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


Catholic School Rejects Lesbian Alumna’s Wedding Announcement

May 1, 2014

Lynn Zlotkowski and Lisa Hardej pose with friends during their wedding

Another Catholic school has rejected a lesbian alumna’s wedding announcement, this time in upstate New York where the school claims it is merely complying with diocesan directives.

Sacred Heart Academy, Amherst, New York (near Buffalo), rejected Lynn Zlotkowski’s submission for Cordecho, the school’s publication for alumni. In an email, Sr. Edith Wyss, who was once principal and is now provincial of the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity at Stella Niagara who oversee the school, told Zlotkowski that the magazine no longer announces same-gender weddings. According to The Buffalo News, Wyss seemed apologetic about having to reject the submission.  In her email to the women, rejecting their wedding announcement, she wrote:

” ‘Congratulations on your wedding! … The pictures of the SHA girls are wonderful and I recognized everyone 15 years later.

” ‘Though I’m no longer at Sacred Heart, the Sisters of St. Francis sponsor the school and are ultimately responsible for its mission and viability…I was contacted about your request and since I knew you, I wanted to respond personally.’ “

The provincial also explained the reasoning behind the rejection, referencing an incident several years ago which led to a total ban on same-gender wedding announcements:

” ‘I’m very sorry that we can’t publish your pictures and your good news in the Cordecho…We had a similar request several years ago and we did publish that announcement of the marriage of an alum to her partner. We did expect some negative response and we got some.’

” ‘However some readers of the Cordecho also contacted the Diocese of Buffalo. The bishop sent a diocesan official to meet with us at SHA to make sure that we understood what we had done…In their view, we were publicly supporting same-sex marriage. In our view, we were supporting our alumnae.’

” ‘I hope you can appreciate our predicament…Know that the current administration of the school and the sisters support you personally and hope for your happiness.’ “

Supporting Wyss’ claims about diocesan interference is a statement released by Diocese of Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone who said he was “grateful” that Sacred Heart Academy had “done the right thing” in rejecting the announcement.

While Zlotkowski and her wife, Lisa Hardej, who are both educators themselves, disagree with the decision, they are still supportive of Sacred Heart Academy. Speaking to The Buffalo News, she said:

” ‘I treasure my time at Sacred Heart and feel sad that my school doesn’t feel empowered to support part of their population’ …

” ‘I know I am not the only gay alumna Sacred Heart has…You can’t just ignore a portion of the people you educated and helped grow into the person they’ve become.’

” I love Sacred Heart…I give money to Sacred Heart. I’m excited about the construction they are doing. If I had a daughter and lived in Buffalo, I would send her to Sacred Heart. I’m disappointed that they can’t support me the way that I support them.’ “

Zlotowski also expressed hope for change in the Church under Pope Francis.

This situation is not a first. A Catholic high school in Maryland made headlines when it rejected a lesbian alumna’s wedding announcement earlier this year. As marriage equality expands in the US, let us hope Catholic education can do better than rejecting LGBT alumni and will raise its standards on LGBT issues overall.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

SYNOD SHORTS: Vatican Censorship? Theory-Practice Gap? Fragmentation? Western Bias?

April 21, 2014

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin

SYNOD SHORTS is a new, occasional series designed to bring you news about the upcoming Vatican Synod on Marriage and Family, scheduled for October 2014.  Since so much news is generated about this meeting, we hope that this feature will help keep you informed, particularly on news relating to LGBT issues and the synod.

Was England Silenced by the Vatican?

The Tablet reported that the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has cited the Vatican as their reason not to publish findings from an online survey designed to elicit lay opinion on marriage and family which they made available last fall. The bishops were hailed at the time for posting the Vatican’s questionnaire online and 16,600 responses were received. When called upon by Catholics to release the results, a conference spokesperson said the synod’s secretary general, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, told Cardinal Vincent Nichols that responses should be kept private.

The spokesperson for the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales also stated that the Vatican’s request was that all episcopal conferences withhold results , though this is unconfirmed and already bishops in Germany, Austria, and elsewhere have made the questionnaire responses public.

