SYNOD: Theologian Argues for Bishops to Bless Same-Gender Marriages

September 30, 2014

Although there is a lot of excitement about the upcoming Vatican synod on marriage and family life, that hope is a little dampened by the fact that only bishops will be participating in the sessions.  While it is true that bishops were encouraged to consult their laity about various topics, including pastoral care of families headed by same-gender couples, not all bishops did so, and those that did sometimes interpreted negative evaluations to church teaching as being caused by poor catechesis and communication.  That is simply not the case.  For many, many Catholics, their criticism of church teaching on divorce, contraception, same-gender relationships, comes from their lived experience of faith, and many years of study and reflection.

Sister Margaret Farley

One Catholic theologian who has influenced many Catholics’ thinking on sexuality is Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, Professor Emerita of Christian Ethics at Yale University Divinity School.  We’ve reported on Sister Farley’s work before, and even have a summary of her framework for sexual ethics outlined on another blog page.

Recently, The Tablet featured an essay by Farley in their series which is looking ahead to the synod.  She used this opportunity to argue that there is no good reason to limit marriage only to heterosexual couples.  She begins her argument with an historical assessment:

“For so long as the Catholic tradition considered sex as justified only when it is intended for the procreation of children and for so long as gender complementarity was seen as the only natural context for sex, there was, of course, no room for any positive valuation of homosexual relationships.

“In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, these foundations of sexual ethics began to be questioned. New biblical, theological and historical studies of the roots of moral norms, new understandings of sexuality itself and new shifts in economic and social life all contributed to major developments even in Catholic ethics. The dominant historical motifs all underwent significant changes. The idea that the procreation of children is the sole justification of sexual activity is gone (the shift is visible in the documents of Vatican II, in Humanae Vitae and subsequent church teaching). The view of sexuality as fundamentally disordered is also pretty much gone from Catholic thought. Although moral theologians still underline the potential of sex for sinfulness (as in sex abuse, rape, exploitation, adultery and so forth), the preoccupation with its destructive power that used to dominate Catholic discussion of sex has been seriously modified.

“Rigid stereotypes of male/female complementarity have also been softened: gender equality, the mutuality of sexual relationships, an appreciation of shared possibilities and responsibilities now appear in middle-of-the-road Catholic theologies of marriage and family, as well as in official church documents and papal teaching.”

Her analysis of the role of gender in marriage discussions as compared to other discussions is a key to her argument.  She summarizes the traditional view, and then points out an important inconsistency:

“Sex is natural and good in itself in loving heterosexual relations, but sex once again becomes a thing of danger and disorder in gay and lesbian relationships. We are careful not to make sharp distinctions between male and female roles when we talk about the education of girls, career opportunities for women, and shared parenting, but fundamental gender difference suddenly reappears when critics take aim at an acceptance of same-sex relations. “

Farley moves away from a definition of marriage as being primarily a procreative institution, and she notes that theologians are moving toward a definition that stresses relationship:

“Many theologians see the mutual consent of the partners in the form of a covenant or binding contract as the core reality of marriage, and ‘marital’ commitment as a special sort of covenant or commitment. It includes a commitment to love and to accept being loved – with a love that is sexual but not only sexual. It is an exclusive commitment. And it is a commitment to a framework for living and loving, to a permanent blending of loves, a weaving of a fabric of life together, that embraces both moments of powerful intensity and the ‘everydayness’ of life.”

With new understandings of gender in the theological world, we can recognize that gender is not an essential factor in a marriage union.  Farley explains:

“For many, marriage is understood as between two persons, two equal persons. For each person, the gender of the other matters. But for the institution and sacrament of marriage, it need not matter. In a world where it would not matter whether persons were gay or straight, marriage would still be as important as it is today. Indeed, it might finally be as important as it should be.”

The real sacramentality of marriage, argues Farley, comes not from gender differentiation, procreation, or ritual, but in the ordinary living out of the commitment two people make to one another:

“The marital sacrament is in the event of covenanting, of ‘marrying,’ but is also in the life that continues from there. The grace of committed love – shaped and grounded in faith – is not all at once. The story of commitments is in their beginnings and in their end. But it is the ‘in between’ that counts the most. Like our lives in every respect, love has a past, a present and a future. The meaning of the past is in the present, and the meaning of the present will be revealed more fully only in the future. Time is within us. Hence, the Sacrament of Marriage is in the everyday, in the choices to ratify commitments, the efforts to grow in patience, understanding, forgiveness and the ‘little by little’ of welcoming love.

