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


Why Pick Pope Francis for Person of the Year?

December 13, 2013

Pope Francis was named Time‘s Person of the Year this past Wednesday, and since then voices from all quarters have expounded on just why this new pope is so popular. Beyond Time‘s award, he’s been cited as the most talked about figure on Facebook and has 10 million followers on Twitter (and that in less than nine months). Polling shows Pope Francis has a 92% favorable rating among US Catholics, and he has won praise from outside the Church as well. And what of LGBT issues specifically?

Time‘s write-up for Person of the Year emphasized Pope Francis’ outreach to LGBT people in their decision, and a more merciful tone on homosexuality led to two of the Top 10 Pope Moments Time published earlier this month.

For some, this honor comes from Pope Francis re-prioritizing that which matters most for Catholic Church: pastoral love over canonical judgments, alleviating poverty over regulating relationships, evangelizing with joy over criticizing with doctrine. David Cloutier expands on this at the blog Catholic Moral Theologywriting:

“In its construction of the story, the article effectively distinguishes between talking about ‘change’ and talking about ‘priorities.’ Francis is not so much changing the Church as making clear determinations about the Church’s priorities… which also means ‘change,’ but of a certain sort.”

Certainly, Pope Francis has shown that acceptance and welcome of LGBT people is the first step for Catholics and that combating marriage equality or other LGBT rights are not the Church’s top priorities.

Cloutier also highlights two elements in Time‘s write-up explaining Francis: he is foremost a priest, not a theologian or bureaucrat and he was personally censured by his provincial while lecturing in theology. This may explain his pastoral emphasis and aversion to use heavy-handed measures against anyone. It is precisely this new approach that people have been so receptive too.

Drawing off this, Paul Raushenbush of The Huffington Post writes of Pope Francis’ popularity:

“But why [is everyone talking about the pope]? I think it is because he is so refreshingly different from what people have become accustomed to associate with religious leaders…

“Pope Francis resonates with so many people because he actually lives up to the highest ideals of religion which challenges us to think both about our personal spiritual life alongside the concerns of the ‘other.’…

“His forthright statement like ‘Who am I to judge’ gay people; acknowledgment that atheists can work alongside religious people for the common good, his outreach to people of other faiths, and his amazing critique of economic systems that leave so many in this world hungry and homeless have been like a salve for the global community.”

For some, this honor is a promise of progress to come. Writing at Philly.com, Mark Segal looks forward to Pope Francis’ impact and writes:

“The actual doctrine of the church has not changed, but the message the Pope Francis is sending is more powerful than the doctrines themselves. Francis seems to understand that messages can create instant change, while doctrine can take years. He performs simple gestures as a priest looking after his flock, rather then a bureaucrat, bringing change, excitement and hope…

“If we had a gentler church, the world would be a better place for us all. Pope Francis gives me that hope, and I wish him God’s speed with his mission.”

One interesting final note is that Pope Francis beat out a leading LGBT advocate, Edith Windsor, who was the plaintiff behind the court case which led the US Supreme Court to strike down DOMA earlier this year. For some LGBT advocates, awarding the pope is misguided recognition, as in an opinion piece published by The Baltimore Sun which says:

“The simple phrase ‘who am I to judge?’ reverberated across the LGBT community and got church leaders talking openly about an issue that had been essentially verboten. But actual large-scale change — the kind Windsor sparked — has yet to come.

“Now that Time has honored Pope Francis for preaching compassion and tolerance, citing in part his softening stance on LGBT individuals, the real question is: What’s next?”

Regardless of why Pope Francis won Person of the Year or whether he deserved it among other contenders, Catholics and many others will continue asking the same question of Pope Francis in reconciling the hierarchy with the LGBT community and their allies: what’s next?

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Was It Intellectually Possible for Pope Benedict to Support Marriage Equality?

