Does the New Papal Encyclical Comment on LGBT Issues?

July 8, 2013

Lumen FideiLast week Pope Francis issued his first encyclical.  Whether it had anything to do with LGBT issues seems to be a matter of interpretation.

Pope Francis’ encyclical, entitled Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith), is really a joint encyclical with Pope Benedict XVI who had begun to write it, but did not finish it before he resigned the papacy earlier this year.  Before we look at how the encyclical may or may not touch on LGBT issues, it’s important to take note of this encyclical’s unique authorship.  British theologian Tina Beattie, a strong supporter of LGBT equality, commented in a Tablet blog post on the unique authorship of this document:

“It asks to be read, not as the first encyclical of a pastoral Pope who represents the advent of global Catholicism, but as the last intellectual flourish of a European papacy insulated from the complex realities of modernity by its baroque institutions. Beautifully crafted and erudite, it is an eloquent and fitting elegy to that great tradition. It is also highly idealistic about the Church and deeply pessimistic about post-Enlightenment western society which is the focus of its concerns – its author being apparently oblivious or indifferent to the world beyond that context which has already taken the Vatican by storm. . . .One searches almost in vain for the hand of the Argentinian pastor whose signature it bears. . . .

“We still await the first encyclical by a pope who represents the dynamism and plurality of a global Church, who writes not with rings on his fingers but with dirt under his fingernails, whose theology emerges not from the books he has read but from the people he has encountered in the streets and alleys where the poor are to be found.”

Retired Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis

Retired Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis

So whatever one might have to say about the encyclical, one needs to be cautious in attributing too much of it to Francis’ mindset, which seems, at least to Beattie, to be absent from the text.

One paragraph in the encyclical (section 52) did capture the attention of the some of the press.  Here it is:

“In Abraham’s journey towards the future city, the Letter to the Hebrews mentions the blessing which was passed on from fathers to sons (cf. Heb 11:20-21). The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan. Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many features of faith. Promising love for ever is possible when we perceive a plan bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which sustains us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one we love. Faith also helps us to grasp in all its depth and richness the begetting of children, as a sign of the love of the Creator who entrusts us with the mystery of a new person. So it was that Sarah, by faith, became a mother, for she trusted in God’s fidelity to his promise (cf. Heb 11:11).”

The Advocate, a leading U.S. LGBT publication, interpreted the passage in this way:

“Pope Francis and his predecessor, Benedict XVI, have issued an unusual collaborative document in which they restate the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

“The 82-page encyclical, issued today, says marriage should be a ‘stable union of man and woman.’ It continues, ‘This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgement and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation.’ “

The Australian press outlet, News.com.au, offered the headline:  ”Popes have no faith in gay marriage,” yet the story does not mention gay marriage at all.  Perhaps because there was no mention of gay marriage in the encyclical?

The New Civil Rights Movement also headlined their story on the encyclical sensationally:  “First Encyclical By Pope Francis Continues Benedict’s Holy War On Same-Sex Marriage.”   Yet, this source, too, offers no citation of a reference to same-sex marriage in the encyclical.

London’s The Daily Mail focused on the marriage paragraph, featuring the headline: “Pope uses papal encyclical to affirm the importance of the ‘stable union of a man and a woman’ as gay marriage debate rages round world.”  The article begins:

“Pope Francis issued his first encyclical today to reaffirm the importance of sex between a man and a woman in a clear sign that the Catholic Church’s tough stance on gay marriage remains unbowed.

“The Catholic Church has come under increasing pressure in recent months to relax its hardline view against same-sex marriage as the gay rights movement gathers pace across the world.

“But today’s teaching, a meditation on faith that was produced from a draft begun by his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, was his first clear statement as pope that marriage should be a union between husband and wife with the aim of creating children.”

This final paragraph is not accurate. In the encyclical, Francis did not state that marriage should be a union between husband and wife. Defenders of marriage equality need to acknowledge that the union between husband and wife is one form of marriage. This acknowledgment does not preclude other forms of marriage. We should not rush to imprecise conclusions, but give time and space for an expansion of views.

The problem with this type of analysis is that it makes it seem as though the pope went out of his way to condemn marriage equality and that he did so harshly.  Given the heightened rhetoric against LGBT issues during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, I think Francis’ remarks on heterosexual marriage in this document are rather tame.

The singling out of the marriage paragraph–only one from an 82-page document–makes it seem that the purpose of the encyclical was to comment on marriage equality efforts.  Actually, the encyclical is about the role of faith in the modern world.