“All of this is true, or can be true, of same-sex marriages, as of all marriages. These same-sex marriages include imagining and making a world in which unjust discrimination ceases to exist. Their journeys perhaps require the courage to refuse to be outsiders, or to let ignorance and irrational bigotry threaten the hope for a better world. For this, they can hope in sacramental grace, and (because grace is not an automatic track to or guarantee of fuller life) they can work with this grace.”

Farley’s analysis provides a most Catholic evaluation of what is essential in marriage, and reflects the ways in which humankind has grown into a more equal and just view of persons, gender, and relationships.  It would be great if the bishops in synod could hear her analysis so that they could take this very holy and healthy view of relationships into consideration as they deliberate about pastoral care in the areas of marriage, sexuality, and family.

If you are a subscriber to The Tablet,  you can read the entire essay by Sister Margaret Farley by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


British Cardinal Offers New Perspective on Context of Sexuality

June 17, 2014

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

When Britain’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols addressed the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict last week, the standard news coverage of the event highlighted his description of  war-time rape and sexual degradation as “a most fundamental denial of human dignity and a most gross breach of a person’s human rights.”

But another passage from his talk at the London meeting did not get as much exposure, though I think it is much more significant and newsworthy. In his speech,  Nichols offered a different definition of sexuality than is usually promoted by Catholic bishops.  During his talk he stated (emphasis added):

“Human sexuality is a strong and vital component of our humanity and of each person’s nature. The exercise of that sexuality, in sexual relations, is something that touches the deepest aspect of our identity and personhood. A fundamental aspect of the Church’s teaching about sex is that sexual acts must always take place within the context of authentic freedom. This is because, properly understood, human sexuality has the capacity to unite two people, body and spirit, at the deepest level, in a completeness of self-giving that has within it the call to a permanent commitment between them and which, of its nature is open towards the creation of new human life. What is most relevant in this teaching for us today is that there is no place in sexual relations for brutality, aggression or any kind of de-humanisation of a person.”

(The entire text of his talk can be read or listened to on the Vatican Radio website. A hat-tip to Martin Pendergast, longtime Catholic LGBT advocate in London, for alerting me to this section of the speech.)

What I find significant here is that Nichols substitutes “authentic freedom” for “Christian marriage,” which is the usual way that bishops describe the required moral context of sexual acts.

And while he includes procreation as one of the capacities of sexuality, it is not among the primary ones that he listed.  Instead, the primary capacities are the uniting of persons, the deep intimate bond, the act of self-giving, and the quality of permanent commitment.

His description is significant because it echoes what many contemporary Catholic theologians have been saying about sexuality for many years now: that the traditional emphases on marriage and procreation are not sufficient to ethically describe sexual activity and sexual relationships.

Sister Margaret Farley, RSM

Specifically, many of the concepts he mentions can be found in the work of Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, a Catholic theologian, whose book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, lays out a number of criteria for ethical sexual relationships.  Among the concepts she describes are: do no unjust harm, free consent, mutuality, equality, commitment, fruitfulness, social justice.  (For a fuller description of these concepts, click here.)

Though Sister Farley’s sexual ethics were censured by the Vatican two years ago, it seems that her ideas are filtering up into hierarchical discourse

It is not surprising that we would find these more contemporary theological views about sexuality in discourse from Cardinal Nichols.  Just last week, we reported on how the British bishops’ conference which he leads has made some enlightened remarks concerning transgender people and civil unions.

Almost three years ago, Cardinal Nichols was the first Catholic prelate to call for civil unions for same-gender couples. His  call for such recognition set off a number of other bishops and church leaders following suit.  You can find a comprehensive list of such statements here.

Since his statement differs so greatly than what is usually said or expected from a member of the Catholic hierarchy, I can’t help but assume that it was indeed deliberate on his part to make this distinct point.  His statement may signal a growing awareness on the part of some hierarchical leaders that a new Catholic vision for sexuality is badly needed.

