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


Catholic Columnist Urges Church to Rethink Homosexuality Teaching in Wake of University Decision

December 12, 2012

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters, a columnist at National Catholic Reporter, recently wrote on the failing nature of Catholic teaching on homosexuality in light of the University of Notre Dame’s decision to approve a comprehensive plan for LGBTQ students. You can read an earlier Bondings 2.0 post on the decision here.

Winters notes the decision garnered a positive statement by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Ft. Wayne-South Bend, the diocese in which the University is located, before divulging his personal commentary. His commentary takes up several points relevant to the Notre Dame decision, the first of which is the theology surrounding homosexuality:

“Here is the bottom line for me on these issues. The Church’s theological reflection on homosexuality is inadequate at the moment, usually crammed into the worldview that existed for a very long time that assumed that the sexual activities of gay people were the perverse acts of straight people.”

Winters acknowledges that advancements of the past decades allow a deeper understanding of homosexuality as something “constitutional” and “it is not an aberrant choice.” This leads him to conclude:

“The language about ‘intrinsically disordered’ should be dropped entirely because it ran the danger of creating a new category of sin, not a vice like the seven deadly to which we are all prone, nor a specific act like stealing a car, but a disposition that was itself flawed and unique to certain persons.”

Finally, Winters directly addresses the decision at Notre Dame, which he calls “courageous” because the University recognizes the human dignity of LGBTQ students beyond a theology of human sexuality that is outdated:

“We also have a Christian obligation to ‘create a community where all may flourish and feel welcome, where we aspire to an even deeper understanding and appreciation of Catholic teaching, and where the human dignity of each Notre Dame student is valued.’ That, too, is part of our Catholic moral tradition. Notre Dame is right, and even courageous…”

Winters has named the essential struggle for LGBTQ and Ally students at Catholic colleges and universities, and indeed for the entire church:  how to protect human dignity .

Only emphasizing Catholic sexual ethics that classifies homosexuality as a sin set apart when addressing LGBTQ campus needs is dehumanizing. Students fade from being persons who deserve pastoral and educational care into partisan activists that are to be battled for nothing more than their sexual orientation. Worse, these anti-inclusive institutions miss some legitimate issues at stake: a student’s safety, well-being, and success in higher education.

New Ways Ministry joins Michael Sean Winters in applauding the University of Notre Dame and over a third of Catholic colleges that defend their student’s dignity foremost by providing resources for LGBT persons. You can view our listing of gay-friendly Catholic schools here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Former Ambassador to the Vatican Speaks Out Against Ugandan Discrimination

August 13, 2012

Thomas Patrick Melady, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and also to Uganda, has repeated and strengthened his plea to other religious leaders calling for an end to discrimination and injustice directed towards lesbian and gay people in Uganda.  In a blog posting on the Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good website, Melady calls on Christians to speak out against the draconian practices against lesbian and gay people, especially since these practices are being justified by religious arguments.

(A “hat-tip” to Michael Sean Winters’ blog post on The National Catholic Reporter website for alerting me to Melady’s post.  Winters points out that Melady is a co-chair of Mitt Romney’s Catholic outreach team, making the former ambassador “another example of an orthodox Catholic calling on Catholics not to traffic in anti-gay bigotry. Coming from such an illustrious member of the Republican Party’s Wise Men, let’s hope Melady’s counsel reaches far and wide and deep.”)

Melady argues that

“. . . the new tranquility in Uganda is being threatened by a determined effort in the legislature to criminalize homosexuality. Gay Ugandans are being demonized. A recent bill would have enforced lifetime prison sentences and even the death penalty for gay acts. Neighbors could be punished by prison sentences for not reporting gay and lesbian neighbors to the authorities.

