In Europe, Some Catholic Leaders Strive for LGBT Reconciliation

May 8, 2014

In Europe, some Catholic bishops seem to be trying to heal the hurt that LGBT people have experienced, sometimes hurt caused by church leaders.

Admiral Duncan Public House on April 30, 1999

Admiral Duncan Public House on April 30, 1999

In England, the gay community recently marked the 15th anniversary of the Soho Bombing, when 3 people died, including a pregnant woman, over 80 injured, when a device exploded in the Admiral Duncan Public House (a gay bar).  The event galvanized the LGBT community in that nation.  

The event was marked by a joint statement from the Anglican Bishop of London, the Right  Reverend & Right Honorable Richard Chartres, and the Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols:

“On this 15th Anniversary of the bombings in Soho, Brixton and Brick Lane, we affirm our condemnation of all such acts of violence and hold in our prayers those whose lives have been taken or shattered and all those who mourn. It is fundamental to our faith that all men and women are made in the image of God and so deserve our respect, care and compassion. In this great World-in-a-City, we stand alongside all those who oppose the hatred that continues to divide communities and diminishes us all. We work and pray for a society in which we have learnt to love our neighbour as ourselves.”

Thanks to one of the United Kingdom’s most prominent Catholic LGBT advocate, Martin Pendergast, for alerting us to this statement.  Queering The Church blogger Terence Weldon commented: “Finally, some Catholic bishops are taking seriously the Church teaching to condemn all forms of violence or malice,in speech or in action against gay or lesbian people.”

Across the Channel, in France, the head of the French bishops’ conference has been trying to heal the pastoral damage done when some Catholic leaders in that nation strongly opposed that nation’s marriage equality law when it was being debated last year.  The Tablet reported:

Archbishop Georges Pontier

Archbishop Georges Pontier

“Marseille Archbishop Georges Pontier, president of the French bishops’ conference, urged his fellow bishops to avoid being ‘manipulated by social movements’ when he opened their spring plenary meeting.

“The meeting in Lourdes just before Holy Week was overshadowed by different views about how to deal with a growing polarisation that emerged with last year’s anti-gay marriage protests, with some bishops actively supporting the protests but many others keeping a discreet distance. Some organisers of that lay-led movement have since become active in conservative and far-right politics.”

According to The Tablet, the most recent example of the influence of the conservative faction is the removal of a speaker from a French Catholic meeting:

“Differences flared again last month when the bishops’ conference’s Family and Society Council withdrew a conference invitation to a feminist philosopher after a traditionalist blog collected about 1,100 signatures on a petition denouncing her as a proponent of gender theory, that is incompatible with Catholic doctrine. That led to an internal debate about whether the council should have caved in to what the Catholic daily La Croix called ‘a minority, promoted to be thought police.’ “

The examples of these British and French prelates should be emulated by Catholic bishops here in the United States.  Harsh rhetoric opposing marriage equality from U.S. prelates such as Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul, Minnesota, and Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois (to name a few), have alienated many Catholics.  Reconciliatory statements and gestures would go a long way to healing the hurt that many Catholics, LGBT people and allies alike, have experienced by so many harmful messages.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


The Complex and Layered Meanings in Pope Francis’ New Document

November 27, 2013

Pope Francis

As more people begin to scrutinize Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), new details emerge which show that in regards to LGBT issues, the new document shows a complex picture.

The New York Times reports that buried in a footnote to the document is a reference to the U.S. bishops’ 2006 document, Ministry to Persons with Homosexual Inclinations:  Guidelines for Pastoral Carewhich promoted the traditional definition of a homosexual orientation as an objective disorder.  The Times reports:

“Nowhere in the document did Francis speak explicitly of homosexuality or same-sex marriage. However, he said the church should not give in to ‘moral relativism,’ and cited with approval a document written by the bishops of the United States on ministering to people with ‘homosexual inclination.’ The pope said the American bishops are right that the church must insist on ‘objective moral norms which are valid for everyone’ — even when the church is perceived by supporters of gay rights as promoting prejudice and interfering with individual freedom.”

