In Europe, Some Catholic Leaders Strive for LGBT Reconciliation

May 8, 2014

In Europe, some Catholic bishops seem to be trying to heal the hurt that LGBT people have experienced, sometimes hurt caused by church leaders.

Admiral Duncan Public House on April 30, 1999

Admiral Duncan Public House on April 30, 1999

In England, the gay community recently marked the 15th anniversary of the Soho Bombing, when 3 people died, including a pregnant woman, over 80 injured, when a device exploded in the Admiral Duncan Public House (a gay bar).  The event galvanized the LGBT community in that nation.  

The event was marked by a joint statement from the Anglican Bishop of London, the Right  Reverend & Right Honorable Richard Chartres, and the Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols:

“On this 15th Anniversary of the bombings in Soho, Brixton and Brick Lane, we affirm our condemnation of all such acts of violence and hold in our prayers those whose lives have been taken or shattered and all those who mourn. It is fundamental to our faith that all men and women are made in the image of God and so deserve our respect, care and compassion. In this great World-in-a-City, we stand alongside all those who oppose the hatred that continues to divide communities and diminishes us all. We work and pray for a society in which we have learnt to love our neighbour as ourselves.”

Thanks to one of the United Kingdom’s most prominent Catholic LGBT advocate, Martin Pendergast, for alerting us to this statement.  Queering The Church blogger Terence Weldon commented: “Finally, some Catholic bishops are taking seriously the Church teaching to condemn all forms of violence or malice,in speech or in action against gay or lesbian people.”

Across the Channel, in France, the head of the French bishops’ conference has been trying to heal the pastoral damage done when some Catholic leaders in that nation strongly opposed that nation’s marriage equality law when it was being debated last year.  The Tablet reported:

Archbishop Georges Pontier

Archbishop Georges Pontier

“Marseille Archbishop Georges Pontier, president of the French bishops’ conference, urged his fellow bishops to avoid being ‘manipulated by social movements’ when he opened their spring plenary meeting.

“The meeting in Lourdes just before Holy Week was overshadowed by different views about how to deal with a growing polarisation that emerged with last year’s anti-gay marriage protests, with some bishops actively supporting the protests but many others keeping a discreet distance. Some organisers of that lay-led movement have since become active in conservative and far-right politics.”

According to The Tablet, the most recent example of the influence of the conservative faction is the removal of a speaker from a French Catholic meeting:

“Differences flared again last month when the bishops’ conference’s Family and Society Council withdrew a conference invitation to a feminist philosopher after a traditionalist blog collected about 1,100 signatures on a petition denouncing her as a proponent of gender theory, that is incompatible with Catholic doctrine. That led to an internal debate about whether the council should have caved in to what the Catholic daily La Croix called ‘a minority, promoted to be thought police.’ “

The examples of these British and French prelates should be emulated by Catholic bishops here in the United States.  Harsh rhetoric opposing marriage equality from U.S. prelates such as Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul, Minnesota, and Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois (to name a few), have alienated many Catholics.  Reconciliatory statements and gestures would go a long way to healing the hurt that many Catholics, LGBT people and allies alike, have experienced by so many harmful messages.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis’ Support of Civil Unions Is Part of a Growing Trend in Catholic Church

March 22, 2013

News reports that Pope Francis supported civil unions as a compromise strategy when he was archbishop in Argentina have given hope to LGBT-affirming Catholics that he may be a pope who will be willing to soften the hard line that the Vatican has taken on the issue of marriage equality and same-gender relationships under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

If Pope Francis does institute the same policy as pope that he promoted in Argentina,  he will be in good company with other bishops around the globe on this matter.  As Bondings 2.0 has been reporting over the last year or so,  there has been a growing trend of more openness to same-gender relationships, including civil union support, by a number of bishops and church leader from various nations.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

Bondings 2.0 has been taking note of this trend since December 2011, when Archbishop Vincent Nichols, president of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales, supported the idea of civil unions in the United Kingdom’s marriage equality debate.   At about the same time, Fr. Frank Brennan, a Jesuit law professor in Australia, wrote an essay supporting the idea of civil unions, too.  Just last month, the bishops of England and Wales, in commenting on the marriage bill there, praised same-gender parents:

 “We recognise that many same sex couples raise children in loving and caring homes.”

Bishop Pa0lo Urso, of Ragusa, Italy, also gave de facto support for civil unions in January 2013 when he stated:

“When two people, even if they’re the same sex, decide to live together, it’s important for the State to recognize this fact. But it must be called something different from marriage.”

Bishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini

Bishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini

Just over a year later, he was joined by Bishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini, in nearby Calabria, Italy, who supported legal protections for gay and lesbian couples, as long as the word “marriage” wasn’t used.

In the United States, the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, supported a civil unions bill in March 2012, as a way to forestall marriage equality.   In their statement, the diocese said:

“The Diocese of Manchester consistently has opposed legislation that would establish civil unions. However, the proposed amendment to HB 437 falls into a category of legislation which the US Bishops have previously considered: bills in civil law which may not reflect the fullness of the Church’s teaching, but which nonetheless provide an “incremental improvement” in the current law and a “step toward full restoration of justice.” (USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 32)”

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Most recently, Archbishop Vincent Paglia, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, also supported legal protections short of marriage for gay and lesbian couples.  A news report stated:

“In his first Vatican press conference since his appointment as the Catholic church’s “minister” for family, Paglia conceded that there are several kinds of ‘cohabitation forms that do not constitute a family,’ and that their number is growing.

“Paglia suggested that nations could find ‘private law solutions’ to help individuals who live in non-matrimonial relations, ‘to prevent injustice and make their life easier.’ “

Though some claim that Paglia later backtracked from these statements, it seems that his later comments were simply a criticism of news reports which tried to make it sound like he had supported marriage equality, which it was clear he had not done.

Related to this trend of supporting civil unions as a political strategy is a newer trend by some bishops in speaking positively about gay and lesbian relationships.   This recent trend began in May 2012 when Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Berlin, Germany, addressed a national gathering of Catholics, stating:

“When two homosexuals take responsibility for one another, if they deal with each other in a faithful and long-term way, then you have to see it in the same way as heterosexual relationships.”

Cardinal rainer maria woelki

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki

Woelki re-affirmed his position in an interview with Die Zeit magazine, in which he stated:

“ ‘Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,’ the Catechism says about people with homosexual tendencies. If I take that seriously, I can’t merely see homosexual relationships as a ‘violation of natural law,’ as the Catechism puts it. I should also try to perceive it as people permanently taking  responsibility for one another, being loyal and willing to take care of each other, even if I can’t agree with such a lifestyle.”

Early in 2013,  the French bishops conference went public with a statement opposing marriage equality, but which spoke very favorably of gay and lesbian relationships.  For example, they stated:

“The diversity of homosexual practices must not hinder us from taking seriously the aspirations of those men and women who wish to engage in a stable bond. . . .

“The Catholic Church calls the faithful to live such a relationship in chastity but she recognizes, beyond the one sexual aspect, the value of solidarity, of the attention and care of the other which can manifest itself in a lasting affective relationship.”

You can read relevant excerpts from this document provided in English translation here, thanks to Bondings 2.0 reader Tom Luce.

Bishop Scicluna

Bishop Charles Scicluna

Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta spoke in a similar vein about same gender relationships in February 2012. The bishop made his remarks in response to an anti-gay letter written to him by a Mr. Joe Zammit:

“Bishop Scicluna maintained that ‘Gay people are not called to marriage which is the permanent union between one man and one woman open to the gift of parenthood,’ but then added, ‘they are indeed called to chaste friendship and chaste friendship is chaste love.’

“ ‘To say, as Mr Zammit keeps harping, that “there can never be love but only lust between homosexuals” is to deny the truth of what the Church teaches.’ . . .

You can find a video of Bishop Scicluna’s comments here.

All of  these items indicate a definite trend toward a more positive approach on same-gender marriage that is percolating among the hierarchy.  Although none oppose the traditional teaching on marriage, these moves indicate a willingness to move away from harsh rhetoric, as well as looking for ways to accommodate legal protections for families headed by same-gender couples.

The recent report that Cardinal Bergoglio had supported civil unions can offer some hope that now as pope he will do the same.  I would be more hope-filled if his statements reflected some of the more positive messages that some of the bishops reported on above had made about the goodness of gay and lesbian relationships.  The report of his proposed compromise makes me wonder if he was motivated by political pragmatism in an effort to prevent marriage equality or a moral duty to protect lesbian and gay couples.  I think the hope for the future may be in the fact that the trend among bishops for a  more positive framing of lesbian and gay relationships will flourish more openly under a pope who, for whatever reason, has already been willing to drop the traditional hard line.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


London’s Archbishop Welcomes LGBT Community to a New Pastoral Home

March 7, 2013

soho MassesAt the beginning of January, Bondings 2.0 reported on London’s Soho Masses for the LGBT community being transferred to a new location and operated under a different model of pastoral ministry.  That story made headlines because the Soho Masses were a pastoral accommodation made by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, but had also been the subject of some criticism by conservative Catholics, reaching to the Vatican.

