The Complex and Layered Meanings in Pope Francis’ New Document

November 27, 2013

Pope Francis

As more people begin to scrutinize Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), new details emerge which show that in regards to LGBT issues, the new document shows a complex picture.

The New York Times reports that buried in a footnote to the document is a reference to the U.S. bishops’ 2006 document, Ministry to Persons with Homosexual Inclinations:  Guidelines for Pastoral Carewhich promoted the traditional definition of a homosexual orientation as an objective disorder.  The Times reports:

“Nowhere in the document did Francis speak explicitly of homosexuality or same-sex marriage. However, he said the church should not give in to ‘moral relativism,’ and cited with approval a document written by the bishops of the United States on ministering to people with ‘homosexual inclination.’ The pope said the American bishops are right that the church must insist on ‘objective moral norms which are valid for everyone’ — even when the church is perceived by supporters of gay rights as promoting prejudice and interfering with individual freedom.”

This detail is a clearer indication that Pope Francis does not seem inclined to change the teaching on homosexuality.  That notion had been clear since he first started speaking about gay and lesbian issues back in July with his “Who am I to judge?” interview, in which he also did uphold the Catechism’s teaching on homosexuality.  I’ve noted before that it looks like Pope Francis’s road to change in the church won’t be a straight one.

But while in content Pope Francis remains traditional, many people, including myself,  perceive he is opening up a process that will eventually lead to positive developments in church teaching.  For example, Martin Pendergast, a long-time Catholic advocate for LGBT equality in the United Kingdom, offered what he saw as two important selections from the document which point to the possibility of change in the Church, which I had overlooked in yesterday’s post on this topic.

In the first selection, the pope is calling for decentralization of authority in the church:

“Countless issues involving evangelization today might be discussed here, but I have chosen not to explore these many questions which call for further reflection and study. Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization.’ ”  (Introduction, section 16)

In the second selection, the pope acknowledges that not all Church teachings hold the same weight:

“All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel. In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead. In this sense, the Second Vatican Council explained, ‘in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or a ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith’.[38] This holds true as much for the dogmas of faith as for the whole corpus of the Church’s teaching, including her moral teaching.” (chapter 1, section 36)

What gives me hope from this document, despite the fact that it does not challenge the traditional teaching on homosexuality, is that there is an openness and humility that seem to get at the core of the Christian message.  Having a pope who is interested in the opinions of the laity, who stresses dialogue and the possibility of change, who stresses diversity and decentralization, who acknowledges the role of science, who seeks to update old traditions can only mean that the road ahead is filled with possibilities.  (All of the items mentioned in the previous sentence were included in yesterday’s blog post on excerpts from the papal document.)

John Allen, writing in The National Catholic Reportersummarizes what he sees as Pope Francis’ outline for reform, which includes many of the items mentioned above.  Allen writes:

  • He calls for a “conversion of the papacy,” saying he wants to promote “a sound decentralization” and candidly admitting that in recent years “we have made little progress” on that front.
  • He suggests that bishops’ conferences ought to be given “a juridical status … including genuine doctrinal authority.” In effect, that would amount to a reversal of a 1998 Vatican ruling under John Paul II that only individual bishops in concert with the pope, and not episcopal conferences, have such authority.
  • Francis says the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” insisting that “the doors of the sacraments” must not “be closed for simply any reason.” His language could have implications not only for divorced and remarried Catholics, but also calls for refusing the Eucharist to politicians or others who do not uphold church teaching on some matters.
  • He calls for collaborative leadership, saying bishops and pastors must use “the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear.”
  • Francis criticizes forces within the church who seem to lust for “veritable witch hunts,” asking rhetorically, “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”
  • He cautions against “ostentatious preoccupation” for liturgy and doctrine as opposed to ensuring that the Gospel has “a real impact” on people and engages “the concrete needs of the present time.”

Pope Francis may not be the radical reformer that many have hoped for.  But for those who trust that the Holy Spirit is moving among the laity of the church and who have longed for the possibility of discussion of diversity of opinions, Pope Francis’ project seems to open up a new possibility of hope.

