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.


Pope Francis’ Predicament with Conservative Catholics

August 18, 2013

Pope Francis meeting with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Pope Francis is merely five months into his papacy, but he already is reversing a three decades old paradigm in the Catholic Church of conservatives being courted and progressives being silenced. Traditionalist Catholics have responded several ways to Francis’ new style of leadership with potentially wide-ranging implications for both the church and LGBT equality.

David Gibson writes in the National Catholic Reporter about the divided opinions among conservatives in the Church, largely grouped in three camps. First, there are those who openly express their disapproval of Pope Francis, ranging from bloggers to archbishops:

“[Pope Francis has alienated] many on the Catholic right by refusing to play favorites and ignoring their preferred agenda items even as he stressed the kind of social justice issues that are near and dear to progressives…

“Indeed, he barely mentioned abortion directly or even gay rights until he was asked about gay priests during an impromptu press conference on the flight back from Brazil and, in a line heard round the world, he said, ‘Who am I to judge?’

“Catholics on ‘the right wing of the church,’ Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said on the eve of the Brazil trip, “have not been really happy about (Francis’) election.’ “

Others apologetically interpret Pope Francis to show how he is continuing the style and/or substance of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI:

“Not everyone on the right, however, is willing to concede that their influence may be on the wane or even that Francis is really any different than Benedict.

“Instead, many are advancing detailed arguments that they say show Francis doesn’t actually mean what the media and public think he means, adding that the pope’s honeymoon will get a cold shower when liberals see Francis is just as orthodox as his predecessors.”

A number of conservatives recognize change is occurring, but a change that is not necessarily destructive and might help shift a misguided emphasis on the papacy to a healthier ecclesiology.

Regardless of how conservative Catholics choose to interpret Pope Francis, how Pope Francis responds to them will be important for the Church’s future. Gibson cites Michael D’Antonio writing in Foreign Policy magazine in pointing out the pope’s challenge:

” ‘[Conservatives] have loyally supported the church with donations and activism and can be expected to oppose any change in direction of the sort Francis has signaled…

” ‘But this constituency cannot sustain the church in the long term…and the church now needs a figure able to bridge the gap between its rightward movement and the reality that Westerners are leaving the church in droves. That problem requires a wily pope with the skill and charisma to pull off the high-wire balancing act of unifying these two disparate impulses.’ “

Part of this tension is over issues of gender and sexual orientation. Those Westerners leaving Catholicism are often doing so due to harmful words of and actions by Catholic leaders against LGBT people, cheered on by a vocal anti-equality minority within the Church. Pope Francis seems to be taking a more pastoral and conversational tone around issues of sexuality and identity. This is an essential step to building up healthier Catholic communities, but one that will be controversial for conservatives complacent with the anti-gay rhetoric Francis’ two predecessors.

One first step in walking this line? Transforming how the People of God view bishops and their role in the Church. Check back tomorrow for commentary on just that — and if you’d like to receive daily posts from Bondings 2.0, you can subscribe by clicking the “Follow” button in the upper right hand corner of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Are LGBT Catholics At Home In the Church?

May 27, 2013
David Gibson of Religion News Service

This spring, several Catholic bishops made positive comments about LGBT people within Catholicism, including remarks by Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Easter and several Vatican officials endorsing civil unions.

In light of actions contradicting the welcoming message, David Gibson of Religion News Service poses an interesting question to several Catholics in recent headlines, “Can gay Catholics find a home in the Catholic Church?” He writes of the tensions:

“It’s still not clear what the second step [after Dolan’s positive remarks] in this fraught process might be, or even if there is a second step. And there are signs that things may only get more complicated…

“Moreover, as Americans — and American Catholics — grow increasingly accepting of homosexuality, and as foes of gay rights grow increasingly determined, conflict at the parish level seems inevitable. The uneasy ‘Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell’ policy that once allowed gay and lesbian Catholics to take church positions is clashing with their increasing visibility in the form of marriage licenses or wedding announcements.”

Francis DeBernardo
Francis DeBernardo

Gibson details the firings of Nicholas Coppola and Carla Hale, while Bondings 2.0 has reported on these and several other cases in recent months that are making LGBT-Catholic relations strained. Gibson quotes Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, who questions how these actions fit with other Catholic principles about justice.

