Jesuit Priest in Chile Endorses Marriage Equality

June 30, 2014

Father Felipe Berrios

A Jesuit priest in Chile has come out supporting marriage equality as that nation’s president seeks further rights for LGBT people.

Fr. Felipe Berrios, a noted author and columnist, made the remarks in an interview with Emol.com after returning from four years of work in Burundi and Congo. The priest’s endorsement comes as Chilean political leaders seek to legalize same-gender marriages under President Michelle Bachelet. Gay Star News reports Berrios said:

” ‘What’s the matter with gay marriage?…Homosexuals are God’s children…He created homosexuals and lesbians, and God is proud of who they are.Why not let them get married? Enough already…The problem is in us, in our misunderstanding of them.’

” ‘I want to be clear: Gays and lesbians are children of God and are called to holiness as we all are. They are not second-class citizens or have different kinds of sin and they will help us to broaden our concept of sexuality.’ “

Fr. Berrios’ open and vocal endorsement of civil marriage equality adds to the growing number of Catholic bishops and clergy who are speaking out in support of same-gender couples. New Ways Ministry has compiled a listing of these Church leaders–mostly bishops, archbishops, and cardinals–and prominent Catholics who have made positive remarks about same-gender couples, civil unions, and marriage equality since 2011. You can access the listing by clicking here.  Each entry contains links to Bondings 2.0 posts and news coverage.

With the Vatican’s working paper for this fall’s Synod of Bishops on marriage and family disappointing many LGBT advocates, and baptisms seemingly loom as the next ‘battleground’ for LGBT issues in the Church, let us hope more Catholic leaders will have Fr. Berrios’ courage to speak out publicly and without equivocation for LGBT people and their families.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Brazilian Bishops Endorse Legal Equality, Promise to Accompany LGBT Community

May 24, 2014

Dom Leonardo Steiner

Brazil is the world’s largest Catholic nation, containing an estimated 123 million Catholics which is about one-tenth of the global Church overall. When its Church leaders speak, their words can have a profound impact on the life of their local Church  and increasingly in the age of Pope Francis, abroad as well.

This week, a top Brazilian bishop endorsed legal rights for same-gender couples and cited the pope in so doing. His words follow-up on the Archdiocese of  São Paulo’s positive statement to that city’s Pride Parade participants in early May that promised the Church’s solidarity to Brazil’s LGBT community who face daily violence. 

Dom (Bishop) Leonardo Steiner is general secretary of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) and an auxiliary bishop of Brasilia, the capital city. He was recently interviewed by GLOBO where he made the gay-positive comments, which Bondings 2.0 makes available via a translation from Iglesia Descalza.

While Steiner endorsed civil unions, saying same-gender couples “need a legal protection in society,” his focus in the interview was on how the Church can support lesbian and gay people. Referencing Pope Francis, Steiner tells the interviewer:

” ‘You could say that the Pope is echoing what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about gay people: “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” It’s understood that accepting them with respect, compassion and sensitivity means walking and being with the homosexual person and helping them understand, deepen and guide their condition as a son or daughter of God’ …

” ‘Acceptance and walking with them are necessary to reflect on what fits or doesn’t fit the reality experienced by homosexual people and what, in fact, is rightfully theirs, for their own good and that of society.’ “

Finally, when asked about the possibility of change in the Church, the bishop said:

” ‘The Church isn’t the same through the ages. It seeks answers for the present time, using the Gospel as the illuminating force of its action…The Church is always seeking to read the signs of the times, to see what must or must not change. The truths of faith don’t change.’ “

Dom Steiner’s remarks echo tue positive statement made by the Archdiocese of São Paulo’s Justice and Peace Committee in April, released in anticipation of the city’s 18th Pride Parade, which took place on May 4th.  The statement positioned the Catholic Church as an advocate for LGBT rights. Bondings 2.0 obtained a rough translation, in which the Committee writes:

“We can not remain silent in the face of the reality experienced by this population that is the target of prejudice and victim of systematic violation of their fundamental rights, such as health, education, work , housing, culture, among others…[LGBT people] face unbearable daily verbal and physical violence, culminating in murders that are true hate crimes…

“[P]eople of good will, and in particular all Christians, reflect on this deeply unfair reality of LGBT people and to actively engage in their overcoming it, guided by the supreme principle of human dignity.”

