SYNOD: Bishop Geoffrey Robinson: Sexual Ethics Should Be Based on Jesus’ Teaching

October 5, 2014

Here in Rome, where church officials are preparing for the opening of the extraordinary synod on marriage and family today, the mood is high, and many people here are saying, that it’s really difficult to say what the outcome of the meeting will be.  There is much hope for change in many of the issues concerning marriage, family, sexuality, but many people are saying that the composition of the synod participants, the fact that the process of this synod–including the request for input from the laity–and how influential in which direction Pope Francis will be all make it difficult to predict outcomes.

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Bishop Geoffrey Robinson at the “Ways of Love” conference in Rome.

One bishop’s voice was heard loudly and clearly in Rome in the last few days, not by church leaders, but by Catholic LGBT people and ally advocates.  Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary of Sydney, Australia, spoke at the Ways Of Love conference on pastoral care with LGBT people, about which we posted yesterday.  The gathering in Rome was to discuss new possible approaches to LGBT people that the synod could take.  Bishop Robinson, who many readers may remember spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in 2012, outlined a new approach to sexual ethics for the Church that would recognize the goodness and holiness of same-sex committed relationships.  His talk was a highlight of the conference, and I will try to outline some of the main points below.

Bishop Robinson began by dismantling some of the crippling assumptions that underline current church teaching, most particularly the idea that sexual sins are among the most grievous that humans might commit:

“Striking a king or president has always been considered a more serious offence than striking an ordinary citizen. In line with this, it was said, the greatest king by far is God, so an offence against God is far more serious than an offence against a mere human being.

“Because all sexual sins were seen as direct offences against God, they were, therefore, all seen as most serious sins. Sexual sins were seen as on the same level as the other sin that is directly against God, blasphemy, and this helps to explain why, in the Catholic Church, sexual morality has long been given a quite exaggerated importance.

“For centuries the Church has taught that every sexual sin is a mortal sin. In this field, it was held, there are no venial sins. . . .

“This teaching fostered belief in an incredibly angry God, for this God would condemn a person to an eternity in hell for a single unrepented moment of deliberate pleasure arising from sexual desire. This idea of God is totally contrary to the entire idea of God that Jesus presented to us, and I cannot accept it.

“My first rebellion against Church teaching on sex came, therefore, not directly from a rejection of what the Church said about sex, but a rejection of the false god that this teaching presented.”

Robinson also objected to the presumption that the Church’s sexual ethics should be based on judging the solely of sexual acts:

“. . . [T]he teaching of the Church is based on a consideration of what is seen as the God-given nature of the physical acts in themselves, rather than on these acts as actions of human beings. And it continues to do this at a time when the whole trend in moral theology is in the opposite direction.

“As a result it gets into impossible difficulties in analysing physical acts without a context of human relations. For example, some married couples find that there is a blockage preventing the sperm from reaching the ovum, but that in a simple procedure a doctor can take the husband’s sperm and insert it into the wife in such a way that is passes the blockage and enables conception. But the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith condemned this action because the physical act was not considered “integral”, even though the entire reason for this intervention was precisely that the couple wanted their marriage to be both unitive and procreative.

“The Church’s arguments concerning sex are based solely on the physical act in itself rather than on the physical act as an action affecting persons and relationships.”

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New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo and Sister Jeannine Gramick at the “Ways of Love” conference in Rome.

Focusing in on lesbian and gay sexuality in particular, Robinson challenged the presumption of “natural law theory” opposing same-gender relationships:

“It was God who created a world in which there are both heterosexuals and homosexuals. This was not a mistake on God’s part that human beings are meant to repair; it is simply an undeniable part of God’s creation.

“The only sexual acts that are natural to homosexuals are homosexual acts. This is not a free choice they have made between two things that are equally attractive to them, but something that is deeply embedded in their nature, something they cannot simply cast aside. Homosexual acts come naturally to them, heterosexual acts do not. They cannot perform what the Church would call ‘natural’ acts in a way that is natural to them.

“Why should we turn to some abstraction in determining what is natural rather than to the actual lived experience of human beings? Why should we say that homosexuals are acting against nature when they are acting in accordance with the only nature they have ever experienced?

“The Church claims that it is basing itself on ‘natural law,’ but a natural law based on abstractions is a false natural law. Indeed, it brings the whole concept of natural law into disrepute.”

