Signs of Openness on LGBT and Marriage Issues from Two European Church Leaders

February 11, 2014

Two European prelates have made statements recently which point, once again, toward a more open discussion of LGBT and marriage issues, topics which will be discussed at October’s Synod on Marriage and the Family.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

In Ireland, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin acknowledged that some people in the church have used doctrine “in a homophobic way.”  The Irish Times reported that the archbishop made these comments in a discussion about the upcoming national referendum in Ireland about the legalization of same-gender marriage:

“Discussions have to be carried out in a ‘mature’ way so that people can freely express their views, while at the same time being respectful and not causing offence, he said. He said that in general he believed it was the person who was offended who defined what being offended is.

” ‘Anyone who grew up in Ireland would have told jokes that were pointed at the gay community; at Travellers [gypsies]; it is part of the culture we grew up in, but we have to grow out of it,’ he said. He said church teaching was that marriage was between a man and a woman, exclusively, but that this approach did not exclude gay people from celebrating their union by a different means.”

The Independent quotes Martin as saying further:

” ‘God never created anybody that he doesn’t love.’…

“Speaking to the Irish Independent, the senior cleric said this meant that ‘anybody who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic if they do that – they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people’…

“He added: ‘We all belong to one another and there is no way we can build up a society in which people are excluded or insulted. We have to learn a new way in Ireland to live with our differences and for all of us to live with respect for one another.’ “

According to RTE.ie, a leader of Ireland’s Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), was disappointed that the archbishop did not address pressing issues facing the LGBT community there, but affirmed his statements about the damage that cultural attitudes can cause:

“GLEN’s Brian Sheehan described it [the archbishop's comment] as ‘a missed opportunity’ to tackle the role of the church and church teachings in creating what it said were ‘some of the difficult realities for lesbian and gay people in Ireland today.’

“However, he welcomed Dr Martin’s acknowledgement of the impact that a culture, which still has homophobia as part of it, has on those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.”

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn (standing) and Austrian bishops meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna made some surprising statements about the hierarchy’s views on marriage, at the time of the Austrian bishops’ ad limina with Pope Francis. The National Catholic Reporter stated:

“In several interviews shortly before leaving Vienna, Schönborn advocated a more rational, down-to-earth approach toward family relationships. ‘For the most part, the church approaches the [family] issue unhistorically,’ he said. ‘People have always lived together in various ways. And today, we in the church tacitly live with the fact that the majority of our young people, including those with close ties to the Catholic church, quite naturally live together. The simple fact is that the environment has changed.’ . . . .

“Schönborn said he regretted that the Austrian bishops haven’t dared to speak out openly on necessary church reforms in the past. They haven’t had the courage to address the need for greater decentralization and to strengthen local churches’ responsibilities, he said. ‘We were far too hesitant. I beat my own breast here. We certainly lacked the courage to speak out openly.’ “

Schönborn had high praise for the work and message of Pope Francis, and said he sees the promise of change occurring in the church:

“Schönborn said he was convinced that far-reaching church reform was on the way, ‘but it will not be achieved through big words and programs but through people like Pope Francis.’ One could already see that the pope has become a role model, Schönborn said. ‘The atmosphere is changing and his behavior is making itself felt,’ he said. What impressed him most about the pope was his charisma. ‘You can feel his inner devotion to God from which his compassion, his warmth and his infectious sense of humor emanates,’ the cardinal said.”

Though U.S. bishops have not yet embraced the new era of Pope Francis, it seems that some of our European church leaders are, in fact, taking steps toward a new era of less judgement and more discussion and openness of the reality of people’s relational lives.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


German Bishops Admit Most Catholics View Sexual Teachings Unrealistic and ‘Merciless’

February 4, 2014

In a groundbreaking move, Germany’s bishops have released results from a survey conducted for next fall’s Synod on Marriage and Family Life. The results reveal just how wide the gap is between how Catholics live and the hierarchy’s teaching on issues of sexual ethics. Further, the bishops’ report is unusually blunt in its conclusions.

Reuters reports that the bishops admit most German Catholics either reject the hierarchy’s views on a slew of sexual issues (including same-gender relationships) or were unaware of teachings in the first place. The article notes:

“The results will not be news to many Catholics, especially in affluent Western countries, but the blunt official admission of this wide gap between policy and practice is uncommon and bound to raise pressure on Pope Francis to introduce reforms.