This past Sunday, the Soho Masses community moved to their new location at the Jesuit-run Immaculate Conception parish, Farm Street, in the Mayfair section of London.  In the new model of ministry, the LGBT community will not have a separate Mass, but will attend the Sunday evening Mass of the parish with the rest of the worshiping community.  Additionally, the Soho Masses Pastoral Council will work with the parish to expand outreach and ministerial programs to the LGBT community of London.

The new model of ministry got off to a good start, with a noteworthy visit from Archbishop Nichols himself to welcome the community. The Independent newspaper reports:

“In a remarkable gesture of goodwill, the Archbishop of Westminster made a private address to the united congregation after yesterday’s service – the first time a senior figure in the Roman Catholic church has formally engaged with the LGBT community.”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

When the change had been announced, there had been some suggestion that Archbishop Nichols was forced by the Vatican to try to close down the pastoral outreach.  His presence at the first Mass to welcome the community shows that he is firmly committed to making the church a welcoming place for LGBT people.  His gesture shows how pastoral leaders can help to ease any discomfort that a change may entail, and it also stands as an example to the rest of the faith community about the importance of welcoming LGBT people.

The leadership of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council are excited about the new opportunity for community and ministry, while realizing that the transition may be difficult for some.  The Independent carried the comments of one leader:

“Despite a sense of betrayal in the LGBT Catholic community, some churchgoers, including Soho Masses Pastoral Council member Mark Dowd, were hopeful about what an integrated service would mean:

” ‘I’m excited because a lot of Catholics still don’t know any gay men or lesbians… This is a chance to make our face known and become formally part of the community,’ he said yesterday. ‘In a perfect world none of us would describe or define ourselves by our sexual orientation… there wouldn’t be a need for a special designated space. But it’s not a perfect world.’ “

Dowd also commented on the significance of Nichols’ pastoral visit to the first Mass:

“There are those critics of Vincent Nichols who would say that he is not on the progressive side of the argument, but to sit down and actually acknowledge the existence of our community has to be something.”

Here in the U.S., LGBT Catholics have sought such opportunities for many years, with few opportunities to dialogue with a bishop.

Catholic blogger Terence Weldon, at QueeringTheChurch.com, attended the first Mass and described the positive atmosphere of the event, as well as his hopes for the future:

“Tonight (Sunday 3rd March) I went up to London for the first Mass of the integration of the Soho Masses Community into the Farm Street parish of the Church of the Immaculate Conception – and came home more confident than ever that this transition will work out to our advantage. There will be short-term disappointments and teething problems, but these will be dealt with in time. In the longer run, we will benefit from the improved physical space, the greater resources of the Parish and the Mount Street Jesuit Centre for growth in faith and spirituality, and for opportunities to grow as part of a wider community – simultaneously influencing and learning from them.”

Weldon’s post describes the event in full, and he also corrects some of the inaccuracies of a press report of the event.  You can read his entire comments here and here.  If you want more information on this topic, they are an excellent resource.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

One final note about the new parish location.  This is the same parish which rejected Oscar Wilde as a parishioner back in the 1890s after he completed his prison sentence on “gross indecency” and sodomy charges.   Reconciliation can happen on all levels, even the historical one.   In an International Businss Times  article, Dowd commented on the historical significance of the parish:

“Oscar Wilde was turned away; they didn’t want to be associated with him. Now the Jesuits are saying: ‘It’s OK, it’s fine.’ “

We pray the Soho Masses community receive every blessing as they settle into their new pastoral home.  We pray, too, that similar models of ministry here in the U.S. be accorded the pastoral support that Archbishop Nichols has demonstrated.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


British Nurse Takes On Archbishop of Westminster in Marriage Equality Debate

February 24, 2013

marriage equality 4A 65-year old nurse in England has written a letter to Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, upbraiding him for his stand against marriage equality during that nation’s recent debate on the issues.  Even though we may have heard some of these arguments before, this nurse, who has chosen to remain anonymous, makes the case with such simple force that they bear repeating here.  Gay Star News printed the letter in its entirety, and it can be viewed here.  The following are excerpts.

