Are You Better Off One Year After “Who Am I to Judge?”

July 30, 2014

Pope Francis

It has been a year since Pope Francis uttered those famous words which inspired so much hope in those Catholics who work, hope, and pray for LGBT equality and justice: “Who am I to judge?”  So, now a question for LGBT Catholics and their supporters: “Are you better off than you were one year ago?”

Spoken on his plane ride home from World Youth Day in Brazil, the pope’s rhetorical question was stated in regard to gay priests.  But, as the year has worn on, many people began to see that the attitude expressed in those words reflected a new spirit in the papacy, especially with regard to LGBT issues.

That interpretation was confirmed when just little over a month later, Pope Francis, in a remarkably candid personal interview, said that church leaders should not be so “obsessed” with “abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.”

The papacy’s new spirit was evidenced by the fact that throughout the year there seemed to be a lowering of the rhetoric that came from the Vatican in regard to same-gender marriage and LGBT people.  In Pope Francis’ statements about marriage there was a refreshing absence of references to the threat of marriage being redefined.  Indeed, a number of prelates, including Vatican officials, began speaking about the possibility of support for legalized civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Moreover, in the fall, it became public that the pope had written to Kairos, an LGBT Catholic group in Florence, Italy, in response to their letter to him.  And at the end of the year  the pope’s Jesuit parish in Rome even provided a free funeral for a homeless transgender woman when her family rejected her body.

All of this good news was magnified by the announcement in the later autumn that the pope was calling a synod of bishops to discuss marriage and family topics.  Better yet, the Vatican was encouraging bishops to survey the laity about their perspectives on this matter.  Indeed, a question about pastoral care of same-gender couples was listed as one of the issues on which the Vatican wanted lay input.

But to get back the original question:  “Are you better off than you were one year ago?”

For some, lingering question persisted throughout all the media hype surrounding Pope Francis’ approach:  Was all of this just window dressing?  Was this just a “kinder, gentler” Vatican that was still promoting the same negative message regarding LGBT people and issues?  When were the real changes going to happen? Style is one thing, but substance is another.

Over the past year, I’ve mentioned several times that I think that Pope Francis may not be ready to make big changes, but that he seems to be paving the way for such change in the future.  I still think that is true.  But, I’ve also come to think of these symbolic gestures by the pope in a new way lately.  I think that what he is trying to do is to send up some “test balloons” to see how people react to them.

I think the fact that so many bishops have spoken out in favor of civil unions or have had positive things to say about same-gender couples are proofs that the reactions have been somewhat good.  In fact, I’ve noticed that strongly negative statements about same-gender marriage now seem more the exception than the rule.

I admit, however, that American bishops have certainly not been the ones in the forefront of any positive trends.  We here in the United States still have to wait for some more positive changes in the episcopacy here.  San Francisco’s Archbishop Cordileone spoke at the March for Marriage in June, despite calls that he stay away from an event with many anti-gay sponsors.  The U.S. bishops opposed Obama’s executive order barring federal contractors from employment discrimination on the basis of sexual identity and gender expression.  Prelates like Philadelphia’s Archbishop Chaput and Springfield, Illinois’ Bishop Paprocki made some egregious statements regarding marriage.  In the U.S., we still have a long way to go in terms of better leadership on LGBT issues from our nation’s bishops.

But, of course, bishops are not the entire church.  We’ve also witnessed amazing demonstrations of LGBT support from Catholics this year, especially from younger Catholics who have had LGBT teachers fired from their schools.  We’ve seen Catholic politicians come out in strong support of marriage equality and gender identity non-discrimination.  One Illinois lawmaker even quoted Pope Francis when she expressed here support for that state’s marriage equality law.  Throughout the year, we’ve seen an incredible surge of LGBT support on the part of rank and file Catholics.  And many of them have been made more bold and optimistic because of Pope Francis’ statements and gestures.   Even non-Catholics like Edie Windsor, whose marriage equality case was successful at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 and the editors of Time magazine  and The Advocate feel more positively toward the pope.