“Bishops in Germany, one of the richest and most influential national churches in the 1.2-billion-strong Catholic world, have been pressing the Vatican to reform, especially over divorce.

“A statement from the German bishops conference called the results ‘a sober inventory of what German Catholics appreciate about Church teaching on marriage and the family and what they find offputting or unacceptable, either mostly or completely.’ “

Also notable, is that many German Catholics hold to the ideal of marriage and family life as positive elements in society. When it came to the issue of same-gender relationships and legal recognition, the article states:

“There was a ‘marked tendency’ among Catholics to accept legal recognition of same-sex unions as ‘a commandment of justice’ and they felt the Church should bless them, the report said, although most did not want gay marriage to be legalized…

“The German bishops suggested the Church should move away from what it called its ‘prohibition ethics’ of rules against certain acts or views and stress ‘advisory ethics’ meant to help Catholics live better lives.

“In sexual morality, it [the Church] should find a way of presenting its views that does not make people feel it is hostile to sex.”

Germany’s bishops also strongly urged Vatican officials responsible for the Synod to consult with lay people experienced with family life, and were forceful about needing to welcoming divorced and remarried Catholics.

This report follows a recent letter by that nation’s leading Catholic theologians which said the Church needs a new paradigm from which to discern sexual morality and called for increased pastoral care for LGBT people and their children.

Leading German magazine, Der Spiegel, has also released an article called “The Pope’s Sex Problem” analyzing the survey results from all twenty-seven dioceses in Germany. [Editor's note:  Thanks to Terence Weldon, who blogs at QueeringTheChurch.com for referring us to this article.]  The article also described the German bishops’ process in conducting the survey. When the Vatican released the 39-question survey, the German Bishops’ Conference chair sent it to dioceses without instructions for further dissemination.  Der Spiegel reports:

“The chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, simply passed the survey on, providing no further instructions on who was to respond to the Vatican survey.

“Zollitsch proved to be more decisive on another, albeit very important issue. In a letter to German bishops written by his secretary, he noted: ‘Questions 1, 2, 5, 7 and 8 will be answered by the central office.’ To save time, existing church positions were to be used.

“In fact, this meant that particular issues were being withheld from churchgoers. For instance, the set of questions under item 5 relates to gay and lesbian couples, while question 7 concerns contraception and abortion.”

However, Catholics in Germany became aware of the survey questions because the Bishops Conference of England and Wales had made the entire survey available on the Internet, and they responded in great numbers. Der Spiegel notes that the German Catholic Youth Federation received 10,000 responses, the Catholic Women’s League organized in several regions, and one pastor received 116 from his parishioners alone. Of these efforts, the magazine states:

“Despite the differences [in collection procedures], there was widespread unanimity in the evaluation of the survey…’Even though they are not representative, the survey results create and amplify the impression of an unfortunate, calamitous situation,’ says Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the bishop of Mainz…

” ‘Many Christians cannot understand this attitude [of condemning homosexuality],’ the staff of Cologne’s Cardinal Joachim Meisner concluded after reading the survey responses they received. In fact, Catholics in Cologne are all too familiar with their conservative archbishop’s condemnation of gays and lesbians. Now Meisner can read about the consequences in the analysis prepared by his own priests, who conclude: ‘Many have already turned away from the church. And many are convinced that this is no longer acceptable.’ “

Surveys, polls, and ancedotal evidence abound which reveal how affirming Catholics are of LGBT people and their relationships, but this development shows that a national group of bishops are finally acknowledging this reality. Now, it is an open question how these results will reach Rome and inform the coming Synod, with groups as diverse as the progressive reform organization “We Are Church” and the more traditional Catholic Family Federation asking Germany’s bishops to leave the results as they are: transparent and unfiltered.

Whether or not this report will impact the Synod’s deliberations on marriage and family life may not be known until October, but by simply getting Church leaders to admit widespread disparities exist between teaching reality, advocates for healthier, more Gospel-infused sexual ethics have already scored a major victory in Germany.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

QueeringTheChurch.com: Cardinal Schonborn: Church must adjust to reality of co-habitation, divorce and remarriage


What Makes a Family Holy?