A church reform group known as “A Call to Action” (ACTA) wrote a letter to the British bishops’ conference that quoted Baldisseri as saying the very opposite of what Nichols has stated.  ACTA stated:

“[Baldisseri] has said the results of the questionnaire show the ‘urgency of recognising the lived reality of the people and of beginning a pastoral dialogue with those who have distanced themselves from the Church.’ The letter, which praises the bishops’ decision to publish the survey online, then states: ‘Withholding the results cannot be a promising way to begin that pastoral dialogue.’ “

Cardinal Baldisseri has also engaged in this participatory process himself, hosting a forum in early April called “Listening to the family. Uncertainty and expectations.” According to Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter, the forum held at the Pontifical Gregorian University  in Rome focused on issues related to family life, and it included scholars and married people sharing their wisdom through small group discussions.

Outside of England, the decision is mixed on whether to release findings from the questionnaire responses or keep them for bishops alone. Irish and some American bishops have been more open, while Canadian bishops are remaining quiet.

In Ireland, a theory-practice gap

The Irish Times reports that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin called Catholic teaching on sexuality and family life, including same-gender relationships, “disconnected from real life experiences of families — and not just be younger people.” He said it was “poorly understood…[and] accepted,” saying there was a “theory-practice gap” between what the Church teaches and how it is lived out. The Times reports further:

“On same sex relations ‘some saw the church’s position as being purely negative and judgemental…Many felt that there should be some way of civilly recognising stable same-sex unions, but there was a clear hesitancy, uneasiness and opposition with regard to marriage for same sex unions,’ he said.”

Martin has previously spoken strongly in favor of the dignity of lesbian and gay people. Earlier this year, he said that to be anti-gay was to be anti-God and has called for a more respectful tone in the debate over marriage rights. The Irish bishops reversed a March decision to withhold the results and made them public. In a statement reported on by the National Catholic Reporter, they said:

” ‘The church’s teaching in these sensitive areas [of sexuality and family life] is often not experienced as realistic, compassionate, or life-enhancing.’ “

Canadian Fragmentation

Canadian bishops followed a plan similar to the Americans by leaving the decision to engage lay consultation up to each bishop, creating a fragmented situation. Only 13 of 73 diocese made it available online, which, according to president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Archbishop Paul -André Durocher, gave the country’s prelates a “good read” of the pastoral situation.

Critique from India

Dr. Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, a lay woman in India, is voicing concerns that the Synod of Bishops is not sufficiently global and is concerned with Western problems. She writes in UCA News:

“My own reading of the questionnaire found two critical lacunae. As a woman functioning in an interfaith family for the past 25 years in a subcontinent where women form the anawim - or ‘poor ones’ – vulnerable, exploited, marginalized, I felt excluded. I found no attempt to elicit information about the status of women in the family, a factor so crucial to the health of the family.

“Interfaith marriages were another silent zone in the questionnaire…Unfortunately the focus of the questionnaire was on divorced Catholics and same-sex unions. I wish there had been more sensitivity to the concerns of Asia.”

Her comments echo those of the Japanese bishops, who earlier this year wrote about the Vatican’s questionnaire being irrelevant to their pastoral reality. Rethinking marriage and family must entail the wisdom of a global Catholic community. For a thoughtful analysis of the global community’s challenge to Catholicism, read Jesuit Jeremy Zipple’s analysis at The Jesuit Post.

Check Bondings 2.0 regularly for more updates on the Synod or enter your email in the upper right hand corner to subscribe to the blog for daily posts delivered to your email. For our previous posts on the Synod, click on “Synod 2014″ in the “Categories” list to the right.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

A Handful of American Clergy Release Synod Survey Results

March 6, 2014

Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, FL

Bishops conferences from Germany to Japan are releasing reports on their surveying and consultation in preparation for this fall’s Synod on Marriage and Family Life. The opinions expressed, which reflect strong disagreement by the laity with regard to church teaching, are not a surprise to many.  What is news, however, is that we are finally hearing bishops acknowledge that much of the laity have rejected the hierarchy’s teachings on sexuality and marriage.