The bishop began an outline of a new basis for sexual ethics, based more on the teachings of Jesus than on any other outside philosophical theory.  He began this section of his talk by quoting Scripture:

“ ‘If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea’ (Mk.9:42).

“ ‘Then they will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”(Mt.25:44-45)

“In these two quotations Jesus identifies with the weakest persons in the community, and tells us that any harm done to them is a harm done to himself.

“I suggest that this harm done to people is the real sin in matters of sex, the only sin that angers God.

“I suggest, therefore, that we should look at sexual morality in terms of the good or harm done to persons and the relationships between them rather than in terms of a direct offence against God.

“Following from this, may we say that sexual pleasure, like all other pleasure, is in itself morally neutral, neither good nor bad? Is it rather the circumstances affecting persons and relationships that make this pleasure good or bad, e.g. a good pleasure for a married couple seeking reconciliation after a disagreement, a bad pleasure for a man committing rape?”

After critiquing a reigning ethic of sex in the contemporary world that only cautions people to “do no harm,”  Bishop Robinson supplies an ethic based more on the commandment to love our neighbor:

“I suggest that the central questions concerning sexual morality are: Are we moving towards a genuinely Christian ethic if we base our sexual actions on a profound respect for the relationships that give meaning, purpose and direction to human life, and on loving our neighbour as we would want our neighbour to love us?

“Within this context, may we ask whether a sexual act is morally right when, positively, it is based on a genuine love of neighbour, that is, a genuine desire for what is good for the other person, rather than solely on self-interest, and, negatively, contains no damaging elements such as harm to a third person, any form of coercion or deceit, or any harm to the ability of sex to express love? . . . .

“Many would object that what I have proposed would not give a clear and simple rule to people. But God never promised us that everything in the moral life would be clear and simple. Morality is not just about doing right things; it is also about struggling to know what is the right thing to do. It is not just about doing what everyone else around us is doing; it is about taking a genuine personal responsibility for everything we do. And it is about being profoundly sensitive to the needs and vulnerabilities of the people with whom we interact.”

To catch all of Bishop Robinson’s nuances, examples, and explanations, I urge all who are interested in this topic to read his entire text which can be found on the conference’s website.  You will be enriched by reading all of Bishop Robinson’s nuances, examples, and explanations, as well as additional arguments.

As the synod opens today, I pray that other bishops will listen to voices like Bishop Robinson’s, whose approach to all sexuality is so rooted in the teachings of Jesus.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Photos of Kisses Banned from Rome Gallery Due to Vatican Intervention

September 30, 2013
Two men kissing in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

Two men kissing in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

Had the Vatican not intervened in getting a photo exhibition removed from a Rome gallery,  few outside the Eternal City would probably have heard of it.  But opposition to the exhibit, which features 16 pictures of same-gender couples kissing in churches, has now catapulted the exhibit to the world of international headlines and internet sensations.

Spanish artist Gonzalo Orquin’s exhibit, which was to open on September 25th in Rome’s Galleria L’Opera, was cancelled when the Vatican’s Vicariate of Rome (the office which oversees the Diocese of Rome) threatened legal action. You can view a slideshow of the photos here, thanks to Huffington Post UK.  According to TheLocal.it:

“ ‘A letter arrived from the Vicariate of Rome, an organization that is part of the Vatican, which said the church is against the exhibition. I spoke to lawyers and for security reasons we decided not to show the photos,’ Orquín told The Local.

“The Vicariate, an organization that helps the Pope carry out his functions as Bishop of Rome, confirmed it had sent the letter threatening legal action and said the photographs ‘could harm the religious sentiment of the faithful.’ “

Italian law, it seems, has a different concept of free expression than United States law:

“Speaking to The Local, Vicariate Spokesman Claudio Tanturri said the photographs are in breach the Italian constitution.

“ ‘Italian constitutional law safeguards an individual’s religious feeling and the function of places of worship.

“ ‘Therefore photos that are not suitable and do not conform to the spirituality of the place offend and infringe upon the advancement of man in the particular place for the expression of faith.’ ”

According to New York’s Daily News, the artist’s position on the exhibit was consonant with religious sentiment:

“ ‘I am a Catholic. I believe in God deeply,’ Orquin told The News in an email. ‘I think if you look closely at my pictures no one can find blasphemy or sacrilege. A kiss is a gesture of love, of tenderness between human beings.’ ”

Flavio Romani, president of Arcigay,Italy’s leading gay rights organization,  agreed with the artist and said that the Vatican’s reaction is a different interpretation than the one he has of the exhibit.  In The Local he stated:

“In the images in which the church has seen provocation, I see an exchange of love, a type of public worship that creates harmony not contrast.”

