Should Civil Marriage Be Separated from Sacramental Marriage?

November 25, 2014

Conservative religious leaders, including some Catholics, have imitated an action that many pro-marriage equality advocates have used successfully:  they have pledged not to perform civil marriage ceremonies until their view of marriage is accepted by the state.

According to an article in Crux, the conservative Catholic opinion journal First Things has posted “The Marriage Pledge” on their website, which is a statement by Christian ministers who agree not to perform the civil aspect of wedding ceremonies (i.e., not signing the marriage licesnse) until same-gender marriage is revoked.  The pledge states, in part:

“. . . [I]n our roles as Christian ministers, we, the undersigned, commit ourselves to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties. We will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage. We will no longer sign government-provided marriage certificates. We will ask couples to seek civil marriage separately from their church-related vows and blessings. We will preside only at those weddings that seek to establish a Christian marriage in accord with the principles ­articulated and lived out from the beginning of the Church’s life.”

What I find most interesting about this stand is that in many states across our nation, pro-marriage equality ministers took a similar pledge as they were advocating for the state to adopt marriage for lesbian and gay couples.  The pro-marriage equality pastors pledged to not sign any marriage licenses for any couple until marriage was extended equally to all couples.

When opponents adopt the same strategy to achieve opposite ends, something must be happening.

I think that “something” is a growing consensus on the idea that marriage in the U.S. should be separated from religious institutions.  In other words,  civil marriages would only be performed by government officials, and not religious leaders, who currently are authorized to do so.  If a couple chooses to have a religious ceremony in addition to the civil ceremony, they are free to do so, though the religious ceremony by itself would not be legally recognized.  As many people are aware, this is how marriage is conducted in many European countries.

Some pro-marriage equality advocates, including Catholics, have been advocating for this distinction for a long time.  In addition to being intuitively fairer, this situation also helps to clear up  the muddy interaction that religious and government institutions have about the definition of marriage.  In that sense, such a distinction supports marriage equality.

One major problem that marriage equality advocates have had is that some people see marriage as a mixture of civil and religious ideas, and so the thought of changing even just the civil part of marriage makes them fear that the religious part of marriage will change, too.  Separating the two institutions thus paves the way for the state to democratically decide who should be allowed to marry, and for religious institutions to decide who they want to marry according to their own definitions.

There has already been a discussion of this separation from Catholic advocates on both sides of the marriage equality question.  Back in July 2013,  Bondings 2.0 carried two connected posts exploring the debate.  The first was by Jesuit law professor, Fr. Frank Brennan, who advocated for such a separation as a way to allow lesbian and gay couples to marry:

“It is high time to draw a distinction between a marriage recognised by civil law and a sacramental marriage. In deciding whether to expand civil marriage to the union of two persons of the same gender, legislators should have regard not just for the well-being of same sex couples and the children already part of their family units, but also for the well-being of all future children who may be affected, as well as the common good of society in setting appropriate contours for legally recognised relationships. . . .

“It would be just and a service to the common good for the State to give some recognition and support to committed, faithful, long-term relationships between gay couples deserving dignity, being able to love and support each other in sickness and in health, until death they do part.”

Arguing for the same distinction, but for an opposite purpose, was the Archdiocese of Washington’s Msgr. Charles Pope, a pastor, who said:

“It is a simple fact that word ‘marriage’ as we have traditionally known it is being redefined in our times. To many in the secular world the word no longer means what it once did and when the Church uses the word marriage we clearly do not mean what the increasing number of states mean.”

After giving an interpretation of why he thought such a redefinition took place, he stated:

“So the bottom line is that what the secular world means by the word ‘marriage’ is not even close to what the Church means. The secular world excluded every aspect of what the Church means by marriage. Is it time for us to accept this and start using a different word? Perhaps it is, and I would like to propose what I did back in March of 2010, that we return to an older term and hear what you think.

I propose that we should exclusively refer to marriage in the Church as ‘Holy Matrimony.’ ” [emphasis, his]

Interestingly, Msgr. Pope called for exactly the type of protest that First Things is now encouraging:

“A secondary but related proposal is that we begin to consider getting out of the business of having our clergy act as civil magistrates in weddings. Right now we clergy in most of America sign the civil license and act, as such, as partners with the State. But with increasing States interpreting marriage so differently, can we really say we are partners? Should we even give the impression of credibility to the State’s increasingly meaningless piece of paper? It may remain the case that the Catholic faithful, for legal and tax reasons may need to get a civil license, but why should clergy have anything to do with it?