Clearly, this is not the kind of pope that we had gotten used to over the last four decades. And clearly, this new document is complex and layered.  Bondings 2.0 will continue to provide analysis and commentary of this document, especially as it relates to LGBT issues, as we become aware of them.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Catholic Organization Offers Survey When U.S. Bishops Won’t Do So

November 5, 2013

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good has set up an online surveyto elicit the feedback from lay Catholics across the country, in response to the Vatican’s request for feedback from the laity on a variety of marriage and family topics, including same-sex marriage.   The Vatican made the request for bishops around the world to gather such information in anticipation of a world synod on marriage and family in 2014. yet, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has already expressed reluctance to encourage individual bishops to do so.

Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter has noted that Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a Catholic non-profit organization, is filling the gap.   In a blog post, McElwee noted:

“The nonprofit, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, has made a survey based on the Vatican’s questionnaire available online.

“Christopher Hale, a senior fellow with the group, said in an email that his organization sent a link to the survey via email to its some 30,000 members Friday morning. Within two hours, Hale said, the group had seen more than 300 responses.”

He also quoted Hale’s reaction to some of the messages people were sending.  Hale stated:

“Dozens of separated and divorced Catholics noted that they don’t feel welcomed in their Church communities because they don’t have access to the sacraments. Once again, dozens of gay and lesbian Catholics expressed the same sentiment. One noted how she felt like her treatment in her parish was [similar] to the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.”

David Gibson of Religion News Service noted in a news article that some U.S. bishops are annoyed with how the Vatican’s request has been handled by the USCCB.  Gibson wrote:

“. . . some American bishops privately expressed frustration that they had not been notified sooner about the Vatican request and that there was as yet no national plan for soliciting input from U.S. Catholics.”

In contrast, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have set up an online survey site to gather information, and Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of that bishops’ conference, has sent a message to lay Catholics saying, “Your participation is important.”

The new process reflects the new administration at the Vatican, Gibson observed:

“. . . [Pope] Francis and his top aides have said that they want to overhaul the synod to turn it into a truly consultative meeting that will be shorter in duration — two weeks instead of nearly a month — and encourage debate and input from all Catholics.

“Next October’s meeting will be the first major test for Francis’ pledge to develop a more ‘horizontal’ church.”

Father James Martin SJ

Father James Martin SJ

Jesuit Father James Martin, the noted spiritual author and church commentator, noted the importance of the Vatican’s request for information in a blog post on the America  magazine website:

“First off, this is indeed new. While in the past bishops were encouraged to promote discussion in their dioceses in preparation for a synod, there were never any outright polls conducted, and certainly nothing on a worldwide basis. Second, needless to say, the questions are not going to ask, ‘Should we overturn this church teaching?’ Nonetheless, the Vatican will surely get a better sense of how the teachings are being ‘received,’ to use a theological term, by the faithful. “

The Vatican’s request has amazing significance for Martin, who writes:

“. . . the news makes me smile, because for years when some people would speak about the sensus fidelium (that is, the ‘sense of the faithful’) as an important part of the way that the church lives and grows, a few people would protest, ‘But the church is not a democracy! And we don’t do polls!’
“People often forget the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on this matter in ‘Lumen Gentium’: “They [the laity] are, by [reason of] knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church.’ “
“Finally, it’s a sign, in case we needed to be reminded, that the Holy Spirit is at work in everybody. From the Pope, to the local bishop, to your pastor, to the sister teaching in your school, to the director of religious education at your parish, to the mother of three, to the man who holds out the collection basket on Sundays, to the college student struggling with her faith, to the fellow who cleans the church bathrooms, to the Catholic baptized just last Easter.
“The Holy Spirit is at work in her church and in her people. And she will let her voice be heard, this time through these polls, because she desires to speak.”
Michael O'Loughlin

Michael O’Loughlin

For Michael O’Loughlin, who blogs for Religion News Service, the change that the Vatican’s request indicates goes even beyond data collection.  O’Loughlin writes:

“Vatican officials want to know, from those living and working and worshipping in Catholic parishes, how to offer pastoral care for married gays and lesbians, and how to serve their children. I could not have imagined that the church would recognize gays as human beings even a few months ago, never mind ask for ideas on how to serve them, and their children, better. It’s truly revolutionary.

“And what’s not there in those questions is just as amazing as what is. There’s no mention of sin. Nothing about intrinsically disordered desires. The children aren’t called illegitimate.

“Instead, there’s language that recognizes gay and lesbian Catholics as human beings, as people who long for lives of faith and meaning.”

