Why Did Catholic Numbers on LGBT Acceptance Dip So Much In Recent Study?

September 16, 2014

On this blog, we are always very excited to report on statistics and surveys which show that Catholic lay people’s support of LGBT people and issues continues to grow. We also like to report on the many ways that Catholic parishes are welcoming and including LGBT people as full members of their communities.  But last week, a Duke University report showed that while in most Christian denominations acceptance of LGBT people is on the rise, the only group which the study said showed a decrease is Catholicism. What gives?

An Associated Press article describes the good news and the bad news in Duke University’s National Congregations Study:

“Overall, the study found acceptance of gay and lesbian members in American congregations increased from 37 percent to 48 percent over the six-year period. Acceptance of gays and lesbians as volunteer leaders increased from 18 percent to 26 percent. . . .

“Perhaps surprisingly, given the support for gays and lesbians among Catholics in general, representatives of the Catholic churches surveyed expressed less acceptance of gay and lesbian members in 2012 than in 2006. Interview subjects were asked specifically whether openly gay or lesbian couples in committed relationships would be permitted to be full-fledged members of the congregation.

“In 2006, 74 percent of those surveyed said yes. That number decreased to 53 percent in 2012. While the decrease is large, the rate of acceptance still remains higher than that for all congregations surveyed, 48 percent.

“Asked whether the same couples would be permitted to hold any volunteer leadership position that was open to other members, 39 percent of Catholic respondents said yes in 2006 but only 26 percent said the same in 2012. That is the same as the number for all congregations surveyed.”

So, while Catholics still are more accepting than all other Christian denominations surveyed, the statistics seem to show that acceptance is dwindling.

Or is it?

The news story provided some interpretations of the data from several Catholic scholars and analysts:

“Thomas Reese, a senior analyst with the National Catholic Reporter, thought it might reflect the fact that younger Catholic clergy tend to be more conservative than their older counterparts. Mary Ellen Konieczny, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, suggested the change might reflect a growing emphasis by the bishops on issues of homosexuality over that period.

“Both agreed that those attitudes were not indicative of what people sitting in the pews think.

“Konieczny and others said they thought the answers might be significantly different if the same questions were asked today.

“The survey was taken ‘before Francis got into the papacy, and I believe he would have made a difference,’ said William D’Antonio, a senior fellow at Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies. ‘Francis has lowered the focus on sexual matters and increased the concern for the poor and needy.’ “

A Religion News Service story adds another voice which offers similar analysis:

“The Rev. James Martin, editor at large for the Jesuit magazine America, observed, ‘During those years, U.S. bishops were much more vocal against gay marriage. It’s only been in the last year or two — since the election of Pope Francis — that the church has begun opening up on this.’ ”

The Huffington Post’s Antonia Blumeberg offers a comparative analysis for why Catholic numbers are going down while other Christian churches’ numbers are going up:

“While the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality remains seated in the somewhat vague but hopeful words of Pope Francis, ‘Who am I to judge?’, other church bodies have taken more definitive action to promote LGBT equality. In June the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted in a landmark decision to allow same-sex marriages, following in the footsteps of the U.S. Episcopal Church which made the same decision two years prior.”

In an interview with London’s Daily MailMark Chaves, the author of the study, provided his own interpretation for the decline in Catholic numbers:

“Chaves suggested this may be due in part to fallout from the child sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church, which some associate with homosexuality.”

But, perhaps the most important reason for the change is in how the data was collected. Ned Flaherty, a writer in Boston, provided the following information:

“The National Congregation Study data were collected 2 to 2.5 years ago, in 50-minute interviews with each congregation’s key clergyperson. Roman Catholic rules, including LGBT acceptance, are set by the Vatican, regardless of local public policy. Therefore, the answers from the Roman Catholic clergy reflected Vatican rules, whereas the answers from other clergy reflected local democratic policy.

“Consequently, the very low acceptance rate for LGBT worshipers reported by Roman Catholic clergy would be very high if reported by Roman Catholic congregants.