The Crux article cited other examples of this type of proposal in the last few years, from both liberals and conservatives, Catholic and Protestant:

The concept that civil and religious marriage should be separate is not entirely novel. At US Catholic, columnist Bryan Cones has asked, “Is it time to separate church and state marriages?” And writer Len Woolley raised similar questions at the Mormon-run Deseret News. . . But the idea isn’t just limited to conservatives.

Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, proposed the idea as early as 2009. By 2011, three North Carolina church pastors and at least one in Virginia quit signing marriage licenses as a way of opposing state bans on same-sex marriages they felt violated their conscience.

And in July of this year, Paul Waldman argued at The American Prospect, a liberal publication, that religious couples should fill out state-mandated marriage forms and then have the religious ceremony of their choosing. “The wedding, in other words, should be a ritual with no content prescribed by the state, no ‘By the power vested in me by the state of Indiana’ at all.”

Waldman added: “The state doesn’t tell you how to celebrate Christmas or Ramadan, and it shouldn’t tell you how to get married.”

Such an interesting development!  What do you think?  Should marriage be separated into civil and religious institutions?  Leave your ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Ethika Politika:  The Marriage Pledge: Black, White, and Red All Over”

 


To Answer “What Is Marriage Now?” Lesbian & Gay Couples Must Be Included

November 15, 2014

These days, it is rare indeed that I read an argument about marriage equality that doesn’t remind me of other arguments that I’ve read in the past.  It seems that we have kind of reached the saturation point for arguments on this issue, having discussed this topic seriously for well over a decade now.

That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised to read Gerald W. Schlabach’s essay, “What Is Marriage Now?  A Pauline Case for Same-Sex Marriage,” in The Christian Century this week. His essay deserves to be read in its entirety (which you can do so by clicking here), but in this blog post, I will try to highlight a few of what I think are the most insightful parts of his thinking.

Schlabach, who is a Catholic professor of moral theology at the University of Thomas in Minnesota, develops the idea that allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry will strengthen marriage for all couples, and will do so because such an extension of the marriage institution will help us understand what is its essence. His thesis is:

“Extending the blessings of marriage to same-sex couples by recognizing their lifelong unions fully as marriage could allow the church to speak all the more clearly to what deeply and rightly concerns those who seek to uphold the sanctity of marriage.”

He uses as his jumping off point St. Paul’s famous line about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 that “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” or as it is more commonly quoted from the King James translation “It is better to marry than to burn.”

One of the many things which make his argument unique is that he argues acknowledges the social power that marriage has in stabilizing individuals and society, as well as acknowledging the beauty of sexual expression and its importance in a couple’s overall sense of intimacy.

Schlabach doesn’t argue from the more common, progressive position of justice and equality, but states, instead:

“. . . . [S]ome of the best reasons to support same-sex marriage turn out to be deeply conservative ones. This suggests how the Pauline remark might provide the church with a framework for proclaiming a message of good news for all sides. It offers good news for those who are deeply concerned that we continue to hallow the institution of marriage as the only appropriate place for intimate sexual union. And it offers good news for those who are deeply concerned that people of same-sex orientation be allowed equal opportunity to flourish as human beings—that the covenanted bonds of sexual intimacy play just as much of a role in their lives.”

Gerald Schlabach

Schlabach’s interpretation of St. Paul’s admonition is a very insightful one, that raises the remark above a simple denigration of lust.  He looks at the key words as metaphors for deeper understandings about the power of marriage, beyond a cure for concupiscence:

“ ‘To burn’ may stand for all the ways that we human beings, left to ourselves, live only for ourselves, our own pleasures, and our own survival. By contrast, ‘to marry’ may signal the way that all of us (even those who do so in a vocation of lifelong celibacy) learn to bend our desires away from ourselves, become vulnerable to the desires of others, and bend toward the service of others.”

Schlabach upholds St. Augustine’s ideas about the three “goods” of marriage: permanence, faithfulness, and fruitfulness, yet he expands these beyond the more traditional understandings:

“Christian interpreters today may continue to see procreation and child rearing as the prototypical expression of fruitfulness, but not as the only one. Every Christian marriage should face outward in hospitality and service to others.

