Two Bishops Who Don’t Seem to Understand “Who Am I to Judge?”

July 26, 2014

As we come upon the one year-anniversary of Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?” statement on July 29th , it looks like some bishops have not yet “gotten the memo” on stressing mercy and not judgment, while perhaps some others are “getting with the program.”  Today we will look at two recent negative examples from prominent U.S. prelates, while tomorrow we will look at how one gay-friendly prelate has been recognized by the pope.

The two negative examples from the U.S.:

Archbishop Charles Chaput, Philadelphia

Philadelphia Gay News  (PGN) reported on a letter that a local man received recently from Chaput in which the archbishop’s tone can only be described as snide.

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Silverman sent a copy of his letter to the archbishop, and received a response on archdiocesan letterhead and signed by Chaput, containing the following statements:

“I received your letter.

“Thanks for giving me instructions on what the Catholic Church should teach. I’m always astonished when people who aren’t believers give me those kind of instructions.

“As I am sure you know from basic logic class, an exception does not make a rule. The nature of marriage itself is about children. That’s how you and I came into this world.”

Silverman said that he assumed the archbishop surmised that he is not Catholic based on his last name.

PGN  quoted a reaction from Ken Gavin, the archdiocesan spokesperson, who would not confirm if Chaput sent the letter:

“Archbishop Chaput makes every effort to respond to all those who write to him on various topics and issues. He considers this correspondence private and would expect that individuals who write to him would respect that privacy.”

Silverman has forwarded Chaput’s letter to Pope Francis.

Did Chaput need to use such a snide tone, especially to someone who is not of his faith?  Of course, such an attitude only makes Chaput himself seem small, but others, too, besides Silverman, will be hurt by such a callous expression.

Cardinal Francis George, Chicago

Cardinal Francis George

Cardinal Francis George

Another snide example was recently offered by Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago.  In a column about religious liberty in his diocesan newspaper, George took a swipe at marriage equality proponents by saying they are “on the wrong side of nature.”   This phrase is presumably a parody of marriage equality proponents’ use of “on the wrong side of history” to describe those opposed to such measures.

George’s quotation, in context, reads:

“Americans are concerned about the economy, and rightly so. We are concerned with the loss of our place in the world, and rightly so. We should also be concerned that we are on the wrong side of what nature teaches us and therefore, at least over the long run, headed for historical failure as a society.”

George’s negative style is exemplified in one of the arguments that he uses earlier in the essay:

“What has happened to our vaunted American liberties? Except for property rights, they are all being traded off in favor of freedom of sexual expression. That ‘freedom’ has become the trump card in almost every social dispute. While the public conversation plays the game of liberal versus conservative, there is really only one issue: freedom versus tyranny, a tyranny masquerading as compassion and suppressing legally differences that seem to threaten abstract ‘equality.’ ”

Herein lies a big part of the problem with such an attitude:  George’s language reveals that he sees the question of marriage equality as being primarily about sex and not about love or relationship.  There is not only a failure to see beyond sex, but also to see beyond political reality.   In my reading of Pope Francis’ remarks of the past year, he seems more concerned about human reality than the political one.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

ChicagoPride.com:  “Cardinal Francis George: Gay marriage proponents on ‘wrong side of nature’”

 


A Few Steps Forward, and then Some Back, on Marriage Equality

July 12, 2014

Bishop Marcel Sanchez Sorondo

There’s been good news and bad news recently regarding Catholic leaders’ opinions on legal protections for same-gender couples.  The surprising thing is that the good news comes from the Vatican.

Queering The Church tipped us off to a Buzzfeed article that looks at the progress of Italy’s proposed civil unions bill, long stalemated in part

because of the Vatican’s previous opposition.  That’s right, “previous.”  The Buzzfeed article indicates that change seems to be happening:

“But there are also signs of a thaw within Vatican City. Monsignor Marcel Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Science, Vatican offices that engage with research on society, told Buzzfeed in an interview last week at an event inside the Vatican walls in which Italian politicians were participating that the church is solidly against any law that makes ‘complete [equivalence] of the normal [matrimony] and the gay,’ but if legislation clearly distinguishes between them, ‘that is another question, and this is accepted by the church.’ ”

[Editor's note:  Though Buzzfeed  refers to Sorondo as "Monsignor," he is actually an Argentine bishop.  In Argentina, as in many Latin American nations, a bishop is referred to as "Monseñor."]

Terence Weldon, at Queering The Church points out the significance of this monsignor’s statement:

“What makes Monsignor Sorondo’s observation particularly interesting right now, is his position with PASS [the Pontifical Academy of Science and Social Science]. Although Vatican documents pay lip service to the importance of paying due attention to the findings of both social and natural science, in practice, the published guidance on homosexuality and on queer families have largely ignored the scientific evidence, especially on the matter of gay adoption. That could be about to change. In the working document prepared for the bishops’ forthcoming synod on marriage and family, there is an acknowledgement that there is a need for better understanding of the science, and that some questions should be referred to the academy.