On celibacy:

 “I do not find it at all easy or even possible to uphold the church’s teaching on homosexuality. Among gay people of my acquaintance are those who have a deep spiritual life, to have one’s sexual orientation, an orientation that one is born with, described as an ‘objective disorder’ and to hear homosexual acts described as ‘intrinsically evil’ surely makes it almost impossible to feel at home or welcome in the church. It is utterly unrealistic to expect homosexual people to live celibate lives (We all know that many priests find this very difficult and sometimes impossible). The revelations of clerical sex abuse have led many of us to look with a very critical eye on the so-called celibate life and to realize that it has all to often lead to warped and destructive behavior.”

On other social ills:

“When I meet people in my day to day existence they talk about the economic climate (bad), lack of employment (bad), uncertain future for their children (bad), state of schools, hospitals (bad) – never ever has anybody expressed concern about a threat to their marriage by the proposed legalizing of same-sex marriage.”

On clerical hypocrisy:

“Sadly you still think your pronouncements will be accepted without question by a meek credulous herd. You have spent far too much time telling us just how sinful we are while drawing veils of respectability over your own grievous wrongdoings.”

On Jesus’ example:

“I sometimes despair of this church, this institution. It seems to me in my reading of the Gospels that Jesus had no problem whatsoever with those who were considered outsiders or exceptions. He appears to have happily shared meals with prostitutes, drunkards, lepers, Gentiles and I do not doubt with people of same-sex orientation since such an orientation has existed since time began. The church seems much happier with its version of order over compassion and love towards the so-called exceptions. It has an appalling history of excluding and torturing those who do not think or subscribe to its definition of ‘right’. “

On misplaced hierarchical priorities:

“The world is facing disaster on all levels and this church, when not obsessing about matters sexual, spends an inordinate amount of time on pointless activities such as changing the liturgy back to a correct translation of the original Latin – a language not spoken by Jesus but spoken by the oppressors of his time and country. Do you imagine that this obsession with precisely translated texts will win you a single new adherent? To me, you (particularly but not exclusively the hierarchy) appear to be a frightened group of men preoccupied with titles, clothing and other religious externals. You seem, with some wonderful and brave exceptions, to pay only lip service to ecumenism and matters of social justice. I would love to see the so-called ‘Princes of the Church’ (Where did all these triumphant, utterly anti-Gospel titles you award yourselves come from?) get rid of the silk, the gold, the Gucci shoes, the ridiculous tall hats, croziers, fancy soutanes etc etc and substitute bare heads and a simple pilgrim’s staff on all liturgical occasions and that might be taken as a small outward sign of your inner acceptance of fundamental Gospel values.”

On the threat to heterosexual marriage:

 “I will always be unsure of the validity of any principle or opinion that makes one act in an unkind or intolerant way. Toleration, of course, has its limits, I want you to cry out against injustice and cruelty. Explain to me please exactly how marriage will be ‘changed forever’ by the proposed new laws, specifically tell me how my marriage will be threatened.”

I couldn’t have said it  better myself  Amen!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Bishops in United Kingdom Attack Marriage Equality on Several Fronts

January 10, 2013

Scottish bishops with Pope Benedict XVI

Comments calling same-sex marriage “morally defective” by retired Scottish Archbishop Mario Conti are the latest in month-long attacks by Catholic prelates responding to British and Scottish government plans to legalize marriage equality.

Writing in The Tablet against the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill during a period where Scottish officials gather public input, Archbishop Conti said:

“…it is unhelpful, unnecessary and indeed profoundly unwise for political action to do quite the opposite, namely to attempt through the law, by equating homosexual unions with heterosexual marriage, to render moral what is in itself morally defective.”

Previously, the English bishops have spoken forcefully against government plans to legalize marriage equality in England and Wales. Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell wrote a harshly-worded letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron in early December questioning Catholics’ ability to trust him and making a comparison that Cameron is equitable to the anti-Christian Roman emperor, Nero.

Other instances since then include:

  • Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham’s warning that not adhering to traditional gender roles as a result of marriage equality laws would have unforeseen consequences for society;
  • Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster declaring, in a letter read during Masses, the government’s move as undemocratic, “shambolic,” and something that would make George Orwell proud;
  • Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury using his Christmas homily to compare the British government’s efforts on marriage equality to Communist and Nazi totalitarian regimes.