November 26, 2013

The recent marriage equality debate in Illinois produced a lot of important arguments, especially from Catholics who supported the passage of the new law. For instance, as we noted a few weeks back, several Catholic legislators appealed to Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?” comment to support their endorsement of marriage equality.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

In an op-ed essay in The Chicago Sun-Times, Cristina Traina, a Northwestern University  professor of religious studies and scholar of Catholic ethics builds on the idea of papal thinking as an avenue to support marriage equality.  

Entitled “Unnecessary roughing: Why Catholic bishops should be more accepting of gay marriage,”  Traina argues that Catholics, because of their moral tradition, should not only accept, but actively work for marriage equality.  This imperative, she asserts, comes not only from Pope Francis, but from his more conservative-minded predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.  She explains:

“Pope Francis certainly has not promoted same-sex marriage — especially in the Church. But he and his predecessor, Benedict XVI, both have made arguments that suggest their willingness to distinguish the low bar of public policy and civil law from the high bar of Christian moral ideals. Most importantly, they and others in the Catholic hierarchy seem to see these laws and policies as means of nudging people toward spiritual and moral renewal.”

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Traina leads her readers carefully through the confusing realm of what she calls “Vatican-speak” to explain how she arrived at this conclusion.  For example, Pope Francis’ Vatican has already recognized that same-sex marriage is a phenomenon that needs to be approached in a new pastoral way.  Noting that the Vatican is polling Catholics worldwide what their thoughts on same-sex marriage are,  Traina states:

“With the clear assumption that same-sex marriage is a cultural reality, the poll is trying to determine how the Church should minister to gay and lesbian couples and their families.”

From this point, she goes even further, by bringing in the sophisticated moral reasoning that Pope Benedict used when discussing condom use:

“The last example brings us to Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2010, according to an explosion of newswires, reversed Catholic teaching, cautiously approving the use of condoms to reduce transmission of HIV/AIDS. What the pope actually said — as the Vatican quickly confirmed — was quite different but no less important.

“He argued that for a person who has been practicing unprotected sex, using condoms out of concern for others ‘can be a first step in the direction of moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.’

“Though the Church disapproves of condoms, the reasoning goes, using them for the right reasons might lead a person gradually toward greater moral concern and away from a self-indulgent approach to sex.

“The implication is that the Vatican is beginning to view ‘irregular’ behavior like condom use and same-sex marriage as opportunity rather than as threat. Without abandoning its rejection of either, it shows signs of seeing both as indications of people’s aspirations to love, fidelity and concern for others — as nascent yearnings toward a holy life.”

This style of reasoning offers the U.S. bishops an example of how they can acknowledge and support marriage equality:

“Pope Benedict acknowledged the integrity of people who want to use condoms to forestall the spread of an often-fatal disease, though the Catholic Church teaches that sex should be confined to marriage and that monogamy and abstinence are better protection than condoms against HIV/AIDS. American bishops could follow suit by acknowledging the integrity of same-sex couples who want to marry, declare their fidelity, and raise children together, though the Catholic Church teaches that marriage should be confined to heterosexual couples.”

Traina concludes with a hope for the future:

“The implication of the popes’ actions is clear: marriage equality could be an important stepping stone to a holy life and therefore just might be good law.”

Catholic moral reasoning provides an intellectual basis for the Church to support marriage equality.  Traina’s argument shows that even someone like Pope Benedict, who opposed marriage equality on one hand, could also have used his own moral values and processes to support it.  One implication of Traina’s argument is that it shows that opposition to marriage equality is probably motivated by something other than intellectual reasoning.   Discussion of marriage equality–or any sexuality issue, for that matter–always involves more than one’s head, but also the person’s emotions and level of comfortability.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


What the Synod Questions Reveal About the Vatican’s Views on Family

November 18, 2013

The 2014 worldwide synod on marriage and the family has made headlines not just because of its topic is so important, but because of the fact that the Vatican has, for the first time, encouraged bishops to consult the laity on these topics.  In advance of the synod, the Vatican has issued a letter to the bishops including a set of 40 questions in eight categories, including a section on same-sex marriages.