 “It is unfortunate that the campaign for these actions has been inspired by American missionaries and others. As I stated in a previous article on this matter, I urge U.S. faith leaders of all denominations to speak out against the campaign to demonize gays in Uganda. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ against gays should be avoided. As a layman I would like to observe that the legislation being advocated by a few, which emphasizes severe punishment, runs contrary to the Christian tradition. In view of the high numbers of Christians of all denominations in Uganda, this represents and opportunity for American faith leaders, especially Christians, to urge their co-religionists to respond more correctly to Christian teachings and traditions.”
Silence on this issue, Melady points out, is not an option, and so he makes his call to speak out explicitly to Catholics, noting:
“Our Catholic faith in the inalienable dignity of every human being demands no less.”
Indeed, Catholic leaders have been shamefully silent about this matter, particularly compared to how quickly and loudly they speak out when questions of equal marriage rights for lesbian and gay people are proposed.  In the face of such blatant injustice, silence from Catholic leaders is even more unjust.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Additional Bondings 2.0  posts on the situation in Uganda:
July 25, 2012:  Catholics Among Christian Leaders Supporting LGBT Rights in Uganda
July 25, 2012:  New Report Identifies Catholic Suppport for Africa’s Anti-Gay Movement
June 15, 2012: More Details on Catholic Support for Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill

June 11. 2012: Uganda’s Catholic Bishops Reverse Their Stance to Support Anti-Homosexual Bill

March 29, 2012: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s ‘Case for Gay Acceptance in the Catholic Church’

March 4, 2012: When Will the Pope Speak Out, Too?

December 26, 2011: Breaking the Catholic Silence on LGBT Human Rights Violations

December 23, 2011: A Gay Catholic in Uganda Speaks; Cardinal George Should Listen


Bishop Cupich’s Message of Compassion Should Become a Message of Justice

August 7, 2012

Bishop Blaise Cupich

In his blog on the National Catholic Reporter  website, Michael Sean Winters rightly praises Spokane’s Bishop Blaise Cupich for a rare, and perhaps unique, bit of civility from a member of the Catholic hierarchy in discussing marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.   While praise is certainly due to Bishop Cupich for his compassionate approach, his way of dealing with the issue also highlights that what is still missing from the Catholic hierarchy in their dealings with LGBT people is the message of justice.

Winters writes:

“I would like to call readers’ attention to a pastoral letter read at all Masses this past weekend in the Diocese of Spokane from Bishop Blase Cupich. Washington State will have a referendum on same sex marriage this November, even though Washington State already has civil unions that confer all the rights that attend to marriage on same-sex partners. The debate has generated a lot of strong feelings and, in his letter, Bishop Cupich addresses those feelings:

Admittedly, the conflicting positions of this issue are deeply held and passionately argued. Proponents of the redefinition of marriage are often motivated by compassion for those who have shown courage in refusing to live in the fear of being rejected for their sexual orientation. It is a compassion that is very personal, for those who have suffered and continue to suffer are close and beloved friends and family members. It is also a compassion forged in reaction to tragic national stories of violence against homosexuals, of verbal attacks that demean their human dignity, and of suicides by teens who have struggled with their sexual identity or have been bullied because of it. As a result, supporters of the referendum often speak passionately of the need to rebalance the scales of justice. This tends to frame the issue as a matter of equality in the minds of many people, a value that is deeply etched in our nation’s psyche.Likewise, many opponents of the law redefining marriage have close friends and family members who are gay or lesbian. They too recognize the importance of creating a supporting environment in society for everyone to live a full, happy and secure life. Yet, they also have sincere concerns about what a redefinition of marriage will mean for the good of society and the family, both of which face new strains in our modern world. They are asking the public to take a serious and dispassionate look at what a radical break with centuries of marriage law and practice will mean.

“What is remarkable about these paragraphs is that Bishop Cupich does not demean those whose views are different from his own. He does not distort or mischaracterize those views. Indeed, he recognizes that, seen from a certain point of view, these attitudes are entirely understandable. I dare say that any proponent of same sex marriage would have to allow that the bishop’s words are not only not incendiary, they are the fruit of a desire to understand, evidence of a stance of primordial respect for all people.”

I, too, want to praise Bishop Cupich for inserting some reasoned compassion into this contentious debate.  His statements, however, also serve as a reminder that what he said is not really enough at this time.  Catholic supporters of marriage equality already know what motivates their passion for the issue.  But hearing their motivations characterized by someone who opposes their position is not completely satisfactory, especially when the motivations are characterized as simply having soft hearts.

