Was It Intellectually Possible for Pope Benedict to Support Marriage Equality?

November 26, 2013

The recent marriage equality debate in Illinois produced a lot of important arguments, especially from Catholics who supported the passage of the new law. For instance, as we noted a few weeks back, several Catholic legislators appealed to Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?” comment to support their endorsement of marriage equality.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

In an op-ed essay in The Chicago Sun-Times, Cristina Traina, a Northwestern University  professor of religious studies and scholar of Catholic ethics builds on the idea of papal thinking as an avenue to support marriage equality.  

Entitled “Unnecessary roughing: Why Catholic bishops should be more accepting of gay marriage,”  Traina argues that Catholics, because of their moral tradition, should not only accept, but actively work for marriage equality.  This imperative, she asserts, comes not only from Pope Francis, but from his more conservative-minded predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.  She explains:

“Pope Francis certainly has not promoted same-sex marriage — especially in the Church. But he and his predecessor, Benedict XVI, both have made arguments that suggest their willingness to distinguish the low bar of public policy and civil law from the high bar of Christian moral ideals. Most importantly, they and others in the Catholic hierarchy seem to see these laws and policies as means of nudging people toward spiritual and moral renewal.”

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Traina leads her readers carefully through the confusing realm of what she calls “Vatican-speak” to explain how she arrived at this conclusion.  For example, Pope Francis’ Vatican has already recognized that same-sex marriage is a phenomenon that needs to be approached in a new pastoral way.  Noting that the Vatican is polling Catholics worldwide what their thoughts on same-sex marriage are,  Traina states:

“With the clear assumption that same-sex marriage is a cultural reality, the poll is trying to determine how the Church should minister to gay and lesbian couples and their families.”

From this point, she goes even further, by bringing in the sophisticated moral reasoning that Pope Benedict used when discussing condom use:

“The last example brings us to Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2010, according to an explosion of newswires, reversed Catholic teaching, cautiously approving the use of condoms to reduce transmission of HIV/AIDS. What the pope actually said — as the Vatican quickly confirmed — was quite different but no less important.

“He argued that for a person who has been practicing unprotected sex, using condoms out of concern for others ‘can be a first step in the direction of moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.’

“Though the Church disapproves of condoms, the reasoning goes, using them for the right reasons might lead a person gradually toward greater moral concern and away from a self-indulgent approach to sex.

“The implication is that the Vatican is beginning to view ‘irregular’ behavior like condom use and same-sex marriage as opportunity rather than as threat. Without abandoning its rejection of either, it shows signs of seeing both as indications of people’s aspirations to love, fidelity and concern for others — as nascent yearnings toward a holy life.”

This style of reasoning offers the U.S. bishops an example of how they can acknowledge and support marriage equality:

“Pope Benedict acknowledged the integrity of people who want to use condoms to forestall the spread of an often-fatal disease, though the Catholic Church teaches that sex should be confined to marriage and that monogamy and abstinence are better protection than condoms against HIV/AIDS. American bishops could follow suit by acknowledging the integrity of same-sex couples who want to marry, declare their fidelity, and raise children together, though the Catholic Church teaches that marriage should be confined to heterosexual couples.”

Traina concludes with a hope for the future:

“The implication of the popes’ actions is clear: marriage equality could be an important stepping stone to a holy life and therefore just might be good law.”

Catholic moral reasoning provides an intellectual basis for the Church to support marriage equality.  Traina’s argument shows that even someone like Pope Benedict, who opposed marriage equality on one hand, could also have used his own moral values and processes to support it.  One implication of Traina’s argument is that it shows that opposition to marriage equality is probably motivated by something other than intellectual reasoning.   Discussion of marriage equality–or any sexuality issue, for that matter–always involves more than one’s head, but also the person’s emotions and level of comfortability.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Remembering a More Positive Catholic Tradition Toward LGBT People

September 19, 2013

A somewhat minor news item spoke volumes to me about the important history of a good relationship that Catholic institutions once had with LGBT organizations.

