Is it Possible for Bishops to Move Away from Marriage Equality Opposition?

June 26, 2014

Last week’s appearance of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone at the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) March in Washington, DC, inspired several journalists to look more closely at the relationship between the Catholic hierarchy and anti-marriage equality groups.

While we’ve noted before that there is a growing trend in the church of some church leaders speaking favorably of lesbian and gay couples, the road to full acceptance still is a long one.  Some of the new insights that these journalists have expressed show that a new relationship between Catholic leaders and the issue of marriage equality, while a challenge, is possible.

The challenge comes from some of the “strange bedfellows” that some bishops are connecting with, politically speaking.  Jeremy Hooper, at the Human Rights Campaign’s NOM Exposed blog, points out that in addition to Cordileone’s appearance at the rally, he also continues working behind the scenes with NOM leaders.   He was listed as a host of a recent strategy meeting in Princeton, New Jersey, with several of NOM’s top leaders and associates.

Will this continued association with NOM continue? The National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters says that it shouldn’t.  In a recent column, he questioned Cordileone’s involvement at the rally because he sees NOM as  “dedicated to a strategy that is not only counter-productive, which is bad enough, but a strategy that is profoundly un-Christian.”

Winters offers evidence of NOM’s role in stirring up anti-gay legislation aborad as a major reason Cordileone should not have participated in the event:

“Their president, Brian Brown, spent time strategizing in Russia, encouraging that country’s parliament to enact harsh anti-gay laws that do not reflect the kind of love Archbishop Cordileone called for in his speech yesterday. The Uganda parliamentarian, David Bahati, who authored that country’s truly draconian anti-gay laws acknowledges the influence of U.S.-based groups in encouraging him and helping him, including the shadowy ‘Fellowship.’

“NOM’s stateside efforts are not much better. They are smart enough to know that promoting a law that would call for killing gays is a non-starter. But, they apparently are not smart enough to recognize that the great threats to marriage in our day have nothing to do with what gays do. Among the great threats to marriage is a hook-up culture that is to human love what laissez-faire economics is to the world of commerce and finance, a libertarianism in action which, like all that flows from that ‘poisoned spring,’ as Pope Pius XI termed it, devastates the Gospel.”

Winters concludes with a warning to bishops about how they need to shape their future rhetoric and action on the question of marriage:

“Finally, if the leaders of the Church are to become credible again on the issue of marriage, they cannot simultaneously insist that they are not motivated by anti-gay bigotry and then give speeches at rallies organized by bigots. This is not guilt by association. It is recognizing that such participation is a counter-witness to the Gospel. Archbishop Cordileone’s comments about loving those who do not share the Church’s teachings on marriage are, I am sure, sincere, but he betrays his own words when he demonstrates common cause with the architects of draconian laws that seek to deny the human dignity of gays and lesbians. This is obvious to the rest of us. One wonders why it was not obvious to +Cordileone.”

Pope Francis

The role that Pope Francis is playing in the bishops’ rhetoric on marriage equality and other issues is also an important factor that needs to be considered.  U.S. Catholic’s Scott Alessi notes the ambiguity and ambivalence that seems to characterize the U.S. bishops’ desire to follow Francis’ lead in taking a softer tone in regard to marriage equality and LGBT issues.  Noting that some headlines about the recent United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting proclaimed concord with Pope Francis, while others asserted a striking difference between the bishops and the pontiff,  Alessi writes:

“As is often the case with such things, the reality is somewhere in the middle. The bishops are a large and diverse group, and I don’t think anyone realistically could have anticipated a radical shift in the conference’s overall agenda. Some bishops have surely been taking the pope’s words to heart and thinking about how that impacts their work, while others are much less concerned with what’s being said in Rome than they are with what is happening in their own backyard.”

U.S. News and World Report published an insightful essay with a title that explains the confusion surrounding the “Francis factor”:  “When It Comes to Same-Sex Marriage, Both Sides Claim Pope Francis.”     On the pro-marraige equality side, the article quotes Michael Sherrad, executive director of Faithful America:

“Pope Francis has powerfully inspired countless Catholics and other Christians to a new vision for how the church can be compassionate. Unfortunately too many – not all, but too many – of the bishops in the United States and their conservative activist allies have really flouted what Pope Francis has had to say about gay and lesbian people.”

On the anti-marriage equality side, the writer quotes Chris Plant,  regional director of NOM:

“[Plant says that] Pope Francis’s tone is in line with the approach he sees his organization taking on the issue. ‘He is focusing on the fact that our dialogue ought to be civil,’ Plant says. ‘We absolutely ask for it to be a civil.’ ”

The U.S. News and World Report article also quoted a seasoned Catholic Church observer, noting the pope’s influence on the debate:

“ ‘I think he wants to move a little bit beyond the culture wars, at least certainly key issues in the culture wars,’ says Rev. Thomas P. Rausch, a Jesuit priest and a professor of Catholic theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. ‘He can’t simply change the church’s teachings – the whole church has to be involved in that. But he can change the way that the church is perceived in terms of the range of issues it addresses. And I suspect that is what he wants to do.’ “

In a recent interview with Faith in Public Life’s John Gehring, Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, former president of the USCCB and archbishop emeritus of Galveston-Houston, Texas, offered words of wisdom for how Pope Francis’ more compassionate approach can succeed:

“We have to take what he is saying seriously. We need bishops who reflect his style, and laypeople have to be involved so that this Francis era is not just a passing moment but salt and light for our church for many years to come.”