“The survey’s apparent discrepancy arises only because the interviewers didn’t adjust the survey to accommodate the uniquely Catholic gap between what clergy dictate vs. what congregants believe. Other faiths don’t have this gap.

So, while the Catholic statistics appear sobering, there does seem to be some explanation for them, and they may not accurately paint the full picture of the Catholic community.  Still, even though the report reflects only Catholic leadership’s views,  that is evidence that there is still work to be done with Catholics, especially their leaders.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Does a Martyr’s Sexual Orientation Matter? James Martin, SJ, says “Yes!”

August 16, 2014

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer a gay man? This question about the famed theologian and martyr’s private life will likely never be answered conclusively, but evidence points to ‘yes’ — and this ‘yes’ has major implications according to Jesuit Fr. James Martin.

Martin published a Facebook post (and Twitter) last Wednesday taking up the question of Bonhoeffer’s sexuality after reading a new biography of the German theologian , Strange Glory by Charles Marsh. After offering high praise for Marsh’s work, Martin writes:

“But the biggest surprise for me was his intense, even romantic, relationship with his friend Eberhard Bethge. It was something that I don’t remember reading before. Was Bonhoeffer gay? It would seem so, particularly based on his letters to Bethge. Yes, I know that times were different and men often wrote passionate letters to one another, but Marsh’s book, without sensationalizing the matter all (and underlining the fact that the relationship was not physical), makes it hard for the reader to draw any other conclusion. It’s one of the most striking aspects of the book: Bonhoeffer seemed first infatuated and then in love with Bethge.”

Linked to Martin’s post is an interview with Marsh from Religion and Politics. He explains why one can comfortably conclude Bonhoeffer was a gay man:

“Over the years, I’ve gone to many Bonhoeffer conferences. This subject has been discussed often over meals and drinks and beers, but it’s never been discussed in an academic session or a lecture. But there’s been conversation among scholars for as long as I can remember. What I had that scholars didn’t have, and do now, is the body of letters that Bonhoeffer and Eberhard exchanged…

“The challenge for trying to narrate this complicated relationship is, on the one hand, it was a chaste relationship. It was a relationship that was centered on their shared love of Jesus and shared devotional practices and it had a kind of liturgical shape to it…Even so, in a curious letter—I think it’s kind of a humorous letter—after Bonhoeffer had matched Eberhard’s engagement with his own engagement, he wrote to say, ‘Now, we can resume our partnership, and we can travel together in those places where we found so much joy, and we can leave our wives back in Germany, in Berlin, or some place.’…

“[T]his is not my own attempt to sensationalize a relationship. If anything, I tried to capture it and respect it in its uniqueness, and not politicize it or insinuate. It was understood as a unique relationship, a different kind of relationship, in 1935 and 1936. The letters that we have now between Bonhoeffer and Eberhard are love letters, at least Bonhoeffer’s letters to Eberhard.”

Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian when he died in 1945, executed by the Nazis for his involvement in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler. In life and in death, Bonhoeffer has inspired Christians to be engaged in the historical events of this world and has helped Christians do theology from the perspective of suffering and marginalized peoples. So what to make of these letters and Bonhoeffer’s sexuality in general? Martin concludes:

“Does it matter if Dietrich Bonhoeffer was gay or not? Yes it does. Very much. It matters because it reminds us that people with homosexual orientations can be holy–very holy, even martyrs.”

Rev. James Martin, SJ

Rev. James Martin, SJ

This is not the first time that James Martin, who is editor-at-large for America magazine, has highlighted LGBT issues in a positive light. Last year, he called on Catholic leaders to #SaySomethingPositive about lesbian and gay people — or at the very least not include critiques each time they made a statement on LGBT issues. Martin also applauded NBA player Jason Collins for coming out and commemorated PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford on his Facebook page. Most recently, he explored the reasons why LGBT people feel the Catholic Church hates them and offered suggestions for improving this dynamic.

Highlighting the reality that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals are not only members of Christ’s body, but frequently in the ranks of saints and martyrs.  They make important contributions to a church that is not yet fully inclusive. To help create respect for the positive contributions LGBT church workers and ministers are making in our world today, it is sometimes helpful to look to the past and see all that LGBT and ally people have done.

