Ignoring Pope Francis, US Bishops Reaffirm Their Work to Oppose Marriage Equality

June 14, 2014

Pope Francis

It was a question asked last November, and now again this spring by those like Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese: will America’s bishops follow Pope Francis’ lead?

This past week’s meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in New Orleans proved the conference will again ignore Pope Francis’ new direction for the Church. Instead, they reaffirmed the their opposition to marriage equality and other culture war issues.

While New York Times article heralded that “US Bishops Seek to Match Vatican in Shifting Tone,” the shift that article describes is in the area of poverty and social equity. That shift is welcome, though there seems to be no change in terms of emphasis on issues concerning sexuality, which Pope Francis had explicitly asked church leaders not to “obsess” about.

In this post, Bondings 2.0 will highlight LGBT-related news from the USCCB meeting,  and readers are encouraged to read more extensive coverage using the provided links.

Staying the Course

National Catholic Reporter reports the bishops opened by voting to “stay the course they have set for themselves over the last several years,” which includes sustained opposition to marriage equality and renewal of the ad hoc committee concerned with religious liberty. Joshua McElwee and Brian Roewe write:

“Going into the event, many analysts and even some bishops had asked if the prelates would be reorienting their work around the new emphases of Francis’ first year as pope, particularly his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), and his pastoral tone.

“Yet in three and a half hours of open discussion on 17 topics Wednesday, the bishops focused more on old business than new.”

Not all were pleased with this continued direction, including an unnamed bishop who criticized the meetings for their lack of pastorally-inclined discussions.   Similarly, the lay-led National Advisory Council urged the bishops to ” ‘re-examine how it reaches out to those experiencing brokenness’ and work for ‘more dialogue and greater acceptance, rather than what is commonly perceived as judgment.’ “

Anti-Marriage Equality Speakers Prominent

The bishops heard from two speakers, Helen Alvaré and W. Bradford Wilcox. Alvaré, a law professor and advisor to the Pontifical Council for the Laity, addressed the bishops about evangelization and the poor. Her talk somehow included a defense of heteronormative ethics while skipping social justice, according to The National Catholic Reporter’s  Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ.

Wilcox, who heads up the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, spoke on marriage and the economy. National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie Manson notes Wilcox previously aided in a now-discredited 2012 study by Mark Regnerus that claimed the children of same-gender parents fare worse than those raised by mixed-gender parents. He recently co-authored a Washington Post opinion piece which said women should marry protective men if they wish to stop sexual violence. This questionable sociologist engaged several bishops’ questions on same-gender marriage.

You can read a full report on their addresses by clicking here.

Faithful Citizenship

The bishops approved a committee to revise and add a new introduction to the 2007 edition of “Faithful Citizenship,” their election year voters’ aid.  Anti-marriage equality efforts may be granted greater prominence in the political document,  as USCCB vice president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, said that since the last revision there has been greater “prominence” in the political world given to “religious liberty and the redefinition of marriage.” Fr. Reese worries that a now perennial defensiveness in the conference will influence the document negatively overall, including on the question of LGBT rights. Final changes will be approved during the bishops’ November meeting.

Marriage & Family Life

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, the USCCB’s president, made general comments about how US Catholics responded to the Vatican questionnaire on marriage and family. His takeaway appeared to be that the hierarchy must sway opinions more effectively on such topics.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chair of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, gave a report in which he called this a “critical point” and suggested a constitutional amendment would be necessary to stop the inevitable victories on marriage equality.

Pope Francis’ more accepting style is being well received by bishops worldwide, who now work to open doors for LGBT Catholic and their loved ones. British bishops recently made positive remarks about transgender people and civil unions for same-gender couples. Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai met with a leading Catholic lesbian, and he was India’s only religious leader to condemn the opportunity for renewed criminalization of homosexuality in that country. These stories and others show it is possible for the US hierarchy to be more accepting of LGBT people and throw open the American Church’s doors.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

The Advocate: Catholic Bishops Meet on Marriage; What ‘Threats’ Will They Discuss?

New York Times: “US Bishops Seek to Match Vatican in Shifting Tone

Associated Press: “US Catholic bishops keep focus on abortion, marriage in political guide


U.S. Catholic Bishops Invited to New Dialogue on LGBT Issues

November 14, 2013

Equally Blessed LogoThe U.S. Catholic bishops have been invited to open a new and more positive chapter in their relationships with LGBT Catholics and and their supporters.  The invitation came in the form of a letter from the leaders of Equally Blessed, a coalition of four national Catholic organizations (Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry) that work for justice and equality for LGBT people.

