THIS MONTH IN CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Georgetown University President Calls Gay Expulsion “Obscene”

May 26, 2016

History-Option 1“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s new feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor:  Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Since this is a new experiment, we would appreciate hearing from you in the “Comments” section if you think an occasional feature such as this is helpful to you.  For other posts in this series, click here.

1990: Prelate’s order made priest wonder what has happened to the Church

After the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued its “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” in 1986, many U.S. bishops began expelling chapters of DignityUSA from the use of church property.  The ostensible reason was that the bishops believed that the groups did not follow church teaching on gay and lesbian sexual relationships.  One of the chapters which eventually was expelled from church property was Dignity/Washington in the nation’s capital, which had been meeting at the Dahlgren Chapel of the Jesuit-run Georgetown University.

Fr. Timothy Healy, SJ, was the president of the university at the time, and he personally delivered the expulsion notice to the Dignity community at a liturgy.  Fr. Healy, who has since passed away, was one of the leading college presidents and intellectuals of his day.  From Georgetown University, he went on to another prestigious position: the president of the New York Public Library system.  In 1990, Fr. Healy gave the John Courtney Murray Forum Lecture at Fordham University, New York.  During that talk, he said that he felt his expulsion of the Dignity chapter was “obscene” and made him wonder “what happened to my Church.”

Religion News Service story published in The Catholic Messenger, Davenport, Iowa, on May 31, 1990, with the headline “Prelate’s order made priest wonder what has happened to the Church,” reported on the lecture and the comment.  The story began:

“The Jesuit priest who formerly headed Georgetown University said he questioned what has happened to the Catholic Church the day he was forced to tell an organization of homosexuals that it could no longer have Mass on campus.”

Father Timothy Healy, SJ

The story continued:

“Fr. Healy said the university chapter of Dignity, an organization of homosexuals, had been holding Sunday Masses for 15 years when he received a formal order in 1987 from Archbishop James Hickey of Washington, D.C. that the Mass had to be discontinued.”

But delivering the news was not the end of the story for Fr. Healy:

“Although he obeyed the order, he said he was haunted by a contrasting memory of 30 years earlier.  As a young priest spending some time in Spain, he was asked to assist in hearing confessions for two nights in Valencia when ‘the cathedral was reserved for “las carteladas,” the city’s prostitutes. . . .

The memory of that confessional experience of listening to people who were outcast from society was with him the night he delivered Hickey’s order to the Dignity community. He said of that night:

“For the first time in my life as a priest I felt what I was doing at that altar was obscene, and with the Spanish memory strong in my mind I wondered what had happened to my Church.”

One wonders what Fr. Healy would think about the last few decades of the Church, where under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, we have witnessed an even tighter closing of the doors and shunning of anyone whose thinking might differ one iota from official doctrine.  How rare it was in 1990 for a church leader to admit that he had been wrong about a negative policy regarding lesbian and gay people.

Fr. Healy’s comments were made  in his lecture titled “Probity and Freedom on the Border,” which the news story described as a talk which

“. . . discussed the function of the Jesuit university as a meetingplace of Church and world.  As a forum, the university, he said, ‘is full fed and draws upon the best of science, the humanities, the social sciences and the arts.”

The story continued to expand on Healy’s opinion:

“But some Church officials, like those in Galileo’s time, ‘solemnly refused to look through the telescopes for fear of what they might see,’ he said.  In two recent cases the document on in vitro fertilization [a CDF instruction condemning artificial means of conception] and the first draft of a universal catechism, officials in charge of those efforts ignored Church-related academic institutions.

“Referring to the in vitro fertilization document, Fr. Healy said, ‘With five major Catholic medical centers at its disposal, Rome consulted none of them.  The result is, of course, a faulty document.’ “

Healy’s comments about Catholic campuses are extremely relevant today.  As Bondings 2.0 reports in our “Campus Chronicles” series, Catholic colleges and universities are often leading the way in terms of policies and programs which support LGBT students, faculty, and staff.

