Australian Priest Publicly Endorses the Goodness of Same-Gender Relationships

May 7, 2013

Fr. Michael Fallon

A priest in Australia is calling for public recognition of same-gender relationship and says they should be celebrated joyfully.  While not extending this recognition to marriage, he advances the Catholic position by speaking to the goodness of these couples’ relationships.

Fr. Michael Fallon’s comments were reported in The Canberra Times:

“In a notable departure from the public teachings of some church authorities, Dickson-based priest Michael Fallon called for a ‘public celebration of committed love for homosexual couples’, saying he feared ordinary people were being driven away from the Catholic faith by views they saw as hardline and irrelevant.’…

“‘[The public should offer] not just recognition, but joy, public joy in their communion with each other, that’s the least we can offer people,’ he said.”

He credits time as university chaplain, including ministry with LGBT students, as a key step in overcoming personal homophobia. He also appeals to his academic work as a scripture scholar for his position:

“…there were church authorities who saw homosexual behaviour and partnerships as immoral, but many priests he spoke to supported recognition of committed same-sex relationships.

“He said biblical references to homosexuality should be seen within the context of the time, rather than taken literally. ‘When Paul spoke about homosexual behaviour, the key is what was he actually speaking about? Did he know about two adults lovingly committing themselves to each other? We haven’t the faintest idea, and it’s quite unlikely,’ he said.”

This Australian priest is the latest among clergy calling for legal protections of LGBT people, with several bishops supporting civil unions in recent months and other priests speaking strongly for a rethinking of the Church’s sexual ethics.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Bishops Oppose Violence Against Women Act Because of LGBT Protections

March 8, 2013

After a lengthy political battle centered around specific LGBT, American Indian and migrant protection, President Barack Obama finally signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act yesterday, but not before five Catholic bishops announced their opposition to the legislation in a statement released Wednesday.

Lauren Markoe writes in The Washington Post about the bishops’ rejection of this legislation that strengthens and funds federal initiatives to further protect domestic violence and human trafficking victims. The 2013 re-authorization added explicit protections for victims regardless of their “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” which is the source of Republican legislators, as well as the bishops’, concerns. Markoe writes:

“[The bishops] are opposing the newly authorized Violence Against Women Act for fear it will subvert traditional views of marriage and gender, and compromise the religious freedom of groups that aid victims of human trafficking…

“That language disturbs several bishops who head key committees within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that deal with, among other issues, marriage, the laity, youth and religious liberty.”

The bishops signing the statement include Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. Several of these bishops previously opposed marriage equality and LGBT civil rights in prominent ways, making this letter only the latest in the narrative against full equality.

In 2010, during the last re-authorization vote in the Violence Against Women Act, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supported the legislation as an effective measure to reduce gender-based violence. At that time,  emphasis on Catholic teachings around human dignity, justice, and non-violence played a central role in the decision to support the legislation. The recent action of these five bishops re-orients episcopal judgement on the bill to sexual ethics exclusively.

Will the bishops continue to make their view on sexual ethics the only litmus test for all social policy?  Such a position would be socially disastrous.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Cardinal O’Brien’s Resignation Highlights Increasing Problems for Anti-LGBT Hierarchy

February 26, 2013

Cardinal O’Brien greeting Pope Benedict XVI

Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leading Catholic prelate in the United Kingdom, announced on Monday that he was resigning as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh and that he will not attend the upcoming papal conclave as an elector. The cardinal, one of the UK’s most visible opponents of LGBT equality, is accused of improper conduct by four priests dating back nearly three decades.

While O’Brien denies claims published in a British newspaper on Sunday that he initiated inappropriate contact, this controversial Catholic has quickly removed himself from the public eye. Andrew Brown writing at The Guardian sees the accelerated pace of Cardinal’s resignation as progress in handling sexual abuse claims, but mulls deeper over the issues of homosexuality and forced celibacy in this scandal:

“.  . . [T]he story illustrates the grotesque and humiliating difficulties that the Roman Catholic church has knotted itself into where sex and gay people are concerned…

“Of course, the real problem is that the Roman Catholic church expects an entirely unrealistic standard of continence from its priesthood. Some priests can manage celibacy. The evidence from all around the world is that most can’t…In countries where that isn’t an available alternative, the priesthood becomes a refuge for gay men – especially in societies where homophobia is the public norm.