What I like about Fiorenza’s remarks is that he reminds us that if the more compassionate approach is to come about, it depends on lay people, as much as on bishops.  We need to remind ourselves of this reality when the going gets tough.  A new relationship between marriage equality and Catholic leadership is possible–but we’re the ones who have to help it along.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


Commonweal, Catholicism, and Same-Sex Marriage, Part 2

June 1, 2014

Yesterday, we introduced this two-part series on Commonweal magazine’s continued conversation about Joseph Bottum’s 2013 essay entitled“The Things We Share:A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage.” Commonweal asked two writers with opposing points of view to respond to Bottum’s essay.  Yesterday, we examined the conservative pundit’s point of view, expressed by Ross Douthat of The New York Times.  Today, we will look at the progressive response, offered by Jamie Manson of The National Catholic Reporter.

You can read Douthat’s complete remarks here, and Manson’s complete remarks here.  Bottum’s reply to both of them can be read here.

It should come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I have a much more favorable view of Manson’s take on Bottum’s essay than I did of Douthat’s.  Manson’s main argument is one that New Ways Ministry strongly shares.  She states:

“. . . I think American Catholics can and should accept recognition of same-sex marriage because they are Catholics. The church should revise its attitude toward same-sex relationships not simply because the culture is moving in that direction—which by itself, as Bottum says, is no reason to alter any moral teaching—but because it has become clear that that what the church teaches about homosexuality is not true.”

That argument, which is seemingly simple, is packed with history and faith. Catholics, who now overwhelmingly support marriage equality, are doing so because of their faith, not in spite of it.  Their faith journeys of the last few decades, largely ignored by the hierarchy, have led them to understand sexuality and relationships in new ways.  They have come to recognize that so many myths and stereotypes that they have had about lesbian and gay people are false.  Unfortunately, church teaching has not quite yet caught up with this new faith reality.

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Manson illustrates this new reality nicely:

“Anyone with an experience of loving same-sex relationships will find unpersuasive the Catholic teaching that such relationships are sinful by their very nature because only sex acts that have the potential to create new life are licit.

“Such a strict interpretation of natural law reduces human beings to their biological functions, and fails to appreciate persons in their totality as the emotional, spiritual, and physical beings that God created us to be. Most of us have realized that the potential to procreate does not by itself lead to the flourishing of married couples.”

The insistence of so many of the church’s bishops to listen to the lived faith of gay and lesbian people, to examine new research on sexuality, to dialogue with family members of sexual and gender minorities is truly a great scandal in our church.  This resistance has caused great damage to LGBT people, but it has also caused much damage to the bishops who continue to ignore this reality.  These clerics are missing out on an amazing development of faith in the world.  Manson seems to recognize this idea when she states:

“The growing acceptance of same-sex relationships and the push for same-sex marriage is not, I would argue, a sign that reality needs re-enchanting, but a sign that our culture may be more receptive to a challenging spiritual vision of married love and commitment than Bottum suspects.”

It is in accepting, not in rejecting, same-sex couples’ commitments that the church and the world can be renewed.   Manson makes this point in her conclusion.  Having discussed witnessing a same-sex marriage ceremony in New York City, and having noted her own plans to marry her lesbian partner, Manson states:

“It may take centuries before the Catholic hierarchy recognizes that marriages like the one I witnessed in the park, or the one I hope to enter, are holy unions with the potential to bring the life of God more fully into our world. But just as most of our culture has already concluded that same-sex relationships are equally deserving of protection under the law, for many Catholics the question of whether gays and lesbians are capable of living the vocation of marriage is already settled.”

Douthat’s and Bottum’s disappointment that the Catholic hierarchy has lost the debate on same-sex marriage could easily be turned around if they would understand that though the hierarchy may have lost, the entire church has actually “won” because we have all gained so much by the fact that marriage equality is spreading rapidly.  The true loss for the hierarchy will be if they persist in their refusal to listen.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related resources:

Bondings 2.0: Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation” by Professor Lisa Fullam

Marriage Equality:  A Positive Catholic Approach by Francis DeBernardo

 

 

 


Commonweal, Catholicism, and Same-Sex Marriage, Part 1

May 31, 2014

Last August, Commonweal magazine published an intriguing article entitled  “The Things We Share:  A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage.”  What made it most intriguing was that it was written by Joseph Bottum, a religious and political conservative, who is the former editor of First Things magazine, a staunchly conservative publication.  You can read our blog post summarizing and critiquing the article here.

This past week, Commonweal followed up on Bottum’s landmark essay in an equally intriguing way:  they asked both a leading conservative columnist and a leading progressive columnist to respond to Bottum’s arguments.  The New York Times’ Ross Douthat and The National Catholic Reporter’s  Jamie Manson each offered their thoughts on Bottum’s work, and Commonweal provided Bottum’s to respond to them.

Today, we will look at Douthat’s comment and tomorrow we will look at Manson’s remarks.  You can read Douthat’s comments in full here.  If you want to read Bottum’s reply to both of them, you can click here.  After reading it, I decided not to comment on it because I don’t think such comment would add much to the debate about marriage equality.

Ross Douthat

Though Douthat and Bottum’s may agree on many matters, even some that concern same-sex marriage, Douthat believes that one of Bottum’s main argument–that the Catholic hierarchy has lost the debate on marriage equality and that church leaders should not argue the case anymore but instead focus on “re-enchating” the public with its traditional view of marriage–is “either confused or a cop-out.”  Douthat explains:

“For the Catholic Church to explicitly support the disentanglement of civil and religious marriage, and to cease to make any kind of public argument against treating same-sex unions the same way opposite-sex ones are treated in law and policy, would be a very serious withdrawal from political and cultural engagement. It is one thing to urge the church to prepare for political defeat on this issue—such preparations are obviously necessary, more obviously so now even than when Bottum’s essay first appeared. But it is quite another—more separatist, more sectarian, and thus more problematic—to say that the church should preemptively cease to even make the argument.”