” ’117. Many responses and observations call for theological study in dialogue with the human sciences to develop a multi-faceted look at the phenomenon of homosexuality. Others recommend collaborating with specific entities, e.g., the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences and the Pontifical Academy for Life…..’ “

In Indiana, however, Catholic bishops issued a strong rebuke to a court decision there which overturned the state’s constitutional ban against same-gender marriage.  WTHR.com reported that the bishops said:

” ‘The Church upholds the dignity of every human person, including persons with same-sex attraction, whom we accept and love as our brothers and sisters. At the same time, the Church upholds the dignity and sanctity of marriage as a natural union established by God between one man and one woman, intended towards the establishment of a family in which children are born, raised, and nurtured.’

“The bishops explain that because God is its author, ‘it is not within the power of any institution, religious or secular to redefine marriage.’ “

Similarly, this week in Colorado, the Catholic bishops there roundly criticized a court decision to overturn the state’s constitutional ban on same-gender marriage.  Their statement, which repeats many of the same arguments of the Indiana bishops, can be read by clicking here.

In nearby, Missouri, Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis also criticized the decision by that city’s mayor to issue marriage licenses to four same-gender couples.  The Riverfront Times carried a column criticizing the archbishop for such a statement, particularly after his recent disappointing testimony on clerical sex abuse where he answered that  he “did not remember” when he learned that pedophilia was a crime.

So, we take a few steps forward, and one step back.  Little by little. That’s how all real and lasting change happens.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The Elkhart Truth: “Catholic Bishops of Indiana respond to Indiana same-sex marriage ruling”

LGBTQNation.com:  “St. Louis Archdiocese condemns city for issuing same-sex marriage licenses”

 

 


Two Archbishops’ Gay-Related Stories Show How Our Church Needs to Grow

July 3, 2014

Two archbishops from the United States made headlines this week related to gay issues.  Each story leaves me with a different feeling, though neither one is a good feeling.

Archbishop John Nienstedt

Archbishop John Nienstedt

The bigger of the two stories centered on Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul, Minnesota.  A news report from Commonweal informed the world that multiple allegations have emerged that Nienstedt made sexual advances toward priests, seminarians, and other men.  The archbishop strongly denied the veracity of these claims.

Nienstedt ordered an investigation of allegations against him, and the archdiocese hired a Twin Cities law firm to conduct the investigation.  In his statement, the archbishop said that he did so because that is what he would do with allegations made against any other priest, too.

This story is complicated by a number of factors.  First, there is Nienstedt’s record of very strong anti-gay comments, many of which were made during Minnesota’s debate about a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-gender marriage in 2012.  Second, Nienstedt has already been under fire because of mishandling of sex abuse claims against some of his priests.

Naturally, one of this story’s most popular responses has been to note the irony of witnessing someone who has been strongly homophobic in his speech possibly turning out to be homosexual himself.   When this accusation is made, it is sometimes made with glee, probably because to many people’s eyes and ears it is so obviously a personal problem when someone becomes so obsessed with homosexuality.   We have seen this behavior so often in our public and private lives:  people hate most in others what they really hate about themselves, and usually cannot admit about themselves.

These allegations have to be further investigated, but should it turn out that they are true, I think I will be sadder, rather than happier, to learn this reality.  To me, what it would mean is that the homophobia in our church and in our world had so affected this particular man that his ability to respond with love towards himself and others was extremely stunted.  I am angry at the harm he has caused others, but I find myself strangely sympathetic towards him if it turns out that he caused even greater harm to himself.

Archbishop Rembert Weakland

The second story, reported briefly in only the Catholic press, focused on the fact that, for the second time, Archbishop Rembert Weakland, the former archbishop of Milwaukee, was refused retirement residency at a Benedictine abbey.

Weakland, a Benedictine monk and former head of the worldwide Benedictine community of men, resigned as archbishop after it became public that he had had a sexual relationship with another man and that he had paid the man to be quiet about their involvement.   The relationship was not pedophilia and it was consensual.

Days after Weakland announced these facts, he expressed repentance publicly, celebrating a Mass where he asked for forgiveness.

