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

 

 

 


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

September 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


2016 Hopeful Marco Rubio Addresses Catholics on Marriage

July 28, 2014

Senator Marco Rubio

United States Senator Marco Rubio of Florida delivered a speech entitled “Strong Values for a Strong America”at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC,  last week. Rubio, who identifies as Catholic and attends evangelical services regularly as well, is thought to be considering a presidential run in 2016 and this speech is a first step in an emerging campaign. Yet, he used this speech to promote views that are out of touch with U.S. Catholics, and Americans overall,  on LGBT equality.

The event was co-hosted by the university’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies and also the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The speech, which focused on family life, also commented on marriage equality. In opening the speech’s section concerning LGBT rights, Rubio acknowledged the lengthy history of prejudice and discrimination against gay and lesbian people, stating, in part:

” ‘[O]ur nation is marred by a history of discrimination against gays and lesbians…There was once a time when our federal government not only banned the hiring of gay employees, it required federal contractors to identify and fire them. Some laws prohibited gays from being served in bars and restaurants, and many states carried out law enforcement efforts targeting gay marriages.’

” ‘Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since then…Many committed gay and lesbian couples feel humiliated by the law’s failure to recognize their relationship as a marriage, and supporters of same-sex marriage argue that laws banning same-sex marriage are discrimination. I respect their arguments, and I would concede that they pose a legitimate question for lawmakers and society.’ “

That was as far as Rubio went in affirming pro-LGBT advocates’ claims that legal rights need to be equalized, pivoting quickly towards his firm opposition to marriage equality. The senator criticized judges who are “defining and redefining marriage from the bench” and said Americans working to stop marriage equality “have the right to work to keep the traditional definition of marriage in our laws without seeing them overturned by a judge.”

Rubio also criticized LGBT advocates for promoting intolerance against those who oppose equality under the law, citing incidents like the firing of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich or the controversies around the Chick-Fil-A fast food chain, saying:

” ‘I promise you even before this speech is over I’ll be attacked as a hater or a bigot or someone who is anti-gay…This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy. Support for the definition of marriage as one man and one woman is not anti-gay, it is pro-traditional marriage. And if support for traditional marriage is bigotry, then Barack Obama was a bigot until just before 2012 election.’ “

Rubio’s address, which you can view in full by clicking here, was followed up by a panel discussion featuring other anti-LGBT voices, including Brad Wilcox of the National Marriage Project.

The senator, set to run for president in 2016 and participate in the primary system that set election agendas, raises important issues about family life and ways to strengthen couples and children in America today. He recognizes that issues like poverty and education negatively impact families.

Sadly, he still joins other Catholic politicians in continuing to stump against marriage equality even when public opinion polls now show a majority of Americans supporting the issue, with Catholic numbers around 65%. This support is often the result of wanting stronger families in the U.S. and a more stable culture for marriage. Hopefully, by the time 2016 rolls around, Rubio will learn this most important–and Catholic–lesson.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related article

MSNBC.com: “Marco Rubio defends gays, attacks gay marriage”

 


Will US Bishops Stop Obsessing About Marriage At Last?

July 7, 2014

The National Catholic Reporter published an editorial last week firmly criticizing the American bishops’ ongoing involvement in the now terminal debate over same-gender marriage rights.

NCR‘s jumping off point is San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s recent appearance at the March for Marriage, which places the Church in league with anti-gay groups like the National Organization for Marriage who have ties to international LGBT persecutions in places like Uganda and Russia. Of this, NCR writes:

“No amount of claiming the church’s love for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community will disguise the reality of the company one has to keep in order to further the cause of opposing same-sex unions.”

Cordileone is given credit for affirming the Church’s commitment to upholding each person’s dignity, regardless of sexual orientation, but with a major caveat. NCR writes:

“Underlying the sincere declarations of love for all of the God’s children is the real nub of the issue, the language that stings no matter how one might try to disguise its harshness beneath theological nuance. The church has declared that people of homosexual orientation are objectively disordered. With that understanding, the church effectively tells the LGBT community that it must quarantine its sexual reality, its affections and its members’ love of one another in order to be welcome in its worship spaces and among its ministries.