This detail is a clearer indication that Pope Francis does not seem inclined to change the teaching on homosexuality.  That notion had been clear since he first started speaking about gay and lesbian issues back in July with his “Who am I to judge?” interview, in which he also did uphold the Catechism’s teaching on homosexuality.  I’ve noted before that it looks like Pope Francis’s road to change in the church won’t be a straight one.

But while in content Pope Francis remains traditional, many people, including myself,  perceive he is opening up a process that will eventually lead to positive developments in church teaching.  For example, Martin Pendergast, a long-time Catholic advocate for LGBT equality in the United Kingdom, offered what he saw as two important selections from the document which point to the possibility of change in the Church, which I had overlooked in yesterday’s post on this topic.

In the first selection, the pope is calling for decentralization of authority in the church:

“Countless issues involving evangelization today might be discussed here, but I have chosen not to explore these many questions which call for further reflection and study. Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization.’ ”  (Introduction, section 16)

In the second selection, the pope acknowledges that not all Church teachings hold the same weight:

“All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel. In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead. In this sense, the Second Vatican Council explained, ‘in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or a ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith’.[38] This holds true as much for the dogmas of faith as for the whole corpus of the Church’s teaching, including her moral teaching.” (chapter 1, section 36)

What gives me hope from this document, despite the fact that it does not challenge the traditional teaching on homosexuality, is that there is an openness and humility that seem to get at the core of the Christian message.  Having a pope who is interested in the opinions of the laity, who stresses dialogue and the possibility of change, who stresses diversity and decentralization, who acknowledges the role of science, who seeks to update old traditions can only mean that the road ahead is filled with possibilities.  (All of the items mentioned in the previous sentence were included in yesterday’s blog post on excerpts from the papal document.)

John Allen, writing in The National Catholic Reportersummarizes what he sees as Pope Francis’ outline for reform, which includes many of the items mentioned above.  Allen writes:

  • He calls for a “conversion of the papacy,” saying he wants to promote “a sound decentralization” and candidly admitting that in recent years “we have made little progress” on that front.
  • He suggests that bishops’ conferences ought to be given “a juridical status … including genuine doctrinal authority.” In effect, that would amount to a reversal of a 1998 Vatican ruling under John Paul II that only individual bishops in concert with the pope, and not episcopal conferences, have such authority.
  • Francis says the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” insisting that “the doors of the sacraments” must not “be closed for simply any reason.” His language could have implications not only for divorced and remarried Catholics, but also calls for refusing the Eucharist to politicians or others who do not uphold church teaching on some matters.
  • He calls for collaborative leadership, saying bishops and pastors must use “the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear.”
  • Francis criticizes forces within the church who seem to lust for “veritable witch hunts,” asking rhetorically, “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”
  • He cautions against “ostentatious preoccupation” for liturgy and doctrine as opposed to ensuring that the Gospel has “a real impact” on people and engages “the concrete needs of the present time.”

Pope Francis may not be the radical reformer that many have hoped for.  But for those who trust that the Holy Spirit is moving among the laity of the church and who have longed for the possibility of discussion of diversity of opinions, Pope Francis’ project seems to open up a new possibility of hope.

Clearly, this is not the kind of pope that we had gotten used to over the last four decades. And clearly, this new document is complex and layered.  Bondings 2.0 will continue to provide analysis and commentary of this document, especially as it relates to LGBT issues, as we become aware of them.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


British Catholic Leaders Support Marriage Equality Legislation

August 13, 2012

The Times of London, England, has published a letter to the editor today from 27 prominent British Catholics expressing support for the United Kingdom’s proposed legislation to legalize same-gender marriage.  (It is not possible to link to the text on the Times’ website because a subscription is required to access letters to the editor.)

The 27 signatories include James Alison (theologian & priest), Tina Beattie (theologian), Mary Grey (theologian), Bernard Lynch (priest), Martin Pendergast (Chair, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality).