Douthat wants no part of such retreat, and he argues that Catholics opposed to marriage equality must, on principle, continue their argument:

“If Catholics are to continue contending in the American public square, if they are going to choose active participation over catacombs and lifeboats, they need to have something to say to actual Americans about actual American debates. . . . there is no honest way for the church to avoid stating its position on what the legal definition of marriage ought to be—even in a world where that definition has changed and doesn’t seem likely to change back.”

While I disagree with Douthat about marriage equality, I have to admit that I sympathize with him about the idea of speaking out on the basis of principle.  As someone who believes in the power of argument and persuasion, I think it is important that people do not give up on their principles just because others, even a majority of others, may disagree with them.

But I don’t think that is necessarily a strategic thing to do.  Pope Francis himself has urged church leaders not to be “obsessed” about same-sex marriage, among other things.  Douthat, I think, agrees with the pope, for strategic reasons, stating:

“This need not mean starting every conversation with same-sex marriage; once the legal change is accomplished, it may involve talking about the issue less often, or talking about it in some very different way. But it cannot mean pretending that the church’s opposition to calling same-sex unions ‘marriage’ no longer exists.”

I tend to think that Pope Francis made his comment from a pastoral, not a political, perspective, based on the context in which he made the statement.  And I think that it is wise pastoral advice for at least two reasons: 1) there are many, many more important pastoral, spiritual, and social issues that church leaders should focus on; 2) constantly speaking negatively about same-sex marriage will certainly alienate many Catholics and others from the church.

Finally, I strongly disagree with Douthat in his estimation of the results of the spread of marriage equality. He states:

“I think a serious look at the trends that have accompanied the advance of gay marriage, at the legal arguments deployed on its behalf, at the shifting understanding of marriage that has made it seem commonsensical, and at the direction of the debate on related issues (from polygamy to surrogacy) should all cast grave doubt on the idea that the church could somehow incorporate same-sex nuptials into its view of marriage without transforming that view beyond all recognition.”

To me, this is not an argument, but simple fear-mongering.  As I see it, the only major social change that has happened since the advent of marriage equality has been the strengthening and protection of more couples and families, providing greater social stability.  Douthat, however, is  almost right on one point: same-sex nuptials will require a transformation of the hierarchy’s views on marriage.  I think that transformation will be for the better of all concerned. But, more on that tomorrow, when we look at Jamie Manson’s piece.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

Bondings 2.0: Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation” by Professor Lisa Fullam

Marriage Equality:  A Positive Catholic Approach by Francis DeBernardo

 

 

 

 


Catholic Bishops and U.S. Evangelicals Make Strange Bedfellows

May 25, 2014

One of the more unusual political alliances that has developed over the past two decades has been the deepening relationship between U.S. Catholic bishops and Evangelicals in this country.  Not surprisingly, one of the areas of common ground for these otherwise seemingly disparate groups is their opposition to marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.

Yet recent research confirms what other reports have shown:  that U.S. Catholic lay people strongly support marriage equality, unlike their counterparts in Evangelical churches. The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released statistics which show that while 69% of Evangelicals in the U.S. oppose marriage equality, only 37% of Catholics do.  On a related issue, PRRI reports the following data:

“Fewer than half (49 percent) of American Catholics agree with the traditional Catholic teaching that sex between two adults of the same gender is sinful, while nearly 8-in-10 (78 percent) of white evangelicals agree.”

Writer Patricia Miller notes that for a long time now, Catholics have been outpacing Evangelicals on support for LGBT people.  In a Religion Dispatches article, she reports:

“On the . . . . issue of same-sex marriage, Catholic opinion has tended to be slightly more favorable than the population as a whole and way more favorable than Evangelical opinion. The 2007 Pew Poll found that 42% of Catholics expressed support for same-sex marriage versus 36% of the population as a whole. In terms of trends, 40% of Catholics supported same-sex marriage in 2001 with that number increasing to nearly 60% by 2014. By contrast, only 13% of Evangelicals favored same-sex marriage in 2001 and just 23% approve of it today.”

As for the latest data, Robert Jones, the head of PRRI, points out an interesting twist for those who thought that they knew the difference between Catholics and Evangelicals.  It turns out that Evangelical Christians are more in line with official Roman Catholic positions on some social issues than Catholics are.  In an article in Tbe Atlantic, he notes the following results from his research, in addition to the two statistical comparisons mentioned above:

“Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of white evangelical Protestants say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, compared to less than half (47 percent) of Catholics. Perhaps most surprising is the white evangelical Protestant view on whether employers should be required to provide employees with no-cost contraception coverage. Despite their history of criticizing Catholics for opposing artificial means of birth control, white evangelical Protestants are far more likely than lay Catholics to oppose mandated contraception coverage (58 percent vs. 37 percent).”

Jones notes, however, that the role Pope Francis will have in politics can complicate this alliance between Catholic bishops and Evangelicals.  Of the pope, he states:

“On March 31, for example, he met with 18 members of the Green family, staunch Southern Baptists and owners of the billion-dollar Hobby Lobby empire that is suing the Obama Administration over the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. But the pope’s call for economic justice complicates the relationship, because it calls both Catholics and evangelicals to cooperation beyond a narrow band of cultural politics. It remains to be seen whether this evangelical flock will hear in Pope Francis’ broader message the voice of a shepherd they can follow.”

Miller’s analysis shows that not only is it unusual that so many Evangelicals are following the Catholic bishops on politics, but that few pundits are picking up on the fact that Catholics, in fact, are not following their bishops.  She writes:

“The real Catholic-Evangelical convergence is between the Republican leadership, the Catholic bishops, right-wing Catholics, and rank-and-file Evangelicals, a coalition that was cemented by Karl Rove with his aggressive outreach to ‘conservative Catholics during the Bush administration. But the fact that a big chunk of moderate and progressive Catholics are missing from this coalition continues to be lost on many in the media. It’s as if as long as the bishops are vocal in their objections to progressive polices and someone in the public is making noise, there’s a tendency to attribute it to “Catholics.” How else to explain the PPRI number that only 37% of Catholics oppose the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act, when the widespread perception that Catholics were broadly disapproving of it helped gin up early and critical opposition?”