The letter, addressed to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who have been meeting in Baltimore this week, invites the church’s leaders to put past events behind them and start a forward-thinking dialogue with LGBT people and supporters. The Equally Blessed leaders wrote:

“Now is the time for us all to adopt a new approach in dealing with issues of human sexuality, especially in dealing with LGBT people, as Pope Francis seems to be calling us to do. It will take time to rebuild trust between members of the Conference and those who have been damaged by its past policies. But, if Jesus came that we all might be one, then healing must begin. So we implore you to sit down with us, to listen to voices from the margins of the Church, and to speak with us candidly about your own concerns. We offer an outstretched hand of invitation.”

The letter writers suggested several areas of common-ground where the bishops can collaborate with them:

“The bishops and LGBT Catholics and their allies have many opportunities to show where our Church is united in its commitment to the dignity of the human person. The bishops have many opportunities to reach out to LGBT persons without violating Church teaching. The USCCB could issue an unambiguous statement declaring that bullying children because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity is unacceptable. Parishes and diocesan offices could be encouraged to make concerted efforts to include LGBT people in their outreach ministries and other agendas.  The Church could make an effort to create pastorally sensitive ministries that would deal with the problem of LGBT youth homelessness and suicide. Together, we are sure we can find other ways to send out positive and mercy-filled messages.”

The Equally Blessed leaders stressed that this is an opportune time for such a dialogue:

“At this pivotal moment in the life of our church, we, the leaders of the Equally Blessed coalition, invite you into a deeper relationship with LGBT Catholics, their families and their friends. We seek, first of all, simple conversation with you. Rather than speaking about LGBT people, or, worse yet, against LGBT people, we urge you to sit down and speak with LGBT people. We ask you to convene local and national conversations in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, their families and their friends can tell you about their faith and their commitment to the Church.  The spirit of respect and openness that these conversations could foster would be balm on the wounds of LGBT Catholics and those who love them.”

Invoking the spirit of the new papacy, the LGBT equality leaders stressed that it’s time for a different way for the bishops to approach the topic of sexuality:

“At a time when Pope Francis is urging the church to move beyond what he calls its “obsession” with sexual issues, we, faithful Catholics committed to equality and justice within the Church we love, pray that you will hear our voices and respond with mercy.”

The letter was signed by the following organizational representatives:  Call To Action: Jim FitzGerald, Executive Director; DignityUSA: Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director; Fortunate Families: Casey Lopata, Co-Founder, Deb Word, President; New Ways Ministry: Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Archbishop Kurtz’s Election as New USCCB President Signals Ambiguous Direction for Conference

November 13, 2013

Archbishop Kurtz with Cardinal Dolan

America’s Catholic bishops have spoken. Yesterday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) elected a new president and vice-president for the first time since Pope Francis was elected, choosing Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston for the respective roles.

Observers viewed this leadership election as a sign of how the US hierarchy is responding to a pope noted for his mercy, welcome, and emphasis on the marginalized.

While pasts are not blueprints for the future, neither Kurtz nor DiNardo’s records leave LGBT advocates optimistic. Kurtz chaired the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage until 2010 and was one of three signatories on a letter to Congress opposing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. More locally, he has established a Courage chapter in Louisville while remaining distant from gay-friendly parishes. Kurtz did not support a local nondiscrimination bill inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity in 2012.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, was on hand at the bishops’ meeting in Baltimore where the election took place.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette captured his reaction to the bishops’ move not to choose a more LGBT-friendly leader:

” ‘[Pope] Francis is a game-changer,’ said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a national group advocating for gay and lesbian Catholics, one of several liberal advocates who spoke with reporters outside the bishops’ meeting area at the Baltimore Waterfront Marriott. ‘The U.S. bishops seem to be playing by yesterday’s playbook.’ “

What signs of hope remain for Catholics who want a more inclusive Catholic community in the US? Whispers in the Loggia says of the two newly elected bishops:

“On the wider front, meanwhile, after two headstrong, high-profile presidencies in a row that exponentially amplified the body’s voice in the national public square, the duo now in place are decidedly more reserved and consensus-driven, and the impact of that shift on the conference’s level and tone of advocacy bears watching. Yet perhaps most intriguingly of all, both the new president and his deputy were parish priests upon and until their appointment as bishops… and it’s admittedly difficult to remember the last time that was the case.”

