Pope Benedict’s Resignation Inspires Hope for an LGBT-Positive Catholicism

February 28, 2013

As Pope Benedict XVI resigns today, intensified analysis of his tenure at the Vatican continues while speculation over the next pope heats up. Undeniably, the outgoing pope’s record on LGBT issues is extremely negative. Looking to the Church’s recent history to help formulate the future is an essential task as we transition, and many Catholic commentators approach Benedict’s tenure within the larger context of a Church still uneasy with sexual orientation and gender identity.

Writing in National Catholic Reporter, Thomas Fox details the intricate relationship the institutional Church has had with LGBT matters, placing Pope Benedict XVI as a central figure in creating a hostile environment:

“For at least the last five decades, Catholic pronouncements on gay Catholic issues have been at least ambivalent and even sometimes contradictory. They have included exhortations on pastoral care and inclusivity and at the same time admonitions against gay lifestyles and warnings to gay Catholic organizations…

“Much of the current theological and social environment in which the church ministers — or does not minister — to gay Catholics was formed during the papacy of Pope John Paul II when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued statements on homosexuality.

“Repeatedly, Ratzinger placed doctrinal enforcement over pastoral considerations. In the process, he built the reputation of being ‘God’s Rottweiler.’”

Fox elucidates on the main documents and moments since Vatican II that have created a pendulum-like engagement by the bishops, heavily emphasizing that Cardinal Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led the charge against pro-gay Catholic organizations and figures. Now, as a new papacy is to begin, some of Pope Benedict’s victims speak optimistically of moving forward:

“New Ways Ministry’s executive director, Francis DeBernardo, said he is cautiously hopeful looking into the future. He said he hopes the next pope will be listener.

“[New Ways Ministry co-founder Sr. Jeannine] Gramick said she wants the papal war on gay people to end.

“‘The church,’ she said, ‘requires a future pope with a pastoral heart who is willing to listen and engage in dialogue.’”

At least in this sede vacante ["empty seat"] period, hopes for a positive papacy arriving in March persist. Theologian Hans Kung, speaking to the German magazine Der Spiegel, expressed the following desires for a new pope that would move Catholicism forward:

“A pope who is not intellectually stuck in the Middle Ages, one who does not represent mediaeval theology, liturgy and religious order. I would like to see a pope who is open first to suggestions for reform and secondly, to the modern age. We need a pope who not only preaches freedom of the Church around the world but also supports, with his words and deeds, freedom and human rights within the Church — of theologians, women and all Catholics who want to speak the truth about the state of the Church and are calling for change.”

In an interview, Terry Weldon of Queering the Church expresses a much longer-term desire:

“One day we will have a gay pope, as we’ve had before and that would be terrific…It’s probably too early now, but I would certainly expect that there will be a time when there will be a pope who is openly gay and willing to admit it. That would be a sign of health in the Church.”

Whether a openly gay pope emerges from the Conclave or not, LGBT advocates must now enter into a prayerful period that an accepting and welcoming Spirit will come upon whichever cardinal assumes the papacy.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


British Catholic Leaders Support Marriage Equality Legislation

August 13, 2012

The Times of London, England, has published a letter to the editor today from 27 prominent British Catholics expressing support for the United Kingdom’s proposed legislation to legalize same-gender marriage.  (It is not possible to link to the text on the Times’ website because a subscription is required to access letters to the editor.)

The 27 signatories include James Alison (theologian & priest), Tina Beattie (theologian), Mary Grey (theologian), Bernard Lynch (priest), Martin Pendergast (Chair, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality).

The text of the letter reads:

“Sir,  Not all Catholics share their hierarchy’s stated views against proposals to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples. Nevertheless, the submission by the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales  to the Government’s equal civil marriage consultation indicates a growing understanding about legislating for same-sex unions, compared with its 2003 position, when it firmly opposed civil partnerships.

“It seems  to us, as Catholic laity, theologians and clergy, important to uphold some key pastoral care principles used by the Catholic Church in England & Wales. Its 1979 guidelines stated that the Church has a serious responsibility to work towards the elimination of any injustices perpetrated on homosexuals by society.

“In 1997 Cardinal Hume wrote that love between two persons, whether of the same sex, or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected. This respect demands that such loving relationships be afforded social recognition according to social justice principles. He proposed three criteria for considering issues of social policy: are there reasonable grounds for judging that the institution of marriage and the family could, and would be undermined by a change in law? Would society’s rejection of a proposed change be more harmful to the common good than the acceptance of such a change? Does a person’s sexual orientation or activity constitute, in specific circumstances, a sufficient reason for treating that person in any way differently from other citizens? We suggest that it is perfectly proper for Catholics, using fully informed consciences, to support the legal extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples.”

The full list of signers:

James Alison, Theologian & priest
Ruby Almeida, Chair of Quest (LGBT Catholics)
Tina Beattie, Theologian  
Mike Castelli, Educationalist
Mark Dowd, Journalist
Michael Egan, Chair, Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement
Maria ExallChair, Trade Unions Congress LGBT Committee
John Falcone, Theologian
Eileen Fitzpatrick, Educationalist
Kieran Fitszimons, Priest
Mary Grey, Theologian
Kevin Kelly, Theologian & priest
Ted Le Riche, Retired educationalist
Bernard Lynch, Priest
Gerard Loughlin, Theologian
Francis McDonagh, Lay-person
Patrick McLoughlin, Priest
Anthony Maggs, Priest
Lorraine Milford, Lay-person
Frank Nally, Priest                                                                                                                                                                                                       Martin Pendergast, Chair, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality                                                                                         Sophie Stanes, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                                       Joe Stanley, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                                   Valerie Stroud, Chair, Catholics for a Changing Church                                                                                                                                Terry Weldon, Editor, Queering the Church                                                                                                                                            Matias Wibowo, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                           Deborah Woodman, Clinical Psychologist

Congratulations and many thanks for this thoughtful piece.  Let’s hope and pray that Catholic leaders in other countries, particularly the United States, will speak out as clearly and forthrightly.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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