SYNOD: Two Cardinals Make Opposite Statements about Lesbian and Gay People

October 11, 2014

ROME, Italy–At the synod on Friday, a German cardinal made a plea for recognizing the value and worth of committed same-gender relationships.  On the same day, an American cardinal’s comments about gay and lesbian people revealed the prelate’s ignorance more than they revealed any truth about homosexuality.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who is a member of Pope Francis’ advisory council of eight cardinals, gave support for couples, but also offered a qualification.  The National Catholic Reporter carried his comments:

“The church must also take a differentiated view of homosexuality, Marx said.

” ‘One simply cannot say that a faithful homosexual relationship that has held for decades is nothing,’ he said, as that is too ‘forceful’ a standpoint.

” ‘We just mustn’t lump things together and measure everything with the same yardstick, but must differentiate and take a closer look, which doesn’t mean that I endorse homosexuality as a whole,’ he added.”

That final qualification is somewhat curious.  How can Marx support committed relationships but not embrace homosexuality as a whole?  Without further information, I can only speculate.  Does he mean that what is important is relationship, but that non-procreative sexual activity is not approved?  Are his remarks calculated to be provisional so that he might appeal to more conservative bishops who might not yet fully agree with him?  When he says that we shouldn’t measure everything with the same yardstick, does that mean that he is favor of a separate sexual ethic for heterosexuals and homosexuals?

One or more of these may be true. Or perhaps the cardinal means something entirely.  The vagueness of his answer is evidence of the fact that while the discussion of homosexuality at the synod is a welcome change, there still needs to be a more robust discussion of this topic by church leaders.  Let’s hope that this synod is only the beginning of such a discussion, and that future discussions will be more in-depth and will include the voices of lesbian and gay people and couples.

If you have any ideas of what Cardinal Marx might have meant by his remarks, please post them in the “Comments” section of this post.

One cardinal yesterday was very clear and forthright regarding homosexuality, but, unfortunately, his statement revealed his own ignorance about gay and lesbian people than any truth about same-gender relationships.

Cardinal Raymond Burke

Cardinal Raymond Burke, who used to be the head of the St. Louis archdiocese and now has a Vatican office, bizarrely stated that children should be kept away from gay and lesbian family members.  The Huffington Post  reported his comments:

“We wouldn’t, if it were another kind of relationship — something that was profoundly disordered and harmful — we wouldn’t expose our children to that relationship, to the direct experience of it. And neither should we do it in the context of a family member who not only suffers from same-sex attraction, but who has chosen to live out that attraction, to act upon it, committing acts which are always and everywhere wrong, evil.”

Michael Sean Winters, who blogs at The National Catholic Reportersaid that Burke was

“. . . appallingly tone deaf. . . If the rumors are true and +Burke is about to be dispatched to the Knights of Malta, I hope the appointment comes with a ban on giving him a microphone. This man’s inability to speak with even a whiff of human compassion is intrinsically disordered if you ask me.”

The ignorance of such remarks by such a high-ranking prelate remind us that while the synod’s discussion of LGBT issues is very welcome, we still have a long way to go in regard to becoming a more welcome church.  On the positive side, one bishop here in Rome told me that Burke’s comments may do some good by the fact that they highlight the ridiculousness of anti-gay attitudes and that a number of bishops will probably be turned off by such a statement.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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

June 26, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pope Francis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


Catholic Schools Week Calls Us to Reflect on Fair Employment for LGBT Educators

January 30, 2014

We are in the middle of Catholic Schools Week here in the U.S., a time to reflect on the importance of Catholic education in the life of the church and society.  This year, the celebration of this week is particularly bittersweet because while we know that Catholic schools have done so much good in our history, we are painfully aware that over the past few years, some (not all, by any means) Catholic schools have committed grave injustices by firing gay and lesbian employees who have legally married their spouses. No response to such actions have been stronger than that of the students of Eastside Catholic Prep School, near Seattle, Washington, where students have been active for over a month in their protest efforts to have former vice principal Mark Zmuda re-instated to his job.  Tomorrow, the students will be hosting #ZDay–a major demonstration of their support for Zmuda who was fired for marrying his husband.  People are encouraged to wear orange as a sign of solidarity with the students and Zmuda.