Catholics who support marriage equality indeed are motivated by compassion, but they are more strongly motivated by justice.    Marriage equality is not simply a matter of feeling sorry for people, but about the passion for justice that the Catholic social justice tradition has burned into their hearts.  Catholics who support marriage equality do so because they want to see human dignity protected, families strengthened, and equality promoted.

More importantly,  Bishop Cupich’s statements beg the question:  If he understands that marriage equality supporters have sincere motivations for their positions, why doesn’t he and other bishops meet with such supporters to dialogue about their deeply-held and faith-filled ideas?  Catholic marriage equality supporters don’t need or want acknowledgement from bishops that their ideas are valid.  They already know that. What they want is an opportunity to share those ideas with church officials in adult conversations, guided by both faith and reason.

Winters concludes his blog post on Bishop Cupich’s statement by praising the model of civility and compassion that the Spokane bishop offers, particularly in reminding all Catholics that the magisterium condemns discrimination against LGBT people:

“He then goes on to cite a document issued by the bishops, Ministry to Persons With a Homosexual Inclination, which in turn cites both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This last is especially bracing given the usual media narrative that the Catholic Church hates gays.

It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs.

“Sadly, too many Catholics, on the blogosphere, in the pulpit, and at the water cooler, do not echo these words from the CDF, still less that kind of language found in Bishop Cupich’s truly remarkable letter. I am not a fan of the culture warrior model, but admit there are times when I wonder if the culture is not moving in certain ways that are so hostile to the Church, that such a model will become unavoidable. But, now, when I despair that such may be the case, I can re-read this letter to the Catholics of Spokane and take heart. We can be faithful and reasonable, faithful and respectful, faithful and persuasive. We must, as Catholics and as Americans, care about our culture, but we don’t have to dress up as warriors to express our concern, and Bishop Cupich has shown the way.”

Again, while I would like to join in the praise of the bishop’s even-handedness, I take exception to Winters’ analysis of it.  Catholics who support marriage equality do not want or need “kinder, gentler” bishops whose compassion for LGBT people can be used to more persuasively argue against justice and equality for LGBT people.  While we certainly need fewer bishops who are culture warriors, we don’t need any whose compassion can be used as a persuasive tool to win people over to positions which are unjust.

What we do need are bishops who will open their minds and hearts to the Catholics who disagree with them.  We need bishops who are not merely defensive, but proactive in seeking out solutions that respond to the active faith of all Catholics.  We need bishops who not only feel sorry for LGBT people, but who respect their consciences and their faith journeys.  We need bishops who respond positively to Catholic people crying for justice, instead of identifying such people as enemies.

Bishop Cupich has certainly taken a first step in these directions, and he rightly deserves praise for his efforts.  I hope that he will be encouraged to take bolder ones in the future.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


The Catholic Dimension at the International AIDS Conference

July 26, 2012

The International AIDS Conference, the largest gathering of HIV/AIDS researchers, educators, advocates, care-givers, and pastoral workers in the world,  is meeting in Washington, DC, this week.  It is the first time in over 20 years that the United States has hosted the conference; for many years U.S. immigration policy would not admit people who were HIV+ into the country, so the meeting could not be held here.

Catholics are certainly a presence at the meeting.  Last weekend, Catholic Charities USA hosted a pre-conference three-day gathering of Catholics involved in pastoral care and social work with people who have HIV/AIDS.  Howard University Divinity School in Washington also hosted a three-day Interfaith Conference on HIV/AIDS issues and faith.

Among those attending all three events were two Catholics from the United Kingdom, Vincent Manning and Adela Mugabo.  The pair presented at the Catholic and Interfaith pre-conferences on the Catholic ministry they are doing in the UK with their organization, “Positive Catholics.”  Their presentation focused on the need to move from a model of peer support to a model of peer ministry.  In a National Catholic Reporter article about the Catholic Charities conference, Manning described this new ministry model as “a fellowship of the weak” :

Vincent Manning

Manning, of United Kingdom faith-based group Positive Catholics, said ‘stigma and fear produce a silence that isolates and excludes people,’ and the aim of the group is ‘to listen with great care – healing begins when a person feels seen and heard.’ “