So, we still have a long way to go, but we should pause for a moment to reflect on how far we have come.

“Are you better off than you were one year ago?”

For me, the answer is “yes!”

(What’s your answer?  Post your response to that question in the “Comments” section of this post.)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 


A Few Steps Forward, and then Some Back, on Marriage Equality

July 12, 2014

Bishop Marcel Sanchez Sorondo

There’s been good news and bad news recently regarding Catholic leaders’ opinions on legal protections for same-gender couples.  The surprising thing is that the good news comes from the Vatican.

Queering The Church tipped us off to a Buzzfeed article that looks at the progress of Italy’s proposed civil unions bill, long stalemated in part

because of the Vatican’s previous opposition.  That’s right, “previous.”  The Buzzfeed article indicates that change seems to be happening:

“But there are also signs of a thaw within Vatican City. Monsignor Marcel Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Science, Vatican offices that engage with research on society, told Buzzfeed in an interview last week at an event inside the Vatican walls in which Italian politicians were participating that the church is solidly against any law that makes ‘complete [equivalence] of the normal [matrimony] and the gay,’ but if legislation clearly distinguishes between them, ‘that is another question, and this is accepted by the church.’ ”

[Editor's note:  Though Buzzfeed  refers to Sorondo as "Monsignor," he is actually an Argentine bishop.  In Argentina, as in many Latin American nations, a bishop is referred to as "Monseñor."]

Terence Weldon, at Queering The Church points out the significance of this monsignor’s statement:

“What makes Monsignor Sorondo’s observation particularly interesting right now, is his position with PASS [the Pontifical Academy of Science and Social Science]. Although Vatican documents pay lip service to the importance of paying due attention to the findings of both social and natural science, in practice, the published guidance on homosexuality and on queer families have largely ignored the scientific evidence, especially on the matter of gay adoption. That could be about to change. In the working document prepared for the bishops’ forthcoming synod on marriage and family, there is an acknowledgement that there is a need for better understanding of the science, and that some questions should be referred to the academy.

” ‘117. Many responses and observations call for theological study in dialogue with the human sciences to develop a multi-faceted look at the phenomenon of homosexuality. Others recommend collaborating with specific entities, e.g., the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences and the Pontifical Academy for Life…..’ “

In Indiana, however, Catholic bishops issued a strong rebuke to a court decision there which overturned the state’s constitutional ban against same-gender marriage.  WTHR.com reported that the bishops said:

” ‘The Church upholds the dignity of every human person, including persons with same-sex attraction, whom we accept and love as our brothers and sisters. At the same time, the Church upholds the dignity and sanctity of marriage as a natural union established by God between one man and one woman, intended towards the establishment of a family in which children are born, raised, and nurtured.’

“The bishops explain that because God is its author, ‘it is not within the power of any institution, religious or secular to redefine marriage.’ “

Similarly, this week in Colorado, the Catholic bishops there roundly criticized a court decision to overturn the state’s constitutional ban on same-gender marriage.  Their statement, which repeats many of the same arguments of the Indiana bishops, can be read by clicking here.

In nearby, Missouri, Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis also criticized the decision by that city’s mayor to issue marriage licenses to four same-gender couples.  The Riverfront Times carried a column criticizing the archbishop for such a statement, particularly after his recent disappointing testimony on clerical sex abuse where he answered that  he “did not remember” when he learned that pedophilia was a crime.

So, we take a few steps forward, and one step back.  Little by little. That’s how all real and lasting change happens.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The Elkhart Truth: “Catholic Bishops of Indiana respond to Indiana same-sex marriage ruling”

LGBTQNation.com:  “St. Louis Archdiocese condemns city for issuing same-sex marriage licenses”

 

 


Synod Document is First, Not Last, Word on Marriage and Family Issues

June 27, 2014

One of baseball legend Yogi Berra’s memorable quotations is “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

I was reminded of the wisdom of that sentence yesterday when I first heard the news that the Vatican has issued the working paper (in Latin, the instrumentum laboris) for the upcoming synod on marriage and the family to take place in Rome this coming October.   There have been high hopes for this meeting, especially since the Vatican has asked lay people for their opinions on various topics, and especially since several bishops have noted that lay opinion has been strongly calling fo r changes on certain aspects of church teaching on marriage and family.