“Together with permanence, therefore, faithfulness has come to stand for all the ways that couples bind their lives together. Spouses do not practice faithfulness only by giving their bodies exclusively to one another in sexual intimacy, but by together changing dirty diapers and washing dirty dishes, by promising long and tiring care amid illness and aging, by offering small favors on very ordinary days.”

These new understandings of these “goods” can be easily applied to lesbian and gay couples as they are to heterosexual ones. Perhaps the most important part of his essay is in his understanding that traditional views about marriage are not for heterosexual couples only.

Schlabach takes traditionalists to task for equating homosexuality with the current licentious sexual mores of “contingency,” engaging in sex when it is convenient, like making a consumer choice.  He also challenges the progressive arguments which make marriage, in the words of writer David Brooks, seem like “a really good employee benefits plan.”

Instead the moral theology professor discerns a more important definition of marriage which is based on intimate relationship, not sexual convenience or economic advantage:

“Marriage can and should remain a covenant and a forming of the one flesh of kinship, rather than a mere contract forming a mere partnership. . . .

“Marriage will indeed be subject to endless reinvention unless we recognize it as more than a contract. Instead we should recognize and insist that marriage is the communally sealed bond of lifelong intimate mutual care between two people that creates humanity’s most basic unit of kinship, thus allowing human beings to build sustained networks of society.”

This view of marriage allows him to see the beauty and power of sexual expression, not procreation as the main force which establishes a couple’s union:

“Procreation will always be the prototypical sign of a widening kinship network. But as spouses in any healthy marriage know, including infertile ones, kinship is already being formed in tender, other-directed sexual pleasuring. Such pleasure bonds a couple by promising and rewarding all the other ways of being together in mutual care and service through days, years, and decades.”

Schabach concludes his essay with advice to pastoral leaders:

“. . .[T]he church and its leaders need great pastoral wisdom to do two things simultaneously:

  • Walk back from the culture of contingency by explaining and insisting in fresh ways that God intends for active sexuality to belong uniquely to marriage.
  • Work compassionately with those who have embraced the relative fidelity of cohabitation, even if they have not yet moved to embrace a covenant of marriage or a vocation of celibacy.

“If we aim for these two goals, Christians will be better able to speak clearly and work energetically because together we’ll affirm that marriage is good—for everyone.”

His advice would be important for bishops at next year’s synod on marriage and the family to consider.

If your appetite has been whetted for a new understanding of marriage and the marriage equality debate, I strongly recommend that you read Schlabach’s essay in its entirety by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Two Sacramental Stories Show How Divided Our Church Is By LGBT Issues

November 7, 2014

Two stories from London’s Tablet magazine show how far our Church has come on LGBT issues, and also how far we yet have to go.

One story reports on a parish priest in Bürglen, Switzerland, who blessed a lesbian couple’s relationship in a public ceremony in the parish church.  The Tablet  said it was “a service closely resembling a marriage ceremony.”

In the short article, Fr. Wendelin Bucheli explained his rationale for granting the couple’s request that their partnership be blessed:

“The question he had asked himself and those he consulted was, ‘Can I perform this blessing in the name of God and is it God’s will?’ The conclusion he had come to was, ‘As animals, cars and even weapons are blessed nowadays, why should it not be possible to bless a couple who want to go their way with God?’ ‘As for the form [of the service], this blessing was not very different from a church marriage [ceremony],’ he added.”

The story reminds us of the growing trend of positive statements and regard that many church leaders, including some high-ranking cardinals and bishops, have been exhibiting over the past few years.  It is also reminiscent of the Bondings 2.0 post a couple of months ago which described a New York City parish bulletin affirming the 44-year relationship of a lesbian couple who are parishioners.

The positive vibes of this Swiss story, though, are somewhat dampened by the fact that another Tablet story recently described the experience of a gay Catholic man who was denied absolution during the sacrament of reconciliation because of his sexuality.  Aaron Saunderson-Cross, a 29 year-old gay Catholic in an eight year-old committed relationship, was denied absolution during one of his regular experiences of the sacrament of reconciliation.  He describes the occurrence:

“For the first time ever, the priest refused me absolution. The experience left me angered, saddened and confused.