David Gibson writes at Religion News Service that the bishops did not choose a known culture warrior like Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelpahia, but also sidelined bishops who more closely correspond with Pope Francis. He also reports that honest conversations on the USCCB’s direction in coming years will occur today and tomorrow:

“The real debates were expected to go on behind closed doors in sessions that will last through  Thursday. Church sources say the bishops are expected to have frank talks about contentious issues like their stance against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.

“But they are also expected to discuss the larger direction of the hierarchy. The election of Pope Francis and his oft-repeated desire to push the bishops in a new, more pastoral direction have unsettled the bishops, who in recent years were already divided and often unable to agree on major statements or initiatives.

“Many of the bishops meeting here said the conference was in something of a holding pattern, waiting to see who Francis will name to leading U.S. dioceses and whether he can recast the U.S. hierarchy in his mold and perhaps leave it more unified.”

The election of the new president provided an insight into some of the lesser-known demographics of the bishops’ conference. Michael Sean Winters points out at the National Catholic Reporter:

“Three years ago, Chaput also ran for the presidency and vice presidency of the conference. And he lost then too, with almost the same number of votes. Turns out there is a significant number of bishops who like the culture warrior approach. And if the nuncio wants to know just how many bishops in the US do not really much like Pope Francis, he now knows precisely: 87.”

It is helpful to recall the papal conclave last spring, when many LGBT advocates and progressive Catholics expected another pope in the model of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Even after Pope Francis’ election was announced, ambiguity abounded on where he would lead the Church. Studying his actions in Argentina left many concerned with reforming the hierarchy’s positions sexuality discouraged.

However, the Spirit is alive and well with Pope Francis who has preached open doors, demanded non-judgement, and encouraged new ways of thinking about marriage and family issues. Will Archbishop Kurtz truly seek to “warm hearts and heal wounds,” as he offered in a press conference following his election today, or will it be more of the same?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


As ENDA Passes to Senate, U.S. Bishops Renew Anti-LGBT Rights Campaign

November 6, 2013

On Monday evening, the US Senate voted to move the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would provide fair hiring protections for LGBT people.  On the same day, Catholic bishops expressed their opposition to the bill and amplified their defense of ‘just’ discrimination.

In a letter to Senators, three bishops heading up the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty defended their opposition to a law that bans employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The bishops who signed the letter are Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, California, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore.

America Magazine explained the bishops’ letter with a summary of the bishops’ objections to non-discrimination legislation, writing:

“[The letter] notes, for example, that the bill: (1) lacks an exception for a ‘bona fide occupational qualification’…(2) lacks a distinction between homosexual inclination and conduct, thus affirming and protecting extramarital sexual conduct; (3) supports the redefinition of marriage, as state-level laws like ENDA have been invoked in state court decisions finding marriage discriminatory or irrational; (4) rejects the biological basis of gender by defining ‘gender identity’ as something people may choose at variance with their biological sex; and (5) threatens religious liberty by punishing as discrimination the religious or moral disapproval of same-sex sexual conduct, while protecting only some religious employers.”

Such arguments range from false to offensive to absurd, especially as many Catholics endorse employment, housing, and other protections for LGBT people. Journalist Michael O’Loughlin questions what positive impact opposing non-discrimination bills and policies

“What’s that now? Are US bishops taking Pope Francis’s message of focusing on poverty rather than homosexuality to heart? Are Catholic bishops going on-the-record in support of the marginalized and oppressed? Is this a sign of a new era in US Catholicism, the one heralded by lefty Catholics who have expressed unabashed hope in the new pope?

“Nah. Keep reading.

“Catholic bishops apparently feel that discriminating against LGBT people in the workplace is not only just, but in fact, not being able to do so threatens their religious liberty.”

O’Loughlin considers what might be motivating the bishops in regard to this issue:

“Catholic bishops relied on lawyers rather than pastors in their decision to come out against the bill…

“Fear is at the root of the bishops’ opposition to LGBT advances in general and ENDA in specific. Fear that society is changing so quickly. Fear that the church is losing its influence in forming morality. Fear that the church is being pushed to the margins.