Bonhoeffer’s life is but one example, but it is a most powerful one. Let us pray that more Catholic leaders will acknowledge this reality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Do Bishops or Politicians Know More About Catholics and LGBT Issues?

May 21, 2014

A couple in Malta celebrates new national progress on LGBT equality.

Recent news out of Malta concerning Catholics and sexuality/gender issues seems to contradict information released by the nation’s Catholic bishops about the opinions of Catholics there on marriage and family topics.

This tiny, heavily-Catholic island nation has witnessed some important progressive political developments lately in terms of LGBT issues and Catholicism, yet the bishops report seems to indicate that Catholics are satisfied with traditional church teaching in these arenas.

Last month, we reported that this country approved civil unions for lesbian and gay couples, including the right to adopt, though the Catholic bishops there strongly opposed the measure.   Furthermore, Malta also made history in the area of transgender equality by becoming the first nation in Europe to protect transgender people in a constitution.  Malta Today reported:

“Malta has become the first European state to have gender identity in its constitution following the proposed amendment that was approved yesterday evening in parliament.”

Yet, according to data released recently by the Maltese Catholic bishops, the Catholic community in this country responded in a very traditional way to the survey about marriage and family issues in anticipation of the upcoming world synod on these topics.  According to The National Catholic Reporter here are some of the results:

  • Nearly 50 percent of Maltese accept and live by the church’s teaching on birth control, and nearly 20 percent said they ignored the church’s teaching on birth control.
  • 62.5 percent agreed that marriage is the indissoluble union between a man and a woman that has children as a goal; 3.8 percent disagreed with this statement and 5.8 percent was unsure; 25.4 percent didn’t answer.
  • 43 percent said not allowing divorced and remarried couples to receive the sacraments was a cause of pain, and 14.7 percent said they have felt this pain; 17.2 percent said divorced or remarried couples should be allowed to receive Communion.

The Maltese survey statistics are one of the few sets of data that bishops around the globe have released that show that Catholics in the pews seem to support church teaching.  Almost every other set showed great dissatisfaction by the laity in the areas of teaching about marriage and family.  (For more information about other survey results, click on the “Synod 2014″ link under the “Categories” heading in the column at the right of this page.)

So what can count for this difference between political reality in this nation which is 98% Catholic and the responses given to the survey by Catholics?  Perhaps the bishops did not get a random sample of Catholics responding to their questionnaire.  Perhaps people responded in a “false positive” sort of way because they did not want to appear to be dissenting from church teaching.  Perhaps people are happy for their government to be more progressive about marriage and sexuality, but they do not want their church to be so.

So, while the news report noted that the Maltese bishops were “surprised but reassured by the findings of the survey,” perhaps they need to do some serious soul-searching.  One other possibility for the discrepancy highlights a possible serious pastoral problem.  Perhaps many of the nation’s Catholics are disaffected or alienated from the church, and did not receive the survey.   

This possibility raises an important concern for bishops not only in Malta, but worldwide. As they gather for the synod, they need to take into account not only the opinions of Catholics in the pews, but also those who have left the pews because they found church teachings on marriage and family life not consistent with what their consciences were telling them.

Malta had a powerful glimmer of hope in this regard this past week. Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna, who was the prominent spokesperson for the hierarchy’s opposition to the civil unions bill, took a more reconciliatory step by meeting with members of Drachma, the Catholic LGBT group in Malta.

Pink News reported that Scicluna took part in an event for the International Day Against Homophobia, which was celebrated world-wide on May 17th.   The bishop, who during the civil unions debate had declared such recognition as a “grave moral act” was not the only Maltese Catholic leader who showed up for the event.  Pink News reported:

“Bishop Scicluna along with a number of other priests were joined by dignitaries from Maltese political parties in support of Drachma and their work with LGBT people.”

Such a gesture of reconciliation with the LGBT community is very much in line with what Jesuit Father James Martin called for in a recent article in America magazine.   More gestures of outreach and reconciliation are needed in our church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Why Do LGBT People Feel the Catholic Church Hates Them?

