Papal Canonizations, Part 2: Pope John Paul II’s Record on LGBT Issues

April 27, 2014

Today is canonization day for two recent popes:  John XXIII and John Paul II.  In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that Catholics who support LGBT equality are somewhat mixed in their emotion today because while John XXIII opened the way for a discussion of justice in the church, John Paul II instituted a number of developments that were detrimental to LGBT people.   Yesterday, I reviewed John XXIII’s record, and today I will will look at John Paul II’s record.  Tomorrow, this blog will review some of the recent commentary written recently about the influence these two men have had on the church and the world.

Pope John Paul II

There are many memorable things that will distinguish John Paul II’s papacy:  the downfall of the Soviet Union, the assassination attempt on his life and his moving forgiveness of his would-be assassin, his many and varied travels to all corners of the world.

Unfortunately, John Paul will also be remembered as the pope who instituted a number of developments that were negative and unduly harsh towards LGBT people.  Through numerous measures, messages, and actions, this pope tried to hold back the burgeoning LGBT justice and liberation movement that was initiated because of the reforms John XXIII instituted in the church.  I will mention only a few major highlights.

To begin with, John Paul oversaw and authorized the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1986 Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons which introduced a number of harmful principles and concepts.  For example, this document:

–introduced the term “objective disorder” to describe a homosexual orientation.  Immediately this term caused much confusion because it sounds as though the Vatican is calling homosexuality a psychological or medical problem, when, in fact, the term is used strictly in a philosophical sense.

–described homosexual activity as “intrinsic moral evil.”

–claimed that Church teaching transcends scientific knowledge: “The Church is thus in a position to learn from scientific discovery but also to transcend the horizons of science and to be confident that her more global vision does greater justice to the rich reality of the human person in his spiritual and physical dimensions, created by God and heir, by grace, to eternal life.”

–while condemning violence against lesbian/gay people, the document also blamed supporters of gay/lesbian rights for that violence, and claims that such violence can be understood and rationalized:

“when [pro-gay] civil legislations is introduced to protect behaviour to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.”

–blamed gay/lesbian people for the HIV/AIDS crisis, and labels their advocates as dangerous to public health:  “Even when the practice of homosexuality may seriously threaten the lives and well-being of a large number of people, its advocates remain undeterred and refuse to consider the magnitude of the risks involved.”

–warned bishops not to allow Church facilities to be used by groups that do not subscribe to the church’s teaching on sexual activity: “All support should be withdrawn from any organizations which seek to undermine the teaching of the Church. . . . Special attention should be given to the practice of scheduling religious services and to the use of Church buildings by these groups. . .”

In 1992, John Paul II’s Vatican issued Some Considerations Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons.  Sent privately to the bishops, the document became public when New Ways Ministry, after receiving a copy of the text from an anonymous source, released it to the press.  The Washington Post carried the first story on July 17, 1992.     This document:

–instructed bishops to be more circumspect in their support of civil rights legislation for lesbian/gay people: “Such initiatives, even where they seem more directed toward support of basic civil rights than condonement of homosexual activity or a homosexual lifestyle, may in fact have a negative impact on the family and society.”

–instructed bishops that discrimination is not unjust “in the placement of children for adoption or foster care, in employment of teacher or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment.”

–compared restricting the rights of lesbian/gay people with restricting the rights of “contagious or mentally ill persons, in order to protect the common good.”

In August 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with approval from John Paul II, issued Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual PersonsThis document reiterates the Vatican’s opposition to same-sex marriage.  Among its main points:

–Heterosexual marriage would be devalued by same-sex marriage: “Legal recognition of homosexual unions would obscure certain basic moral values and cause a devaluation of the institution of marriage.”

–Permitting adoption of children by same-sex couples “would actually mean doing violence to these children…” by harming their development.

–Catholic law-makers (and all Catholics) have a moral obligation to oppose same-sex unions:

“…where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty.”  . . . .

“If it is true that all Catholics are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are obliged to do so in a particular way.”