While ecumenical networking is definitely a positive development, it is troublesome that the U.S. bishops seem to have more in common with members of another denomination than they do with their brother and sister Catholics.  This news should be a wake-up call to U.S. bishops that they need to be in better dialogue with lay Catholics, particularly on issues of sexuality.  At stake is the very unity of the church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Gay Star News: US Catholics more liberal on gay issues than white evangelical Protestants

Religion News Service: Evangelicals and Catholics Together marks 20 years

 


As Another Lesbian Church Employee Is Fired, Catholicism Continues to Diminish

May 16, 2014

In the same week that Catholics in Cincinnati are protesting new teacher contracts which prohibit employees from supporting LGBT issues, another lesbian employee has been fired from her employment as coordinator of social ministries at St. Francis Xavier parish, Kansas City, Missouri.

Colleen Simon at work in the St. Francis Xavier parish food pantry.

Colleen Simon is married to Rev. Donna Simon, a Lutheran pastor, and their marriage became public when the couple were mentioned in a local magazine article, according to Kansas City Star columnist Mary Sanchez.

Ms. Simon is a former Catholic and now a Lutheran.  The newspaper columnist reported that she maintained a low profile about her marriage at the parish:

“Colleen Simon kept a don’t-ask, don’t-flaunt attitude. She said she told the pastor who hired her in July 2013 (he is no longer at the parish) of her marriage. But day to day, she avoided pronouns that would highlight it, substituting ‘my spouse’ or ‘my beloved.’

“ ‘You don’t want your legacy to be one of division and ugliness,’ she said. ‘It’s awful. But there are laws, and until that law gets changed in the church, it is what it is.’ ”

Sadly, the 58-year old woman, who is three years cancer-free from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, now has no health insurance and a remaining pile of healthcare bills.

Firings such as this one highlight that, despite Pope Francis’ admonition not to be “obsessed” with gay marriage, some church officials persist in this regard.   Why are they so willing to raise church teachings about sexuality so high above other church teachings on the importance and dignity of work, the care for the vulnerable and the sick, the respect for the human conscience?   Why isn’t support for laws which seriously threaten the lives and dignity of LGBT people, such as the new law in Uganda, a cause for dismissal.  Or, closer to home, support for the death penalty or anti-immigrant policies?

One Cincinnati commentator has tried to frame the situation as a debate between secular culture (which is pro-gay) and Catholic teaching (which is negative on gay issues), but this is not the case.  The real issue is that some church leaders see teachings about sex as the only ones that matter.

For example, the quality of education will probably decline in schools which fire LGBT teachers or adopt new contract clauses which are anti-gay.  In Oakland, California, which this week became the latest diocese to institute new contract clauses about sexuality, one school department head predicts a talent drain from his faculty.  SFGate.com reports:

Tim Newman, who has taught science at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland for 23 years, says some of his colleagues won’t sign a contract forcing them to be disingenuous. Others worry the contract gives the diocese a reason to discipline them for actions outside the classroom.

“I will lose good teachers in my department,” he said.

Huffington Post columnist Charles Reid agrees that intellectual quality will diminish if such policies continue to reign.  He laments the fact that Catholic schools no longer probe into questions, and instead, concern themselves with culture war issues.  Reid states:

“Catholic schools were once places where such questions could be openly pursued. But a culture war is ravaging the Catholic primary and secondary school systems of the United States, and as I survey the scene I am increasingly convinced that these skirmishes represent an actual threat to the health and integrity of Catholic schools.

“In saying this, I have in mind particularly the schools of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. For what has happened in Cincinnati is absolutely tragic.”

And beyond schools, the entire church stands to suffer.  He offers Cincinnati as an example:

“Just as sadly, the health of the Catholic Church in Cincinnati has been in a downward spiral since Archbishop Schnurr assumed office. Consider some statistics: In 2008, the year he became coadjutor, there were 6,362 infant baptisms. In 2013, there 5,523 such baptisms, a decline of 13.20 percent. In 2008, there were 7,534 First Holy Communicants in the Cincinnati Archdiocese. And in 2013, there were 6,686, a decline of 11.25 percent. At the same time, overall population in the Archdiocese inched upward from around 2,988,000 to around 3,000,000. And these numbers do not yet reflect the impact of the recent, entirely unnecessary struggle over the future of Catholic education in the Archdiocese. One hopes it is not too late revise that contractual language.”

The new, restrictive contract clauses have caught the attention of New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, who notes that though Pope Francis seems to be offering change, local bishops seem to be maintaining an oppressive status quo.  Bruni quips:

“The more things change, the more they remain mired in libido and loins.”

Bruni highlights that the new clauses erase a long-standing tradition in Catholic schools:

“Faithful Catholicism has never been a condition of employment in most Catholic schools, which have Protestant teachers, Jewish teachers, teachers of no discernible religion. They know to be respectful. They know to be discreet. But they’re there to decipher the mysteries of algebra, to eradicate the evils of dangling prepositions. They’re not priests.”

And instead of clarifying things, the new clauses make for a more perplexing future. Cincinnati teachers are confused about potential legal problems, Bruni observes:

“They wondered why religion gets to trump free speech.

“They also wondered about run-of-the-mill political activity: Can a teacher be canned for attending a rally for a candidate who’s pro-choice? The contract suggests so.

“Does a Catholic-school teacher relinquish the basic privileges of citizenship? The contract raises the question.

“And what constitutes ‘public support’ of a Catholic no-no? If a teacher’s Facebook page includes photographs of her niece’s same-sex wedding, is that cause to be fired?”