“This fact adds irony to O’Brien’s denunciations of gay marriage. You can’t really expect better from a church that still hasn’t come to terms properly with heterosexual marriage…And a church that can’t treat women as equals is certainly not going to be realistic about marriage between two men.”

Cardinal O’Brien’s legacy will be multi-faceted, but decidedly anti-LGBT given his repeated assaults on both legal rights and pastoral concerns. Bondings 2.0 reported stories throughout last year about O’Brien, including being named ‘Bigot of the Year’ by UK-charity Stonewall.

In 2012 alone, he referred to same-gender marriage a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right,” claimed legalizing it would be similar to instituting slavery anew, and expressed concerns that school libraries might circulate “homosexual fairy stories” as a result. O’Brien has lead Catholic efforts to block legislation granting equal marriage, through sizeable financial commitments and a failed attempt to hold a referendum on the issue in Scotland.

The realities of gay priests were further elucidated by Peter Stanford at The Telegraph in an article titled, “Too many priests preach truth, but live a lie”:

“…I’ve met many clerics. Many are openly gay. Or so open when not saying Mass that it is easy to forget I’m not meant to remember it when they are.

“In general, such double standards don’t overly concern me. Like the rest of us, priests, monks, bishops and even cardinals are as God made them. Whatever inner tension they struggle with as leaders in a Church that teaches that to be gay is – and I am quoting a document sent out by the soon-to-retire Pope when he was Cardinal Ratzinger – ‘a strong tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil,’ that is a matter for their own conscience.

“Tolerance wears a bit thin, however, when they start attacking gay marriage in such strident terms from the pulpit, and even signing letters en masse in protest at the Government’s proposals. It is getting dangerously close to hypocrisy.”

Not all critics focus on the visceral efforts that Cardinal O’Brien led as one of many outwardly anti-LGBT clergymen who secretly struggle with their sexuality. Instead, LGBT advocates in some quarters express hope for change in this transitory period. Pink News reports on reactions from pro-LGBT organizations, including that of Tom French of Scotland’s Equality Network:

“‘It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the allegations made against Cardinal O’Brien. Of course we hope that the Catholic Church in Scotland will use the opportunity new leadership brings to reassess its opposition to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.’

“‘The Catholic Church does a huge amount of good work on issues like poverty, and it’s a shame that this important work is so often overshadowed by its position on issues of sexuality.’”

Sexual abuse claims laid against homophobic leadership detracts from the Church’s truest work of justice, and undermines the more progressive policies of those like Cardinal O’Brien, who just recently proposed a renewed discussion around married Catholic clergy. In this period of episcopal transitions worldwide, perhaps the hierarchy will critically address the sexual ethics it promotes instead of doubling-down on its anti-LGBT policies.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related articles: BBC.co.uk:  “Cardinal Keith O’Brien resigns as Archbishop”

                                      The Guardian:  “What lies behind religious homophobia”


A Profound Examination of Orthodoxy & Dissent

February 3, 2013

Sometimes, it is helpful to step back from the discussion of Catholic LGBT issues and look at some of the broader issues in the church which affect how LGBT issues are treated.

dissentJerry Ryan provides some profound perspectives on church governance in an article in Commonweal magazine entitled “Orthodoxy & Dissent:  Truth & the Need for Humility.” (This link to the full article may only be available to Commonweal subscribers.)

