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

 


Catholic Theologian Expresses Hope for Pope Francis’ Pontificate

September 18, 2013

 

Sister Margaret Farley

Sister Margaret Farley

Sister Margaret Farley, whose groundbreaking theological book:  Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics was condemned by the Vatican last year, spoke publicly recently in support of marriage equality, women’s equality in the church, and hope that Pope Francis will listen to discussion on these and other matters.

According to The Detroit Free Press, Sister Farley spoke to a group of 400 people at Mercy Center, Farmington Hills (a suburb of Detroit), at an event sponsored by “Elephants in the Living Room,” an organization of Detroit priests, lay people, and religious who provide forums for various contemporary topics.

Sister Farley’s theological work allows for approving committed sexual relationships between two people of the same gender, one of the reasons that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith censured the book in May 2012.

During her recent talk, she expressed hope for change in the pontificate of Pope Francis:

 “ ‘He seems teachable,’ she said, and hoped he will listen to the many Catholic women who call for change.

“ ‘I think that women at this juncture are in some way key, because, for example, we do have the problem that there are not enough priests,’ Farley said. ‘I think that eventually it will be necessary to ordain married men and women, married or not. But how that development will finally take place, what the evolution will be, I don’t know.’ “

Sister Farley commented on her ability to speak on sexual ethics topics after having been censured by the Vatican:

“You just can’t back down and say, I apologize, because it would contradict one’s integrity. I didn’t decide never to talk again about the things that were problematic.”

Although she stated that the censure of the book was “minor, minor, trivial in a way,” she did acknowledge that it sends a discouraging message to other theologians. The Detroit Free Press  article stated:

“The book’s censure perpetuates an atmosphere that stifles debate and ignores how changing human experience shapes the views of Catholics, she said.”

During her talk, she explained how her gay nephew, now deceased, was a role model for her:

“I have a beloved nephew who was all those things — wise, holy. And I’m absolutely certain that he was all those things because he grew up in our family. Our family could never have condemned him.”

Despite the Vatican’s censure of her book, Sister Farley was supported by an enormous outpouring of public statements from prominent Catholics.  You can read about these statements here here, here, and here.

Sister Farley has been a frequent supporter of New Ways Ministry, having spoken at three of our national symposiums and having given several workshops/retreats over the years.  In 2002, New Ways Ministry presented her with its “Bridge Building Award” which recognizes people whose scholarship or pastoral leadership help to promote dialogue in the church on LGBT issues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Fired Minnesota Teacher Speaks Out on the Danger of Silence

September 13, 2013
Kristen Ostendorf

Kristen Ostendorf

“I don’t feel like telling the truth should cost me my job.”

Those are the words of Kristen Ostendorf, reacting to being fired from a Minnesota Catholic high school after she publicly revealed that she was a lesbian and involved in a relationship with another woman.

Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reports that officials at Totino-Grace H.S., in Fridley, a suburb of the Twin Cities, have been tight-lipped about their response to the firing.  MPR states:

“The school released a statement saying the matter is a private one between employer and employee.

” ‘Like all Catholic schools and organizations, Totino-Grace follows the teachings of the church and the employment policies of the Archdiocese,’ it said in part.”

Interestingly, this is the second case this year of a Totino-Grace staff member leaving the school because of revealing involvement in a same-sex relationship.  William Hudson voluntarily stepped down as school president when he disclosed to school board members his long-term commitment to another man.  Ostendorf taught English, religion, and was a campus minister and swimming and lacrosse coach.

The silence of the school officials contrasts strikingly with Ostendorf’s claim about telling the truth. In a MinnPost interview, Ostendorf spoke eloquently about the destructive power of silence:

“I’m not a big fan of silence. I’m not a fan of leaving the unnamed elephant in the room. I think silence is a huge problem. There’s been criticism of Bill [William Hudson] for having ‘kept a secret.’ And I think, really? He was doing a job he was called to do. But let’s say he was keeping a secret, and I chose to not keep a secret. We’re both gone. And the sad story is, I’d like to be the last person to be fired for who I loved, or for the gender of the person I love. But I won’t be, probably, and the silence around it terrifies me.

“The truth is, there are 800 kids who started school two weeks ago. They have a job to do, and they have to do it well, and they will. They have to press on. Still, I’m gone, and my desk is empty, and everybody knows it, and nobody’s talking about it. That’s something I wake up at night thinking about: the silence. Silence is the undoing of lots of good things, and I would err on the side of truth. But I don’t know if that’s going to happen.”

In the same interview, Ostendorf comments about another form of silence in the church:

“As far as I can surmise, the rule I broke was saying out loud that I am in a relationship with a woman. It is OK in the church to be gay, though one would really not say that aloud.”