The National Catholic Reporter noted that the rejection for residency came from St. Vincent Archabbey, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the same abbey where Weakland entered the community when he was 18 and lived for 20 years.  Although though the abbot of the community did not speak to the paper, Weakland offered his own thoughts about why he was refused:

“The Vatican recently laicized a Latrobe monk accused of misconduct, Mark Gruber, whose presence was creating some turmoil in the community. ‘The atmosphere was not a good one for me to return to,’ Weakland wrote. ‘Thus I will not be returning to Latrobe right now and at age 87 one never know what can happen in the future.’ “

The news story went on to explain the archbishop’s life since retirement:

“In Milwaukee, Weakland leads a low-profile life. He lives alone in an apartment and is said to attend daily Mass. He has no public role in the church, and when the current archbishop celebrates Mass and prays for the pope and bishops living in the diocese by name, Weakland is not mentioned. He was not allowed to deliver a homily at an annual priest retreat some years ago.”

This story leaves me feeling very sad–for Weakland, for the Benedictines, for our Church.  As in the Nienstedt case, we see how it is possible that fear of same-sex feelings and relationships can lead to behavior which harms one’s self and others.

The lesson that I take from both of these news stories is that we still have  a lot to learn in our church not only about sexuality, but also about forgiveness.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Minnesota Public Radio: Archbishop authorized secret investigation of himself”

Star Tribune: Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt faces new sex claims”

National Catholic Reporter: Report: Minnesota Archbishop Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships”

TwinCities.com: “Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships, ex-official says”

The Wild Reed: “Has Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Shadow” Finally Caught Up With Him?”

 

 


Is it Possible for Bishops to Move Away from Marriage Equality Opposition?

June 26, 2014

Last week’s appearance of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone at the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) March in Washington, DC, inspired several journalists to look more closely at the relationship between the Catholic hierarchy and anti-marriage equality groups.

While we’ve noted before that there is a growing trend in the church of some church leaders speaking favorably of lesbian and gay couples, the road to full acceptance still is a long one.  Some of the new insights that these journalists have expressed show that a new relationship between Catholic leaders and the issue of marriage equality, while a challenge, is possible.

The challenge comes from some of the “strange bedfellows” that some bishops are connecting with, politically speaking.  Jeremy Hooper, at the Human Rights Campaign’s NOM Exposed blog, points out that in addition to Cordileone’s appearance at the rally, he also continues working behind the scenes with NOM leaders.   He was listed as a host of a recent strategy meeting in Princeton, New Jersey, with several of NOM’s top leaders and associates.

Will this continued association with NOM continue? The National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters says that it shouldn’t.  In a recent column, he questioned Cordileone’s involvement at the rally because he sees NOM as  “dedicated to a strategy that is not only counter-productive, which is bad enough, but a strategy that is profoundly un-Christian.”

Winters offers evidence of NOM’s role in stirring up anti-gay legislation aborad as a major reason Cordileone should not have participated in the event:

“Their president, Brian Brown, spent time strategizing in Russia, encouraging that country’s parliament to enact harsh anti-gay laws that do not reflect the kind of love Archbishop Cordileone called for in his speech yesterday. The Uganda parliamentarian, David Bahati, who authored that country’s truly draconian anti-gay laws acknowledges the influence of U.S.-based groups in encouraging him and helping him, including the shadowy ‘Fellowship.’

“NOM’s stateside efforts are not much better. They are smart enough to know that promoting a law that would call for killing gays is a non-starter. But, they apparently are not smart enough to recognize that the great threats to marriage in our day have nothing to do with what gays do. Among the great threats to marriage is a hook-up culture that is to human love what laissez-faire economics is to the world of commerce and finance, a libertarianism in action which, like all that flows from that ‘poisoned spring,’ as Pope Pius XI termed it, devastates the Gospel.”

Winters concludes with a warning to bishops about how they need to shape their future rhetoric and action on the question of marriage:

“Finally, if the leaders of the Church are to become credible again on the issue of marriage, they cannot simultaneously insist that they are not motivated by anti-gay bigotry and then give speeches at rallies organized by bigots. This is not guilt by association. It is recognizing that such participation is a counter-witness to the Gospel. Archbishop Cordileone’s comments about loving those who do not share the Church’s teachings on marriage are, I am sure, sincere, but he betrays his own words when he demonstrates common cause with the architects of draconian laws that seek to deny the human dignity of gays and lesbians. This is obvious to the rest of us. One wonders why it was not obvious to +Cordileone.”

Pope Francis

The role that Pope Francis is playing in the bishops’ rhetoric on marriage equality and other issues is also an important factor that needs to be considered.  U.S. Catholic’s Scott Alessi notes the ambiguity and ambivalence that seems to characterize the U.S. bishops’ desire to follow Francis’ lead in taking a softer tone in regard to marriage equality and LGBT issues.  Noting that some headlines about the recent United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting proclaimed concord with Pope Francis, while others asserted a striking difference between the bishops and the pontiff,  Alessi writes:

“As is often the case with such things, the reality is somewhere in the middle. The bishops are a large and diverse group, and I don’t think anyone realistically could have anticipated a radical shift in the conference’s overall agenda. Some bishops have surely been taking the pope’s words to heart and thinking about how that impacts their work, while others are much less concerned with what’s being said in Rome than they are with what is happening in their own backyard.”