Like Newman and Reid cited above, Bruni sees that the damage these policies will cause spreads far beyond the individual educators harmed:

“There are so many losers here: kids — many from the inner city — who depend on parochial schools that will now be drained of talent; younger teachers who can’t afford to quit and will carry an embittered attitude into their classrooms; Catholics everywhere, forced to wrestle anew with their church’s archaic fixations; church leaders, who have such a sad knack for driving people away. Isn’t that what Pope Francis was urging an end to?”

If these firings show anything, they show that the decades-long practice of obstinately refusing to acknowledge the presence of healthy and holy LGBT people in church communities and institutions is now causing havoc in dioceses.  Pope Francis has shown a way out of these problems, if local bishops would only pay attention.

(New Ways Ministry continues to urge Catholics to begin conversations towards adopting non-discrimination policies in their parishes and schools, as a way to prevent firings.  At the very least, such conversations will let Catholic leaders know that lay people do not want LGBT people and their supporters fired.)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Italian Bishops’ Conference Head Calls for Dialogue Without “Taboo”

May 15, 2014

The world synod on marriage and the family, scheduled at the Vatican in October 2014, has sparked a lively debate in church circles on issues concerning sexuality, gender, and relationships, with a number of bishops acknowledging that it is time for a frank discussion on these topics to happen.

Bishop Nunzio Galantino

Perhaps no call for such a dialogue has hit so close to home, so to speak, than the recent statement from the head of the Italian bishops’ conference in which he said:

My wish for the Italian Church is that it is able to listen without any taboo to the arguments in favour of married priests, the Eucharist for the divorced, and homosexuality.”

Those are the words of  Bishop Nunzio Galantino, of the Cassano all’Jonio diocese in southern Italy, quoted by the Italian newspaper, La Nazione, and reported in English by The Tablet.   Galantino’s words take on an added significance because he was appointed  head of the Italian bishops conference by Pope Francis himself.

Echoing Pope Francis’ sentiment from a September 2014 interview that church leaders had become too “obsessed” with abortion, Bishop Galantino added to his call for dialogue with: 

“In the past we have concentrated too much on abortion and euthanasia. It mustn’t be this way because in the middle there’s real life which is constantly changing.”

Galantino was optimistic that the current pope offered the possibility of change in the areas of church teaching regarding sexuality and marriage.  The bishop said:

“With Pope Francis the Italian Church has an extraordinary opportunity to reposition itself on spiritual moral and cultural beliefs.”

Not all are as optimistic as this Italian prelate though.  Pope Francis’ recent off-hand comments on the topics of economics and on whether a divorced and remarried woman should be able to receive communion have come under scrutiny by some commentators who note the consternation that the pope’s casually dropped provocative statements can cause.

J. Peter Nixon, a blogger at dotCommonweal, reflected on how much weight and authority certain forms of papal communication actually have:

“So it has come to this.  We are now debating the doctrinal authority of papal tweets and phone calls.

“As David Gibson reports, the latest controversy in papal communication was a three-word tweet in Latin–Iniquitas radix malorum–that has been translated into English as “inequality is the root of social evil.”  This followed only days after the dust up over the pope’s phone call to a divorced and remarried woman where he allegedly encouraged her to receive communion.”

Nixon makes a good point when he says that our modern world focuses too much on papal pronouncements at the expense of the rest of the church:

The question that must be asked–particularly in light of Sunday’s canonizations–is whether this increasingly obsessive focus on the opinions, theology, spirituality and personal witness of the pope is a healthy thing for the Church.   The purpose of authority in the Church is to form a community that can bring forth “a great cloud of witnesses,” not to place the burden of that witness on a single individual.  The primary role of those authorities is to be coaches, referees and groundskeepers.  All of us, however, have the responsibility of playing the “beautiful game” that is following Jesus Christ.

While I agree with him, I also think that Pope Francis needs to be more explicit and clear in his statements.  I’ve said before that the pope’s ambiguity can cause problems, and that sooner or later he will need to be more direct about where he stands.  In her National Catholic Reporter column, Jamie Manson highlighted Pope Francis’ ambiguity problem in regard to both the case of the Ugandan anti-gay law and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s (CDF) censure of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).  On Uganda, Manson points out:

“He [Pope Francis] took no action when Ugandan Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga publicly lauded the president of Uganda for passing an extreme anti-homosexuality law, a law that clearly violates the Catholic church’s teaching to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.”

Her analysis of the many ways that his statements agree with the CDF about their charges against LCWR is too rich with detail to summarize here, and I recommend that you read her entire column.

During the synod this fall, many opinions are going to be bandied about by church leaders, theologians, pundits, and laity. Some reports have already shown that bishops seem open to the idea of debating church teaching on a number of topics, based on what they have learned from surveying their laity.  Whether he tweets, makes a phone call, or gives an interview to the press, Pope Francis is going to have to be clear about what direction he wants to take our church on these important issues.  I hope and pray that Bishop Galantino’s optimism about the possibility for change under Pope Francis is well-founded.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles 

Bay Area Reporter: LGBT Catholics react to Vatican survey results”

Religion News Service: “Conservatives squawk over pope’s tweet on inequality”

America: “Vatican: Phone Call Didn’t Change Church Teaching”

dotCommonweal: Pope’s man in Italy on abortion, homosexuality & Communion for the divorced & remarried”

Religion News Service: Church ‘obsessed’ with abortion — again? Pope’s Italian ally issues another wake-up call

For Bondings 2.o’s past coverage of synod news, please click on “Synod 2014″ under the “Categories” tab in the right hand column of this page.


