LGBT Pilgrimage to Ireland, Land of Rainbows and Wedding Bells–Part 1

April 30, 2016
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Pilgrims gathered among the monastic ruins at Glendalough.

Today’s post is Part One of a two-part series on New Ways Ministry’s pilgrimage to Ireland.

New Ways Ministry’s recent pilgrimage to Ireland brought showers of blessings to the two dozen participants who made the trip.  One of the biggest blessings was the opportunity to learn firsthand about LGBT ministry, welcome, and advocacy in Ireland at this time.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, was the planner and spiritual leader of this journey, entitled “Ireland:  Land of Rainbows and Wedding Bells.”  Ireland was selected not only for its strong Catholic identity, but because in 2015 it became the first nation in the world to enact marriage equality by popular vote.   As the pilgrims learned from their visits and meetings with church leaders and LGBT advocates, the Catholic movement for LGBT equality is strong in the Emerald Isle.

Throughout the trip, the pilgrims received warm Irish welcomes from several communities of religious men and women, while also visiting sites important to the LGBT community.

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Fr. Tony Flannery and Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Esker Monastery, Athenry

The day we arrived, the Redemptorists welcomed us for Mass and a “cuppa” tea, scones, and soup at their Esker Monastery outside the town of Athenry.  Fr. Tony Flannery, a leader in Ireland’s church reform movement, was on hand with his brother Redemptorists to introduce us to the many ways his community is building a more inclusive church.  Fr. Brendan O’Rourke presided at Eucharistic liturgy for the group.

We encountered the Redemptorists three more times on our trip.  We celebrated Mass at their parish church in Cherry Orchard, a low-income neighborhood of Dublin.  Fr. Adrian Egan discussed contemporary social problems facing this low-income area before offering a prayer that we “keep in mind anyone who, for any reason, feels on the edges and excluded.”

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Pádraig speaking to pilgrims, Clonard Monaster, Belfast

Redemptorist Father John J. Ó Ríordáin  guided the pilgrims prayerfully through the historic site of Glendalough, the monastery founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century.  As we walked from place to place around the grounds, Fr. Ó Ríordáin offered not only historical background, but also some Celtic prayers and poems appropriate to the various settings.  Our trip there ended with an outdoor Mass by the side of one of Glendalough’s stunning lakes.

In Belfast, we visited the beautiful Clonard Monastery with a sanctuary dominated by an image of Jesus with outstretched arms—a symbol that all are welcome to the parish, Fr. Noel Kehoe, the pastor, told us in greeting.

While at Clonard, which also is the city’s main center for reconciliation between Catholic and Protestant citizens, the pilgrims were educated about these peace efforts by Pádraig Ó Tuama, an openly gay Catholic man. He said the Redemptorist monastery is known well for being a safe space to many, including LGBT people, because here, “You know you didn’t have to lessen your dignity.” Ó Tuama is also the leader of the Corymeela Community, an Irish spirituality center, which includes LGBT people and sponsors a retreat for pastoral ministers involved in LGBT ministry.

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Mercy Associate Susanne Cassidy sharing with her fellow pilgrims at Mother McAuley’s first Convent of Mercy, Baggot Street, Dublin

In Dublin, we visited the home of one of that city’s most well-known Catholic daughters:  Venerable Mother Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy.  At the Mercy International Center on Baggot Street, we were warmly welcomed by Sister Mary Kay Dobrovlny, a U.S. sister who provided us with information and inspiration about Mercy’s origins.  At Mass in the Center’s chapel, one of our pilgrims, Susanne Cassidy, the Catholic mother of two gay sons and a Mercy Associate, shared the impact that Mother McAuley’s witness had on her own life and LGBT ministry. We adjourned, as always, for a comfortable cup of tea afterwards.

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St. Brigid of Kildare, Solas Bhríde, Kildare

In Kildare, the pilgrims visited Solas Bhríde (Light of Brigid), a spirituality center and hermitage opened just last year.  The three Brigidine Sisters–Sr. Mary Minehan, Sr. Phil O’Shea, and Sr. Rita Minehan–who oversee the ecologically-built center said the purpose of their ministry is to “unfold the legacy of St. Brigid and its relevance for our time.” St. Brigid, abbess of a double monastery (one part for men and one part for women) in Kildare, is a great inspiration to the Irish people for taking care of the environment.