–Francis DeBernardo

 


The Road to LGBT Change in the Catholic Church Won’t Be a Straight One

September 23, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ remarks about lesbian and gay people are bound to bring about change in the church.  Not everyone will agree with that statement.   Yet, the road to change in the church on LGBT issues may not be a straight one, but who said that straight is always better? Let me explain.

As happened after the pope’s “Who am I to judge?” remark of mid-summer, some commentators have pointed out again after his America interview that nothing has really changed in church teaching because of the pope’s statements.  Pope Francis’ comments do not offer any moral approval of same-sex relationships or marriage equality.   Those who understand church teaching about gay and lesbian people know that official documents have always called for respect and understanding of people with a same-sex orientation, so some have felt that the pope added nothing new and that nothing has changed.

But, as we know from experience, if anyone needed to hear Pope Francis’ message about obsession it is the Catholic bishops in the U.S.   Their campaign against marriage equality over the last decade has quite often overstepped its boundaries and given the appearance of obsession.  Although they often gave lip service to the teaching about respect and understanding, such a message always seemed incredibly shallow given the vitriol they used to condemn same-sex relationships and marriage.  No one believed what the bishops were saying about respect and understanding since their rhetoric provided a stronger message in the opposite direction.

Here’s a case in point.  On the same day that Pope Francis’ interview became public. Catholic News Service ran a story about Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese of Military Services, issuing guidelines about same-sex couples.  The news story stated:

“Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services has issued guidelines on ministering to same-sex couples for military chaplains and other priests and deacons who serve Catholics in the military, U.S. Foreign Service personnel and those at Veterans Affairs facilities. The document, ‘Renewed Fidelity in Favor of Evangelization,’ highlights the need to ‘reiterate with clarity the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding homosexuality’ but also points out that, as St. Paul reminds believers, ‘it must never be forgotten that the human condition occasions many failings.’ “

Clarity?  Does the archbishop think that there is anyone who doesn’t know of the Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to same-sex relationships?  And why is homosexuality considered part of human “failings.”  When bishops speak like this, they show they do not understand or respect LGBT people regardless of how much they say they do.

Pope Francis’ remarks ring truer, though.  Nothing has shown that he will support full marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.  (Though he is on the record for supporting civil unions–a compromise that, while not ideal, is a giant step forward, and one that the U.S. bishops have not agreed to yet. )  But his comments do seem to indicate respect and understanding.  He may not be where progressive Catholics might like him, but he is further down the road than his predecessors, and miles ahead of the U.S. bishops.  It’s no wonder that Sister Margaret Farley, a renowned theologian of sexual ethics, has said that she feels this pope can be reached on LGBT issues.

John Becker, in The Huffington Post, stated that Pope Francis’ remarks seem too much like window-dressing:

“LGBT Catholics, their non-LGBT allies, and the greater LGBT community should really stop breaking out the champagne and balloons for this pope every time he says a few nice-sounding words about gays and lesbians. Believe me, I’m as encouraged by his change in tone as the next person, but after centuries of persecution, the Catholic Church owes its LGBT members a whole lot more than just an acknowledgement of their existence.”

While I agree that LGBT people deserve a lot more, I disagree that these remarks are not a reason to celebrate.  The problem with this line of thinking is that it doesn’t acknowledge that true change comes from the bottom, not the top.  Pope Francis’ remarks are not the true change.  The true change is that Catholics in the pews and Catholics at the “middle management” level (pastors, principals, college administrators, etc.) have already been living out real respect and understanding for LGBT people and have been working towards their full equality, including marriage.

Yes, Catholics should break out the champagne and balloons because a pope is finally showing he is following their lead, not the other way around.

Still for other Catholics, who may have been fearful of church sanction if they expressed any support for LGBT people, the pope’s statements are an example for them to follow.  I can’t say for sure that we will see any change in church teaching on LGBT matters any time soon, but I do predict that we will see an outpouring of support for LGBT people from many more Catholics who up until now have been reluctant to do so.

In The Washington Post “On Faith” blog, Elizabeth Tenety lists eight ways that Pope  Francis is changing the church, including bringing people back, including young people.  With more and more progressive Catholics come back to the fold, after having been alienated for so many decades, the Catholic Church will witness a demographic change.  They, too, will add to the pro-LGBT movement in the church.  Pope Francis is appealing to the people who will make the church more LGBT-friendly.