“Perhaps that inherent contradiction — professing to uphold the dignity of all while simultaneously requiring some to block off an integral part of who they are in order to be a member of the community in good standing — is the reason the church is losing the battle in the courts and at the ballot box.

NCR notes the disparity between what the bishops have said–that same-gender marriage threatens heterosexual marriage, that children need a mother and father, that Catholic priests will be forced to perform weddings they disagree with–and the reality that all the aforementioned has proven to be false. In light of this disparity, NCR asks why the bishops are even fighting this issue.  The editorial concludes:

“It is mystifying, with so many social problems needing attention, to watch so much of the U.S. Catholic leadership obsessed with these sexual matters. The fact is that people of other than traditional sexual orientation no longer engage in self-sequester or quarantine. That age has passed, and it has little to do with willful disregard for church teaching and far more to do with a growing understanding of the complexity and diversity of humankind.”

Leaders like Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison and Archbishop Cordileone will still release bombastic statements against LGBT people. Bishops like Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland reflect more of Pope Francis’ call to be merciful, though he still opposes equal marriage rights.

Yet, not all Church leaders want to keep fighting it appears. Perhaps they have experienced the ‘reality check’ called for by Catholics a few weeks ago. The above instances of extremism are actually evidence of a new reality: opposing marriage equality is less a united effort by the American Church and more the cause of individual bishops obsessed with stopping LGBT rights. Brian Roewe summarizes the varied episcopal responses to marriage equality’s legalization, noting:

“In most states that have seen bans thrown out, bishops have issued joint statements through their policy arms, but not all have made comment of their own. New Mexico’s bishops issued a statement in December that counted fewer than 60 words; Texas’ 15 bishops issued a three-paragraph statement.”

These statements are hardly the prioritized and bombastic opposition to marriage equality once common for bishops, and they seem more in keeping with statements released by state conferences on a host of other legislative and judicial issues. Could it be that these bishops realize, as Pope Francis has insisted, that truly pressing issues of social justice, like immigration, demand their attention instead?

Sidelining the political and legal fight also means there is room to honestly address pastoral care and the strengthening of family life in a society which now embraces LGBT rights. Roewe ends his column quoting St. Louis University theology professor Julie Rubio, who says:

” ‘I think people are ready for a different conversation…’

“Where the bishops’ discussion of marriage so far has been almost exclusively in terms of fighting same-sex marriage, Rubio sees others arenas to turn the discussion: issues of single-parent families, divorce, broken families, and the needs of children.

“Turning the gaze away from federal courts and toward parishes and individual couples’ struggles offers another starting point for strengthening marriage.

” ‘Talk to married couples and talk to single parents, talk to younger people who are dating and thinking about marriage, and ask them what they need’.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is still dominated by men who seem determined to stop LGBT rights. There are others, however, who seem to understand Pope Francis’ admonition to stop ‘obsessing’ over same-gender marriage and build up the common good instead. Let’s hope this latter group’s voices are amplified more and more in the discourse over LGBT issues in the U.S. Church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Jesuit Priest in Chile Endorses Marriage Equality

June 30, 2014

Father Felipe Berrios

A Jesuit priest in Chile has come out supporting marriage equality as that nation’s president seeks further rights for LGBT people.

Fr. Felipe Berrios, a noted author and columnist, made the remarks in an interview with Emol.com after returning from four years of work in Burundi and Congo. The priest’s endorsement comes as Chilean political leaders seek to legalize same-gender marriages under President Michelle Bachelet. Gay Star News reports Berrios said:

” ‘What’s the matter with gay marriage?…Homosexuals are God’s children…He created homosexuals and lesbians, and God is proud of who they are.Why not let them get married? Enough already…The problem is in us, in our misunderstanding of them.’

” ‘I want to be clear: Gays and lesbians are children of God and are called to holiness as we all are. They are not second-class citizens or have different kinds of sin and they will help us to broaden our concept of sexuality.’ “

Fr. Berrios’ open and vocal endorsement of civil marriage equality adds to the growing number of Catholic bishops and clergy who are speaking out in support of same-gender couples. New Ways Ministry has compiled a listing of these Church leaders–mostly bishops, archbishops, and cardinals–and prominent Catholics who have made positive remarks about same-gender couples, civil unions, and marriage equality since 2011. You can access the listing by clicking here.  Each entry contains links to Bondings 2.0 posts and news coverage.

