The Complex and Layered Meanings in Pope Francis’ New Document

November 27, 2013

Pope Francis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


A Catholic Conservative Comes Out for Same-Sex Marriage

August 29, 2013

At the end of last week, Commonweal magazine published a long essay with the provocative headline:  “The Things We Share:  A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage. ”   While accurate, the headline doesn’t tell the whole story.   The essay is not just a Catholic argument for marriage equality, it is an argument that comes from a leading Catholic conservative and he bases his stand on natural law theory–the philosophical position that bishops and other religious thinkers use to oppose marriage equality.

Joseph Bottum

Joseph Bottum

I have to admit that I’m a bit ambivalent about recommending this essay to you.  Not because I disagree with it (though there are some points with which I differ), but because it is long, complicated and extremely digressive.  At over, 9,300 words, it may be one of the longest articles Commonweal has published,  The numerous erudite digressions in the essay make it seem even longer.

But it is an important article, given the fact that the author, Joseph Bottum, was once the editor of First Things, a leading publication for religious and political conservatives.  His “defection” from the “party line” of these types of thinkers is, therefore, significant, especially since he uses their very esteemed theory of natural law to make a case against their stand.

Bottum’s case for marriage equality actually comes very close to the end of the essay.  He spends the first three-quarters of the essay dealing with a variety of tangential issues that (somewhat) lay the groundwork for his marriage argument.  The New York Times ran a story about Bottum’s Commonweal argument, and their summary of his case is actually easier to read and more understandable than the original, so I quote from it here:

“Natural law, as systematically explained by Aquinas in his treatise Summa Theologica, is the will of God as understood by people using their reason. Aquinas extrapolates many principles of natural law, including those of marriage. But Mr. Bottum contends that these rules are not the point.

“Natural law, Mr. Bottum writes, depends for its force on a sense of the mystery of creation, the enchantment of everyday objects, the sacredness of sex. In the West, that climate of belief has been upended: by science, modernism, a Protestant turn away from mysticism, and, most recently, the sexual revolution. The strictures of natural law were meant to structure an enchanted world — but if the enchantment is gone, the law becomes a pointless artifact of a defunct Christian culture.

“ ‘And if,’ Mr. Bottum writes, ‘heterosexual monogamy so lacks the old, enchanted metaphysical foundation that it can end in quick and painless divorce, then what principle allows a refusal of marriage to gays on the grounds of a metaphysical notion like the difference between men and women?’ “

Where I tend to disagree with Bottum is not on his view of natural law, but with the fact that he seems to discount all other approaches to supporting marriage equality.  He spends a good deal in the beginning of his article refuting some of the more popular ways that marriage equality has been argued for in the U.S., i.e., based on legal fairness:

“It’s not enough for a Catholic to say that legal fairness and social niceness compel us. We have a religion of intellectual coherence, too, and the moral positions we take have to comport with the whole of the moral universe. That’s the reason for trying to be serious—for demanding that the unity of truth apply, and that ethical claims cannot be separated from their metaphysical foundations.

“If there is no philosophical or theological reasoning that leads to Catholic recognition of civil same-sex marriage, then we’re simply arguing about what’s politic. What’s fair and nice. What flows along the channels marked out by the dominant culture. We’re merely suggesting that Catholics shouldn’t make trouble. And how is that supposed to convince anyone who holds intellectual consistency at more than a pennyweight?”

Where I disagree with him on this matter is that these arguments for marriage equality are not just secular and political ones, but are also often theological and faith-filled.  For example, many Catholics have used our church’s social justice tradition, not the Democratic Party’s talking points,  to support marriage equality.  Bottum seems to be unaware of the fact that Catholics have been arguing for many years for marriage equality from a faith perspective.

His unawareness of a faith-based perspective affirming marriage equality makes him fall into the trap of spending a good deal of his essay arguing what I consider an irrelevant point.  He states that there exists

“. . . a question religious believers must ask: a prior question of whether the current agitation really derives from a wish for same-sex marriage, or whether the movement is an excuse for a larger campaign to delegitimize and undermine Christianity.”

In raising this point, Bottum shows a great suspicion of secular culture which is characteristic of many conservative Catholics.  I don’t doubt that some on the left want to bring down the church, but my own personal dealings with many LGBT advocates has shown me that many are sincerely respectful of religion.

Still, the value of his argument is that it addresses conservative Catholics on their own terms of natural law theory.  Many traditionalist Catholics will not support marriage equality from a social justice perspective because they don’t think that this tradition applies to LGBT issues.  I’m not sure that many will even be convinced by Bottum’s argument from natural law theory, but it will be harder for them to refute such a position.