December 29, 2013

The Feast of the Holy Family, celebrated today,  focuses our Christmas celebrations around three people. United under unorthodox conditions, Mary, Joseph, and their child, Jesus, became a family, and one venerated for centuries now. Lately, “family” has been in the news for Catholics as marriage equality expands, and Pope Francis calls for an examination on family life during next fall’s Synod of Bishops. With all this in mind, what can the Holy Family say to LGBT people and their families today?

Writing at Believe Out Loud, Rev. Kittredge Cherry wonders how “queering” the Nativity could change the way the Holy Family is thought of, and in doing so, how family life today is understood. She previously displayed scenes with two Marys or two Josephs, and writes of these changes:

“Obviously this is not about historical accuracy, but I believe my nativity scenes are true to the spirit of the Christmas story in the Bible: God’s child conceived in an extraordinary way and born into disreputable circumstances…

“Love makes a family—including the Holy Family…

“Everyone should be able to see themselves in the Christmas story, including the growing number of LGBT parents and their children.”

Other insights come for Sr. Laurie Brink writing at U.S. Catholic who questions idyllic family depictions that dominate culture. Speaking from her own experiences, she asks what makes a family a family? Her conclusion is that family “has less to do with the accident of biology and much more to do with the choice to love.” Sr. Brinks continues:

“What makes the holy family holy? Some might say the presence of the divine child Jesus. But I think holy is also an attribute of Mary and of Joseph. Both are given—and both accept—the opportunity to be conduits of divine action and love. Luke and Matthew both paint remarkably similar portraits of God’s invitation to Mary and to Joseph in which both make the choice to become an unconventional, ‘good enough’ family. God holds out the same invitation to us. Are we willing to accept that our own ‘good enough’ families can also be holy?”

For decades now, same-gender couples have chosen to build families that are precisely these “conduits of divine action and love,” even if the broader society (and, more slowly, some of the leaders in the Church) is just recognizing this reality. Marriage equality is one tangible sign that the goodness of families led by LGBT people and those that have LGBT members is increasingly affirmed and equal to other family structures. Rapidly growing acceptance of children or siblings who come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is one way. The witness of couples who remain together after a partner undergoes a gender transition, or who remain supportive of one each other, is yet another way.

Just as the Holy Family, in their unorthodox arrangement, witnessed to God’s inclusive and diverse kingdom, so too do the many families who include LGBT people living prophetically. The hope now is that Church leaders will listen to Catholic voices and begin to receive gratefully the gifts such families offer our world.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Immaculate Conception Feast Reminds Us Our Lives & Beliefs Shape the Church

December 9, 2013

Zurbaran’s “Immaculate Conception”

There’s probably not a more Catholic feast day in the liturgical calendar than the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is usually celebrated on December 8th, but was moved this year to December 9th because the 8th fell on a Sunday.  It combines so much of the elements that people think of as distinctly Catholic:  devotion to Mary, emphasis on grace, connections between spirituality and sexuality, and religious concepts based on Tradition and not Scripture.

On this day in 2011, Bondings 2.0 focused on the spirituality that LGBT people can gain from this feast.  In 2012, we focused on the spiritual benefits that the entire Church can gain from LGBT people because of this feast. (We’ve created a graphic based on the 2012 post which is included in this blog post–see below.  You can share this graphic directly with your friends through Facebook and Twitter by clicking on one these links:  Facebook & Twitter.)  This year, we’d like to focus a little bit on one aspect of the process of how the dogma of the Immaculate Conception became official teaching.

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was not declared definitively until December 8, 1854, by Pope Pius IX.  Briefly, the teaching states that Mary was free from Original Sin from the moment of her conception in her mother’s womb.  (It does not refer to Mary’s virginal conception of Jesus.)  One of the things that I find most interesting about this historical declaration is that it acknowledges the role that the sensus fidelium or “sense of the faithful” played in arriving at this teaching.  Pope Pius IX, in Ineffabilis Deusthe papal document which defined the Immaculate Conception, acknowledged that the practice of honoring Mary through this devotion preceded any official teaching of the devotion.  Pius states:

“All are aware with how much diligence this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God has been handed down, proposed and defended by the most outstanding religious orders, by the more celebrated theological academies, and by very eminent doctors in the sciences of theology. All know, likewise, how eager the bishops have been to profess openly and publicly, even in ecclesiastical assemblies, that Mary, the most holy Mother of God, by virtue of the foreseen merits of Christ, our Lord and Redeemer, was never subject to original sin, but was completely preserved from the original taint, and hence she was redeemed in a manner more sublime. . . .