“It’s remarkable to me that some bishops here have learned so little over the past 8 months. The world is hungry for moral clarity. Look how people have responded to Pope Francis. He talks morality constantly, and the world listens and reflects…If Catholic leaders here in the US feel they find themselves on the defensive, increasingly marginalized and perhaps even deemed irrelevant, at what point do they begin to reconsider their message and priorities?”

Equally Blessed LogoEarlier this fall, the Equally Blessed coalition spoke for Catholics who want to follow Pope Francis priorities in protecting all people and focusing on the pressing issues of these times, like poverty and immigration. Their letter to the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions said, in part:

“We write to make it clear that the bishops do not speak for the majority of your Catholic constituents, many of whom believe, as we do, that the religious exemptions in the current draft of the legislation are not too narrow, as the bishops contend, but far too broad…

“Nor is it clear that the bishops’ views are in accord with the Pope’s. Responding in August to questions about gay priests, Pope Francis said: ‘If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?’ The pope, in other words, has no plans to discriminate against the gay men who, in secular terms, might be thought of as his employees…

“Our nation’s history teaches us that sometimes the church moves a recalcitrant society toward a deeper respect for the dignity of every human being, but that sometimes those roles are reversed. Unlike our bishops, a significant majority of U.S. Catholics support legislation that guarantees LGBT people equal protection under the law.”

The Equally Blessed coalition consists of Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.

For background information on ENDA, check out the Human Rights Campaign’s information page on the bill.

ENDA’s future looks grim in the House, further raising questions about why US bishops felt the need to reaffirm their opposition to a bill which very possibly will fail. However, their letter highlights the urgent need for Catholics in the pews to pre-empt Congress and implement non-discrimination policies inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity in their Catholic schools, parishes, and other workplaces. For more information on how to accomplish this goal, please click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


USCCB To Elect New President: What Could This Mean for LGBT Issues?

November 3, 2013

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) upcoming fall assembly starts next week, and the bishops will elect a new president and vice-president.  It’s always important to watch who they will elect, but this year there is more curiosity than usual for it’s the first time they’ll be making such a choice under Pope Francis. The Conference released the ten candidates’ names recently, leading to speculation about who will be elected and what this will mean for the American Church. Bondings 2.0 offers brief commentaries on several candidates below, along with provided links for you to read more.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans made headlines in October for new initiatives aimed at welcoming those on the margins in his diocese. These include greater outreach to LGBT Catholics, as well as blessing a new center to assist transient populations.  According to The Advocate, (archdiocesan newspaper), when he blessed the new facility he said: “ ‘This is an opportunity for us as a church to open wide our arms and our hearts and say all are welcome…Part of respecting people is respecting their freedom.’ ” In June, Aymond apologized to the LGBT community for the Church’s silence in 1973 after 32 people were killed and dozens wounded in an arson fire at a New Orleans gay bar.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., of Philadelphia has a less positive record on LGBT issues. He is noted for ejecting children with same-gender parents access

Archbishop Charles Chaput

from Catholic school and voicing the antipathy of right-wing Catholics towards Pope Francis’ more welcoming style, even as a Villanova University study (in his own archdiocese) identified LGBT issues as a leading cause of declining Church attendance. Chaput is known to deny Communion.

Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Spokane, Washington led in more open ways around the often controversial issues of commencements speakers and marriage

Bishop Blaise Cupich

Bishop Blaise Cupich

equality. When other bishops cancelled and censored speakers at Catholic colleges, Cupich supported Gonzaga University’s decision to honor Archbishop Desmond Tutu for his anti-apartheid work, even while he endorses marriage equality. When Washington State was debating a referendum on marriage equality in 2012, the bishop called for a more civil and honest conversation about Catholic positions on equality. While not perfect, he was praised for advocating a compassionate and civil tone in what can otherwise be harmful debates.

