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


Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson Chastises Archbishop on Communion Issue

April 27, 2013
Bishop Gene Robinson

Bishop Gene Robinson

Bishop Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop, has criticized Archbishop Allen Vigneron, the Roman Catholic head of the Archdiocese of Detroit, for the recent comments had made suggesting that Catholics who support marriage equality should not receive communion.  Bondings 2.0 reported earlier on Vigneron’s statement, as well as two responses from Detroit’s retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton.  You can read Bishop Gumbleton’s responses, which contradict Vigneron, here and here.

In an essay on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog, Robinson provides Vigneron with a theology lesson on the Eucharist:

“I believe that using Communion as such a manipulative tool surely profanes the sacrament. Perhaps these Catholic leaders should revisit their church’s theology of the Eucharist. Reception of the body and blood of Christ at Communion is God’s gift to God’s people, not a reward for right behavior. We receive Communion not because we are worthy of it, but because God’s offers us the body and blood of Christ despite our unworthiness.”

Robinson points out that excluding people from communion seems be based on arbitrary judgments:

“While some are seeking to withhold Communion from pro-choice and pro-marriage-equality Catholics, I have heard no call to withhold Communion from priests and bishops who have engaged in horrific sexual abuse against vulnerable children, nor their enablers. Bernard Cardinal Law, whose administration actively facilitated the moving around of known pedophile priests to other unsuspecting parishes, has not been denied Communion, but instead been rewarded with a prestigious church in Rome.”

The Catholic hierarchy is dangerously pursuing a path which separates them further and further from the faith-experience of Catholics:

“American Catholics have a long and honorable history of discerning their own consciences in matters of human life and dignity. For instance, 98 percent of Catholic women have gone against church law and used birth control. Indeed, individual conscience is a core value in Catholic teaching. It seems that Catholic laity are refusing to be treated like morally ignorant children who cannot think for themselves. At a very minimum, Catholic laity (and many of their local clergy) know that these issues should be discussed in an open and faithful way. They also know that people of faith will disagree on some of the ramifications of trying to live out the Gospel.”

Robinson concludes with an important reminder for bishops and laity alike:

“If those who have fallen short of God’s moral desires for humankind are to be denied Communion, then none of us can in good conscience receive the body and blood of Christ. The good news message of Jesus Christ is that despite our failure to be all that God would want us to be, we are all welcome at the Lord’s Table anyway. Until the Roman Catholic hierarchy gets that right, they might prayerfully consider quieting their judgmental rhetoric and contemplating the humility Jesus suggested as a value to be lived by all.”

The Archdiocese of Detroit had no comment on Robinson’s essay.  According to the Detroit Free Press:

“Asked for a response and to describe the reaction that Vigneron experienced in the wake of his comments, an Archdiocese spokesman Wednesday declined giving details.

“ ‘With respect, we’ll not be offering a response to the op-ed or discuss the responses people have given to us,’ said spokesman Joe Kohn. ‘We don’t really keep a scorecard of those types of things anyhow. Any individual who has a specific concern or question, we just try to answer as best we can.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Vatican Official Balks at Episcopal Convention Vote to Bless Same-Sex Couples; Sensitive Transgender Language Also Approved by Anglican Denomination

July 16, 2012

A Vatican official has stated that the U.S. Episcopalian Church’s recent decision to bless same-sex couples can damage future dialogues between the Anglican communion and the Roman Catholic Church.

Bishop Brian Farrell, an Irish prelate who is Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said the decision, voted in at the denomination’s recent General Convention, was “a huge obstacle on the path to Christian unity,” according to a Catholic News Service story printed in The Pilot, the newspaper of the Boston Archdiocese.

The article explains Farrell’s position:

“Bishop Brian Farrell told Catholic News Service in an email July 12 that the decision jeopardizes the achievements of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission since 1970.

“After a six-year hiatus, the official Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue began a new phase in May — known as ARCIC III — to discuss the relationship between the local and universal church, as well as women’s ordination, same-sex unions and actively homosexual clergy.

“Bishop Farrell acknowledged that Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury had already called for any province of the Anglican Communion that could not abide by the moratorium on the ordination of people living in same-sex unions to withdraw from the dialogue commission, which the Episcopal Church did.

” ‘Beyond this technical consideration, ARCIC III will continue, but it will have to seriously face the enormous challenge being posed by the internal situation of the Anglican Communion,’ Bishop Farrell said.

“The [U.S.] Episcopal Church is a member of the Anglican Communion, which has opposed the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of openly gay bishops. . . .

“Oblate Father John W. Crossin, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, declined an interview request about the move, saying, ‘We don’t comment on the internal workings of other churches.’ “

The Episcopal Church voted overwhelmingly to bless same-sex couples at their recent General Convention in Indianapolis.  According to a report in USA Today:

“At the Episcopal General Convention, which is divided into two voting bodies, about 80% of the House of Deputies voted to authorize a provisional rite for same-sex unions for the next three years. A day earlier, the House of Bishops approved the rites 111-41 with three abstentions during the church meeting in Indianapolis.

“Supporters of the same-sex blessings insisted it was not a marriage ceremony despite any similarities. Called ‘The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,’ the ceremony includes prayers and an exchange of vows and rings. Same-sex couples must complete counseling before having their unions or civil marriages blessed by the church. . . .

“In a separate vote Monday, the full Episcopal convention approved new anti-discrimination language for transgendered people that cleared the way for transgendered clergy.”

A Christian Science Monitor article notes that relationships with Christian denominations (other than the Catholic Church) can also be strained by the Episcopal vote on same-sex couples:

“With this week’s votes, the 2 million member Episcopal Church goes where some (though not all) other Protestant denominations have hesitated to tread. Just last week, the Presbyterian Church (USA) narrowly defeated efforts to redefine marriage in its constitution to include gay couples. In May, the United Methodist Church reaffirmed its teaching that same-sex relationships are incompatible with Christian teaching. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, meanwhile, permits same-sex ceremonies but has not created a rite for blessing them.

“Yet since 2005, the 1-million-member United Church of Christ has supported same-sex blessings.

“Unlike other Protestant groups, the Episcopal Church belongs to a worldwide church that has called for a moratorium on same-sex blessings. The 80-million-member Anglican Communion includes the Episcopal Church among its 34 provinces. Some fear this week’s adoption of a same-sex liturgy will add further strain to already-frayed relationships.

“ ‘It means the Episcopal Church is now separating itself that much more from the Anglican Communion,’ says Hood College historian David Hein, co-author of The Episcopalians, a standard history of the church. ‘The American Episcopal Church is trying to set itself up as a separate denomination, although they would claim that they’re not.’

“The Episcopal Church has spent decades cultivating closer ties with other Christian groups, most notably Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox churches. Authorizing a same-sex liturgy could spell trouble for these ecumenical relationships, observers say. In 2010, the Anglican Communion asked Episcopalians to resign their posts in ecumenical dialogues because their church had defied the moratorium on same-sex blessings.”

Commenting on the vote, as well as on the pressure not to approve the blessing ritual, was the Rev. Susan Russell, senior associate at All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif.:

“We are not going to be blackmailed into bigotry against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in order to maintain a unity that requires uniformity.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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