“This doctrine so filled the minds and souls of our ancestors in the faith that a singular and truly marvelous style of speech came into vogue among them. They have frequently addressed the Mother of God as immaculate, as immaculate in every respect; innocent, and verily most innocent; spotless, and entirely spotless; holy and removed from every stain of sin; all pure, all stainless, the very model of purity and innocence; more beautiful than beauty, more lovely than loveliness; more holy than holiness, singularly holy and most pure in soul and body; the one who surpassed all integrity and virginity; the only one who has become the dwelling place of all the graces of the most Holy Spirit. God alone excepted, Mary is more excellent than all, and by nature fair and beautiful, and more holy than the Cherubim and Seraphim. To praise her all the tongues of heaven and earth do not suffice. . . .

“No wonder, then, that the Pastors of the Church and the faithful gloried daily more and more in professing with so much piety, religion, and love this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mother of God. . .”

ImmaculateConception2013

An important lesson to be learned here is that the process of the development of church teaching begins with how people live out their faith.  For Catholics concerned with LGBT equality, this realization might provide hope for the future.  It helps us to remember that the way we live our lives of faith, the language that we use to express our beliefs, and the seriousness with which we hold our values can have a profound impact on how the institutional Church develops its teaching.  Admittedly, this process can be slow, but it is still powerful and effective.

This message is especially important these days as we seem to have a pope who is willing to listen to the diverse opinions in the Church, particularly on questions of marriage, family, and sexuality.    Pope Francis’ call to bishops to gather opinions on these topics in advance of the 2014 Synod on Marriage and Family provides a great opportunity for Catholics to share the sensus fidelium on these topics with our leaders. As we’ve noted before, it’s important for people to offer their opinions through one of the several online surveys available.  One new addition to this list of surveys is one from Canada from the Grass-roots Catholics for the Synod on Marriage and Family.

As we pray and reflect today on the Immaculate Conception, let’s keep in mind that the way we live our faith lives, and our ability to articulate that lived faith to others, is vital and crucial for how our Church develops its official teaching in the future.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

December 8, 2011:  “How Can This Be?”

December 8, 2012:  From Secret Shame to Confident Trust: The Immaculate Conception


How Will Pope’s New Document Affect LGBT Issues?

November 26, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has issued an Apostolic Exhortation entitled “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”).  The focus on the document is on renewing the evangelization efforts of the church, which he rightly envisions as the entire People of God.  It is a document which does not shy away from examining how church structures, including the Vatican and the papacy, need to reform in order to make this renewal of evangelization possible.

The document does not discuss sexuality, gender, or LGBT issues.  In fact, in chapter two, he outlines many of today’s social ills, and unlike the previous two popes, he does not single out any sexuality issues for discussion here.  His only reference to these topics is a passing one, and noteworthy for NOT naming any hot-button issues such as same-gender marriage:

“The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born ‘of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life’.[60] ”  (chapter 2, section 66)

As we’ve noted before, Pope Francis may not be ready to make wholesale changes in church doctrine on LGBT issues, but he does seem intent on establishing reforms which can eventually lead to such needed changes. While sexuality is not discussed in this new document, there are many topics in it that can pave the way for the church hierarchy to renew itself in regard to these concerns.   I’ve excerpted a few of them below.  In the coming week, we hope to provide more analysis and commentary on this newly-released document as it becomes available.