U.S. News and World Report published an insightful essay with a title that explains the confusion surrounding the “Francis factor”:  “When It Comes to Same-Sex Marriage, Both Sides Claim Pope Francis.”     On the pro-marraige equality side, the article quotes Michael Sherrad, executive director of Faithful America:

“Pope Francis has powerfully inspired countless Catholics and other Christians to a new vision for how the church can be compassionate. Unfortunately too many – not all, but too many – of the bishops in the United States and their conservative activist allies have really flouted what Pope Francis has had to say about gay and lesbian people.”

On the anti-marriage equality side, the writer quotes Chris Plant,  regional director of NOM:

“[Plant says that] Pope Francis’s tone is in line with the approach he sees his organization taking on the issue. ‘He is focusing on the fact that our dialogue ought to be civil,’ Plant says. ‘We absolutely ask for it to be a civil.’ ”

The U.S. News and World Report article also quoted a seasoned Catholic Church observer, noting the pope’s influence on the debate:

“ ‘I think he wants to move a little bit beyond the culture wars, at least certainly key issues in the culture wars,’ says Rev. Thomas P. Rausch, a Jesuit priest and a professor of Catholic theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. ‘He can’t simply change the church’s teachings – the whole church has to be involved in that. But he can change the way that the church is perceived in terms of the range of issues it addresses. And I suspect that is what he wants to do.’ “

In a recent interview with Faith in Public Life’s John Gehring, Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, former president of the USCCB and archbishop emeritus of Galveston-Houston, Texas, offered words of wisdom for how Pope Francis’ more compassionate approach can succeed:

“We have to take what he is saying seriously. We need bishops who reflect his style, and laypeople have to be involved so that this Francis era is not just a passing moment but salt and light for our church for many years to come.”

What I like about Fiorenza’s remarks is that he reminds us that if the more compassionate approach is to come about, it depends on lay people, as much as on bishops.  We need to remind ourselves of this reality when the going gets tough.  A new relationship between marriage equality and Catholic leadership is possible–but we’re the ones who have to help it along.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


It’s Time for the U.S. Bishops to Take a Reality Check on Marriage Equality

June 23, 2014

U.S. bishops at their recent meeting in New Orleans.

” ‘Let’s face it, anybody who does not believe that gay marriage is going to be the law of the land just hasn’t been observing what’s going on. There is a question whether (the courts) should be able to tell the states what they can or cannot do with something as important as marriage, but the trend right now in the courts is to permit gay marriage and anybody who doesn’t admit that just isn’t living in the real world.’ “

Those are the words of Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who recently joined the growing Republican chorus admitting marriage equality’s inevitability. Jumping off these statements, Elizabeth Lefebvre asks in U.S. Catholic whether the Catholic Church needs its own reality check when it comes to same-gender marriages. Judging from the U.S. bishops’ actions it seems that, at the very least, they need one. Lefebvre proposes a detente of sorts:

“Is there a way for the Catholic Church to respond to this reality [of marriage equality being made legal] in a similar way? To basically say: We don’t think this is the right way to go, but we accept that the courts say this is legal and that this here to stay. Instead of reacting by declaring court decisions mistakes and travesties of justice—as was done after the recent decision in Pennsylvania that declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional—it seems more realistic for the church as an institution to adopt the attitude that Hatch is putting forth. It’s no secret that Catholics in the pew don’t see eye to eye with church teaching on the issue…”

Unfortunately, more typical of responses from American bishops are the remarks made by Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, who said that Wisconsin’s legalization of marriage equality “is an element of the very first ‘domino’ of civilization…When that first ‘domino’ falls, everything that is good, true, and beautiful…is seriously threatened.” Perhaps he should take notes from fellow Bishop David Ricken who remained firm about the bishops’ understanding of marriage, but added:

” ‘I was disappointed by the decision, but I would really hate to come across in a way that would say we don’t value every human being who has this particular attraction, would just hate if they feel like they were being prejudiced against, every human person is a gift of God, created by God and we can’t lose sight of that…

” ‘I think everybody wants everybody to be happy and feel everybody has a right to that. Mistaking happiness for this, I think, though, is an incorrect way of understanding it.’ “

Some select bishops have followed Pope Francis’ lead away from the culture wars.  For example, Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland promised dialogue and healing after Oregon equalized marriage rights. But statements like this is the exception to the rule that America’s hierarchy remains obsessed with stopping the expansion of rights to LGBT people. The U.S. bishops as a whole reaffirmed their decision to focus on marriage equality opposition during United States Conference of Catholic Bishops meetings in June , seeming to ignore Pope Francis altogether in their agenda and decisions.