When demographics and pastoral practice start to change, doctrinal change will eventually have to catch up.  Change in the church happens first in practice and then in theory, not the other way around.  Pope Francis’ statements are going to open a floodgate of many acts of acceptance and dialogue on LGBT issues, and this dialogue will eventually pave the way for doctrinal change.

Furthermore, the humility of the pope, which was so evident in the interview, speaks volumes about the possibility that he will be open to a more dialogical church than we have seen in years.  And that can have effects on matters way beyond LGBT issues, too.

So, the path may not be straight, it may not be direct, but it will eventually lead to a church of justice and equality for all.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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

 


The Worst of 2012 in Catholic LGBT News

December 30, 2012

thumbs downAs the year 2012 winds to a close, it’s time to review the news of the Catholic LGBT world of the past 12 months. In today’s post, we will look at the  stories of the worst happenings of the past year, and in tomorrow’s post, we will look at the best stories.  Bondings 2.0 asked you for your feedback on what the worst and best news stories of the past year were, so the ranking of these stories is based on your responses.  The percentage following each story is the percentage of people who chose this item as one of their top five. Thank you to all 311 of you who participated.

The Top Ten

1. The Parliament in Uganda, a pre-dominantly Catholic nation, re-introduces a bill to make the death penalty a possible sentence for lesbian and gay people.  16.34%

2. The Vatican censures the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for, among other things, their support of LGBT issues and New Ways Ministry. 15.69%

3. Pope Benedict opens the year by stating that new models of family are a threat to “human dignity and the future of humanity.” 14.05%

4. The Knights of Columbus have contributed $6.5 million to oppose marriage equality over the past seven years, according to an Equally Blessed report. 12.09%

5. A Catholic lesbian woman in Maryland is denied communion at her mother’s funeral Mass. 10.13% 

6. The Vatican censures Sister Margaret Farley, a theologian who has supported the moral goodness of gay and lesbian relationships. 6.86%  

7. U.S. bishops attempt to make religious liberty an issue as a way to defeat marriage equality initiatives. 6.54%

8. Minnesota teen is denied confirmation for supporting marriage equality. 4.9%

9 & 10. TIE:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The Catholic University of America again denies a request for recognition of a gay-straight alliance on campus. 2.29%                               Several Catholic church employees are fired because of their support of marriage equality. 2.29%

Other items:

In several cases, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development withdraws funding from organizations which support LGBT equality. 1.96% 

Catholic theologian Tina Beattie is disinvited from a fellowship appointment at the University of San Diego because of her support of marriage equality. 1.63%  

The U.S. Catholic bishops investigate the Girl Scouts of America for connections to liberal causes, including LGBT equality. 1.63%  

Minnesota’s Archbishop John Nienstedt instructs his priests not to speak publicly in support of marriage equality. 1.63%

A Catholic high school in Indianapolis refuses to call a female-to-male transgender student by his male name. 0.98%

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Injustices Central at Loretto Community 200th Jubilee Celebration in DC

September 19, 2012

Loretto Sisters, Co-members and Friends at the USCCB

LGBT issues were front and center when 40 people gathered in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the Loretto Community’s 200th Jubilee.

Planned on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the DC gathering included visits to seven sights of injustice where the group prayed and sang a litany of saints and heroes. Sites visited were the US Supreme Court, the US Capitol, the DC Jail, the Vietnam War Memorial, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the Vatican Embassy, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) headquarters.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a Sister of Loretto and co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and Matthew Myers, a co-member of Loretto who currently chairs New Ways Ministry’s Board of Directors, joined Sr. Maureen Fiedler of the Sisters of Loretto and Eileen Harrington, a co-member, in leading the afternoon’s celebrations.

Amongst the injustices called to mind were those committed against the LGBT community. These included the exclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons from equal protections under the law at the Supreme Court and the campaign against marriage equality launched by Catholic bishops that makes LGBT persons objects of discrimination.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry and Sr. Maureen Fiedler

In the Loretto tradition of  ‘working for justice and acting for peace,’ the saints and heroes who struggle for equality and conscience were called to mind as well.