At the spirituality center, we visited the garden to see a new statue of St. Brigid by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz. The statue was commissioned by Fr. Dennis O’Neill, a Chicago priest who is pastor of St. Martha parish, Morton Grove, which is an LGBT-friendly parish.

At the Whitefriars Street Church, a Carmelite parish in Dublin, the pilgrims gathered to pray at the shrine of St. Valentine, an altar which holds a small casket containing the relics of this famous saint who is so connected with love and relationships.  Sister Jeannine offered a reflective reading of St. Paul’s famous discourse on love, found in 1 Corinthians 13, while we prayed for all our relationships–past, present, future.

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Pilgrims at a statue of Oscar Wilde, Merrion Square, Dublin

On the same day, we gathered for a photo, not prayer, at the statue of Dublin’s famous author, Oscar Wilde, the beautiful Merrion Square park. Wilde was jailed for being a gay man and for writing of “the love that dare not speak its name,” about which he said during his trial, “It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection.”

Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will share details about two meetings we had with LGBT Irish folks and their families, and the wisdom gleaned from them.  We’ll also discuss our visit to the Archdiocese of Dublin’s monthly Mass for the LGBT community. Tune in!

To view more photos from the pilgrimage, visit New Ways Ministry’s page on Facebook by clicking here. If you would like information about future pilgrimages, please send an email to: info@NewWaysMinistry.org or phone 301-277-5674.

–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Officials Condemn LGBT Murders in Bangladesh, Call for Justice

April 29, 2016
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Xulhaz Mannan, left, and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy

Catholic officials in Bangladesh have condemned the brutal murders of two LGBT advocates, criticizing too the discrimination that sexual and gender diverse communities face in a nation which still criminalizes homosexuality.

Four days ago, Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were killed by militants affiliated with Ansar Al Islam. Mannan founded and edited Roopbaan, the nation’s first and only LGBT magazine, and worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Tonoy was an actor who advocated for gay rights.  Both were hacked to death by machete

Mannan and Tonoy’s murders add to a spree of targeted killings by militants against liberal figures and intellectuals. Al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates are seeking to grow in the majority Muslim nation, and their campaign includes targeting LGBT advocates.

The brutality of these murders by machete, coupled with the victims’ gay identities, has propelled the story into the international spotlight. Two Catholic officials in Bangladesh have reacted forcefully against the murders.

Fr. Albert Thomas Rozario, head of the Archdiocese of Dhaka’s Justice and Peace Commission and a Supreme Court lawyer, told UCA News that justice must be ensured for the two gay men murdered:

” ‘The church always supports the demands of LGBT people for equal rights and opportunities as ordinary citizens. . .We call on the authorities to ensure justice is meted out for the killings, and also to take steps to end discrimination against this community.’ “

Rosaline Costa, a Catholic who is Executive Director of Hotline Human Rights Trust Bangladesh, said the government must do more than just investigate these killings:

” ‘God has given us freedom of choice and nobody is allowed to persecute people for their sexual orientation because of so-called traditional values based on conservative religious norms. A truly democratic society can’t accept abuse in the name of religion. . .

” ‘A proper probe and justice for the killings won’t do much protect the community. The government must ensure that the discrimination of LGBT people ends in this country even though the so-called protectors of Islam might not like it.’ “

The situation for LGBT people in Bangladesh is highly oppressive. Being gay is criminalized with sanctions including life imprisonment. While the law criminalizing homosexuality is a leftover from British penal laws, strong current prejudices lead to cultural disapproval and discrimination. Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim nation, is highly religious, though there are only about 300,000 Catholics or 0.2% of the population. An anonymous advocate with the gay rights group Boys of Bangladesh told UCA News that being LGBT “can result in the denial of every opportunity and rights” and that they are considered “dreadful sinners.”