Kevin Eckstrom, editor of Religion News Service lays out five reasons why marriage equality is inevitable in the National Catholic Reporter.  One of the main ones, he says, is the influence of LGBT-affirming faith communities and leaders. We can assuredly count the majority of US Catholics standing up for LGBT rights in this group. Instead of continuing to spend tremendous resources in their failed fight against marriage equality, and causing ongoing pastoral damage,  America’s bishops need to have that reality check. Lefebvre offers a few suggestions on where they could go from here:

“The church could spend more time and resources figuring out how to deal with the reality that people (including Catholics) will continue to have legal same-sex marriages. Church teaching is clear that gay people have full human dignity, even though church teaching is just as clear that the sacrament of marriage is meant for one man and one woman. But wouldn’t it be better for the church to acknowledge what’s happening, namely that legally recognized same-sex marriage is a reality in many states and that it will likely one day be legal nationwide? By, say, figuring out ways to effectively minister to gay couples, or to welcome children of same-sex parents into Catholic school?

“These are real issues that the church faces now and will continue to face in the future. Pretty soon, it could be time for a reality check from the church.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Religious and Political Leaders Ask Archbishop to Stay Away from NOM

June 15, 2014

Today, Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco will be visiting several parishes to ask them to sign a petition asking that city’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone not to speak at an anti-marriage equality rally in Washington, DC, later this month.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

The petition (organized by Faithful America) is a part of a campaign to ask Cordileone to stay away from the National Organization for Marriage’s (NOM) rally on Thursday, June 19th.  The event is being supported by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Cordileone is the chair of the conference’s Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.  The rally is co-sponsored by the anti-gay Family Research Council.

A separate part of the campaign was a letter sent to the Cordileone signed by over 80 California politicians and national religious and community leaders, asking him to refrain from participating in the event.  The Los Angeles Times reported on some of the substance of the letter:

“If he attends as scheduled, they [the letter signers] noted, he will be ‘marching and sharing the podium’ with individuals who ‘have repeatedly denigrated lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.’ . . .

“By standing alongside those participants and organizers, ‘you appear to be endorsing their troubling words and deeds, which directly contradict the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral teaching that “God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual. God’s love is always and everywhere offered to those who are open to receiving it,” ‘  they wrote.”

Among the Catholic signers of the letter are Francis DeBernardo, executive director, New Ways Ministry; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, DignityUSA, Jim FitzGerald, executive director, Call To Action; Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry and coordinator for the National Coalition of American Nuns; Jody Huckaby, Executive Director, PFLAG National; Mary E. Hunt, Co-Founder/Director, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER).

The entire text of the letter can be read here.

At the USCCB’s national meeting this week, Cordileone re-affirmed his commitment to anti-marriage equality work and to participation in the conference.  According to The National Catholic Reporter:

“Pointing to the recent string of state same-sex marriage bans struck down by federal judges, Cordileone said the country was at a ‘critical point.’

” ‘An amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the only remedy in law against judicial activism,’ he said.

“The San Francisco archbishop also announced he would be attend the second annual March for Marriage in Washington, D.C., June 19. The march is organized by the National Organization for Marriage, a group advocating for legal recognition for marriage as only between one man and one woman.”

The letter to Cordileone also appeals to the example of Pope Francis:

“While not all of us agree with official Catholic teaching on marriage and family, we appreciate the many statements from Catholic leaders defending the human dignity of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, especially the recent words of Pope Francis: ‘If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?’

“Pope Francis words echo the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that lesbian and gay people ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’ “

If Archbishop Cordileone does decide to speak at this event, he would do well to distance himself from the negative rhetoric of NOM by speaking up for the Catholic principles of “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” for lesbian and gay people.  While it might be best if he avoided the event, if he speaks forthrightly for the human dignity and equality of lesbian and gay people, he can turn this potentially negative event into a positive one.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

LGBTQ Nation: “Calif. officials, community leaders urge Archbishop not to attend anti-gay rally.”

Sister Maureen Fiedler, National Catholic Reporter blog: “San Francisco archbishop under fire for plan to speak at March for Marriage”

Huffington Post: “San Francisco Archbishop Outrages Community With Plans To Join Anti-Gay Rally”

San Diego Gay and Lesbian News: “Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone petitioned to not march with anti-gay hate groups”


Are Latino Catholics Leaving Catholicism Because of Anti-LGBT Messages?

June 12, 2014

We’ve often commented on this blog about how negative sentiments expressed by Church leaders toward LGBT people harms not only the LGBT community, but the entire Church as a whole.  As more and more Catholics accept the full equality of LGBT people in church and society, negative statements, policies, and practices from those in authority are causing more and more Catholics to leave the institution.