The statement quotes the opening of Gaudium et spes, a Vatican II document, linking “the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties” of LGBT people with those of the Church. Strengthening this connection, the Committee’s director, Geraldo Magela Tardelli, told Estadao:

” ‘The committee has a mission, according to D. Paulo Evaristo Ars [the cardinal archbishop emeritus of Sao Paulo]: ‘we have to give voice to those who have no voice.’ Right now, what we are finding is that there is an increase of violence against homosexuals, so we can not overlook this violation of human rights…

” ‘We are engaged in upholding human rights and do not agree with violence, regardless of the color and the sexual orientation of people.’ “

These statements of solidarity, and the further endorsement of legal rights, are important in Brazil where more than 300 LGBT people are murdered annually in hate crimes. Let us hope such positive words from Catholic bishops, and more so their commitment to be among those who are marginalized for their sexual orientation or gender identity, will spread throughout Brazil and beyond its borders.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Bishops Across US Give Diverse Responses to Marriage Equality’s Spread

January 25, 2014

Marriage equality is advancing in states across the U.S., as court rulings and legislature look to provide equal rights for same gender couples in the new year. Yet, Catholic leaders’ responses remain ambivalent, with some continuing the harsh rhetoric of past campaigns and others potentially downplaying anti-LGBT efforts to refocus on those justice issues considered more important. Below, Bondings 2.0 provides summaries of recent events in several US states.

Indiana

Indiana’s bishops came out in support of a constitutional ban on same-gender marriages currently being considered by that state’s legislature. The Indiana Catholic Conference released a statement in December which repeated the hierarchy’s claims about marriage, but explicitly stated that the statement could not be considered an endorsement of the proposed ban. LGBT advocates expressed hope at that time that Indiana’s bishops would follow Pope Francis’ lead and forgo actively supporting the constitutional ban.

Instead, the head of the Conference testified before a legislative committee last week and put the bishops on record as supporting a ban which would limit the rights of LGBT partners and their families. Indiana already bans same-gender marriages in law, but anti-LGBT activists are hoping to alter the state’s constitution as well by bringing it up for a statewide referendum in the 2014 elections. The bill must pass a vote in the General Assembly, according to The Chicago Tribune.

Oklahoma

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City strongly criticized a federal judge’s ruling that Oklahoma’s ban on same-gender marriages was unconstitutional, as it violated the US Constitution’s equal protection clause. LGBTQ Nation reports:

“The Most Reverend Paul Coakley said in a statement released Wednesday that the ruling by U.S. District Judge Terence Kern ‘thwarts the common good.’ Coakley called the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman a basic truth about humanity.”

New Mexico

On a more positive note, Catholic bishops in New Mexico lobbied dozens of lawmakers earlier this week and made no mention of marriage equality, despite the issue being raised recently in that state. Last month, New Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that same-gender marriages should be legal after local governments began issuing marriage licenses. In their meetings with legislators, the bishops lobbied about early-childhood education, immigration, and economic issues. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports on the only comment made about LGBT equality:

“[Bishops’ spokesperson Allen] Sanchez said the bishops probably would support a constitutional amendment by Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington that, if approved by voters, would define marriage as between one man and one woman.

” ‘But right now we have an emergency on the early-childhood issue,’ Sanchez said. ‘That is their priority for this session.’ “

As with Indiana, it could be the New Mexico bishops are simply waiting for the right time to come out against marriage equality. Yet, couples are marrying in that state,  and the legal right to marry in New Mexico seems clearly established. Perhaps New Mexico’s leaders realized that marriage equality is the reality and they could do far more good defending those on the margins of society than fighting fatigued cultural battles. Maybe Pope Francis is having an effect stateside sooner than once thought.

–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


Australian Priest Excommunicated for LGBT Support Under Pope Francis

September 24, 2013

Fr. Greg Reynolds with his notification of excommunication

An Australian priest has been excommunicated for his support of women and LGBT people in the Catholic Church in a troubling development while many still celebrate Pope Francis’ inclusive-minded interview released last week.

Fr. Greg Reynolds received notification of his excommunication directly from the Vatican with no explanation provided in the Latin text. The Age notes that the notification is dated May 31, 2013, which is well into Pope Francis’ papacy and reports:

“Father Reynolds, who resigned as a parish priest in 2011 and last year founded Inclusive Catholics, said he had expected to be laicised (defrocked), but not excommunicated. But it would make no difference to his ministry.