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Facebook photo of covered images

In response to the cancellation, the artist has posted a photo on Facebook of the 16 photos covered up, according to Huffington Post UK.   He is hopeful that the exhibit will be displayed elsewhere.  It seems that the notoriety gained by the Vatican’s intervention guarantees that another, perhaps more prominent, venue will be found for the photos.

If the Vatican wants to start living up to the ideals expressed by Pope Francis, interventions such as this one will have to stop.  Such an action doesn’t even serve their own misguided purposes well, as it only brings further exposure and publicity to the exhibit.  Worse yet, it sets up a dichotomy that buildings are more important than people.

The images themselves are not disrespectful.  And like all art, the statement they make probably depends more upon the viewer of them, not the creator of them.  Such images may offend some people, but more likely they will challenge many others, and cause even more people to think about the connections between love and religion.  Art should always get people thinking and discussing.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Papal Phone Call Story Should Teach Church About Affirmation

September 7, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

A minor brouhaha erupted on Friday concerning Pope Francis and homosexuality.  A French newspaper had reported that a young, gay Frenchman received a phone call from the pope, in response to a letter he had written to the Catholic leader.   Later, however, the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, absolutely denied that the Holy Father had made the phone call.

According to TheLocal.fr, recounted the purported conversation as reported by the young man, Christophe Trutino, to the French newspaper, La Depeche Midi:

‘He said ‘Christopher? It’s Pope Francis’. I was unsettled, of course. I asked, ” Really? ” He replied : “Yes.”

“I know it’s hard to believe, but it really happened like that. From that moment on , I no longer doubted,” said the young Frenchman.

“I received the letter that you sent me. You need to remain courageous and continue to believe and pray and stay good,” the voice at the end of the phone told him during the nine-minute conversation in Spanish.

“Your homosexuality. It doesn’t matter. One way or another , we are all children of God. This is why we must continue to be good,” he continued.

But The Local also carried the denial by Fr. Lombardi:

“Father Lombardi, a spokesman for the Vatican ‘firmly denied’ claims by the young gay Catholic that the Pope had made a private telephone call to him last week.

” ‘After previously declining to deny or confirm the call, in which Christophe Trutino claimed the Pope told him ‘Your homosexuality doesn’t matter’ Lombardi told Le Figaro newspaper: ‘The Pope never called this person.’

“ ‘The only time the Pope has called France was to speak to Cardinal Barbarin. I absolutely deny this information,’ he said.

“ ‘There is always the risk that people pretend to be the pope over the phone,’ Lombardi added.”

I tend to believe the Vatican spokesperson, for two reasons: 1) I don’t think he would deny it so boldly without first checking with the pope; 2) I think if the pope had indeed made the call, he would not want it to be private.

This story, however, cannot be brushed aside quickly.  The fact that the young man’s case seemed so plausible to many, including journalists,  reveals two important lessons: 1) LGBT people are hungering for affirmation from the hierarchy; 2) people believe that the affirming message in the phone conversation could realistically come from Pope Francis.

For many years, the Catholic hierarchy, particularly in Rome and the U.S., have only had very negative things to say to and about LGBT people.   Despite tons of evidence of the faithfulness, sincerity, and commitment of LGBT Catholics, the hierarchy continued for many years to ignore these realities.  While the hierarchy often spoke about “the truth” of human sexuality (meaning maintaining the heterosexual norm),  it did not acknowledge the truth of the real lives and experiences of LGBT people, particularly the goodness discovered in their relationships.  This denial of reality and affirmation hurts not only LGBT people, but hurts the hierarchy themselves because it keeps them living in ignorance and fear.

Yet, since he was elected on March 13, 2013, Pope Francis has pointed to a different direction regarding LGBT issues.  We’ve learned that he supported civil unions in Argentina, and we have seen him take the focus off marriage equality opposition by the Vatican.  His comments on not judging gay priests have renewed the hope of many who work and pray for LGBT equality.  He has provided a different voice from the hierarchy, and it is a voice that many people have longed to hear.   So, the purported comments from the phone call could easily be recognized as coming from this affirming pope.