Though Ryan takes the raging debates in the church about sexuality as his starting point, he is not focused on studying these questions, but instead examines the larger questions of orthodoxy, authority, dissent, and the development of doctrine.  His article provides an insightful analysis of the tensions between the Catholic episcopacy and Catholic lay people when it comes to retaining the status quo and proposing new paradigms.   He states:

“To understand dissent, you first have to understand authority. Authority in the church must be based on truth. Episcopal authority is not the source of truth, as some would have us believe. ‘What is truth?’ The question posed by Pilate was left unanswered by Truth Himself who stood before him, humiliated, in the praetorium. We too humiliate Truth when we abase it to our level and pretend to have power over it. Truth is a divine name and to pretend to possess it, individually or collectively, is to manufacture an idol. We can no more claim to possess truth than we can claim to possess justice. And this holds for the church’s pastors, as well as for their flock. For Christians, truth is Someone who possesses us, Someone who reveals as much of Himself to us as we can bear. It is this self-revealing Truth who founds authority in the church. The role of the magisterium is to maintain the purity of revelation by warning against aberrations without denying or minimizing the elements of truth behind them. The magisterium might be infallible in what it affirms, yet what it affirms is often just one aspect of a complex reality whose components are still not fully understood.”

There is enough material for reflection in that paragraph to last for a week-long retreat! And even longer!

Ryan doesn’t mince words when he makes the case for continued discussion of topics of controversy, and yet he has an obvious deep respect for Catholic tradition:

“The church, individually and collectively, is forever docens et discens, teaching and learning. To deny the possibility of further elucidation of doctrine is blasphemous. It is tantamount to pronouncing the church dead, no longer vivified by the Spirit nor tending toward an ultimate manifestation still to come, when all that has been hidden will be revealed. The reception and assimilation of God’s word by the pilgrim church will forever be partial and variable. It will depend partly on psychological, social, and historical circumstances. Every cultural cycle, every scientific advance, can serve to deepen our understanding of revelation, to illuminate one or another of its aspects. There is, however, an objective deposit of faith, constantly elucidated through the ages, to which the blood of martyrs has borne witness. Any development in the church is made possible only by what has preceded it, yet the intoxication of a novelty often leads to a rejection of what went before.”

For Ryan, dissent is not a sin or a crime, but can be a sign of the Spirit:

“Dissent can be a sign of vitality; it can draw out the latent riches of revelation. The scribe versed in the affairs of the Kingdom will continually bring forth old things and new. Rather than automatically suppressing it, therefore, the magisterium should treat it with cautious respect, remembering that the Spirit is still at work, and the church still a work in progress. Rigidity and narrowness of vision can lead to the sin against the Spirit—and this sin can be a collective one.”

Though sexual teachings are not his focus in this article, Ryan uses them as an example, revealing a compassionate, intelligent heart:

“Traditional Catholic moral theology generally abstracts from concrete historical and social contexts and considers not particular men and women, but ‘human nature’ faced with hypothetically clear-cut options. Human nature, however, does not exist apart from real human beings, who must act in situations full of ambiguity. Very often we find ourselves in ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situations, where even the best option may not seem to be a good one. Pastoral common sense usually (but not always!) takes this complexity into consideration, but the official teachings of the church continue to define good and evil in terms of black and white, with little nuance or compassion, thus alienating many from the sacramental sources of grace.”

The previous excerpt reminded me of something which the late Bishop Kenneth Untener of Saginaw, Michigan, said when he addressed New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium in 1992.  The quotation is from the printed text of his talk in the book Voices of Hope:  A Collection of Positive Writings on Gay and Lesbian Issues, edited by New Ways Ministry’s co-founders, Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent:

“We need to take seriously the evaluation that homosexuality is a complex question, yet I do not believe we always do. We have to be careful not to make life too simple.  The Pharisees made that mistake.  They made religion complex, but treated life as though it were simple. . . . .

“Jesus did exactly the opposite.  His religious teachings were very simple. He said that all the commandments of the law came down to two:  love of God and love of neighbor.  When they asked Him enormously complex questions, he would say, “Let me tell you a story. . . “

“On the other hand, Jesus treated life as very complex, as His parables show. . . .

“We need to be careful that we do not say on the one hand that homosexuality is a complex question, and then treat it as though there were simple solutions.”