“I accept the irregularity of my situation as existing outside of the Church’s normative structures of family life and yet I am resolved, by God’s grace in the life of ‘complete continence’ (Familiaris Consortio 84), to live out my call to holiness as detailed in Lumen Gentium.

“It is always difficult when visiting a new confessor and language so often fails in our feeble attempts to give a full account of the complexity of our lives . . .”

From the depth of reflection that Saunderson-Cross, who converted to Catholicism five years ago, expresses in his blog post, it is obvious that he has studiously and prayerfully informed and resolved his conscience.  One comment particularly stands out as he describes the confessor’s response to learning about the partnered relationship:

” [The] bonds of affection that are Providential in our redemption are less important to the homophobic mind than the presumption of our genital transgressions.”

The denial of absolution does not fit in with the more pastoral approach towards gay and lesbian Catholics that was promoted at the synod, particularly by London’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols.  Saunderson-Cross writes:

“I returned to that priest the next afternoon. He distinguished between being refused and deferred absolution, yet this distinction failed to acknowledge my relationship – in Cardinal Peter Erdo’s words from the recent Synod – in the ‘light of the law of graduality’ which Cardinal Nichols explains is a ‘law of pastoral moral theology which permits people, all of us, to take one step at a time in our search for holiness in our lives.’ The grace of sacramental absolution is ‘sweetness to the soul and health to the body’ (Proverbs 16:24) and necessary to the mental health of gay Catholics who labour in faith to integrate their lives to the perfect will of God.”

The story was resolved by the penitent returning to his regular confession to receive absolution.  The discouraging aspect of this story reminds us of so many times that LGBT Catholics are denied sacraments.  Pope Francis’ message of pastoral outreach and inclusion cannot be implemented soon enough.

Just like the synod of a few weeks ago, these two stories show how much opinion in our our Church is divided about LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Vatican Marriage Conference Can Endanger the Good Will Pope Francis Has Built

November 4, 2014

Any good will from gay and lesbian people that was won because of the open discussions at the recent extraordinary synod on marriage and the family will evaporate quickly if events like the one announced yesterday become the order of the day. The Vatican revealed that a major interfaith conference on complementarity in marriage will take place there on November 17-19 of this year.  The meeting is sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity are co-sponsors.

According to a Catholic News Service article on the America magazine website, the conference, entitled “Complementarity of Man and Woman,” will feature

“more than 30 speakers representing 23 countries and various Christian churches, as well as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism and Sikhism.”

Pope Francis will give an opening address at the meeting, and we will need  to listen closely to his remarks to see how strongly he defends the church’s traditional view of marriage, the place of complementarity in marriage, and what he might say about same-gender couples.  His remarks in the past on this topic have refreshingly avoided the harsh rhetoric against marriage equality that his predecessors frequently employed.  Speaking at a conference focused on such a pointed topic as complementarity will mean that his rhetoric needs to be very sophisticated if he wants to maintain his otherwise welcoming overtures to lesbian and gay people.  If his praise for complementarity becomes exclusive, he endangers the good will he has built up with LGBT Catholics over the past year and a half.

Of course, in and of itself, a conference on finding ways to support heterosexual marriage is not a bad idea.  But focusing on complementarity, and holding it up as the only ideal for intimate relationships, places same-gender relationships in an inferior position. Moreover, complementarity has been widely criticized as a sexist idea since it reinforces traditional gender roles which put women in inferior positions.  Support heterosexual couples in their marital commitments:  Yes.  Support complementarity as a goal and requirement of marriage: No.

Crux.com’s Inés San Martín explained how “complementarity” is a loaded term in contemporary church discussions:

“Complementarity comes up frequently in Catholic circles as part of the intellectual basis for opposing same-sex marriage, on the grounds that the natural differences between men and women reflect the divine plan for marriage as a union between the two sexes. Given that many of the flash points at the synod revolved around homosexuality and marriage, the agenda for the looming conference seems destined to bring them back to the fore.

“Complementarity has also been invoked by recent popes to defend the Church’s ban on women priests, on the grounds that men and women play different but equally important roles in Catholicism.”