Blogger Michael O’Loughlin thinks the news emphasis on the encyclical’s comment on marriage was unbalanced.  Of the encyclical paragraph cited above, he writes:

“The passage certainly extols marriage and procreation, but those who support same-sex marriage (and who still care about papal encyclicals, an admittedly niche group) should ask a few questions before getting red in the face. Does talking about marriage between a man and a woman necessarily signify hostility to marriage equality? Do proponents of same-sex marriage accept the premise that marriage as an institution is in need of support? If so, are marriage equality supporters willing to work with those who might be hostile toward marriage equality (and vice versa, of course)? What’s unique about heterosexual marriage and procreation that marriage equality supporters might feel comfortable promoting?

“With Pope Francis, it’s not yet clear how he’ll approach the subject of marriage. So far, he hasn’t said much. This in itself is a huge improvement from his predecessor. If those of us who support same-sex marriage want to find conflict, I suppose the passage above could be interpreted in such a way. But given that two of the four hands who wrote the document were attached to a pope whose hostility toward gay people was quite evident during his reign, I’ll hold off a bit and wait for Francis’s own words. I suspect we’ll continue to be pleasantly surprised in his pastoral approach to his papacy, including, hopefully, on issues important to LGBT people and their allies.”

While it is true that eliminating the paragraph on marriage would have been more LGBT-friendly,  I don’t think that its inclusion is a strong indicator that Francis will be a hardliner on marriage issues.  There is no “smoking gun” here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Advocates React to Election of Pope Francis

March 16, 2013
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

Seemingly everyone has posted their thoughts about Pope Francis since his election last Wednesday evening, discussing everything from his country of origin, how the conclave played out, and where he may lead the Church. Prominently featured in these discussions is the new pope’s previous views on Catholic LGBT issues, sparking reactions from relevant organizations and commentators. Bondings 2.0 provides a sampling below.

Outspoken LGBT advocate and New Ways Ministry friend, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton told the Detroit Free Press that Pope Francis seems promising:

“‘It sounds like to me he’ll be open to the dialogue. He seems to have rapport with the people in his diocese…It seems to be the right direction.’

“Gumbleton said Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio brings to mind the papacy of John XXIII, which ushered in the Second Vatican Council, modernizing Catholic services and promoting the use of more laypeople in parish life…

“’St. Francis tried to live the radical gospel view of Jesus — simplicity, poverty — and he didn’t want a hierarchy. All of those signs look very promising,’ he said.”

Professor Tina Beattie

Joshua McElwee at National Catholic Reporter provides insights from leading Catholic theologians across the world on the election, with many perceiving a willingness to listen to and respect the laity’s role in the Church. From Tina Beattie, a professor at the University of Roehampton:

“For me this morning, if this man remains as attentive as he has been to the voice of the poor, if he makes it a listening as well as a teaching Church, a Church of the people rather than of the Curia, then I for one will keep quietly cheering and thanking God.”

Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator

From Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, a Jesuit provincial in East Africa and theologian, believes that this new papacy will be marked by a refocusing on the People of God and not just the pope as those responsible for the well-being and growth of the Church:

“I want to believe that considering the humble and down-to-earth background of Pope Francis I the church is in capable hands — not just the pope’s alone, but the hands of the entire people of God across the globe.

“Francis’s first gesture of asking the people to pray to God for him may signal the beginning of a more authentic and humble recognition of the priesthood of the people of God and the responsibility we all bear for the church of God in the world.”

Many organizations released statements as well in the wake of Pope Francis’ election, which were compiled by Windy City Times. DignityUSA released a statement by Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke expressing cautious encouragement given the cardinals’ choice:

Marianne Duddy-Burke

“‘We recognize that sometimes this new job on which he embarks can change the man called to it…We invite him to take the time to learn about our lives [of LGBT individuals, their loved ones, and families], our faith, and our families before he makes any papal pronouncements about us, and we stand ready to enter into dialogue with him at any time.’”

The Human Rights Campaign called for the new pope to join the existing reality of American Catholics’ efforts for LGBT equality:

“’We hope the new Pope understands the time for religious-based bigotry is not only over, but must be denounced. Demonizing LGBT people and their families from this powerful platform not only fails to keep faith…but it does real psychological damage to millions of LGBT people around the world.’”

Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, was quoted in The Baltimore Sun:

Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo

“[Francis DeBernardo] said in a statement that he hopes the change in the church’s leadership will bring about a change in approach. Many have left the church over its harsh rhetoric toward gays and lesbians…

“‘Pope Francis has the opportunity to repair much of this hurt and alienation by offering sincere pastoral outreach to LGBT people and their families,’ DeBernardo, who was traveling in El Salvador, said in a prepared statement. ‘A welcoming gesture from the new pope in the first month of his papacy can go a long way to express God’s love for all humanity.’”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholics Have Played Significant Role in Britain’s Marriage Equality Successes

February 17, 2013

While it is well-known that England and Wales are drawing closer to legalizing marriage equality, what is less well-known is the role that Catholics have been playing in bringing about this reality.