Archbishop Jose Gomez

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles is a leading Hispanic Catholic figure and presides over one of the US’ largest archdioceses.  Gomez opposed the teaching of LGBT history in California state education and signed onto a letter by several bishops opposing the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act because it now includes ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as protected classes.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky has sometimes said the right things, but is hindered by a lack of action backing up his words. Earlier this year, he called for a greater respect in how the Church speaks about LGBT people, even as he reaffirmed the bishops’ anti-marriage equality stance as a former chairman of their Ad Hoc

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

Committee for the Defense of Marriage. His outreach to gay and lesbian people has been to welcome a Louisville chapter of Courage, instead of reaching out to the city’s several gay-friendly parishes.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore has been a leading opponent of equal rights for LGBT among the Catholic hierarchy. Lori led the USCCB’s “Fortnight for Freedom” in 2012, which claimed the Catholic Church’s freedom was being attacked in part because of expanding LGBT equality, and he continues to chair the Conference’s committee on religious liberty. After moving to Baltimore, he opposed marriage equality in Maryland.  After the state’s voters confirmed the new law through a referendum (in part due to

Archbishop William Lori

Archbishop William Lori

Catholics), he called for a doubling down in opposing this new reality. On Pope Francis, he initially tried to downplay gay-friendly comments, but in a hopeful sign said he will now rethink statements on LGBT and other controversial matters to see if they truly bring people to the Gospel.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit was mentioned in the Detroit Free Press earlier this year for his comments about pro-LGBT Catholics refraining from Communion. In

Archbishop Allen Vigneron

Archbishop Allen Vigneron

April, the archbishop stirred up controversy when he said Catholics who support marriage equality should refrain from presenting themselves for Communion, though he did not ban them outright.  His comments prompted outcry from Catholic parents in Michigan, and from Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton (links here and here) and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson.

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami authored a letter to Catholics in which he opposed marriage equality by saying that it would open  up the path to polygamy.  Prior to being made archbishop of Miami, he was bishop of Orlando, Florida, where he closed down a well-established diocesan ministry to lesbian and gay people.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston offered non-committal words about gay people this past summer after Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” interview.  The Associated Press  reported:

“The cardinal says all persons are children of God and must be afforded respect, dignity and love as a person created in the image and likeness of god.  This applies equally to persons of same sex orientation.”
Back in 2009, DiNardo was one of a number of U.S. prelates who opposed the University of Notre Dame’s invitation to President Barack Obama as its commencement speaker.

Archbishop Dennis Schnurr

Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati was the USCCB General Secretary in 1997 when the U.S. bishops published Always Our Children, their landmark document on ministry to families with lesbian and gay daughters and sons.  This past summer, he wrote an op-ed for Cincinnati.com, opposing the Supreme Court decisions upholding marriage equality.  In that essay, he put quotation marks around “marriage” whenever it referred to same-sex marriage.

–Bob Shine and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

UPDATE: USCCB Will Follow ‘Usual Process’ for Synod Consultation

November 1, 2013

Earlier today, we posted that it looked like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was not encouraging local bishops to consult with the laity about topics such as same-sex marriage, contraception, and divorce, in advance of the 2014 synod on marriage and the family.   That report was based on an October 31st National Catholic Reporter article, which has been updated today.

Reporter Joshua McElwee updated the story after he received the following response from Helen Osman, the USCCB secretary for communication, about how bishops are being encouraged to proceed:

“We’ll follow the usual process, since Rome asks for this kind of consultation on a regular basis.

“We pass on to bishops what is sent to us. They then take care of the local consultation and send the data back to us. We transmit it to the Holy See. That is why the letter says the bishops will send back observations (gathered locally).

“It will be up to each bishop to determine what would be the most useful way of gathering information to provide to Rome.”

You can read McElwee’s story on the new development here.  His original story announcing the Vatican’s announcement has been updated with this new information and can be read here.

Even with this new statement from the USCCB, it seems like local bishops are still going to have to be encouraged by their local churches to collect opinions since the USCCB will not be doing so.   It seems odd that they will be following “the usual process” when it is clear that the Vatican is requesting something very unusual and extraordinary.

With proper encouragement and some creative suggestions from their conference leaders, the U.S. bishops could initiate an incredible opportunity to hear from Catholics about their beliefs on some of the most important and personal matters of today.  The USCCB is foregoing an incredibly positive potential moment in the life of the Church by not being more pro-active in motivating individual bishops to listen to their laity and local pastoral leaders.   It will remain up to the people in the pews to get their bishops to be active listeners.  Let your voice be heard!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


US Catholics Praise Pope Francis in Polling and Words

September 25, 2013

Frank Bruni

Polling done by The Huffington Post and YouGov reveals that 81% of American Catholics believe Pope Francis is having a positive impact on the Church, with negative ratings in the single digits.

In answer to another question in the survey

“. . . 46 percent of U.S. Catholics think Francis’ remarks, during [his recent] interview [in America magazine], reflect a ‘good change’ in church direction, while 20 percent say his take on the issues ‘doesn’t go far enough in changing church policy.’

