Homeless LGBT Youth Need Your Support This #SpiritDay

September 18, 2014

In a month from now, October 16th, millions of people nationwide will don purple clothing and take to social media in what has become an annual display of love and support for LGBT youth called #SpiritDay. In past years’, Bondings 2.0 has marked this event by highlighting the bullying of LGBT youth and Catholic responses  to this problem.

Today, we highlight the tremendous problem of LGBT youth homelessness, suicide, and related pastoral concerns in the hopes you will add your voice to #SpiritDay on October 16th. Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will look at the other side of this problem–how religious social service providers are impacting LGBT youth experiencing homelessness.  #SpiritDay is sponsored by GLAAD, and you can find out how you and your company, school, church, organization can participate by clicking here.

Rolling Stone magazine took up LGBT youth homelessness in their September 11th issue, mixing hard data with anecdotes from four LGBT youth to tell this tragic story. To set the scene, the article cites Center for American Progress numbers that between 320,000 and 400,000 LGBT youth experience homelessness in the United States and this is approximately 40 percent of the homeless youth population overall.

The causes of LGBT youth homelessness are varied. The average coming out age has dropped to 16, when most youth are still dependent on their parents, and more youth may be coming out following legal victories for LGBT equality.

Research also shows that almost 40 percent of LGBT youth experiencing homelessness are on the streets because of family rejection, primarily rooted in religious concerns. The Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State published data showing a distinct correlation between highly religious parents and the rejection of their LGBT children in comparison to those parents considered less religious. Two of the four youth who shared their stories in the Rolling Stone article came from families identifying as Catholic.

Jackie was raised in Idaho amid an upper-middle class family. She succeeded academically and socially, pushed on by traditionally Catholic parents. It took until college for Jackie to realize she was gay, coming out sophomore year over the phone to her mother. The article reports:

“So while Jackie hoped for the best, she knew the call she was making had the potential to not end well. ‘You can’t hate me after I say this,’ she pleaded when, alarmed to be receiving a call in the middle of the night, her mom picked up the phone.

” ‘Oh, my God, you’re pregnant’ was her mom’s first response, before running through a litany of parental fears. ‘Are you in jail? Did you get expelled? Are you in trouble? What happened? What did you do?’ Suddenly her mom’s silence matched Jackie’s own. ‘Oh, my God,’ she murmured in disbelief. ‘Are you gay?’

‘Yeah,’ Jackie forced herself to say.”

Her mother hung up after using a slur against Jackie and questioning what she, as a mother, had done “for God to have given us a [gay] as a child.” Jackie’s parents cut her off financially, kicked her out of their house, and broke contact with their daughter. They mentioned later that Jackie, who experienced homelessness while still pursuing her college education, could get their financial support if she enrolled in “ex-gay therapy.” Of this, Jackie says:

” ‘I wanted to be their kid, but I couldn’t change. Everyone I’d ever known my whole life cut ties with me. But this was who I am.’ “

James was a raised in the Midwest, in a highly religious town where there was a church “on every street corner.” His mother, once Catholic, experimented with evangelically-oriented Christian traditions before returning to her original church. James, who had heard his mother rail against homosexuality, started quietly dating a co-worker. He was forced to come out after his mother found a picture of him with his boyfriend on James’ phone. Upon graduating high school, he was kicked out and, after a month of hitchhiking, ended up in Atlanta at a shelter for LGBT youth, called Lost-n-Found Youth.

One additional note is that LGBT youth who are kicked out experience higher rates of violence, sexual assault, HIV/AIDS, and prostitution than averages for youth experiencing homelessness. These can lead or exacerbate existing substance abuse and mental health issues, and in too many cases lead to suicide.

Jesuit Jason Welle questions the acts of Catholic parents and family members who would reject an LGBT child or sibling, commenting on its inconsistency with teachings of Jesus. He writes at The Jesuit Post:

“And this kind of rejection is shameful and heartbreaking because, really, our faith tradition should teach us that rejecting our children is a rejection of the promises we make in Baptism, namely that when a Catholic parent has their child baptized, the priest or deacon instructs them to teach their child to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor, and then asks pointedly, ‘Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?’