In the political and legal realm, those gathered sang the names of John Lawrence, plaintiff in the case that decriminalized same-gender consensual sex, as well as President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, who have refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act.

In the ecclesiastical realm, theologians Hans Kung, Charles Curran, and Margaret Farley were sung at the Vatican Embassy for their progressive views on human sexuality and the Vatican censures that followed. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton was intoned at the USCCB for his outspoken voice for LGBT rights within the Catholic Church.

Fittingly, Sr. Jeannine was included in the litany, along with several other women religious. The program described Sr. Jeannine in the following way:

“Loretto Sister who advocates for LGBT persons in the face of continual Vatican opposition.”

In 1992, after the Vatican had directed U.S. bishops to pull back from their support of civil rights’ legislation for lesbian and gay people, the Loretto General Assembly issued a statement in support of lesbian and gay civil rights which included the following:

“. . . as U.S. citizens, we believe that our constitutional tradition–properly understood and interpreted–ought to guarantee basic civil rights and equal protection of our laws to all citizens regardless of sexual orientation. It saddens us that the Vatican would enter the U.S. political arena by encouraging a departure from the finest ideals of our political tradition, ideals which promote equality and basic civil rights for everyone.
“Consequently, we call upon our political leaders to guarantee the civil rights of lesbian and gay persons in the law of our land. We call upon the U.S. Catholic Bishops to support such legislation as an authentic expression of the gospel call to respect the intrinsic human rights and dignity of all persons.”

New Ways Ministry applauds Loretto for 200 years of powerful witness to working for justice and acting for peace because of the Gospel’s urgent call.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


College Theology Society Board Supports Sister Margaret Farley

July 3, 2012

Sister Margaret Farley, RSM

The board of the College Theology Society (CTS) has issued a statement in support of Sister Margaret Farley in the face of the Vatican’s recent censure of her bookJust Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.  The CTS statement also calls on bishops for further dialogue with theologians on the issues of that Farley case raises about theological research and discussion.

In June, Sister Farley was cited in a Notification from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for holding positions on various sexual matters, including same-sex relationships, which differ from the magisterium.

The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) reports that the  statement of  the board of CTS, the second-largest association of Catholic theologians in the U.S., notes that while Farley’s ideas are

” ‘different from those currently taught by the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church,’ theologians ‘communicate their findings not only to members within the Church but also to many others seeking to live justly in the pluralistic societies in which they live’ .”

” ‘In committing themselves to the theological task of faith seeking understanding, theologians frequently pose difficult questions in light of the lived experiences of the people of God,’ the statement continues.

“The statement also notes that ‘among the most challenging aspects of exploring such questions’ are ‘the deep divisions which plague not only our society but also our Church.’ “

” ‘To heal the divisions in our polarized Church, we urgently encourage Catholic bishops and theologians to improve the ways in which they communicate with each other, and to collaborate in developing better structures and more transparent procedures to discuss theological differences in a more just and respectful manner,’ the statement concludes.

” ‘We, the Board Members of the CTS, have identified this important task as a priority in the coming year and look forward to discerning constructive ways forward.’ “

You can read the full statement, along with the names of the 12 signatories on the CTS website.

The NCR story notes that the CTS statement is the second one from an association of U.S. Catholic theologians in support of Sister Farley:

“On June 7, the board of the other membership society for theologians, the 1,500-member Catholic Theological Society of America, released a statement supporting Farley, saying the board was ‘especially concerned’ that the Vatican’s criticism of the theologian presents a limiting understanding of the role of Catholic theology.

“The statement was later endorsed by the society’s entire membership at its annual meeting June 8 in St. Louis.

“The statement said the Vatican’s move regarding Farley’s book ‘risks giving the impression that there can be no constructive role in the life of the Church for works of theology’ that attempt to:

  1. ‘give voice to the experience and concerns of ordinary believers';
  2. ‘raise questions about the persuasiveness of certain official Catholic positions'; or
  3. ‘offer alternative theological frameworks as potentially helpful contributions to the authentic development of doctrine.’

” ‘Such an understanding of the nature of theology inappropriately conflates the distinctive tasks of catechesis and theology,’ that statement continues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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