Absent from these recent reports was anything from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which left it to individual dioceses to collect information as they deemed appropriate. Most bishops chose to consult clergy and diocesan offices, but not even all did that much.

At least two prelates, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg and Bishop David O’Connell of Trenton, have released statements on diocesan survey results. In addition, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston spoke about the survey at a press conference. Perhaps most interesting are the responses one anonymous priest wrote which Religion News Service published.

Lynch was among the handful of American bishops actively seeking lay input for the survey. Writing on his blog, the bishop summarizes the 6,800 responses he received, and blames a “too short” timeline for hindering more outreach. Of the results, Lynch writes that they are largely from Catholics attending Mass each week and “do not represent the feelings of those who have fallen away from the practice of their faith, are angry or frustrated or feel alienated by the Church. How I wish I could have heard from them as well.” Regarding LGBT matters, Lynch continues:

“1. There was very strong support for the notion that marriage (which I believe they understood as sacramental marriage) is between one man and one woman.

“2. Having said that, it was also clear that the respondents felt that the Church needed to be better prepared to respond to the reality of same-sex marriage.  In addition, many respondents felt that the people involved in such relationships believe that the Church has turned its back on them.

“3. The respondents generally tended to suggest that the Church needed to be kinder and gentler to those who identify themselves as gay and lesbian, be less judgmental and more welcoming.

“4. Very clearly stated was the opinion that an adopted child of same-sex parents should be treated in the Church exactly the same as a child born of a traditional marriage between a man and a woman.”

These results mimic the findings from other surveys, and Lynch admits changes that are perhaps necessary must come from the universal church. Yet, what makes Lynch’s post most interesting is the pastoral initiatives he promises:

“I have made it known that I will not tolerate any discrimination or anything which smacks of the punitive to children of same-sex couples. I think all representatives of the Church’s many ministries can be kinder, gentler, more welcoming and less judgmental of those who find our praxis and preaching on marriage and family life to be at odds with their experiences…

“Finally, if the ‘choir’ is singing this anthem, imagine what we might have heard had we had the time and access to those alienated, fallen-away, hurt or frustrated. Pope Francis’ call to hightail it to the trenches, to the difficult and smelly parts of the people of God to bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ is not only a call to serve the economically impoverished but the spiritually impoverished, so often of our own making.”

Bishop David O’Connell of Trenton

In New Jersey, Bishop O’Connell included survey results in his  “State of the Diocese” report, which had been released on the diocesan website. 1,007 responses were received, mostly from lay people who were predominantly women and married. Unlike Lynch, O’Connell spent several paragraphs discrediting the respondents as lacking in knowledge of Church teaching and providing misguided responses. On LGBT matters, he writes:

“Similarly, a significant number of respondents raised questions about the Church’s position on same sex marriage, many expressing sympathy for those with a homosexual orientation…

“Although the task of reading the voluminous pages of responses to the questionnaire was arduous, it did provide a snapshot — albeit very small — into some of the trends in Catholic thinking.  What impact the questionnaire will have on the extraordinary synod itself remains to be seen.  As Bishop, I did feel that I should offer some sense of the information gleaned from my review.”

Further downplaying the synod and the survey is Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston who is also the vice-president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In his own archdiocese, responses to the survey posted online were limited, and he only reached out to established councils for input. DiNardo claimed marriage equality was not an issue Catholics in his diocese would like discussed.  Additionally, there was not strong support for reforming the teachings on divorced and remarried Catholics. National Catholic Reporter reports further on the cardinal’s attempts to curb expectations for the synod:

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston

“Asked if knew how the Vatican synod office would deal with the responses to the questionnaire from the world’s bishops, said to number in the tens of thousands of pages, DiNardo said he did not know.

” ‘I’m looking at just what we sent in, and I’m saying you multiply that by 180 dioceses in the United States, I don’t know what they’re going to do…Even if they summarized everything [by country] and sent it over, there are 152 countries.’ “

These prelates are simply admitting what most American Catholics believe about LGBT people and their relationships. Most interesting are responses published by Mark Silk of Religion News Service of an anonymous American priest, which are worth a read in their entirety. Below are a sampling of these responses, with questions included:

“b) In those cases where the Church’s teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice? If so, what are they?