“’How just is it to fire someone whose life or practices are not in accord with official church teaching?’…

“’Where do you draw the line?…Do you get fired if you have remarried without an annulment? Do you get fired if you don’t attend Mass on Sunday regularly? Do you get fired because you are a Protestant who does not recognize the Catholic hierarchical structure?’”

Yet, not only are LGBT advocates within the Catholic Church worried, priests and others in ministry recognize the increasing frequency of these conflicts at local levels:

“’The fact is that it is going to get worse,’ said the pastor of a large Midwest parish who has had to fend off complaints about a lesbian member of his staff. As critics become more insistent, and as gay and lesbian Catholics become more public, he fears the resulting controversies will take a serious toll on the church.

“’We have to come to some kind of pastoral accommodation,’ he said.

Fr. Joe Muth

New Ways Ministry hosts a listing of gay-friendly parishes, which has grown to over 200 from just 20 a decade ago that are making pastoral accommodations. One parish with extensive experience doing LGBT ministry is St. Matthew’s in Baltimore, led by Fr. Joe Muth

“Gays and lesbians ‘just move into the regular life of the church’ at St. Matthew’s, Muth said, as he believes is perfectly normal.

“But he also said they are aware of the ‘sensitivity’ of their presence, so they have made a concerted effort to reach out to other groups in the parish, and the parish has also made sure to include one of Baltimore’s bishops in meetings.

“That dialogue has been invaluable, he said, and he has received few complaints or protests.”

Fr. Muth acknowledges that the framework is troubled, and limitations on engaging marriage equality or having LGBT ministers in public relations remain due to the bishops’ pressure. Gibson continues:

“In fact, the patchwork nature of the responses is part of the problem, say gay advocates. ‘It’s not that there is a witch hunt out there,’ said DeBernardo. ‘But there are witch hunters. … For the most part I don’t think bishops go after these folks. They don’t create controversy; they only respond to controversy.’

“At the moment, there are no guidelines to help pastors and parishioners deal with these issues, and there doesn’t seem to be an effort to develop anything comprehensive’…

“’Right now it’s a step-by-step process of helping people to be church,’ said Muth, of St. Matthew’s in Baltimore. ‘That’s the way I see it.’”

This piecemeal approach to solving the increasing number of parish conflicts does not seem sufficient to some, and leaves us asking LGBT Catholics, family, friends, and allies the very same question with which Gibson titled his article: Can gay Catholics find a home in the Catholic Church?

Share your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below about if it is possible, and how you remain Catholic.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Rep. Paul Ryan Endorses LGBT Adoption, While Newt Gingrich Digs In Against Equality

May 9, 2013
Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan

As marriage equality becomes law in state after state, related legal matters like adoption rights for LGBT individuals and same-gender couples are gaining public attention. Catholic public figures are reviewing long-standing positions by the hierarchy anew, with Republican Congressman Paul Ryan  endorsing equal adoption rights and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaking strongly against what he perceives as anti-Christian laws.

Rep. Ryan, a Catholic, spoke at a town hall in Wisconsin last week where an attendee questioned him about a poor rating with the Human Rights Campaign, specifically a 1999 vote against allowing same-gender couples in the District of Columbia to adopt. David Gibson reports on the comments at Religion News Service, quoting Rep. Ryan as saying:

“Adoption, I’d vote differently these days. That was I think a vote I took in my first term, 1999 or 2000. I do believe that if there are children who are orphans who do not have a loving person or couple, I think if a person wants to love and raise a child they ought to be able to do that. Period.”

The Wisconsin congressman’s record on LGBT rights is abysmal otherwise, having voted against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the Matthew Shephard Hate Crimes Protection Act and vocally opposing marriage equality. Gibson points out that in another shift, Rep. Ryan also claimed:

“…he has “always supported” civil unions. Though there is no evidence to support that, it’s a clear sign that the politics of the issue have changed and that even the most conservative Republicans need to appear more hospitable to gays and lesbians in order to expand their voting bloc.”