EXCLUSIVE: Why Catholics Should Affirm Civil Marriage Equality

April 15, 2014
Professor Lisa Fullam

Professor Lisa Fullam

A new theological argument in favor of Catholic support for civil same-sex marriage is being published today on Bondings 2.0.  The article is written by Professor Lisa Fullam, an associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, California.   You can access the full text of the article on its own page by clicking here.

Entitled “Civil Same-Sex Marriage:  A Catholic Affirmation,” Prof. Fullam’s essay uses the Catholic intellectual tradition to argue that support for civil marriage for lesbian and gay couples is in line with our church’s best ideas about marriage, civil society, and church-state relations.  It deserves a full and thoughtful reading by all who are concerned with these issues.

The problem with the current Catholic debate on civil marriage, according to Fullam, is that it is both too broad and too narrow. In the article’s abstract, she states:

“Too broad: civil same-sex marriage is sometimes described as parallel to same-sex marriage in the Church. Too narrow: some Catholic contributions to the discussion have centered on reproductive capacity, ignoring Catholicism’s rich tradition which values marriage beyond procreation.”

The essay is divided into three sections:

  1. a discussion of how Catholic thought understands civil law;
  2. a critique of magisterial statements in the public debate about marriage;
  3. an enumeration or reasons why Catholics might work for marriage equality.

Fullam’s essay is both theologically rich and relevant to contemporary lives. For example, her working definition of the traditional concept of  “natural law” begins with a full accounting of human nature, which she defines as:

“. . . the capacities and potential excellences of the human creature, seen in the light of the best knowledge available to us—biological, psychological, sociological, philosophical (including theological,) spiritual, artistic, historic (including personal experience), etc. Natural law is sometimes confused with the biological functions of human bodies, but this misunderstanding fails to consider human nature in this fuller sense, that we are rational and creative discerners of meaning, seeking to grow in virtue, aided by the grace of God. To see how the natural law guides us in a given situation is to think deeply about how the question before us is best resolved for the flourishing of ourselves and our societies. “

Among the most thought-provoking part of the essay is her critique of magisterial arguments against same-sex marriage, including those from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Pope John Paul  II’s “Theology of the Body.”   By basing her argument in the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, which acknowledged that marriages served both unitive and procreative ends, Fullam shows how leaders like the U.S. bishops have narrowed down the Council’s teaching on marriage:

“According to the bishops, the ‘communion of persons’ of Gaudium et Spes is revealed in the procreative capacity of couples: while the Council taught that non-procreative marriages are still marriages, the USCCB roots the unitive end of marriage in the procreative possibility of heterosexual marriage.”

In the last section, Fullam shows how the magisterium’s focus on procreation leads to many inconsistencies in their approach to civil marriage and family life.  For example, she notes the situation of adoption:

“Those who raise children not biologically their own are reaching beyond a reproductive imperative to a spiritually-resonant act of profound devotion. They make a great contribution to the common good. To base the social value of marriage on the potential for biological procreation would be to ignore the generosity of adoptive parents, and to render their families somehow unnatural or second-class. This would be a fundamental injustice to those families, and an odd reversal of Christian tradition that emphasizes caring for those in need. “

And she ponders what other civil laws might be needed if a view of marriage that has procreation as its definition were to take hold in secular society:

“Unless we are willing to redefine civil marriage in reproductive terms–perhaps automatically divorcing couples who do not reproduce in a reasonable amount of time, for instance, or denying marriage to women of a certain age or those who are sterile by choice or by happenstance–in denying civil marriage to same-sex couples, we discriminate against them precisely because they are homosexual, a form of unjustifiable discrimination that is contrary to Catholic social teaching.”

Fullam’s essay gives solid, theological underpinnings to the hopes of so many Catholics whose consciences have told them that marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples is a matter of justice.  By grounding her thought in both Thomas Aquinas and the Second Vatican Council, Fullam shows just how Catholic an argument for marriage equality can be.  Reading through this essay will help all those who often find themselves challenged by Catholic opponents to marriage equality.  And it will also give them a deeper understanding and appreciation of our Catholic faith and intellectual tradition.

You can read the entire essay on Bondings 2.0 by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis Needs to Speak Clearly on LGBT Issues

April 12, 2014

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has made his most specific and critical statement about families headed by same-gender couples by stating that children should be raised “in the complementarity of the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother.”

The Advocate’s Michael O’Loughlin reported that the remarks were made in the context of an address to a delegation from the International Catholic Child Bureau.  The pope’s comments, in context, were:

“it is necessary to emphasize the right of children to grow up within a family, with a father and a mother able to create a suitable environment for their development and emotional maturity. Continuing to mature in the relationship, in the complementarity of the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother, and thus preparing the way for emotional maturity.”

Pope Francis further stated:

“Working for human rights presupposes keeping anthropological formation alive, being well-prepared regarding the reality of the human person, and knowing how to respond to the problems and challenges posed by contemporary cultures and mentalities that are spread by the mass media. . . .

“At times it is necessary to flee; at times it is necessary to stop to protect oneself; and at times one must fight. But always with tenderness.”

For those who have been lifted up by the pope’s more positive remarks on LGBT issues, these new words will come as a shock.  Though the pontiff has been developing a reputation as being progressive, many have warned all along that his thinking on women and gender have needed development.  Since the heart of these remarks focus on the outdated concept of “gender complementarity,” it seems reasonable to attribute these remarks, in part, to this blind spot of his.

Regardless of its origin in the pope’s thinking, this remark shows that Francis still needs to learn a lot about LGBT people and their families.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that he seems open to learning more about sexuality and gender issues, witnessed in his call for lay people to provide their opinions on marriage and family issues in anticipation of the October 2014 synod on those topics.