1. Reforming the Papacy

“Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization.” (chapter 1, section 32)

2.  Updating long-standing traditions which have become irrelevant

“In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives. Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God ‘are very few’.[47] Citing Saint Augustine, he noted that the precepts subsequently enjoined by the Church should be insisted upon with moderation ‘so as not to burden the lives of the faithful’ and make our religion a form of servitude, whereas ‘God’s mercy has willed that we should be free’.[48] This warning, issued many centuries ago, is most timely today. It ought to be one of the criteria to be taken into account in considering a the reform of the Church and her preaching which would enable it to reach everyone.” (chapter 1, section 43)

3.  On welcoming all to church and not withholding communion

“The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself ‘the door': baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.[51] These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”  (chapter  1, section 47)

4. The importance and role of the laity in the church

“Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the People of God. The minority – ordained ministers – are at their service. There has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church. We can count on many lay persons, although still not nearly enough, who have a deeply-rooted sense of community and great fidelity to the tasks of charity, catechesis and the celebration of the faith. At the same time, a clear awareness of this responsibility of the laity, grounded in their baptism and confirmation, does not appear in the same way in all places. In some cases, it is because lay persons have not been given the formation needed to take on important responsibilities. In others, it is because in their particular Churches room has not been made for them to speak and to act, due to an excessive clericalism which keeps them away from decision-making. Even if many are now involved in the lay ministries, this involvement is not reflected in a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political and economic sectors. It often remains tied to tasks within the Church, without a real commitment to applying the Gospel to the transformation of society. The formation of the laity and the evangelization of professional and intellectual life represent a significant pastoral challenge.”  (chapter 2, section 102)

5.  The call for all to be evangelizers

“In all the baptized, from first to last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelization. The people of God is holy thanks to this anointing, which makes it infallible in credendo. This means that it does not err in faith, even though it may not find words to explain that faith. The Spirit guides it in truth and leads it to salvation.[96] As part of his mysterious love for humanity, God furnishes the totality of the faithful with aninstinct of faith – sensus fidei – which helps them to discern what is truly of God. The presence of the Spirit gives Christians a certain connaturality with divine realities, and a wisdom which enables them to grasp those realities intuitively, even when they lack the wherewithal to give them precise expression.

“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.” (chapter 3, sections 119-120)

6.  The importance of dialogue and listening

“In this preaching, which is always respectful and gentle, the first step is personal dialogue, when the other person speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs.” (chapter 3, section 128)

7. Changing the church’s teaching on social issues and the importance of science

“The Church’s teachings concerning contingent situations are subject to new and further developments and can be open to discussion, yet we cannot help but be concrete – without presuming to enter into details – lest the great social principles remain mere generalities which challenge no one. There is a need to draw practical conclusions, so that they ‘will have greater impact on the complexities of current situations’.[148] The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being.” (chapter 4, section 182)
 
“. . .  neither the Pope nor the Church have a monopoly on the interpretation of social realities or the proposal of solutions to contemporary problems. Here I can repeat the insightful observation of Pope Paul VI: ‘In the face of such widely varying situations, it is difficult for us to utter a unified message and to put forward a solution which has universal validity. This is not our ambition, nor is it our mission. It is up to the Christian communities to analyze with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country’.[152] ” (chapter 4, section 184)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Gatherings Demonstrate Parental Love for LGBT Children

November 23, 2013

The role that Catholic parents of LGBT people play in advancing justice and equality in the church is a critical one.  Parents are often the natural “bridge-builders” between their LGBT children and the institutional structures of Catholicism.  It is parents’ natural unconditional love for their children which is the model of acceptance that the entire church needs to emulate and learn.

Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents of LGBT people, has been providing support and encouragement to parents, as well as inspiring advocacy for equality, since 2004.  In the past year, the organization has been hosting a series of regional gatherings around the U.S. for parents to meet with one another and learn from one another.

A recent post on the organization’s blog gives an account of some of these meetings.  Of a gathering in the Detroit, Michigan, metropolitan area, convener Linda Karle-Nelson described how that gathering revealed how much change has happened for parents over the last decade:

“Six years ago a similar gathering drew only 14 parents; at the November 9 event there 41 folks who joined together to pray and share stories and discuss how they could advocate for equality for their LGBT daughters and sons.
“The biggest differences in the two gatherings were not just the numbers, but the nature of the stories the parents told and the forward looking outcome of the day.
“Many had gone through the personal struggles of learning about their child’s orientation and finding their path to understanding that they now knew their children in a more complete way and that this was a blessing. Others had ‘known all along’ and had waited for their child to come out to them. Still others expressed their disappointment in extended family members who were not accepting and rejected them as well as their sons and daughters.  Parents in their 30’s and early 40’s (the young’uns!) received the news of their teen-age child’s coming out much earlier in their lives (and perhaps much easier!) than those of us of an older generation.”