“The thing is, before you bring a child into the world no one asks you if you know what you’re getting into. But when a Catholic parent baptizes that child, they must respond directly to this question first. It leaves me crying out: what part of throwing a gay or lesbian child out of the home shows our love of God and neighbor?”

Beyond the family, there is still the matter of the Catholic community. San Francisco social worker Kelley Cutler wrote a blog post at Patheos with questions for this fall’s Synod of Bishops tackling marriage and family life. Cutler asks the right questions, I think, for the church at large presently faced with all of the above:

“How can the Church follow Christ’s example? What do queer people want and need to feel welcomed and supported in the Church where they may find him? How can the Church support queer people already in the pews, let alone the many on the street? What do they hope for from the Church, and how is the Church failing those hopes, thus contributing to a sense of hopelessness?”

Cutler points out that community and a sense of belonging, as well as spiritual care are essential components in helping marginalized communities — and what the church can offer to LGBT youth. She concludes:

“It takes a genuine connection to make the vulnerable feel truly safe, and truly seen…if we truly want to outreach to queer people, we need to do more, starting with real dialogue. Without being defensive, we need to see queer people through Jesus’ eyes, understand why they feel like outcasts, and then ask what we as a community can do to bring them home.

“If we listen, we will hear that we all share the same desires: for connection; for community; for hope; for love; for a place where we may safely graze.”

Making public your support as a Catholic or person of faith for LGBT youth this #SpiritDay will let them know there is a supportive community out there. New Ways Ministry is joining with other faith-based and LGBT groups to co-sponsor #SpiritDay with GLAAD. We hope you will join us and help us spread the word! For more information, click here.

Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will follow-up this post by looking at the impact faith-based social service providers have had in confronting LGBT youth homelessness.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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

 

 


St. Patrick’s Day Parade’s LGBT Decision Irks Church Traditionalists

September 13, 2014

Cardinal Dolan greets a NYC police officer at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Fallout from the decision to allow an openly LGBT group to march in New York’s 2015 St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which will be led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan as grand marshall, continued this week.  Many conservative Catholic organizations have been upset both by the parade committee’s decision to be inclusive and Dolan’s acceptance of the change.

Perhaps one of the most stinging and controversial criticisms came from Monsginor Charles Pope, a pastor and blogger in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.  The Archdiocese of Washington removed Msgr. Pope’s blog post from their site. In the post, Pope stated, in part:

“Now the St. Patrick’s Parade is becoming of parade of disorder, chaos, and fake unity. Let’s be honest: St. Patrick’s Day nationally has become a disgraceful display of drunkenness and foolishness in the middle of Lent that more often embarrasses the memory of Patrick than honors it.

“In New York City in particularthe ‘parade’ is devolving into a farcical and hateful ridicule of the faith that St. Patrick preached.

“It’s time to cancel the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Al Smith Dinner and all the other ‘Catholic’ traditions that have been hijacked by the world. Better for Catholics to enter their churches and get down on their knees on St. Patrick’s Day to pray in reparation for the foolishness, and to pray for this confused world to return to its senses.”

Msgr. Pope is right about the drunkenness and foolishness of St. Patrick’s Day, but it must be noted that those behaviors have gone on for the many decades when LGBT groups were not allowed to march.

The Archdiocese of Washington is to be commended for removing this post from their site, as such vindictive commentary is pastorally damaging.  The Archdiocese has made no comment as to why they removed the post, though, and it would have been better if they had made a clear repudiation of Msgr. Pope’s attack.