The deep tragedy of these murders is shining light on the suffering of Bangladesh’s LGBT communities, both in country and abroad. Fr. Rozario and Rosaline Costa countered the idea that religious belief entails LGBT condemnation, and they rejected violence in the name of religion. They acted because of their Catholic faith, not in spite of it, to not only seek justice for Mannan and Tonoy but to demand government action against anti-LGBT discrimination and violence. In this way, where fundamentalist religion and anti-LGBT hate had culminated in the brutality of these murders, Catholics found a way to mediate God’s love and cry out for God’s justice.

But the church’s response must move beyond reactive calls for justice when LGBT people are attack to a proactive solidarity which seeks protections before tragedy occurs. Words from Pope Francis condemning LGBT criminalization would go a long way towards this goal, but he has remained silent. Thankfully, clergy like Fr,. Rozario and lay people like Rosaline Costa are not waiting, but immediately standing with marginalized communities to demand justice and fair treatment.

If Pope Francis would condemn criminalization against LGBTQI people, he would clarify a sometimes ambivalent Catholic stance regarding violence against sexual and gender minorities. Catholics across the world have asked Francis to send a clear message through the #PopeSpeakOut campaign – and you can add your voice by clicking here and learning about a variety of ways that you can contact the pontiff!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Bishop Seeks Release from Performing Civil Marriages in Norway

April 28, 2016

The debate about whether Catholic clergy should serve as agents of the state to perform civil marriages has arisen again, this time because of a bishop in Norway has asked the Vatican to release his diocese from such an obligation.

Premier reported:

“Bishop Bernt Eidsvig of Oslo (below), one of the country’s top Catholic clerics, said the Church would ask the Vatican for permission to stop performing state weddings to avoid confusion and opposition against it in the future.

“It’s after the Lutheran Church in Norway voted overwhelmingly to recognise and begin performing same-sex marriages earlier this month. It rejected a similar proposal in 2014.”

Bishop Bernt Eidsvig

Eidsvig explained his request:

“It’s clear we must distinguish our own Church marriages from others.

“This is a matter of liturgy, so it doesn’t necessarily reflect broader change in our society’s moral values.

“But politicians may now get aggressive toward churches who resist these weddings, so the best option is for us to stop conducting marriages on the state’s behalf.”

Same-gender marriage has been legal in Norway since 2009.  Catholics make up less than 3% of the heavily Lutheran nation of Norway.  The Catholic Herald reported that Pope Francis will visit there on October 31, 2016, to take part in an ecumenical celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, though “Bishop Eidsvig said it was unlikely the same-sex marriage controversy would be mentioned during the one-day event. . . ”

It is curious that the bishop says he is afraid that “politicians may now get aggressive toward churches” who won’t perform same-gender marriages.  The 2009 law which made the nation’s marriage laws gender-neutral does not require that any religious group perform same-gender marriages, so it appears that Catholic marriages will not be affected.  So one wonders what sort of “aggressive” tactics he fears.

Yet, the bishop’s desire to separate church marriage from civil marriage is one that has come up before, and seems to have proponents on both ends of the progressive-conservative spectrum in the Catholic Church.  Back in 2013, Bondings 2.0 carried two consecutive posts in which a progressive priest-advocate and a conservative priest-advocate both argued that it was time for church and state to separate their marriage ceremonies.

Fr. Frank Brennan, SJ, an Australian law professor, argued a progressive position that separating civil and sacramental marriages would be a way to make room for lesbian and gay couples to marry legally.   He stated:

“It is high time to draw a distinction between a marriage recognised by civil law and a sacramental marriage. In deciding whether to expand civil marriage to the union of two persons of the same gender, legislators should have regard not just for the well-being of same sex couples and the children already part of their family units, but also for the well-being of all future children who may be affected, as well as the common good of society in setting appropriate contours for legally recognised relationships. . . .

“It would be just and a service to the common good for the State to give some recognition and support to committed, faithful, long-term relationships between gay couples deserving dignity, being able to love and support each other in sickness and in health, until death they do part.”

Msgr. Charles Pope, a pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, argued the conservative position that civil and sacramental marriage have grown so far apart that they no longer belong in the same category:

“It is a simple fact that word ‘marriage’ as we have traditionally known it is being redefined in our times. To many in the secular world the word no longer means what it once did and when the Church uses the word marriage we clearly do not mean what the increasing number of states mean. . . .