MPR also reported on another Totino-Grace staff person, Chad O’Leary, a youth minister, who resigned in 2010 after telling school administrators that he was gay.   They also describe these types of departures as part of a national trend:

“Firings at Catholic schools over same-sex relationships appear to be on the rise nationally, according to Francis DeBernardo, executive director of Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, a group that advocates for LGBT employees in Catholic institutions.

” ‘In 2011 there was maybe two or three cases like this. In 2012 there was probably six. And now [this year] we’ve had well over a dozen,’ he said.

“DeBernardo says that’s in part because gay marriage has become legal in more states, like Minnesota, and that has gay employees of Catholic schools speaking up about their relationships.

” ‘The arrival of public affirmation of their relationships is going to bring out more and more of these cases,’ he said.”

For a listing of the known dismissals of church workers because of LGBT issues over the past few years, click here.

Michael Bayly, a prominent Catholic LGBT  Twin Cities’ advocate, put these firings into spiritual context in his blog post at The Wild Reed:

“I’ve followed a number of cases where LGBT people have either resigned or been fired from Catholic institutions. And as difficult as the situation was initially for these folks, they’ve actually moved on to a much better place in their lives. For one thing, they’re no longer closeted. And, let’s be honest, why would we want anyone to remain in a situation where they can’t be their true and full selves? That’s a terrible way to live. I know as I lived it for many years. Oh, to be sure, we can justify it by saying something like, it’s better to be ‘on the inside’ doing what we can to help others.

“Well, let me tell you, that only lasts so long. Ultimately, the best way we can help others, say, for example, young people at a Catholic school, is to live a life of honesty and integrity. That’s what Kristen Ostendorf has chosen to do after eighteen years of being in a work environment that, as she says, required her to ‘hide and compromise and deny who I am.’

“I’m happy that Kristen is out of such an unhealthy environment. I’m sad that such environments still exist – especially within a faith community that claims inspiration from the life and message of Jesus. There’s a major disconnect there, to be sure. “

Silence is unhealthy and secrecy breeds many negative consequences.  Instead of castigating those who speak with honesty and clarity, our church should be honoring these people for helping us as a community to move closer to the truth.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

Star-Tribune:  Gay teacher no longer employed at Totino-Grace

MinnPost:  Fired after she came out to colleagues, Totino-Grace teacher leaves dissonance and silence behind

The Wild Reed: Thoughts on the Firing of Kristen Ostendorf

Huffington Post: Kristen Ostendorf, Minnesota Catholic School Teacher, Allegedly Fired For Being Gay

Pioneer Press: Another gay educator out at Totino-Grace High School

Minnesota Public Radio: How Totino-Grace discovered, then fired gay veteran teacher


New Survey Notes the Great Strides Catholics Have Made for LGBT Equality

July 16, 2013

statistics

It is almost becoming a commonplace to note that majorities of Catholics support LGBT equality.  Poll after poll keeps confirming that fact.  A recent poll approaches the idea of Catholic support from a unique angle that makes it newsworthy to report its results.

Elizabeth Tenety, editor of The Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog reports on a survey from the Barna Group which tracks how quickly Americans, and in particular religious Americans, have become supportive of LGBT equality.  Tenety notes:

“Among the most consequential findings are dramatic changes in how Catholics and Protestants have changed their views on the definition of marriage. Catholics in particular demonstrated some of the most sizable shifts in their attitudes about homosexuality. “

Comparing survey results from 2013 with those from 2003, Barna found that  Catholics have been the faith group to make the biggest advance in supporting LGBT equality.   In 2003, 35% of Catholics were in favor of changing laws to allow more freedom for LGBT people.  In 2013, that number soared to 57%.  That’s a 22% advance, the highest of all the groups studied except for those who have no faith, who advanced 23% from 66% to 89%.

In 2003,  64% of Catholics agreed with the idea that marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman.  In 2013, that number dropped to 54%,  a 14% change, which, again, was the largest change of any group, without qualification.

In terms of accepting the morality of same-sex relationships,  Catholics rose from 19% to 37%, an 18% increase, once again, the largest of any group.

You can look at the survey’s report here, and observe how Catholics fared compared to other Christians, people of faith, and the American population.

There are probably many reasons to explain these developments for Catholics.  Greater visibility of LGBT people and families, particularly in faith settings probably is a major factor.  As more and more LGBT people show up to parishes to become members, more and more Catholics are learning about the reality of their lives.  Catholics, too, are increasingly viewing LGBT issues less as sexual topics and more as social justice concerns.  They are seeing the broad scope of LGBT lives, and recognizing the inherenthuman dignity that LGBT people have.