While the conservative Catholic blogosphere was red hot all week with people claiming that Dolan and the parade committees were traitorous, another pastoral voice came from America magazine correspondent Sister Mary Ann Walsh, RSM.  In a blog post on the magazine’s website,  Walsh defended Dolan by pointing out the pastoral message that his parade presence was setting.  In making that defense, Walsh also touches on some other important issues and re-frames them as pastoral concerns:

“. . . Cardinal Dolan also has pastoral obligations. Many Catholics are gay, are related to gays, have gay friends. That is a reality to be dealt with. The U.S. bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family voted in 1997 on a statement ‘Always Our Children,’ that addressed the relationship between parents and their gay children. It drew fierce opposition from a number of people, but it cleared the air and comforted families who felt torn between what they understood to be church teaching and the natural love of mothers and fathers for children.

“Where to draw the line?

“Can a gay person participate in the corporal works of mercy, for example, by working in a church sponsored soup kitchen? Why not? Feeding the hungry is a religious obligation that crosses religious lines and is well rooted in Christianity.

“Can a gay person take up the collection at Mass? It’s a service, not a doctrine. Why not?

” . . . Cardinal Dolan’s position on the parade is the pastoral one; you don’t reject people for who they are. If a parent of a gay or lesbian child asked if they should invite their child to Thanksgiving dinner, any decent church person would say yes. When torn between being pastoral or political, a basic understanding of what it means to be a church community demands that pastoral take the day.”

It is refreshing to read these words from Sister Mary Ann, who for many years was a spokesperson for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and who often defended some of their pastorally harmful stances.  Perhaps it is one more sign of the new era of openness being led by Pope Francis.

Perhaps the best news about the conservative protest of the St. Patrick’s Day decision is that the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights has announced that it will withdraw from the parade next year.  The leader of this group made wildly outlandish and ridiculous claims about LGBT people throughout his career, and most recently, about their participation in the parade.  We elected not to report on them here because they were beyond the standards of civil discourse and reasoned discussion.

In David Gibson’s Religion News Service article about the conservative Catholic camp’s criticism of Dolan, the reporter alludes to the influence of Pope Francis on Dolan’s approach to the parade issue:

“. . . Dolan clearly seems to be comfortable with the more inclusive posture adopted by Pope Francis.

The cardinal last month gave a lengthy interview to the Boston Globe’s Vatican expert, John Allen, in which Dolan indicated that the days of the culture wars in the church were coming to a close.

The effort to withhold Communion from pro-choice Catholic pols “is in the past,” he said. And he also said that Francis wants pastoral, social justice-focused bishops “who would not be associated with any one ideological camp.”

Perhaps a new day is dawning.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


How LGBT-Friendly Are the Appointees to the Synod on Marriage and Family?

September 11, 2014

The Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family is less than one month away.  The Vatican released the names of the bishops who will be participating, as well as a list of the lay observers.

In terms of the bishops who will be participating,  there is a mixed bag on their approach to LGBT issues.  Here are some of the prominent names, with a little bit of their history on LGBT topics:

These are only a handful of the more than 250 appointees, and it is by no means an exhaustive list of people with any sort of record on LGBT issues.  It only includes names of those for whom I had concrete supporting evidence with which to link.  However, others on the list, such as Cardinal George Pell of Australia and now at the Vatican, have a long history of anti-LGBT measures.  Similarly, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising, Germany, are known to be very supportive of LGBT people and topics.

If you are aware of others on the list who have a record, positive or negative, on LGBT issues, please share your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.  Supporting links would be very helpful.

From my perspective, the most important feature from the list of lay observers is that no publicly LGBT person or couple is named.  The Synod will be examining pastoral responses to families headed by same-gender couples.  Didn’t the Vatican think it would be good to hear from some of them?  If the Vatican has invited heterosexual couples to participate, why did they not invite lesbian and gay couples, too?

Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, offers a critical view of the list in an essay entitled “The makeup of Synod of Bishops on the family is disappointing.”   Reese is disappointed that so many Curia officials will be participating, and he notes that they should be “staff, not policymakers.”  He explained:

“They have all the other weeks of the year to advise the pope. This is the time for bishops from outside of Rome to make their views known.”