Many Catholics saw statements like these as designed to roll-back the movement in the church which was working for greater acceptance and inclusion of LGBT people.  These efforts did not succeed.  The Catholic movement for LGBT equality is stronger than it ever was.

Clearly, John Paul II had a major blind spot when it came to LGBT people.  Some may view this fault as something evil, but I tend to look at it as a mark and reminder of the imperfect humanity that we all share.  We all have blind spots.  We all need to be educated better on a variety of issues.  While some may disagree him his canonization, for a number of reasons, I think this occasion can help to remind us that, even with our flaws, we are still all capable of sainthood.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


Papal Canonizations, Part 1: Pope John XXIII’s Influence on LGBT Equality

April 26, 2014

On Sunday, April 27th, two recent popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, will be canonized as saints in the Catholic Church.  For many Catholics who support LGBT issues, this double canonization is an occasion of mixed emotions. Though many are happy with the canonization of John XXIII, their joy is tempered by the fact that John Paul II, who was responsible for instituting many anti-LGBT policies and teachings, is being similarly honored.

Pope John XXIII

Today, I’ll review the contribution of John XXIII on LGBT issues in the church. Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at John Paul II’s influence on these matters.  On Monday, we will provide a review of some of the wealth of commentary written recently about these two men.

John XXIII’s greatest achievement in his papacy was convening the Second Vatican Council, which opened up a new era of theological reform in the Church.  Most importantly, for LGBT issues, the theological reform included an important development in the Church’s sexual teaching.  Theologian Lisa Fullam recently offered a succinct description of Vatican II’s development of sexual theology in her essay, “Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation.”  Fullam states:

“The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes identified two ends of marriage: the procreation and education of children, and the intimate union of husband and wife through which ‘they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day.’ (GS 48) Gaudium et Spes eliminated the long-held idea that procreation was seen as the primary end of marriage while the union of the partners was deemed secondary or instrumental to that primary end. The Council insisted that  ‘[m]arriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation’ (GS 50). Instead, it ‘maintains its value and indissolubility, even when despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking’ (GS 50). Departing from most previous teaching in which the procreative end of marriage was elevated over the unitive end, the Council refused to prioritize either. However, the Council insisted that childless marriages are still truly marriages, not some lesser partnership, while no such contrary affirmation is made—loveless but procreative unions are not affirmed (or rejected) as true marriage by the Council.”

By displacing procreation from its position of primacy in sexual theology, and by raising the unitive function to a higher status, Vatican II opened the way for theologians to explore the unitive function more deeeply, which allowed them to consider the moral status of relationships which were not biologically procreative, especially gay and lesbian relationships.  So, John XXIII’s Vatican II  opened the way for a new discussion of sexuality in theology, which paved the way for the growing field of lesbian and gay theology.

Vatican II’s emphasis on justice being a constitutive part of the preaching of the gospel also had an effect on the development of LGBT ministry.  Fullam points out that John XXIII’s emphasis on human rights in his encyclical Pacem in Terris provided a new perspective for Catholics:

“The language of rights, then, is how Catholics take our religiously grounded understanding of the common good out into public discourse. With the humility appropriate to fallible human beings, we seek input from all people of good will as we do so. We don’t seek to legislate the whole moral law, but only those rights and duties by which the flourishing of all people is made possible. Our deep commitment to human dignity and the equality of all human persons is the bedrock on which Catholic teaching grounds its social message.”

John’s writings opened the path a more justice-oriented church.  One other outcome of this pope’s approach was the development following Vatican II of liberation theology, which would eventually be applied to the LGBT experience.

Immediately following Vatican II was when Catholics first started taking the human rights and liberation of LGBT people more seriously.  As this blog stated on October 11, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II:

“In one respect,  the movement for LGBT liberation, equality, and justice in the Catholic Church is a direct result of Vatican II.    The Council’s reform of theology, its updating of scriptural interpretations, its openness to scientific knowledge, its invitation for participation by the laity, its clarion call to work for justice in the world and the church–all these things were part of the 1960s Catholic zeitgeist which resulted in a burgeoning movement to be involved with, and work for justice for, LGBT people.