The third, and perhaps most important, lesson from this story is the lesson for the hierarchy.  The poignancy of this tale shows how much people want to hear a “good word” from church leadership.  They want “bread, not stones” and “fish, not snakes.”  And they are looking towards the new pope to inspire those positive attributes into the whole church,  both hierarchy and the people.

It may yet turn out that some further unknown evidence proves that there actually was a  phone call from the pope with an affirming message.  That would be wonderful and exciting.  But even if this does not prove true, our church can still learn valuable lessons from this story which can help to bring about true justice and equality for LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Vatican Bank’s Gay ‘Scandal’ Highlights Holy See’s Sexuality Problems

July 23, 2013
Monsignor Battista Ricca

Monsignor Battista Ricca

A controversy has emerged concerning Pope Francis’ appointment of Monsignor Battista Ricca as the overseer of the Vatican Bank and its history of scandal.  The Italian magazine, L’Espresso, has printed an article which alleges that Ricca was involved in a somewhat well-known gay relationship while he was serving as acting papal nuncio to Uruguay from 1999 to 2000.

The story illustrates how the Vatican’s failure to deal with homosexuality in a healthy manner can allow for all sorts of not only personal, but institutional problems.

L’Espresso’s Vatican reporter Sandro Magister wrote [official English translation from the magazine’s website]:

“Ricca arrived at this nunciature in 1999, when the mandate of the nuncio Francesco De Nittis was coming to an end. Previously he had served at the diplomatic missions of Congo, Algeria, Colombia, and finally Switzerland.

“Here, in Bern, he had met and become friends with a captain of the Swiss army, Patrick Haari. The two arrived in Uruguay together. And Ricca asked that his friend be given a role and a residence in the nunciature.

“The nuncio rejected the request. But a few months later he retired and Ricca, having become the chargé d’affaires ‘ad interim’ until the appointment of the new nuncio, assigned Haari a residence in the nunciature, with a regular position and salary.”

Magister’s account also details various other incident, such as discovering  a firearm, condoms, and pornography in a suitcase Ricca owned, and, on one occasion, being beaten in an area known to be a meeting place for gay men.

Magister claims that these incidents are well known:

“In Uruguay, the facts reported above are known to dozens of persons: bishops, priests, sisters, laypeople. Without counting the civil authorities, from security forces to fire protection. Many of these persons have had direct experience of these facts, at various moments. “

Ricca eventually returned to the Vatican, where he served in various positions until recently being appointed by Pope Francis to oversee the Vatican Bank, known as the Institute for the Work of Religion (IOR).

According to The Tablet:

“Holy See spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi described the claims as ‘not trustworthy.’ “

London’s Guardian newspaper enumerates some of the important questions that surround this case:

“That points to the key questions in the affair: whether Pope Francis knew of the claims against Ricca before he handed him one of the most sensitive jobs in the Vatican. And if not, why not? After he was recalled to Rome, Ricca served in the Vatican’s secretariat of state before being given charge of first one, and eventually three, of the guest houses that the Holy See uses to accommodate church dignitaries on visits to Rome. . . .

“It would have been standard procedure for him to call in Ricca’s personal file before making the appointment and – whatever the truth or otherwise of the claims against him – it is inconceivable that he would have gone ahead had he known about them. It is hard to imagine a more dangerous official for the pope than one charged with shaking up the IOR, yet acutely vulnerable to blackmail.”

I don’t know what is true or not true in this story.  While Magister’s account is certainly plausible, there is little corroborating evidence, not even testimony of witnesses, that would provide backing for the validity of his claims.  His full article reads more like a list of charges, but with very little support for them–more like gossip than news.

The saddest part of this story is that so much intrigue, scandal, and gossip could be avoided if the Vatican would deal with sexuality in a more healthy manner.  As long as homosexuality is considered something shameful, it will be easily used as a weapon of blackmail.  As long as the Vatican continues to ignore that many gay men serve in the priesthood, this fiction will allow some priests to live lives that do not reflect their best interests.

Rather than being an opportunity to point fingers at the possible hypocrisy this story might illustrate, let’s hope that it becomes an opportunity for Pope Francis to recognize that unless he starts to deal with both homosexuality and the sexuality of priests, he will never be able to execute the reforms that he seems intent on instituting.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Benedict’s Embattled Legacy on LGBT Issues

February 13, 2013
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Gay protesters kiss at a demonstration as popemobile carrying Benedict XVI passes.

Pope Benedict XVI’s legacy will be fiercely debated in the weeks leading up to his resignation on February 28. Already commentators are reflecting on the pervasive legacy that this Pope leaves regarding LGBT relations within the Catholic Church. Needless to say, not many are positive.