The text of the letter reads:

“Sir,  Not all Catholics share their hierarchy’s stated views against proposals to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples. Nevertheless, the submission by the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales  to the Government’s equal civil marriage consultation indicates a growing understanding about legislating for same-sex unions, compared with its 2003 position, when it firmly opposed civil partnerships.

“It seems  to us, as Catholic laity, theologians and clergy, important to uphold some key pastoral care principles used by the Catholic Church in England & Wales. Its 1979 guidelines stated that the Church has a serious responsibility to work towards the elimination of any injustices perpetrated on homosexuals by society.

“In 1997 Cardinal Hume wrote that love between two persons, whether of the same sex, or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected. This respect demands that such loving relationships be afforded social recognition according to social justice principles. He proposed three criteria for considering issues of social policy: are there reasonable grounds for judging that the institution of marriage and the family could, and would be undermined by a change in law? Would society’s rejection of a proposed change be more harmful to the common good than the acceptance of such a change? Does a person’s sexual orientation or activity constitute, in specific circumstances, a sufficient reason for treating that person in any way differently from other citizens? We suggest that it is perfectly proper for Catholics, using fully informed consciences, to support the legal extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples.”

The full list of signers:

James Alison, Theologian & priest
Ruby Almeida, Chair of Quest (LGBT Catholics)
Tina Beattie, Theologian  
Mike Castelli, Educationalist
Mark Dowd, Journalist
Michael Egan, Chair, Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement
Maria ExallChair, Trade Unions Congress LGBT Committee
John Falcone, Theologian
Eileen Fitzpatrick, Educationalist
Kieran Fitszimons, Priest
Mary Grey, Theologian
Kevin Kelly, Theologian & priest
Ted Le Riche, Retired educationalist
Bernard Lynch, Priest
Gerard Loughlin, Theologian
Francis McDonagh, Lay-person
Patrick McLoughlin, Priest
Anthony Maggs, Priest
Lorraine Milford, Lay-person
Frank Nally, Priest                                                                                                                                                                                                       Martin Pendergast, Chair, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality                                                                                         Sophie Stanes, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                                       Joe Stanley, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                                   Valerie Stroud, Chair, Catholics for a Changing Church                                                                                                                                Terry Weldon, Editor, Queering the Church                                                                                                                                            Matias Wibowo, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                           Deborah Woodman, Clinical Psychologist

Congratulations and many thanks for this thoughtful piece.  Let’s hope and pray that Catholic leaders in other countries, particularly the United States, will speak out as clearly and forthrightly.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


The U.K.’s Marriage Equality Debate Heats Up

March 11, 2012

The Catholic debate about marriage equality has been heating up in the United Kingdom lately.  With proposals to legalize same-gender marriages in both England and Scotland, both sides in the debate have been issuing strong statements.

The BBC reports that on Sunday, March 11th,

“A letter written by the two archbishops representing London’s Roman Catholics – to be read in churches this weekend – alerts churchgoers to a potential future political fight to preserve traditional marriage.

“The letter – by Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Peter Smith – tells Catholics that changing the nature of marriage would be a “profoundly radical step” which would reduce its effectiveness and significance. . . .

“The letter – to be read out in 2,500 churches this weekend – ends by telling Catholics they have a ‘duty to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations.’ “

Martin Pendergast

Martin Pendergast, a leader in Britain’s Catholic LGBT movement, offered a response to the letter in an essay published in The Guardian. Part of his argument against the archbishops’ letter rests on clear historical fact and part rests on an important distinction between marriage and civil unions:

“State and church have regularly redefined marriage and its structures over centuries due to changing cultural patterns, religious influences, and insights in social and human development. The structures of marriage are rooted not in biology or gender difference per se, but in relationality. If not so, those with clearly no potential for fertility could not enter a valid marriage. Faith communities have countenanced and rejected polygamous marriage, allowed nullity, divorce and remarriage, and the 20th-century Catholic church developed its earlier teaching that marriage was solely for procreation, declaring its purpose is twofold, including the mutual relationship of the couple.