One of the most significant populations in American Catholicism currently are Latino people, since they make up such a large section of the church community.  Yet it seems that while Latinos make up a large portion of the church in the U.S.,  Catholicism is losing its position as the predominant religious affiliation among Latinos. A recent report from Pew Research shows that many Latinos are leaving Catholicism, and it seems that one of the reasons could be because of their support of LGBT people.

First, let’s look at Pew’s statistics.  Pat Perriello in The National Catholic Reporter summarized some of Pew’s most important findings:

“The data from the Pew survey raises some significant issues. The first of these issues has to do with the large number of Latinos who are abandoning Catholicism. In 2010, 67% of Latinos identified themselves as Catholics. That figure is now down to 55%. This change represents a drop of 12 percentage points in just four years.

“A significant percentage of these Latinos are joining Evangelical churches, but there is also a considerable number of Latinos that are simply unaffiliated. Evangelical Latinos are now 16% of the total population while 18% are unaffiliated. About 6% are joining mainline Protestant denominations.

“The exodus seems particularly acute among the young. While a trend persists among foreign born Latinos to join Evangelical communities, this does not appear to hold with those in the 18-29 age group. This group is moving more and more toward no religious affiliation. Less than half of Hispanics (45%) under the age of 30 are now Catholic.”

According to Pew’s report, Latino Catholics tend to leave the church in large part due to disagreement with church teachings:

“Latinos who have left the Catholic Church are especially likely to say that an important reason was that they stopped believing in its teachings; 63% of former Catholics who are now unaffiliated and 57% of former Catholics who are now Protestants give this reason for having left the church.”

We’ve reported before on the growing majority of Latinos, and Latino Catholics in particular, who support LGBT issues, including marriage equality, and the Pew report confirms those findings:

“Like the U.S. public as a whole, Latinos have become more inclined to favor same-sex marriage in recent years; support among Latinos has risen from 30% in 2006 to 46% in 2013. However, there still are sizable differences in views about same-sex marriage among Hispanic religious groups. Religiously unaffiliated Hispanics favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally by a roughly four-to-one margin (67% to 16%). Hispanic Protestants tilt in the opposite direction, with evangelical Protestants much more inclined to oppose same-sex marriage (66% opposed, 19% in favor). Hispanic Catholics fall in between, though more say they favor same-sex marriage (49%) than oppose it (30%). Mainline Protestants are closely divided on the issue, with nearly four-in-ten (37%) opposed to same-sex marriage and 44% in favor. These differences among Hispanic religious groups are largely in keeping with patterns found among the same religious groups in the general public.”

So is support for same-gender marriage part of the reason that Latinos are leaving Catholicism?  It seems likely that it is at least one of the factors and very likely an important one.  I think it is very relevant that when Latinos leave Catholicism, a large portion of them, particularly the younger ones, do not go to the Evangelical churches, which, on the whole, tend to be strongly negative about LGBT issues.  We know from other reports that the younger generation tends to be skeptical about any religious institution that does not welcome and embrace LGBT issues.

On a related note, a recent Gallup poll confirmed that the American population as a whole accepts gay and lesbian relationships as morally acceptable, with 58% of the respondents categorizing them as “largely acceptable.”  For comparison, the largest item in the “largely acceptable” category was divorce, with 69%.

The fact that church authorities do not recognize the pastoral harm done by negative statements is particularly troubling.  No church leader should make any statement without considering how it will be heard by the diverse audiences that exist in the church and outside it as well.

While I agree that church teaching should not be decided by simple majorities, I think that if I were a bishop, I would want to at least understand why so many Catholics find negative statements about LGBT issues so distasteful.   If bishops did ask the faithful about their views, I think the leaders would learn a lot about how lived experience helps faith to grow in new ways.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Edie Windsor Is “Thrilled” with Pope Francis’ Famous Comment

June 9, 2014

 

Edie Windsor

Edie Windsor, the lesbian woman who was the plaintiff in the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, has made a statement that she is “thrilled” with Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?”

Gay Star News reported on Windsor’s comments:

‘ ‘His bully pulpit has a great deal of meaning,’ Windsor said this week in an interview with HuffPost Live.

“‘I was in Provincetown, (Massachusetts), the day the papers said the quote of the Pope as saying, “Who am I to judge?” I went around people’s tables at the breakfast saying, “Did you see this? Will you imagine this?”‘ “

Windsor was especially touched by how the pope’s comments will affect parents of LGBT people:

” ‘Right now, it thrills me,’ Windsor said of the Pope’s words. ‘I think of all the serious Catholic mothers who felt freed when he said that – free to love their kids.’ “

Windsor is both wrong and right.   While it is true that the pope’s comments will help many Catholic parents and families,  there have been many such families who have already accepted and loved their LGBT children.  The work of the Fortunate Families ministry has been supporting, instructing, and encouraging Catholic parents for over ten years now.  Indeed, as we’ve noted before, Catholic parents of LGBT people are already some of the strongest advocates for LGBT justice and equality in church and society.