I couldn’t agree more with O’Loughlin.  Though the USCCB may not yet be “on board” with Pope Francis’ new approach to Catholic issues, it’s obvious that a new wind is blowing in the Vatican.   This request for information from the laity indicates a willingness to listen on the part of church leaders–something that has been absent from the Vatican hierarchy for decades.   As I’ve said before, it’s now up to the laity to offer their opinions, whether a bishops encourages them to do so or not.  The only opportunity for failure here is silence.


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

December 29, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Reflections on Vatican II and LGBT Issues–Part 2: Humble Learning

December 28, 2012

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

humilityIn this second part of the Vatican II and LGBT series, we will look at Richard Gaillardetz’ second of three dynamics which he identified as instrumental for making the Council so successful.  (To read the entire Gaillardetz essay on which this post is based, click here. ) The second dynamic he identified is “humble learning.”  In part, he had this to say about this essential dynamic:

“A second dynamic evident at the council was the bishops’ commitment to humble learning. In the century before the council it had become common to divide the church into two parts: a teaching church (ecclesia docens) made up of the clergy and a learning church (ecclesia discens) consisting of the laity. This way of imagining the church dangerously overlooked the fact that bishops do not have a monopoly on divine truth. They do not receive supernaturally infused knowledge at their episcopal ordination. It is not the case that a priest with a shaky understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity on the day before his episcopal ordination would suddenly be able to give learned lectures on the topic on the day after ordination! As St. Cyprian of Carthage sagely pointed out in the third century, bishops must themselves be learners before they can be teachers (Epistle 74, 10).

“Historians of Vatican II will point out the remarkable willingness of so many of the council bishops to become students once again. It is easy to forget that a good number of bishops, then as now, found that their pastoral responsibilities made it difficult for them to keep up with current historical, biblical and theological scholarship. As the council proceeded, many bishops sought the expert input of some of the many distinguished theologians and ecumenical observers who were in Rome at the time. Many regularly attended evening lectures offered by leading theologians. . . .

“Vatican II reminds us that we are all disciples of Jesus and, therefore, lifelong learners.”

If there is one area where our present-day bishops can use some humble learning, it is the area of sexuality and gender.  Our world has undergone such a major transformation in this area over the last century, particularly the last half-century, yet our bishops don’t seem to have paid any attention to it.

I say this not just because the hierarchy’s ideas in this area are traditional, but because when they make statements about sexuality or gender, they often do so in such a way as to give the impression that they are totally unaware that everyone else in the world has been discussing these topics passionately for so long.  Often the hierarchy won’t even raise opposing arguments as “straw men” so that they can refute them.  They seem unwilling to acknowledge that a whole new universe of discourse has been established. It seems like their strategy is that ignoring these new discussions might make them go away.

Gaillardetz’ argument reminds us that as an entire church, we need to be continually learning.  “Humble learning” is almost a redundancy.  All learning requires the humility to acknowledge that one may not already have all the answers or not know how to respond to new information.

In the particular area of LGBT issues,  new ideas and new research continue to be published every day.  Reputable and faithful Catholic theologians and scholars have been developing new ideas about sexuality and gender since the 1960s, but church leaders rarely even acknowledge that this robust discussion has been taking place.  If they do acknowledge new ideas, too often it is to censure them without giving them a full and honest hearing.

I believe that what the church most needs is a new C0uncil focusing solely on the issue of sexuality and gender. Such a gathering would hopefully allow bishops to become humble learners in this most important area of human and ecclesial life.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Reflections On Vatican II and LGBT Issues–Part 1: Dialogue

December 27, 2012

2012 marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II.  As we’ve noted before, the Second Vatican Council was instrumental in laying the groundwork that allowed a discussion of LGBT issues in the church to develop.

Earlier this year, theologian Richard Gaillardetz wrote an insightful essay in America magazine marking this important anniversary.  Gaillardetz identified three crucial dynamics at the Council that allowed it to emerge as the transformative experience it was for the church.  In three separate posts, I’d like to examine those three dynamics and reflect on how they apply to LGBT issues in the church today.  (The next two posts will appear here in the coming week.)

dialogueThe first dynamic Gaillardetz idenitifies is “the catholicity of dialogue.”  He observes:

“During the four sessions of the council, bishops were introduced to other prelates from diverse countries and continents, who looked at key pastoral and theological issues from strikingly different perspectives. One of the more felicitous decisions of the council concerned the seating of bishops in the aula (the nave of St. Peter’s Basilica where the main meetings of the council were conducted). The bishops were seated in order according to episcopal seniority rather than by region. This created the circumstances in which an Italian bishop, for example, might sit next to a bishop from Africa.