“The secular world excluded every aspect of what the Church means by marriage. Is it time for us to accept this and start using a different word? Perhaps it is, and I would like to propose what I did back in March of 2010, that we return to an older term and hear what you think.”

By 2014, the idea began to gather up more proponents from various ecclesial perspectives.  First Things, a conservative Catholic journal; Bryan Cones, then a columnist for the moderately progressive U.S. Catholic magazine; Bishop Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal prelate, and Len Wooley, a Mormon essayist.  Their opinions can be found in a previous Bondings 2.0 posting by clicking here.

Before marriage equality was legalized across the U.S., in some states clergy members who supported marriage equality took a pledge that they would not sign marriage licenses for the heterosexual couples they married, until the state extended marriage to lesbian and gay couples, too.  In effect, these clergy members (mostly Protestant and Jewish, and no Catholics) were doing exactly what the Norwegian bishop is recommending, though for exactly the opposite reason.

When opposite sides of a debate end up supporting the same position, though for different reasons, it seems like we should stop, take notice, and perhaps delve further into the idea. The issue of whether we should separate civil from sacramental marriage certainly deserves wider discussion and examination.  No U.S. bishop that I know of has yet to propose a solution such as the Norway bishop did, yet their opposition to the current definition of marriage in the nation differs greatly from their own view.

What do you think?  Would separating the civil marriage ceremony from the religious marriage ceremony be a benefit for the Church?  for LGBT people? for the state?  Offer your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Queering The Church:  “Gay Marriage, in Church:  Norway”

Religion Dispatches:  “Norwegian Catholic Church May Stop Civil Marriages”

Pink News: “Catholic Church in Norway to stop performing civil weddings to make a point against ‘sorrow’ of gay marriage”


Univ. of San Francisco President Congratulates Lesbian Coach on Marriage

April 27, 2016
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Fr. Paul Fitzgerald

Earlier this month, Bondings 2.0 posted about the University of San Francisco’s (USF) acceptance of two women’s athletics staff who had come out and announced their marriage to one another. The president of this Jesuit university has now added his own welcome.

Fr. Paul Fitzgerald, SJ, in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle, welcomed news that women’s basketball coach Jennifer Azzi and assistant coach Blair Hardiek were married to each other. He had not previously known about their relationship, but said:

“Coach Azzi has entered into a civil marriage according to the laws of the land. . .We will afford her every benefit and legal protection which she is due. The university is a Catholic Jesuit institution that is purposefully diverse and dedicated to inclusivity.”

The Chronicle reported that Fr. Fitzgerald said he received just a single negative response after Azzi’s coming out, while also receiving “a flood of more positive feedback from the USF community.” Athletic Director Scott Sidwell, the first USF official to welcome Azzi’s coming out, said there had been  “a tremendous outpouring of support,” including members of the women’s basketball team. Rachel Howard, a junior, said:

“They are the two most professional women I know. . .If someone loses interest in our program because they hear that two of our coaches are married to one another, they are clearly missing the point.”

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Jennifer Azzi

The Chronicle article also shed light into both coaches’ experiences growing up and coming out in accepting Catholic families:

“Both Azzi and Hardiek were raised Catholic. . .They still pray before every meal and every evening.

“When Azzi came out to her mother in her early 20s, she asked her if ‘God would love me differently.’ Her mother assured her that God’s love was nonjudgmental, like a parent’s love.

“Azzi and Hardiek have always had the support of their families. When Azzi told her father she was gay, he took her hands and told her, ‘you’re just as beautiful to me now as you’ve always been.’ “

In July 2015, Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York City, publicly congratulated the head of the school’s theology department, J. Patrick Hornbeck, on the occasion of his marriage to Patrick Berquist, which had been announced in The New York Times.

Azzi’s coming out can have many positive effects. The coach herself hopes she might give “other people courage to be free and live truthfully,” if they desire to do so.

Golden State Warriors President Rick Welts, the first openly gay executive in the National Basketball Association, said young people “will read about her and get closer to believing they can be open about who they are.” Azzi made the announcement of her orientation and marriage at a ceremony during where Welts was being honored.