Rick Garnett

A wealth of interesting commentary has developed around this case and around the growing trend of such firings.  Rick Garnett, who contributes to Mirror of Justice, a blog about Catholic legal theory, has provided some important questions for reflection on the issues in this case.  Garnett writes:

“As a legal, constitutional, and political-theory matter, I guess I am committed to the view that a Catholic high school is and ought to be able to decide (a) that teachers and administrators must teach and form students in accord with the Church’s proposals and teachings and (b) whether or not a particular teacher or administrator is failing to do so.  That said, cases like these are . . . tricky for several reasons:   Even those Catholic schools that are most committed to tethering hiring and firing decisions to their Catholic mission and character do not, generally speaking, investigate employees’ private lives to be sure they are entirely consistent with the Church’s moral and other teachings.  (Phew!).  What’s more, failures to live in accord with the Church’s teachings regarding sexuality are failures, but they are not necessarily, as a category, more ‘serious’ or ‘grave’ failings than the failure (of so many of us!) to live in accord with the Church’s teachings on charity and humility, and yet we don’t hear about many Catholic school teachers being fired for exhibiting insufficient joy. “

I disagree with Garnett’s claim that not living in accord with Church teachings are “failures.”  After all, a person may have made this decision after serious conscience reflection, and, thus, are not “failing,” but actually “succeeding” in doing what they believe God has said is right.  Despite that disagreement, I think he is right to point out that adhering to rules about sexuality should not be the litmus test for whether or not one is a good role model as a Catholic educator.

Eduardo Moises Penalver

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver, a blogger at dotCommonwealcommented on Garnett’s post by offering an alternative course of action that the schools could have taken:

“Although I am inclined to agree with him [Garnett] that (at least for Catholic elementary and secondary schools who do not accept state funding) this is a choice for the Church to make, it seems to me that the Church has left itself the space to make a different choice in these situations.  It could choose to view the injustice it sees in gay marriage as (in its view) one that is perpetrated by the state, and not by the participants in gay marriages. Consequently, as to actual gay couples, it could simply treat the marriages as a nullity and ignore them.  On this view, the Church’s beef is with the state, not with the gay couple.  If it is willing to hire someone who is gay, it should not fire him/her for taking advantage of a set of secular benefits that the state has chosen to exend to him/her.”

Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, responded to Garnett’s blog post by teasing out many of the other moral issues at work in this case.  For instance, he writes:

“As a matter of law, Garnett is undoubtedly correct that there is no real debate: Eastside Catholic has the right to terminate any school employees it wishes. Teachers are certainly within the compass of the ministerial exemption from anti-discrimination laws, and even other staff members could seriously disrupt a parochial school’s mission if they wished in ways that would extend the ministerial exemption to them as well. The Church is free to fire and hire free from government interference, which does not mean it is smart to do so, only that it is undoubtedly within its legal rights to do so. “

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters

I think this is an important distinction to make because it addresses the issue of what the school is teaching the students by its actions.   Though they may have had a legal right to fire Zmuda, did they stop to think what lesson they would be sending to students with such an action?  From the response of the students, they have learned a terrible lesson about Catholic institutional discrimination, what columnist Jamie Manson has termed “a vaccine against faith.”   Who did more damage to the students’ lives as Catholics:  Mark Zmuda for marrying his husband or school administrators for responding so harshly to such an action? Winters makes another important distinction relevant to this case:  the difference between violating church teaching and undermining church teaching:

“Here is the rub for me. It is true that marriage is a public act. It entails official government recognition. You can look it up on a government register. But, most people do not spend their time sorting through government records to see who is, and is not, married. If Mr. Zmuda began bringing his husband to the school and introducing him as his husband, I do not see that as any different from a straight woman bringing in her live-in boyfriend or a straight man bringing in his mistress, and introducing them as such. In all three cases, I think the school would be within its moral as well as its legal rights to fire them. The offense, however, is not that they violated Church teaching, but that their announcement of their violation can be considered an effort to undermine Church teaching.”