“This arrangement made possible a fruitful exchange of diverse perspectives and insights. Indeed, some of the most important work of the council was accomplished at the coffee bars (nicknamed after two Gospel characters, Bar-Jonah and Bar-Abbas) kept open behind the bleachers in the aula. Bishops, after struggling to stay awake during one mind-numbing Latin speech after another, found respite at these coffee bars and often engaged in frank conversation about a variety of topics. It was the sustained, face-to-face conversation and sharing of diverse experiences that opened episcopal eyes to new possibilities. These conversations were further facilitated by informal gatherings of bishops like the 22 bishops who met regularly at the Domus Mariae hotel and were committed to encouraging a more wide-ranging deliberation than was possible within the aula. These bishops met weekly to discuss topics being considered by the council. . . .

“It was the many opportunities for discussion and debate, both formal and informal, that allowed the bishops to discern the impulse of the Spirit.”

What a remarkable opportunity for the church!  Bishops actually had the opportunity to dialogue with one another, to share perspectives and test their ideas against what others think.

From so many hierarchical statements today on LGBT issues, one gets the idea that the bishops are not talking even with one another.  Instead, they seem to be listening to and repeating only statements that come from the Vatican.  Our church is clearly the poorer for this situation.

Bishops–and our entire church–need more opportunities like Vatican II to dialogue, particularly in the area of LGBT issues.  LGBT topics are a relatively new topic for examination and discussion in both society and the world.  It was only after the mid-point of the 20th century that even secular society began to slowly discuss these topics.  Clearly, LGBT topics are among those that needed the fresh air that Pope John XXIII discussed when he announced the Council as an opportunity to open the windows of the church.

Several bishops have told me personally that these days bishops rarely discuss ideas with one another in informal settings.  They, sadly, have few opportunities to test out ideas and theories with one another in free and open situations.  Only staleness could thrive in such a context.

For LGBT issues, and for all issues related to sexuality, bishops need to dialogue with more than one another.  Since all bishops are vowed celibates,  if they only speak with one another, they will only hear part of the necessary conversation. They need to hear the lived faith experiences of people involved in public and loving sexual relationships.

While it may take a long time to end the culture of silence and non-discussion that infects our current hierarchy,  we can foster that spirit of dialogue by starting conversations on LGBT issues on the grassroots level.  Start programs of dialogue and education on LGBT issues  in your parish or faith community if you can.  If you are unable to do that,  then raise LGBT issues whenever possible:  in social justice committee meetings, education  committee meetings, pastoral outreach meetings, evangelization meetings–wherever there is an opportunity to do so.

I know that in many quarters in the church  there is an unhealthy silence about LGBT issues.  We need to end that silence by addressing these issues whenever and wherever we can in ways that will not alienate those we are trying to engage in dialogue.    If we begin the dialogue in small ways in our home communities, then the larger dialogue that is needed in our church, and that Vatican II modeled for us, can become a reality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Baltimore Catholic Pastor Preaches in Support of Marriage Equality and Conscience

October 29, 2012

Fr. Richard Lawrence

Father Richard Lawrence of St. Vincent dePaul parish in Baltimore, Maryland, preached yesterday about supporting marriage equality in the upcoming referendum on the issue in the state.  While Baltimore Archbishop William Lori asked pastors to read a letter opposing marriage equality, Father Lawrence did so, but then added his own view on the matter.

You can watch the 17 -minute homily by clicking here.

You can also listen to just the audio of the homily by clicking here, and then clicking on “October 28.”

You can read a National Catholic Reporter news story of the homily by clicking here.

Here’s a summary of his remarks:

Fr. Lawrence transitions from reading Archbishop Lori’s letter by stating that it cannot be ignored by faithful Catholics. He also states that in his homily, he will provide “some other thoughts that might be considered in your process of conscience formation.”

He makes the following points:

1) There is a separation between religious law and civil law.  While there are some civil laws we cannot accept, there are others than we can accept, even if we disagree with them.  He makes the case that Catholic institutions (parishes, schools, hospitals) hire and provide benefits to people whose marriages are not canonically valid.  We may not agree with the civil law in this regard, but, as Catholics, we support that law.