Charles Cochrane

Charles Cochrane

New York’s Daily News reported that an organization of gay NY police officers are seeking to have a street in the city re-named after their founder, Sgt. Charles H. Cochrane.   The street, Washington Place, between Grove St. and 6th Ave., was selected because it is the location of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, where the first meetings of the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) were held.

The story explains that the early meetings of this organization, which took place in the early 1970s were not without controversy and even experienced threats of violence:

“Dr. Patrick Suraci, then a NYPD psychologist, said Cochrane got a call at home from someone threatening to ‘come and bomb the f*****s.’

“And no one bombed the church — cops from the 6th Precinct were told to watch the house of worship.”

GOAL has gone on to be one of the most effective LGBT-rights groups in New York City.

What struck me most about this story is that a Catholic church was willing to host these meetings, especially at a time when LGBT people were still so ostracized from most of society’s institutions, and when violence was all too commonplace.  It reminded me that in the 1970s and 1980s, before the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, there was a great openness to LGBT people and their concerns on the part of Catholic organizations. During this period, our church witnessed many actions and statements from church leaders, including bishops, about the importance or reaching out to, accepting, and dialoguing with LGBT people.   It was a time of great hope and promise.

This news story sparked my memory to the fact that back in 1973, St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City became the first Catholic institution to establish a sexual orientation non-discrimination policy in hiring practices.  Given the recent trend of Catholic schools and parishes firing LGBT people, this news is a reminder that Catholics do indeed have a history and tradition of openness on LGBT issues.

This is a tradition that is much in need of revival these days.  Let’s hope and pray that the pontificate of Pope Francis will see a renewed openness by Catholic institutions towards LGBT people and issues.  It is a very important part of our faith, our tradition and our heritage to do so.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Why Weren’t Bishops More Supportive of Pope’s Gay Priests Comment?

September 4, 2013

Pope Francis’ July comments about gay priests–“Who am I to judge?”–continue to spark commentary from Catholic observers.  The amount of “ink” already spend on this topic attests to the importance and power of this seemingly simple statement.

Professor William Dohar

Professor William Dohar

The latest commentary comes from Santa Clara University Religious Studies Professor William Dohar, in a Religion Dispatches essay,  “The Pope’s Gay Priests.”

Dohar notes that many of the U.S. bishops tried to “contain” the pope’s statement, but that the power of the papal message is in the fact that a major shift has taken place between Francis and his predecessor:

“Pope Benedict XVI, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and later as pope did see being homosexual—for priests and anyone else—as a problem. To be more precise. . . , the only sins the pope referred to when discussing gay priests were the machinations of the Vatican’s ‘gay lobby’ and not because these priests, bishops and cardinals are gay, but because they’re a lobby.  Lobbies are by nature self-promoting and factious and Francis, whose early work as pope has been to unify and evangelize, has no time for self-seeking lobbyists, gay or otherwise. “

Dohar also notes that bishops’ reactions focused on homosexuality generally, but avoided the topic of gay priests, which was the focus of Pope Francis’ comments:

“Every bishop knows he has gay priests in the ranks—pretending otherwise is surely as much of a moral issue as, say, same-sex marriage. Gay priests work in dioceses and religious orders as pastors, teachers, administrators, right-hand men, chaplains, liturgists and preachers. Many bishops are gay as well. Precise statistics are hard to come by because the vast majority of gay priests are closeted, but in light of the work done by Donald Cozzens (The Changing Face of the Priesthood, 2000) and others, estimates at around half are confident, with even higher numbers among younger clergy.

“The bishops know this and yet few are able to speak with the kind of candor the pope manages on a daily basis.”