And in the church, it is now a reality that a Catholic college employs the only openly gay head coach of a Division I basketball program. Based on the excellent performance of USF’s women’s basketball last season, Azzi seems to be working out quite well. The public support of the university’s president hopefully ensures that Azzi and Hardiek will not join the 60+ church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since 2008.

Hopefully, the combination of Azzi’s coming out and USF’s welcoming acceptance, will inspire more church officials to make statements and, more importantly, implement policies, as a handful of institutions have already done, that allow LGBT employees to live and to work freely.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right hand corner of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Bishops’ Employment Action Against Editor Has Troubling Consequences for U.S. Church

April 26, 2016
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Tony Spence

More than sixty church workers have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since 2008, but the recent news of Tony Spence’s departure from Catholic News Service(CNS) gained wider attention in Catholic media because of his high-profile position.

Spence was director and editor-in-chief of CNS, which is owned by the USCCB. His forced resignation has chilling implications for church workers and for the bishops’ conference. It raises troubling questions for the U.S. church primarily because the USCCB responded so swiftly and completely to accusations leveled against Spence by several small right-wing Catholic groups. The alleged offenses for which Tony Spence was fired are sending tweets about LGBT news stories.  For example, in one tweet he described a story about transgender Catholics sharing their stories as “fascinating.” In another, he called anti-LGBT laws in places like Mississippi and North Carolina “stupid.”

Robert Mickens, writing in Commonweal, said the Spence situation was “further enabling homophobic and hate-mongering heretic hungers” on the church’s right wing.  Mickens said the USCCB caved to the extremist attacks on Spence, and without warning, asked for his resignation, despite his sterling professional record which includes being an advisor to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

Small organizations like these accusers, some consisting of a single person, have targeted LGBT church workers before and now even attack those Catholics who dare to comment on LGBT issues.

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter, calling the firing “regrettable in the extreme,” echoed the reality that such actions only encourage extremist behavior. He wrote:

“[T]he USCCB has become in thrall to right-wing activists whose ability to weigh competing values is skewed or worse. The bishops have been ill-served, and many of them know it, but no one has taken the lead in seeking to change it. The conference is losing staff faster than the Titanic lost passengers. Now, they will range themselves among that sliver of conservative opinion that believes they must fight and die on the hill of opposition to LGBT rights. Someone should tell them that the country passed that hill five miles back.”

Patricia Miller, writing for Religion Dispatches, said Spence’s firing should not be surprising because it is in keeping bishops’ actions nationally, which have included the monitoring of church workers’ social media profiles:

“Across the country, conservative Catholic bishops have pushed employees of Catholic institutions to sign what are in effect loyalty oaths that promise to monitor the Twitter accounts and Facebook pages of employees of Catholic institutions. . .the bishops’ strategy appears to be ever-tighter wagon-circling, and Spence was definitely on the outside of the circle.”

The Spence situation will also impact CNS. Mickens asserts that conservatives at USCCB have sought to change the news service into “a propaganda wing for the conference’s numerous culture war battles.” He explained:

“But Spence struggled to protect the independence that is written into the news agency’s statutes—one of the features that has made Catholic News Service such a good, reliable, and credible source of church news and analysis.

“But like just about everything else the reactionary leaders at the U.S. bishops’ conference touch these days, it looks like they are determined to ruin this too.”

Winters agreed that CNS would become “worthless” if it loses editorial independence.

Winters looked deeper than the standard claim that Spence was forced out for posting tweets opposing LGBT discrimination. He suggested the USCCB, unable to back down from the religious liberty narrative, is shifting away from contraception issues related to the Affordable Care Act to issues of LGBT civil rights. To support this idea, Winters commented:

“No one likes to admit it, but the Church’s theology related to gays and lesbians is inadequate. For two thousand years, the working assumption was that gays and lesbians were behaving in an aberrational manner but, in recent years, most people have come to accept that being gay is not a choice to act in a certain way, but is constitutional for that person. We have not yet wrestled with that fact, and the changed moral framework it requires, adequately. . .

