Papal Canonizations, Part 1: Pope John XXIII’s Influence on LGBT Equality

April 26, 2014

On Sunday, April 27th, two recent popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, will be canonized as saints in the Catholic Church.  For many Catholics who support LGBT issues, this double canonization is an occasion of mixed emotions. Though many are happy with the canonization of John XXIII, their joy is tempered by the fact that John Paul II, who was responsible for instituting many anti-LGBT policies and teachings, is being similarly honored.

Pope John XXIII

Today, I’ll review the contribution of John XXIII on LGBT issues in the church. Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at John Paul II’s influence on these matters.  On Monday, we will provide a review of some of the wealth of commentary written recently about these two men.

John XXIII’s greatest achievement in his papacy was convening the Second Vatican Council, which opened up a new era of theological reform in the Church.  Most importantly, for LGBT issues, the theological reform included an important development in the Church’s sexual teaching.  Theologian Lisa Fullam recently offered a succinct description of Vatican II’s development of sexual theology in her essay, “Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation.”  Fullam states:

“The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes identified two ends of marriage: the procreation and education of children, and the intimate union of husband and wife through which ‘they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day.’ (GS 48) Gaudium et Spes eliminated the long-held idea that procreation was seen as the primary end of marriage while the union of the partners was deemed secondary or instrumental to that primary end. The Council insisted that  ‘[m]arriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation’ (GS 50). Instead, it ‘maintains its value and indissolubility, even when despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking’ (GS 50). Departing from most previous teaching in which the procreative end of marriage was elevated over the unitive end, the Council refused to prioritize either. However, the Council insisted that childless marriages are still truly marriages, not some lesser partnership, while no such contrary affirmation is made—loveless but procreative unions are not affirmed (or rejected) as true marriage by the Council.”

By displacing procreation from its position of primacy in sexual theology, and by raising the unitive function to a higher status, Vatican II opened the way for theologians to explore the unitive function more deeeply, which allowed them to consider the moral status of relationships which were not biologically procreative, especially gay and lesbian relationships.  So, John XXIII’s Vatican II  opened the way for a new discussion of sexuality in theology, which paved the way for the growing field of lesbian and gay theology.

Vatican II’s emphasis on justice being a constitutive part of the preaching of the gospel also had an effect on the development of LGBT ministry.  Fullam points out that John XXIII’s emphasis on human rights in his encyclical Pacem in Terris provided a new perspective for Catholics:

“The language of rights, then, is how Catholics take our religiously grounded understanding of the common good out into public discourse. With the humility appropriate to fallible human beings, we seek input from all people of good will as we do so. We don’t seek to legislate the whole moral law, but only those rights and duties by which the flourishing of all people is made possible. Our deep commitment to human dignity and the equality of all human persons is the bedrock on which Catholic teaching grounds its social message.”

John’s writings opened the path a more justice-oriented church.  One other outcome of this pope’s approach was the development following Vatican II of liberation theology, which would eventually be applied to the LGBT experience.

Immediately following Vatican II was when Catholics first started taking the human rights and liberation of LGBT people more seriously.  As this blog stated on October 11, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II:

“In one respect,  the movement for LGBT liberation, equality, and justice in the Catholic Church is a direct result of Vatican II.    The Council’s reform of theology, its updating of scriptural interpretations, its openness to scientific knowledge, its invitation for participation by the laity, its clarion call to work for justice in the world and the church–all these things were part of the 1960s Catholic zeitgeist which resulted in a burgeoning movement to be involved with, and work for justice for, LGBT people.

“It’s no accident that both two of the oldest Catholic ministries to LGBT people–Dignity and New Ways Ministry–emerged from this era and as a direct result of priests and religious following the call of Vatican II.  Similarly, it would have been unimaginable that John McNeill’s theological groundbreaking work, The Church and the Homosexual, could have been written before the Council.”