Many have lauded the Vatican for doing the right thing in consulting the laity, the people who are most directly affected by these topics.  One Australian writer, while praising the Vatican’s effort, has taken issue with the way the questions have been phrased.  Writing at the Australian Catholic website EurekaStreet.com, Andrew Hamilton, notes that the questionnaire reveals several challenges that the bishops face in addressing these topics.

The first issue he has is how the questions imagine what a modern family looks like.  He asserts that there is a

“. . . striking contrast between the ideal of the Christian family that it proposed and the reality of child rearing in our society.

“The document represents a fairly traditional Catholic theology of the family, setting it within a high theology and expressed in elevated language. . . .

“Many children are reared by single parent families, by serial parents, in unmarried partnerships, in blended families and in same sex relationships. Many Catholics, too, are married outside the Catholic Church.

“This contrast is significant because it makes it harder to argue persuasively that the rearing of children within a monogamous and enduring family is the normative state for all human beings rather than an ideal for the few. It makes more plausible the argument that state regulation and formalisation of marriage and family ought to be separated from church regulation and ceremonies. This in turn makes it more difficult to appeal in public conversation to arguments based on natural law.”

Hamilton’s second point is that the document’s view of the family is too nostalgic:

“It looks back to a period when marriage alone had legal sanction, most marriages were in churches, divorce was difficult if not impossible, to be born out of wedlock was a stigma, and there was no social support for raising children outside of marriage.

“Nostalgia tends to overlook the harsher aspects of relationships within many duly married families: the incidence of domestic violence, of loveless relationships, of neglected and abused children, the damaged health and early death of so many women, and the inequality of husband and wife.

“It is also easy to forget that critics of such family arrangements were motivated by concern for the human dignity of wives and children who were trapped in abusive relationships. They were led to press for divorce and for tolerance of different forms of child rearing by the failures in practice of the Christian ideal of marriage when embodied in law and custom.

“Whether changes in social mores have ultimately benefited or disadvantaged women and children is open to debate. But to ignore the failures of societies in which the Christian understanding of family life was imposed by law, and the ethical passion of many of its critics, is to underestimate the challenge facing Christian reflection on the family today.”

Hamilton’s third point is that the document fails to take into account economic contexts of families:

In an economic order that is constructed around the participation of individuals in the market and values people by their financial success, it is expected that both adult partners will work to sustain the economy. Those who cannot engage in paid work are stigmatised and their benefits kept very low.

“This shapes family life. For example, someone who came to Australia from a rural society where the family was the economic unit may have been one of nine or ten siblings, but in Australia will have only one or two children. And it will be normal for the children to be placed in child care so that both parents can work.”

Hamilton’s points are good one, and they highlight the fact that the Vatican  indeed does need to do this consultation.   For far too long, church teaching has ignored the social and cultural contexts of families, and how faithful lay people responded to these realities, even sometimes in opposition to official church teaching.  

A synod usually produces a teaching document for the church.  For the upcoming synod, it looks like church officials will have a lot more to learn than to teach.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


Catholic Organization Offers Survey When U.S. Bishops Won’t Do So

November 5, 2013

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good has set up an online surveyto elicit the feedback from lay Catholics across the country, in response to the Vatican’s request for feedback from the laity on a variety of marriage and family topics, including same-sex marriage.   The Vatican made the request for bishops around the world to gather such information in anticipation of a world synod on marriage and family in 2014. yet, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has already expressed reluctance to encourage individual bishops to do so.

Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter has noted that Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a Catholic non-profit organization, is filling the gap.   In a blog post, McElwee noted:

“The nonprofit, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, has made a survey based on the Vatican’s questionnaire available online.

“Christopher Hale, a senior fellow with the group, said in an email that his organization sent a link to the survey via email to its some 30,000 members Friday morning. Within two hours, Hale said, the group had seen more than 300 responses.”