On the same day, a similar gathering was held in Atlanta, Georgia, for Catholic parents.  Deb Word, the current board president of Fortunate Families, reported on the diversity of people that attended, though united for a common cause:

“Our group ran the gamut from folks who were there ready to start parish outreach to those who had yet to share with family members that their children had married.
“A small table was set up in the beginning with photos of our children and simple votive candles. They were never far from our minds as we listened, shared and strategized about making our church more welcoming, ourselves more open, and our families more loving.”
These two events had been preceded this past year with events in Flagler Beach, Florida, Pleasanton, California, and Cincinnati, Ohio.  Karle-Nelson noted the importance of such meetings for parents:
“A unique result of the gathering was one that we were not ready for a few years ago, i. e., the desire of the parents to take action to share their stories in order to persuade their fellow parishioners, their pastors,  their bishop, and even Pope Francis that our LGBT children are whole and holy children of God who deserve equality in our Church.
“These parents expressed a desire to meet again and again, and each time they meet they will be building a community of people who are dedicated to bringing a new vision of LGBT people to the heart of the Church. . . .”
Plans are in the works for a 2014 gathering in Minnesota.  To keep informed about these and other events and programs for Catholic parents of LGBT people, visit the Fortunate Families website.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


‘Marriage Equality is the Work of Satan,’ Says Minnesota Bishop

September 6, 2013

Archbishop John Neinstedt of St. Paul/Minneapolis

Referring to marriage equality as the work of Satan, Archbishop John Neinstedt’s latest diatribe against LGBT equality reveals an incomprehensible blindness to the shifting tone among Catholic leadership in light of Pope Francis’ more welcoming acts. Signs of hope are more abundant internationally with positive comments now emerging from Ireland’s leading prelate, and an archbishop in Poland.

In a lengthy article in Legatus Magazine, Archbishop Neinstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis explains his opposition to marriage equality in a flurry of tangential arguments. His view is one which Minnesota voters rejected last November; and the state’s legislature approved equal marriage rights this spring. Additionally, Nienstedt used the Church’s financial resources heavily in 2012 campaigning against marriage equality. The new legal reality of marriage equality has not stopped him from harsh rhetoric against LGBT equality, as he writes in the magazine:

“Today, many evil forces have set their sights on the dissolution of marriage and the debasing of family life. Sodomy, abortion, contraception, pornography, the redefinition of marriage, and the denial of objective truth are just some of the forces threatening the stability of our civilization.  The source of these machinations is none other than the Father of Lies.  Satan knows all too well the value that the family contributes to the fabric of a good solid society, as well as the future of God’s work on earth.”

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin

A different sort of message on marriage equality came from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland.  In a refreshing change of tone, the Irish leader said that church leaders need to be more respectful when they present their opposition to marriage equality. The Irish Examiner quoted Martin:

“The church has taken a very strong line, and I don’t think people would expect the church to not to do that. “But it would be done – and this is important – the church has to learn how to fight its battles in a respectful and in a noble way.”

Perhaps no one more than the U.S. Catholic bishops, and Archbishop Neinstedt among them, need to learn that lesson. Their shrill rhetoric on marriage has not only been largely ineffective in preventing marriage equality laws, but it is also seen to be pastorally harmful.  What bishops don’t seem to realize is that many of their church members sincerely and conscientiously support marriage equality.  They also know, love, and respect gay and lesbian couples in committed relationships, so the bishops’ message of how marriage equality will ruin society rings hollow at best, and is heard as hateful at worst.

Earlier this week, we reported on the letter opposing marriage equality written by Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu, Hawaii, and how his comparisons of lesbian and gay committed relationships to polygamy  and incest were not only offensive, but illogical. Attributing marriage equality, and those who support it, to the work of Satan is equally illogical, disrespectful, and far from noble. It is far past time for America’s bishops to follow Pope Francis and other leaders internationally in adopting a more pastoral tone amid changing societies that expand the right to marry for every family.

–Bob Shine and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Fortunate Families: The New Blog on the Block

April 30, 2013

fortunate_families2Bondings 2.0 welcomes a new friend to the blogosphere: the Fortunate Families Blog! This new internet resource is a new online community for the Fortunate Families (FF) network, which brings together Catholic parents of LGBT people for mutual support and advocacy for equality.