You can view the town hall remarks in the YouTube video below:

Last weekend, on the television program Meet the Press, Newt Gingrich, a Catholic, reinforced his opposition to LGBT rights, including adoption by same-gender couples. Gingrich expressed an increasingly common talking point by anti-gay groups who claim that LGBT rights lead to the persecution of Christianity. The Huffington Post quotes the failed presidential hopeful:

Newt Gingrich

“‘But what I’m struck with is the one-sidedness of the desire for rights…There are no rights for Catholics to have adoption services in Massachusetts; they’re outlawed. There are no rights in D.C. for Catholics to have adoption services; they’re outlawed.

“‘Does [supporting LGBT rights] mean that you actually have to affirmatively eliminate any institution which does not automatically accept [homosexuality]?'”

However, another panelist on Meet the Press challenged Gingrich’s claims about Catholic Charities in Massachusetts and D.C. being forced to end their adoption services. The Huffington Post reports:

“Panelist Joy Reid, managing editor for The Grio, countered Gingrich’s argument, saying that Catholic Charities decided on its own to discontinue adoption services, rather than comply with the state’s nondiscrimination laws and provide adoptions for both heterosexual and same-sex couples.”

Pew Forum polling last year showed 55% of Catholics supported LGBT adoption rights, and it is increasingly clear to politicians this number is climbing. Recent controversies with Catholic Charities and relations to government in Palo Alto, California and Denver reiterate that the legal struggles will continue for the foreseeable future. As for the implications on Church politics, David Gibson writes:

“…Ryan, who has touted his Catholic faith as evidence of his social as well as economic conservatism…[has a] significant break with the Catholic hierarchy, which has even shut down adoption services rather than placing children with same-sex couples.

“This could spell more trouble for the Catholic bishops in their battle on gay rights; they have already been losing their own faithful, and losing political allies like Ryan is tough.

“Then again, many would say Ryan’s economic policies were hardly in line with the bishops and Catholic teaching, so there.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Gay Catholic Man Rejected from Parish Ministry Delivers 18,000 Signature Petition to Local Bishop

April 14, 2013

Nicholas Coppola Delivering 18,000 Signatures

After Nicholas Coppola was removed from parish ministry for marrying his husband, many rushed to support the Long Island gay Catholic man through a petition to the Diocese of Rockville Centre.  Over 18,000 people signed the petition which Coppola delivered to Bishop William Murphy’s office personally.

David Gibson reports in Religion News Service that the petition was was organized by Faithful America, which reads, in part:

“‘Bishop Murphy, please let Nicholas Coppola resume volunteering at his parish – and make it clear that faithful gay and lesbian Catholics are welcome to participate fully in parish life in your diocese.’ “

Gibson notes:

“According to gay activist network GLAAD, which has been assisting Coppola, a security guard at the diocese agreed to deliver the petition but said that neither Murphy nor diocesan officials would meet with Coppola and representatives of the activist groups who accompanied him.”

Reflecting on how events around Mr. Coppola have played out, several Catholic commentators  have expressed concern about the direction parishes head when priests exclude LGBT ministers for marrying. Bryan Cones writes at US Catholic about the failures of Catholic leaders to stand by LGBT ministers who give so much:

“Setting aside what I think is a blatant disregard for the rights of baptized people in the church…it is impossible not to be moved by Coppola’s devotion to his parish. After decades of service, he is being literally benched, but he is still showing up Sunday after Sunday, and even speaking kindly for the pastor…Entering a civil contract, even when it’s called ‘marriage,’ simply does not violate church teaching about the immorality of same-gender sex acts–it only violates the public policy position of the U.S. bishops and the Vatican, and there is a big difference between the two. It’s enough of a difference to justify letting Coppola continue his ministry in the parish.

“That lack of loyalty when the rubber hits the road is particularly tragic in the don’t-ask-don’t-tell situations LGBT Catholics find themselves in…’My hands are tied’ is a common cop out; wouldn’t it be better if Coppola’s pastor said it instead to the bishop: ‘My hands are tied. The gospel won’t let me treat a child of God like that.’ Coppola deserves better than that; everyone deserves better than that.”

Writing at the National Catholic Reporter, Pat Perriello observes more sinister intentions in parishes than just failing to support LGBT individuals:

“I believe God’s power is great enough to value goodness in anyone: Catholic, Christian, non-Christian or nonbeliever. God’s power is greater than church structures that sometimes seem designed to constrain that power.