And despite the expulsions in the late 1980s, Dignity chapters and DignityUSA continue to thrive, bringing justice and pastoral care to those still considered outcasts.

Catholics in the future will look back on the days of struggle for Catholic LGBT equality in the 1980s and 1990s, and even up to today, and ask a similar question to Healy’s:  “What happened to our Church?”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Pope Francis on LGBT Issues Is Out of Sync with Amoris Laetitia’s Overall Message, Say Theologians

May 25, 2016
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Francis Clooney

Last week, Bondings 2.0 highlighted young theologians critical of the perceived dismissal of LGBT Catholics by Pope Francis in his latest apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.  These young scholars were also dismayed by liberal commentators who seem intent on preserving the narrative of progress for the pope’s administration. Today, we highlight theologians who have focused on the exhortation’s inconsistencies when it comes to LGBT issues.

Jesuit Fr. Francis Clooney of Harvard Divinity School offered three points in America about Pope Francis’ treatment of same-gender marriages, concluding with an appeal for Pope Francis to rewrite”in his own hand, from his own heart”paragraph 251 which condemns same-gender marriages quite harshly.

Why does Clooney reach that conclusion? First, the priest noted the “rather formal, one might say cold tone” of paragraph 251 especially as it contrasts with paragraph 250’s rejection of anti-LGBT discrimination. Clooney observed that paragraph 251 extensively quotes the 2015 Synod report, which cited heavily a 2003 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that is itself based in the Catechism. The Jesuit priest wrote:

” ‘I think [Francis] would have spoken differently had he spoken in his own voice. . .If the pope had written about gay marriage in his own voice, I don’t think No. 251 would have been the result. If some men and women, struggling for love, stability and family, choose to enter a gay marriage, might this not be a similar, analogous ‘this agonizing and painful decision’ [to procure an abortion] that merits the pope’s compassion, rather than the cold assertion made in No. 251?”

Clooney cited his own experiences which challenge paragraph 251’s assertion that same-gender relationships are not “in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan.”About witnessing same-gender marriages in his life, the priest wrote:

“No relation is perfect, I am sure, but in these marriages I most often observe: honest, open, mature love; commitment, often over many years; fidelity and loyalty to one another, for richer or poorer, in health and in sickness; Christian faith, lived out in a deep human relationship; and, in several cases, great devotion to raising children. I am edified by these relationships, these marriages. . .

“[I]t should be evident to anyone with their eyes open, that gay marriage is in many ways similar to marriage as is esteemed by the church, and that analogies abound, including those I have mentioned. It is hard to see how or why Pope Francis might think that gay marriage could be entirely dissimilar and equivocally unlike heterosexual marriage. It is hard to see why Pope Francis, even if quoting quotes from other documents, would be willing to say that the marriage of a gay couple is entirely outside God’s plan. Is there anything or anyone outside God’s mercy and compassion?”

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Daniel Maguire

In a commentary at Consortium News, theologian Daniel Maguire of Marquette University said the pope “should be embarrassed by the significant failings” of Amoris Laetitia.

Maguire denied the exhortation is “a retreat from rule-centered church teaching,” highlighting instead areas like marriage equality and contraception where Pope Francis’ respect for conscience becomes invalidated by his own words. The pope “waxes rhapsodic on the beauty and personal enrichment offered by marriage,” calling it ideal love, but Maguire also pointed out:

“And now the rub! This magnificent experience is reserved by God and the Catholic hierarchy only for heterosexuals. It’s beyond the reach of gays who love one another. The document should have been called The Joy of Heterosexual Love. . .

“Is it that all LGBT persons are too ‘selfish, calculating and petty?’ Are they so deficient in their humanity as to be incapable of this achievement of human love. Is the Pope suggesting in a new nasty way that all these persons are ‘queer’ and ‘deviant.’ Is that why heterosexuals have seven sacraments but gays only have six since marriage is beyond their reach? That is theologically queer. Do we see here the old brutal prejudice wrapped in the language of love, pastoral concern, and pity?”