He also quoted Hale’s reaction to some of the messages people were sending.  Hale stated:

“Dozens of separated and divorced Catholics noted that they don’t feel welcomed in their Church communities because they don’t have access to the sacraments. Once again, dozens of gay and lesbian Catholics expressed the same sentiment. One noted how she felt like her treatment in her parish was [similar] to the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.”

David Gibson of Religion News Service noted in a news article that some U.S. bishops are annoyed with how the Vatican’s request has been handled by the USCCB.  Gibson wrote:

“. . . some American bishops privately expressed frustration that they had not been notified sooner about the Vatican request and that there was as yet no national plan for soliciting input from U.S. Catholics.”

In contrast, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have set up an online survey site to gather information, and Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of that bishops’ conference, has sent a message to lay Catholics saying, “Your participation is important.”

The new process reflects the new administration at the Vatican, Gibson observed:

“. . . [Pope] Francis and his top aides have said that they want to overhaul the synod to turn it into a truly consultative meeting that will be shorter in duration — two weeks instead of nearly a month — and encourage debate and input from all Catholics.

“Next October’s meeting will be the first major test for Francis’ pledge to develop a more ‘horizontal’ church.”

Father James Martin SJ

Father James Martin SJ

Jesuit Father James Martin, the noted spiritual author and church commentator, noted the importance of the Vatican’s request for information in a blog post on the America  magazine website:

“First off, this is indeed new. While in the past bishops were encouraged to promote discussion in their dioceses in preparation for a synod, there were never any outright polls conducted, and certainly nothing on a worldwide basis. Second, needless to say, the questions are not going to ask, ‘Should we overturn this church teaching?’ Nonetheless, the Vatican will surely get a better sense of how the teachings are being ‘received,’ to use a theological term, by the faithful. “

The Vatican’s request has amazing significance for Martin, who writes:

“. . . the news makes me smile, because for years when some people would speak about the sensus fidelium (that is, the ‘sense of the faithful’) as an important part of the way that the church lives and grows, a few people would protest, ‘But the church is not a democracy! And we don’t do polls!’
“People often forget the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on this matter in ‘Lumen Gentium': “They [the laity] are, by [reason of] knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church.’ “
“Finally, it’s a sign, in case we needed to be reminded, that the Holy Spirit is at work in everybody. From the Pope, to the local bishop, to your pastor, to the sister teaching in your school, to the director of religious education at your parish, to the mother of three, to the man who holds out the collection basket on Sundays, to the college student struggling with her faith, to the fellow who cleans the church bathrooms, to the Catholic baptized just last Easter.
“The Holy Spirit is at work in her church and in her people. And she will let her voice be heard, this time through these polls, because she desires to speak.”
Michael O'Loughlin

Michael O’Loughlin

For Michael O’Loughlin, who blogs for Religion News Service, the change that the Vatican’s request indicates goes even beyond data collection.  O’Loughlin writes:

“Vatican officials want to know, from those living and working and worshipping in Catholic parishes, how to offer pastoral care for married gays and lesbians, and how to serve their children. I could not have imagined that the church would recognize gays as human beings even a few months ago, never mind ask for ideas on how to serve them, and their children, better. It’s truly revolutionary.

“And what’s not there in those questions is just as amazing as what is. There’s no mention of sin. Nothing about intrinsically disordered desires. The children aren’t called illegitimate.

“Instead, there’s language that recognizes gay and lesbian Catholics as human beings, as people who long for lives of faith and meaning.”

I couldn’t agree more with O’Loughlin.  Though the USCCB may not yet be “on board” with Pope Francis’ new approach to Catholic issues, it’s obvious that a new wind is blowing in the Vatican.   This request for information from the laity indicates a willingness to listen on the part of church leaders–something that has been absent from the Vatican hierarchy for decades.   As I’ve said before, it’s now up to the laity to offer their opinions, whether a bishops encourages them to do so or not.  The only opportunity for failure here is silence.


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