Perhaps Dohar’s most challenging claim is that no bishop has yet echoed Francis’ comments:

“No bishop or church leader stood by Francis and in so many words said publicly, ‘You know, the pope’s right.  Who are we to judge?’ ”

“I’m not sure why so few, if any, took this opportunity. It may be that even though they hear the change in tone from Francis, it’s a tenor so different from what has sounded from Rome for decades that it’s still hard to hear, much less imitate. Judgment of gay people—and here again, I’ll even limit this to gay, celibate priests—has been categorical and negative ever since ‘homosexual’ made its way into the Vatican lexicon fifty years ago. “

While I believe that Dohar is generally accurate, there have been some bishops who were praiseworthy of the pope’s new direction.  I mentioned some of them in my blog post last month on bishops’ reactions to the pope.  Here’s a quotation from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bishop David Walkowiak:

“The church has not said much about homosexuality and when it has it’s reiterated the teachings.That is helpful. It’s true. But the tone is usually one which is not a source of encouragement or a source of support.

”We’re hoping that the pope’s tone sets a hope and an attitude that if you come to the church you will be respected, you will be welcomed, you will receive the support of the sacraments. My hope would be that people with same-sex attraction would feel more encouraged to walk into a Catholic church.”

Dohar’s conclusion is worth re-printing in total here, because it offers such a positive outlook for gay priests and lesbian/gay Catholics:

“Until gay priests—and gay people in general—are encouraged to realize their innate goodness and see the prospects of a love-relationship with God as gay people, they will be burdened with a hard judgment from their church.

“The pope’s implicit refusal to judge the heart of a gay person who’s on a journey with the Divine is an acknowledgment that God may be up to some good in that person’s life, not by way of self-repulsion or a shameful silence but through the core reality of same-sex longing. It becomes very problematic for some theologians to associate gay with good; after all, one cannot be out-of-the-closet proud of an objective disorder.

“What Pope Francis offered in a manner which has been too facilely described as ‘off-the-cuff’—he’s obviously given this topic a lot of thought—is an openness and trust which may encourage more gay priests to step out of the dark. Bishops may well need to brace themselves or welcome with open arms a greater honesty in this matter.

“Meanwhile, for the gay priest who suffers under the church’s disparagement of his God-given sexuality and is urged to negate an essential part of who he is, the pope’s stated preference not to judge is balm in Gilead.”

In closing, I want to add to what Dohar said about Francis’ remarks not being “off the cuff,” as has been widely stated.  The week after the Pope’s statement, I attended a meeting of U.S. heads of men’s religious communities.  In chatting about the pope’s statement with a Jesuit in attendance at the meeting, he remarked about what should be obvious to all: a man doesn’t get to be pope because he speaks off the cuff.  The pope has to know that all of his words are heavily scrutinized, and so everything that he says, especially on such a known-controversial topic as gay priests, is carefully pondered before expressed.  Because of this dynamic, I believe that Francis was very aware of what he was saying and the import and value it would have.

The fact that over a month later we are still examining these words of the pope’s is further evidence that he knew exactly what he was saying, and that what he said has possibility for great change.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

Pope Francis Offers Respect for Gay Priests, Signaling a New Papal Direction

Catholic Reactions to Pope Francis’ Comments on Accepting Gay Priests

Catholic–And Cosmopolitan–Responses to the Pope’s Gay Statement

Have We Painted Pope Francis’ Gay Comments Too Optimistically?

Online Petition Thanks Pope Francis for His Gay-Positive Remarks

A Tale of Three Jesuits

U.S. Bishops on Pope Francis’ Gay-Positive Comments–Part 1

U.S. Bishops on Pope Francis’ Gay-Positive Comments–Part 2

Pope Francis’ Predicament with Conservative Catholics

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

 


Jesuit: Drop “Disorder” Language from Catholic Gay and Lesbian Discussions

August 22, 2013

In my over 20 years of Catholic LGBT ministry,  there is nothing that has sparked more anger and more questions and confusion than the Vatican’s use of the terms “intrinsically disordered” or “objective disorder”  to describe, respectively, homosexual acts and homosexual orientation.   They are terms that are not easily understood, and, even when they are, they still cause much pastoral damage and misinformation.

Father Frank Brennan, SJ

Father Frank Brennan, SJ

An Australian Jesuit legal scholar is calling for church people to stop using those terms in their discourse.  In an essay on EurekaStreet.com, Fr. Frank Brennan, a professor of law at Australian Catholic University, has urged Catholic leaders:

“It’s time we dropped the unhelpful, judgmental language of intrinsic and objective disorder when respectfully trying to determine appropriate laws and policies for all people who want to support and nurture each other and their children.”