This evaluation of LGBT people’s relationships is, in Maguire’s words, “cruel” and abandons the pope’s previous attitude of non-judgement. Divesting LGBT matters from broader appeals to conscience is a tremendous weakness of the pope’s document, Maguire noted, but the theologian remained hopeful, noting in his commentary’s conclusion:

“Catholicism has a splendid, but well hidden, theory of conscience. . .Some 30 years ago, I spoke to a Dignity group of Catholic gays. I explained Probabilism, reading from old Catholic moral theology books, and applied it to same sex unions. In the light of that, I said, ‘your loves are not only good they are holy and full of grace.’

“A number of them were in tears. They loved the Church and did not want their deep love of another to separate them from it.”

Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia has been praised for its compassionate style and reaffirmation of the primacy of conscience. He signaled a new welcome for marginalized Catholics who are divorced and remarried, or who use artificial contraception. But on LGBT matters, the exhortation seems conflicted, at best.  Clooney and Maguire clearly identify sources in experience and in tradition that will enable Catholics to develop LGBT Catholic thought in a manner that is actually consistent with Pope Francis’ calls for mercy and the respect of conscience. Pope Francis should pay attention to these critiques for the next time he writes on LGBT issues.

You can read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of Amoris Laetitia and reactions to it by clicking hereYou can read New Ways Ministry’s response to the document by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Continued Attacks Against Gay Ambassador Necessitate Pope Francis’ Intervention

May 24, 2016
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Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster

Catholic Church leaders’ attacks against gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster continue unabated, and reveal a troubling weak spot that Pope Francis must address in regard to LGBT issues .

Bishop Victor Massalles, the auxiliary bishop of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, told Crux, that Ambassador Brewster was “abusing power” by advocating for LGBT rights in the Caribbean nation.  Such advocacy, however, is not a pet project of Brewster’s, but is entirely consistent with U.S foreign policy.

Citing Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Massalles claimed the U.S. government through its ambassador engages in in “cultural imperialism. . . [and] ideological colonization” by coercing the Dominican Republic to accept social changes which allegedly the country’s populace disavows. Massalles continued his criticism:

” ‘He’s not an ambassador, he’s a gay activist and we’re suffering [from] him as a nation, as a culture, as a country that has its own uses and customs, and its own laws. . .He’s trying to take [away] our right to national self-determination.’ “

Massalles admitted, though, that his claims about U.S. government coercion are “suspicions” rather than facts. He also defended use of an anti-gay slur against Ambassador by Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez in 2013, saying not allowing “an old man to express himself like an old man” would violate the cardinal’s rights.

The bishop’s criticism is but the latest attack from Catholic officials who, since Brewster was appointed in 2013, have issued regular and intense attacks against him. The Dominican Episcopal Conference condemned the ambassador in a March 2016 letter, citing Pope Francis’ concept of ideological colonization. Additionally, a Catholic high school in the capital posted signs this year banning Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, from its campus.

Worst of all have been comments by Cardinal López, the leading prelate in the DR. He said previously that Brewster was “wife to a man” and should stick to housework. In 2013, López used an anti-gay slur, and he said Brewster should “take his gay pride elsewhere.”  The Washington Blade reported that López once described LGBT tourists as “social trash” and “degenerates.” Cardinal López’s remarks made Bondings 2.0’s lists of Worst Catholic LGBT News in both 2013 and 2015.

These Catholic attacks are not just aimed at Brewster and Satawake but all LGBT Dominicans, wrote Executive Director of Diversidad Dominicana Rosanna Marzan. She explained in the Washington Blade:

“Those using hateful rhetoric against the ambassador have specific objectives. Among them, to quash the efforts that we as Dominican LGBT civil society activists have undertaken to defend ourselves against the hateful, violent and stigmatizing discourse orchestrated by hierarchies within the Catholic and Evangelical churches and the conservative individuals who support them. . .