But the content of the document released yesterday does not seem to signal any hope for change.  Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter synthesized the document in this way:

“Struggles faced by faithful around the world in following Catholic teachings stem mainly from ineffective education in those teachings and the pervasive effect of a relativistic culture, states the guiding document for an upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family.

“The document, anticipated by many Catholics as a barometer for what to expect from the synod, also strongly reinforces church teachings regarding the indissolubility of marriage, the restriction of marriage to heterosexual couples, and that partners must be open to having children.

“At the same time, the document states, the church must respond with mercy to the struggles of families to adhere to sometimes controversial teachings — like those prohibiting divorce and remarriage, contraception, cohabitation, and same-sex marriage — and ‘support her children on the path of reconciliation.’ “

While it is commendable that the document is stressing Pope Francis’ constant themes of mercy and of meeting people in whatever situation they are living, the troublesome part of the document is that it views the secular world as a problem, rather than as a dialogue partner.  McElwee’s synthesis continued:

“Responses to the synod office’s global consultation — which saw bishops’ conferences around the world answer a long questionnaire on how Catholics perceive church teachings — were ‘in agreement on the underlying reasons for the difficulty in accepting Church teaching,’ the document states.

“Among those reasons: ‘the hedonistic culture; relativism; materialism; individualism; the growing secularism; the prevalence of ideas that lead to an excessive, selfish liberalization of morals; … [and] a culture which rejects making permanent choices.’ “

I’ve no doubt that some of these factors affect the way some people approach church teaching, however, I have met far too many people who disagree with church teaching on matters of marriage, sexuality, gender, and family who are motivated, instead, by a deep faith.  Their positions were arrived at after much study, reflection, discussion, and prayer.  Their disagreements grow out of their lived and examined faith, not some worldly “monsters” that this document discusses.

This is the same kind of thinking that was evident in the International Theological Commission’s document “‘Sensus Fidei’ in the Life of the Church,” which was published on the Vatican’s website.   You can read the summary of that document here, and you can read an excellent commentary by seasoned religion journalist Ken Briggs here.

If the bishops of the world ignore the reality that disagreement comes out of a deep faith, they do so at great peril to themselves and to the church.

On LGBT issues, the document is not totally problematic.  For example, Reuters’ news story on the document focused on the fact that there seems to be some agreement already that children of lesbian and gay couples should not be prohibited from baptism.   The story quotes the document:

“. . . .when people living in [same-sex] unions request a child’s baptism, almost all the responses emphasize that the child must be received with the same care, tenderness and concern which is given to other children.”

Some other sections are half-good, half-bad.  For instance, there is a recognition that the Church must engage with the scientific world on the issue of homosexuality:

“Many responses and observations call for theological study in dialogue with the human sciences to develop a multi-faceted look at the phenomenon of homosexuality.”

That’s good.  That’s a difference from the 1986 Vatican document on homosexuality which said the Church did not need science.

Yet this good statement is undercut by the statement which immediately follows it, which says that the dialogue with science should be conducted through Vatican offices:

“Others recommend collaborating with specific entities, e.g., the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences and the Pontifical Academy for Life, in thoroughly examining the anthropological and theological aspects of human sexuality and the sexual difference between man and woman in order to address the issue of gender ideology.”

It’s hard to think that Vatican officials will learn anything new if they conduct their inquiries with a closed or biased mindset.

There is also a recognition that Church leaders have not always been good at developing pastoral ministry with gay and lesbian people, particularly those in committed relationships:

“On the whole, the extreme reactions to these unions, whether compromising or uncompromising, do not seem to have facilitated the development of an effective pastoral programme which is consistent with the Magisterium and compassionate towards the persons concerned.”

Yet, a few paragraphs later, the document states:

“The great challenge will be to develop a ministry which can maintain the proper balance between accepting persons in a spirit of compassion and gradually guiding them to authentic human and Christian maturity. In this regard, some conferences refer to certain organizations as successful models for such a ministry.”