Fr. Brennan, who, in the past has supported civil unions for same-gender couples,  and has since professed support for civil marriage equality, notes a criticism of the “disorder” language from an Australian politician who is a lesbian:

“Penny Wong, a very eloquent and poised politician who is known to be lesbian, sharing with her partner the parenting of their child, addressed Monsignor John Woods saying, ‘I think it’s interesting you use words like respect at the same time as having a discussion about whether or not homosexuality is in fact natural or, by implication, you know a result of some form of disorder. I don’t think that’s particularly respectful.’ “

Instead of the “disorder” language, which is divisive, Fr. Brennan calls for a perspective that stresses the common humanity of all people, regardless of sexual orientation:

“Our theological starting point should be that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, whether we be gay or straight; that we are all called along the road to Jerusalem; and that the Lord’s purgative fire and promise of division is extended to us all in preparation for the invitation to the banquet where there is neither gay nor straight, and where each of us prays, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ “

And this Australian Jesuit is hopeful that his Jesuit brother who is now the pope is signaling a new direction towards discussing homosexuality that puts aside the pastorally harmful terms, and replaces them with a more positive approach:

“I called to mind the media press conference that Pope Francis gave recently on the plane on the way back from World Youth Day. He was asked about homosexuality and he said, ‘If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, well who am I to judge them?’ I think Pope Francis now gives us a better way of engaging in respectful discussion in our Church and in the community about the complex issues relating to homosexuality, including civil recognition of same sex marriage.”

The language of “disorder” is philosophical language.  It is not intended to mean medical or psychological disorder, but that is how the overwhelming majority of people hear it.  Because of that misunderstanding, it should definitely and immediately be stricken from church discourse.  It is a term that was applied to discussions of homosexuality by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI.  As pope, he used it as the basis for his discussions of any issue related to gay and lesbian people.

Pope Francis has already indicated that he will be moving the discussion of homosexuality away from the “disorder” language.   Let’s hope that his papacy will banish this term from Catholic discussions.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


U.S. Bishops on Pope Francis’ Gay-Positive Comments–Part 1

August 13, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Many people have commented on Pope Francis’ gay-positive statements on his flight home from World Youth Day last week.  One group that has not received as much attention for their commentary, however, are the U.S. bishops themselves.  Only statements made on two morning news shows by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, made any kind of national headlines.

But in local newspapers around the country bishops and/or diocesan officials did make statements commenting on the pope’s remarks.  These comments deserve some examination because they reveal not only these bishops’ approach to gay and lesbian issues, but also how they view the magisterium of the church and perhaps even the new pope.  A variety of themes emerge from looking at the bishops’ statements.

Today’s post will examine the responses which tended to downplay the pope’s comments, and tomorrow’s post will look the responses which saw some change in the pope’s message.

(Before I start the examination of these comments, I must make a note that in many cases the local bishop was not available for comment, often because he was out of town.  In those instances, I will be relying on the responses of a diocesan official.)

Despite the fact that the pope’s comments made headlines around the world in every form of news media imaginable, one dominant theme that the bishops expressed was surprise that people were interested in what the pope had to say about gay people.  They tried to emphasize that the pope had not made any serious change in church teaching.

One good example of this theme came from Bishop Robert Vasa of the Santa Rosa Diocese, California.    The Press Democrat newspaper in his city had the following message from him:

Bishop Robert Vasa

Bishop Robert Vasa

“. . . . Bishop Vasa said these comments were anything but ‘groundbreaking’ and echoed certain paragraphs from the catechism of the Catholic Church.

” ‘I don’t know that I would see them as any more conciliatory than the church documents have always been,’ he said. . . .

“In several news reports, Pope Francis’ statements Monday were contrasted with former Pope Benedict XVI’s signing of a document in 2005 that said men with gay tendencies should not be allowed to become priests.

“Bishop Vasa said the pope made no statements contradicting his predecessor.