“LGBT Dominicans face the threat of violence and hate crimes as well as discrimination in essential services, including healthcare, employment and housing. Impunity is the norm for violations against LGBT people. . .The attacks on Brewster are also attacks on us.”

What is troubling about Bishop Massalles’ latest remarks and the episcopal conference’s March letter is that both cited Pope Francis to justify attacks on Brewster and his husband. What has happened in the Dominican Republic has not been about disagreements over policies or theologies. It has been an unceasing and vicious attack against a human being by the institutional church, an attack which causes broader harm.

When writing about church officials’ attacks against Ambassador Brewster, Bondings 2.0 has repeatedly said papal intervention by Francis is necessary and appropriate –even as he tries to decentralize the Church. Intervention now seems more necessary since anti-LGBT church leaders now cite the pope specifically to justify their prejudice and desired discrimination. There is no justification for prejudice, especially when it is so publicly displayed and when it contributes to human suffering. It is incumbent on Pope Francis to make that clear. At this point, to not do so will cause LGBT advocates and others to question papal intentions about respecting every person’s dignity.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 


Proudly Blogging Catholics—Sharing the LGBT Good News: A Trans-Atlantic Meetup!

May 23, 2016

The editors of two blogs that cover Catholic LGBT issues will be hosting an opportunity for readers of both sites to gather an share ideas and perspectives.  The event, entitled “Proudly Blogging Catholics—Sharing the LGBT Good News,” will be held in London, England, in June, and all readers and friends of these blogs in that vicinity are invited to attend.

Queering The Church editor Terence Weldon and Bondings 2.0 editor Francis DeBernardo will discuss the joys and challenges of covering the world of Catholic LGBT news and opinion, followed by a wide-ranging discussion of issues raised by participants.

This trans-Atlantic meetup will be held:

Monday, June 13, 2016, 6:30-8:30 p.m. 

Parish Hall of the Jesuit Church of the Immaculate Conception (Farm Street Church)

114 Mount Street    London, United Kingdom, W1K 3AH

 

Come to discuss current events, on-going debates, and hopes for the future!

Refreshments will be served.

RSVP: info@NewWaysMinistry.org

Stay tuned for additional blog meetups in the U.S. this summer!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Complicating Catholic Understandings of Sex and Gender

May 23, 2016

SR-Church-Easter-candle-01 (2)Respecting LGBTQI people should be a “fairly simple thing to do,” as Jesuit Fr. James Martin remarked in an interview earlier this week. But understanding the diversity of gender identities can be complex even for committed allies, given how broad and nuanced transgender and intersex issues are. And sometime the consequences of not understanding and respecting can be deeply damaging.

Christians, including Catholics, have spearheaded anti-LGBT efforts like North Carolina’s HB2 law, ignoring the concrete reality that non-discrimination protections definitively improve LGBT people’s well-being. These opponents opt instead for faulty religious arguments to justify their opposition, arguments which theologian Katie Grimes took on at Women in TheologyShe posed a difficult challenge to anti-transgender Christians, asking:

“[W]hat in your life has lead you to believe that love, which God epitomizes perfectly, means wanting anything but happiness, in every sense of the word, for other people?”

Christian opposition to transgender identities is often rooted in literal readings of Genesis. They interpret creation story texts to mean God creates people only in the male/female binary. To such thought, Grimes responded:

“They twist the word of God in the shape of their own preconceptions.  They do not think to ask, ‘how do we know what makes a male a male and a female a female?’  They instead assume that God defines masculinity and femininity in the same way they do.”