It is no overstatement to say that without John XXIII, the movement in the Church for LGBT equality would have been much delayed and much diminished.  For this contribution of his, and for the many other ways that he ushered in a more compassionate, just, and socially involved church, Catholics who support LGBT equality are rejoicing at his canonization.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


EXCLUSIVE: Why Catholics Should Affirm Civil Marriage Equality

April 15, 2014
Professor Lisa Fullam

Professor Lisa Fullam

A new theological argument in favor of Catholic support for civil same-sex marriage is being published today on Bondings 2.0.  The article is written by Professor Lisa Fullam, an associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, California.   You can access the full text of the article on its own page by clicking here.

Entitled “Civil Same-Sex Marriage:  A Catholic Affirmation,” Prof. Fullam’s essay uses the Catholic intellectual tradition to argue that support for civil marriage for lesbian and gay couples is in line with our church’s best ideas about marriage, civil society, and church-state relations.  It deserves a full and thoughtful reading by all who are concerned with these issues.

The problem with the current Catholic debate on civil marriage, according to Fullam, is that it is both too broad and too narrow. In the article’s abstract, she states:

“Too broad: civil same-sex marriage is sometimes described as parallel to same-sex marriage in the Church. Too narrow: some Catholic contributions to the discussion have centered on reproductive capacity, ignoring Catholicism’s rich tradition which values marriage beyond procreation.”

The essay is divided into three sections:

  1. a discussion of how Catholic thought understands civil law;
  2. a critique of magisterial statements in the public debate about marriage;
  3. an enumeration or reasons why Catholics might work for marriage equality.

Fullam’s essay is both theologically rich and relevant to contemporary lives. For example, her working definition of the traditional concept of  “natural law” begins with a full accounting of human nature, which she defines as:

“. . . the capacities and potential excellences of the human creature, seen in the light of the best knowledge available to us—biological, psychological, sociological, philosophical (including theological,) spiritual, artistic, historic (including personal experience), etc. Natural law is sometimes confused with the biological functions of human bodies, but this misunderstanding fails to consider human nature in this fuller sense, that we are rational and creative discerners of meaning, seeking to grow in virtue, aided by the grace of God. To see how the natural law guides us in a given situation is to think deeply about how the question before us is best resolved for the flourishing of ourselves and our societies. “

Among the most thought-provoking part of the essay is her critique of magisterial arguments against same-sex marriage, including those from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Pope John Paul  II’s “Theology of the Body.”   By basing her argument in the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, which acknowledged that marriages served both unitive and procreative ends, Fullam shows how leaders like the U.S. bishops have narrowed down the Council’s teaching on marriage:

“According to the bishops, the ‘communion of persons’ of Gaudium et Spes is revealed in the procreative capacity of couples: while the Council taught that non-procreative marriages are still marriages, the USCCB roots the unitive end of marriage in the procreative possibility of heterosexual marriage.”

In the last section, Fullam shows how the magisterium’s focus on procreation leads to many inconsistencies in their approach to civil marriage and family life.  For example, she notes the situation of adoption:

“Those who raise children not biologically their own are reaching beyond a reproductive imperative to a spiritually-resonant act of profound devotion. They make a great contribution to the common good. To base the social value of marriage on the potential for biological procreation would be to ignore the generosity of adoptive parents, and to render their families somehow unnatural or second-class. This would be a fundamental injustice to those families, and an odd reversal of Christian tradition that emphasizes caring for those in need. “

And she ponders what other civil laws might be needed if a view of marriage that has procreation as its definition were to take hold in secular society:

“Unless we are willing to redefine civil marriage in reproductive terms–perhaps automatically divorcing couples who do not reproduce in a reasonable amount of time, for instance, or denying marriage to women of a certain age or those who are sterile by choice or by happenstance–in denying civil marriage to same-sex couples, we discriminate against them precisely because they are homosexual, a form of unjustifiable discrimination that is contrary to Catholic social teaching.”

Fullam’s essay gives solid, theological underpinnings to the hopes of so many Catholics whose consciences have told them that marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples is a matter of justice.  By grounding her thought in both Thomas Aquinas and the Second Vatican Council, Fullam shows just how Catholic an argument for marriage equality can be.  Reading through this essay will help all those who often find themselves challenged by Catholic opponents to marriage equality.  And it will also give them a deeper understanding and appreciation of our Catholic faith and intellectual tradition.