Ross Douthat wrote a commentary for The New York Times on Bottum’s essay in which he points out another value of Bottum’s essay.  Douthat describes the piece as

“. . . a literary Catholic’s attempt to wrench the true complexity of his faith back out of the complexity-destroying context of contemporary political debates. He’s writing as someone who loves his church, and wants everyone else to love it as he does — and I don’t blame him for imagining that perhaps, just perhaps, ceasing to offer public resistance on the specific question of gay marriage would liberate the church from some the caricatures that the culture war has imposed upon it, and enable the world to see its richness with fresh eyes.”

I cite this evaluation of the piece because I believe that Bottum’s strongest point in his essay is his awareness that the hierarchy’s strong vocal opposition to marriage equality is doing pastoral harm to Catholics. And it is doing even greater harm to the reputation of the bishops as national leaders. (I make this point about the bishops’ reputation not because of the content of their position, but because of the very angry and insensitive rhetoric they often use to make their point.) After reviewing the stunning recent victories for marriage equality in legislatures, polling booths, and courtrooms, Bottum states:

“We are now at the point where, I believe, American Catholics should accept state recognition of same-sex marriage simply because they are Americans.

“For that matter, plenty of practical concerns suggest that the bishops should cease to fight the passage of such laws. Campaigns against same-sex marriage are hurting the church, offering the opportunity to make Catholicism a byword for repression in a generation that, even among young Catholics, just doesn’t think that same-sex activity is worth fighting about.”

Bottum’s essay is complex and important.  If you are a progressive Catholic and read the essay all the way through, I think you will find yourself nodding in agreement on some points and shaking your head in disagreement at others.  I suspect that the same will be true for many conservative Catholics.   Regardless of one’s political and ecclesiastical orientation, the essay will make the reader think in new ways.  And for that reason, it is worth the effort.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

QueeringTheChurch.com:  A Conservative Catholic Evolution on Gay Marriage

The Wild Reed: A Conservative Catholic’s Contribution to the Journey to Marriage Equality

The American Conservative:  J. Bottum Flip-Flops On Gay Marriage

The Dish (by Andrew Sullivan):  The Latest Conservative Defector On Same-Sex Marriage

 

 


Pope Francis Supported Civil Unions While Archbishop

March 21, 2013

Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square during his Inaugural Mass

Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 reported that Pope Francis’ record on marriage equality when he was archbishop in Argentina was not as clear as originally thought. Further revelations show that the new pope once supported civil unions, leading some Catholic observers to expect a different tone than his papal predecessor on LGBT issues.

Rachel Donadio writes in the New York Times about Pope Francis’ history on the issue of same-gender relationships’ legal recognition:

“But behind the scenes, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who led the public charge against the measure, spoke out in a heated meeting of bishops in 2010 and advocated a highly unorthodox solution: that the church in Argentina support the idea of civil unions for gay couples.

“The concession inflamed the gathering — and offers a telling insight into the leadership style he may now bring to the papacy…

“But as he faced one of the most acute tests of his tenure as head of Argentina’s church, he showed another side as well, supporters and critics say: that of a deal maker willing to compromise and court opposing sides in the debate, detractors included.”

Pope Francis’ proposal would lose to other Argentine bishops, but his actions upholding the hierarchy’s position while reaching out have won him both praise and criticism. Donadio continues:

“‘[Cardinal Bergoglio] listened to my views with a great deal of respect,’ said Marcelo Márquez, a gay rights leader and theologian who wrote a tough letter to Cardinal Bergoglio and, to his surprise, received a call from him less than an hour after it was delivered. ‘He told me that homosexuals need to have recognized rights and that he supported civil unions, but not same-sex marriage.’…

“‘The reality, beyond what he may have said in private meetings, was that he said some terrible things in public,’ said Esteban Paulón, president of the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals. ‘He took a role, in public, that was determinedly combative.’…

“‘Bergoglio’s thinking was very clearly demonstrated both with what he said and in the message of his pastoral work,’ said Roxana Alfieri, a social worker in the communications department of the bishops’ central office here.

“‘He didn’t want the church to take a position of condemning people but rather of respect for their rights like any vulnerable person,’ said Ms. Alfieri, who sat in on the bishops’ 2010 meeting.”

The account by the New York Times has been endorsed by John Allen, Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter who summarizes an understanding of Pope Francis on marriage, as neither indicative of how he will act as pope nor revolutionary as prelates have been known to endorse alternative legal structures aside from marriage for same-gender couples. Allen writes:

“The pope has been a staunch opponent of gay marriage but open to legal arrangements to protect the rights of same-sex couples on matters such as health benefits and inheritance.