Such unwelcomed messages at Christmas time distort the holiday for many, evident in comments by Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, to The Guardian:

“’We do think it’s very sad that an archbishop should sully the day of the birth of Jesus by making what seem to be such uncharitable observations about other people. Some of us are mindful of Luke 2:14, which reminds us that Christmas Day is a day of peace and goodwill to all men. Perhaps Archbishop Nichols should have spent a little more time in bible study.’”

The pending legislation for England and Wales is expected to be voted on this coming spring, with Prime Minister David Cameron recently reiterating his support for full marriage equality while promising sufficient religious liberty safeguards.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


London’s Archbishop Ends Masses in Soho for LGBT Catholics; Ministry Continues at Jesuit Parish

January 3, 2013

soho MassesThe popular Soho Masses for the LGBT community in London, England, will be coming to a close after six years because of a new pastoral plan for LGBT people that the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster has issued.  But the ministry to LGBT people will continue. The archbishop has moved the LGBT ministry to a London Jesuit parish, under a new model of service and organization.

London’s Catholic Herald has printed the entire text of the pastoral plan by Archbishop Vincent Nichols.  In the section on why he is ending this successful pastoral program, he states:

“At this point, and after six years of the pastoral care offered at Our Lady of the Assumption Church [Warwick Street], it is time for a new phase. Two considerations give shape to this new phase. The first is to recall that the original aim of this pastoral provision at Warwick Street was to enable people with same-sex attraction ‘to enter more fully into the life of the Church’ ‘specifically within the existing parish structures’ (Diocese of Westminster press statement 2 Feb 2007). The second is the importance of recognising that there is a distinction to be made between the pastoral care of a particular group and the regular celebration of the Mass. The Mass is always to retain its essential character as the highest prayer of the whole Church. This ‘universal’ character of the Mass is to be nurtured and clearly expressed in the manner of every celebration. The purpose of all pastoral care, on the other hand, is to encourage and enable people, especially those who are in difficult circumstances, to come to participate fully and worthily in the celebration of the Mass in the midst of the whole Church, the people summoned by the Lord to give him, together, worthy service and praise.

” . . . I am, therefore, asking the group which has, in recent years, helped to organise the celebration of Mass on two Sundays of each month at Warwick Street now to focus their effort on the provision of pastoral care. This includes many of the activities which have recently been developed and it is to be conducted fully in accordance with the teaching of the Church. Such pastoral care will include support for growth in virtue and holiness, the encouragement of friendship and wider community contacts, always with the aim of helping people to take a full part in the life of the Church in their local parish community. It will not include the organisation of a regular Mass.”

The new pastoral program will begin in Lent of 2013.

For many years, Archbishop Nichols has been criticized by traditionalist Catholics for permitting the Masses.  Indeed, the Vatican has also questioned his reasoning for establishing the liturgies.  For some, his decision will surely be viewed as capitulating to these pressures.

However, England’s Terence Weldon, who blogs at QueeringTheChurch.com, and who is a regular participant at these Masses and a member of the Pastoral Council there, has a different point of view.  He is optimistic that this decision is not an ending, but a moment of transformation for the community.  He sees the archbishop’s plan as an opportunity for growth for the burgeoning community. On his blog, he wrote:

“The real issue here is not simply one of a ‘gay Mass,’ but of the wider issue of effective  Catholic LGBT ministry. For many years, the Soho Masses as we know them have provided a richly valuable to those people able and willing to make the journey to get to them – but does nothing for those who by reason of location or inclination, are not. One of the obvious problems with the existing model as we have it at Warwick Street, is that it is not one that can be simply transplanted to other areas, of the diocese or pf the country. If we can make a success of developing a new model at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, we should find that although the ‘Soho Masses’ may end – Catholic LGBT ministry will be strengthened, and expanded.”

The Soho Masses Pastoral Council issued a statement on January 3rd, welcoming  the archbishop’s directive.  The following are excerpts:

“The purpose of the Soho Masses has been, and remains, to encourage the LGBT Catholic Community to participate fully in the life of the Church, the diverse body of Christ, through participation in the Mass, and through shared prayer.
In this we have become victims of our own success, in terms of the number of people who have joined the Eucharistic Community of our congregation. This means that, while the body of the church in Warwick St. is still adequate to our number, the lack of other facilities in the 18th Century building has become a limiting factor in organising social and pastoral activity and prayer, in particular for elderly, infirm or disabled people.