Against arguments rooted in biological determinism, Grimes criticized how some Christians “deify the bodies . . we receive at birth.” She wrote:

“Besides turning natural law into a cliché (so babies with cleft palettes or heart defects ought not undergo corrective surgery?), this theory ends up unwittingly celebrating the very queerness it seeks to contain.  If we take this view seriously, then we would have to also say that God naturally creates many human beings (about 1 in 2000) whose bodies do not fulfill our socially constructed definitions of man and woman.”

Ultimately, Grimes concluded that anti-transgender Christians “sell God short” because they “assume that God’s imagination and creativity is no bigger than their own.”

Catholic opponents specifically, including some U.S. bishops, have cited supposed church teaching  in their objections to transgender equality. They claim there is clear and defined church teaching on gender identity that simply needs to be promoted. Melinda Selmys questioned the validity of this claim at her blog Catholic Authenticity, writing:

“Whenever I hear this, I suspect that the person making the comment has had little to no experience actually dealing with the transgender, queer or intersex communities. It’s basically a position that you can arrive at only if you’re taking the problems home, painting them out of their context and looking at them in a theological laboratory where everything is very simple and clear-cut.”

Selmys then listed eight scenarios drawn from her experiences as a Catholic which reveal the many complexities of gender identity, asking after each one what the reader would do. For instance, an intersex person assigned male at birth identifies as a woman upon reaching adolescence and feels called to religious life as a nun. Is this person accepted? Or a woman religious who cares for survivors of human trafficking knows she must minister to the trans survivors according to their gender identity if she is to be successful. How does the sister proceed? Or parents consult a canon lawyer about their intersex child. The canonist recommends corrective surgery while intersex adults criticize such surgeries as painful and violating. What do the parents do? Each of Selmys’ scenarios contains many intricacies that defy simple answers.

Failing to engage gender identity issues in their fullness has negative pastoral, as well as political, consequences. For instance, a Catholic priest in New York said being transgender is the same as considering oneself a chicken because “something has gone wrong in my feelings. . .I need help.” Fr. Andrew Carrozza’s op-ed continued in this vein, attacking transgender people in the name of faith. The priest’s approach is unfortunately similar to other Christian opponents who have refused to listen to transgender people’s experiences, and relied upon the same faulty religious thought critiqued by Grimes and Selmys.

Mollie Wilson O’Reilly criticized Carrozza in Commonweal, and her comments are broadly applicable to Catholic opponents of any form of LGBT equality. While affirming a place for the church in conversations about sexuality and gender, Wilson O’Reilly wrote:

“Carrozza is making the gentlest version of the church’s basic claim that we have nothing left to learn about human sexuality. This claim is simply not plausible to a growing number of people, especially young people, and volunteering it with placid confidence in the face of something as complicated as gender identity and public accommodations for transgender people is not doing anything for the church’s credibility.”

She added that ” ‘naive’ [is] the kindest word that comes to mind” for pastoral ministers like Fr. Carrozza who believe “gentle ridicule” is an appropriate response.

The writer H.L. Mencken once said, “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”  Catholics must resist the temptation to reduce transgender and intersex issues, even if such distillation is well-intentioned. And it is worth asking, too, whether the questions raised about gender identities are themselves even complex enough. We have to ask and keep asking the right questions–and answer and keep answering in dynamic ways to avoid simple and wrong answers.

As Katie Grimes made clear, this debate matters beyond correcting the wrongness of simple answers. Simple answers employed in the name of the church are actively harmful in justifying prejudice, discrimination, and, at times, even violence against LGBT people. We must commit ourselves to complicating constantly our understandings of gender and of sexuality to ensure we are always reading the signs of the times in new ways, with new eyes and open hearts.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Can LGBT Issues Be Included at San Diego’s Diocesan Synod?

May 22, 2016
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Bishop Robert McElroy

Following Pope Francis’ lead, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego has called a diocesan synod on marriage. We need to ask: can LGBT issues be included in this synod’s agenda?