“It’s no accident that both two of the oldest Catholic ministries to LGBT people–Dignity and New Ways Ministry–emerged from this era and as a direct result of priests and religious following the call of Vatican II.  Similarly, it would have been unimaginable that John McNeill’s theological groundbreaking work, The Church and the Homosexual, could have been written before the Council.”

It is no overstatement to say that without John XXIII, the movement in the Church for LGBT equality would have been much delayed and much diminished.  For this contribution of his, and for the many other ways that he ushered in a more compassionate, just, and socially involved church, Catholics who support LGBT equality are rejoicing at his canonization.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Sister Jeannine Gramick Meets Cardinal Turkson at University Conference

May 31, 2013

Editor’s Note:  Sister Jeannine Gramick will take part in a public conversation on marriage equality this evening, May 31, 2013, with Bishop Thomas Paprocki, in Phoenix, Arizona.   The following is her reflection on another recent conversation that she had with Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana.  For more information on tonight’s event, click here.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick speaking with Cardinal Turkson at The Catholic University of America

Sr. Jeannine Gramick speaking with Cardinal Turkson at The Catholic University of America

BY Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL,          Co-founder, New Ways Ministry

Last month, the Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, hosted a conference entitled Peacebuilding 2013: Pacem in Terris at 50,” as a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Pope John XXIII’s landmark encyclical on peace.

With the hope that the ideas and spirit of “Good Pope John” and Vatican II were being rekindled in our church, I eagerly attended and was not disappointed. Attendees met leading representatives of co-sponsoring organizations, such as the peace and justice departments of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and several Catholic universities, Catholic Relief Services, Pax Christi International, Caritas Internationalis, the Sant’Egidio Community, and the U.S. Institute of Peace.

More than 200 attendees listened to presentations from such well-known Catholic leaders as Fr. Bryan Hehir, John Carr, Drew Christiansen SJ, and Scott Appleby. One speaker I was particularly interested in hearing was Cardinal Peter Turkson from the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Among LGBT advocates, Cardinal Turkson is known for his anti-gay remarks. For example, in 2012 when the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on African nations to repeal laws that criminalize homosexuality, Cardinal Turkson responded, “…when you’re talking about what’s called ‘an alternative lifestyle,’ are those human rights? … there’s a subtle distinction between morality and human rights, and that’s what needs to be clarified.”

Cardinal Turkson of Ghana

Cardinal Turkson of Ghana

Cardinal Turkson did not entertain questions after his hour long presentation, so I wended my way to the front of the auditorium and, after much picture-taking of various Catholic University officials with the Cardinal, I was poised to ask him my question privately.

“Thank you, Cardinal,” I began, “for emphasizing throughout your talk that the underlying principle of Pacem in Terris is the basic dignity of the human person.

“I was pleased that you gave a few concrete examples of how you used your influence in Ghana to resolve some disputed situations by showing the parties that the basic issue involved was the dignity of the human person. In the situation of gay and lesbian people…”

I got no further with my question. The Cardinal quickly interrupted me, maintaining that the press greatly misunderstood what he meant. He was merely saying that “this” (using the pronoun, without saying the word “homosexuality” or “gay” or “lesbian”) was not acceptable in his culture. He repeated his defense a few times before someone came to whisk him off to lunch.

After lunch, Karen, another conference attendee I met, engaged him in conversation on the same topic. Once again, Cardinal Turkson defended his remarks, asserting he was misquoted. It was clear, Karen said, that he did not wish to say more about the matter. Karen later spoke with a priest from Ghana, who had worked with the Cardinal. The priest maintained that Turkson would never endorse a bill to kill homosexuals but would acknowledge that the culture viewed homosexuality as an aberration that would not be tolerated.

Whether or not Cardinal Turkson was misquoted, the fact remains that he failed to denounce a cultural norm that violates basic human dignity. Perhaps being confronted by some Catholics at a U.S. peace conference may induce him to reexamine his views about the human rights of LGBT people and to respond more thoughtfully to the press in the future. Such face-to-face encounters, coupled with the political wind-change of recent positive remarks on gay civil unions by some Vatican officials, may spur him to understand that those human rights, as Pope John XXIII told the world 50 years ago in Pacem in Terris, are based on the dignity of the human person.