This new statement seems to be stated in the typical style that Pope Francis has used over the past year: while he expresses support for heterosexual marriage and family structures, he definitely avoids any direct attacks against LGBT people and relationships.  It sometimes seemed that his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, went out of his way to criticize and condemn LGBT issues.  That is not Pope Francis’ style.  In a recent general audience he spoke about the beauty of heterosexual marriage, but did not use the praise of that institution as an occasion to explicitly disparage same-gender relationships.  Here’s what he said at the Vatican on April 2nd, according to Religion News Service:

“When a man and a woman celebrate the sacrament of marriage, God is reflected in them. . . .

“As ‘one flesh’, they become living icons of God’s love in our world, building up the Church in unity and fidelity. The image of God is the married couple — not just the man, not just the woman, but both.”

He appears to be using the same strategy in the new example of praising families about headed by heterosexual couples.  We don’t see him using accusations that children raised by same-gender couples experience “violence,” as Benedict often said.   Instead, Francis remains silent on the topic.

While silence is not ideal, it is a welcome relief, and a good first step.  But it is also not enough.  While Francis has made some exciting and encouraging statements, some of them have been ambiguous, allowing some to develop strange interpretations, and sometimes forcing people to guess at what he meant.

Pope Francis could clear this up by making a clear, strongly positive statement on LGBT issues which will clear up any doubt about where he stands on these matters.  Of course, we would most like him to speak clearly and forcefully against anti-LGBT laws that are being enacted around the globe.  Or he could support employment rights for LGBT people working in Catholic institutions.  A statement of support to LGBT youth who experience bullying and other forms of violence would also be helpful.  (What kind of statement would you want the pope to make?  Write your thoughts in a “Comment” to this post.)

If he needs any help formulating such statements, we are glad to help him. He can just give us a phone call–something that we know he likes to do!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Rainbows Are Appearing Over Ireland

March 14, 2014

In the very, very Catholic nation of Ireland, LGBT equality has been growing by leaps and bounds among the populace. Yet, the negative approach that many Catholic institutions and leaders still take to LGBT issues still exerts an out-sized influence over practices and policies.  Over the past month, several news items have emerged from Ireland, and in this post, we will try to provide a survey of the major developments.

Perhaps the biggest news is that a recent survey by RTÉ, Ireland’s public television company, finds that an overwhelming majority of citizens support the country’s proposed measures to institute marriage equality.  The Guardian reported:

“A new opinion poll shows that only just under 20% of voters will oppose introducing same sex marriage into the Irish constitution.

“More than three-quarters of voters say they support marriage equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in a proposed referendum by the Fine Gael-Labour coalition.

“The survey by the Red C opinion poll firm for Irish public broadcaster RTÉ and The Sunday Business Post found that 76% would be in favour of allowing LGBT couples to legally marry in the Irish Republic. Around 5% of voters were undecided and 19% opposed the law reform.”

Ben Kelly

For Irish musician Ben Kelly, who is gay and Catholic, the news of support rang true to his personal experience growing up in Ireland.  In an essay titled, “To Be Young, Gay, and Catholic” on the website IrishCatholic.ie, Kelly explains that acceptance has been growing for years, and that is a natural progression for many Irish citizens:

“I feel a huge shift in opinion has happened over the past few decades in Ireland, and the country now has many evolved Catholics who are happily rejecting the more damaging rules on how we live and love. After the cultural traumas of the abuse scandal, the ghosts of the Magdalene laundries and other scars inflicted by Church teachings which are increasingly at odds with the lifestyles of the general congregation, Catholic Ireland is accepting gay people. It’s hardly surprising that people who have felt so much hurt are happy to accept a little love.

“Former President Mary McAleese was right: being gay is no longer seen as ‘evil’ or ‘intrinsically disordered’. I was relieved when my parents didn’t have a problem with me being gay, and surprised further when my grandparents didn’t either. But, come to think of it, they belong to generations who quietly disregarded the Church’s teachings on divorce, contraception, and sex before marriage – all of which were condemned from the pulpit, but ignored by many outside the church gates. Homosexuality is just another thing that the Church must realise is being accepted and incorporated into the lives of Irish Catholics.”

Jerry Buttimer

Such an outpouring of support probably did not come as a surprise to Jerry Buttimer, a gay member of the Irish parliament,  who said he sees a lot of progress in the Catholic Church on LGBT issues.  Speaking at a debate at Dublin’s Trinity College on the topic “The Catholic Church can be salvaged,” Buttimer was quoted by The Irish Times

 

“He said Christian understanding was exhibited far better in Catholic communities than in the hierarchy, and there was now a need for a third Vatican council dealing with the issues of morality and sexuality, as the current model of morality was from a different society.

“He praised Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for sending a ‘message of conciliation, of tolerance and respect’ to the gay community, in remarks made on RTÉ Radio One last week.

“Pope Francis had indicated a similar message recently when he spoke to the world’s media. ‘You have to have the hope that the man at the top can lead that change,’ he told students. ‘We now need a church that reflects the values we now have of love, of peace and of justice.’ “

Also speaking at the debate in support of a positive future for the church was Redemptorist Father Tony Flannery, who was relieved of priestly ministry because of his support for progressive reform topics, including LGBT equality.

The experience of lesbian and gay teachers in Ireland was also in the news recently, as The Journal, a national publication, published personal stories of lesbian and gay educators about their professional experiences.  (All accounts were written anonymously because of the fear of being fired.) The Journal notes the extensive role that the Catholic Church plays in Irish education and their exemption from an important anti-discrimination policy:

“In Ireland, schools run by the Catholic Church (which is the vast majority) are allowed exempt from certain aspects of equality law because of their religion’s ethos and teachings. They were given an exemption to the European Equality Directive back in 2000 which allows for this ethos to be upheld during recruitment.”