“It should be noted that this is hardly the first time a senior church official has said such a thing, though doing so generally invites a degree of blowback.”

All of this is a sign that Pope Francis may move the hierarchy forward on the issue of marriage equality, including Michael O’Loughlin of Religion News Service who writes:

“As pastor to the world’s Catholics, and a moral leader to many others, might Francis bring his pragmatic views on LGBT issues to the global stage? He is poised, if he so desires, to make huge advances for the church in how it treats its gay and lesbian members, all without engaging in the divisive doctrinal battles that would accompany an adjustment of church teaching on sexuality…

“No one expects him to usher in an era of liberalism on issues of sexuality, and he said some hurtful things during the marriage debate in Argentina. But Pope Francis seems capable of changing the tone the church employs in these emotional conversations…How he chooses to respond to the needs of LGBT people will solidify his reputation as a pastor who stands in solidarity with those whom society—and the church—has marginalized.”

Whether a history of dialogue and compromise on LGBT legal issues will transfer into his papacy remains to be seen, but Pope Francis is a much more complex figure for Catholics than his predecessors on these LGBT issues.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


France and Britain Make Significant Progress Towards Marriage Equality

February 7, 2013

French legislators play Scrabble

Legislators in Britain and France made significant gains towards legalizing marriage equality this week, passing parliamentary tests that nearly ensure full victory later this year.

The British House of Commons concluded six hours of intense debate by approving a marriage equality bill’s second reading in a 400-175 vote. The bill now enters committee for review and amendments before the House of Commons will likely approve it in a third reading and send it to the House of Lords for their vote, where it is expected to pass later this year.

The New York Times reports on the debate in Parliament, noting the lackluster efforts of an opposition who knows they are defeated:

“By comparison [to the debate in France], the debate in the House of Commons was mostly understated, with a strong undercurrent of realism among lawmakers who oppose gay marriage but sensed that the battle was already lost, not only in the crushing parliamentary majority favoring change but in a wide variety of opinion polls that have shown strong public support.”

However, given recent efforts by the Catholic bishops in England reported by Bondings 2.0 (view links below), it seems likely that anti-equality opposition will continue trying to defeat the legislation.

Across the English Channel, the French National Assembly, in a 249-97 vote, passed a vital article that defines marriage as a contract between two individuals without reference to their gender. The margin of victory is a positive sign that a law will be fully passed by mid-2013, even as assembly members continued debate over adoption rights and other amendments this week.

Attaining legal equality for same-gender couples and their families has been a hallmark initiative of the left led by President Francois Hollande, although the BBC reports French citizens are split with only about 60% supporting equal marriage rights.

Catholic right organizations have led the campaign against equal rights through massive demonstrations, with both sides acting extremely in preceding months. Bondings 2.0 has reported on these protests, along with more positive language from the French bishops that recognizes the goodness of same-gender relationships. Links to these are provided below.

On a lighter note, the Daily Mail shows two French assemblymen playing Scrabble during the proceedings – with fully commentary on their word choices, if you are interested.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Recent Posts on Britain

February 5, 2013:  Marriage Equality a Closer Reality in Britain, But What Will the Consequences Be?

January 14, 2013: Extreme Protests from Both Sides of the Catholic Marriage Equality Debate

January 10, 2013: Bishops in United Kingdom Attack Marriage Equality on Several Fronts

Recent Posts on France

January 30, 2013: Excerpts from French Bishops’ Document Which Affirms Same-Gender Relationships

January 25, 2013: Bishops in France Release Hopeful Statement on Same-Sex Relationships

January 16, 2013:  Catholic Anti-Equality Protesters March in Paris, Fail to Reverse French Government’s Plans

 


Irish Priest’s Refusal to Be Silenced Is a Beacon of Hope for Church Renewal

January 20, 2013

 

As I see it, one of the greatest hindrances to progress on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church is not just the intransigence of many hierarchical leaders, but the fact that many “mid-level” leaders do not speak their mind about their support for such issues.  The fear of retaliation, no doubt, is strong, but it has always been a puzzle why so many so often give into this fear.

Father Tony Flannery

Father Tony Flannery

An inspiring story out of Ireland gives a shining example of one priest who has not succumbed to such fear.  The New York Times  reports:

“The Rev. Tony Flannery, 66, who was suspended by the Vatican last year, said he was told by the Vatican that he would be allowed to return to ministry only if he agreed to write, sign and publish a statement agreeing, among other things, that women should never be ordained as priests and that he would adhere to church orthodoxy on matters like contraception and homosexuality.”