“Yes there are difficulties. From Humanae Vitae forward, one driving principle behind these teachings seems to be an argument from authority. The Church says it, you must believe it, that settles it. Any questioning – even by people of faith and sufficient scholarly credentials and long years of service to the Church – has been seen as some sort of disloyalty or bad faith. However, arguments framed with this authoritarian bent may produce little formal push-back but rather create indifference even from devout Catholics…Credible teaching has to be open to question and must offer cogent and defensible reasons in order to be taken seriously…

“a) What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?

“It is hard to define the term ‘natural law’ as understood by the church. Any exploration of the historical origin of this term and its use by Catholic theologians runs into serious problems. It relies heavily on an outdated and factually erroneous understanding of the nature of reality – which is dynamic, not static. ‘Truth’ has evolved, it is not ‘perennial.’ Only God’s love is constant. Church teachings have changed and must continue to change in order for the message of Jesus Christ to make sense to new generations.

“b) Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?

“This is changing as acceptance of same-sex unions takes root in various global cultures. Natural law itself as understood by the church is not intelligible to anyone who has high school or college knowledge of physics, biology or human psychology…

“b) What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?

“Privately, among priests, religious and laity – compassion and understanding. Publicly, statements and actions that run the spectrum from the ridiculous to the scandalous. One cardinal attributes the ‘success’ of these laws to poor ‘marketing’ by the church. Another mean-spirited and theologically deficient bishop actually ‘exorcised’ the state legislature for passing a same-sex marriage bill. The Holy Father needs to extend some public discipline for statements and actions like these which seriously erode the already flagging credibility of the Catholic Church in the USA. To work against same sex marriage, church leaders have entered into ‘alliances’ with such groups as the Mormons, spent huge sums of diocesan money to alter political outcomes (i.e. state referenda), and even appointed a man of great insensitivity on this issue to head the cultural capital of Gay America: the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The cluelessness of the American hierarchy and their friends in the Vatican could not be more on display than it has been in these past few years over this issue…

“d) In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?

“The answer is clear cut: we care for the children, baptize them, love them, provide a community of caring and inclusion and try to approach the issue of their parents union with compassion, love, and respect.”

Several months remain before the Synod, and what impact these widespread consultations may have is unknown. However, we hope that bishops and clergy will respond like Bishop Lynch and begin immediately implementing pastoral changes to further create an LGBT-inclusive Church. You can read Bondings 2.0‘s continuing coverage of these results by typing ‘Synod’ in the Search box to the right.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

National Catholic Reporter, “Bishop: Synod questionnaire shows most reject teaching on contraceptives

National Catholic Reporter, “Studies of US Catholics Provide Insight on Synod Questions

Pope Francis’ Letter to All Families Hopeful Sign as Synod on Family Life Approaches

February 27, 2014

Pope Francis and the world’s cardinals in consistory at the Vatican.

Following last week’s consistory of cardinals, Pope Francis has written an open letter to families around the world asking for prayers and promising to include their voices in October’s synod on marriage and family life. There are also new details about what exactly happened during that consistory of 150 cardinals, as well as developments on how the Synod will take shape.

The letter was published Tuesday by Pope Francis as a means of further explaining  the upcoming synod, as the pope hoped to “come into your homes.” National Catholic Reporter quotes the letter as saying, in part:

” ‘This important meeting will involve all the People of God — bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful of the particular churches of the entire world — all of whom are actively participating in preparations for the meeting through practical suggestions and the crucial support of prayer”…

“Saying the synod is ‘dedicated in a special way to you, to your vocation and mission in the Church and in society; to the challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children; and the role of the family in the life of the Church,’ the pope asks to ‘pray intensely’ for its success.”

Pope Francis concluded the letter with a blessing for “every family” without distinction.

Around the same time, the pope had been meeting with cardinals for closed-door discussions on family life which included comments from the pope, a two-hour address by German Cardinal Walter Kasper, and follow-up from 43 other cardinals. Discussion was said to include the matter of divorced and remarried Catholics, marriage preparations, and John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” according to reports from the National Catholic Reporter. It seems LGBT people and their relationships were not discussed, an ambiguous sign as there were neither condemnations nor positive discourse that had been public.