Ryan concludes his essay with reminders of the communal nature of the church, and the need for humility to reign in our debates:

The safekeeping of the deposit of faith and the upholding of the Christian moral code are confided to the church’s hierarchy. The bishops are not, however, the exclusive owners of the spirit of discernment. Historically, this gift has often been manifest in the little ones of God, in the “sensus fidelium.” It is precisely this charisma that stimulates the church’s growth in wisdom and in grace. There is a necessary tension between the function of the hierarchy and the prophetic instinct of the people of God. That tension could and should be fruitful, but in reality it is often bitter and sterile. It might well be that the prophetic élan in the church is especially at work in the poor and the unrecognized, in the little ones to whom is revealed what is hidden from the wise and mighty. One of the great contributions of liberation theology has been to remind the church of the privileged place of the poor in the Kingdom of God. . . .

“It is not enough for the church’s hierarchy to praise the fidelity of lay Catholics; it must also be willing to learn from them. And that requires bishops to acknowledge humbly that they don’t yet know everything about the will of God—that it is still revealing itself to us, and sometimes surprising us. The bishops, like their flocks, are still pilgrims on the way. Like the rest of us, they should be looking for signs ahead.”

I found so much wisdom in this article.  I encourage you to read the entire piece.  Even if you have to subscribe to Commonweal online to do so, it will be worth it!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Sex Is Never Simple

April 25, 2012

New Ways Ministry and many Catholic theologians, leaders, organizations, and individuals have long called on the church’s hierarchy to listen to the experiences of LGBT people as a way to develop doctrine and positions.  The importance of consulting the scripture of experience–how God speaks through people’s lives–is nowhere more needed than in the development of doctrine about sexual relationships and expression.

The necessity of such consultation was brought home to me again when I read Jo McGowan’s article, “Simplifying Sex: What Some Priests Don’t Understand About Contraception,”  in Commonweal magazine.  Though writing specifically about the recent debate about insurance funding for contraception, McGowan’s piece rings true for hierarchical statements about sexuality generally.The thesis of her argument should be a mantra repeated by church leaders everywhere:

“Sex is never simple.”

McGowan’s article responds primarily to a New York Times article which contained an interview with a priest.  She writes:

“. . .it is unsettling when men who may never have experienced sex feel qualified not just to speak about it but to pronounce on it with certainty. In an article in the New York Times (February 18), Fr. Roger Landry, a priest in my old diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, is quoted as saying, ‘What happens in the use of contraception, rather than embracing us totally as God made the other, with the masculine capacity to become a dad, or the feminine capacity to become a mom, we reject that paternal and maternal leaning.’ ”

“Well, no, Fr. Landry, we don’t. We don’t reject it. We make a decision about it. We recognize that pregnancy is a possibility, and we decide whether this is the right time for us to have a baby. We acknowledge that we are more than just potential (or actual) parents. One of the surest signs of youth—in any profession—is an unswerving adherence to literal interpretations. New teachers cling to the curriculum, whether or not the class is getting it. Young doctors focus on the clear x-ray, unable to see the patient in front of them writhing in pain. Parish priests preach the letter of the law, while their parishioners refuse to follow rules created without reference to the reality they know. But the rules aren’t just unrealistic. They are often irrelevant, based on incorrect or incomplete information.”

McGowan’s analogy to the penchant that young doctors and young priests have for relying on outside, abstract information makes the point vividly.   Sexuality is not something that can be described or discussed from an outsider’s perspective in abstract terms.  Accurate information and perspectives on it must come from people’s lived experiences. I would like to add another analogy to her already excellent one:  Not consulting people’s experience of sexuality in order to develop doctrine is like an atheist trying to describe and define spirituality and religion without consulting the people who practice faith.   Both spirituality and sexuality are intensely personal experiences that can only be understood fully from the inside out.