When Parliament’s House of Commons last week overwhelmingly voted to approve marriage equality, another strong statistic that emerged was that the majority of Catholic Members of Parliament (MP) also voted for the measure.  London’s Tablet magazine reports:

“Out of the 82 Catholic MPs, 47 – almost 60 per cent – were in favour of same-sex marriage. Of these, 32 are Labour, 12 Conservative, two Liberal Democrat and one SDLP. . . .

“Twenty-eight Catholic MPs voted against the bill including Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat former children’s minister. She said: ‘It was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever taken.’ “

St. Thomas More

St. Thomas More

One of those 82 Catholic MPs is Damian Collins, a Conservative who voted for marriage equality, and, interestingly, used St. Thomas More as his model for doing so.  In an essay in The Guardian, he stated:

“Saint Thomas More, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor and a former speaker of the House of Commons is famous for the moral stand he took against his King, even though it cost him his life. . . . Thomas More is particularly remembered because he could not in conscience swear an oath recognising the Succession to the Crown Act 1533 which had the effect of annulling one of Henry VIII’s marriages and therefore changing the royal succession. He could not swear the oath because, although he would abide by the Act’s content, he could not in conscience say that he agreed with it. Parliament, he said, had the right to decide matters of marriage, and had the right to require all subjects, including Catholics, to abide by its laws, but it could not have the right to require Catholics in conscience to agree with them. As a result he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and then executed.

Damian Collins

Damian Collins

“Last month press reports of a letter signed by a large number of Catholic clergy who opposed the Same Sex Marriage Bill asserted that if it passed that this could be seen as a return to the persecution that Catholics experienced during the English Reformation, because they would be required to acknowledge equal rights to marriage, against the teaching of the Church. I’m not sure that Thomas More would agree with this, and nor for that matter do I.

“The Same Sex Marriage Bill is not seeking to tell the different churches and religions what they should believe, or to restrict them practicing their beliefs as the do now. Churches will not be required to conduct same sex marriage ceremonies if they do not want to. The Catholic Church will remain free to teach that marriage is a sacrament of the Church, it is between a man and a woman, that its purpose is for the procreation of children, and that it is for life. . . .

“The Bill is an attempt to strengthen equality in our society, without compromising religious freedom. I believe that Thomas More would have understood this distinction, and regardless of how he would have voted (I would not seek to presume on a matter of conscience like this) I think he would have agreed that this was something that Parliament had the right to do.”

Conor Burns

Conor Burns

Another Catholic MP is Conor Burns, a Tory who is also an openly gay man. PinkNews.co.uk notes that while Burns originally did not feel that the marriage bill should be considered, he has come to support it:

“He said he did not think there was a clamour for the gay marriage proposal but added: ‘That said, it’s being presented as bringing greater equality and as a gay man I don’t see how I can vote against something that’s presented as bringing greater equality.’ ”

Burns also added that he opponents of the bill strongly lobbied him to vote against it, and that he was shocked at the manner of presentation:

“ ‘The lobbying that has been undertaken by those against this bill has been some of the most unpleasant spiteful, hateful things that I’ve ever known,’ he said.

“ ‘Some of my constituents have written in opposing it. I don’t know what sort of relationship they have with their God but he’s not the God of compassion that I recognise. They’ve been hateful.’ “

Archbishop Peter Smith

Archbishop Peter Smith

Not surprisingly, Catholic leadership in Britain have opposed the marriage equality bill. One British bishop, however, has already admitted defeat in the matter.  PinkNews.co.uk repots:

“The Archbishop of Southwark has said he has accepted defeat and same-sex marriage will become law in England and Wales.

“Peter Smith, who is also vice-president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said he has reluctantly accepted the government proposals.”

Catholic British theologian Tina Beattie argued for marriage equality in the pages of The Guardian, handily debunking one of the greatest myths used against such proposals:

Tina Beattie

Tina Beattie

“I have never been able to understand the argument that same-sex marriage threatens marriage as we know it. Marriage is far more threatened by a consumerist culture in which the demand for instant gratification is worth the sacrifice of any relationship or responsibility which involves commitment and struggle, and by an ethos of sexual libertarianism which so easily mutates into predatory and exploitative relationships involving young and vulnerable people, and which fosters unrealistically high expectations of sexual performance among adults who ought to know better.

“In this context, society stands to benefit from any move towards a deeper understanding of the value of ‘lifelong fidelity and commitment’ between two people, whether of the same sex or of different sexes, as a basic building block for community and family life.”

–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


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: University of San Diego Controversy Growing as PRIDE Celebrates 21 Years

November 11, 2012

University of San Diego

Earlier this month, Bondings 2.0 reported on the University of San Diego’s (USD) decision to withdraw a fellowship invitation to British theologian Tina Beattie, largely speculated to be based on her support for marriage equality. In response, the community at USD is rising to Beattie’s defense and conversations over conscience, marriage equality, and academic freedom are occurring in the USD and wider academic community.