Winters concludes with an appeal to the example of Pope Francis, whose style would be welcome in cases such as these:

“Blessings upon the gay rights leader who stands up for the constitutional right of a Catholic school to fire whom they wish. Blessings upon the Catholic prelate who admits that civil marriage for same-sex partners is not the threat it has been painted as. And, blessings upon everyone who helps to restore a greater appreciation for the idea that one’s private life is best kept private, that the personal is not necessarily the political, and that it is possible, at the same time, to both cling to the Church’s teachings and be generous and merciful with those who cannot or will not share them in their entirety. Isn’t that what Pope Francis has been trying to remind us these past few months?”

Ken Briggs

Ken Briggs

Ken Briggs, who also blogs for The National Catholic Reporter, has a more pessimistic view about Pope Francis’ influence on firings.   Briggs feels that Catholic institutional leaders have their hands tied by church law, and that they can’t do anything until the law changes.  He writes:

“Francis’ sentiments have become a mantra for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates as meaning gay and lesbian sexuality is within the bounds of moral approval. The anathema visited upon homosexual acts by the Vatican (‘intrinsically disordered’) is believed to have been superseded by the pope’s tolerance in the view of these hopeful thinkers. And who’s to blame them for the optimism in that ray of hope? “But in the real world of the Seattle archdiocese, decisions are supposed to be guided by official church teaching. The Catholic church’s opposition to same-sex marriage isn’t just advice. Practically speaking, it’s church law. What option do Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and the Eastside administration have but to follow the rule? “Nothing the pope has said gets to a particular case such as this and others that are cropping up. Perhaps that’s what the pope intends. He utters a personal vision of how things should be, even contrary to church teaching, hoping it will spark a grassroots debate that will eventually bring about change. Let a wholesale discussion work it out. He has endorsed a much more communal, conciliar church, so maybe he’s playing the role of catalyst.”

I disagree with this more pessimistic view.  I think that church leaders have the right and responsibility to weigh all factors in any situation and that they have an obligation to do what they think is right, not just what they think an authority is telling them to do.   People have a lot more freedom than they give themselves credit for.  Of course, they also have to be willing to live with the consequences of their decisions, but that is what a life of faith is all about. Moving past the culture of blindly following authority is something that Catholic leaders and people need to do.  We also need to move past a culture in which people courageously do what they think is right only up to the point where they may get in trouble.  Robert McClory touches on this topic in a National Catholic Reporter analysis of the Zmuda case.  McClory notes:

Robert McClory

Robert McClory

“Now that gays are marrying their longtime partners thanks to changes in federal and state laws, they are facing dismissal from their jobs. The alleged reason for dismissal is the fact that they are not following the church teaching on homosexuality. The real reason is that the word is out; the public knows they are gay — and the church is embarrassed. “But the affected employees weren’t following church teaching on this issue before, and somehow pastors and bishops were able to live with this less-than-perfect situation. Now, they feel, it’s time to impose a strict interpretation of the law. That’s where the hypocrisy, the double standard, is so obvious. Secrecy has been the chronic disease of Catholicism for a long time.”

There are many lessons to be learned from the Zmuda case about how church leaders can constructively respond to LGBT issues as they arise in Catholic institutions.  Let’s hope that the next time such a situation arises, the leaders involved will be able to look at some of the broader issues involved, and not narrowly focus on just the sexual issues that may be involved.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles 

For an excellent timeline about the Zmuda case, visit QueeringtheChurch.com

For learning how to establish non-discrimination policies in Catholic institutions, click here.


Writer to Conservative Bishops: “Watch. Listen. You Might Learn Something.”

August 19, 2013

Pope Francis’ press conference on the return flight from Brazil

Last week, Bondings 2.0 reported on Catholic bishops’ varied responses to Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” comment. Some welcomed the remark, others disapproved, and yet more tried to convince the world there was nothing new to it.  Michael Sean Winters comments on bishops’ responses in National Catholic Reporter with an eye towards those bishops struggling with the pope’s new leadership.