McGowan illustrates this idea best when she refutes Fr. Landry’s ideas about pleasure in sex:

“Fr. Landry goes on to say, ‘Contraception…make[s] pleasure the point of the act, and any time pleasure becomes the point rather than the fruit of the act, the other person becomes the means to that end. And we’re actually going to hurt the people we love.’ At one level, this is insightful and nuanced. When he laments how frequently such objectification happens to women in sexual relationships, Fr. Landry sounds almost feminist. And he is right that a relationship that’s only about the pursuit of pleasure is demeaning and ultimately hurtful.

“He is wrong, though, to assume that using contraception automatically makes ‘pleasure the point of the act.’ This is how adolescents think. Teenagers dream of constantly available sex, uninhibited by any possibility of pregnancy. That priests would talk the same way about sex between a husband and wife who have chosen to use contraception reflects inexperience and adolescent projection.

“Adults understand that good sex, with or without contraception, goes deeper than pleasure. It is complex and demanding. And pleasure isn’t necessarily a part of it. Any human encounter requiring honesty and surrender has the potential for both revelation and pain. The communication, healing, and strengthening that good sex ensures is foundational to a marriage. Pure pleasure the point of the act? What is Fr. Landry talking about?”

McGowan shows here that an outsider’s perspective is actually a distorted perspective which focuses on one potential aspect of the sexual situation.  Since sexuality is so much more than physical acts, an outsider can not understand the deeply emotional dimension that is involved in the physical activity of sex.  To theorize about sexuality based only on physical acts is to look only at the evidence that is able to be seen, and not to take the perspective of faith, which St. Paul tells us involves the “evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Sexual license is not McGowan’s goal; responsible sexuality is.  She makes the important observation that strict adherence to abstract rules about sexuality can actually lead to irresponsible sex:

“But every human activity has the potential to become unbalanced. Having children mindlessly, year after year, as former generations of Catholics did, is just as harmful to the social good as the refusal to connect sex with pregnancy. Visit India, Fr. Landry. Talk with the women here who are treated purely as producers of sons.

“To defend contraception within marriage is not to defend sexual license. Married couples who have pledged a lifetime of commitment to each other and their families have the right and the duty to make their own decisions about contraception. The church’s role is to help them arrive at the decision that is right for their lives. It is not to dictate one-size-fits-all rules that have no foundation in practical experience.”

I don’t think that I’ve ever read a defense of consulting sexual practitioners for their experience which was as honestly and matter-of-factly stated as McGowan’s is. Clearly, the principles that she states here can be equally and easily applied to the experience of lesbian and gay people, as they are to heterosexual people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


NCR Editorial and Columnist Support Bishop Robinson’s Symposium Call to Re-think Sexuality

March 28, 2012

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson speaking at New Ways Ministry's Seventh National Symposium

New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in Baltimore two weeks ago continues to make headlines.   The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) has editorialized in support of Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s call to re-think the Catholic Church’s official teaching on sexuality, which he made during a talk at the Symposium.  An NCR columnist, Eugene Kennedy, the renowned psychologist and church observer, has also praised the Australian bishop’s proposal.

After summarizing Bishop Robinson’s main points (which can be read in the same newspaper’s article about the talk), the NCR editorial notes:

“Robinson is not the first to articulate the need for a responsible reexamination of sexual ethics, one that takes seriously the radical call to selfless love, but the addition of a bishop’s voice adds new dimension to the conversation. By rebuilding Christian morality in the area of sexuality in the way Robinson suggests, we will achieve a teaching that can better challenge the message about sexuality trumpeted by the dominant culture in television, music and advertising, a sexuality that idolizes self-gratification and that puts ‘me’ before ‘you.’ By placing the needs of the other first, our sexual ethic would reject sexual violence — physical and psychological, the idolatry of self-gratification, the objectification of people, and the trivializing of sex when it is separated from love.”