Reflections on Vatican II and LGBT Issues–Part 3: Openness to the World

December 29, 2012

The third part in a three-part series reflecting on Vatican II and LGBT issues.  For the first part, click here; for the second part, click here

earthThe third dynamic that Richard Gaillardetz identified as instrumental to making Vatican II a success is “openness to the world.”  In his article in America magazine, he discusses this concept:

“The final dynamic evident in the council’s deliberations was its openness to the world. Pope John XXIII himself set the tone for this openness. . . .

“Pope John knew well the evils present in the world, but he was convinced that we must not exaggerate those evils and succumb to a dark apocalypticism. In his many addresses and homilies he evinced an attitude of respectful yet critical engagement with the world. In ‘Humanae Salutis,’ the apostolic constitution with which he formally convoked the council, the pope warned of ‘distrustful souls’ who ‘see only darkness burdening the face of the earth.’ And in his opening address at the council, he noted the advice he sometimes received from ‘prophets of gloom’ who see ‘nothing but prevarication and ruin’ in the world today.

“Pope John XXIII was convinced that Christians must be willing to read ‘the signs of the times’ and enter into a more constructive engagement with the world. . . .

“Here again the council’s conduct and attitude offer insight for our modern church, for we still hear far too many apocalyptic pronouncements regarding ‘a culture of death’ and a ‘toxic secularism.’ The council reminds us that we must not yield in the face of evil, but neither can we close our eyes to the signals of grace always present where humans seek justice and truth and ask the great questions about life’s meaning and ultimate significance.”

In regard to LGBT issues today, the current hierarchy would do well to follow this advice to be more open to the world.  Too often they sound like Pope John’s “prophets of gloom” who “see only darkness burdening the face of the earth.”   The negative attitude of the current hierarchy is doing great harm to their relationship with the world on LGBT issues and other issues as well.

Equally important, this negative attitude harms the hierarchy themselves.  In a sense, they are blinding themselves to all the good and holiness that exists in the LGBT community.  Sadly, they are missing out on the joy of life experienced by many in the Catholic LGBT community, specifically.  The gospel is being lived out in both traditional and new ways in the faith experiences of those involved in the Catholic LGBT community, but the hierarchy’s negativity and closed-mindedness prevents them from seeing this.

By being more open to the world, as the bishops at Vatican II were, the current hierarchy could learn from new advances in science and social science regarding gender and sexuality.  The world outside the church doesn’t have to be treated as the enemy.  God works there, too. Instead of building a fortress around the church to “protect” it from the world, the current hierarchy should be engaging it so that the spirit of the Gospel can inform and enlighten it.

One note of caution:  I don’t mean to imply that LGBT issues are issues of “the world” only.   LGBT people are very much part of the church and its life already and don’t necessarily need to be “reached out” to.  But by being more open to the world, the hierarchy could be establishing better forms of communication with those in the LGBT community who do not share the church’s vision of faith.  Sadly, they have too often painted themselves into a corner where they have no available tools to speak credibly or effectively with those not in the church.

You may have noticed that there is some overlap between the three dynamics which Gaillardetz has identified:  catholicity of dialogue, humble learning, and openness to the world.  These three concepts work with each other;  if one develops one of them, the other two, it seems, would be easy to develop, too.   Openness to the world includes being open to dialogue and being a humble learner, for example.

The most effective way that I see to reclaim the spirit of Vatican II for the church is for lay people to start living out these three dynamics the best ways that we are able to do so.   To paraphrase Gandhi, we must be the change we want to see in the church.  One of the greatest lessons of Vatican II is that lay people are equal partners with the hierarchy in building up the church.   We can’t expect the hierarchy to live the spirit of Vatican II if we don’t live it ourselves.  In doing so, we can help to transform our church on LGBT issues. Indeed, we can help to tranform our church. Period.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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