The responses of anti-LGBT Catholics caused Winters to rethink the role of and vision for bishops in our Church, as he writes:

“It would be amusing, if it were not so sad, to see many conservative Catholics attempt to qualify Pope Francis’ comment – ‘who am I to judge?’ – when asked about the circumstance of a Vatican prelate against whom charges of homosexual conduct were leveled…

“More troubling have been the reactions of some bishops. Emblematic would be the statement issued by San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

“Here is a man who clearly thinks that his primary duty as pastor is to defend the moral law. Certainly, his words do not suggest he has ever talked to gay people and acquired the ‘smell of the sheep’ from them. In an early section of the statement, in which he affirms the dignity of all people, including gay people, there is a lack of human warmth that is astounding.”

Winters points out that American bishops have reduced the moral law to sexual ethics as a sole focus, but instead of criticizing this errant narrowing he asks the larger question: are bishops first and foremost supposed to defend the moral law?

The columnist provides a brief historical rundown on morality from Scriptural roots to contemporary contexts. Of Jesus’ teachings and the first Christians, Winters writes:

“More importantly, Jesus called His disciples not just to a strict moral life, but to a prior stance towards other human beings, especially those in need, and reserved to Himself the judgment of others, a judgment He dispenses with great mercy: ‘Than neither do I condemn you,’ he said to the woman caught in the act of adultery.

“The early Church was certainly aware of the need for the moral law, but that concern did not dominate the early Church.”

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters

Of the modern world, Winters makes two points. First, religions are forced to jettison faith and keep just their ethics when they speak publicly. When a Catholic bishop’s primary role is just a defender of the moral law not only are they ignoring the broader thoughts of early Christianity, Winters also contends they concede to negative modern trends of secularization:

“A religious leader who presents himself primarily as a defender of the moral law has accepted secular norms in restricting his ministry. The leaders of the Church must be ministers of God’s mercy as much as they are teachers of the moral law. That, it seems to me is the essence of what Pope Francis is trying to tell the entire Church, but especially the clergy. Francis is trying to re-establish the authority of Jesus by following His admonition to leave the judging to God.”

Second, Archbishop Cordileone’s statement, among others, employed the argument that Catholics judge actions, not people and this thinking furthers the modern notion that morality is an abstract exercise. Referencing the philosopher Immanuel Kant, Winters criticizes those who fail to concern themselves with the “messiness of actual moral decision-making” and “live at the level of abstract principles” alone. He quotes a priest friend who writes:

“…it was bizarre [for Cordileone] to state ‘that we don’t judge people but we judge actions. Actions are done by people so how can you not really judge an action without some of the judgment falling on the person? The pope of course did not make this distinction because he saw that mercy has to enter into the equation and also because the pope is not a Kantian…”

These realities mean a negative answer to his initial question, namely that bishops are not primarily defenders of the moral law. Bishops are more than ethical voices, they should be pastors foremost, and Winters suggests this is one of Pope Francis’ major themes for his fellow clergy. Bishops must preach about Christ first and enter into life of those whom they serve (certainly themes Pope Francis has preached heavily on). Bishops, like all clergy, should express mercy.

And Winters’ suggestion for those uncomfortable with a pope who wants bishops to show mercy and enter the messiness of real life ethics? He concludes:

“Instead of trying to parse the new pope’s words in ways that empty them of their content, I suggest that those bishops who are wrestling with how to respond to Pope Francis’ way of leading the Church be quiet for bit. Watch. Listen. You might learn something. Pope Francis is getting us back to the basics of discipleship. When he stated, ‘who am I to judge?’ he was not overturning 2,000 years of moral teaching but he was inviting Christians to place themselves in the crowd, stones in hand, gathered around the woman caught in adultery, and to listen to the words of the Master: ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’ “

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis Preaches for ‘Open Doors’ to Welcome All

June 3, 2013

Pope Francis

A stark contrast to the actions of  members of the US hierarchy lately, Pope Francis is preaching a gospel of tolerance from the Vatican leaving many commentators and Catholics wondering what implications this will have. Whereas Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is quite literally closing the cathedral doors to LGBT Catholics and failing their pastoral needs, the pope is demanding that every church’s doors be open wide to anyone who seeks Jesus Christ.