The NCR rightly points out that Robinson’s approach is not one of a wild-eyed radical:

“In the end, Robinson is making a profoundly traditional suggestion about sexuality, because what he proposes is rooted in genuine personal responsibility. He writes: ‘Many would object that what I have proposed would not give a clear and simple rule to people. But God never promised us that everything in the moral life would be clear and simple. Morality is not just about doing right things; it is also about struggling to know what is the right thing to do. … It is about taking a genuine personal responsibility for everything I do.’ ”

The tradition that Robinson is following is the tradition of Jesus in the Scriptures:

“Robinson’s take on sexuality — that it deserves deeper consideration than the narrow, rule-bound approach that has evolved in Christian circles — takes us to the heart of the radical approach Jesus took toward human relationships.”

NCR columnist Eugene Kennedy has also praised Bishop Robinson’s proposal.  In an essay entitled “Bishop Robinson and the redemption of eros,” Kennedy writes:

“Bishop Robinson’s purpose is, in fact, that set out by Pope John XXIII as his reason for convening Vatican II, “To make the human sojourn on earth less sad.”

“Indeed, in urging a much needed review of what and how the church teaches about human sexuality, Bishop Robinson draws on themes central to Vatican II. The first of these is found in placing the reality of the human person rather than the abstraction of natural law as the central reference point in church teachings and papal pronouncements about marriage and sexual activity.

“The second is found in the shift from an emphasis on objective acts to subjective intentions and dispositions in making judgments on the badness or goodness of how people behave. This rightfully emphasizes the impact that our actions or omissions have on other persons rather than on the ire that has idled within so many church leaders who have been so preoccupied with sin. . . .

“Robinson’s convictions on the need for a thorough examination of the church’s teaching on sexuality are significant in themselves but also because he has found a way to speak about this essential matter from within the church, even if in the mannered traditional way that dialogue moves, however slowly, toward a wider circle of prelates.”

After Bishop Robinson spoke at the Symposium, many people told me that they felt something new and remarkable had taken place. One person told me that it felt  like a new chapter had been opened in the church’s discussion on sexuality.  His talk offered not only hope, but a way forward that people felt was authentically human and authentically Catholic.

His experience as the Australian Bishops’ Conference coordinator of pastoral responses to that nation’s sexual abuse crisis transformed his thinking on how Catholicism approached sexuality and how that approach can be improved.  As was evident from the style and content of his talk, Bishop Robinson had one three things that more bishops should emulate:  he opened his ears, his mind, and his heart.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Symposium Provides “Shot in the Arm” for Participants

March 22, 2012

Our final story about New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium includes a connection to Chuck Colbert’s Windy City Times article entitled “Catholic conference confronts marriage.”

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson at the Symposium. (Jim Brigl Photo)

This article contains a precise summary of Bishop Robinson’s talk in which he called on the Catholic church to rethink its teaching on sexuality:

” ‘If [ church ] teaching on homosexual acts is ever going to change, the basic teaching governing all sexual acts must change,’ retired Auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson told the gathering of nearly 400 Catholics at the Seventh National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality.

” ‘For centuries the church has taught that every sexual sin is mortal sin,’ said Robinson, an auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia.

” ‘The teaching may not be proclaimed as loudly as today as much as before, but it was proclaimed by many popes, it has never been retracted, and it has affected countless people,’ Robinson said.

” ‘There is a serious need for a change in the church’s teaching on heterosexual acts,’ he said, adding,  ‘If and when this change occurs, it will inevitable have its effect on teaching on homosexual acts.’

” ‘The teaching fostered a belief in an incredibly angry God,’ explained Robinson, ‘for this God would condemn a person to eternity in hell for a single unrepentant moment of deliberate pleasure arising from sexual desire. I simply do not believe in such a God. Indeed, I positively reject such a God.’

Robinson is the author of the 2007 book, Confronting Power in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus, which addressed the clerical sex-abuse crisis and was controversial among his fellow bishops in Australia who faulted him for a 2008 lecture tour in the United States to speak about the issues his book addressed.

Karen Allen and Mary Jo Hoag singing at the Symposium. (Deborah Winarski Photo)

Colbert’s report also contains the perspective of  “Chicagoans Karen Allen and her partner, Mary Jo Hoag, attended the gathering, this their second one.