“I fear, too, that the same psychology at the conference that led them to fire Spence would frustrate any effort to find a compromise formula on the issue of LGBT rights. Unlike the fight over the contraception mandate. . .this time the bishops should start with the theology and let the legal strategy flow from that.”

Finally, and most basically, Winters reminded the bishops that, on seeking to restrict LGBT rights, “[t]hey will lose” and “deserve to lose.” People in the U.S. generally disagree that religious liberty is under attack, and Catholics readily question whether the bishops’ advocacy has crossed the threshold from genuine political participation to partisan campaigning.

In her Religion Dispatches essay, Miller stated the same idea in a different way:

“Spence’s firing, and the lack of respect for both freedom of the press and individual conscience it reflects, shows just how transactional the bishops’ relationship with fundamental American freedoms really is.”

The Spence fiasco raises serious questions for the for the U.S. church. Does the USCCB find that simply listening to Catholics’ lived experiences, something so forcefully witnessed to by Pope Francis, a threatening proposition? Does the USCCB totally reject opposition to discrimination against marginalized communities, an undeniable principle in Catholic social thought? Is an accomplished veteran journalist and Vatican advisor, celebrated by his peers on both accounts, so readily expended to appease extremist Catholic elements?

Without a statement from the USCCB about the Spence situation and the issues that it raises, it seems that the U.S. bishops are answering “yes” to these questions. And to that, U.S. Catholics must respond with a very clear no.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Reforming Doctrinal Investigations Could Help Church Grow on LGBT Issues

April 25, 2016

An international group of theologians, bishops, priests, and pastoral ministers who had been investigated by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) are urging Pope Francis to reform the Church’s doctrinal investigation process.  If the proposed reforms are instituted, they could signal not only a re-vamping of CDF investigations, but they could help re-shape the entire Church into the more merciful community which Pope Francis envisioned in his recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. 

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith office building, just outside of St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

In a letter addressed to the pope and to CDF prefect Cardinal Gerhard Müller, eight reforms were urged by the 15 signers, some of whom were investigated because of  LGBT issues or spoken out to support LGBT people.  These include: New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder Sister Jeannine Gramick, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a U.S. activist for peace and women’s rights in the Church, Rev. Charles Curran, a U.S. moral theologian, Rev. Tony Flannery, CSsR., a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, Ireland, and Sister Teresa Forcades, OSB, a social activist and speaker in Spain. (You can read the entire letter and see the full list of signatories by clicking here.)

In the letter’s introduction, the authors outline the problems with the CDF’s current processes and procedures, noting that these are:

“. . . contrary to natural justice and in need of reform. They represent the legal principles, processes and attitudes of the absolutism of sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe. They don’t reflect the gospel values of justice, truth, integrity and mercy that the church professes to uphold. They are out of keeping with contemporary concepts of human rights, accountability and transparency that the world expects from the Christian community and which the Catholic Church demands from secular organizations.”

Among the procedures that the letter proposes the CDF dispense with include:

  • allowing accusers and consultor to remain anonymous
  • dealing with accused persons indirectly through religious superiors, instead of direct personal communication
  • permitting the same people to act as investigators, prosecutors, and judge
  • enforcing secrecy of the investigation and isolation of the accused.

The letter proposes that the CDF should institute a new set of processes and procedures that

“. . . involve a just and equitable process, accountability on the part of the CDF and Bishops’ Conferences, the presumption of sincerity, innocence, and loyalty to the church on the part of the person being investigated, as well as transparency and the wider involvement of the local Catholic community and the Synod of Bishops representing the universal church.”

In addition to correcting the procedural problems enumerated, the letter also suggests some broader reforms, including:

“The wider community of theologians, the faithful people of God and the sensus fidelium are involved in the discernment of the faith and belief of the church. No longer should the CDF and its Rome-based advisers be the sole arbiters of correct doctrine and belief” . . . .

“The process should be tempered by the mercy and forgiveness of God, and by the open dialogue that should characterize the community of Jesus. It integrates something of the contemporary emphasis on human rights and the need for free speech, pluralism, transparency and accountability within the church community.”