The American Association of University Professors stated  in a letter last week  that USD President Mary Lyons’ decision to disinvite Beattie was troubling. On campus, 170 faculty gathered outside of the main administrative building in protest on the same day the academic assembly voted overwhelmingly in support of Beattie. The assembly formally asked Lyons to reconsider her decision or face a vote of no confidence this week, characterizing it with a sense of importance and urgency. In an interview with National Catholic Reporter, Carlton Floyd, chair of the academic assembly executive committee and associate professor of English , was quoted:

“Floyd also portrayed Lyons’ decision as opposed to allowing a diversity of viewpoints on campus.
‘Diversity is the hallmark of education,’ he said. ‘If you can’t have opposing viewpoints, what exactly are you looking at if you can’t engage in dialog about those matters? What exactly does a university do?’”

Mary Lyon
President, University of San Diego

On Thursday evening students and faculty engaged these very issues in a forum titled, “Authority and Academic Freedom in Catholic Universities,” reported on by USD’s student radio organization. Included in the concerns of many was the connection of the Beattie decision to Vatican-backed conservative organizations linked to powerful financial donors:

“The concerns extended, too, to potential alumni and donor pressure that the panelists thought may have been at the root of this decision. Conservative donors have threatened to rescind funding from the university in the past based on similar events.

“Dr. Watson noted that alumni and donor uproar, especially those represented by the unofficial group Alumni for a Catholic USD, has often been linked to events or speakers in support of same-sex marriage and other issues of homosexuality, although Dr. Beattie was not scheduled to discuss homosexuality in her talks. ‘I fear that religion is being used as a shield for bigotry,’ Dr. Watson said.”

The National Catholic Reporter notes that although Lyons denies such connection, there is evidence that some conservative alumni did try to get Beattie disinvited:

“While Lyons and a university spokeswoman denied that pressure from outside groups had influence on the decision to cancel Beattie’s invitation, McKenna and another San Diego man known for his conservative Catholic viewpoints said in interviews with NCR that they had widely expressed displeasure with Beattie’s appointment.

“Among those they said they contacted were current and former members of the university’s board of trustees, San Diego coadjutor Bishop Cirilo Flores, the editor of the diocesan newspaper, and the Cardinal Newman Society.

“In her statement Monday, Lyons identified Beattie’s signing of an August letter in The Times of London along with 27 others, which said it would be ;perfectly proper’ for Catholics to support civil marriage for same-sex couples as ‘the heart of this matter.’ “

President Lyons’ decision has created an opportunity where many are speaking out about the case and its significance for discussion in the Church. Gerard Mannion, director of the Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture at USD where Beattie was to be a fellow, rejected Lyon’s charges of public dissent stated:

“There’s nothing to dissent from,’ Mannion said. ‘The church doesn’t have binding teaching on civil same-sex partnerships. It has a position and a preference, but it doesn’t actually have a binding teaching. Even were this not the case, the policy on academic freedom should protect her right to sign such a letter, which, after all, urged Catholics to follow their conscience.’”

The chair of Fordham University’s theology department, Terrence Tilley, echoed these sentiments defending the place of Catholic theologians as simultaneous public intellectuals in an interview with National Catholic Reporter:

“’Beattie doesn’t dissent from doctrine,’ said Tilley, who is also the Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Professor of Catholic Theology at Jesuit-run Fordham. ‘[Beattie] has just made a statement about the legitimacy of Catholics voting in favor of civil rights for people who want to marry people of the same sex…But that she has chosen to make a statement regarding politics means that she is not denying or opposing Catholic doctrine.’”

In related news, PRIDE, the University’s LGBT student group, held a fundraiser Saturday to celebrate its 21st anniversary on campus and the milestones it has attending including LGBTQ coursework, the inclusion of ‘sexual orientation’ in the nondiscrimination policies, and programming to create a welcoming campus.

These two events, contrasting controversy over Tina Beattie in this most recent iteration of culture wars on campus with the successes of PRIDE for over two decades, signify the ongoing challenges Catholic campuses face in maintaining their mission while creating welcoming and affirming communities.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

For New Ways Ministry’s listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, visit newwaysministry.org/gfc.

For further information on New Ways Ministry’s efforts in Catholic higher education and to get involved, contact youngadults@newwaysministry.org.


British Theologian Disinvited from Fellowship at California Catholic Campus

November 2, 2012

Professor Tina Beattie

Tina Beattie, a prominent Catholic theologian has been disinvited from a visiting fellowship at the University of San Diego, a Catholic campus in southern California because she “dissents” from church teaching, possibly because of her support for  same-sex marriage.