” ‘I don’t know that those are necessarily two different statements,’ he said. . . .

“Bishop Vasa said the candid nature of the pope’s press conference, where the pontiff was not afraid to answer questions, was a reflection of the church’s new leader.

” ‘He is his own man. He is not afraid to engage with discussion of matters in secular society that may be controversial,’ Vasa said.

” ‘But at the same time, he holds true to the clear teachings of the church. Nothing in what he said suggested acceptance of gay priests or otherwise engaging in homosexual acts.’ “

In the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, a diocesan official followed along the line of the “continuity” theme, but made a point of adding some comments about celibacy, in an interview with The Providence Journal:

 “ ‘In a sense, the Holy Father has said nothing new, and his comments only echo the Catholic Church’s consistent position that priests are still called to a life of celibate chastity and that homosexuals are welcome in the church,’ the Diocese of Providence’s chancellor, the Rev. Timothy Reilly said Monday night.”

Bishop Michael Jarrell

Bishop Michael Jarrell

Other bishops and dioceses that only discussed continuity with church teaching in the pope’s comments include Bishop Michael Jarrell of the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana; the Diocese of Portland, Maine, and the Diocese of Sacramento, California; the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska.  (You can read their statements if you follow the links to the news stories which carried them.)

The spokesperson for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida, argued for continuity, too, but he also chose to stress that church teaching is really about “sin” in his comments to The Tampa Tribune:

“The comment doesn’t bode any shift in Catholic policy on the topic, said John Morris, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg. He acknowledged a lot of people around the world will hear and read the statement and interpret it in different ways.

” ‘I don’t think this signals any kind of change in what the church is doing,” Morris said Monday. ‘It’s just going at it from different angle.’

“The Catholic Church traditionally has called homosexuality a sin and opposed gay marriage, and the pope’s statement Monday does not change that, Morris said.

” ‘I don’t know if this nudges (the church) in a different direction,’ he said. ‘The church always has had its stance on sins. The church accepts everyone. The sin is the issue.’ “

Cardinal Francis George

Cardinal Francis George

While many commentators viewed the pope’s comments as stressing the human dignity aspect of church teaching on homosexuality over the sexual ethics teaching, Chicago’s Cardinal George, in a National Catholic Reporter  article seems to think that the sexual ethics teaching was prominent in the papal remarks:

“Chicago Cardinal Francis George said in a statement Monday that the pope ‘reaffirmed the teaching of the Catholic faith and other religions that homosexual genital relations are morally wrong. The pope also reaffirmed the church’s teaching that every man and woman should be accepted with love, including those with same-sex orientation.’ “

The Archdiocese of St. Louis, in a statement quoted on FirstCoastNews.com, also viewed the pope’s comments primarily in terms of sexual behavior:

“The Archdiocese of St. Louis supports the remarks by Pope Francis which reiterate church teaching that homosexuals are welcome in the church but homosexual activity is forbidden. The Catholic Church teaches that all people are called to responsibility when it comes to sexuality, whether homosexual or heterosexual, priest or lay person. She believes that all sexual activity belongs within a marriage between a man and a woman.

“The Catholic Church does not condemn people for having same-sex attraction. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states quite clearly that homosexual persons ‘must be accepted with compassion, respect and sensitivity.’ The Catechism adds that ‘Every sign of unjust discrimination must be avoided.’

“While the Catholic Church objects to homosexual activity, she does not object to homosexuals.”

Archbishop Allen Vigneron

Archbishop Allen Vigneron

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit had what was probably the harshest interpretation of the pope’s comments.  The city’s Free Press recorded his response:

“But for Archbishop Allen Vigneron, spiritual head of metro Detroit’s 1.3 million Catholics, the pope “didn’t say anything different.”

“ ‘There’s no change’ on the Catholic Church’s view on homosexuality, Vigneron told the Free Press this week. ‘He may have had his own Pope Francis way of putting it, different from maybe the way Pope Benedict would put it, but they’re saying the same things.’ ”

“While some have said Pope Francis struck a new tone with regard to gay people, Vigneron said the worldwide leader of Catholics reiterated what is already in Catholic doctrine, which opposes homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Vigneron said the pope made it clear that gays must try to ‘repent and put their lives in order.’