But what makes this conference particularly disappointing is that Vatican leaders have invited representatives from other faiths to come and present their views on marriage, yet the Catholic hierarchy has yet to have a public and serious discussion with members of their own church who have views on marriage which differ from the traditional heterosexual model.   A Religion News Service story on The National Catholic Reporter website described the background of some of those who are invited:

“. . . [T]he conference will include Muslim and Jewish representatives, as well as American leading evangelicals like megachurch pastor Rick Warren and Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore.Organizers say the new conference will show that while the Catholic hierarchy is split on how to address contemporary challenges to marriage and family life, the church can nonetheless seek common ground with religious leaders outside the Vatican. . . .

” ‘I am willing to go anywhere, when asked, to bear witness to what we as evangelical Protestants believe about marriage and the gospel, especially in times in which marriage is culturally imperiled,’ said Moore, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. . . .

“The conference will include Wael Farouq, a Muslim and president of the Tawasul Cultural Center in Cairo; Henry B. Eyring, an top-ranking apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and Manmohan Singh of the World Sikh Council.”

The Catholic News Service story detailed more of the participants:

“. . . Mercy Sister Prudence Allen, former chair of the philosophy department at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, whom Pope Francis named to the International Theological Commission in September.

“Other notable speakers will include Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of Great Britain, and Anglican Bishops N.T. Wright and Michael Nazir-Ali.”

Crux.com also mentioned two more participants: Jacqueline Cooke-Rivers, a doctoral fellow in African and African-American Studies at Harvard University, and Johann Christoph Arnold, a pastor with the Bruderhof Communities.

Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, who will host the September 2015 World Meeting of Families, will also be a speaker.  After the synod, Chaput had commented on that meeting, stating: “I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was of confusion.”   Given his strong opposition to the synod’s more open discussions, it makes one wonder if this event will be used to repudiate any of the more positive messages that came out of  the bishops’ discussions last month.

Conference organizers say that the conference’s purpose is to

“examine and propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman, in order to support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society.”

Helen Alvare, a Catholic commentator known for her conservative positions, is the spokesperson for the event, and she told Crux.com that she sees the meeting is being very much in line with Pope Francis’ call for wide discussion:

“For Alvare, the exchange is an answer to Pope Francis’ call to ‘look, listen, face reality, [and] get people from around the world to tell us their situation.’

“ ‘I know I’m not seeing things,’ she said. ‘With his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and his final speech at the synod, he’s telling us to open the dialogue. Solidarity between religions and cultures is possible.’ “

If Pope Francis truly wants to open the dialogue, he should host a Vatican meeting to listen to and interact with LGBT Catholics and other advocates of marriage equality to hear their points of view.  Hosting a conference for those who agree with the church’s traditional view of marriage is not something new and it is not something needed.  Vatican officials, and the world, have heard that position over and over and over.  Opening the dialogue would occur if the all points of view were heard.  And solidarity with conservative religious leaders is less important than solidarity with LGBT Catholics and their supporters, who have been asking for a dialogue with the Catholic hierarchy for decades now.

At the conclusion of the conference, participants will issue a “Declaration on Marriage.”  Key to this document will be how it describes and evaluates same-gender couples and marriage equality laws.  Even though the Vatican is not ready to recognize same-gender couples, they should still be able to find a way to support heterosexual couples without relying on devaluing lesbian/gay relationships, or promoting sexist notions of complementarity.

Pope Francis, known for outreach and reconciliation, may have his work cut out for himself after this conference is over.  His best option is to give equal time to at least Catholic advocates who are working to ensure that all couples and families that are based on loving relationships are recognized and blessed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Christianity Today: Pope Francis Wants To Know What Rick Warren, Russell Moore, N. T. Wright Think about Marriage”

 

 

 

 


Synod Final Report Disappoints, But Significant Progress Is Made In the Process

October 18, 2014

The synod on marriage and family has released its final report.  You can read it by clicking here, though, so far, it has only been released in Italian. (Try Google Translate or another translation program.)  The passages on lesbian and gay issues are numbers 55 and 56.

The following is the statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, responding to the final report of the synod on marriage and the family:

The synod’s final report significantly backtracks on LGBT issues from the draft released earlier this week, but the synod’s process and openness to discussion provides hope for further development down the road, particularly at next year’s synod, where the make-up of the participants will be larger and more diverse, including many more pastorally-oriented bishops.

It’s very disappointing that the Synod’s final report did not retain the gracious welcome to lesbian and gay people that the draft of the report included.  Instead, the bishops have taken a narrow view of pastoral care by defining it simply as opposition to marriage for same-gender couples. Additionally, their further comment about supposed “international pressure” to accept same-gender marriage selfishly views the hierarchy as the victims, not LGBT people who receive unjust and oppressive treatment by governments, church, families, and society.