Beattie had been invited to be a fellow at USD’s Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture.  USD’s President Mary Lyons sent her a letter rescinding the fellowship which stated the reason the school’s action:

“The Center’s primary mission, consistent with those who have financially supported the Center, is to provide opportunities to engage the Catholic intellectual tradition in its diverse embodiments.

“This would include clear and consistent presentations concerning the Church’s moral teachings, teaching with which you, as a Catholic theologian, dissent publicly. In light of the contradiction between the mission of the Center and your own public stances as a Catholic theologian, I regretfully rescind the invitation that has been extended to you.”

Beattie, who teaches at Roehampton University in England pointed out that the letter offered no specifics about what the university believes she is dissenting about, but she did note that she was disinvited from another event because of her support of same-sex marriage.

In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Beattie expressed concern less about her own situation and more about what such a decision portends for Catholic academia.  She said the cancellation was

“symptomatic of something very new and very worrying.

“It’s unheard of, certainly in Britain, for a theologian in my position to feel threatened by this kind of action. It’s not about me; it’s about some change in the culture of the Catholic church that we should be very, very concerned about.”

In a statement on her blog, Beattie expanded on this concern for academic freedom:

“The cancellation of my visit is not the most important issue in all this. The real issues are academic freedom, the vocation of lay theologians in relation to the official magisterium, and the power of a hostile minority of bloggers (some of whom are ordained deacons and priests) to command the attention and support of the CDF. The latter is the most sinister development of all, and it is a cause for scandal which brings the Church into disrepute. However, it also shows how deep this crisis has become.”

In an interview with Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Beattie used her strongest language to describe the university’s decision, saying that the institution was “colluding in the Sovietisation” of Roman Catholic intellectual life.

Theologians on both sides of the Atlantic have come to Beattie’s support.  The National Catholic Reporter quotes two prominent scholars:

” ‘This is an insult to a well-respected theologian who I know, whose work I know and who I think has always been entirely appropriate in the ways in which she’s developed and expressed her views,’ Jean Porter, the John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, told NCR.

” ‘It is deeply dispiriting that the President of a Catholic University should characterize academic discussion and debate among Catholics as “dissent,” and should seek to suppress academic exchange by black-balling an individual whom the Church has not condemned,’ Eamon Duffy, a professor of Christian history at the University of Cambridge and a former member of the Pontifical Historical Commission, wrote in an email to Lyons, which he shared with NCR.

“Duffy cites the writing of 19th-century Catholic convert John Henry Newman in his letter.

“Newman ‘criticized the “shortsightedness” of those who “have thought that the strictest Catholic University could by its rules and its teachings exclude” intellectual challenges to faith,’ Duffy wrote.

” ‘The cultivation of the intellect involves that danger, and where it is absolutely excluded, there is no cultivation,’ writes Duffy, quoting Newman.”

In an email to friends, Beattie recommended writing to USD’s president, Dr. Mary Lyons, if they wanted to protest the school’s decision.  Beattie suggested writing to Dr. Lyons’ administrative assistant,.Elaine Atencio, at atencio@sandiego.edu.

Beattie also urged friends to express support to Professor Gerard Mannion, Director of the Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and CultureProfessor Mannion, who originally invited her to be a visiting fellow.  He can be reached at gesmannion@gmail.com.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


British Theologian’s Lecture Is Cancelled Because of Marriage Equality Stand

September 13, 2012

A British theologian who was one of 27 Catholic signers of a letter supporting the freedom of Catholics to support marriage equality, which was published in The Times of London in August, has been disinvited to give a lecture at the Diocese of Clifton Cathedral in Bristol, England.

Tina Beattie

Professor Tina Beattie, who teaches theology  at the University of Roehampton, in London, was scheduled to be part of a lecture series on the legacy of Vatican II.  Her talk’s title was “Mary: Mother of God and a model of a pilgrim people – Lumen Gentium.”  (“Lumen Gentium” is Latin for “light of humanity,” and is the tile of Vatican II’s “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.”) Beattie was scheduled to speak on September 18th.

According to London’s Catholic Herald newspaper, the diocese issued a statement explaining the decision, which, in part, said:

“In the light of the controversy over a recent letter which appeared in the Times, signed by Professor Beattie and 27 others, about proposals to extend marriage to same-sex partnerships, in discussion with Professor Beattie, Clifton Diocese has decided to cancel the lecture.”

In her response to the decision, Beattie was steadfast in her position about the freedom to support marriage equality, while at the same time, understanding of the diocese’s decision to cancel her talk:

“I was delighted and privileged to be asked to contribute to this distinguished series of lectures, and I was deeply saddened when the lecture was cancelled. However, I understand that this was a difficult and painful decision, and I accept the reasons for it.”