“ ‘The pope presented the church’s Catholic teaching … endorsed it, and then called us to live up to it, especially to live up to assisting those who have challenges to keep the commandments, and to embrace them when they repent and put their lives in order,’ Vigneron explained.

“ ‘We will do what we can to sustain the definition of marriage as traditional marriage in our Michigan life,’ Vigneron said.

I label Vigneron’s statement the “harshest” because he managed to include references to repentance and marriage law into his comments, while Pope Francis did not even allude to either of these.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post which features bishops’ comments that are a bit more positive in their outlook.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Reactions to Pope Francis’ Comments on Accepting Gay Priests

July 30, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ comments on accepting gay priests has rocked the Catholic world, yet even progressive Catholics disagree on the import of his statement.   Was it just a change of tone, not substance?  Was it too little, too late?  Will he follow through with action or was this statement just for show?

Various commentators took different approaches to the statement.  Here’s  a sampling of some of their thoughts.

Here at New Ways Ministry, we welcomed the statement, seeing it as a sign of hopeful things to come:

“Pope Francis’ statement on accepting and respecting gay priests is a clear sign that this pope will be taking a more conciliatory approach to LGBT issues than his immediate predecessors have done.

“Unlike John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who approached LGBT topics through the lens of sexuality and sin, Pope Francis is signaling a new direction which is based on the Catholic principles of human dignity, respect, and social integration.  Benedict had issued an instruction to bishops not to accept gay candidates for the seminary, a policy that was being considered under John Paul’s papacy.  Both previous papacies were noted for their virulent opposition against LGBT issues.

“Some will say that Francis’ statement is not enough, that he still refers to sins of homosexuals, but I think the important thing is the question of emphasis.   Even if he doesn’t drop the sin language, this is still a major step forward, and one that can pave the way for further advancements down the road.  Change in the church is evolutionary, not revolutionary.  Though this statement is not the change which many of us hope for, that is, the full equality of LGBT people in our church, it is a necessary first step toward that change.   Most importantly, it shows that Pope Francis is open to dialogue on this matter, and not simply follow the harmful obstinacy of his predecessors.”

Rev. James Martin, SJ

Rev. James Martin, SJ

Noted author and commentator Jesuit Father James Martin, had total praise for the pope’s comments, noticing an important linguistic development:

“To my mind, Pope Francis’s brief comment on gays reveals great mercy.  That mercy, of course, comes from Jesus Christ.   And we can never have enough of it.  The Pope’s remarks also are in line with the Catechism, which teaches that gays should be treated with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity.’  But gays were not the only group to be shown mercy in the Pope’s brief in-flight interview.  The Pope also asked for greater compassion for divorced and remarried Catholics, a group that has long felt marginalized in the church, and called for a “deeper theology” on the role of women in the church.  Today Pope Francis has, once again, lived out the Gospel message of compassion for everyone.
“The lesser-noticed change in the Pope’ revolutionary words during his in-flight interview was, at least according to the translation in the Italian-language ‘Vatican Insider,’ the use of the word ‘gay,’ which is traditionally not used by popes, bishops or Vatican officials.  This is a sea change.”
Equally Blessed LogoEqually Blessed, the coalition of Catholic organizations that work for LGBT justice and equality,  also had strong praise for the pope:

“Pope Francis today uttered some of the most encouraging words a pontiff has ever spoken about gay and lesbian people. In doing so, he has set a great example for Catholics everywhere.

“The pope has rejected the harsh language of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, for a compassionate approach and a pastoral tone. Lesbians and gays are no longer a “threat to civilization,” rather they are people of faith and good will.

“Catholic leaders who continue to belittle gays and lesbians can no longer claim that their inflammatory remarks represent the sentiments of the pope.”