2) Fr. Lawrence states that “personally, we can go further than that,” as he explains a hope for the eventual change in church teaching regarding same-sex relationships. Citing Vatican II’s change in theology of sacramental marriage by making the procreation of children an equal function to the mutual support and common life of the couple, he notes that both became primary functions of marriage.

Developing this idea, he notes that the church marries elderly couples who cannot procreate because they are able to exemplify this other function of mutual support and common life.  The same, he says, can be done for gay and lesbian couples, for whom reproduction is not possible, but mutual support and common life is.

3)  If it is possible for church teaching on marriage to change, than why can’t civil law on marriage change, he asks.

4)  He notes that Genesis his two different verses which are used to define marriage:  “Be fruitful and multiply” and finding “a suitable partner or helpmate” for the human being.  A suitable partner for a heterosexual person is someone of the other gender, while a suitable partner for a gay or lesbian person is someone of the same gender.

Fr. Lawrence concludes by urging parishioners to develop and follow their consciences.

He received thunderous applause and a standing ovation at the conclusion of homily.  New Ways Ministry adds our own applause to that of his parishioners!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


“Choosing My Religion” Segment Features New Ways Ministry

October 26, 2012

Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, participated in a conversation titled “Choosing My Religion”on HuffPost Live last night. Commentators discussed their experiences as members of faith traditions that held beliefs they personally disagreed with and their choice to remain a practicing adherent seeking reform rather than leaving.

The topic arose after Michelangelo Signorile wrote in Huffington Post about the phenomenon of religious ‘Nones,’ a segment of predominantly young adults who leave religious communities and remain spiritual, and the declining numbers in faith communities. (‘Nones’ refers to the fact that when asked in a survey what their religion is, these people check the option ‘None.’) Other participants included Mansoor Salam, author of Ten Years Older, Rabbi Levi Brackman, a Judaic scholar, and Tresa Edmunds, a feminist Mormon blogger.

Host Janet Varney asked DeBernardo about the state of Catholicism and those being driven from the Church, potentially due to LGBT issues, to which he responded:

“Here at New Ways Ministry our goals is to try to help build bridges between people who might be alienated from Church because of LGBT issues and the institutional structures.

“But, yes, it is a big problem. We are seeing a great exodus of people from Catholicism and it’s a terrible shame. In Maine, since 2009, there’s a figure that 50,000 Catholics have left the institutional church since that time. It’s a big problem.

“As the marriage equality debate and other debates get stronger, I think we’re going to see more people leaving organized religion.”

Other commentators spoke of their respective tradition’s challenges in contemporary society by the ‘Nones’ and by changing cultural trends that affect religion. Amid this conversation, DeBernardowas asked about the Catholic Church’s response to New Ways Ministry’s work. He responded by noting a vital difference in Catholic theology:

“Most people, when they say ‘the Catholic Church’, they think ‘hierarchy,’ but the Catholic definition of the ‘Church’ is ‘all of the People of God’. That’s the official definition…we get great support from grassroots Catholics and from people we call ‘middle managers’ – pastors, heads of Catholic colleges and universities, the women religious – they have been very supportive of our work for the past 35 years.”

Later in the conversation, DeBernardo referenced Vatican II’s call to read the signs of the times and linked it to one reason why people unable to stay in institutional church leave, namely they are impatient that the Church is not reading the signs of the times and responding quickly enough. However, he noted a trend among young adults who are responding to Vatican II’s call:

“It’s disappointing to see so many Catholics leaving…what I’m finding among young Catholics who are staying is that they’re making their own peace with the Church and finding their way within the Catholic Church.

“They’re not casual about justice issues and they are taking reading the signs of the times more seriously. I think it’s a good growing experience in the Church.”

If you would like to view the conversation in its entirety, click  here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Is It a Coincidence that Coming Out Day and Vatican II’s Anniversary Are Today?

October 11, 2012

Today is special for two reasons.  For the LGBT community in the United States, it is National Coming Out Day.  For the Catholic community worldwide, it is the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II.    Just a coincidence?

Well, probably, but there’s something interesting about this coincidence. National Coming Out Day is a time to celebrate the “coming out” process for sexual and gender minorities: that coming to awareness, acceptance, and announcement of their true identities.