” ‘In times past excommunication was a huge thing, but today the hierarchy have lost such trust and respect,’ he said.

” ‘I’ve come to this position because I’ve followed my conscience on women’s ordination and gay marriage.’ “

It appears that Fr. Reynolds’ archbishop in Melbourne did not submit anything to the Vatican about the priest, but that the priest was reported anonymously by someone else directly to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Archbishop Denis Hart did say the excommunication is a consequence of Fr. Reynolds’ continuing to preach and celebrate Mass after he resigned from the priesthood.

Some speculate Fr. Reynolds’ trouble is because of his support for women’s ordination, and only marginally LGBT matters. Fr. Reynolds spoke to The Herald about his excommunication and broader efforts at renewal of the Catholic Church in Australia:

“ ‘Just from my own experience, I’m aware of a number of priests who share my belief and my guesstimate would be well over half of the Australian clergy would share that belief.’

“ ‘Understandably none of them haven’t spoken out publically about it because they fear they will suffer the same fate as myself.’…

” ‘I still love the church and am committed to it, I’m just trying to bring about in my own little way to help highlight some of the failing and limitations.’ “

Last week, Pope Francis’ interview with Jesuit publications was a hopeful sign for many that the Catholic Church was moving towards an era where it is less obsessed with rules and more in a posture of mercy and dialogue. Fr. Reynolds claims that interview makes his excommunication “outdated” as the two men are working for similar ends of renewal and reform. Still the excommunication formally remains.  Does this mean that Pope Francis’ positive words on LGBT issues won’t be translated into equally positive acts from the Catholic hierarchy?  Or was this decision made too early in his papacy to be a real indicator of his attitude?  What do you think?  Offer your thoughts in the  “Comments” section of this post.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis & Polish Bishop Inspire Hope in Nation’s LGBT Catholics

September 5, 2013

Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk

Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday on the question of why Catholic bishops did not respond more positively to Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” remarks in July. Recent comments by Poland’s leading Catholic figure are an example of how more positive speech about LGBT people in the papacy’s wake can and is inspiring hope for a new tone among LGBT Catholics.

Polskie Radio reports that Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk, archbishop of Gniezno and primate of Poland, said the Church “will not turn its back on homosexuals” when asked about Pope Francis’ July statement on gay priests. Further, the radio station reports:

“Asked by Poland’s Rzeczpospolita daily whether the pope’s words had ‘started a revolution in the Church,’ Archbishop Kowalczyk said there was ‘nothing new’ in the pope’s comments.

“ ‘Homosexuality is a known phenomenon throughout history, both in the world and in the Church,’ he said.“

” ‘The Church will not turn its back on homosexuals. They are its members, as human beings, just like everyone else.’ “

The archbishop affirmed that one’s sexual orientation is no reason for exclusion from the Catholic community and he knows of “very worthy people” who had ‘homosexual tendencies.’ While the language of ‘tendency’ and reiteration of the hierarchy’s condemnation of same-sex acts is included, Archbishop Kowalczyk’s tone is pastorally inclined, even in a densely Catholic and conservative nation where many idolize the highly traditionalist Pope John Paul II. It seems Pope Francis’ new style of compassion and welcome for LGBT is slowly catching on. This is true even when it comes to legal recognition of same-gender couples, as Polskie Radio reports:

“When asked what the Church’s stance would be if the government – which is currently divided on the issue – legalised civil partnerships, Archbishop Kowalczyk said that such a union would not be recognised by the Church as ‘a marriage.’

“However, he added that ‘it is the state’s job to regulate all that relates to matters of property and inheritance for people living together of the same sex.’ “

It is not an endorsement of marriage equality, but is equally far from the sometimes vitriolic language used by bishops when opposing LGBT equality in civil matters. One could even interpret the second part as favorable to civil unions, similar to Pope Francis’ position when he was archbishop in Argentina.

Meanwhile, a Catholic LGBT group in Poland called Faith and Rainbow released a letter to Pope Francis to thank him for encouraging acceptance of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. It says in part:

“We assure you, dear Holy Father, that within the Church, but also in front of its gates, there are many persons who have been waiting a long time for such words. Those persons often suffer fear, oppression, loneliness and rejection – and far too often, unfortunately, it is their own Church community that largely contributes to raising such feelings. The example of your gentle and clement attitude will surely help us to overcome the painful distrust or even clear hostility which we experience almost every day from our brothers and sisters in faith…

“We have been waiting a long time for some words of comfort and encouragement. Today we thank God for having heard them. These words give us confidence in the future. From now on, we will be waiting with new hope, until the hard times are over, like the biblical Flood. After a flood of intolerance, we look out for a rainbow of reconciliation, and we expect recognition of our rights in the future, when we no longer have to live in isolation and in fear of our neighbours. We hope that the days are coming when, equally with all other people, we can enjoy access to the great gift and sign of the God’s presence in the world – the unbelievable mystery of love.”