“Yet I am not a supporter of same sex marriage for myself. Marriage essentially depends on the subjection of one person to another, even if it’s a mutual subjection, in the exchange of vows. So I don’t seek such status. Civil partnerships are based on equality, legally expressed in a joint signing of a contractual covenant, rather than through vows. This value of equality is what those of us in same-sex civil unions bring to the common good. For those of us who are people of faith, the sacramentality of such unions is what we strive to live out. Many parents, families, friends, and members of congregations have grasped this message even if, sadly, much religious leadership has not.”

In Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien has been speaking out forcefully–and recklessly–against marriage equality in that nation.  Recently, he compared the legalizing marriage for lesbians and gays to legalizing slavery:

“Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the head of Catholics in Scotland, described gay marriage as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right” and said the Government’s plan to reform marriage laws was “madness”.

“In a stinging response to the Government’s assurances that no church would be compelled to conduct gay marriages, he wrote: ‘No government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood meaning of marriage.

” ‘Imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that ‘no one will be forced to keep a slave’. Would such worthless assurances calm our fury? Would they justify dismantling a fundamental human right? Or would they simply amount to weasel words masking a great wrong?’ “

O’Brien’s grossly insensitive remarks prompted The Tablet, Britain’s leading Catholic publication, to publish three opinions from prominent Catholics, under the heading “Can Marriage Ever Change?”  Below are excerpts from each of them:

Timothy Radcliffe, OP

Timothy Radcliffe, OP, a former master of the Dominicans world-wide:

“Marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility. Without this, there would be no life on this planet, no evolution, no human beings, no future. Marriage takes all sorts of forms, from the alliance of clans through bride exchange to modern romantic love. We have come to see that it implies the equal love and dignity of man and woman. But everywhere and always, it remains founded on the union in difference of male and female. Through ­ceremonies and sacrament this is given a deeper meaning, which for Christians includes the union of God and humanity in Christ.

“This is not to denigrate committed love of people of the same sex. This too should be cherished and supported, which is why church leaders are slowly coming to support same-sex civil unions. The God of love can be present in every true love. But “gay marriage” is impossible because it attempts to cut loose marriage from its grounding in our biological life. If we do that, we deny our humanity. It would be like trying to make a cheese soufflé without the cheese, or wine without grapes”

Martin Pendergast

Martin Pendergast(quoted at the beginning of this post), a founding member of the Cutting Edge Consortium:

“I believe Timothy Radcliffe risks idealising marriage too strongly, seeing it through his own dedicated prism of vowed celibacy. He states that “marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility”. But the social and anthropological structures of marriage are rooted not in biology but in relationality. As the Hebrew Scriptures say: “It is not good for a person to be alone.” Also, what of those who clearly have no potential for fertility – are they to be prevented from marrying, limited to a version of civil unions?

“Faith communities have redefined marriage throughout their history, countenancing and rejecting polygamous marriage, allowing divorce and remarriage, and the Second Vatican Council stated that the ends of marriage are twofold, not solely based upon procreation. In medieval times the focus was so strongly on betrothal rites that marriage, in some places, was a rarity, since so few people could fulfil the social and economic requirements for a marriage to take place before the altar. And what of all those “sworn brotherhood” rites, adapted also to include same-sex female partners, identified by researchers such as Alan Bray and John Boswell?”

Tina Beattie

Professor Tina Beattie, director of the Digby Stuart Research Centre for Catholic Studies, University of Roehampton:

“If we want to understand the sacrament, we need to look to Christ and the Church, not to the abundant diversity of participation within that sacramental love that constitutes our bodily human relationships. I’ve been married for 37 years and I have four children, but the loving relationships of my gay friends have helped me to understand more deeply what marriage means as a partnership of equals. I hope that they in turn have been enriched by their married heterosexual friends, and have better understood what their love means within the sacramental love of Christ and the Church.

In these times of radical change in our understanding of sexuality and human dignity (especially the full and equal dignity of women in this life and not just in the life to come), maybe we heterosexuals need the marriages of our homosexual friends to help us to understand what marriage looks like when it’s not corrupted by traditions of domination and subordination.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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