Five decades ago, the Catholic Church embarked on a project of pastoral and theological reform at the Second Vatican Council which was, in one respect, a coming out process:  an emergence from calcified traditions into a liberating recognition of its true identity. When Pope John XXIII announced the Council, he said he wanted to open some windows in the church.  In the process, it seems, he also opened some closet doors.

Vatican II

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

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

And let’s not forget the important contributions of liberation and feminist theologies which flowered because of Vatican II, both of which have had a direct positive impact on the Catholic LGBT movement.

Although Vatican II’s documents do not mention homosexuality or transgender topics at all, the spirit of justice and human dignity which infused those texts have had a tremendous effect on why so many Catholics are passionate about working for LGBT equality.  We are finally seeing the fruits of Vatican II, as the generation that was raised in its wake are now in their maturity and speaking out for LGBT justice in the church and society.

As those LGBT people who have “come out” know, “coming out” is a continual process that keeps continuing long after everyone knows about your identity.  It’s the continual process of having the courage to stand for truth, dignity, and equality.  Let’s pray that on this 50th anniversary of Vatican II, the Catholic Church will continue its “coming out” process begun in 1962, and will learn to live up to its best principles and ideals.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


LCWR Responds to the Vatican with a Vision of Equality, Hope, and Dialogue

June 1, 2012

The national board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has issued a response to the Vatican’s April report which challenged American nuns’ positions on several church issues, including their support of LGBT people and New Ways Ministry.

After a three-day meeting which ended on May 31st, the LCWR board critiqued both the substance and process of the Vatican’s investigation:

“Board members concluded that the assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency. Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission. The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.”

The statement added that the LCWR leadership plans to have further discussions with Vatican leadership on the matter and then turn any further decision-making steps to the membership, which will be be meeting in St. Louis in August for their annual assembly.

Sister Christine Schenck

This statement comes after a month of vigils held around the U.S. in support of the LCWR and women religious.  Over 650 people prayed at a vigil in Cleveland this week.   A local television report quotes Sister Christine Schenck, Executive Director of FutureChurch:

“I feel like they’re maligning the integrity of women religious in the U.S. and they have disrespected the leadership in the U.S.”

CBS This Morning carried an interview with Sister Maureen Fiedlerhost of National Public Radio’s Interfaith Voices radio show, who called the Vatican’s attempt to provide oversight to LCWR  as a “hostile takeover.”  She also stated, in regard to LGBT issues:

“I think nuns embracing the teachings that came from the Second Vatican Council have become deeply involved on issues of poverty, injustice, in peace, in the environment. We’re very concerned about those things. Those are our whole lives. Our vows call us to give our lives to other people. And if we’re at all concerned about people of a gay or lesbian orientation, we believe they’re equal, too.”

Sister Maureen Fiedler

Sister Fiedler explained that part of the context for the Vatican versus LCWR controversy comes down to two different definitions of the church:

“This is about what kind of a Catholic Church we’re going to be. Because when I hear Vatican mandate, what I hear is the voice of the church of 19th Century, the voice of the church before that wonderful reforming council, the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, when it was exhilarating to be a Catholic in those days, when the windows were open and fresh air was let into the church. That’s what nuns today have embraced, is that kind of a church. Not a dictatorial one, but a collaborative one.”

That collaborative approach was evident in the concluding paragraph of the LCWR board statement.  With forthrightness and hope, they present a vision for a church of justice, equality, and dialogue:

“The board recognizes this matter has deeply touched Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the world as evidenced by the thousands of messages of support as well as the dozens of prayer vigils held in numerous parts of the country. It believes that the matters of faith and justice that capture the hearts of Catholic sisters are clearly shared by many people around the world. As the church and society face tumultuous times, the board believes it is imperative that these matters be addressed by the entire church community in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, and integrity.”

Amen!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


“Don’t Tell the Cathedral” Syndrome Is a Detriment to Our Church

May 31, 2012

Generally, I don’t like laments.  Their emphasis on the absent pass seems non-productive and backward-thinking.  A recent lament in an Australian newspaper deserves notice, however, because while it mourns the passing of the past, it makes a passionate plea to revive it as well.