Kevin Clarke at America calls Pope Francis a “human pastoral quote machine” when he reports on the pope’s recent morning Mass homily about welcoming all:

” ‘Today’s mildly rebuked pharisees are the self-appointed pastoral border guards who hold up a hand in consternation instead of offering one in welcome when the less-than-perfect among us seek to gate crash at the house of the lord. ‘There is always a temptation,’ Pope Francis warned, ‘to try and take possession of the Lord.’ The pope spoke of an unofficial ’8th’ sacrament created by parish gatekeepers to throw up obstacles to those they deem unworthy…

“Pope Francis said, ‘Jesus is indignant when he sees’ such efforts to block people from sacramental life because those who suffer are ‘his faithful people, the people that he loves so much.’ “

Michael Sean Winters of National Catholic Reporter analyzes this homily, and identifies two challenges that Francis lays at the feet of American bishops: what it means to be a pastor and the limits of theology. He quotes the pope as saying:

“‘Jesus is indignant when he sees these things [Catholics being excluded]‘ – said the Pope – because those who suffer are ‘his faithful people, the people that he loves so much’

“‘We think today of Jesus, who always wants us all to be closer to Him, we think of the Holy People of God, a simple people, who want to get closer to Jesus and we think of so many Christians of goodwill who are wrong and that instead of opening a door they close the door of goodwill … So we ask the Lord that all those who come to the Church find the doors open, find the doors open, open to meet this love of Jesus.’

Winters questions prelates like Archbishop Charles Chaput who exclude a child from Catholic elementary school for having lesbian mothers. He notes the false torment of Catholic parishes and dioceses around the recent Boy Scouts of America decision to allow gay youth. Ultimately, he concludes that the pope’s message should change this dynamic by making clergy more about love than rules.

The second challenge from Pope Francis is a critique of intellectualizing faith, as if theology provides every answer and all guidance. Too often the LGBT community is greeted with technical terms and strict categorizations from priests bound by out-dated theology, not pastoral love. Winters writes in summary:

“Papa Francesco is challenging all of us, across the board, to re-think our attitudes and our ideologies, our certainties and our prejudices…It seems like the Holy Father is becoming the world’s parish priest, and I hope the actual parish priests (and their bishops) will follow his example. He is welcoming. He is challenging. He is straight forward. But, most of all, he is loving.”

In loving and inviting all who seek our Catholic community, Pope Francis provides an alternative to the standard policy of exclusion found in too many parishes and dioceses. He claims Jesus is “indignant” when Catholics cannot access the sacramental life of the Church, the opposite of what Detroit Archbishop Vigneron said when he told told Catholics who support marriage equality to stay away from communion. The pope is preaching words of welcome, just as many are asking, “Can LGBT Catholics find a home in the Church?”  This question can be answered positively if bishops around the world are listening to Rome, and on this matter, we must hope they are.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Archbishop and Columnist Speak Out Against Pro-LGBT Immigration Law

May 16, 2013
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Two recent items about immigration reform from prominent Catholics–one an archbishop and one a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter–merit some commentary.

San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone spoke out in favor of the immigration reform bill, which would allow immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally a path to a green card and citizenship.  However, he also spoke out against an addition to that bill which would allow members of same-sex couples to legally sponsor their foreign partners for entrance into the U.S.

Speaking at a press conference at Mission Dolores this week, Cordileone’s statements seemed somewhat contradictory.  According to KCBS-TV,  he offered his support of the bill by stating:

“One concern for us is to keep families together, so it fits in very highly with our overall priorities.”

Yet, later, in discussing the provision for same-sex partners, he stated:

“We couldn’t support something like that. We’re willing to debate the issue, but it should be debated on its own merits, not as a part of another issue where we’re actually beginning to attain some national unity.”

The contradiction lies in the fact that the provision for same-sex partners indeed fits very well with the archbishop’s concern for keeping families together.  The provision would keep all families together, not just those who have heterosexual partners in them.