What do you think?  Why are Catholics becoming more supportive of LGBT equality?  Offer your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

,


Catholic Activists Helped Bring Marriage Equality Case to the Supreme Court

March 28, 2013
Thea Spyer and Edie Windsor

Thea Spyer and Edie Windsor

Yesterday, Bondings 2.o highlighted the role that Catholics played at the prayer service and public demonstration as the Supreme Court heard two cases involving marriage equality this week.   Today, Jamie Manson, award-winning columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, highlights an important behind-the-scenes story about Catholic involvement in one of those cases–the challenge to the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).   The plaintiff in that case is Edie Windsor, who was  married to Thea Spyer,  Toronto, Canada, in 2007.  Their marriage was recognized since 2008 by New York State, where they lived.  Yet, when Spyer passed away, Windsor received  a$363,053 estate tax bill  from the federal government which would not have been sent if the married couple were heterosexual.

What Manson highlights is the work that three Catholic gay activists, who are members of Dignity/New York, did to bring this case to the Supreme Court.  The first is Brendan Fay, who arranged for Windsor and Spyer’s wedding in Toronto.  Manson explains:

Brendan Fay

Brendan Fay

” ‘Edie called for help. It was urgent,’ Fay says. Windsor’s partner of almost four decades, Thea Spyer, had been battling multiple sclerosis since 1975, and doctors had given her only months to live. Fay reached out to Canadian Judge Harvey Brownstone of the Ontario Court of Justice, who gladly performed the ceremony.

“Fay was part of a small contingent of friends that shepherded Edie and Thea, who was confined to a motorized wheelchair, to a Toronto hotel, where they were married May 22, 2007.

” ‘There was hardly a dry eye as they exchanged words, “With this ring I thee wed … in sickness and in health, till death do us part,'” Fay remembers.”

When Fay learned of Windsor’s estate tax problem, he sought aid from two friends:

Vincent Maniscalco and Edward DeBonis

Vincent Maniscalco and Edward DeBonis

“After Mass one evening, he enlisted the help of fellow Dignity members Edward DeBonis and Vincent Maniscalco, who have been married since 2002. (Theirs was the first Catholic same-sex wedding announced in The New York Times.) DeBonis, an attorney, immediately thought of [Roberta] Kaplan [the attorney who argued Windsor's case at the Supreme Court yesterday], whom they had watched argue the 2004 marriage suit filed by 13 couples before the New York State Court of Appeals.”Robbie was compelling,” DeBonis recalls, “and she and her partner, Rachel Lavine, have been passionate about the marriage equality issue for many years.”

And Windsor attributes all her celebrity status to Fay:

” ‘Everything that has happened to make me so famous at this moment is caused by Brendan Fay,’ Windsor told the crowd a few weeks ago at a benefit concert for the St. Pat’s For All parade, an event Fay spearheaded in 2000. ‘When I first saw the brief that said Edie Windsor vs. the United States of America, I said, “No, no, blame him, not me!” she laughed.’ “

Bondings 2.o already noted the role Catholics have played in the prayer service and demonstration at the Supreme Court, as well as the fact that six of the nine justices on the Court are Catholic.  Manson’s story highlights yet another important role that Catholics have played in this story.  Fay, DeBonis, and Maniscalco are to be lauded for living their faith so boldly and generously.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis’ Support of Civil Unions Is Part of a Growing Trend in Catholic Church

March 22, 2013

News reports that Pope Francis supported civil unions as a compromise strategy when he was archbishop in Argentina have given hope to LGBT-affirming Catholics that he may be a pope who will be willing to soften the hard line that the Vatican has taken on the issue of marriage equality and same-gender relationships under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

If Pope Francis does institute the same policy as pope that he promoted in Argentina,  he will be in good company with other bishops around the globe on this matter.  As Bondings 2.0 has been reporting over the last year or so,  there has been a growing trend of more openness to same-gender relationships, including civil union support, by a number of bishops and church leader from various nations.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

Bondings 2.0 has been taking note of this trend since December 2011, when Archbishop Vincent Nichols, president of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales, supported the idea of civil unions in the United Kingdom’s marriage equality debate.   At about the same time, Fr. Frank Brennan, a Jesuit law professor in Australia, wrote an essay supporting the idea of civil unions, too.  Just last month, the bishops of England and Wales, in commenting on the marriage bill there, praised same-gender parents:

 “We recognise that many same sex couples raise children in loving and caring homes.”

Bishop Pa0lo Urso, of Ragusa, Italy, also gave de facto support for civil unions in January 2013 when he stated:

“When two people, even if they’re the same sex, decide to live together, it’s important for the State to recognize this fact. But it must be called something different from marriage.”

Bishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini

Bishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini

Just over a year later, he was joined by Bishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini, in nearby Calabria, Italy, who supported legal protections for gay and lesbian couples, as long as the word “marriage” wasn’t used.