Pastoral care should focus on for LGBT people as total human beings, many of whom have suffered significant alienation and personal harm, and not just as sexual beings.  Pastoral care should also focus on the gifts that LGBT people bring to the Church, something that the earlier draft highlighted.

One major error the bishops made in the final report was to quote the Vatican’s 2003 document condemning same-gender marriage, which referred to adoption by gay and lesbian couples as a form of “violence” toward the children.  Such language is pastorally harmful and destructive to any welcome to lesbian and gay people.

It’s important, however, to keep two things in mind.  First, the paragraphs on homosexuality which did not receive the required 2/3rds vote, and which were more welcoming of LGBT people, failed by only a handful of votes, indicating significant support from a majority of bishops. Second, this report is not the final word, but as a Vatican spokesperson explained, it is still a working document which will be discussed in the coming year.

What was good about this two-week long meeting?  The real value of this synod is that it has started the discussion among the hierarchy on LGBT issues which has been going on for decades among the lay people and theologians in the Church.  The bishops began to catch up, and I don’t think that the discussion will stop here, but will only continue, with more promising outcomes for LGBT people and their families in the future.

It is not surprising that the paragraphs on lesbian and gay people proved to be among the most controversial of the synod’s proceedings.  The paragraphs on homosexuality were among those that received the lowest affirmative votes.  This result shows that there is still much to be examined and explored on LGBT issues in the Church.  Let’s hope and pray that at next year’s synod, the bishops will invite lesbian and gay people and couples to give their personal testimonies, so that the bishops can learn first-hand about their experiences of faith and love.

More importantly, though this synod revealed that there are some strong voices for LGBT equality and for change in church teaching, something which was not known clearly before the meeting.  Now that these voices have been bold enough to speak, more bishops who think like them will surely follow their example.  The biggest problem in the Church up to this point has not been lack of support among the hierarchy on LGBT issues, but lack of courage for those bishops to speak out what they truly think.  The silence has ended.  Nothing will be the same.

Between now and next year’s synod, the discussion in the Catholic Church–at all levels–on LGBT issues, as well as other issues of family and sexuality, will be more open and robust than it has ever been.  That is a very good thing!

New Ways Ministry is a 37-year old national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBT people and the wider Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


SYNOD: What Are the Laity Saying About the Synod? What Are You Saying?

October 2, 2014

This week, Bondings 2.0 highlighted a theologian’s and a bishop’s proposals for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on marriage and family life. Today, we ask you, our readers, what your hopes, fears, expectations, and proposals are — and encourage you to leave them in the ‘Comments’ section below.

In addition, we offer some ideas on the Synod from laity which have already been published elsewhere.  In many cases they are frequently framing the  question of LGBT issues with the question: are all welcome?

Valerie Schultz writes as the Catholic mother of a lesbian daughter, part of a series of “Family Portraits” written in advance of the Synod, in America magazine. Schultz offers wisdom for those bishops gathering in Rome, as well as explainin why she stays Catholic. Schultz believes ministers interacting with youth should be properly trained in “conscious sensitivity” because:

“Whether a catechist knows it or agrees with it or not, the fact is that some of his or her students are gay. They may be silently struggling. My daughter later related things that well-meaning Catholics had said and taught that wounded her in her adolescence. She believed that God must have made a mistake when creating her, that she was destined only for hell…My daughter heard the parishioners singing ‘all are welcome in this place,’ but she knew in her heart that some did not mean people like her. She still says that she did not leave the church; the church rejected her.”

As for Schultz’s own Catholic identity, it “has been battered.” She was nudged out of liturgical and catechetical ministries and refers to herself now as a “back-of-the-church Catholic.” Schultz’s husband became an Episcopalian, but she remains in the church because:

“I have been abundantly blessed by priests, religious and lay people who have ministered to me with love, which is something that the ‘micro’ church gets right, despite some of the ‘macro’ pronouncements from on high. A point I cannot emphasize enough and the synod must remember: the individual shepherds who actually smell like their sheep, as Pope Francis puts it, and who care for us where we are, are truly the saving grace of the church.”