The two editors are FF board members Deb Word and Tony Garascia.  In their first post, they describe the blog’s mission and scope:

“We hope to use this blog to keep you up to date with what’s going on at Fortunate Families and to give Catholic Parents of lgbtq kids a place to interact. Share this space with your family and friends and PLEASE comment.  We want this page to be interactive, and we hope to have a new post each week!”

The blog has gotten off to a great start.  For example, one post lists the signs of hope that Catholic parents are seeing in the area of LGBT issues.  Here’s a few from their list:

  • Young people, young people, young people.  The fact that so many young adults are open and affirming of the LGBT community.
  • Change happens over time, this is hopeful.  We hold the tension of being urgent and patient at the same time.  Requires a deeper spirituality to do that.
  •  Many more Catholic parishes are now hosting groups for LGBT ministry.
  • New, younger parents of LGBT children are getting involved.
  • More people of other faiths are getting involved in LGBT issues and equality.
  • Even though many of us have been singing the same song of openness and affirmation for a long time there seems to be a lot more people singing with us.

Another post offers a profile of Joan Abele, who is one of FF’s Listening Parents Network, a group of Catholic parents who have been trained to be listeners and accompaniers of parents who may just be learning they have an LGBT child or who may be experiencing a special challenge with their faith or family.

This blog looks like it will be a great addition to the already flourishing online conversations taking place for those interested in different aspects of the Catholic LGBT world.  Check out Bondings 2.0’s blogroll, in the column to the right of this post, for a variety of Catholic websites and blogs on LGBT and other church reform issues.   To learn more about Fortunate Families as an organization, you can visit their website.

Remember, too, that blogs–whether the Fortunate Families one, Bondings 2.0, or any other one–are social media.  As such, they are not just providers of information, but opportunities for discussion.  So, you are encouraged when visiting any blog site, including this one, to make your opinions and reactions known by posting in the “Comments” section provided for each post.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Fortunate Families blog!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Parents Cope Differently When LGBT Children Are Excluded

April 3, 2013

Mary Jo and Norm Bowers, Catholic parents with a lesbian daughter

The trend of LGBT individuals exiting the Catholic churches of childhood is now expanding to include their parents, too. Many clergy and ministers try to balance pastoral care with doctrinal statements, and some Catholic parents of LGBT children are finding the results inadequate. WBEZ, a Chicago public radio station, profiled several Catholic couples with children of varying sexual orientations and gender identities to understand further the parents’ relationship with the Church.

Toni and Tom Weaver explain how combining their love for their gay son with their strong Catholic identities is an evolving process. Toni describes herself as an active member of her parish in the music ministries and through daily Mass attendance. Their son, Michael came out the day after graduating college, and Toni believes her warm embrace in that moment would not always have been true. WBEZ reports:

“’If he had come out to me 10 years earlier, I’m not sure what my response would have been,’ Toni said. ‘I was definitely very traditionally Catholic and had even been moving in Evangelical circles. I was the first one to preach that homosexuality was wrong.’

“But Weaver said she came to a fuller understanding of homosexuality when she began studying for a master’s degree in theology:

“’Here were people who were gay who were being treated atrociously, and they were being denied their basic rights, and they were the butt of jokes…It finally dawned on me that people don’t choose their sexual orientation. That for me was an absolute turning point, and I attribute it to the work of the spirit.'”

The Weavers welcome their gay son, and then sought to alter the attitudes of Catholics around them, but were harmed when a bishop’s letter condemning marriage equality was read during Mass. This episode triggered the Weavers to permanently leave their Catholic parish:

“’I think that was the first time I felt slapped in the face by my church…I stood up, we were sitting in the middle of the pew. I stood up, and I turned toward the door and walked out. I grieved the church for 18 months. I grieved it. Something had died in my life.'”

Other parents remain split on how to engage Catholic communities, like Norm and Mary Jo Bowers who have a married lesbian daughter with two children baptized in the Church. Mary Jo left the Church, but her husband remains with a highly localized perspective:

“’I’ve told my pastor, I said, ‘To me my whole religion is this parish. It stays within the confines of this parish…I have nothing anymore to do with the hierarchy and what comes out of Rome’…

“Norm Bowers said he was offended by that and by a column in a Catholic paper. A priest wrote that children raised by gay couples might grow up ‘confused.’