The occasion of the International Conference also sparked memories of those who have gone before us and reflections on how far we have come.  Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for National Catholic Reporter offered this very poignant description as part of his blog post on the Washington meeting:

“Memory sears. It is painful. It is grounded in experience and, just so, less easily shared. Those of us who lived through the HIV crisis before there was treatment look back on that time with pained hearts. It is as Augustine wrote about the death of his childhood friend: our tears have taken the place of our friends. The emptiness of life without so many friends and colleagues who once filled our lives but died too early from this dread disease, that emptiness remains. At Mass on Sundays, during the Eucharistic prayer, the priest calls us to pray for those who have gone before us, and he usually pauses. I pray first for my Mom, then for my uncles and aunts, and my grandparents, for Fr. Kugler and Msgr. Ellis, and then I start down the list of those lost to AIDS: David, always first because he was my best friend and nary a day has passed since his death that I do not miss his wit and wisdom, Stephen, Damien, Nalty, Bryan, Hooper, Robert, the customer whose name I have forgotten who always had a coterie of friends with him when he came into the restaurant where I worked. I never seem to have time to mention them all before the priest continues with the prayer. As the priest continues, the very next lines in the Roman Canon recall apostles and martyrs: John the Baptist, Stephen, Mathias, Barnabas, Ignatius….The list of my friends who have died, which I am still muttering silently, blends in to naming of the saints. I like that.”

Winters’ post goes on to challenge the gay community, who he feels has re-shuffled their priorities away from HIV/AIDS to political causes such as marriage equality and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”   He observes:

“With limited resources, financial and political, it seems to me that the fight against HIV, especially because it now disproportionately affects minority populations, should still be the top priority for gay rights groups.  One cannot marry if one is dead. One cannot serve openly in the armed forces if one is dead.”

His concluding challenge is to ALL Catholics to continue working for people with HIV/AIDS:

“As Catholics, we cannot abandon the fight against HIV, still less our compassion for those who acquire the disease. As Catholics, we must fight the stigmatization that comes with the disease. As Catholics, our conscience and our attention must be pricked when we see a disease begin to disproportionately affect minority populations. As Catholics, we must fight to preserve the Affordable Care Act which will help make high-quality care available to everyone, not just the rich. As Catholics, called to love of neighbor, and assured that we will be judged by how we respond to the hungry, the stranger, the thirsty, and the ill, we cannot turn our eyes away from this still pernicious epidemic and all the socio-cultural sins it makes manifest.”

Another set of memories comes from an Oxford University Press blog post by Richard Giannone, a retired Fordham University professor who has recently authored a memoir, Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire. Giannone recalls the early days of the epidemic, and its effect on one New York City Catholic parish:

“Though the Catholic church hadn’t been mother to her gay children, some came anyway to the 5:30 afternoon Mass at St. Joseph’s Church in Greenwich Village. Clothes drooped on emaciated men in their mid-twenties to early forties. Pustules rutted the withered flesh of several. Some sported baseball caps to keep facial lesions shaded out of sight of onlookers. A few men used make-up to screen darkened facial spots. But nothing covered the bones of suffering or muted the sound of sickness from the pews punctuating the words of God from the altar.

“Living in wrack and ruin, these men brought life back into a church that left them for dead. They walked to the Lord’s Table for sustenance, more life. The vitality of their appeal stood out in sharp relief against the lifeless Christianity that vilified their gayness. Such spiritual defiance taught me what I needed to know and need to remember.

“AIDS was our passion. Its agony thrust gay life into the vortex of twentieth-century history. This previously censored truthfulness came to rest in rows of church benches for all to bear gayness in mind as part of providential history. Their perseverance asked me to trust the body. I did.

“At the liturgy, persons with HIV were not seen as the reviled carriers of plague rejected by society. Bodies that were hosts for infections sought the host of sacred healing. Their return to the home that spurned them showed that the divine spirit was far beyond any barrier of separation that humans erected for themselves. The love that dare not say its name howled out from its heart with what voice it had left to reclaim its place in God’s plan. Worship modeled a church and society to which I felt I could belong.”

May such memories, as well as the present witness of those who continue to struggle with the disease, as well as those who work to prevent and cure, as well as care for those affected, spur us on to greater resolve to end the epidemic.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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