Where Windsor is very right, though, is in the fact that Pope Francis’ comment, as simple and offhand as it was, can have tremendous impact on the church.  In addition to Catholic parents who may be confused about what their religion might say about LGBT people, many others in the church have been powerfully moved by the pope’s remarks.  Back in the fall of 2013, we commented on how even though his statement did not change doctrine about same-gender relationships, it does have an impact on the tone of church leaders and can strongly affect attitudes of church people, which in turn will affect practice, and in turn, again, eventually affect doctrine.

What we do hope and pray for, though, is that Pope Francis will make clearer and more explicit welcoming statements about LGBT issues, and that he will encourage some of the U.S. bishops to do likewise.   The October Vatican Synod on Marriage and Family is one step that has great potential for the pope to be more affirming.  The World Meeting of Families, sponsored by the Vatican and taking place in Philadelphia in September 2015, will also be another one.  If you are interested in joining pro-LGBT Catholic families as pilgrims to this event, click here, to see what the Equally Blessed coalition (of which New Ways Ministry is a member)  is planning.

Most importantly,  Pope Francis could do the church a great favor by speaking out right now against discriminatory employment contracts that several U.S. dioceses are enacting that negatively impact LGBT people and allies.   And, as we’ve been encouraging for months now, he needs to speak out about the enactment of laws which criminalize homosexuality, which have been legislated in several countries around the globe and contemplated by others.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related post

March 28, 2013:Catholic Activists Helped Bring Marriage Equality Case to the Supreme Court”

 


On Being a Lesbian, Married to a Man, and Catholic

June 5, 2014

Cristina Traina

Cristina Traina is a Catholic professor of religion at Northwestern University, just outside of Chicago.  She is also a lesbian. She is also the wife of a male Lutheran minister and the mother of three grown children who have all become Methodists.

In an interview with the La Grange Sun-Times recently, Traina spoke of her faith life, her affective life, and the life of the Catholic Church.

Though her family and faith situation may not be run-of-the-mill (but then again, whose is?) Traina has experienced many of the familiar challenges that many Catholic LGBT people and allies experience.  For example, there’s the age-old question of being simultaneously Catholic and LGBT.

Q: You identify as gay—how did your struggle with sexuality overlap with your struggle with religion? Because especially the Roman Catholic Church has very strong opinions about being gay.

Traina: Interestingly, I didn’t have a big religious struggle about it. One of the reasons is that I grew up in a very strangely wonderful Catholic community as a child …

In my opinion, the church was the community. The church was the people that were gathered around, celebrating Mass, interested in each other’s lives, helping each others children grow up, dealing with each other’s griefs. So, when I decided to come out, my church was still my community.

Questions like that for Traina also go beyond the obvious “How can you be gay and Catholic?” since she identifies as a lesbian and remains married to a man:

Q: . . .[H]ow can you be gay, Catholic and married to a man? I think that’s my essential question.

Traina: Ah. Well, gay, Catholic and married to a man … It’s because we had a long, wonderful relationship all the way along. We’ve raised children together, we’re very close to each other, and we’re big promoters of each other’s worlds and activities. And there’s no way that I ever wanted to be separated from him.

It wasn’t the question of, “Oh gee, I want a divorce.” It is how do I manage to be a lesbian and be married to a man? Right? And that has been the journey, but it has been important for me to surround myself with really wonderful women who are of various sexual orientations. And who are wonderful supports. And that has been just key.

But reconciling faith and sexuality is also a different question than why one remains within a faith tradition.  Traina’s thoughts are instructive:

Q: But then why stay in the Roman Catholic Church? Because there are plenty of other denominations who are more understanding.

Traina: That is what my kids wonder as well. “Mom, why are you Catholic?” Right? This is the question.

After a certain point, you look around, and you say, “Well, they don’t really need an ethicist who thinks it’s OK to be gay in the Episcopalian Church. Well they might in Nigeria, but they don’t in the United States. So I hang out here, for that reason.

Q: So is it changed from within? Is that what you are advocating?

Traina: Yes, I am advocating change from within because, change from without generally ends up being fracture. Right? And there are a lot of things that I really value about my religious tradition, which I wouldn’t want to lose.

Long-time readers of Bondings 2.0 may remember Traina’s involvement in the Illinois Catholics for Marriage Equality movement last fall when that state was debating, and eventually passed, a marriage equality law.  We featured an op-ed she wrote on the proposed law.   In the recent interview, Traina reflects on the issue of marriage equality:

Q: Regarding homosexuality, Pope Francis was recently reported as saying, “Who am I to judge?” What is your take on that? What is the direction we are going?