In the United States, the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, supported a civil unions bill in March 2012, as a way to forestall marriage equality.   In their statement, the diocese said:

“The Diocese of Manchester consistently has opposed legislation that would establish civil unions. However, the proposed amendment to HB 437 falls into a category of legislation which the US Bishops have previously considered: bills in civil law which may not reflect the fullness of the Church’s teaching, but which nonetheless provide an “incremental improvement” in the current law and a “step toward full restoration of justice.” (USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 32)”

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Most recently, Archbishop Vincent Paglia, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, also supported legal protections short of marriage for gay and lesbian couples.  A news report stated:

“In his first Vatican press conference since his appointment as the Catholic church’s “minister” for family, Paglia conceded that there are several kinds of ‘cohabitation forms that do not constitute a family,’ and that their number is growing.

“Paglia suggested that nations could find ‘private law solutions’ to help individuals who live in non-matrimonial relations, ‘to prevent injustice and make their life easier.’ “

Though some claim that Paglia later backtracked from these statements, it seems that his later comments were simply a criticism of news reports which tried to make it sound like he had supported marriage equality, which it was clear he had not done.

Related to this trend of supporting civil unions as a political strategy is a newer trend by some bishops in speaking positively about gay and lesbian relationships.   This recent trend began in May 2012 when Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Berlin, Germany, addressed a national gathering of Catholics, stating:

“When two homosexuals take responsibility for one another, if they deal with each other in a faithful and long-term way, then you have to see it in the same way as heterosexual relationships.”

Cardinal rainer maria woelki

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki

Woelki re-affirmed his position in an interview with Die Zeit magazine, in which he stated:

“ ‘Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,’ the Catechism says about people with homosexual tendencies. If I take that seriously, I can’t merely see homosexual relationships as a ‘violation of natural law,’ as the Catechism puts it. I should also try to perceive it as people permanently taking  responsibility for one another, being loyal and willing to take care of each other, even if I can’t agree with such a lifestyle.”

Early in 2013,  the French bishops conference went public with a statement opposing marriage equality, but which spoke very favorably of gay and lesbian relationships.  For example, they stated:

“The diversity of homosexual practices must not hinder us from taking seriously the aspirations of those men and women who wish to engage in a stable bond. . . .

“The Catholic Church calls the faithful to live such a relationship in chastity but she recognizes, beyond the one sexual aspect, the value of solidarity, of the attention and care of the other which can manifest itself in a lasting affective relationship.”

You can read relevant excerpts from this document provided in English translation here, thanks to Bondings 2.0 reader Tom Luce.

Bishop Scicluna

Bishop Charles Scicluna

Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta spoke in a similar vein about same gender relationships in February 2012. The bishop made his remarks in response to an anti-gay letter written to him by a Mr. Joe Zammit:

“Bishop Scicluna maintained that ‘Gay people are not called to marriage which is the permanent union between one man and one woman open to the gift of parenthood,’ but then added, ‘they are indeed called to chaste friendship and chaste friendship is chaste love.’

“ ‘To say, as Mr Zammit keeps harping, that “there can never be love but only lust between homosexuals” is to deny the truth of what the Church teaches.’ . . .

You can find a video of Bishop Scicluna’s comments here.

All of  these items indicate a definite trend toward a more positive approach on same-gender marriage that is percolating among the hierarchy.  Although none oppose the traditional teaching on marriage, these moves indicate a willingness to move away from harsh rhetoric, as well as looking for ways to accommodate legal protections for families headed by same-gender couples.

The recent report that Cardinal Bergoglio had supported civil unions can offer some hope that now as pope he will do the same.  I would be more hope-filled if his statements reflected some of the more positive messages that some of the bishops reported on above had made about the goodness of gay and lesbian relationships.  The report of his proposed compromise makes me wonder if he was motivated by political pragmatism in an effort to prevent marriage equality or a moral duty to protect lesbian and gay couples.  I think the hope for the future may be in the fact that the trend among bishops for a  more positive framing of lesbian and gay relationships will flourish more openly under a pope who, for whatever reason, has already been willing to drop the traditional hard line.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


“Love Is Never a Sin. God is Love.”

February 22, 2013

Three days ago, we posted about Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta expressing respect for the love of gay and lesbian couples.  Thanks to one of our readers, today we are able to provide video of an interview with Bishop Scicluna.  Though he clearly does not endorse marriage for gay and lesbian couples, he does show a pastoral sensitivity to the human relationships of same-gender couples that few bishops exhibit.   Towards the end of the interview, he explains the hierarchy’s use of the term “disorder” to describe sexual orientation.  Again, while his definition is not overwhelmingly positive, he does remove from the term any connotation of stigma and mental illness.  He also categorically states that people should not use the word “evil” to talk about gay and lesbian people.

Perhaps his most affirming sentences of the interview:  “Love is never a sin.  God is love.”

You can view the short interview here:

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,084 other followers