In Crux, Michael O’Loughlin examines the question of lesbian and gay Catholics themselves and whether there is truly welcome for them in the Church. His article notes the split between the church’s teachings on homosexuality and the pastoral realities in local communities, where some bishops offer same-gender spousal benefits to church workers and baptize the children of LGBT people while others fire church workers and endorse criminalizing homosexuality.

O’Loughlin cites several LGBT people who found parish experiences to be extremely positive, with affirming support groups and accepting communities in whom they could be authentic and even bring their partner. This causes him to ask:

“So if parishes, where most Catholics live out their faith, seem to accept same-sex relationships, does the institutional church as well? Not necessarily.

” ‘I feel that in the Catholic Church as a whole, unfortunately, most gay people do not feel welcome,” said the Rev. Frederick Daley, pastor of All Saints, where the two Marks [two men interviewed for the article] worship.

“Why? Those interviewed pointed to a number of reasons, especially official church teaching that calls homosexuality ‘objectively disordered,’ as well as recent episodes of what they see as discrimination against gay Catholics. Those include the denial of sacraments to same-sex couples, high-profile firings of openly gay employees from Catholic schools and parishes, and continued vocal opposition to same-sex marriage from prominent church leaders. Earlier this summer, a retired Cardinal compared homosexuality to high blood pressure, a condition, he said, that could be cured.”

There is hope, however, in the person and actions of Pope Francis whose famous “Who am I to judge?” remark and other comments have set a new tone on LGBT issues. O’Loughlin concludes:

“Whatever happens in Rome, it is clear that by asking bishops to consult the laity on issues of homosexuality, Pope Francis has raised expectations, and [Mark] Cerosaletti, 56, from All Saints parish in New York, said he hopes for ‘more than just lip service.’

” ‘In keeping with Pope Francis’ call to be a field hospital for the world, the church needs to do a much better job of reaching out to its LGBT sons and daughters,’ he said. Otherwise, he worries, it ‘runs a real risk here of alienating a whole generation.’ “

However, lay voices reflecting the majority of American Catholics’ supportive belief about LGBT issues are absent at the Synod. US Catholic reports that the lay couples chosen to participate reflect institutional thinking, including the former head of the Marriage and Family Life Office in the conservative Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Could clergy, now awakened by the ‘Francis Effect,’ respond differently to LGBT people and their allies, asks one writer in National Catholic Reporter .

As for my thoughts, I offer a historical reminder. The Second Vatican Council was announced by a pope much like Francis who held a positive view of the world and sought to meet modern questions through dialogue and respect, and expectations for the Council were high. Yet, the original preparatory documents offered by those in the Vatican were quite conservative and reflected almost nothing of what was to come. Eventually, they were rejected wholesale by the bishops and new ones drawn up — and these documents like Dei Verbum and Gaudium et Spes launched Catholicism into a new age.

Though the Council and this upcoming Synod are not comparable events, I do believe their contexts are similar and they possess a common gift: the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit, I remain cautiously hopeful that this Synod can be a first step towards a more pastoral, more compassionate, more inclusive, and more just Catholic Church. Therefore, my prayer the next two weeks will be that the bishops simply be open to the movements of the Spirit within them, within their meetings, and within the entire People of God whom they should be considering.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


SYNOD: Belgian Bishop’s Hope: Restore Conscience to Its Rightful Place

October 1, 2014

Yesterday we saw a theologian’s hopes for the synod: that the bishops might be open to the grace of seeing that same-gender marital commitments are sacramentally equal to heterosexual ones.  Today, we will look at what one bishop’s hopes for the synod will be.  I think you will find his thoughts to be filled with promise for a more just and loving church.

Bishop Johan Bonny

In September, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, published a reflection about the upcoming meeting entitled: Synod on the Family:  Expectations of a Diocesan Bishop. I will try to summarize some of what I think are the high points of this essay, but I confess that I will barely scratch the surface of the richness of thought he expresses.  At 22 pages, the essay is not overly long, but it is also packed with so many gems that it is hard do it justice in just one blog post. It is also eminently readable, so I highly encourage interested people to read the entire text, which can be found by clicking here.

Bishop Bonny’s reflections are based, in part, on responses that the Belgian bishops received from the laity, whom they consulted on these topics, as the Vatican had requested.  Bonny, who will not himself be at the synod, remarked that the responses

“stem . . . from the primary stakeholders:  people of today who are committed to work on their relationship, their marriage, their family in the light of the gospel and in connection with the Church.”