Fr. Tony Flannery, one of the signers, commented in a media release about why such reforms are needed and how they can create a Church which follows its own principles more faithfully:

“Under the last two popes, as the Church became increasingly centralised, the Magisterium was understood as the Vatican, or, more specifically, the Curia, and in particular the pre-eminent body within the Curia, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But an older understanding, which was central to the Second Vatican Council, has a more complex, wider view of what constitutes the Magisterium. According to this perspective, it consists of the Vatican, the bishops of the universal Church, the body of theologians, and, most significantly of all, the sensus fidelium, the good sense of the ordinary Catholic faithful. The Council goes so far as to say that unless a teaching is accepted by the consensus of the faithful it cannot be considered a defined teaching. This is the kind of theology we are trying to get through to the CDF.”

The reforms suggested could open up the Church to become a more honest and just institution, and they could facilitate greater debate on issues such as LGBT topics.  Moreover, a new set of procedures at the CDF would not only be more humane and Christian, but it would alleviate the suffering caused not only to the accused, but to the people that the abused minister with.  Investigations often harm do great spiritual harm to the many people who identify with the theologians, pastoral ministers, or bishops under scrutiny.

A reform of CDF procedures would be a great way for Pope Francis to celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and a great way for him to enact the more communal views on doctrine and dialogue which he outlined in Amoris Laetitia.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The National Catholic Reporter:  “In letter to CDF, theologians and bishops call for reform of Vatican doctrinal investigations”

 


At Brentwood Cathedral, Year of Mercy Mass Strives to Welcome LGBT People

April 24, 2016

During Lent in England’s Diocese of Brentwood, the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Helen scheduled a Mass for the LGBT community, in honor of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  While the Dean of the Cathedral, Fr. Martin Boland, presided at the liturgy, the homily, based on the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) which was the Gospel of the day, was delivered by Fr. Dominic Howarth, from Our Lady and All Saints parish, Basildon.   His homily, excerpted below, offers a great vision of how the messages of the Jubilee Year of Mercy can be applied to LGBT situations. I do have one bone to pick with him, which I will mention at the end of this post.  You can read the entire homily by clicking here.

Fr. Dominic Howarth

In fleshing out the story, Howarth spoke about how Jesus’ act of mercy in this story brought life to this woman, but also to the people who were intent on stoning her:

“The particular brilliance of Jesus’ intervention, the extraordinary force and grace of this story, is that Jesus, through mercy, turns death to life. He does not contradict the Jewish law, but he encourages everyone to look with eyes of mercy. And it is not just the adulterous woman that lived that day, but the men who came to stone her. Because if they had stoned her, and she had died, then something inside them – some feeling, understanding, compassion would have died too. Without Jesus’ merciful intervention, the next stoning would have been that bit easier. With Jesus’ intervention, who knows if they didn’t pause for thought the next time there was a question of justice. Mercy, dear friends, is life giving, and life changing.”

Those who advocate for equality and justice for LGBT people can learn a lesson from this point.  We are called to help bring new life not just to LGBT people, but to people who oppose them.  The opponents, too, need to experience mercy, and they, too, need to be liberated from the fears, anger, and misinformation which prevents them from fully loving LGBT people as their brothers and sisters in Christ.   Many times, I see LGBT advocates picking up stones to throw at their opponents, eager to prove them wrong and to prove themselves right.  I confess I’ve been in such situations more than I care to acknowledge.  Such anger can be understandable, but it is not acceptable. When we say that God’s mercy is for ALL, I think we need to remember that ALL includes those who oppose the vision that we might have for the church and the world.

Given the occasion, Howarth was explicit in his welcome to the LGBT community, noting two Scripture quotes as touchstones for his message:

“This evening I am mindful that there are people here whose sexuality is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and people from families with LGBT sons and daughters, grandchildren, friends. You are very welcome here, always, and I hope that in this Mass we all encounter a merciful, life-affirming Jesus Christ; Jesus who names all of us as brothers and sisters, very regularly throughout the Gospels. . . .

“From the first letter of St John, ‘Perfect love drives out fear.’ And from the moment of Jesus’ Baptism, adapted because these words are spoken to each of us at the moment of our creation and throughout our lives, ‘you are my son, my daughter, the beloved. My favour rests on you.’