If by “authentic human and Christian maturity,” the bishops are saying that ministry should help gay and lesbian people develop a healthy acceptance of their sexuality and the formation of their adult consciences, I’d be all for it.  Yet, sadly, I don’t think that is what they mean.

All of this brings me back to “It ain’t over till it’s over.”  Let’s remember that this document is the first word on the synod, not the last word.  It’s true that it doesn’t get off on a positive note, but I believe that there will be some interesting debate in October and that we won’t know the final outcome until the meeting closes.  Let’s remember that this synod will most likely be very different from those held under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI when the instrumentum laboris was often written by the Vatican Curia, and bishops in synod were simply asked to rubber-stamp it.  Pope Francis has already shown that he wants more discussion and collegiality from bishops.

More harmful than the specific remarks on lesbian and gay people, though, are the remarks that the reason that Catholics don’t agree with church teaching is because they have succumbed to a secular mindset.  We’ve heard that remark time and again from U.S. bishops, especially in the context of same-gender marriage, but it is simply not the whole truth.  It’s very convenient to have a scapegoat. It’s much more challenging to face up to the reality that faithful Catholics are calling for change.

(Bondings 2.0 will continue to report on various responses and interpretations of this document in the coming days and weeks, so check back for further posts.  For previous posts on the upcoming synod, click “Synod 2014″ in the “Categories” section in the right hand column of this page.)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Associated Press: “Vatican concedes many Catholics ignore core teaching on sex and contraception”

Catholic News Service: “Synod document cites cultural and economic threats to family”

 


QUOTE TO NOTE: Pope Francis on Overcoming Prejudice

March 24, 2014

computer_key_Quotation_MarksAt the Angelus service at the Vatican on Sunday, March 23rd, Pope Francis spoke eloquently about overcoming prejudice.  His words will surely ring loudly for those who work for LGBT equality.  Thanks to Martin Pendergast in England for alerting me to this text in English.  You can read an English-language news story of the talk here. You can read the entire text in Italian here.  You can view a video of the talk here.  The following are excerpts relevant to the topic of prejudice:

“Today’s Gospel presents us with the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in [the Samaritan town of] Sychar near an ancient well where the woman had come to draw water. Jesus found himself seated at the well that day “tired from his journey” (John 4:6). He immediately says: “Give me to drink” (4:7). In this way he overcomes the barriers of hostility that existed between Jews and Samaritans and the mentality of prejudiced mentality toward women. Jesus’ simple request is the beginning of a frank dialogue through which, with great delicacy, he enters into the interior world of a person to whom, according to the social norms, he should not have even spoken a word.But Jesus does it! Jesus is not afraid. Jesus, when he sees a person, goes forward, because he loves. He loves us all. Prejudice does not hinder his contact with a person. Jesus places the person before his [the person’s] situation, not judging him but making him feel appreciated, recognized and in this way awakens in him the desire to move beyond his daily routine. . . .

“The Gospel tells us that the disciples were astonished that their Master spoke with that woman. But the Lord is greater than prejudices; this is why he was not afraid to engage with the Samaritan woman. Mercy is greater than prejudice. This we must learn well! Mercy is greater than prejudice, and Jesus is very merciful, very! . . . .

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


United Nations Report to Vatican Recommends More Robust LGBT Solidarity

February 6, 2014

The United Nations Committee on the Convention of the Rights of a Child, an organization which monitors children’s rights according to the groundbreaking 1989 Convention, released its report on the Vatican yesterday. Primarily concerned with the global scandals of sexual and physical abuse of minors by Catholic clergy and religious, the report also included recommendations for the Vatican on LGBT issues.

In a section concerning Non-Discrimination, the report states: 

“While also noting as positive the progressive statement delivered in July 2013 by Pope Francis, the Committee is concerned about the Holy See’s past statements and declarations on homosexuality which contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents and children raised by same sex couples.

