New Australian Archbishop Needs to Replace “Logic” With a Dose of Reality

September 24, 2014

The headline in Australia’s Star-Gazette newspaper was intriguing:  “No place for bigotry against gays in Catholic Church, says Sydney’s new archbishop.”  I was ready for some really good news, but my hope was dashed somewhat when I read the story.  I didn’t need to read very far.  The first sentence hurt enough:

“Sydney’s next top Catholic has told the Star Observer he will not stand for homophobia in the church, but he stopped short of distancing himself from comments made two years ago when he said same sex marriage would lead to polygamy.”

Archbishop-elect Anthony Fisher

It might seem that Archbishop-elect Anthony Fisher is a lot better than his predecessor, Cardinal George Pell, who in 2011, according to the newspaper, “compared homosexuality to the ‘flaw’ in a carpet maker’s otherwise perfect carpet.”  It is not so much Farmatta’s opposition to marriage equality which is so surprising or outrageous, but the way that he argues the case is disrespectful to gay and lesbian couples.

In a 2012 essay on same-sex marriage, Fisher raised the specter that marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples will bring about polygamy:

“Now the social engineers have their sights set on removing the ‘man and woman’ part of marriage as well. All that will be left is marriage as an emotional union: it’s enough, as they say, that people love each other. But if marriage is just about feelings and promises, it obviously can’t be limited to a man and a woman: two men or two women might love each other. But on the same logic so might more than two.”

But he didn’t stop there, and he also predicted other travesties:

“If polygamy is irresistible on the ‘all that matters is that they love each other’ line, so is marriage between siblings or between a parents and their (adult) child. Once again this is not just ‘slippery slope’ pessimism: it simply reflects the fact that the advocates of SSM [same-sex marriage] give no account of marriage that would exclude such intimate partnerships from being deemed marriages. Only marriage understood as the kind of comprehensive union I have outlined can resist such ‘morphing.’ “

The simplest answer to this illogical thinking is:  “No one is asking for polygamous or incestuous relationships to be recognized.”   The marriage equality movement arose because there is a natural equality between the love that a gay or lesbian couple share and the love of a heterosexual couple.  The social goods from such love are also the same in both types of couples.  No one is saying the same thing about polygamous or incestuous relationships.  To make the comparison is not a logical argument, but fear-mongering.

But where the archbishop-elect’s line of thinking is most disrespectful by the fact that he sees the advent of marriage equality as a result of the sexual revolution, and not as a question of justice and liberation, as more and more Catholics have begun to see it. Embedded in this line of thinking is that all that matters to gay and lesbian people is to have their sexual relationship recognized.  That is simply not the case.  What they want recognized and protected is their love and commitment to one another, so that their partnership, which might include a family, can develop strongly, can protect their emotional and personal needs, and can contribute to the common good.

The Star-Gazette news article quoted Fisher’s statement on abhorring discrimination:

“Fisher added that he would not tolerate discrimination: ‘The Catholic Church teaches that God is love and that all He has created is good, God loves everyone and there is no place for hatred and bigotry in His Church towards people with same sex attraction.’ ”

Yet, in this very statement he shows, again, disrespect by using the term “same sex attraction” and not “gay and lesbian” which is how the overwhelming majority of such people identify.   If he wants to show that he is concerned about this community, the first thing he should do is to respect their self-identification.  Even Pope Francis uses the word “gay.”

Fisher, like many other members of the hierarchy, needs to learn that if he really wants to welcome LGBT people to the church, he needs to become more knowledgeable about their lives, the nature of their relationships, and about the real forms of injustice and inequality that they experience.  Too often such bishops think that they are being “compassionate,” when in fact, they are being unjust.

Fisher needs to replace his “logic” with a dose of reality.  His first line of business as archbishop should be to open a dialogue with LGBT Catholics to learn about their faith journeys and their gifts.  I don’t think that someone like him is unreformable, but I think he needs to see how his “logical” arguments are, in fact, pastorally and personally harmful.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 


Australian Bishop Calls for Vatican III Council on Sexuality

June 1, 2013
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia, has published a new book in which he calls for the Catholic church to institute a Third Vatican Council to discuss how to prevent sexual abuse in the church, which he proposes would also include re-examining a number of other sexual and gender-oriented topics, as well.  And he is starting a global movement to get Catholics to call for such an event.