Traina: Well, we have to remember that when we are talking about the Roman Catholic Church’s direction, we need to take our vitamins and think in terms of centuries.

Roman Catholicism has expanded its understanding of human rights, significantly, over a long period of time. Right? And the right to marry is one of the civil rights that we are talking about, and it is also begun to understand sexuality differently over time.

And so it is pretty likely that very soon Roman Catholics will be able to accept and deal with the idea of same sex marriage, because same sex marriage, is after all, being proposed as a civil function, not a religious one. It’s going to take Roman Catholics a very long time to get to the point of accepting same sex marriage as a sacrament.

For me, Traina’s story illustrates the wonderful diversity and complexity of love, sexuality, and commitment, as well as some of the many and varied reasons that people remain Catholic even though it sometimes seems that doing so is an impossible struggle.

You can watch the full interview of Traina below:

 

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Commonweal, Catholicism, and Same-Sex Marriage, Part 2

June 1, 2014

Yesterday, we introduced this two-part series on Commonweal magazine’s continued conversation about Joseph Bottum’s 2013 essay entitled“The Things We Share:A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage.” Commonweal asked two writers with opposing points of view to respond to Bottum’s essay.  Yesterday, we examined the conservative pundit’s point of view, expressed by Ross Douthat of The New York Times.  Today, we will look at the progressive response, offered by Jamie Manson of The National Catholic Reporter.

You can read Douthat’s complete remarks here, and Manson’s complete remarks here.  Bottum’s reply to both of them can be read here.

It should come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I have a much more favorable view of Manson’s take on Bottum’s essay than I did of Douthat’s.  Manson’s main argument is one that New Ways Ministry strongly shares.  She states:

“. . . I think American Catholics can and should accept recognition of same-sex marriage because they are Catholics. The church should revise its attitude toward same-sex relationships not simply because the culture is moving in that direction—which by itself, as Bottum says, is no reason to alter any moral teaching—but because it has become clear that that what the church teaches about homosexuality is not true.”

That argument, which is seemingly simple, is packed with history and faith. Catholics, who now overwhelmingly support marriage equality, are doing so because of their faith, not in spite of it.  Their faith journeys of the last few decades, largely ignored by the hierarchy, have led them to understand sexuality and relationships in new ways.  They have come to recognize that so many myths and stereotypes that they have had about lesbian and gay people are false.  Unfortunately, church teaching has not quite yet caught up with this new faith reality.

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Manson illustrates this new reality nicely:

“Anyone with an experience of loving same-sex relationships will find unpersuasive the Catholic teaching that such relationships are sinful by their very nature because only sex acts that have the potential to create new life are licit.

“Such a strict interpretation of natural law reduces human beings to their biological functions, and fails to appreciate persons in their totality as the emotional, spiritual, and physical beings that God created us to be. Most of us have realized that the potential to procreate does not by itself lead to the flourishing of married couples.”

The insistence of so many of the church’s bishops to listen to the lived faith of gay and lesbian people, to examine new research on sexuality, to dialogue with family members of sexual and gender minorities is truly a great scandal in our church.  This resistance has caused great damage to LGBT people, but it has also caused much damage to the bishops who continue to ignore this reality.  These clerics are missing out on an amazing development of faith in the world.  Manson seems to recognize this idea when she states:

“The growing acceptance of same-sex relationships and the push for same-sex marriage is not, I would argue, a sign that reality needs re-enchanting, but a sign that our culture may be more receptive to a challenging spiritual vision of married love and commitment than Bottum suspects.”

It is in accepting, not in rejecting, same-sex couples’ commitments that the church and the world can be renewed.   Manson makes this point in her conclusion.  Having discussed witnessing a same-sex marriage ceremony in New York City, and having noted her own plans to marry her lesbian partner, Manson states:

“It may take centuries before the Catholic hierarchy recognizes that marriages like the one I witnessed in the park, or the one I hope to enter, are holy unions with the potential to bring the life of God more fully into our world. But just as most of our culture has already concluded that same-sex relationships are equally deserving of protection under the law, for many Catholics the question of whether gays and lesbians are capable of living the vocation of marriage is already settled.”

Douthat’s and Bottum’s disappointment that the Catholic hierarchy has lost the debate on same-sex marriage could easily be turned around if they would understand that though the hierarchy may have lost, the entire church has actually “won” because we have all gained so much by the fact that marriage equality is spreading rapidly.  The true loss for the hierarchy will be if they persist in their refusal to listen.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related resources:

Bondings 2.0: Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation” by Professor Lisa Fullam

Marriage Equality:  A Positive Catholic Approach by Francis DeBernardo

 

 

 


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