“The Committee also urges the Holy See to make full use of its moral authority to condemn all forms of harassment, discrimination or violence against children based on their sexual orientation or the sexual orientation of their parents and to support efforts at international level for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.”

Elsewhere, in a section on Family Environment, the Committee writes:

“While welcoming the information provided by the delegation of the Holy See that it will proceed with a revision of family-related provisions of Canon Law in the near future, the Committee is concerned that the Holy See and Church run institutions do not recognize the existence of diverse forms of families and often discriminate children on the basis of their family situation.

“The Committee recommends that the Holy See ensure that Canon Law provisions recognise the diversity of family settings and do not discriminate children based on the type of family they live in.”

You can read the full report here, as well as articles which cover the entire contents of the report under ‘Related Articles’ at the bottom of this post. Catholic leaders at the Vatican and in the United States said they were studying the report, but expressed concern that its recommendations went beyond child abuse. The Washington Post reports:

“U.N. officials in Geneva described the investigation as only one of many periodic reviews it conducts of sovereign states that are signatories of Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Holy See ratified in 1990. They said the panel’s report veered beyond the sexual abuse cases because it found the other topics relevant to the Vatican’s compliance with all articles of the convention…

” ‘Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is something that we have raised with many states,’ Kirsten Sandberg, chair of the committee, said in a statement. ‘This is nothing special. We are not going outside the scope of the Convention.’ “

As for LGBT advocates, the Washington Blade reports Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, as saying:

” ‘Many government leaders around the world and many Catholics in the pews have expressed the opinions that report articulated so clearly that the Vatican’s negative messages against LGBT people cause violence, harm and in some cases death’…

DeBernardo added he expects Francis will respond to the report because ‘a prestigious organization like the U.N. puts weight behind that message.’ “

The Committee and DeBernardo are not the only voices asking the Catholic Church to publicly and forcefully oppose anti-gay laws. People of faith worldwide have emailed and tweeted Pope Francis asking him to speak out for LGBT human rights through the #PopeSpeakOut campaign. Regardless of where one stands on sexual ethics, the right to live free from violence and discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is a universal cause every Catholic can agree upon.

Will you send an email or a tweet to the pope? You can do so by visiting www.NoMoreTriangleNations.com

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

National Catholic Reporter, “UN Report Criticizes Vatican Child Protection Record

New York Times, “UN Panel Assails Vatican Over Sexual Abuse by Priests


Sr. Jeannine Gramick Comments on Pope Shaking Up Bishops

December 19, 2013
Sr. Jeannine Gramick

Sr. Jeannine Gramick

Pope Francis moved to solidify his reforms in real ways this week by shaking up the Congregation for Bishops, which oversees episcopal appointments worldwide. The pope’s addition of Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC stood in contrast to his removal of Cardinal Raymond Burke, who has led highly conservative factions in the Church through his position at the Vatican. Given the significance of these events, it is worth asking: what could this mean for LGBT issues in the Church?

On Wednesday, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, spoke with MSNBC’s Tamron Hall about the new appointments and prospects for greater justice within the Church itself. When asked about LGBT people and Pope Francis, Sr. Jeannine said:

“I’ve been working in ministry on behalf of LGBT people within the Catholic Church and outside the Catholic Church since the 1970s. I never would have imagined that same-sex marriage would be on the agenda of our country, or of the world, or even of our Church.

“It is heartwarming that Francis is returning to the Gospel and saying do not be obsessed with issues like same-sex marriage or abortion or contraception. He’s telling the Congregation for Bishops that when you look for bishops, appoint bishops who smell like the sheep. In other words, he wants men, priests now, who are in the trenches with the people, who are pastoral and not people who are obsessed with cultural issues.”

You can watch the entire interview by clicking here.

In the National Catholic Reporter , John Allen explained why the Congregation for Bishops matters, and specifically what impact new American leadership could have. Allen writes:

“Under the Vatican’s process for picking bishops, the papal ambassador, or nuncio, in each country is responsible for compiling a list of names of candidates, called a terna, for openings as they arise. That terna is then submitted to the Congregation for Bishops, whose members vote on the final list to be submitted to the pope.