Michael O’Loughlin writing at Religion News Service labels Benedict’s views as “wrong and hurtful” with a lineage of destructive policies aimed at limiting LGBT individuals’ acceptance in the Church. O’Loughlin’s view is that Benedict is an elderly man who has lived sequestered in the Vatican for too long, thus preventing him from a realistic understanding of LGBT people. He writes:

“Benedict seemed unable to grasp that gay women and men long for the same things as their heterosexual peers: loving relationships, lives of dignity, and respect from their fellow human beings. He seemed particularly fixated on the bizarre notion that same-sex marriage would somehow herald the downfall of civilization and he said things that no pastor should ever preach, much less the pope…Benedict’s failure to act pastorally and kindly on these issues remains a great failing of his papacy.”

An article by Lila Shapiro at The Huffington Post recalls the persecution of Sr. Jeannine Gramick and New Ways Ministry faced under the Pope. As Cardinal Ratzinger who headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he oversaw persistent investigations into the public ministry of Sr. Jeannine and New Ways Ministry. Serendipitously, the cardinal and the nun found themselves in conversation on the same airplane at one point, about which Shapiro writes:

“When she boarded the plane, she saw Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became pope, sitting with two empty seats beside him. She mustered her courage and sat next to him. ‘When he found out who I was, he just smiled and said “Oh, I’ve known about you for 20 years,”’ she said.”

“…he asked her questions about her work, and then she asked him one. ‘I said, “have you ever met any lesbian or gay people?”’ she recalled. He said that he had — at a ‘demonstration of homosexuals’ in Berlin. ‘So that was his idea of meeting gay people,’ she said.”

Shapiro also interviewed acclaimed Jesuit author, Fr. James Martin,  who also identifies this interpersonal aspect as a key factor in predicting whether Benedict’s legacy of anti-LGBT policies will continue in the next papacy:

“‘There could be a change of tone if you get a cardinal who has had experience with gays and lesbians’…By ‘coincidence or providence,’ Martin said, the cardinals may chose someone with a gay family member, or someone who worked at a diocese that had gay outreach.

“‘So much of it is based on experience, in terms of how you even speak about gays and lesbians,’ Martin said. Pope Benedict, he added, ‘did not come to the papacy with a great deal of experience in that kind of ministry.'”

Many reflections will be produced about this anti-LGBT papacy and prospects for the future, but assuredly Benedict will not be remembered for his pastoral nature towards the gay and lesbian community. Shapiro elucidates just how heavily Benedict focused his anti-gay efforts after assuming the papacy:

“In his years as pope, his opposition to gay rights has not faltered. Benedict, a staunch conservative, has said since his appointment that saving human kind from homosexual behavior was as important as saving the rainforest from destruction. He has called same-sex marriage a “dangerous and insidious” challenge to society. In recent months, he sought alliances to oppose efforts to legalize same-sex marriages around the world.”

However, even suffering greatly under Benedict for decades, New Ways Ministry remains hopeful in this time of transition. Shapiro quotes Francis DeBernardo, the ministry’s executive director, on the potential legacy Benedict will have in resigning:

“’Whenever there’s an opportunity for a change, there’s always the hope that the change will be for the better…We need a pope who’s going to listen to the faith of Catholics, whose faith has told them that they should be supporting LGBT people, that they should be respecting the dignity and the human rights that these people have.’

“DeBernardo said he has seen glimmers of such a change from bishops and cardinals in Europe, who have stopped short of supporting same-sex marriage, but have made positive statements about same-sex relationships and civil unions. And while the Vatican remains one of the most powerful opponents to same-sex marriage and other gay rights causes, recent polls have shown that Catholics in the pews mostly support gay rights, with more than two-thirds of Catholic voters supporting legal recognition of same-sex relationships.”

Readers can view New Ways Ministry’s full statement regarding the resignation here and be assured that as commentaries develop and news breaks, Bondings 2.0 will continue to update on this important period in the Catholic Church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


How Do You Reconcile Being LGBT and Catholic?

February 4, 2013

gay and CatholicIn my over 20 years of working in LGBT ministry in the Catholic Church, by far the most frequent question that I have been asked is “How can someone by LGBT and Catholic at the same time?”  It’s a puzzling question to those who don’t share in one or both of those identities.   I’m always tempted to answer that question with the lines that appear at the beginning of the classic film, “Song of Bernadette,” about the saint’s visions at Lourdes:  “For those who don’t believe, no explanation is possible.  For those who do believe, no explanation is necessary.”