” ‘What brings me here is the chance to be rooted in my faith and with the people of God and to be sent forth to create loving communities,’ said Allen, who leads a gay and lesbian family-and-friends ministry at St. Nicholas parish in Evanston.

“Allen said the parish group grew out the idea she and others got 10 years ago at the Louisville, Ky., New Ways symposium.

“In proposing the idea, she explained, ‘We were welcomed to do so by our pastor at the time, who said, “Where have you been?’ ‘

“The ministry is about education and prayer and not so much advocacy, Allen said, but ‘more about how can we as gay and lesbian Catholics live fully integrated, authentic lives in our tradition.’

” ‘Many have walked away [ from the church ] but returned in mid-life,’ she explained, while readily acknowledging, ‘struggling mightily’ with ‘clericalism and the hierarchy.’ “

” ‘The church is our church,’ said Hoag, explaining why she stays. ‘Many of us are cradle Catholics who grew up with the rituals, sacraments, and the teachings and feel comfortable. We are gifts to the church and shouldn’t go away, as we provide those gifts of love and understanding and outreach.’

“New Ways Ministry, Allen added, provides us ‘a shot in the arm’ to keep up our work in ministry.

The National Catholic Reporter posted a second article on the  Symposium, this one focusing on Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s remarks there.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


England’s Leading Catholic Archbishop Again Strikes a Moderate Note

February 26, 2012

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, has made the news once again for offering a more moderate position on marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples, and issues related to the topic, than some of his more conservative religious colleagues.

Last week, in response to a speech at the Vatican by England’s Lady Warsi, a Conservative Party member in the British cabinet, in which she decried persecution of Christians by “militant secularism,” Nichols commented to The Guardian newspaper:

“”I personally don’t feel in the least bit persecuted. I don’t think Christians should use that word.”

These comments were made in the wake of a petition circulating the internet by Lord Carey, the former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, which denounces marriage for lesbians and gays.  The Guardian article notes that

“Catholics will be encouraged to sign the petition against gay marriage as individuals, but the church as a whole will not be part of Carey’s campaign. . .”

In a post entitled “Gay Marriage, and the English Catholic Church: More Sanity From Vincent Nichols” at QueeringTheChurch.com, blogger Terry Weldon notes:

“Archbishop Vincent Nichols has once again demonstrated sanity and moderation on the place of the Catholic Church in modern society. While there are many loud, outraged voices raised in complaint in the US and in the UK over alleged assaults on religious freedom and of perceived persecution of Christians, Nichols has correctly pointed out that what is happening is not the “persecution” of Christians, but an attempt to separate the legal and cultural life of the country from its Christian roots. He is saying in other words, that what is happening is a removal from the Church of its previously privileged position. This may be deplorable, unfortunate, or welcome – but does not amount to persecution, any more than the removal of apartheid in South Africa represented the persecution of Whites.”

The Guardian report notes a shift in favor of LGBT rights among English Catholics:

“The emergence of the Catholic church into the mainstream of national life has been accompanied by a change in character: the old working class Irish-based Catholicism has almost vanished, to be replaced by a much less traditional English middle class which largely rejects the Church’s teachings on birth control and homosexuality, while still treasuring it for its spiritual value.”

The hierarchy, led by Nichols, is also taking a more moderate approach to civil unions legislation than their counterparts in Scotland:

“The reasoned tone [of Nichols] seems a deliberate attempt to take the high ground in the national debate. The statements of the English Catholic bishops in favour of civil partnership (as an alternative to gay marriage) contrasts very noticeably with the grumbling anathemata issuing from the Scottish and Irish churches on the subject.”

A Tablet article highlights the different approach taken by the Scottish the the English/Welsh hierarchies on the issue of civil unions.  Back in December 2011, Bondings 2.0 reported on Nichols’ support and reasoning for civil unions.  You can access those two posts by clicking here and here.