Readers of Bondings 2.0 may remember that Bishop Robinson made headlines back in March of 2012 when he spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in Baltimore and called for a total re-thinking of Catholic sexual morality.  He had previously been prominent because of his role as the Australian bishops’ representative to handle that country’s clerical sexual abuse crisis.  That experience helped him see the church and sexuality in a different light, and he wrote a book of his new insights, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church.

Australia’s The Age newspaper reports on his new initiative to seek a Vatican III Council. which Robinson calls “a Catholic spring”:

“Retired Sydney bishop Geoffrey Robinson has launched a petition for ordinary Catholics to seek another global church council like the 1960s reforming Vatican II council. But at ”Vatican III,’ he says, there must be as many lay people as bishops to make sure the hard questions get asked.

“He believes that only a ”Catholic spring’ like the revolutions that ended the Marcos regime in the Philippines, totalitarian governments in the Arab world and communism in eastern Europe will move the Vatican to make the changes that are needed.”

For Christ's SakeRobinson lays out his call for a new council in his new book, For Christ’s Sake: End Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church … for Good, which will be published in Australia on Tuesday, June 4th.  The Age describes the publication:

“The book is about the powerful cultural factors that block the church from attacking the causes of abuse, rather than merely responding afterwards. Bishop Robinson believes the church is still trying to ‘manage’ the problem rather than confront it.

” ‘Ultimately the only way to deal with abuse is prevent it. Once it’s happened, anything you do is second-rate – you can’t cure it or restore people to the way they were before,’ Bishop Robinson said.

“The biggest obstacles he identifies are papal infallibility, obligatory celibacy, the professional priestly caste, the absence of the feminine throughout the church, and an immature morality based on authority rather than people taking responsibility.”

Bishop Robinson’s efforts toward a Vatican III are supported by two other Australian prelates: Bishops Pat Power of Canberra and Bill Morris of Toowoomba. A change.org petition has already been launched in Australia for lay people to endorse the need for a Council. With no publicity it has received 10,000 signatures in about two weeks.  U.S. and European versions of the petition will be launched this summer, and Bondings 2.0 will let you know about these developments as soon as they are announced.

You can learn more about Bishop Robinson and his ministry byvisiting his website.

New Ways Ministry supports Bishop Robinson’s call for a new Council with lay participation.  The only way that our church can heal is if all the voices on the many diverse forms of sexuality are heard and considered.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

March 28, 2012: NCR Editorial and Columnist Support Bishop Robinson’s Symposium Call to Re-think Sexuality

March 22: Symposium Provides “Shot in the Arm” for Participants

March 17, 2012: Bishop, Governor, and Theologian Highlight Symposium’s Second Day

 

 

 


Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in Sydney’s Catholic Schools

January 26, 2013

When the topic of religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws comes up, some people will argue for such measures,citing religious liberty of church institutions.  However,  what often goes unnoticed in such a discussion is the effect on human beings who are affected by such exemptions.

sssshThe Sydney Morning Herald in Australia recently published a story in which the reporter interviewed lesbian and gay people who work in Catholic schools, and who, because their employers are allowed to discriminate, must live lives of secrecy and fear.

The stories are heartbreaking:

“When they first moved in together, Mike and his partner, who were both Catholic school teachers in Sydney, took some unusual steps to conceal their sexuality.

” ‘We set up our house with two bedrooms so if any colleagues came over we could pretend we were just flatmates,” he said.

“Mike now works in an independent school, where he is open with staff, though not students, about his sexuality. His partner, who still works in the Catholic system, is more guarded.

” ‘He’s not able to take a day off work if I am sick. He has to be very guarded as to who he reveals his lifestyle to.’ ” . . . .

“Daniel Torcasio openly discussed his male partner with colleagues while working as a teacher at a Melbourne Catholic boys school, but hid the truth from students: ” ‘They want to know about your life and what you’ve done on the weekend … there was one stage where I referred to my male partner as she or her … I remember thinking “I’m an adult here and I’m lying”.” He too chose to leave eventually.”