May 18, 2014

Yesterday, May 17th, was the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.  In Italy, at least 11 of the prayer vigils for this day to show opposition to oppression against sexual and gender minorities were hosted by Catholic parishes, including at least one basilica.   In this most Catholic of nations, it seems, some people take seriously the church’s teaching condemning discrimination, prejudice, and violence against LGBT people.

Catholic support for this important church teaching is relatively minor among the Catholic hierarchy here in the United States.  Our leaders here tend to ignore the fact that the church teaches that lesbian and gay people must be accepted with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”  While they may often express that sentiment in words, they are less likely to take any action whatsoever to show that they truly accept that teaching.  Instead, they tend to focus only on the church’s sexual teachings.

Fr. James Martin, SJ

Jesuit Father James Martin, a well-known writer and lecturer, examines this dilemma in a column in America magazine this week.  His essay is well-worth reading in full, and you can do so by clicking here. In this blog post,  I will comment on some excerpts from the essay.

Martin tries to explain to his audience why so many gay and lesbian people feel that the Catholic Church hates them.  He states:

“Let me suggest a reason beyond the fact that many gays and lesbians disagree with church teaching on homosexual acts: only rarely do opponents of same-sex marriage say something positive about gays and lesbians without appending a warning against sin. The language surrounding gay and lesbian Catholics is framed primarily, sometimes exclusively, in terms of sin. For example, ‘We love our gay brothers and sisters—but they must not engage in sexual activity.’ Is any other group of Catholics addressed in this fashion? Imagine someone beginning a parish talk on married life by saying, ‘We love married Catholics—but adultery is a mortal sin.’ With no other group does the church so reflexively link the group’s identity to sin.”

I agree with him, and I would go even a little further:  no other group in the church is discussed primarily in terms of sex as gay and lesbian people are.  I would imagine that in terms of  sheer power of sexual urgency and desire, adolescents and young adults are probably the people most interested in sexual activity out of the entire human population.  Yet, church leaders do not always refer to sexual temptation when they discuss or welcome young people to the church, as they do with gay and lesbian people.  The focus of youth ministry in dioceses and parishes is not on sexual behavior, as some dioceses and parishes would like gay and lesbian outreach to be.  Young people’s concerns are not shunned or ignored because it might seem to give the indication that church leaders are approving of non-marital sexual activity, yet that is routinely done to gay and lesbian people.  Indeed, the highest office of the church offers World Youth Day to let young people know that they are welcome in the Church.  Where is World LGBT Day?

In addition to being thought of primarily as sinners, lesbian and gay people resent that they are thought of primarily as sexual, as if no other aspect of their life mattered, and as if that was the primary factor defining their lives.

Martin offers the gospel story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) as a model for how church leaders can approach gay and lesbian people.  He analyzes the important features of this story about Jesus welcoming a much reviled tax collector:

“Notice that Jesus shows love for Zacchaeus even before the man has promised to do anything. That is, Jesus loves him first, by offering to dine with him, a powerful sign of welcome in that time. Jesus does not say, ‘Zacchaeus, you’re a sinful person because you’re gouging people with taxes collected for the oppressive occupying power, but even though you’re a public sinner, I love you anyway.’ He simply loves him—first.

“The story of Zacchaeus illustrates an important difference between the ministry of John the Baptist and of Jesus. For John the Baptist, conversion came first, then communion. First you repent of your sins; then you are welcomed into the community. For Jesus, the opposite was more often the case; first, Jesus welcomed the person, and conversion followed. It’s not loving the sinner; it’s simply loving.

“This is the kind of welcome that LGBT people want from the church.  It is the kind of welcome that all people want from the church.  LGBT people want this kind of welcome not because they are a special category of sinners, but, because they are, like most people, average, garden-variety sinners.  Pope Francis illustrated this profound human reality last September during his groundbreaking interview with a Jesuit magazine.  When asked who Jorge Bergoglio is, the pope answered, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

Martin concludes with some tips about how the church can show its love for gay and lesbian people more deeply:

“First, it would mean listening to their experiences—all their experiences, what their lives are like as a whole. Second, it would mean valuing their contributions to the church. Where would our church be without gays and lesbians—as music ministers, pastoral ministers, teachers, clergy and religious, hospital chaplains and directors of religious education? Infinitely poorer. Finally, it would mean publicly acknowledging their individual contributions: that is, saying that a particular gay Catholic has made a difference in our parish, our school, our diocese. This would help remind people that they are an important part of the body of Christ.”