Reese observes that the choices of who will be advising the bishops also seems lopsided.

“Half the experts are clerics, which seems strange at a synod on the family. None of the 16 experts is from the United States; 10 are from Europe (including five from Italy), three from Asia, and one each from Mexico, Lebanon and Australia.

“There are more laypeople among the 38 auditors, including 14 married couples, of whom two are from the United States. Many of the observers are employees of the Catholic church or heads of Catholic organizations, including natural family planning organizations.

“For example, one couple from the United States is Jeffrey Heinzen, director of natural family planning in the diocese of La Crosse, Wis., and Alice Heinzen, member of the Natural Family Planning Advisory Board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

Bondings 2.0 will continue to update you on the Synod as the days of preparation progress, and we will try to provide LGBT-relevant information and analysis once the meeting begins.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Louisiana Archbishop Stresses Pastoral Over Political in Marriage Case

September 10, 2014

A reporter once asked me what I thought of bishops who protest that their statements against marriage equality were not homophobic.  I answered that I thought the bishops sometimes don’t realize how demeaning their statements about marriage are to gay and lesbian people.  Because they often don’t know the experience of gay and lesbian couples, they often make vicious statements about marriage equality, and often make legal and political statements and not pastoral ones.  I think that many of them don’t even recognize how damaging their words and thoughts are.

Last week in Louisiana, a federal judge upheld the state’s definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman, thus ruling out any possibility of marriage equality (without changing that law first).  While Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage,  gave a response based on legality, it is interesting that Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans instead used the opportunity to stress the idea of pastoral ministry to LGBT people.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Although Aymond supported the decision, in an interview he stated that

“It is my hope that through our pastoral ministry to the Catholic LGBT community we can minister to their spiritual needs and walk with them through their life journeys because as our brothers and sisters and children of God they must be loved and respected and always treated with dignity.”

What’s remarkable about this statement?  Well, first of all Aymond refers to “LGBT Catholics,” a term that few bishops would even dare breathe.  Instead of “LGBT,” they usually say “those with same-sex attractions.”   That, in itself, is a step forward.

Second, he stresses the idea of pastoral ministry focusing on spiritual needs and accompaniment, not on requiring celibacy.  That, too, is a step forward.

Aymond seems to have an awareness that there is more to LGBT people’s lives and experiences than just sexual matters.  He also seems more concerned about pastoral ministry than about politics.

The archbishop did support the decision, but he did so using very low-key rhetoric:

“The redefinition of marriage is a moral one for us as Catholics. We as Catholics believe marriage is defined in the Bible and through our Catholic Church teaching as a union between a man and a woman.”

My sense is that Archbishop Aymond has had some pastoral experience with LGBT people, and that he recognizes the consequences of any language that he might use.  It is not the first time since he has been archbishop of New Orleans that he has done something positive in regard to LGBT issues.  In 2013, he apologized for the Church’s silence in 1973 after 32 people were killed and dozens wounded in an arson fire at a New Orleans gay bar.  Also that year, he expressed openness to welcoming all to the Church, noting: “Part of respecting people is respecting their freedom.”

The U.S. bishops should learn from Aymond’s example, which seems to be very much in the mold of Pope Francis.  Yet, just recently the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops joined with other religious organizations to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to make a decide against the states’ constitutional right to enact marriage equality laws. According to an Associated Press story:

“The religious groups urged the Supreme Court on the basis of tradition and religious freedom to uphold a state’s right to disallow gay and lesbian couples to wed.”

The Supreme Court has not said yet if it would hear the case or not.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


St. Vincent de Paul Society Gives Grant to LGBT Center Despite Bishop’s Challenge

September 9, 2014

Yesterday, we reported on some developments in Ireland that showed that Irish Catholics were responding more and more positively to LGBT issues.  We saved one story for its own post, not only because it is a remarkable development, but because it contrasts so strikingly with what sometimes happens here in the States.