Furthermore, Cordileone seems to want to extract the debate about legal recognition of same-gender partners from the social realities that such couples face.  His comment that legal recognition of partners should be “debated on its own merits”  misses the point entirely.  It is precisely for access to social goods such as residency and citizenship that advocates for marriage equality work.  The issues are not separate.  They are intimately intertwined.

MissionLocal.org also covered the press conference, and they quoted a different, but similar statement from Cordileone:

“ ‘It’s an unrelated issue,’ he said of same-sex partnerships. ‘Let’s just focus on immigration reform in this bill.’  If the bill failed because of a controversial same-sex partnership amendment, he added, ‘it would be a tragedy.’ ”

Again, Cordileone misses the point.  This bill should be about comprehensive immigration reform, not just immigration reform for heterosexual people.  And the real tragedy would be that a bill gets passed that doesn’t protect everyone.

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters

Recently, Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter wrote about the politics of the immigration bill.  Winters supports the idea of including lesbian and gay couples in the bill in principle.  He even goes so far as to say:

“I wish that conservative Republicans and the religious groups backing immigration reform, including the USCCB, did not view the inclusion of same sex couples as a deal-breaker. I think they are wrong on the merits. . . “

But Winters ultimately feels that political reality necessitates excluding same-gender couples  this time around so that the bill can pass with less controversy.  His reasoning:

” . . . the Republicans in Congress, living as they do in gerrymandered districts, are probably right on the politics: Voting for immigration reform will be enough to earn some of them a primary challenge. Voting for immigration reform that includes back door recognition of same-sex marriage guarantees a primary challenger who will likely win. We can wish it were otherwise, but it isn’t. In addition to Hispanic Democrats, Republicans who are supportive of gay rights must also make the case to the gay rights lobby that immigration reform is tough enough already, and that this is not the issue on which to make a stand.”

Winters explains the reason why he doesn’t blame the Republicans, though:

“This is politics and if you don’t want to consider politics, you should not be in the game. Which is why my anger is not directed at the conservative Republicans. My anger is directed at the gay rights lobby. They are not being asked to abandon their cause or sacrifice their dignity. They are being asked for a bit of patience. Anyone can look at polling on the issue of same sex marriage and conclude that the issue will become a non-issue within a matter of years. There will be front door federal recognition of same sex marriage within my lifetime. I do not doubt it. But, when trying to get back door recognition of same sex marriage threatens to derail the best shot we have at immigration reform in years, shame on the gay rights lobby.”

So much wrong in this previous quotation.  For instance, doesn’t it seem like a big sacrifice of dignity to be forced to acquiesce in the wrong idea that one’s family commitment does not matter?  Is it true that they are only being asked for patience?  How long have same-gender couples already waited patiently?  And why does Winters characterize the inclusion of lesbian and gay couples in the bill as “back door recognition of same sex marriage” instead of what it truly is: a quest for justice and equality.

Winters also wants gay and lesbian people to wait on immigration reform because he sees them as a powerful lobby group who will eventually be able to get what they want:

“There was a time when gay rights groups had the moral stature of speaking for a group of people who were marginalized. Surely, today, in Washington, LGBT groups have political clout far beyond their numbers. . . . In Washington today, however, two days after the President of the United States called Jason Collins to compliment him on coming out of the closet, and overstays his press conference to praise Collins, well, the idea that gays lack clout is a bit far-fetched.”

I would love to ask Winters:  If you think that lesbian and gay people are so politically influential, then why are their political “friends” willing to sacrifice them in this immigration debate.  A truly powerful political lobby would never have to worry about such a thing happening.

Both Winters and Cordileone see lesbian and gay people as added baggage to this bill.  Were they to walk in the shoes of a same-sex couple who is separated by national boundaries and ignorant laws, they might think differently.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Did the Archbishop Exclude Pro-Marriage Equality Catholics from Communion? Only If They Let Him

April 10, 2013

Arcbishop Allen Vigneron

Did Detroit’s Archbishop Allen Vigneron tell Catholics who support marriage equality that they could not receive communion?  Well, he said, they should not, but not that they could not.  Is that distinction important?  Yes,  because it means that the ultimate authority about whether to receive or not rests with individual communicants, not with the archbishop.  And that distinction, as I discuss later, is a critical one which reflects on how Catholics view the importance of their own consciences.