“Although all members vote on every nomination, observers say there’s a natural tendency within the congregation to defer to the members who come from a particular part of the world when a vacancy arises in their region. The American members, therefore, tend to be especially influential in shaping picks for the United States.

“Although in theory the pope is free to ignore the recommendations, in most cases the pope simply takes the top pick submitted by the Congregation for Bishops.”

In a separate piece, John Allen comments more specifically to analyze how the pope is setting up a new generation of “Francis Bishops.” He offers commentary on individual appointments in the piece, which are worth reading and writes:

“Putting in the moderate Wuerl and taking the strongly conservative Burke off couldn’t help but seem a signal of the kind of bishop Francis intends to elevate in the United States…

“There’s equally no doubt, however, that as of Monday, Francis shifted the center of the gravity inside the body responsible for selecting bishops towards the middle — not just with the American members, as it turns out, but across the board.”

As for LGBT issues, it seems Pope Francis wants bishops with a more pastoral and less political tone. While Wuerl has not been a strong ally for the LGBT community, he is notable for what he has not done as much as for what he has. He has not denied Communion to politicians based upon their voting records, and he has hardly been as aggressive in speech against LGBT people as his fellow American bishops.  Moreover, it was Wuerl who, in a nationally renowned news story, removed the priest who denied communion to a Catholic lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral.

When Pope Francis was selected as Person of the Year in both Time and The Advocate, critics have claimed his actions of welcome and outreach to the LGBT community were only words. This shake-up at the Vatican seems to indicate that the pope is trying to solidify words into actions.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Hierarchy Is a Shining Light in Dark Moment for LGBT Rights in India

December 16, 2013

Cardinal Oswald Gracias

India’s Supreme Court reinstated a law that bans homosexuality as a “crime against nature” earlier this week, intensifying divisions between LGBT advocates and the religious communities they blame for this development. Catholic leaders have varied in responding to the Court’s decision, but there are hopeful signs as at least one bishop spoke out against the law.

Outlawing homosexuality in India dates to British colonial rule more than a century ago. Recent legal debates began after a New Delhi court overturned the law in 2009. Anti-LGBT organizations, including faith-based ones, have sought to re-criminalize homosexuality since then. The Supreme Court’s ruling now says it is up to the nation’s legislators to repeal the law if that is what is desired.

The Times of India reports that religious groups have welcomed the ruling, with leaders using extremely homophobic language and advocating “ex-gay therapy” in their statements. Relative to these, Catholic leaders’ remarks have seemed muted and even positive. Archbishop Anil J T Couto of Delhi merely reaffirmed the hierarchy’s position on marriage equality and a spokesperson stated the archdiocese opposed any law that would criminalize homosexuality. Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai is quoted by UCANews.com as saying:

“[T]he Catholic Church has never been opposed to the decriminalisation of homosexuality, because we have never considered gay people criminals. As Christians, we express our full respect for homosexuals. The Catholic Church is opposed to the legalisation of gay marriage, but teaches that homosexuals have the same dignity of every human being and condemns all forms of unjust discrimination, harassment or abuse.”

Two interesting notes in this story. First, in addition to heading up the Mumbai Archdiocese and India’s bishops’ conference, Gracias is also a member of the eight member Council of Cardinals formed to advise Pope Francis. The pope has been noted for his pastoral tone when speaking about LGBT people and his emphasis away from social issues.

Second, India’s Christians are a minority struggling for recognition of their own rights. In the same week that homosexuality was criminalized, police injured Catholic demonstrators, including ten nuns, and arrested Archbishop Couto. Relations between the government and the Catholic Church are contentious, as UCANews.com reports. Defending all minority rights, including LGBT equality aside from marriage, is seemingly a position with which leading Catholic voices seem comfortable.

With elections about to occur in the coming week, and conservative nationalist politicians gaining popularity, it seems unlikely India’s government will act to decriminalize homosexuality. That said, the Catholic Church in India now has a concrete opportunity to act upon oft-stated teachings against LGBT discrimination and continue to speak out and work against this law.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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