The Irish Times reported that Ireland’s St. Vincent de Paul (SVP) Society recently gave a grant of €45,000  to  “Amach! LGBT Galway,”  a resource center which serves the sexual and gender minority community there.  The grant will be disbursed over three years. [Editor's Note:  "Amach" is Gaelic for "out."]

What makes this story even more remarkable is that when Bishop Martin Drennan of Galway objected to the grant and asked for a clarification of the decision, the SVP defended their action, and countered the bishop’s concerns about “moral grounds” with an accounting of how they indeed acted morally.

The Irish Times  reports:

“Bishop Drennan said that ‘on moral grounds we can’t support that.’ Homosexual activity was ‘in our eyes morally wrong behaviour and we cannot put funds at the service of what we don’t believe is morally incorrect.’ His problem was ‘the moral judgement involved.’ The reputation of the SVP ‘has been put in question by this grant,’ he said.”

Initially, according to the newspaper, an SVP official responded that the decision to fund the LGBT group

“was made purely on the basis of need in the Galway area, in the same way as all requests for support are assessed. It does not signify any other motive.”

In an article in The Independent, Jim Walsh, SVP spokesperson, further explained where the grant money came from, and that it did not impact their donations to other needy causes, which totalled about €42 million pounds in 2012.  Walsh stated:

” ‘The money that has been granted comes from a specific fund, the Maureen O’Connell Fund, and so it has no direct connection to any of the other money spent by the SVP,’ Jim Walsh said.

“He rejected suggestions that the money would be better spent on funding those more obviously in poverty, such as those asylum seekers trapped in direct provision or the elderly.”

Indeed,  “Amach! LGBT Galway” itself serves needy clients.  The Indedpent offers this description:

“The centre is intended to be a safe space where LGBT people can address issues and concerns such as prejudice, isolation, loneliness, depression and the lack of opportunities to network with peers.”

An Irish blogger on Gaelick.com points out:

“A popular stereotype is that LGBT people are happy! Fun! And are inundated with disposable income! They are fabulous and ageless men, they live fabulous lives, with fabulous homes and fabulous lifestyles. Everything is rosy, just like on TV or just like in some kind of liberal, south Dublin bubble.

“The reality, according to the evidence, can often be very different.

“LGBT people can experience marginalisation, stigmatisation, difficulty accessing essential services, all of which impacts on our health and well-being.”

The statistics used to support the above claim are staggering, especially on the situation of LGBT people in Ireland.  The numbers strongly support the SVP statement that the grant was given to an “excluded and marginalised group in need.”

The main question that arises for me from this story is “Why does Bishop Drennan think of morality only in terms of sexual morality and not the morality of helping a population that has been ostracized, under-served, and in need of healing and reconciliation?”  The SVP obviously saw morality in much broader terms than the bishop did.

An equally important point to make, though, is that the SVP action contrasts greatly with many recent actions in the U.S. where Catholic funds have been withdrawn from social service agencies because of LGBT issues.  In all the cases, the funds were withdrawn not even because the agencies were serving LGBT clients, but because from time to time they acted in coalition with LGBT organizations.  You can read about all those actions by clicking here.

Obviously, Catholic leaders in the U.S. have something to learn about humility, charity, and a-political service from Ireland’s St. Vincent de Paul Society.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Ignorance of Catholic Teaching Warps Cardinal’s Comments on Homosexuality

September 7, 2014

Cardinal Onaiyekan

A recent interview with Nigeria’s Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja, illustrates one important reason why LGBT people still do not have full equality in the Catholic Church:  Church leaders do not know their own teaching and they publicly speak mistakes about it.

The cardinal was interviewed recently by The Sun, a national newspaper in Nigeria.   During the interview, the reporter asked:

“Do you foresee the Catholic Church sustaining its stance on gay marriage in the future?”