But, first, let’s look at what was actually said and by whom.  The Detroit Free Press, which broke the story, reported Vigneron’s comments about communion as supplement to Detroit canon lawyer Edward Peters’ comments on the matter.  Peters, indeed, did say that Catholics who support abortion rights or marriage equality should not present themselves for communion, but even he did not issue a rule (which, by the way, he has no authority to do).  The Free Press quotes his recent comments on his personal blog:

“In a post on his blog last week, Peters said that Catholic teachings make it clear that marriage is between one man and one woman. And so, ‘Catholics who promote “same-sex marriage” act contrary to’ Catholic law ‘and should not approach for holy Communion,’ he wrote. ‘They also risk having holy Communion withheld from them … being rebuked and/or being sanctioned.’ “

Peters did urge pro-marriage equality Catholics not to receive communion.  He even went further than that:  he threatened that communion may possibly be withheld from them. But Peters did not forbid them from doing so.  He has no power to do so.

Archbishop Vigneron, similarly, did not issue a rule about communion, but made remarks similar to Peters.  Important to note is that he made these comments in response to a question by a reporter, not in the context of a directive that he was issuing. The Free Press reports:

“Asked by the Free Press about Catholics who publicly advocate for gay marriage and receive Communion, Vigneron said Sunday: ‘For a Catholic to receive holy Communion and still deny the revelation Christ entrusted to the church is to try to say two contradictory things at once: “I believe the church offers the saving truth of Jesus, and I reject what the church teaches.” In effect, they would contradict themselves. This sort of behavior would result in publicly renouncing one’s integrity and logically bring shame for a double-dealing that is not unlike perjury.’

“Vigneron said the church wants to help Catholics ‘avoid this personal disaster.’ “

Again, Vigneron did not forbid anyone from receiving communion, though he certainly discouraged certain people from doing so.  He did not direct priests to withhold communion.

Let me be clear:  I am making this distinction because I think it is important to be accurate about what Peters and Vigneron said–especially Vigneron, who holds canonical authority.  But I am not making this distinction to exonerate them in any way.  In fact, I believe that their remarks are very dangerous, not because they supposedly forbid people to receive communion, but because they confuse people by making it seem as if they did forbid them.

Moreover, Vigneron’s reasoning that equates receiving communion with acceptance of church teaching is bad theology.  Communion is about a spiritual reality, not an ecclesiological one.   Disagreeing with church teaching on civil marriage does not sever one from being in communion with the church or with God.

As the Free Press notes, Peters’ and Vigneron’s opinions are in the minority among Catholic leaders:

” ‘Most American bishops do not favor denying either politicians or voters Communion because of their positions on controversial issues,’ said Thomas Reese, a Catholic priest and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. Reese said that Peters’ views are ‘in a minority among American canon lawyers.’ “

The real danger in this case is that Catholics might indeed follow Vigneron’s suggestion and exclude themselves from communion. That would be a terrible tragedy for many reasons, not least of all because these Catholics would be ignoring the authority of their own consciences.  They would be acceding to an external authority instead of listening to the voice of God in their souls.  The ultimate authority of what they should do rests inside themselves.

Since Vigneron did not direct priests to withhold communion, the only people who could enact his suggestion would be potential communion recipients themselves.  If the Catholic Church is to be a truly Vatican II church, Catholics must start trusting their consciences, and not the confusing, ill-thought reflections of a canon lawyer and a bishop.  Catholics need to take responsibility to decide if they are disposed to go to communion.

Vigneron owes Catholics in his diocese an apology for creating such confusion.

For an excellent analysis and commentary on this case, I suggest a blog post by National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters entitled “+Vigneron, Same Sex Marriage & Communion.” My favorite line from it:

 “Peters is one of those canonists who recognizes every commandment except the Great Commandment.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,110 other followers