Earlier this year, Polish legislators voted down a marriage equality bill, even as some questioned the influence of the Polish Catholic Church on politics when the nation’s first transgender politician was elected. Echoing the hope expressed by Faith and Rainbow, perhaps it is time for the Polish Church to follow Pope Francis even further and, at the least, refrain from opposing LGBT equality in law.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Russian Olympics Is an Opportune Time for Catholic Human Rights Witness

September 3, 2013

Russia’s passage of anti-gay laws and  discrimination against LGBT people in that nation have made the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi increasingly controversial. Opinions remain divided over a US boycott, pressuring corporate sponsors, and how LGBT athletes should act while competing.

Catholics lack consensus as well over how to respond to Sochi 2014, but still it seems poignant to explore how faith can inform this debate about human rights, athletic competition, and witnessing to the Gospel.

Catholic leadership is muted on the evolving situation in Russia. The secretary-general of the nation’s bishops’ conference stated the Church in Russia would have no position on either the law banning “homosexual propaganda” or on a potential boycott of the Sochi 2014 Games. CatholicPhilly.com reports that Msgr. Igor Kovalevsky, a Russian Catholic leader, said:

” ‘It’s hard to predict whether homosexual athletes and fans will face problems at the Olympics — these are issues connected with the life of society in Russia…’

“Msgr. Kovalevsky said homosexuality was a marginal issue in Russian society.

“There are very few homosexuals in our Catholic communities, and we direct our pastoral work at individuals, not groups. But we don’t exclude homosexual people either…”

As for the United States, a conservative extremist group called the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute has actively supported Russia’s law and the expansion of similar legislation in Eastern Europe, as OutInJersey.net reports. Alternatively, a columnist in The New Yorker cast Pope Francis as the progressive on LGBT issues in his takedown of Russian President Vladimir Putin:

“This is a time in which Pope Francis can ask, “Who am I to judge” gays and lesbians of good will, and have it largely well received among his followers—Putin is the one who is out of step. As the new leader of the Catholic Church acknowledged that gay priests were worthy of dignity, an old autocrat denied that dignity to his own citizens and, come the Olympics, to citizens of the world.”

Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter  has written about solving the perennial problem of nations with terrible human rights records hosting the Olympic Games. His column contains a detailed history of this record, but in summary Winters states:

“Changing venues at this late stage is never going to happen. And, a boycott would be ineffectual…But, these two remedies miss the larger point: Russia never should have been awarded the Olympic Games in the first place.”

Winters identifies Russia’s long-standing record of abusing human rights against many populations; the LGBT community is only the latest group suffering a crackdown. Why is it, Winters asks, that the participants, administrators, and fans allowed nations like China and Russia to host the Games when their reputations are so well known?

Sochi 2014 is an opportunity for LGBT advocates to reflect on their role in the broader movement for human rights. Winters rightly wonders why it is Russia’s anti-gay law that would trigger a boycott, while past abuses by President Putin were acceptable for the nation to continue hosting the Games. While the struggles for LGBT rights are of utmost importance, this advocacy cannot forget others whose human rights are limited and deprived. Sochi 2014 is a reminder that the Catholic LGBT community must speak out for the rights of others, just as it advocates for its own rights because this is a common struggle for God’s just and equitable reign.

Sochi 2014 also presents an opportunity for unity among Catholics often divided on issue of LGBT rights here in America. Even those who oppose marriage equality or non-discrimination laws can assuredly agree that persecuting people with criminalization and violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is an indefensible affront to each person’s dignity. Catholics should urge the Russian Church, the Vatican, and their local leaders to speak out against any and all laws that encourage the persecution of LGBT people.

While the Games will begin next February, it looks like controversies will persist right on through to the opening ceremony.  The period leading up to the Games is an opportune moment for Catholics to raise their voices for LGBT rights and for the human rights of all people in Russia.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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