“We therefore look forward with much anticipation to the opportunity of using the greater space offered by the Church of the Immaculate Conception, and, since we have kindly been relieved of our responsibility of organising the Mass, to respond positively to the Archbishop’s challenge to develop our pastoral work in this ‘new phase’ of our peripatetic existence.

“The Masses at Farm Street will, clearly, continue to be at the heart of our life in communion, and of our pastoral activity, and we look forward to participating fully in them. . . .

“Our only reservation regarding the transfer of base is that our title becomes somewhat of a misnomer, in that we shall be in Mayfair, rather than in Soho. However, given the value of the title Soho Masses we shall continue to use it.”

I attended the Soho Masses when I was in London in the summer of 2012 for the World Pride celebrations.  I found them the liturgy to be very traditionally Catholic, and I met many people afterwards who said that coming to this Mass community was their way of returning to Catholicism after a period of alienation.  Many of the participants were heterosexually identified people with no connection to the LGBT community, but who had heard that the spirit at these Masses was welcoming and rich. In one sense, all theological arguments aside, I imagine that this decision  will probably feel very much like a parish closing or consolidation to some.

Even if there are better days ahead, I am sure it will be a difficult transition for many, and I will keep them all in my prayers, and ask you to do the same.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Cardinal Calls for Equality of Heterosexual and Homosexual Relationships

May 20, 2012

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki

So far I’ve only seen one news report in English about this item, but there are several in German that are floating around the web.  It is too good not to report, even though the information is rather sparse.

Berlin’s Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki told a major Catholic conference in Germany that relationships of same-gender couples should be treated equally with heterosexual couples. An article in The Local, an English news source in Germany reports:

“He told a crowd on Thursday that the church should view long-term, faithful homosexual relationships as they do heterosexual ones.

” ‘When two homosexuals take responsibility for one another, if they deal with each other in a faithful and long-term way, then you have to see it in the same way as heterosexual relationships,’ Woelki told an astonished crowd, according to a story in the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

“Woekli acknowledged that the church saw the relationship between a man and a woman as the basis for creation, but added that it was time to think further about the church’s attitude toward same sex relationships.”

Speaking at the 98th Katholikentag (Catholic), a conference of 60,000 Catholics in Mannheim, Woelki joins a growing chorus of episcopal voices who are calling for change in the hierarchy’s traditionally absolutist refusal to acknowledge the moral goodness of lesbian and gay relationships.

Last December, London’s Archbishop Vincent Nichols made headlines by supporting civil partnerships for lesbian and gay couples in the U.K.  That same month, Fr. Frank Brennan, a Jesuit legal scholar in Australia, also called for similar recognition of same-sex relationships.   In January, Bishop Paolo Urso of Ragusa, Italy, also called for recognition of civil partnerships in his country.

March of 2012 saw an explosion of questioning from prelates of the hierarchy’s ban on marriage equality. At New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium,Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia called for a total re-examination of Catholic sexual ethics to allow for, among other things, moral approval of same-sex relationships.  The Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, supported a bill that would legalize civil unions (albeit as a stopgap measure to prevent marriage equality).  Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine, announced that the diocese would not take an active role in opposing the state’s upcoming referendum on marriage equality, as it had in 2009. In Italy, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan stated in his book, Credere e Cognoscere (Faith and Understanding), that “I do not agree with the positions of those in the Church who takes issue with civil unions.”  You can read excerpts, in Italian,  from the book here. An English translation of a different set of excerpts, thanks to the Queering the Church blog, can be found here.

While opposition to marriage equality from the hierarchy, especially in the United States, is still massive and strong, it is significant that these recent statements are all developing a similar theme of at least some recognition of the intrinsic value of lesbian and gay relationships, as well as the need for civil protection of them.  May this trend continue and grow.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


NEWS NOTES: January 14, 2012

January 14, 2012

Here are links to some articles you might find of interest:

1) In “Bishop:  Italy Should Recognize Gay Couples,” the UPI reports that a Sicilian bishop has called for governmental recognition of civil unions for gay/lesbian couples.  He joins Archbishop Vincent Nichols of the United Kingdom and Father Frank Brennan, SJ, a professor of law in Australia,  who have recently supported civil unions in their countries, too.

2) On January 13th, we commented on the “Open Letter on Marriage and Religious Liberty” signed by conservative religious leaders.  In a column in the National Catholic Reporter entitled “Churches seek–and find–greater exemptions from employment laws,” Jamie Manson does a good analysis of some of the issues involved in this debate.