The cardinal’s complete answer to the question was:

“Unfortunately, we are living in a world where these things have now become quite acceptable but for the fact that they are acceptable doesn’t mean that they are right. The Catholic Church considers itself as carrying the banner of the truth in the world that has allowed itself to be so badly deceived.

“On gay marriage or homosexuality in general, everybody knows that the Catholic Church is about the only group that among the Christian groups that has stood very firmly against it and we insist that it is against God’s will. Therefore, it is not a question of something for us to discuss and decide whether we shall accept it or not. Even if people don’t like us for it, our church has always said homosexuality is unnatural and marriage is between a man and a woman. There is no such thing as marriage between two men or marriage between two women. Whatever they do among themselves should not be called marriage. There is no question of the Catholic Church changing its positions on this matter.”

What’s wrong with that statement?  Well, for one thing, church teaching does not state that homosexuality is “unnatural.”  In one of the earliest Vatican statements on homosexuality in the modern era, 1975’s Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethicsthe Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) wrote:

“A distinction is drawn, and it seems with some reason, between homosexuals whose tenecy. . . is transitory or at least no incurable; and homosexuals who are definitively such because of some kind of innate instinct. . . “

The particular term, “innate instinct,” indicates that the Vatican does not label a homosexual orientation as “unnatural.”   In The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which appeared almost two decades later, the Vatican discussed homosexuality, saying, in part:

“Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained.”

and

“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible.”

While the CDF also used the term “objective disorder” to describe a homosexual orientation, it is important to underline that the term does not refer to a medical or psychological condition, but to moral evaluation.  In the 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, the CDF wrote:

“Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”

Moreover, Church teaching never makes a blanket against “homosexuality,” as Cardinal Onaiyekan does.  Church teaching makes a distinction between homosexual people and homosexual acts.  As the above quotation indicates, the Church does not morally disapprove of homosexual people (“not a sin”), but it does not morally approve of homosexual activity.   Lumping both people and acts under the title “homosexuality” is not responsible use of language, and neither does it show a careful awareness of Church teaching.

Thus, though Church teaching, based on natural law philosophy, does not approve of any sexual activity between people of the same gender, it does not describe either the act or the person as “unnatural.”   I grant that this is a very fine, nuanced distinction, and, even at that, is still problematic.   But it is important to make the distinction to see that someone like Cardinal Onaiyekan either does not understand the Church’s official position or is describing this position carelessly, perhaps influenced by his own prejudiced opinions on the matter.

Personally, I do not like splitting hairs like this theologically, but it is important to do so because of the tremendous harm that the cardinal’s words can have, especially in a nation like Nigeria where homosexuality is criminalized.  Such ignorance or carelessness on the part of a Church official fuels the homophobia that causes violence.

Finally, some comments in regard to the cardinal’s statement:

“On gay marriage or homosexuality in general, everybody knows that the Catholic Church is about the only group that among the Christian groups that has stood very firmly against it and we insist that it is against God’s will.”

First of all, in Africa, as elsewhere, the Catholic Church is not the only religious institution which opposes same-gender marriage, and, as we saw above, the Church does not condemn “homosexuality in general.” More importantly, though, using language to describe homosexuality as “against God’s will” again strengthens negative attitudes which often lead to physical and emotional harm.  In fact, the Catechism says of homosexual people:

“These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives. . . “

and

“They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Cardinal Onaiyekan, and, indeed, other Church leaders, have expressed statements that reveal more ignorance than wisdom on the topic.  For an earlier post about this topic, click here.

It is astonishing that someone in Cardinal Onaiyekan’s position would be so ignorant or careless regarding Church teaching.  To me, it is an indication that cultural attitudes and personal biases, unfortunately, creep into our church’s official rhetoric.  Such mis-education is harmful to LGBT people, the wider Church, and Cardinal Onaiyekan himself.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related post

Bondings 2.0:  “Nigerian Bishops Support Anti-Gay Law; Help Get the Pope to Speak Out

 

 


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