Bishop McElroy announced the synod, planned for October 28-29, 2016, in “Embracing the Joy of Love,” his pastoral message responding to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Lay Catholics will be the majority of participants, with each of the diocese’s 100 parishes represented. Discussion groups which include local theologians will meet in the preceding months to further flesh out the agenda in advance

McElroy hopes the two-day synod will hopefully unfold into “a biannual, theme-driven event” to allow for spiritual renewal and lay input in diocesan governance, reported AmericaThe magazine noted this may be “the first such structured diocesan-wide response” to Amoris Laetitia in the world.

According to the National Catholic ReporterMcElroy outlined five challenges for the synod to address, hoping the synod will produce action points for each topic . He identified the following challenges: witnessing to a Catholic vision of marriage; forming a culture of invitation to unmarried couples; nurturing children; ministry to those persons who are divorced; bringing spiritual depth to family life in its various forms.

Though they have not been mentioned in the preparatory material so far, LGBT issues could easily be included in this agenda on marriage and family. For instance, when discussing the need to welcome unmarried couples, Bishop McElroy said the church “should not ignore the love, sacrifice and commitment which is reflected in so many of these relationships which differ from marriage” so as not to alienate people. For those couples who live together or who have entered civil marriages, the church’s pastoral outreach should be one “which reflects love more than judgment, which affirms the beautiful elements of love already present in the lives of such couples” even while upholding a heteronormative understanding of marriage.  Clearly, these areas include lesbian and gay couples, too.

Elsewhere in his message, Bishop McElroy exhorted priests to accompany people in the formation of their consciences rather than dictate decisions, stressed the problem of young adults’ rapid disengagement from the life of the church, and called for parishes to enhance their spiritual nourishment of families. Each of the areas McElroy addressed could easily include LGBT people and their families in the deliberations.

Appointed in 2015, Bishop McElroy represents an emerging generation of “Francis Bishops” whose pastoral sensitivity and emphasis on social justice set them apart from their predecessors. McElroy, who was a parish priest for fifteen years before assuming a position as auxiliary bishop, strongly approved of Pope Francis’ rebuke of U.S. bishops’ partisanship during the papal visit last fall. He called for the U.S. bishops’ document on political engagement to be scrapped last November because it was, in his estimation, “gravely hobbled” by its overemphasis on issues like marriage equality.

Even if LGBT issues do not come up, a synodal approach itself is noteworthy. Such an approach may advance LGBT equality even if such issues are not explicitly discussed. Bishop McElroy’s decision to convene a diocesan synod is quite significant wrote Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter:

“Synodality, as Pope Francis said at the last two synods on the family, is more than a different process, it is a different attitude. It requires listening as well as pontificating. It demands dialogue, not rote recitations of statements arrived at in advance of the kind that characterized synods before Francis. Synodality only works if those participating exhibit a certain humility about their own claims on the truth, a willingness to let the truth capture them rather than the other way round.”

For far too long, many church leaders have refused to listen to or dialogue with LGBT Catholics and their families. Their approach lacked humility, instead employing a harshness against those Catholics who disagreed with the hierarchy’s teachings on sexuality and gender.

Bishop McElroy is charting a divergent course, one exhibiting greater humility and compassion than many of his peers. Given his record and willingness to listen in the upcoming synod process, McElroy would likely welcome the inclusion of LGBT issues in this or another synod perhaps. Coupled with the Holy Spirit’s movements, a more synodal church could break down barriers to and build bridges for LGBT equality.

Catholics in San Diego are encouraged to write to the bishop and request meetings to share their stories and their convictions around LGBT issues. In the five months before San Diego’s synod convenes, there will be multiple opportunities in the discussion groups and other listening mechanisms to raise LGBT concerns. Local Catholics should ask themselves “What is God asking of our church now?” which is the question the bishop posed about discernment.  If they listen to the ways God speaks through people’s lives, they will surely find that LGBT pastoral care and inclusion are important concerns for the church in San Diego and that they should be addressed either in this synod or at another similar meeting in the very near future.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis Calls for Conscientious Objection to Officiating at Same-Sex Ceremonies

May 21, 2016

For the first time since Italy’s Parliament approved a civil unions bill for lesbian and gay couples two weeks ago, Pope Francis has commented about the issue of legally recognizing same-sex relationships.