Fr. Flannery’s words, I hope, will give courage to many other church leaders:

“ ‘How can I put my name to such a document when it goes against everything I believe in,’ he said in an interview on Wednesday. ‘If I signed this, it would be a betrayal not only of myself but of my fellow priests and lay Catholics who want change. I refuse to be terrified into submission.’ ”

What is inspiring is not only his bravery, but his willingness to expose the fear tactics that are often used at higher levels in our church.

A member of the Redemptorists, Fr. Flannery is also a leader of Ireland’s Association of Catholic Priests, which the New York Times  describes as ” a group formed in 2009 to articulate the views of rank-and-file members of the clergy.”  He commented on what he sees as the scare tactics of the current papacy:

“He believes the church’s treatment of him, which he described as a ‘Spanish Inquisition-style campaign,’ is symptomatic of a definite conservative shift under Pope Benedict XVI.

“ ‘I have been writing thought-provoking articles and books for decades without hindrance,’ he said. ‘This campaign is being orchestrated by a secretive body that refuses to meet me. Surely I should at least be allowed to explain my views to my accusers.’ ”

Fr. Flannery will be holding a press conference later today, and so more news may be forthcoming about this story.  Bondings 2.0 will be on the alert for any new developments and will share them with you.

Along with Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who was recently dismissed from the Maryknoll community for his support of women’s ordination, Fr. Flannery is a beacon of hope for those who work and pray for a renwal of our church’s approach to gender and sexuality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Jesuit Author Supports Spirit Day Activities

October 8, 2012

Father James Martin SJ

Renowned Jesuit author James Martin, SJ, has tweeted his support for Spirit Day, a national event where people will be wearing purple to show their support for LGBT youth who face bullying.

In anticipation of the event on October 19th, Fr. Martin tweeted the following message:

New campaign to end bullying against LGBT youth seeks  Catholic support : catholics4spiritday.wordpress.com

The WordPress address is a specifically Catholic effort to get individuals and organizations to participate in Spirit Day this year.   They are asking people and parishes to endorse the following statement:

We, the undersigned, pledge our support for Spirit Day. We pledge our support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth who have been victims of bullying, so as to let them know that they are truly created in the image of God and they are loved.

“At the center of all Catholic social teaching are the transcendence of God and the dignity of the human person. The human person is the clearest reflection of God’s presence in the world; all of the Church’s work in pursuit of both justice and peace is designed to protect and promote the dignity of every person. For each person not only reflects God, but is the expression of God’s creative work and the meaning of Christ’s redemptive ministry.”

- The Challenge of Peace, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1983

As a symbol of our support, we pledge to wear purple to Mass on Sunday, October 14 at parishes across the country.

We believe that our Catholic faith provides a solid basis for standing up against bullying and working to ensure that our schools are safe for all students without exception. Catholic social teaching reminds us that bullying is wrong.

You can sign the pledge by clicking here.   Your parish can endorse the effort by clicking here.  A Twitter hashtag has been established for the event: #SpiritDay.

New Ways Ministry has endorsed Spirit Day, as well as the following national and regional Catholic groups:  the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Ministry with Lesbian & Gay Catholics, the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay MinistryDignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and  Church of St. Francis Xavier in New York City.

Spirit Day is coordinated by GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), and has been successful in past years.

In addition to being culture editor at America magazine, Fr. Martin is a frequent contributor for CNN, NPR, Fox News, Time Magazine, and The New York Times. Fr. Martin also has the distinction of being the “Chaplain to the Colbert Nation” on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report.   He is also the author of the popular spirituality books: My life with the Saints The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, and Between Heaven and Mirth.

While wearing purple on October 19th is the primary way to participate in Spirit Day,  many churches, synagogues, and other religious organizations will be preaching about the event on the Sunday preceding October 19th.  For other ways to get involved in preparing for Spirit Day, click here.

Let’s hope and pray that thousands of Catholic individuals, parishes, and organizations will take part in this event!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: The Cardinal and Colbert

September 20, 2012

Stephen Colbert and Cardinal Dolan

Cardinal Timothy Dolan and television personality Stephen Colbert engaged in a widely-publicized conversation at Fordham University last week, moderated by Jesuit Fr. James Martin. The New York Times reports on the question and answer period, where one person asked:

“ ‘So many Christian leaders spread hatred, especially of homosexuals. How can you maintain your joy?’ ”
 
“Cardinal Dolan responded with two meandering anecdotes — one about having met this week with Muslim leaders, and another about encountering demonstrators outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”
 
“But Mr. Colbert’s response was quick and unequivocal. ‘If someone spreads hate,’ he said, ‘then they’re not your religious leader.’ ”

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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