach/administer and live in accord with what the Catholic Church holds and professes.'”

Bishop Vasa explained his decision to rescind this addendum for further review in a letter to educators released earlier this week. National Catholic Reporter  reported that the bishop’s reasons for changing his mind were because of his failure to consult pastors and principals before releasing the addendum and he “erroneously chose a path of informing rather than mutual discernment.” He expects to implement the same goals after a period of review in the spring of 2015.

Conscience protections were one of the main complaints against Bishop Vasa’s proposed addendum, coupled with concerns about firing educators over their positions on controversial sexuality issues, including nearly a quarter of the diocesan school systems’ employees who are not Catholic. Others reacted to theunilateral imposition of this orthodoxy test, instead of a more dialogical approach with the bishop. These objections created enough active opposition from Catholics across the diocese that Bishop Vasa felt compelled to rescind the addendum, if only temporarily.

With good majorities of Catholics supportive of LGBT equality, including marriage rights, the laity must ensure devoted ministers, educators, and other church employees have their consciences respected by the hierarchy. Whether they are LGBT individuals themselves or outspoken allies, no person’s offerings to the Church should be denied.  A former diocesan employee presents a an argument for why a loyalty oath is not practical:

“In a March 5 Press Democrat commentary, Cynthia Vrooman said ‘at face value,’ the Vasa addendum ‘seems to be a legitimate employer’s request,’ that teachers in Catholic schools follow church doctrine.

“However, the former diocesan adult education director wrote, ‘these directives are imposed on teachers who may or may not be Catholics,’ and they demand assent to church doctrinal formulations that are open to change…

“Vrooman said ‘the next shoe to drop’ will be an ‘affirmation of faith’ required to be signed by parish ministers, similar to the 2004 pledge required of parish ministers in the Baker, Ore., diocese, where Vasa was bishop…”

In the Catholic Church, successes for the laity against an overreaching bishop are few. Santa Rosa is a prime example of the laity’s ability to join with church workers in promoting positive changes when needed, just as Call to Action concluded a week focused on justice for those employed by the Catholic Church and its affiliated organizations. National Catholic Reporter reported on the actions of one parish who raised $4,000 for a full page sign-on add in the local paper opposing Bishop Vasa’s actions and supporting the educators.

New Ways Ministry applauds the Catholics in Santa Rosa for defending the right of educators to live their consciences while working within the Church structures, and hopes it will inspire laity worldwide to oppose attempts to place strictures on these rights.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


New Report Reveals Conservatives’ Misuse of Religious Liberty Claims

March 20, 2013

Dr. Jay Michaelson

A new report on religious liberty details the impact conservative Christians, especially Catholics, have had in opposing LGBT rights. A project of the Political Research Associates, the report , entitled Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights, was authored by Dr. Jay Michaelson,who identifies Catholic far right organizations and the US bishops as primary players in suppressing LGBT equality.

Writing on The Daily Beast, Dr. Michaelson undercuts claims that expanding civil rights is a curtailment of religious liberty by exposing the true purpose of this conservative campaign:

“Today a far-right coalition of conservative Catholics and evangelicals perceive that they have lost the moral battle against LGBT equality, particularly same-sex marriage. And so…they are waging a multi-pronged battle against LGBT rights, not on substantive moral grounds but on the premise that equality for gays restricts the religious liberty of Christians to discriminate against them…

“And today religious-liberty activists claim that bullies are the real victims because they cannot ‘express their views about homosexuality.’ They claim that businesses who say ‘No Gays Allowed’ are being oppressed because they are forced to ‘facilitate’ gay marriages. And they claim that the real targets of discrimination are not gay people, who in 24 states can be fired from their jobs simply for being gay, but employers who can’t fire them…

“Religious liberty is being used to mask a conservative Christian agenda—the same agenda that’s been pushed for half a century now. Some on the far right may sincerely believe their liberties are being threatened, but they believed that about desegregation too. A belief does not make something so.”