“My other concern about this story is that the sanctions grew out of an elite spy system that appears determined to catch people doing things wrong and force bishops and priests into a position where they feel compelled to act on these events. We have unfortunately been seeing this kind of behavior in our parishes at least since the time of Pope John Paul II. It is divisive, uncharitable, unchristian and inappropriate as a means of resolving disagreements within the Christian community.”

Michael O’Loughlin writes that the Coppola incident illustrates a non-welcoming model of church, but that an alternative way of being church, one which welcomes all, is already being enacted in other areas:

“…there is another side to the Catholic Church that welcomes gay Catholics. I know a Catholic monk who has supported numerous collegee [sic] students through their coming out processes. A thriving parish in New York owes much of its vibrancy to a gay lay minister. There are countless priests and nuns who share the joys and sorrows of gay families in parishes throughout the country. Most of the time, these stories aren’t reported; it’s not exactly news when Christians act Christian. But sometimes they are.

“With support for same-sex marriage growing, especially among the Catholic faithful, the Catholic Church will face many decisions about how to respond to this pastoral challenge. Whether it hunkers down and marginalizes itself or responds with a more Christian approach remains to be seen, but it’s clear that both options are already at work in today’s church.”

Nicholas Coppola is moving forward from this experience with the hope he and his husband can create a more welcoming, sustained place for Catholic LGBT parishioners within the Church. He started a petition anyone can sign at Change.org asking Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to share a meal with Mr. Coppola’s family.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Analysis of Dolan’s Easter Message of Welcome–And Why It Was Indeed a Miracle

April 5, 2013

This week began with Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s statement of pastoral outreach to lesbian and gay people, and the commentary and analysis of his remarks still hasn’t stopped.  I imagine that the cardinal did not realize that his comment would cause such a discussion, but it is good for the church that this conversation is taking place.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), wrote a Huffington Post essay in which she expressed surprise that people were stunned by Dolan’s positive gesture. Walsh explained that the Catholic Church has always welcomed gay and lesbian people:

“To reiterate Cardinal Dolan’s point: Gays are welcome in the church. So are divorced people. Heck, even in the rare instances that people are excommunicated, they’re still expected at Sunday Mass. Although some sects ban you from the property for violating their rules, the Catholic Church still wants you in the pew.”

But Sister Walsh’s comments illustrate the problem.Many people know that the Catholic Church officially welcomes everyone, yet a good number of people, especially gay and lesbian people, have not experienced that welcome.  One of the ways that welcome has been muted is by harsh rhetoric from Catholic hierarchical leaders, like Cardinal Dolan and the USCCB.  Is Sister Walsh aware that people have heard many negative messages from the bishops?  Is she aware that  her final sentence in the quotation above is not a welcoming one?

Sister Mary Ann Walsh

David Gibson

David Gibson, an author on Catholic topics who writes for Religion News Service, points out more specific examples of how the bishops have not communicated a welcome:

“During the 2012 presidential campaign, a number of bishops said that those who support civil marriage for gays should be barred from Communion, and Dolan and other bishops cast the battle over gay marriage, and against Obama, in almost apocalyptic terms.

“Other church leaders used especially harsh language to describe gays and lesbians, and some barred children from attending Catholic schools because their parents are gay. Many also equated support for civil marriage for gays with support for abortion, an action that is grounds for automatic excommunication.”

Gibson points to two reasons why Cardinal Dolan may have made his message when he did:  1) a change in leadership style toward a more pastoral approach, exemplified by Pope Francis; 2) the shift occurring in public opinion towards greater acceptance of marriage equality.

Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, and the leader of last summer’s popular “Nuns on the Bus” tour, also looks at the example of Pope Francis as a sign of hope for a shift in leadership and rhetoric from other church hierarchs.  In a Washington Post “On Faith” essay, she wrote:

Sister Simone Campbell

Sister Simone Campbell

“My deepest hope is that he [Pope Francis] will lead our church in embracing all people who feel they have been marginalized or cast out because of stridency and cruelty they have encountered in our church. Too often we have been a hurtful structure rather than a caring community. Members of LGBT communities have been particularly harmed, and that is wrong.