In an interview with La Croix, a French newspaper, Pope Francis said that Catholic public officials should be excused from officiating at same-gender union ceremonies if they have a conscientious objection to such relationships.  The following is an English version of the interview on the newspaper’s website:

Pope Francis

“In a secular setting, how should Catholics defend their concerns on societal issues such as euthanasia or same-sex marriage?

“Pope Francis: It is up to Parliament to discuss, argue, explain, reason [these issues]. That is how a society grows.

“However, once a law has been adopted, the state must also respect [people’s] consciences. The right to conscientious objection must be recognized within each legal structure because it is a human right. Including for a government official, who is a human person. The state must also take criticism into account. That would be a genuine form of laicity.

“You cannot sweep aside the arguments of Catholics by simply telling them that they “speak like a priest.” No, they base themselves on the kind of Christian thinking that France has so remarkably developed.” [boldface emphasis is in the original text]

Pope Francis made similar remarks about the conscience decisions of government officials on his plane ride home from his U.S. visit in September 2015.  The issue also came up during the same visit  when the brouhaha developed over his unplanned and secretly orchestrated meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refuses to perform same-sex marriages.

Francis’ exhortation on conscience would ring truer if he would call on church officials to respect the consciences of LGBT people who have discovered that living in a committed same-gender relationship or transitioning to their true gender is the most authentic way to follow the call of God.  They, too, should be welcomed into the Christian community, which unlike employment, is not simply an economic form of association.

News that Pope Francis will visit Ireland in 2018 for the World Meeting of Families, provides him a golden opportunity to meet with recently married Catholic gay and lesbian couples to learn of their experiences and of the formation of their own consciences.  Such an encounter would surely prove educational for the pontiff, who has shown an un-pope-like curiosity to learn more about the real lives of people.

Such an education would also serve well for Cardinal Antonio Bagnasco, the president of the Italian bishops conference, who recently said that the civil unions bill equates gay and lesbian relationships with marriage. What the cardinal fails to recognize is that there is a great difference between the Italian civil unions law and marriage law, and that LGBT advocates, while glad for the civil unions bill, also lamented the fact that such unions were not on a par with marriage.   Robert Mickens, a seasoned Vatican observer in Rome, noted in a Commonweal dispatch:

“. . . . [A]ctivists that have been fighting for civil unions, and especially those who continue to call for gay marriage, say the new law is far from satisfactory. They are upset that Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi watered down the original bill to appease conservative members of parliament who closely follow the bishops’ directives.

“One of their biggest complaints is that a so-called ‘stepchild adoption’ clause, which would have allowed people in civil unions to adopt the biological child of their partner, is not in the new law. Family court judges will decide on a case-by-case basis.”

Francis’ call to conscience would also sound truer if he would begin a more honest and open conversation about sexuality in the Church.  Mickens writes:

“The Italian hierarchy, which presides over a Church where every honest person knows a large percentage of the clergy are homosexually-oriented men, has done everything to perpetuate their country’s longstanding hypocrisy regarding gay people.

“Thanks to their efforts, especially to enforce deeply conservative views on family life in Italian society, many people in this country have been trapped into leading double lives. They get married, have children and some—some—secretly find sexual intimacy or a relationship with other people of their same sex. Or they join the ‘celibate’ priesthood and do the same.

“Italy’s new law has opened the door to a more honest conversation in a changing society. And hopefully it marks the beginning of the end of one of the great Italian hypocrisies.”

Yes, far from being the end of civilization, the marriage equality debates and laws have been an opportunity for people to live more authentically and freely.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

PinkNews.com: “Pope says Catholic government officials should be able to ‘opt out’ of recognising gay unions”


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