“Just 15 percent of Catholics said the pope strayed ‘too far from traditional church values,’ while 19 percent were unsure how they felt.”

Commentaries on Pope Francis’ interview reflect this warmness as Catholics spoke more personally and practically on how the pope is making waves. Below, Bondings 2.0 provides previews of articles that are worth reading in their entirety by clicking on the provided links.

Frank Bruni, a gay columnist in the New York Times, wrote about the pope’s humility in a piece titled, “The Pope’s Radical Whisper.” Bruni writes:

“But it wasn’t the particulars of Pope Francis’ groundbreaking message in an interview published last week that stopped me in my tracks, gave fresh hope to many embittered Catholics and caused hardened commentators to perk up.

“It was the sweetness in his timbre, the meekness of his posture. It was the revelation that a man can wear the loftiest of miters without having his head swell to fit it, and can hold an office to which the term “infallible” is often attached without forgetting his failings. In the interview, Francis called himself naïve, worried that he’d been rash in the past and made clear that the flock harbored as much wisdom as the shepherds. Instead of commanding people to follow him, he invited them to join him. And did so gently, in what felt like a whisper.

“What a surprising portrait of modesty in a church that had lost touch with it.”

Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ

From the perspective of clergy, Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese spoke with NPR about what Pope Francis’ words could mean for those in ministry. Many priests and religious are supportive of LGBT people, but refrain from publicly speaking out due to fear. Fr. Reese believes the pope could mean less fear and more liberation among clergy to minister as they desire:

“I think it will [shape how priests act]. I’ve, you know, heard from other priests how delighted and affirmed they are by what he is saying. I think this is going to liberate a lot of people, a lot of priests in their preaching to say the kinds of things that the pope has said. I mean, frankly, five years ago I would have been afraid to say the very things that the pope himself is saying today. So, I think this is going to liberate a lot of priests.”

Critiquing the ‘culture wars’ mentality of the American bishops that has led many Catholics to leave their parishes over LGBT equality and other issues, James Salt of Catholics United writes at Fox News about a new trend he is witnessing among progressive Catholics:

James Salt

“But with his message of love and inclusion, Francis is, hopefully, staunching this trend. With his words and actions, he is showing us how a more authentic and humble expression of our faith can inspire a culture.

“I can personally attest this fact. Speaking for myself and for many of my friends, we can say for the first time in many years that we see signs of hope from the leadership of our church…

“So this Sunday, I expect to see more faces of formerly lost sheep in the pews. I know many of my progressive friends are planning to give Sunday services a second look.”

Kate Childs-Graham

Kate Childs-Graham

Kate Childs Graham wondered about those very bishops’ response to Pope Francis in a Quote to Note last week, and now suggests silence on LGBT issues as a good first step for the American hierarchy in The Guardian, writing:

“All I could think was, ‘This guy gets it’. He gets what Catholics have been saying for years. He gets that Catholics don’t want our hierarchy to have limited views that don’t reflect our own. He gets why so many Catholics have been searching for the nearest exit. He gets that things need to change…

“Since Francis’ election, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops hasn’t seemed to reverse course. The bishops are still advocating against the rights of LGBT people with both money and voice…Perhaps the bishops can’t go cold turkey and they need to wean themselves off their ‘obsession’ – Francis’ word – with abortion and gay and transgender people. I’d suggest silence as a good option.”

Fr. Peter Daly

Fr. Peter Daly, who writes the column, “Parish Diary” in the National Catholic Reporter lauded Pope Francis as a fellow pastor for re-emphasizing the role of mercy, reconciliation, and healing in parishes:

“A good pastor will eventually get around to moral issues, but our first words should be good news, not rules. As Pope Francis puts it, ‘The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.’…

“The Christian life is not so much about rules as it is about relationships. It’s about a relationship with Christ and with each other. If you don’t have a relationship with someone, they won’t care if you quote the rule book to them. If you do have a relationship with someone, you probably won’t need to quote the rules. That’s what St. Paul means by the law of love…

“Pope Francis recognizes the complexity of life. People must be seen in the context of their lives. I tell the catechumens that God sees our lives as a movie, not a snapshot. It’s God’s view of the life that the church should be trying to take.

“I admired John Paul II. I respected Benedict. But I think I could love Francis.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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