“The Gospels are filled with examples of Jesus teaching us to reach out to and welcome those who have been marginalized by others. Jesus reached out to the lepers, healed the Roman occupier’s son, asked the Samaritan woman for help, and prevented the woman taken in adultery from being stoned by judgmental men. Pope Francis seems to understand this better than many, and we now have examples of people like Cardinal Dolan making some progress in following Christ’s example.”

Sister Campbell points to Cardinal Dolan’s words in his Easter homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral as yet another sign of expectant change.  Dolan said:

The Church, with a capital ‘C’, is undergoing renewal, repair, resurrection. I kind of think we’re seeing it today in a particularly fresh and new way with our beloved Holy Father.”

Michael O'Loughlin

Michael O’Loughlin

Michael O’Loughlin, who blogs on “Church and State” issues for BustedHalo.com, a website for young adult Catholics, agrees with Gibson that the change in style may be due to the shift in public opinion on marriage equality, particularly among young people:

Recognizing perhaps that the Church is losing its young members on the issue of same-sex marriage, and perhaps understanding that the battle may be lost entirely, some leaders are beginning to soften their tone. Remember, there’s two parts to the teaching in the catechism: homosexual acts are immoral, we’re told, but all gay people must be treated with respect and dignity. Perhaps the Church is beginning a campaign to emphasize the latter after so many years of touting the former?

O’Loughlin also seems to agree with New Ways Ministry’s suggestion in its initial statement on Cardinal Dolan’s comments that dialogue with LGBT Catholics is the important next step New York’s archbishop:

“As Pope Francis continues to demonstrate so powerfully, symbolism matters. So imagine the powerful image of a senior Catholic prelate sitting down to share a meal with a gay couple and engaging in friendly dialogue about how the Church might make their family feel more welcome in parish life. There’d be no implicit approval of same-sex marriage or conversation about moral theology. Instead, just a pastor and two faithful Catholics exploring ways to live out radical hospitality. Though it seems obvious at first glance, engaging gay and lesbian Catholics in dialogue about their experiences would be a radical shift in how the Church approaches these issues.”dignity usa logo

Indeed, DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics and allies, has called upon Dolan to dialogue with its members and leadership.  In an open letter to Cardinal Dolan this week, Dignity’s leadership stated:

“We sincerely hope and pray that your recent comments mark the beginning of a new chapter in the relationship between the Bishops and LGBT Catholics, as well as the majority of U.S. Catholics who have shown themselves to be increasingly supportive of LGBT people.  To that end, we feel it is important to set a definite date to resume a dialogue that has been suspended for far too long.  We suggest a meeting before Pentecost, or at the earliest possible date, in either New York City or Washington, D.C.  If you would let us know your availability, we will make every effort to arrange our schedules to accommodate yours.”

John Corvino

John Corvino

Finally,  just a quick note about reactions to New Ways Ministry’s characterization of Cardinal Dolan’s comments as “an Easter miracle.”   Earlier this week, John Corvino, a philosophy professor at Wayne State University, and author of several works on LGBT issues, took exception to this characterization by stating in a Huffington Post essay:

“I give the man credit for taking a more positive and welcoming tone, and sincerely hope that his fellow Christians take note. At the same time, it’s a sign of how low the bar is set when comments like Dolan’s inspire such interest and excitement. For example, Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of the gay Catholic group New Ways Ministry, called Dolan’s remarks ‘nothing short of an Easter miracle.’ “

“Really? Rising from the dead is an Easter miracle. Marshmallow Peeps are an Easter miracle. (You can put them in your pantry for a decade, and they won’t decay. It’s true.) But a Christian leader saying ‘Hey, maybe we shouldn’t attack gay people’? That’s just common decency, not to mention good strategy — especially in a world where a majority of American Catholics support equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.”

I mention this statement because several blog readers argued along similar lines in the “Comments” section of the original post on Easter Sunday.    Was Dolan sincere?  Were his comments too little, too late?  Does Dolan’s continued opposition to marriage equality cancel out his outreach?