The “past” I’m talking about, and which is the subject of Will Day’s essay, “Don’t Tell the Cathedral,” is the Vatican-II era of reform in the church.  The title comes from the fact that in order to accomplish ministry with people, so many church ministers have had shield their work from church authorities, or not tell the bishop, chancery, or cathedral what is being done.  Day states:

“It stopped me in my tracks recently when I realised that most of those varied Catholic environments [where he found sustenance and healing] had wanted to distance themselves from central church authorities, or had indicated that aspects of what goes on in their place (the caring, innovative, daring, human work) would probably not be approved of by those authorities. The comment that rang in my ears was: ‘We have to be a bit careful.’ “

Day praises the ministry of Vatican II church ministers who strive to bring the Gospel into dialogue with real world  situations.  Specifically, he praises:

“the exciting and cutting-edge work done by nuns, priests, brothers and lay Catholics all over this country. We see it in the fields of education, community health, death and dying, homelessness, refugee advocacy, environmental management, spirituality, and in fact anywhere where there is a need.

“The reason this work is cutting edge is often precisely because it is informed and energised by a renewed Catholicism, often at odds with aspects of the official Vatican line. The best of this work is not about ”preaching” or seeking to convert but is simply an attempt to let oneself be guided and inspired by love, acceptance and a deep and very human wisdom grounded in one’s personal faith.”

But the “Don’t Tell the Cathedral” syndrome, unfortunately, is alive and well, even among the most ardent proponents of Vatican II.  While Day shows sympathy for this syndrome, he also acknowledges that it was LGBT issues which moved him past this syndrome.  This long passage is, for me, the heart of the essay:

“. . . there is a long-standing Catholic tradition of exercising a grumbling patience in relation to injustices within the church itself. This stands in stark contrast to the vigorous response of Catholic workers and activists to injustices in the wider community. Within the church there is a tendency to trust that the Spirit will work at its own pace and in its own time – usually slowly. It is an unusual and courageous priest or nun who stands up to address church authorities, crying; ‘Hey, you can’t do that!’ in public. I imagine the reasons for this are complex: religious, ideological, political and probably often very personal.

“Certainly to speak out may draw onerous sanctions, may threaten one’s job security, housing security, financial security and social standing. One might be sacked and ousted, or shunted off to a disheartening gig in the middle of nowhere.

“Many Catholics believe the old church is dying anyway and will eventually crumble into the mulch. But I fear our patience with that process can be a way of abnegating responsibility for the present, for the agonies, injustices and deaths being fostered by official church teachings and attitudes today.

“I was a child of the tradition of grumbling patience, but something happened to change my tune. A teenage boy came into the social circle of a friend of mine and his wife. My friend became aware the boy was struggling with his emerging homosexuality in the context of a conservative religious family and church community. It was a delicate matter and my friend, a generous and compassionate man, tried unsuccessfully to find the right moment to offer some reassurance. Tragically, the boy eventually took his own life.

“Studies indicate same-sex-attracted young people may be several times more likely than heterosexual young people to attempt suicide. Let’s change this! It strikes me as obvious that church teachings on sexuality are wildly complicit in this shocking statistic.

“The Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality is ”objectively disordered”, that homosexual acts are unnatural and sinful. Since for most of us sexuality is inseparable from the essence of who we are, the church is teaching adolescents (at a time when their self-image may be particularly vulnerable) that they are in some way rotten at the core. The church’s unhealthy, misguided teachings and attitudes infiltrate and stain families and communities, conjuring up ancient, ignorant prejudices within us and validating them.”

Day offers hope for the future, not just a lament for the past in his essay.  As he concludes, he offers the following hope for the church, and in particular, for the church’s approach to LGBT issues:

“In my dreaming I wonder what would happen if the full force of the wisdom and expertise of the healthy, renewed church with its unsurpassed social justice credentials, organisational skills, sophistication and know-how were turned back on the messy old institution itself. Imagine if all the energy being held under by that tradition of grumbling patience, and exhausting discretion, were to emerge and be transformed into public, collective acts of reform. Thomas Merton, the renowned Catholic writer and monk, once prayed: ‘Teach me to take all grace and spring it into blades of act.’  ”

“Imagine if every priest and bishop in Australia who believed that official church teaching on homosexuality was wrong stood at the pulpit one Sunday and said as much. The landscape would powerfully change for the adolescent boys and girls in the congregation to whom the official church was teaching that their emerging sexual orientation was a ‘disorder’. The landscape would also change for the countless older queer folk in the congregation and within the priesthood.”

Such a dream can be realized if, one by one, little by little, Catholic people–in the pews, in the convents, and in the pulpits–start to publicly express their faith and convictions publicly.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


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