Kevin Clarke, a blogger at America magazine, noted the importance of just a few of the words the pope said:

“. . . Francis may have become the first pope in history to offer a ‘who am I to judge’ response to a question about gay and lesbian people. . . “

But Clarke also urged caution, while at the same time noting the importance of the papal shift:

“His words certainly signal a shift in tone from Rome on gay and lesbians; will they also mean a change in current policies regarding, for instance, gay men in the priesthood?

“His citation of current catechism on the treatment of gay and lesbian people was not revolutionary in any sense; what startles may be the spectacle of a pope saying anything out loud on the matter and stressing the importance of church teaching on the human dignity of gay and lesbian people.

“Francis was also asked why he did not spend much time speaking about abortion or gay marriage during his trip (church teaching is already clear, he said) and about the difficulties of divorced and remarried Catholics. ‘I believe this is a time of mercy, a change of epoch,’ the pope said. He said the group of eight cardinals tasked with reform will explore the issue of whether divorcees can receive Communion.”

Michael O'Loughlin

Michael O’Loughlin

Michael O’Loughlin, who blogs at Religion News Service also questioned whether the pope’s statement is significant:

“I’ve joined the chorus of those praising this truly palpable breath of fresh air in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis is welcomed change in style. How will his bishops here in the US react, especially to the comments about not judging gays, finding roles for women, and welcoming back the marginalized? The Pope, it seems, will lead by example. Will his bishops follow? What concrete steps will Catholic leaders take to change the atmosphere of the church?

“A friend IM’ed this morning, asking if this news was a big step for the church. Yes and no, I said. Yes, it’s certainly huge that a pope has spoken about gays in a nonjudgmental, loving way. The pope’s words may inspire others to alter their own speech and behavior. No, because we wait for change, for signs that this is indeed more than an off the cuff remark. But for now, I’ll stick with yes. Yes, this is hope, and hope is huge.”

Writing in The National Catholic ReporterKen Briggs was decidedly more skeptical about the pope’s comments:

Ken Briggs

Ken Briggs

“If he didn’t mean to suggest a new Catholic teaching on homosexuality, should he have plainly said so? Would that have been in keeping with his image in some quarters as being bluntly honest? Or does he believe that a little dose of mixed signals is justified in order to ease the bitterness that has been swirling around the issue? . . .

“It’s too early in the papacy to know for sure, but worth noting perhaps that the same patina of double speak characterizes the major issues Francis addresses. Is he the “repair the crisis” pope who sees his mission as reviving church spirits before unloading some concrete, contentious re-designs, or a public relations pope whose effort is to recast the profile of Catholicism without following through on vague suggestions that things will substantially change? . . .

“A lot of what the appealing and intriguing pope said could be seen as a plea to keep young people — any Catholics — from crossing the street to the Pentecostal churches known for their warm embrace, empowering of lay people and live-wire worship. While genuine ecumenism is out of fashion and was nowhere to be seen, neither did the pope directly bash the Pentecostal rivals. But the signs of distress over massive defections could be heard in his urgent appeals to wavering Catholics to ‘stay home.’ On that there was no ambiguity.”

Writing personally, William Lindsey, who blogs at Bilgrimage.blogspot.comfelt that the pope’s words did not make up for the years of pain inflicted by church leaders:

“. . . I’m critically aware that for many Catholics, including many LGBT Catholics, the conversation about these matters has now moved light-years beyond the question of whether “homosexuals” . . . . should be included, welcomed, and treated with respect. And so I wonder how we can have a meaningful and honest conversation about these matters, if we pick up this conversation at the point of the pope’s comments and don’t acknowledge what many Catholics have been saying and thinking about these matters for a long time now.
“And there’s also this: for many of us, the actual experience of dealing with fellow Catholics and Catholic leaders who have been intent–quite precisely–for decades now on judging and marginalizing us solely because we’re gay results in a kind of deafness that makes us unable to hear Francis’s liberating, gospel-centered words with much hope or joy at all. Because we’re now so beaten up from our encounter with our church, its leaders, and many of our fellow Catholics, that we’re inured to hopelessness.
“Scars stand between us and our ability to receive a loving embrace from the community that has created those scars across our human lives. Scars cover our ears and make us unable to hear a liberating, hopeful, and joyful message from the community that has created those scars.”