You can read the entire essay on Bondings 2.0 by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Gay Boy Scout Denied Eagle Rank Sparks Reflection on Catholic Teaching

October 14, 2012

The case of a Boy Scout being denied Eagle rank because he is gay has made one Commonweal blogger wonder why Catholic  leaders have not spoken out against this injustice.

 

Ryan Andresen

NBCNews.com earlier this month reported the case of Ryan Andreson, a 17-year old Scout from Moraga, California, had completed his Eagle Scout requirements, but his Scoutmaster refused to sign his form:

“. . . the Boy Scouts of America said in a statement that because of Andresen’s sexual orientation and that he did not agree to Scouting’s principle of ‘Duty to God,’ ‘he is no longer eligible for membership in Scouting.’ But the family on Friday disputed that, saying the only reason Andresen was denied the rank is ‘because the Boy Scouts of America has a problem with Ryan being gay.’ “

Commonweal  blogger Lisa Fullam has questioned why Catholic leadership have not spoken out on this case of blatant discrimination.    Since Catholic teaching on homosexuality defends human dignity, Catholic leaders should be forthright on this matter:

“Official Catholic teaching, unlike that of many right-wing evangelical churches, draws a distinction between sexual inclination/desire (the official teaching tends not to use the word “orientation,”) and sexual acts. Homosexual acts are condemned, while homosexual desire is not. I suspect the BSA does not encourage sexual activity for any of its members, but rather encourages them to remain sexually abstinent, at least until marriage or responsible adulthood. (A quick googling didn’t answer this question for me. My searches yielded reports about sex abuse and poor responses to sex abuse within this all-heterosexual group.) Why wouldn’t the Catholic Church want to encourage all interested kids to join groups calling for responsible chastity? Not to mention the fact that scouting might help them find the kind of solid friends that Church teaching says is helpful for gays in dealing with homosexual desire? Catholic magisterial teaching says that no unjust discrimination of any kind should be practiced against LGB people–wouldn’t involvement in a group that helps form responsible and thoughtful men be a good thing for gay kids? (Since I am talking about a response by Catholic leadership here, I am not calling into question the Church’s teaching on same-sex relationships here. There’s no need to change Catholic teaching in order for Church leaders to support scouting for gay kids.)”

Fullam cites another reason that Catholic leaders should speak out on cases like this, and it has to do with a topic that has occupied their minds greatly of late–religious liberty:

“We’ve heard a lot about religious liberty from Catholic leadership this year. Many Christian denominations and other religious groups are supportive of LGBT people and (when appropriate) same-sex relationships. It may well be the case for Ryan–and it is undoubtedly the case for many scouts–that Duty to God as they understand God REQUIRES them to be open and affirming of LGBT people. In their own well-formed consciences, such scouts are put in a difficult position of having to decide whether their membership in a group that excludes gays is in conflict with their promise within that very group to be reverent and to serve God. Wouldn’t a call for an inclusive stance point to the bishops’ sense of the urgency of protecting religious freedom for all and the importance of obeying conscience?”

Fullam’s case is a solid one.  Catholic bishops and other leaders have been shamefully silent on the epidemic of bullying in recent years, and the Andresen case is, at bottom, a case of institutional bullying.  I suspect that Catholic leaders’ obsession with not supporting marriage equality initiatives has made them gun-shy about supporting any initiative that supports LGBT people.  That is not only shameful, but, as Fullam’s argument illustrates, it is a denial of the Catholic Church’s clear teaching on anti-discrimination and religious liberty.   Our youth, and our entire church, deserve better from our leaders.

Ryan’s mother, Karen Andersen, so clearly reflects Catholic principles in the defense of her son quoted by NBCNews.com:

“ ‘I want everyone to know that [the Eagle award] should be based on accomplishment, not your sexual orientation. Ryan entered Scouts when he was six years old and in no way knew what he was,’ said Karen Andresen, 49, a stay-at-home mother of three. ‘I think right now the Scoutmaster is sending Ryan the message that he’s not a valued human being and I want Ryan to know that he is valued … and that people care about him.’ “

Catholic people in the pews can show their support for Ryan Andresen and LGBT youth like him by signing a petition that his mother has organized to secure  his Eagle ranking.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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