An alternative answer, however, comes in the form of an essay from the UK, which appeared on the news blog, Sosogay.co.uk Author Brian Kelly, who writes from a Northern Irish perspective, acknowledges that although being gay and Catholic is a puzzle to some, it is not so to him:

“In reality, I feel comfortable as a gay Catholic, because I don’t particularly see the need for them to fit one another perfectly in order for both to be relevant to my life but I know that technically they do conflict. . . “

For Kelly, and for many LGBT Catholics that I have met, Catholic identity does not necessarily mean Catholic conformity:

“. . . [B]eing a Catholic is more than just attending a weekly gathering, and faith in God is more than just what you’re told by the clergy. It’s a way of life, and particularly in devout countries like mine, it’s something which binds the community together in schools, neighborhoods and organizations. Northern Ireland in particular is still a polarised state, with two sides divided on ethno-political grounds, where your religion is your label. Of course this has softened in recent years, but the roots run deep enough so that people still feel much more bound by their religion – whether they like it or not – than they might in a multi-ethnic country. Feelings of obligation to the Pope might be waning, but feelings of belonging among fellow Catholics are not.

Like it the U.S., and many other nations, Catholics in Northern Ireland are also supportive of LGBT issues, despite their hierarchy’s opposition to them.  Catholic lay people have made up their own minds on these matters:

“It’s worth noting that of the two largest political parties in Northern Ireland – the DUP (largely Unionist, Protestant voters) and Sinn Fein (largely Republican, Catholic voters), it is Sinn Fein which supports marriage equality. The DUP are rejecting it, and indeed tried to prevent the decriminalization of homosexuality in Northern Ireland as recently as 1982. This democratic politics speaks louder for the views of the people on the ground than the voice of an unelected man in Rome.”

Kelly paints a picture of the contemporary Catholic Church in Northern Ireland that remains spiritually and socially strong, while the laity grow more distant from the hiearchy:

“I now see a new generation of young people who still identify as Catholic, but reject some of the teachings of the Church. I know people who still pray and have spirituality, but don’t necessarily take it to the door of a chapel. I see communities who act out the positive, generous and loving elements of Catholic teachings, but have dropped the divisive and damning beliefs that have kept their country in fear, guilt, and even poverty, for the centuries in which the Church monopolized Ireland’s institutions. Many might say this sounds like picking and choosing – indeed it is a style of reform – but if it’s reform for the better welfare and happiness of people, why shouldn’t it be so? After all, faith is about being happy – religion became too much about control.”

Every LGBT Catholic that I know makes peace with the church in their own individual way, though there are some similarities across the stories.  How do you reconcile your Catholicism with your LGBT or LGBT-ally identity ?  Please share you ideas and experiences in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Sister Jeannine, Cardinal Ratzinger, New Ways Ministry, and Solidarity with LCWR

May 11, 2012

The Vatican’s attempt  to control the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has been felt poignantly by folks here at New Ways Ministry, not only because we were mentioned as one of the contributing factors in the investigation of the Sisters, but because it is so reminiscent of the 1999 attempt by Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to silence New Ways Ministry’s co-founders, Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine resisted the Vatican’s control, and she continues to be involved in promoting equality and justice for LGBT Catholics in the church and the larger civil community, as well as speaking out on a variety of church reform issues, including, most recently, the LCWR case. 

The similarity between her case and the current attempt to suppress LCWR has been noticed by John Gravois, a writer, who lives just across the street from New Ways Ministry.  He sat down with Sister Jeannine for an interview, and published an essay in The New Republic which begins by noting the fact that support for New Ways Ministry was mentioned in the CDF’s critique of LCWR:

“. . . I was put in mind of my neighbors [New Ways Ministry] last month, when the Vatican announced that it was effectively instituting a hostile takeover of the Leadership Council of Women Religious, a body that represents some 80 percent of American nuns. On April 18, Rome’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that it was placing the nuns’ group under the caretaker authority of Archbishop James Peter Sartain of Seattle, so that he could ensure a number of reforms were carried out. Specifically, the Vatican faulted the nuns for focusing too much on social injustice, and not enough on abortion and euthanasia; for evincing a ‘radical feminist’ streak; and for their history of collective dissent against Rome and the American bishops, ‘the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.’