Terence Weldon, at QueeringTheChurch.comnotes that Francis is providing an emphasis that is much needed in church discussions on LGBT issues:

Terence Weldon

Terence Weldon

“Today, he has delivered some thoughts which are more explicitly favourable, insisting that gays should be integrated into society, must not be marginalized or discriminated against, and should be welcomed into the priesthood.  Welcome words indeed. There is in fact absolutely nothing new in this – it’s all absolutely standard, orthodox Catholic doctrine, which contains two parts. There is a compassionate side, directing that we should be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity, and protected from unjust discrimination, and from violence or malice, in words or in deeds. Then there’s the harsh side, denying absolutely any hope of physical expression of our loves in genital acts. The problem has been that many bishops, and the previous two popes, have ignored or directly flouted the compassionate parts of teaching, focusing exclusively on the harshest bits. Francis is not in any way signalling a shift in actual teaching – but he is introducing some sorely needed balance. That alone is welcome.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Separating Civil and Sacramental Marriage–Part 1

July 20, 2013

It’s always curious to me when similar arguments appear in the writings of people whose views on a topic are opposed.   I’ve pointed this out in two other instances, and you can read about them here and here.

The latest example comes from two sides in the marriage equality debate. Both writers are Catholic priests–one supports and the other opposes marriage equality.  Yet they agree on the fact that the institution of secular marriage and sacramental marriage need to be separated.  Today’s post will examine the essay from the priest supporting marriage equality, and tomorrow’s post will examine the essay from the one who opposes it.

Father Frank Brennan, SJ

Father Frank Brennan, SJ

Fr. Frank Brennan, SJ, a professor of law at Australian Catholic University, in an essay on EurekaStreet.com entitled “It’s time to recognise secular same sex marriage,” wrote about his nation’s marriage equality debate.  Over a year ago, he had written in support of legalizing civil unions, but he has now changed his mind to support marriage rights.  In his current essay, he suggested:

“It is high time to draw a distinction between a marriage recognised by civil law and a sacramental marriage. In deciding whether to expand civil marriage to the union of two persons of the same gender, legislators should have regard not just for the wellbeing of same sex couples and the children already part of their family units, but also for the wellbeing of all future children who may be affected, as well as the common good of society in setting appropriate contours for legally recognised relationships.”

Brennan has some exceptions to his support for same-sex marriage:

“Same sex couples wanting to create their own children may in the forseeable future be able to use only their own genetic material, precluding the possibility that such children will have a biological father and a biological mother. Whether or not we legislate for same sex marriage, we should restrict artificial reproduction of children such that they will have a biological father and a biological mother, and hopefully able to be known by them.

“Legislators making laws regarding adoption ought be able to demand that adoption agencies continue to consider the best interests of the child. In the case of a child unrelated to any prospective adopting couple, the adoption agency ought be able to have regard to the desirability of a child being brought up in a family with an adult male and an adult female.

“If these concerns were met or at least weighed in the balance against the claims of children already in same sex families deserving respect and nurture by the state and society, society could properly move to recognition of civil unions or same sex marriage if and when the overwhelming majority of the population (including those who are presently married civilly) supported such change.”

His conclusion in support of marriage equality, however, is very strong:

“It would be just and a service to the common good for the State to give some recognition and support to committed, faithful, long-term relationships between gay couples deserving dignity, being able to love and support each other in sickness and in health, until death they do part.”

He notes, too, that Pope Francis has taken a different approach to gay and lesbian couples than Pope Benedict XVI did.  Pope Francis, while archbishop in Argentina, supported civil unions.  Brennan notes his agreement with the new pontiff, but goes a little further:

“I am with Francis on civil unions but, unlike him, I now accept that we can probably no longer draw a line between civil unions and same sex marriage.”

Check out tomorrow’s blog post to see how a priest who opposes marriage equality also seeks to separate secular marriage from sacramental marriage.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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