With the Vatican’s working paper for this fall’s Synod of Bishops on marriage and family disappointing many LGBT advocates, and baptisms seemingly loom as the next ‘battleground’ for LGBT issues in the Church, let us hope more Catholic leaders will have Fr. Berrios’ courage to speak out publicly and without equivocation for LGBT people and their families.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Italian Transgender Relationship Tests Church and State Definitions of Marriage

June 21, 2014

A transgender marriage case in Italy may be paving the way for that nation to legalize civil unions, despite the powerful opposition of the Catholic hierarchy there to such an action.

The second Alessandra Bernaroli

The Daily Beast reported recently that 20 years ago, Alessandro Bernaroli married his wife, Alessandra, though he knew that he had gender questions about himself.   Alessandra supported her spouse’s decision to go through gender reassignment surgery, and the couple decided to stay together after Alessandro began to identify also as Alessandra.  Despite their love, the two Alessandras ran into some legal problems, but not for wrong.  The Daily Beast  explains:

“When Bernaroli officially changed her name and gender when she renewed her identity card, the Bologna court annulled the marriage. The couple appealed the unwanted divorce and lost again, but now Italy’s high court overturned the ruling, allowing them to stay married.”

So, though civil unions are still not legal in Italy, the Bernarolis, who live in Bologna, are still legally united.   More importantly, though the debate about civil unions had not moved forward, the Italian court, in their decision about the case, asked Italian legislators to make some accommodations for same-gender couples:

“In its ruling last week, the high court said it was aiming to balance ‘the State’s interest in not changing the model of heterosexual marriage with the interest of the couple where one of the two components changes sex.’ The court also asked Italian lawmakers to explore an ‘alternative’ form of marriage to accommodate such same-sex couples.”

In Italy, the Catholic hierarchy has been one of the strongest opponents to civil unions.  However, the church has not annulled the Bernarolis’ marriage. The reason, though, is not because they recognize this as a same-gender relationship, but because they do not recognize gender re-assignment, so they still consider one of the partners to be male.

The Bernarolis are optimistic, though, because of Pope Francis’ more welcoming approach to same-gender couples:

“.  .  . [T]he Alessandras now hope that Pope Francis will use their historic case to preach acceptance and maybe one day recognize same-sex unions. ‘The Catholic Church has said that our marriage is still valid,’ Bernaroli said after the high court’s ruling. ‘We want to make an appeal to all Catholics to go out in the streets to defend the rights of the family, of our family. And also make an appeal to the pope, who seems so open and innovative, because he listens to so many people in trouble, the poor, the discriminated against. Why not call us, too?’ “

Some may find this arrangement unusual, but it is not as uncommon as one might think.  For example, for those who attended either New Ways Ministry’s 2012 National Symposium in Baltimore, or either one of our two transgender workshops this past year, they would have heard from Hilary Howes, a Catholic transgender woman, whose previously heterosexual marriage to her wife, Celestine, remained solid when Hilary transitioned.

You can read about Hilary’s journey and her relationship with Celestine in More than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Churchpublished this year by Fordham University Press.

Not all marriages that involve a gender transition remain intact, but some do.  For the Bernarolis, like Hilary and Celestine, there was some initial concern and questioning, but upon reflection, both couples found that their love was as strong as ever:

“ ‘It’s obvious that some things have changed in our marriage,’ Bernaroli’s wife told the court. ‘But she is still the same person I married. We share the same ideals, and that’s what counts when you share a life together. We have survived because we have a strong love connection.’ ”

The news site Gayapolis.com had a fitting commentary on this case which serves as a good closing message:

“It’s rare that the fight for transgender rights advances ahead of the fight for marriage equality. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if this case helped bring about both?”

 

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

PinkNews.com: “Italian trans woman fights for right to remain in same-sex marriage”


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

 


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