I appreciate where all of these people are coming from, yet I still see Dolan’s statement as a hopeful sign.   For one, it is a major shift that he has said anything positive to lesbian and gay people, whatever his motivation.  This is new.  Will it be the beginning of a new era of openness?  Time will tell.  But whatever happens, it will be very difficult for Dolan and other bishops not to make positive statements in the future.

Secondly,  the quotation about “Easter miracle” was taken out of context and isolated as a single statement, thus allowing it to be interpreted in a variety of ways.  Here’s what the original statement said:

“This is the first time that the cardinal has made such a positive statement about God’s love for lesbian and gay people.  Such a statement is a refreshing change from the usual harsh rhetoric that the church hierarchy uses when discussing LGBT issues.  It is a significant sign of welcome and outreach.  Cardinal Dolan’s statement is nothing short of an Easter miracle.

“Cardinal Dolan now has to back up these words with actions.  Later in the interview he said that church leaders ‘gotta listen to people,’ referring to lesbian and gay persons.  If Dolan meant what he said, he should open a dialogue with lesbian and gay people, especially Catholics, to learn more about their pain and struggle , but also about their joy and faith.  New Ways Ministry stands ready to help Dolan identify people with whom he can begin to dialogue.”

An Easter miracle?  Yes, but it has to be backed up by actions.  Are Dolan’s words “baby steps,”  as Corvino characterizes them?  I don’t think so.  I think they signal a shift, which even if it is only “window dressing” could have a major impact on how Catholicism approaches LGBT issues.  If bishops begin speaking positively, even if only as a style change, it can affect the way that many traditional Catholics speak and think about these issues.  And when thought changes, eventually policy changes, too.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Sensational Headlines that Gays Pushed the Pope Out of Office Mask the Real Scandal of Vatican Affairs

February 23, 2013
Vatican Museum staircase

Vatican Museum staircase

A news story that sounds like the plot of a Dan Brown novel has been making headlines around the globe as it promotes the idea that Pope Benedict XVI was supposedly forced to resign by a group of gay prelates in the Vatican.

The Guardian newspaper reported:

“A potentially explosive report has linked the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the discovery of a network of gay prelates in the Vatican, some of whom – the report said – were being blackmailed by outsiders.

“The pope’s spokesman declined to confirm or deny the report, which was carried by the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica.

“The paper said the pope had taken the decision on 17 December that he was going to resign – the day he received a dossier compiled by three cardinals delegated to look into the so-called ‘Vatileaks’ affair.

“Last May Pope Benedict’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested and charged with having stolen and leaked papal correspondence that depicted the Vatican as a seething hotbed of intrigue and infighting.

“According to La Repubblica, the dossier comprising ‘two volumes of almost 300 pages – bound in red’ had been consigned to a safe in the papal apartments and would be delivered to the pope’s successor upon his election.”

While such a story could be true, the sensationalism, coupled with the paucity of facts, and being based on a “secret” document, all inspire serious doubts about its legitimacy.

Veteran church observer David Gibson downplays the possibility of the report’s veracity on his Religion News Service blog:

“I’m one of those who would say this is pretty massively overplayed. For one thing, Benedict’s resignation was most certainly the result of numerous factors, mainly revolving around the internal problems of the Vatican, of which sexual shenanigans were likely one — but hardly the only one, or even the principal one. His advancing age was the element that pushed it all to the brink.”

Reports such as this one, based on little fact, are dangerous because they perpetuate a myth that gay people are to blame for anything wrong or unusual in the church–the way that gay priests were scapegoated for the sexual abuse crisis.  Furthermore, it paints gay people as manipulative, power-hungry, clandestine.

The tragedy is that such myths will continue as long as gay people serving in the church must do so in secrecy.  By maintaining such a repressive atmosphere around LGBT issues, the Vatican has helped to foster a climate of suspicion and fear which paves the way for such speculation.  Could a “gay lobby” exist in the Vatican?  Given the repressive atmosphere, it seems very unlikely that any gay priest or prelate would have the courage to acknowledge his sexual orientation to another priest or prelate.

The sorry scandal of this story, which could be lost in the sensationalism around gay issues, is that power-mongering does indeed exist so blatantly at the Vatican.  Whether by gay men or straight men, this power-mongering seriously harms the church’s mission and credibility in the world.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


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