Countering this religious liberty argument has been a challenge for progressives.  Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, examines this challenge in the foreword he wrote for Michaelson’s report.  DeBernardo also published an op-ed about the report on Alternet  which how progressives, especially Catholics, might respond to religious liberty arguments:

Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo

“The power of this [religious liberty] message comes not from the truth or validity of their [conservatives’] claim, of which there is very little to be found, but from the fact that this puts progressives into a quandary. Yet when leaders on the right make that claim, progressives often tread too delicately, for fear that they will be forced to choose between falsely competing values of liberty and equality…

“As a Catholic who works for LGBT equality, my own loyalties to faith and justice sometimes pull me in opposite directions when an argument for religious liberty is raised. As a practicing Catholic, I want to be sure that the government is not going to interfere with my church’s ability to govern itself. As an advocate for LGBT issues, I want to make sure that equality is served…

“One of the most important recommendations in this report is that a strong faith-based response to the religious liberty argument is needed. And long overdue…A faith-based response to religious liberty would help to unearth the hidden gems within faith traditions, which value conscience, equality, and justice.”

Moving forward politically, LGBT advocates can expect this religious liberty argument to remain active given previous successes nationwide. This report, which you can read here, provides one tool that progressive people of faith can employ in reorienting a distorted narrative.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Denver Catholic Charities Will Not Let Same-Gender Couples Adopt

January 29, 2013

Catholic Charities Archdiocese of DenverIf a civil unions bill becomes law this year in Colorado (and it looks likely that it will), the Archdiocese of Denver’s Catholic Charities has said that it will not place children available for adoption in families headed by same-sex couples.  9News.com reports the statements of two Catholic officials on the matter:

” ‘Our desire is to provide them [children] with a safe and stable environment,’ Tracy Murphy with Catholic Charities of Denver said.

“The debate begins when you examine what the Catholic church means by that.

” ‘The Catholic church understands the best foundation for a child’s life is to be in the home of a father and a mother that is going to raise them in a family environment that is a strong, healthy marriage,’ said Monsignor Tom Fryar, who serves as pastor for the Denver Cathedral.

“By dictionary definition, the church does discriminate when it comes to adoptions– not just against gays but also against single people.

“They only let married couples adopt. Even if the laws change, the church won’t.

” ‘We cannot,’ Fryar said. ‘It goes against our faith.’ “

Catholics who oppose the civil unions law are trying to get a “conscience clause,  which is explained by 9News.com’s  report:

“Last year’s bill contained the words: ‘This article shall not be interpreted to require a child placement agency to place a child for adoption with a couple that has entered into a civil union.’

“Supporters of civil unions begrudgingly included the clause last year, hoping it would help get the bill through the GOP-controlled House. Now that Democrats are in control, they are less inclined to accommodate religious organizations who opposed civil unions when the bill did have the clause.”

Putting the politics aside, it is amazing that Msgr. Fryar would say that adoption policy “goes against our faith.”  This is not a faith issue. Our faith does not say anything about what an ideal family would be for a particular child.  One need only look at Scripture, Catholic history, and the lives of the saints to know that there are many models of families and forms of childcare other than relying on a heterosexual standard.  Furthermore, the children and the parents involved may not necessarily be Catholic.

A Colorado lawmaker commented on the adoption controversy by making reference to segregation laws:

” ‘It sounds like, “we have our water fountains, and there are other water fountains for you,” ‘ Sen. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Commerce City) said.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: University of San Diego Controversy Growing as PRIDE Celebrates 21 Years

November 11, 2012

University of San Diego

Earlier this month, Bondings 2.0 reported on the University of San Diego’s (USD) decision to withdraw a fellowship invitation to British theologian Tina Beattie, largely speculated to be based on her support for marriage equality. In response, the community at USD is rising to Beattie’s defense and conversations over conscience, marriage equality, and academic freedom are occurring in the USD and wider academic community.