While, yes, I agree with Martin here, there is also a sense of regret upon reading the passage because for the past two years we have been witnessing dismissals of LGBT people from church employment, a total devaluing of their gifts and personhood.  Yes, this type of welcome is urgently needed, not just for a positive message, but to correct the terribly negative message that firings have sent.

It’s important, too, that LGBT people’s spiritual gifts are also acknowledged and affirmed. The particular journeys that LGBT people go on to accept, affirm, and announce their identities to others often results in incredible spiritual gifts that are not as readily attained by others.  For instance, their journeys often provide them with a strong sense about telling the truth, a deep reservoir of courage to  stand up to fear and rejection, a profound sense of God’s love, and a new respect for the primacy of their consciences. Amazing gifts that they can offer to the rest of the church!

As Fr. Martin concludes, they are indeed an important part of the Body of Christ.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Organization Offers Survey When U.S. Bishops Won’t Do So

November 5, 2013

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good has set up an online surveyto elicit the feedback from lay Catholics across the country, in response to the Vatican’s request for feedback from the laity on a variety of marriage and family topics, including same-sex marriage.   The Vatican made the request for bishops around the world to gather such information in anticipation of a world synod on marriage and family in 2014. yet, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has already expressed reluctance to encourage individual bishops to do so.

Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter has noted that Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a Catholic non-profit organization, is filling the gap.   In a blog post, McElwee noted:

“The nonprofit, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, has made a survey based on the Vatican’s questionnaire available online.

“Christopher Hale, a senior fellow with the group, said in an email that his organization sent a link to the survey via email to its some 30,000 members Friday morning. Within two hours, Hale said, the group had seen more than 300 responses.”

He also quoted Hale’s reaction to some of the messages people were sending.  Hale stated:

“Dozens of separated and divorced Catholics noted that they don’t feel welcomed in their Church communities because they don’t have access to the sacraments. Once again, dozens of gay and lesbian Catholics expressed the same sentiment. One noted how she felt like her treatment in her parish was [similar] to the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.”

David Gibson of Religion News Service noted in a news article that some U.S. bishops are annoyed with how the Vatican’s request has been handled by the USCCB.  Gibson wrote:

“. . . some American bishops privately expressed frustration that they had not been notified sooner about the Vatican request and that there was as yet no national plan for soliciting input from U.S. Catholics.”

In contrast, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have set up an online survey site to gather information, and Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of that bishops’ conference, has sent a message to lay Catholics saying, “Your participation is important.”

The new process reflects the new administration at the Vatican, Gibson observed:

“. . . [Pope] Francis and his top aides have said that they want to overhaul the synod to turn it into a truly consultative meeting that will be shorter in duration — two weeks instead of nearly a month — and encourage debate and input from all Catholics.

“Next October’s meeting will be the first major test for Francis’ pledge to develop a more ‘horizontal’ church.”

Father James Martin SJ

Father James Martin SJ

Jesuit Father James Martin, the noted spiritual author and church commentator, noted the importance of the Vatican’s request for information in a blog post on the America  magazine website:

“First off, this is indeed new. While in the past bishops were encouraged to promote discussion in their dioceses in preparation for a synod, there were never any outright polls conducted, and certainly nothing on a worldwide basis. Second, needless to say, the questions are not going to ask, ‘Should we overturn this church teaching?’ Nonetheless, the Vatican will surely get a better sense of how the teachings are being ‘received,’ to use a theological term, by the faithful. “

The Vatican’s request has amazing significance for Martin, who writes:

“. . . the news makes me smile, because for years when some people would speak about the sensus fidelium (that is, the ‘sense of the faithful’) as an important part of the way that the church lives and grows, a few people would protest, ‘But the church is not a democracy! And we don’t do polls!’
“People often forget the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on this matter in ‘Lumen Gentium': “They [the laity] are, by [reason of] knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church.’ “
“Finally, it’s a sign, in case we needed to be reminded, that the Holy Spirit is at work in everybody. From the Pope, to the local bishop, to your pastor, to the sister teaching in your school, to the director of religious education at your parish, to the mother of three, to the man who holds out the collection basket on Sundays, to the college student struggling with her faith, to the fellow who cleans the church bathrooms, to the Catholic baptized just last Easter.
“The Holy Spirit is at work in her church and in her people. And she will let her voice be heard, this time through these polls, because she desires to speak.”
Michael O'Loughlin

Michael O’Loughlin

For Michael O’Loughlin, who blogs for Religion News Service, the change that the Vatican’s request indicates goes even beyond data collection.  O’Loughlin writes:

“Vatican officials want to know, from those living and working and worshipping in Catholic parishes, how to offer pastoral care for married gays and lesbians, and how to serve their children. I could not have imagined that the church would recognize gays as human beings even a few months ago, never mind ask for ideas on how to serve them, and their children, better. It’s truly revolutionary.

“And what’s not there in those questions is just as amazing as what is. There’s no mention of sin. Nothing about intrinsically disordered desires. The children aren’t called illegitimate.

“Instead, there’s language that recognizes gay and lesbian Catholics as human beings, as people who long for lives of faith and meaning.”

I couldn’t agree more with O’Loughlin.  Though the USCCB may not yet be “on board” with Pope Francis’ new approach to Catholic issues, it’s obvious that a new wind is blowing in the Vatican.   This request for information from the laity indicates a willingness to listen on the part of church leaders–something that has been absent from the Vatican hierarchy for decades.   As I’ve said before, it’s now up to the laity to offer their opinions, whether a bishops encourages them to do so or not.  The only opportunity for failure here is silence.


Catholic Reactions to Pope Francis’ Comments on Accepting Gay Priests

July 30, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ comments on accepting gay priests has rocked the Catholic world, yet even progressive Catholics disagree on the import of his statement.   Was it just a change of tone, not substance?  Was it too little, too late?  Will he follow through with action or was this statement just for show?

Various commentators took different approaches to the statement.  Here’s  a sampling of some of their thoughts.

Here at New Ways Ministry, we welcomed the statement, seeing it as a sign of hopeful things to come:

“Pope Francis’ statement on accepting and respecting gay priests is a clear sign that this pope will be taking a more conciliatory approach to LGBT issues than his immediate predecessors have done.

“Unlike John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who approached LGBT topics through the lens of sexuality and sin, Pope Francis is signaling a new direction which is based on the Catholic principles of human dignity, respect, and social integration.  Benedict had issued an instruction to bishops not to accept gay candidates for the seminary, a policy that was being considered under John Paul’s papacy.  Both previous papacies were noted for their virulent opposition against LGBT issues.

“Some will say that Francis’ statement is not enough, that he still refers to sins of homosexuals, but I think the important thing is the question of emphasis.   Even if he doesn’t drop the sin language, this is still a major step forward, and one that can pave the way for further advancements down the road.  Change in the church is evolutionary, not revolutionary.  Though this statement is not the change which many of us hope for, that is, the full equality of LGBT people in our church, it is a necessary first step toward that change.   Most importantly, it shows that Pope Francis is open to dialogue on this matter, and not simply follow the harmful obstinacy of his predecessors.”

Rev. James Martin, SJ

Rev. James Martin, SJ

Noted author and commentator Jesuit Father James Martin, had total praise for the pope’s comments, noticing an important linguistic development:

“To my mind, Pope Francis’s brief comment on gays reveals great mercy.  That mercy, of course, comes from Jesus Christ.   And we can never have enough of it.  The Pope’s remarks also are in line with the Catechism, which teaches that gays should be treated with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity.’  But gays were not the only group to be shown mercy in the Pope’s brief in-flight interview.  The Pope also asked for greater compassion for divorced and remarried Catholics, a group that has long felt marginalized in the church, and called for a “deeper theology” on the role of women in the church.  Today Pope Francis has, once again, lived out the Gospel message of compassion for everyone.
“The lesser-noticed change in the Pope’ revolutionary words during his in-flight interview was, at least according to the translation in the Italian-language ‘Vatican Insider,’ the use of the word ‘gay,’ which is traditionally not used by popes, bishops or Vatican officials.  This is a sea change.”
Equally Blessed LogoEqually Blessed, the coalition of Catholic organizations that work for LGBT justice and equality,  also had strong praise for the pope:

“Pope Francis today uttered some of the most encouraging words a pontiff has ever spoken about gay and lesbian people. In doing so, he has set a great example for Catholics everywhere.

“The pope has rejected the harsh language of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, for a compassionate approach and a pastoral tone. Lesbians and gays are no longer a “threat to civilization,” rather they are people of faith and good will.

“Catholic leaders who continue to belittle gays and lesbians can no longer claim that their inflammatory remarks represent the sentiments of the pope.”

Kevin Clarke, a blogger at America magazine, noted the importance of just a few of the words the pope said:

“. . . Francis may have become the first pope in history to offer a ‘who am I to judge’ response to a question about gay and lesbian people. . . “

But Clarke also urged caution, while at the same time noting the importance of the papal shift:

“His words certainly signal a shift in tone from Rome on gay and lesbians; will they also mean a change in current policies regarding, for instance, gay men in the priesthood?

“His citation of current catechism on the treatment of gay and lesbian people was not revolutionary in any sense; what startles may be the spectacle of a pope saying anything out loud on the matter and stressing the importance of church teaching on the human dignity of gay and lesbian people.

“Francis was also asked why he did not spend much time speaking about abortion or gay marriage during his trip (church teaching is already clear, he said) and about the difficulties of divorced and remarried Catholics. ‘I believe this is a time of mercy, a change of epoch,’ the pope said. He said the group of eight cardinals tasked with reform will explore the issue of whether divorcees can receive Communion.”

Michael O'Loughlin

Michael O’Loughlin

Michael O’Loughlin, who blogs at Religion News Service also questioned whether the pope’s statement is significant:

“I’ve joined the chorus of those praising this truly palpable breath of fresh air in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis is welcomed change in style. How will his bishops here in the US react, especially to the comments about not judging gays, finding roles for women, and welcoming back the marginalized? The Pope, it seems, will lead by example. Will his bishops follow? What concrete steps will Catholic leaders take to change the atmosphere of the church?

“A friend IM’ed this morning, asking if this news was a big step for the church. Yes and no, I said. Yes, it’s certainly huge that a pope has spoken about gays in a nonjudgmental, loving way. The pope’s words may inspire others to alter their own speech and behavior. No, because we wait for change, for signs that this is indeed more than an off the cuff remark. But for now, I’ll stick with yes. Yes, this is hope, and hope is huge.”

Writing in The National Catholic ReporterKen Briggs was decidedly more skeptical about the pope’s comments:

Ken Briggs

Ken Briggs

“If he didn’t mean to suggest a new Catholic teaching on homosexuality, should he have plainly said so? Would that have been in keeping with his image in some quarters as being bluntly honest? Or does he believe that a little dose of mixed signals is justified in order to ease the bitterness that has been swirling around the issue? . . .

“It’s too early in the papacy to know for sure, but worth noting perhaps that the same patina of double speak characterizes the major issues Francis addresses. Is he the “repair the crisis” pope who sees his mission as reviving church spirits before unloading some concrete, contentious re-designs, or a public relations pope whose effort is to recast the profile of Catholicism without following through on vague suggestions that things will substantially change? . . .

“A lot of what the appealing and intriguing pope said could be seen as a plea to keep young people — any Catholics — from crossing the street to the Pentecostal churches known for their warm embrace, empowering of lay people and live-wire worship. While genuine ecumenism is out of fashion and was nowhere to be seen, neither did the pope directly bash the Pentecostal rivals. But the signs of distress over massive defections could be heard in his urgent appeals to wavering Catholics to ‘stay home.’ On that there was no ambiguity.”