In addition to praising the laity, Bonny criticizes the hierarchy, who, he says, did not complete the work of the Second Vatican Council, particularly in the area of marriage and the family. Because of the furor following Humanae Vitae, the birth control encyclical, the idea of conscience “lost its rightful place in a healthy moral-theological reflection.”  So it is no surprise, when a few sentences later, he asks himself “What do I expect from the upcoming Synod?”, his answer is direct:

That it will restore conscience to its rightful place in the teaching of the Church in line with Gaudium et Spes.” [Gaudium et Spes is the Vatican II document which described the primacy of conscience in ethical reflection.]

Bonny explains that the Church’s teaching on marriage cannot be reduced to a few general principles or narrow judgments.  He observes that we can’t characterize the Church’s view on marriage

“by pointing to one period, one pope, one school of moral theology, one language group, one circle of friends, one ecclesial policy.  Every component counts, but no single component can comprise or replace the whole. . . . In short: the teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage and family is to be found in a a broad tradition that has acquired new form and new content down through the centuries.  This narrative is incomplete. Every new era confronts the Church with new questions and challenges.”

His greatest concern is with the fact of “how complex the reality of relationship formation, marriage and family life is today.”  He offers several poignant examples of the many varied family configurations that exist in the contemporary world.   He includes a same-gender couple as one of his examples”

“J and K are are a same-sex couple, married in a registry office.  Their parents have never found their choice a simple one, but at home they’re just as welcome as the other children.  J and K appreciate the attitude of their parents and family very much  They have a problem with the attitude of the Church.”

His recognition of the many different family situations causes him to express another hope for the Synod:

“What are my hopes for the Synod?  That it won’t be a Platonic Synod.  That it won’t withdraw into the distant safety of doctrinal debate and general norms, but will pay heed to the concrete and complex reality of life.”

Indeed, in a later section of his essay, he observes that the ever-changing social contexts of marriage and family life require the Church to be more willing to develop its view on these topics:

“This ever changing context is not intended in itself to be anti-Christian or anti-Church. It is part and parcel of the historical circumstances in which both the Church and individual believers are expected to exercise their responsibility.  It confronts the Church time and again with an important question:  how can its teachings and life in its concreteness encounter and question one another in a productive tension?  In almost all the responses to Rome’s questionnaire, I have read the expectation that the Church would also recognise what is good and valuable in other forms of partnership, forms other than traditional marriage.  I consider such a hope to be justified.”

This spirit of dialogue is evident in the seventh section of the essay, entitled “The Proclamation of the Gospel. ” After criticizing church leaders for being too defensive against outside influences, he turns to Jesus as the model for welcome and conversation:

“Jesus opened his heart and his arms to people whoever they were and whatever their experience in life.  There were no walls or boundaries around his mercy and compassion. . . . He entered into dialogue with unexpected dialogue partners and accepted invitations to dine with people of questionable character.  He wasn’t particular or exclusive in his choice of friends or table companions, not even in his choice of apostles.These are the tracks on which Jesus placed Church.  In its relationship with the world and the people who live in it, the Church should exhibit the same openness and compassion as its founder.”

In his conclusion, Bonny offers a hope that the Synod will institute continued conversation among hierarchy, laity, and many other experts:

“The Synod would be least beneficial in my opinion if it were to draw a few practical conclusions in haste. It would be better advised to initiate a differentiated process in which as many people as possible consider themselves interested parties:  bishops, moral theologians, canonists, pastors, academics and politicians, and particularly the married couples and families who are at the focus of the Synod.”

Here’s just quick review of the topics I covered:  praise for the expertise of the laity,  promotion of the idea of conscience, the need for the Church to develop its teaching, recognition that  family life is complex,  recognition that committed relationships other than heterosexual marriage are holy, using Jesus’ ministry as a model for outreach to the marginalized.  Few bishops tackle even one of those topics, let alone all of them.  And the remainder of the document examines further ones:  collegiality, how the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI squashed theological discussion, natural law, the sense of the faithful, to name a few.

I hope that enough Synod participants have read Bishop Bonny’s reflection, and that they are open to the wisdom it contains.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

The Tablet: Belgian bishop urges real dialogue at Synod

 

 

 


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