The American Association of University Professors stated  in a letter last week  that USD President Mary Lyons’ decision to disinvite Beattie was troubling. On campus, 170 faculty gathered outside of the main administrative building in protest on the same day the academic assembly voted overwhelmingly in support of Beattie. The assembly formally asked Lyons to reconsider her decision or face a vote of no confidence this week, characterizing it with a sense of importance and urgency. In an interview with National Catholic Reporter, Carlton Floyd, chair of the academic assembly executive committee and associate professor of English , was quoted:

“Floyd also portrayed Lyons’ decision as opposed to allowing a diversity of viewpoints on campus.
‘Diversity is the hallmark of education,’ he said. ‘If you can’t have opposing viewpoints, what exactly are you looking at if you can’t engage in dialog about those matters? What exactly does a university do?’”

Mary Lyon
President, University of San Diego

On Thursday evening students and faculty engaged these very issues in a forum titled, “Authority and Academic Freedom in Catholic Universities,” reported on by USD’s student radio organization. Included in the concerns of many was the connection of the Beattie decision to Vatican-backed conservative organizations linked to powerful financial donors:

“The concerns extended, too, to potential alumni and donor pressure that the panelists thought may have been at the root of this decision. Conservative donors have threatened to rescind funding from the university in the past based on similar events.

“Dr. Watson noted that alumni and donor uproar, especially those represented by the unofficial group Alumni for a Catholic USD, has often been linked to events or speakers in support of same-sex marriage and other issues of homosexuality, although Dr. Beattie was not scheduled to discuss homosexuality in her talks. ‘I fear that religion is being used as a shield for bigotry,’ Dr. Watson said.”

The National Catholic Reporter notes that although Lyons denies such connection, there is evidence that some conservative alumni did try to get Beattie disinvited:

“While Lyons and a university spokeswoman denied that pressure from outside groups had influence on the decision to cancel Beattie’s invitation, McKenna and another San Diego man known for his conservative Catholic viewpoints said in interviews with NCR that they had widely expressed displeasure with Beattie’s appointment.

“Among those they said they contacted were current and former members of the university’s board of trustees, San Diego coadjutor Bishop Cirilo Flores, the editor of the diocesan newspaper, and the Cardinal Newman Society.

“In her statement Monday, Lyons identified Beattie’s signing of an August letter in The Times of London along with 27 others, which said it would be ;perfectly proper’ for Catholics to support civil marriage for same-sex couples as ‘the heart of this matter.’ “

President Lyons’ decision has created an opportunity where many are speaking out about the case and its significance for discussion in the Church. Gerard Mannion, director of the Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture at USD where Beattie was to be a fellow, rejected Lyon’s charges of public dissent stated:

“There’s nothing to dissent from,’ Mannion said. ‘The church doesn’t have binding teaching on civil same-sex partnerships. It has a position and a preference, but it doesn’t actually have a binding teaching. Even were this not the case, the policy on academic freedom should protect her right to sign such a letter, which, after all, urged Catholics to follow their conscience.’”

The chair of Fordham University’s theology department, Terrence Tilley, echoed these sentiments defending the place of Catholic theologians as simultaneous public intellectuals in an interview with National Catholic Reporter:

“’Beattie doesn’t dissent from doctrine,’ said Tilley, who is also the Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Professor of Catholic Theology at Jesuit-run Fordham. ‘[Beattie] has just made a statement about the legitimacy of Catholics voting in favor of civil rights for people who want to marry people of the same sex…But that she has chosen to make a statement regarding politics means that she is not denying or opposing Catholic doctrine.’”

In related news, PRIDE, the University’s LGBT student group, held a fundraiser Saturday to celebrate its 21st anniversary on campus and the milestones it has attending including LGBTQ coursework, the inclusion of ‘sexual orientation’ in the nondiscrimination policies, and programming to create a welcoming campus.

These two events, contrasting controversy over Tina Beattie in this most recent iteration of culture wars on campus with the successes of PRIDE for over two decades, signify the ongoing challenges Catholic campuses face in maintaining their mission while creating welcoming and affirming communities.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

For New Ways Ministry’s listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, visit newwaysministry.org/gfc.

For further information on New Ways Ministry’s efforts in Catholic higher education and to get involved, contact youngadults@newwaysministry.org.


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