Writing personally, William Lindsey, who blogs at Bilgrimage.blogspot.comfelt that the pope’s words did not make up for the years of pain inflicted by church leaders:

“. . . I’m critically aware that for many Catholics, including many LGBT Catholics, the conversation about these matters has now moved light-years beyond the question of whether “homosexuals” . . . . should be included, welcomed, and treated with respect. And so I wonder how we can have a meaningful and honest conversation about these matters, if we pick up this conversation at the point of the pope’s comments and don’t acknowledge what many Catholics have been saying and thinking about these matters for a long time now.
“And there’s also this: for many of us, the actual experience of dealing with fellow Catholics and Catholic leaders who have been intent–quite precisely–for decades now on judging and marginalizing us solely because we’re gay results in a kind of deafness that makes us unable to hear Francis’s liberating, gospel-centered words with much hope or joy at all. Because we’re now so beaten up from our encounter with our church, its leaders, and many of our fellow Catholics, that we’re inured to hopelessness.
“Scars stand between us and our ability to receive a loving embrace from the community that has created those scars across our human lives. Scars cover our ears and make us unable to hear a liberating, hopeful, and joyful message from the community that has created those scars.”

Terence Weldon, at QueeringTheChurch.comnotes that Francis is providing an emphasis that is much needed in church discussions on LGBT issues:

Terence Weldon

Terence Weldon

“Today, he has delivered some thoughts which are more explicitly favourable, insisting that gays should be integrated into society, must not be marginalized or discriminated against, and should be welcomed into the priesthood.  Welcome words indeed. There is in fact absolutely nothing new in this – it’s all absolutely standard, orthodox Catholic doctrine, which contains two parts. There is a compassionate side, directing that we should be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity, and protected from unjust discrimination, and from violence or malice, in words or in deeds. Then there’s the harsh side, denying absolutely any hope of physical expression of our loves in genital acts. The problem has been that many bishops, and the previous two popes, have ignored or directly flouted the compassionate parts of teaching, focusing exclusively on the harshest bits. Francis is not in any way signalling a shift in actual teaching – but he is introducing some sorely needed balance. That alone is welcome.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Fr. James Martin & Others Are #SayingSomethingPositive

June 5, 2013
Father James Martin SJ

Father James Martin SJ

When it comes to Catholic clergy, many assume an anti-LGBT bias because ‘welcoming’ statements often come with conditions. Resisting this trend, many priests continue building safe spaces in the Church for LGBT people and their loved ones. Jesuit Fr. James Martin is behind the recent “#SayingSomethingPositive” campaign on Twitter seeking to do just that.

Recent examples of the clergy leave many disheartened. Cardinal Timothy Dolan is largely silent on an anti-gay hate crime surge in New York, Fr. Derek Lappe and others have written ignorant statements about the Boy Scouts welcoming gay youth, and Bishop Thomas Paprocki told marriage equality supporters to just leave the church last Friday.

As troubling as these events are, they fail to reveal the broader picture about priests who positively minister to the LGBT and ally community within the Church. We also know of Fr. Joe Muth in Baltimore who leads a gay-friendly parish and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton who urges all Catholics to receive Communion. Michael O’Loughlin of Religion News Service reports on the latest trend, led by Fr. Martin on Twitter:

“The Jesuit Jim Martin has asked why Catholic bishops are seemingly unable to make an unqualified statement of God’s love for LGBT people. He wrote:

” ‘I would love to see a Catholic leader make an unabashedly positive statement about gays and lesbian Catholics, without including a critique.’ “

That initial tweet seeking positive statements from the Catholic hierarchy led to a powerful exchange with priest-scholar Fr. Raymond Kemp about the many LGBT Catholics serving God. Fr. Martin followed up with more positive statements about lesbian and gay people in his life and now, O’Loughlin reports, more are joining him. Bondings 2.0 has included a sampling below:

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If you’re on Twitter, make your supportive voice heard with the hashtag #SayingSomethingPositive. Be sure to connect with @JamesMartinSJ, @mikeoloughlin, and @NewWaysMinistry if you do! We just got started:

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–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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