In regard to her signing the letter and her role as a theologian, Beattie said:

“As a result of my signing that letter, I understand that representations were made to Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton Diocese by various parties, which resulted in the cancellation of my lecture. While standing by the contents of the letter, I deeply regret any personal embarrassment I may have caused Bishop Declan. He is a wise and pastorally sensitive leader who has earned the respect of many of us in his diocese, and I hope that I shall be able to continue to contribute towards the educational life of the diocese as I have for many years.

“As an academic theologian and a practising Catholic I try to maintain a difficult but important balancing act – deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition – between upholding the revealed doctrinal truths which are part of the timeless and unchanging mystery of our faith, and entering into reasoned and informed debates about issues of morality, society and values which are contingent and capable of being adapted to different cultures and contexts. I do not believe that an informed theological contribution to issues of public interest is detrimental to the interests of the Church. On the contrary, I believe such debate bears witness to the theological vigour and social dynamism of Catholic Christianity, and allows us to draw on a long and rich intellectual tradition to play an active role in society today.”

She also cited the recently deceased Cardinal Martini, who in the last interview before his death, called for greater discussion in the church, particularly on sexual issues:

“However, as Cardinal Martini observed in his final interview before his death, ‘In the Church today I see so much ash covering the embers that I’m often overcome by a sense of impotence’. The Cardinal also warned that ‘the Church must recognise her own errors and must pursue a radical path of change’, which includes ‘Questions about sexuality and about all the themes connected to the human body … We have to ask ourselves if people are still listening to the advice of the Church regarding sexuality. Is the Church still an authoritative point of reference in this field or is it just a caricature in the media?’ “

Beattie is obviously a consummate teacher.  She has been able to turn this sad decision into a teachable moment for the good of the wider church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Previous Bondings 2.0 posts about Tina Beattie:

August 13, 2012: British Catholic Leaders Support Marriage Equality Legislation

March 11, 2012:  The U.K.’s Marriage Equality Debate Heats Up

January 14, 2012:  Sex, Marriage, and the Church, Part 1


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


The U.K.’s Marriage Equality Debate Heats Up

March 11, 2012

The Catholic debate about marriage equality has been heating up in the United Kingdom lately.  With proposals to legalize same-gender marriages in both England and Scotland, both sides in the debate have been issuing strong statements.

The BBC reports that on Sunday, March 11th,

“A letter written by the two archbishops representing London’s Roman Catholics – to be read in churches this weekend – alerts churchgoers to a potential future political fight to preserve traditional marriage.

“The letter – by Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Peter Smith – tells Catholics that changing the nature of marriage would be a “profoundly radical step” which would reduce its effectiveness and significance. . . .

“The letter – to be read out in 2,500 churches this weekend – ends by telling Catholics they have a ‘duty to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations.’ “

Martin Pendergast

Martin Pendergast, a leader in Britain’s Catholic LGBT movement, offered a response to the letter in an essay published in The Guardian. Part of his argument against the archbishops’ letter rests on clear historical fact and part rests on an important distinction between marriage and civil unions:

“State and church have regularly redefined marriage and its structures over centuries due to changing cultural patterns, religious influences, and insights in social and human development. The structures of marriage are rooted not in biology or gender difference per se, but in relationality. If not so, those with clearly no potential for fertility could not enter a valid marriage. Faith communities have countenanced and rejected polygamous marriage, allowed nullity, divorce and remarriage, and the 20th-century Catholic church developed its earlier teaching that marriage was solely for procreation, declaring its purpose is twofold, including the mutual relationship of the couple.

“Yet I am not a supporter of same sex marriage for myself. Marriage essentially depends on the subjection of one person to another, even if it’s a mutual subjection, in the exchange of vows. So I don’t seek such status. Civil partnerships are based on equality, legally expressed in a joint signing of a contractual covenant, rather than through vows. This value of equality is what those of us in same-sex civil unions bring to the common good. For those of us who are people of faith, the sacramentality of such unions is what we strive to live out. Many parents, families, friends, and members of congregations have grasped this message even if, sadly, much religious leadership has not.”

In Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien has been speaking out forcefully–and recklessly–against marriage equality in that nation.  Recently, he compared the legalizing marriage for lesbians and gays to legalizing slavery:

“Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the head of Catholics in Scotland, described gay marriage as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right” and said the Government’s plan to reform marriage laws was “madness”.

“In a stinging response to the Government’s assurances that no church would be compelled to conduct gay marriages, he wrote: ‘No government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood meaning of marriage.