While certainly not a progressive on these marriage issues, Nichols represents a moderating voice in the Church which at least holds open the possibility of discussion on these matters.  The Guardian notes that his perspective on issues of homosexuality are far more pastoral than many other prominent church leaders:

“When asked how to interpret the notorious Vatican description of homosexuality as ‘a tendency towards an objective moral evil’, Nichols gave me a carefully prepared talk on the roots of Catholic philosophy. ‘This is a philosophical construct,’ he said.

“It is all part of a careful balancing act between the demands of Catholic theology, and of conservative factions in the Vatican, and the reality of the English Roman Catholic Church, where several of the most prominent lay figures are either gay themselves, divorced, or married to divorced people. . . .

“In most countries, the Conservative wing of the Catholic church is more or less homophobic, but in England the Catholic Herald, which would be their paper, has been edited by an openly gay and partnered man (who died this month) and does not attack the bishops on that front. . . .

“Phrases like ‘abstract moral evil’, [Nichols] said, are not aimed at any individual. ‘One talks about objective moral evil, you might say today, that’s racism. No matter what’s intended or understood, that, objectively, is wrong. In a similar way, you can say, in every sphere of life there is objective moral evil.  But that does not imply subjective moral guilt.  That does not imply guilt on an individual.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


NEWS NOTES: February 6, 2012

February 6, 2012

Here are links to some items you might find of interest:

1) The Bangor Daily News reports that the “Maine Catholic bishop starts ministry to support people attracted to the same sex.”  The announcement of this “Courage” ministry comes just about a week after it was announced that Maine will have another referendum on marriage equality.   For a review of Courage’s ministry, see Bondings 2.0′s blog post about the establishment of such a program in Connecticut.

2) The Vista, the student newspaper of the University of San Diego, a Catholic school reports that “Joseph Colombo, religion professor, passes away.”    According to an obituary on the Gay San Diego website (gay-sd.com), “Colombo served as the first openly gay chair of a theology department at a Roman Catholic University in the United States.”

3)  In the continuing controversy of what to name gay-straight alliances in Ontario’s publicly funded Catholic schools, a letter to the editor in the Toronto Star from Kevin O’Dwyer, President of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, notes that  while Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association has not supported students’ requests, his association, which represents teachers,  “has stated its support for gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and other student-led anti-homophobia groups. ”  Read the latest full reporting on this matter in the Bondings 2.0 blog post from January 28, 2012.


Bishop Gumbleton Offers Words of Hope and Encouragement

January 20, 2012

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a longtime advocate for LGBT justice in the Catholic Church, spoke recently at a Michigan community dialogue sponsored by the state’s LGBT Faith Initiative.

PrideSource.com reports that Gumbleton offered words of hope to the interfaith meeting:

” ‘There was a piece in the paper I read recently about Joan of Arc, and it made me think. They condemned her and burned her at the stake, but later she was canonized. So the Catholic Church can change,’ said Gumbleton.”

Gumbleton also explained the Catholic teaching on conscience, stating:

“The saving factor in Catholic teaching is we have, above everything else, primacy of conscience. That means that I must understand my own heart. I make the decision, is it right for me? The church’s teaching does provide conflict, but it is solvable in this way.”

He also encouraged the attendees to remain steadfast in their struggle:

” ‘Jesus paid a terrible price for standing up for what he believed in. He paid with death,’ he said. ‘But most people don’t go that far. Most people back off. They get to a certain point and they just back off. Jesus didn’t do that.’ “

Other Catholics speaking at the conference were Linda Karle-Nelson and Thomas Nelson, whom the article described in this way:

“Each speaker on the panel had different approaches to the conflicts within their faiths. The Nelsons have kept a light hearted, loving attitude, while providing resources for other parents and loved ones of those who come out. In addition to starting PFLAG Manistee, they are part of Fortunate Families, a network of 140 Catholic parents in 29 states who are available to talk to other Catholics dealing with their children’s sexual orientation or gender expression.”

Like Joan of Arc,  folks like Bishop Gumbleton and the Nelsons who keep on advocating ardently and lovingly for LGBT equalitly will eventually win the day.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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