Elsewhere, the synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri spoke about the overall impression he had of responses coming in from the Vatican’s questionnaire released last fall. About 80% of national bishops’ conferences and 60% of Vatican congregations had submitted their responses, as well as 700 responses from Catholic organizations globally. According to the Catholic Herald, the cardinal said in an interview:

“[T]he responses show ‘much suffering, especially by those who feel excluded or abandoned by the Church because they find themselves in a state of life that does not correspond to the Church’s doctrine and discipline’…

“By urging bishops around the world to conduct the broadest consultation possible given the brief amount of time allotted, synod officials ‘sparked a spontaneous reaction that may seem surprising, but is actually proof of how necessary it is to go out of our offices’ to where people really live, he said.

“The results compiled by the bishops’ conferences, he said, show ‘the urgency of recognising the lived reality of the people and of beginning a pastoral dialogue with those who have distanced themselves from the Church for various reasons’.”

Finally, the names of the synod’s three presidents were announced during the consistory: Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris, Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila, Cardinal Raymundo Assis of Aparecida. They will rotate chairing the synod in October, and at least one, Cardinal Vingt-Trois, has a murky record on marriage equality after warning of the violence which might erupt if France passed equal marriage rights in 2013.

You can read Bondings 2.0‘s past coverage of survey results by typing ‘Synod’ in the Search box to the right.  We will be updating you, as more reports come in.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

U.S. Catholics Make Known Their Opinions on Marriage and Family Issues

February 22, 2014

In the past few weeks, we’ve posted about a few international bishops’ conferences reporting about what they have learned from their surveys of their lay people on matters of marriage and family life, in anticipation of the October 2014 Synod in Rome on those topics.  More and more bishops’ conferences are starting to disclose the responses to these surveys, and we will be reporting on them in the coming days.

Noticeably absent has been any report from the U.S. bishops, and this is probably due to the fact that very few of them made the survey available to their laity.   To remedy this omission of the voices of U.S. lay Catholics, a network of Catholic reform organizations sent out the survey to their members, and yesterday they have released a report on the compiled responses.  Released by member groups of the Catholic Organizations for Renewal and entitled Voices of the People: Responses to the Vatican Survey in Preparation for the Extraordinary Synod on the Familythe report provides statistics on the information gathered from over 16,000 respondents.   According to a press release, the report categorized responses under seven major themes:

  1. Pastoral care urgently needed
  2. Pedagogical/evangelism challenges
  3. Separated, divorced and remarried Catholics
  4. Same-sex marriage
  5. Women in the Church
  6. Sexual abuse scandals
  7. Skepticism and hope.

The survey responses were analyzed by an independent reviewer, Dr. Peter J. Fagan, M.Div., PhD., from the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in Baltimore, Maryland. 53% of the respondents identified as weekly church-goers, higher than the national average of 31% of Catholics who do so.

On the issue of  marriage equality, the report offers the following evaluation of Catholic attitudes:

“There  is  a  law  recognizing  marriage  equality  in  the  states  of  57  percent  of  the   respondents  (Q29)  and  marriage  equality  is  very  important  for  26  percent  of  the   respondents  and  extremely  important  for  47  percent  (Q33*).

“Respondents  were  asked  to  judge  the  attitudes  of  their  diocese,  parish  and  small   faith  communities  toward  both  marriage  equality  and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a   committed  partnership  (Q30).  As  the  geography  of  the  entity  became  more  local  and   familiar,  i.e.  from  diocese  to  parish  to  faith  community,  the  respondents’  judged  that   the  attitudes  were  less  hostile,  less  condemning  and  less  negative  and  became  more   supportive,  even  highly  supportive.  This  pattern  applied  to  both  marriage  equality   and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a  committed  relationship.    One  third  of  respondents  viewed  their  dioceses  as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage  equality  (37  percent)  and  same-­‐ sex  couples  (35  percent);  their  parishes  as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage   equality  (11  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (13  percent);  and  their  faith  communities   as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage  equality  (3  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (4   percent).