What is worse, though, is an almost cavalier approach to the problem that Catholic officials seem to take.  Instead of acknowledging the complexity of the situation, one such official has tried to make it a case of black and white clarity:

“Greg Whitby, executive director of schools with the Parramatta Diocese, said expectations of Catholic schools were clearly communicated to applicants and that teaching contracts featured clauses stipulating employees ‘adhere and observe the principles and moral standings and teachings of the Catholic Church.’ ”

Such an attitude of clear-cut simplicity does not to service the variety of elements involved in such a situation:  the faith of the employee, the desire to be of service, the emotional and spiritual needs of the individual, the opportunity for betterment that a school could have, to name a few.

Our church needs more leaders who are more pastoral in their approach, evaluating all of the factors involved in the situation.  We certainly don’t need leaders who are bureaucrats.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


ALL ARE WELCOME: When Homophobes Attack

June 7, 2012

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature  which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.  At the end of this posting, you can find the links to previous posts in this series.

An Australian Catholic priest used the occasion of an anti-gay rant to educate parishioners and others about the gifts that LGBT people bring to the Catholic church.

According to Fr. Peter Maher’s blog, he preached recently in his parish, St. Joseph’s, Newtown, near Sydney, about a YouTube video which chastised the parish for its LGBT ministry. The video, shot outside the church by Michael Voris, is a tendentious diatribe that purports to be “news.”  Fr. Maher, however, used this opportunity to spread a message of love and inclusion:

“Far from judging and vilifying lesbians and gays, as we heard from Michael Voris in his video about the Newtown parish Friday night Mass, I suggested that hearing the stories of lesbian and gay Catholics and how that had influenced my reading in order to better pastorally care for all Catholics might offer a new way of seeing lesbian and gay Catholics as gift rather than ‘the other’ for whom we might feel sorry.”

Fr. Peter Maher

Fr. Maher explains what his experience in ministry has taught him about LGBT Catholics:

“What I learned from hearing these stories was that lesbian and gay Catholics are like all people trying to live their faith – they are searching for meaning and joy and authenticity in and through the Catholic community and the spiritual wisdom of the bible and church tradition. Catholics expect to find guidance and encouragement, as well as challenge, but  lesbian and gay Catholics find all too often that they are asked to deny their sexuality or, at best, to be invisible.”

More importantly, he notes that the wider church stands to benefit from what can be learned form the LGBT faith experience:

“Theologians and spiritual writers are beginning to write from the perspective of the world in which we live and the life stories of lesbian and gay Catholics. If sexuality is a gift from God and if psychology and science are correct in finding that homosexuality is God-given, that is not chosen, then homosexuality must also be a gift from God.  What might this gift be?  Those doing theology with the insight of the stories of lesbian and gay Catholics and modern science suggest such areas as intimacy, friendship, faithful love and personal growth might be a gift to the church and indeed the world.”

In particular, heterosexual Catholics have the opportunity to learn about sexual morality from their LGBT brothers and sisters:

“Where traditional sexual ethics has dominated church teaching about heterosexual relationships and marriage; homosexuals have had to find the meaning for themselves of their God-given attraction and have made some astoundingly good gospel-based spiritual discoveries.  While heterosexual relationships are struggling in the current climate of distrust of church teaching; homosexual relationships, lived according to gospel principles of love, seem to be finding a beautiful expression.”

The lessons to be learned from this episode are at least two-fold:

1) An attack on ministry to and with LGBT people can easily be turned into an opportunity to educate and promote the acceptance and inclusion of LGBT people in the Catholic Church.  As the old saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

2) LGBT ministry is more than just “helping” LGBT people, but recognizing that the wider church, in fact, has the opportunity to be helped by its LGBT members.  The unique spiritual and personal journey that LGBT people live has gifts and blessings that can be of benefit to all in the church.  If the church doesn’t welcome these people and gifts, it is denying many great avenues of grace for the rest of its members, too.

Thank you, Fr. Maher, for teaching us not only about LGBT gifts, but also about how to respond gracefully and forthrightly when ministry is attacked.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Previous posts in the ALL ARE WELCOME series:

Say the Words , December 14, 2011

All in the Family , January 2, 2012

At Notre Dame, Does Buying In Equal Selling Out? , January 25, 2012

A Priest With An Extravagant Sense of Welcome,  February 13, 2012

Going Beyond the Boundaries, April 11, 2012

St. Nicholas Parish Celebrates 10 Years of LGBT Ministry, May 24, 2012

 


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