The stories recount being passed over for promotion, being ignored at staff meetings, having the principal drop in unannounced on lessons and parent meetings, and suffering verbal and sometimes physical abuse, to name a few experiences.  One teacher’s description is particularly disturbing:

“I have witnessed homophobia and what can only be considered gay bashing in both the classroom and the staff room, unfortunately. I was targeted by two separate students on two separate occasions in two different schools and, both times when I complained, the reaction of school managers was more lenient that I had expected or than I wanted.

“On both occasions, the students chose to make the comments in a very public forum – in front of large groups of people. The intention of which was to publicly humiliate me as the teacher.

“What can one say about these types of experiences other than when you consider that I actively choose to keep my private life separate to my public life because I believe my private life has no place in my career, only to be targeted by teenagers who’s intention is public humiliation is pretty depressing?”

You can read all of the accounts of these teachers here.

Panti Bliss

In a story that made headlines around the globe, a drag queen named Panti Bliss, made a speech at Dublin’s famed Abbey Theatre about homophobia, as a response to criticism she had made on public television about critics of LGBT equality.  Bliss (who is also known as Rory O’Neill) made reference to a Catholic notion about homosexuality in her speech. The following excerpt is from The Billerico Project:

“Have any of you ever come home in the evening and turned on the television, and there is a panel of people — nice people, respectable people, smart people… and they’re all sitting around, and they are having a ‘reasoned’ debate on the television: a reasoned debate about you?”

“About what kind of person you are, about whether or not you’re capable of being a good parent, about whether you want to destroy marriage, about whether or not you’re safe around children, about whether or not God herself thinks you’re an abomination, about whether in fact maybe you are intrinsically disordered. And even the nice TV presenter lady… even she thinks it’s perfectly okay that they’re all having this ‘reasoned’ debate about you and about who you are and about what rights you deserve or don’t deserve.”

You can watch the 11-minute video of her speech here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


Did Pope Francis Support Same-Sex Civil Unions?

March 6, 2014

Pope Francis

Pope Francis made headlines once again with another interview which has people around the globe hoping for possible change in the Catholic hierarchy’s position about lesbian and gay relationships.  But, did his words really offer such hope?

Corriere della Seraa major Italian daily, published the interview, which focused primarily on sex abuse, women, and contraception.  Yet the pope did mention the idea of civil unions in answer to a question by the interviewer, Ferruccio deBortoli, the news paper’s editor in chief.  Here is Zenit’s English translation of that section:

Editor:  Many countries have regulated civil unions. Is it a path that the Church can understand? But up to what point?

Holy Father: Marriage is between one man and one woman. The secular States want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of coexistence, spurred by the need to regulate economic aspects between persons as, for instance, to ensure healthcare. Each case must be looked at and evaluated in its diversity.”

Some journalists and bloggers have reported on this statement as a ringing endorsement of civil unions.  For example, The Huffington Post reported the story:

“Pope Francis has signalled that he could see the Catholic church tolerating some forms of same-sex civil unions — though not marriage — when it comes to situations such as medical care and property for gay couples.”

And Catholic News Service stated:

“Bishops around the world have differed in their responses to civil recognition of nonmarital unions. The president of the Pontifical Council for the Family said in February 2013 that some legal arrangements are justifiable to protect the inheritance rights of nonmarried couples. But until now, no pope has indicated even tentative acceptance of civil unions.”

While true that no pope has made such a statement, further information indicates that he was not referring to same-sex civil unions.  CNN reported that the Vatican press office provided additional information which indicates that the pope was not referring to same-sex couples:

“Later on Wednesday, a Vatican spokesman sought to clarify the Pope’s remarks.

” ‘The Pope did not choose to enter into debates about the delicate matter of gay civil unions,’ said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant to the Vatican press office.

” ‘In his response to the interviewer, he emphasized the natural characteristic of marriage between one man and one woman, and on the other hand, he also spoke about the obligation of the state to fulfill its responsibilities towards its citizens.’

” ‘We should not try to read more into the Pope’s words than what has been stated in very general terms,’ Rosica added.”

Rosica also noted:

“By responding in this way, Pope Francis spoke in very general terms, and did not specifically refer to same-sex marriage as a civil union. Pope Francis simply stated the issues and did not interfere with positions held by Episcopal Conferences in various countries dealing with the question of civil unions and same sex marriage.”

While I don’t always trust “clarifications” made later by spokespeople, in this case, there was a certain amount of ambiguity in the original remarks that warrant such a follow-up. First, since the pope prefaced his comments about civil unions with a statement supporting matrimony as a heterosexual institution.  So, it can seem that his support for civil unions was a support for same-sex couples.

Second, as an email correspondent has informed me, the Italian term the pope used, “unioni civili” refers to “people who are married by the state, outside of a religious context,” not to same-sex partnerships.

While I would be delighted if the pope expressed support for same-sex civil unions (and marriage, for that matter!), I’m not sure that he has done that in this interview.  As has been noted before, he did support civil unions for same-sex couples when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires.  Many other bishops, cardinals, and Vatican officials have also expressed support for same-sex civil unions over the past year or so.

Pope Francis certainly has gone further than any previous pope in trying to be positive towards people whose relationships are outside of the traditional heterosexual, nuclear family model, and he is to be commended for that.  More importantly, even though he did not offer a ringing endorsement of same-sex relationships, at least he is not spouting condemnatory tirades against them as his two previous predecessors did.   His refreshing new attitude still offers great hope for possibility and change in the future.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

dotCommonweal:  Francis Hints About Same-Sex Civil Unions

Slate.comDoes Pope Francis Support Gay Civil Unions?

National Catholic Reporter: Francis marks anniversary with interview on sex abuse, women, contraception

QueeringTheChurch.com:  Pope Francis Has NOT “Supported” Civil Unions – but Catholic Thinking Continues to Evolve

Advocate.com: Pope Francis Says Church Must Examine Civil Unions

Sydney Morning Herald: Pope Francis hints at Catholic Church rethink on gay civil unions

 


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