“Asked  about  attitudinal  support  of  marriage  equality  and  same-­‐sex  couples,  the   inverse  pattern  applied:  the  more  local,  the  more  support  for  marriage  equality  and   same-­‐sex  couples  in  a  committed  partnership  (Q30).    Seven  percent  of  dioceses  were   seen  being  at  least  somewhat  supportive  of  both  situations,  as  did  thirty  one  percent   of  parishes  and  two  thirds  of  small  faith  communities.    The  striking  contrast  in  this   inverse  pattern  is  the  discrepancy  between  the  dioceses  perceived  as  hostile  and   condemning  toward  marriage  equality  (37  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (35   percent)  and  the  perception  of  the  respondents’  small  faith  communities  attitudes  as   being  highly  supportive  of  marriage  equality  (45  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a   committed  partnership  (47  percent). “

The entire report concludes with the following observation from the analyst:

There  can  be  no  conclusion  to  this  Report  because  it  is  offered  as  participation  to   the  dialogue  and  discernment  leading  up  to  the  Extraordinary  Synod  on  the  Family   to  be  held  in  the  Vatican  during  October  2014.    However,  if  we  were  to  try  to   capture  what  the  respondents  have  said  in  one  sentence,  we  turn  to  voice  of  Pope   Francis  when  he  wrote,

“ ‘The  Church  must  be  a  place  of  mercy  freely  given,  where  everyone  can  feel   welcomed,  loved,  forgiven  and  encouraged  to  live  the  good  life  of  the  Gospel.’   (Evangelii  Gaudium,  #114)

“If  there  were  one  near-­‐universal  hope  of  the  over  16,000  respondents  to  this  Survey,   it  would  be  that  this  vision  of  the  church  would  become  a  pastoral  reality.”

Organizational sponsors of the survey project from Catholic Organizations for Renewal include American Catholic Council, Call To Action, CORPUS, DignityUSA, Federation of Christian Ministries/Roman Catholic Faith Community Council, FutureChurch, New Ways Ministry, RAPPORT, Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference, Voice of the Faithful, and Women’s Ordination Conference.   Other supporting organizations include Catholic Church Reform, Fortunate Families, and Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER).

You can read some of the qualitative responses to the survey either in English or Spanish.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

European Bishops Continue with Reports on Marriage & Family Life Surveys

February 18, 2014

More bishops around the globe have released the results of  information gathering for this coming fall’s Synod on Marriage and Family Life, and the results have been remarkably honest. This post provides updates from several European nations, following up on positive statements from the German bishops which you can read about here.


Findings from Swiss bishops echoed those of the German bishops, as their initial report based on 25,000 respondents reported the disconnect between what the bishops teach and how Catholics live. National Catholic Reporter offers further insight:

“Both the German and the Swiss reports said Catholics in their countries accept the church’s vision of marriage as a life-long union of a man and a woman open to having children, and hope to realize that vision in their own family…

“The Swiss bishops said that ‘approximately 60 percent of participants in the consultation support the recognition of and a church blessing for homosexual couples,’ though the responses showed ‘no consensus, but rather a polarization,’ with strong negative reactions.”


A report from Vatican Insider, cited at Queering the Church, reveals that these French-speaking Catholics responded the the survey in the same way that German Catholics did. These answers highlighted the rift between what the bishops’ teach on sexuality and the practical realities of Catholics’ lives. Most positive, however, were the Belgian bishops’ forward-leaning remarks on gay and lesbian people. A rough translation of their remarks from InfoCath.be states:

“It is learned that Belgian Catholics are very committed to how the church can accommodate every person no matter their differences or errors. This is particularly highlighted for homosexuals or divorced. Like the Pope Francis, the Belgian Catholics hold that the Church is seen as a loving mother, without rejecting those who come to it. To Church, it is also recognized that families need input from the community to get to grow in faith, hence the need of living communities…”


The Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales has said through a spokesperson that there will be no public report of their findings from  16,500 responses, according to the Catholic Herald. The spokesperson did report high participation rates, which may be the result of the Conference’s early release of an online survey.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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