“On this last point—the bit about dissent—the Vatican would seem to have a wealth of examples it could cite. Anyone who paid close attention to the debate over health care reform in 2010, for instance, knows that American nuns parted ways with the Catholic hierarchy rather starkly. Various sisters’ groups fought to pass the Affordable Care Act; the American bishops sought to strike it down.

“But the Vatican’s document did not mention the fight over Obamacare. One act of dissent Rome did highlight, however, was the American nuns’ collective support of something far smaller—a tiny organization called New Ways Ministry. Rome, apparently, has it in for my neighbor.”

The article gives a nice summary of Sister Jeannine’s biography, particularly with how she became involved in ministering to, for, and with the LGBT community.  If you are unfamiliar with these details, I suggest you take a look at the entire text by clicking here. (Sister Jeannine’s story of involvement in LGBT ministry was also the subject of an award-winning documentary, In Good Conscience: Sister Jeannine Gramick’s Journey of Faith.   You can order a DVD of the film by clicking here.)

One story deserves reprinting here, because of the sheer serendipity of the plot:

“One day in the late ’90s, Gramick was boarding a flight from Rome to Munich when she noticed a familiar-looking man sitting on the plane. It was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which had by that point been conducting an investigation of Gramick for more than a decade—and had been building a file on her for longer than that. Not wanting to miss a chance to meet her inquisitor, Gramick struck up a conversation. When the cardinal learned who she was, he chuckled amicably. ‘I have known you for twenty years,’ he said.

“Notwithstanding the friendliness of that in-flight exchange, Ratzinger’s office issued the conclusion of its long assessment of Gramick a year and a half later, in 1999. It was essentially a spiritual cease-and-desist order: no more speaking or writing about homosexuality, period. Gramick took some time to reflect on the command and then wrote a response: ‘I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression.’  In effect, she treated the Vatican’s order as a suggestion—and politely declined to follow it. Since then, she has proceeded with her work, operating in a kind of Catholic doctrinal twilight.”

The essay concludes with Sister Jeannine’s concurrence with Sister Joan Chittister’s recommendation for LCWR:

“Today, in response to Rome’s recent doctrinal assessment, some prominent nuns—including Joan Chittister, a former president of the Leadership Council of Women Religious—are suggesting that the umbrella group should simply disband and then reconstitute itself as a non-canonical institution, outside the Vatican’s purview. Effectively, they are recommending that the vast majority of American nuns do the same thing Gramick did 13 years ago: remain Catholic yet try to separate themselves from Rome. Gramick, for her part, is eager for the rest of her sisters to join her. ‘If we comply, if we submit to what is being asked by the Vatican, it would be a repudiation of all the renewal that we’ve done in religious life,’ she told me. ‘I don’t believe that nuns will say we can do that.’ ”

Back in 1999, when the Vatican came down on New Ways Ministry’s co-founders, I realized how true it is that when church ministers stand in solidarity with an oppressed group, it is very likely that they, too, will suffer the same violations and indignities of the people they serve.  The most dramatic example of this phenomenon is when foreign missionaries are killed for standing in solidarity with the indigenous poor who are murdered by a tyrannical government.

The same thing happened to our co-founders.   For standing in solidarity with LGBT people, Sister Jeannine and Father Nugent received the same punishment that the church imposed on LGBT people:  an attempt to silence their voices.   Today, the same seems to be the case with LCWR:  the Vatican is attempting to control them because they have stood in solidarity with LGBT people.

Renowned Catholic observer David Gibson has uncovered the American prelates who are behind the investigation of LCWR.  His excellent analysis can be read in a Religion News Service article on HuffingtonPost.com entitled “Vatican Crackdown On Nuns: Are Americans In Rome Behind It?”

A new website entitled NunJustice.org has been established with  six ways people can support women religious during this crisis:

Petition (with a link to the original petition on change.org)

Write (with sample letters and addresses to download)

Vigil (with lists of already ongoing vigils, a sign up and sample prayer services to use)

Share (with a link to the tumblr site for posting photos, etc.)

Pledge (with a mechanism for tabulating by diocese amounts that people pledge to Religious Sisters on Pentecost)

Pray (with additional prayer resources)

There are also talking points, media advisories and a sample flyer (and pictures).

We continue to pray with and for the members of LCWR, and, indeed with and for all religious Sisters in the U.S.  Having lived through a similar case, we know the grace of God will be with them to give them courage.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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