3) The four Catholic bishops of Washington State have called on Catholics to oppose that state’s marriage equality legislation, reports  the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Joel Connelly in “Catholic bishops to flock:  Fight same-sex marriage.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Practicing What We Preach

December 11, 2011

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

There’s an interesting discussion happening over at America‘s blog, thanks to a posting by Michael O’Loughlin on the recent support for civil unions by Archbishop Nichols of Westminster, England.  O’Loughlin, who has posted several insightful musings on LGBT issues and Catholicism, puts Archbishop Nichols’ recent statements in the context of the tension in Catholic teaching between respect for lesbian/gay people while maintaining disapproval of sexual activity and relationships.

O’Loughlin poses a number of thoughtful questions that deserve reflection by bishops, theologians, and all the Catholic faithful:

“The codes I referenced above, which label gay women and men “intrinsically disordered” but then demand they be treated with dignity and respected is confusing, and Nichols seems to be responding as best he can to these dual claims. He has unabashedly upheld the church’s teachings on marriage, which puts him at odds with most in his country. And yet he offers a pastoral response to those gay and lesbian individuals who wish for legal recognition and rights to ensure safety and stability within their families. Are those on the right who attack Nichols concerned more with ideological or theological purity than pastoral concern and love of neighbor? How, then, should pluralist and secular societies treat gays and lesbians? Should their relationships be offered any legal recognition? What about hospital visitation, taxes, and the myriad other rights and responsibilities heterosexual couples take for granted? Is there any way for Catholics to affirm what the church teaches about marriage while respecting other family structures and situations in diverse societies?”

New Ways Ministry has already “dipped our oar” into the discussion on the blog (see the 2nd comment after O’Loughlin’s post),trying to provide theological context for this discussion:

“Theologians have tried for decades to move the magisterium to accept a sexual ethic that is based on the qualities of justice and mutuality that exist in a relationship, not on the biological activity which is performed.  Such an ethic would move our church away from act-centered morality, and into a morality that values the love bond between people.”

One of the great proponents of this school of thought is Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia, who will be a plenary speaker and retreat leader at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in March, 2012.  As noted in the comment to O’Louglin’s post:

“Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, of Australia, has pointed out that if we base our sexual ethic on the Gospel, we will observe that Jesus did not preach about any sexual acts, but He did preach constantly about honoring and valuing right relationships among people.  Such an ethic would help all people and relationships.”

We also tried to offer some historical context for Archbishop Nichols’ support for civil unions:

“Archbishop Nichols’ statement on civil unions is not without precedent in the British church.  In 1979,  the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales Social Welfare Commission, under the leadership of Cardinal Basil Hume, offered this advice to pastoral workers in a document entitled An Introduction to the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People: ‘The pastor may distinguish between irresponsible, indiscriminate sexual activity and the permanent association between two homosexual persons, who feel incapable of enduring a solitary life devoid of sexual expression. This distinction may be borne in mind when offering pastoral advice and establishing the degree of responsibility….’  Nichols’ statement is certainly within the same pragmatic and compassionate tradition.”

Check out O’Louglin’s blog post and join in the discussion either there or here or both.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Support for Civil Unions Hops to Australia

December 9, 2011

A few days ago, we wrote about support for same-sex civil unions coming from Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of  Westminister, the highest ranking prelate in the United Kingdom.

Today we learn that this type of support has spread to Australia, too.  In a column on EurekaStreet.com.au, Fr. Frank Brennan, SJ, professor of law at the Public Policy Institute of Australian Catholic University, argues that Catholic members of Australia’s parliament should support civil unions for same-sex couples:

“How should the conscientious Catholic member of parliament vote? If I were a member of parliament, I would support a law for the recognition of civil unions similar to the present United Kingdom law. . . “

To be clear, Fr. Brennan does not support “extending the definition of marriage to include the union of two men or two women.”   Still, his reason for support of civil unions is a good one:

“I would do so because I think the State should not discriminate against couples who have a mutual commitment to a shared life (whatever their sexual orientation). . .”

And he supports his position by reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“On the issue of civil recognition of same-sex unions it is not appropriate in the public square simply to agitate about the Catholic view of the sacramentality of marriage. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: ‘The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination … constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’ “

How long will it be before similar thinking spreads to the Catholic leaders in another English-speaking former colony of England: the United States of America?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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