” ‘Imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that ‘no one will be forced to keep a slave’. Would such worthless assurances calm our fury? Would they justify dismantling a fundamental human right? Or would they simply amount to weasel words masking a great wrong?’ “

O’Brien’s grossly insensitive remarks prompted The Tablet, Britain’s leading Catholic publication, to publish three opinions from prominent Catholics, under the heading “Can Marriage Ever Change?”  Below are excerpts from each of them:

Timothy Radcliffe, OP

Timothy Radcliffe, OP, a former master of the Dominicans world-wide:

“Marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility. Without this, there would be no life on this planet, no evolution, no human beings, no future. Marriage takes all sorts of forms, from the alliance of clans through bride exchange to modern romantic love. We have come to see that it implies the equal love and dignity of man and woman. But everywhere and always, it remains founded on the union in difference of male and female. Through ­ceremonies and sacrament this is given a deeper meaning, which for Christians includes the union of God and humanity in Christ.

“This is not to denigrate committed love of people of the same sex. This too should be cherished and supported, which is why church leaders are slowly coming to support same-sex civil unions. The God of love can be present in every true love. But “gay marriage” is impossible because it attempts to cut loose marriage from its grounding in our biological life. If we do that, we deny our humanity. It would be like trying to make a cheese soufflé without the cheese, or wine without grapes”

Martin Pendergast

Martin Pendergast(quoted at the beginning of this post), a founding member of the Cutting Edge Consortium:

“I believe Timothy Radcliffe risks idealising marriage too strongly, seeing it through his own dedicated prism of vowed celibacy. He states that “marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility”. But the social and anthropological structures of marriage are rooted not in biology but in relationality. As the Hebrew Scriptures say: “It is not good for a person to be alone.” Also, what of those who clearly have no potential for fertility – are they to be prevented from marrying, limited to a version of civil unions?

“Faith communities have redefined marriage throughout their history, countenancing and rejecting polygamous marriage, allowing divorce and remarriage, and the Second Vatican Council stated that the ends of marriage are twofold, not solely based upon procreation. In medieval times the focus was so strongly on betrothal rites that marriage, in some places, was a rarity, since so few people could fulfil the social and economic requirements for a marriage to take place before the altar. And what of all those “sworn brotherhood” rites, adapted also to include same-sex female partners, identified by researchers such as Alan Bray and John Boswell?”

Tina Beattie

Professor Tina Beattie, director of the Digby Stuart Research Centre for Catholic Studies, University of Roehampton:

“If we want to understand the sacrament, we need to look to Christ and the Church, not to the abundant diversity of participation within that sacramental love that constitutes our bodily human relationships. I’ve been married for 37 years and I have four children, but the loving relationships of my gay friends have helped me to understand more deeply what marriage means as a partnership of equals. I hope that they in turn have been enriched by their married heterosexual friends, and have better understood what their love means within the sacramental love of Christ and the Church.

In these times of radical change in our understanding of sexuality and human dignity (especially the full and equal dignity of women in this life and not just in the life to come), maybe we heterosexuals need the marriages of our homosexual friends to help us to understand what marriage looks like when it’s not corrupted by traditions of domination and subordination.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Sex, Marriage, and the Church, Part 1

January 14, 2012

The headline on the front cover of Commonweal magazine’s current issue reads “Sex, Marriage, and the Church.”  The tremendous decline in marriages (both civil and sacramental) in our society, as well as the obvious fact that most Catholics do not accept the hierarchy’s teachings about sex and marriage, offer the occasion for such an examination.

The editors invited nine scholars and writers to respond to observations posed by the church historian Eamon Duffy (in Unfinished Journey: The Church 40 Years after Vatican II, Essays for John Wilkins), from which the following is a  germane excerpt:

” It is not merely Catholic marriages, for example, which are in decline, but, it would seem, the institution of marriage itself. The moral pattern imposed by the church (slowly and with enormous difficulty) on European sexual behavior and family structure from the early Middle Ages onwards seems now to be collapsing. Later than most of the rest of the churches of the West, the Catholic Church is increasingly confronted with the need to evolve a modus vivendi with these apparently inexorable social trends, which can be lived by ordinary people with integrity. Marriage is above everything else a social institution, and if the church is not to decline into being a sect for the saintly, ordinary Catholic couples cannot realistically be expected to live lives untouched by the social and sexual expectations and mores of the culture as a whole. The tragically large and growing number of Catholics in irregular unions is both an indicator of the way in which the values of society shape the lives and perceptions of Christians and also, in pastoral terms, a ticking time bomb, which by one means or another is going to have to be defused if it is not to decimate the Catholic community and, more importantly, deprive thousands of people of the sacramental support and light they need.”

In balanced journalistic fashion, the responders cover a wide range of approaches and positions on this matter.  I will try to excerpt and comment on some of the more salient points, but, in this case more than in most others, I encourage the interested reader to read the entire discussion for one’s self.  In this first posting, I will summarize and comment on the responses with which I tend to agree; in a second posting on another day, I will do the same for the points with which I disagree.