“’I said to myself, which Catholic who has a brain isn’t confused in the Catholic church today?'”

Parents who remain, like Norm Bowers, find the positives in their local parishes and maintain hope that, under a new pope, perhaps the tone will change to something more pastorally-inclined. They also benefit from supportive clergy, like Fr. Bill Tkachuk of St. Nicholas Parish in Evanston, Illinois who compliments parishioner’s efforts to create an LGBT-affirming Catholic community:

“[Fr. Tkachuk] said the church needs to be more sensitive to families in the way it talks about gays and gay issues: ‘Speaking in the language that people can hear with their hearts and accept with their hearts, as opposed to a more academic language that can be received as very hurtful, even if it’s not intended that way.’

“His parishioners recently wrote to Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. They objected to a letter in which the cardinal called civil unions a ‘legal fiction,’ and gay marriage ‘contrary to the common sense of the human race.’”

Barbara Marian and her husband now commute over an hour to St. Nicholas each week after having too many negative experiences in her local parish. Barbara has a lesbian daughter, along with three nieces and a nephew who identify as LGBT and sees no plausible way to leave the Catholic Church:

“’We live with love for these neighbors, colleagues and children and we see them as whole persons,’ Marian said. ‘We don’t focus on the small part of their lives that involves their genitalia.’…

“‘I am Catholic through and through and through,’ Marian said. ‘There is no separating me from the church. Although it brings me to my knees with anger and tears when the bishops make a statement and strafe my community, I bleed.'”

As growing numbers of Catholics and parishes support LGBT equality, and as more children feel safe coming out to their families, anti-gay efforts by Catholic bishops will continue affecting long-term parishioners who refuse to remain or stay silent when they watch their children come under attack.

A good resource for Catholic parents of all sorts–those who are struggling with accepting a child’s orientation, those who are struggling with church structures, those who want to become more involved with equality issues–is Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents of LGBT sons and daughters.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


A Threat to Our Humanity

January 11, 2012

It’s not news that Pope Benedict XVI opposes marriage equality for lesbian/gay couples.  Yet his recent comment on the topic has made headlines because of the harsh image he used.

Reuters reports:

“[The pope] told diplomats from nearly 180 countries that the education of children needed proper ‘settings’ and that ‘pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman.’

” ‘This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself,’ he said.”

As in the past on this topic, the pope has it wrong, but this time he has it diametrically wrong: the threat to “human dignity and the future of humanity” comes not from marriage equality but in opposition to it. Let’s take his points one by one.

1) Threat to human dignity:  As Catholics who support marriage equality have expressed, opposition to marriage equality goes against the Catholic principle of the inherent dignity of every human being by declaring that some human beings  are “second class citizens,” not equal to the majority.  (For a full explanation of this idea, you can read New Ways Ministry’s short book, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, which can be downloaded in PDF format from our website; the relevant section is chapter 5:  “Why do Catholics support marriage equality?)

2) Children need proper settings:  Indeed children do need proper settings to be raised well, but research consistently shows that the most proper settings have nothing to do with the gender of the parents, and everything to do with love and stability in the family structure.  Marriage equality laws provide stability to families headed by lesbian or gay couples, and this stability benefits the children who are part of those families.

3) Threat to the future of humanity, part 1: Destabilizing family units through not providing legal protections to all families is a greater threat to humanity than a couple’s biological inability to procreate through sexual intercourse.  If the pope is correct, then he would also have to say that infertile couples and celibates also pose a threat to humanity.  The larger threat to humanity comes from unstable social conditions which breed crime, violence, and hate.  Protecting all families  offers the  greatest possibility for humanity’s healthy future.

4) Threat to the future of humanity, part 2:  Opposition to marriage equality also poses a threat to “humanity” in another sense:  the sympathetic love and kindness that people feel for one another.  Choosing the path of prejudice and injustice erodes this sense of humanity which we all naturally have.  When we actively work to prevent justice for others or we treat others as less than human, we harm not only them, not only ourselves, but the sense of humanity which holds the world together.  Homophobia destroys our humanity.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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