To my thinking, the most reasonable response comes from Luke Timothy Johnson, a professor of theology at Emory University.   Johnson (who, incidentally, will be a plenary speaker at New Ways Ministry’s upcoming Seventh National Symposium) takes the approach that to solve the marriage crisis, it is imperative that church leaders speak with the people who are affected (positively and negatively) by the current teaching.  He describes the current crisis of marriage and sexuality as

“. . .a case where attending to the actual experience of those participating in such ‘irregular unions,’ available through the stories they are eager to share, can help the church perceive in such stories the work of God or its denial, as a means of guiding its own faithful response.”

In listening to the faithful, Johnson posits that the following situation may occur:

“The church might . . . be called to examine how some aspects of the ‘institution of marriage’ as presently structured do not so much nurture the people as reinforce custom, and to respond creatively to the work of God as displayed in the lives of those touched by grace. In this case, change is the expression of obedient faith by the church.”

Johnson notes that there is very imperative reason for attempting this dialogue, which has to do with issues that are greater than sexuality and marriage:

“The one thing the church cannot afford to do is to refuse to pay attention to what is actually happening in people’s lives. What is at stake, after all, is not the preservation of Catholic (or European) institutions, or the survival of the community, or even the fullest possible participation in the sacraments. What is at stake is obedience to the living God, without which the church does not have much reason to exist.”

Leslie Woodcock Tentler follows a line similar to Johnson.  Taking a pragmatic assessment of her local parish, she observes:

“The relatively full pews contain some obviously gay couples, as well as couples whom I know to be in second marriages. The typical family appears to have only two children. As for the many young singles in attendance, I seriously doubt that all are living lives of perfect chastity. . . . [M]ost of us have apparently decided that the essence of the Christian message has to do with something other than sex.”

Although Tentler doesn’t frame it as a catechetical problem, she acknowledges that the current crisis is due in part to the fact that preachers and teachers are unwilling to promote the official teaching on sex and marriage–sometimes because they disagree with it and also because:

“The gulf between what the church teaches and how most Catholics actually live dictates silence on sex as a pastorally prudent strategy. At a time in history when Catholics are in desperate need of guidance on sex and marriage, the teaching church has nothing to offer beyond the occasional iteration of ill-understood prohibitions.”

Tina Beattie, who teaches theology at Roehampton University, London, UK, illuminates a painfully poignant contradiction in  the hierarchy’s approach to humanity when it comes to marriage:

“The church acknowledges that sin and failure are woven into the human condition, yet a ruthless idealism prevails when marriages break down. The denial of the sacraments to the divorced and remarried means that many Catholics are excluded from their Eucharistic communities just when they are most vulnerable. This also affects children, who risk being alienated from the church indirectly through the exclusion of their parents. “

Beattie offers an interesting alternative that is worth pondering:

“Maybe we need to rediscover a model of extended family life, one in which divorce, rather than death, weaves people into several families in the course of a lifetime. After all, throughout Christian history early death has meant that most people have been serially monogamous, and the longevity of marriages today presents a new challenge. Step-parents and half-siblings are by no means a new historical phenomenon.”

On the topic of lesbian/gay relationships, Beattie provides a good, succinct summary of  the contemporary theological approach to this issue:

“But what about those in same-sex relationships? I think the church has fetishized genitality at the expense of a deeper and richer understanding of the possibilities of sexual love. Church teaching now acknowledges that the unitive dimension of sexuality is valid even when a marriage is infertile, but this defeats any appeal to natural law to defend the church’s opposition to gay relationships. The criterion of goodness in any sexual relationship is surely not reducible to every genital act (which is a major flaw in Humanae vitae). Rather, we need to ask how these acts are expressive of wider relationships of fidelity, commitment, and respect, which remain open to the “child” in the form of the vulnerable outsider.”

On the issue of same-sex marriage, Patricia Hampl, author, recognizes that there is a larger, more important context to the discussion of marriage and sexuality than first meets the eye.  The larger context is how the church deal with new realities and with people who seem “foreign” to them:

“The challenge we face now is not simply whether the church can change to fit the historic moment where same-sex marriage is already the law of the land in certain states. We need to decide if we are committed to the apostolic mission of inclusion, the rugged path Paul walked (and did he walk!) in cultures alien to his earliest assumptions and training. He kept walking, kept connecting house church to house church. He forged our tradition by this very insistence on sacramental inclusion.”

Commonweal’s editor, Paul Baumann, closes this discussion with a reflection on his mother’s travails with pregnancy, health, and the hierarchy’s condemnation of artificial contraception.   At the end of this deeply personal reflection, Baumann offers a hope for the future, which is an appropriate note on which to conclude:

“Catholicism has altered seemingly irreformable teachings on more than a few occasions over the centuries (baptizing the uncircumcised, the perfidy of the Jews, slavery, usury, separation of church and state) yet somehow found a way forward with its identity, focus, and integrity intact; and I hope now that it will muster the will to find its way out of this particular dead end.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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