“Let me just reaffirm that. To everyone here, every day of your life, with every breath that you take, God names you as beloved. To those who are here from the LGBT community, I pray that you hear those words afresh tonight, and maybe you hear them for the very first time because perhaps no-one has ever quite told you that you are beloved ever since you realised your sexuality.”

Graphic for the Mass of Welcome

But Howarth also had a message to the wider Church, particularly in the Year of Mercy:

“Here in this Cathedral there is a door of mercy. It is open to everyone, freely and all the time. It is life giving, and life affirming, and we all need it. But I fear that so many who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender will not get near the door of mercy because of a wall of prejudice. Dear friends, we have to search our hearts and face a difficult truth: that by some words and actions of our Church, over many decades, we have built walls and closed doors to those who are LGBT. So today let us be very clear, and let me use the words of Pope Francis. ‘There is no place for homophobia in the Catholic Church,’ he wrote, when he was Cardinal in Buenos Aires. He should not have had to say it, of course, but it matters very deeply that he did.”

And, in particular, he called on families who have been divided because of LGBT issues to be reconciled:

“Dear parents and grandparents of LGBT children, you already know that your child is beloved, but if something in their sexuality has caused a rift in the family, has caused a wall to be built or a door to be closed, let this Year of Mercy be a time to open doors. And for those whose sexuality is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, let this Year of Mercy be a time of new beginnings, with family, with friends – and with the Catholic Church. Come through the door of mercy to be welcomed home, with love.”

He also offered a particular reminder that in some parts of the world, and perhaps in our own backyards, there exists a real threat to LGBT people’s lives and safety:

“I will never, ever compare adultery to a person’s sexuality. Of course not. But I have tonight’s Gospel to preach from, and it does strike me that very sadly there is a terrible parallel as there are countries in the world where it could be someone who is gay or lesbian who is in the place of the adulterous woman, being stoned, or beheaded, or beaten, or imprisoned, because of their sexuality. In Britain tonight some teenagers will self harm or contemplate suicide rather than admit homosexuality to family or friends. By any measure that is a tragedy, and our first response must surely be love.”

It is good to see a church leader naming some specific ways that LGBT people are harmed by discrimination and ignorance.  Too often, messages from church leaders about respecting the human dignity of LGBT people ring hollow because they don’t mention real instances of how LGBT people are harmed.  Their silence on specifics makes it seem like they either don’t know about the reality people face or are afraid to mention it because it might require a commitment from them.

My one problem with Howarth’s homily is a reference that he makes about LGBT people which is totally out of place in a homily such as this.  Near the conclusion of his sermon, Howarth said:

“. . . the tree of mercy has the power to grow through the wall of hatred, or judgement – whether that is a wall put up by some in the Church, or indeed a wall built by those whose sexuality is LGBT and who have come to hate the Church.”

No doubt there are LGBT people who strongly despise the Church.  Yet, referring to such people in this way does not acknowledge that such hatred is not arbitrary or capricious, but a reaction to centuries of exclusion and oppression unleashed by religious leaders and institutions.  I am not saying that such hatred is justifiable, but it is understandable.  Like all hatred, it needs to be redeemed, but blaming the victims is not a a good way to help them heal the hatred that oppression has sown in them.

More importantly, though, is the fact that any LGBT person who was in attendance at that Mass most likely is not in the category of those “who have come to hate the Church.”  What Howarth doesn’t seem to realize, or at least doesn’t mention, is that many, many, many LGBT people LOVE the Church!  They love it so much that they have been willing to put up with years of institutional oppression.  They have struggled with their consciences to leave the Church community, but stay there even though many other LGBT people and many other Catholic people do not understand why they would remain so faithful.  Moreover, many of them love the Church so much that they dedicate large portions of their time, talent, and treasure to it, and keep searching for ways, sometimes against great odds, to raise their children in the faith.

But still, there is much good in this homily, and I imagine that Fr. Howarth, much like myself, is not perfect.  Given the other positive messages in the homily, I don’t think that he intended to be offensive, but might have been simply unaware how some would receive his words.  I hope that his outreach, which sounds very sincere, touched many hearts and minds that day.  I hope that many experienced the mercy, reconciliation, and mercy which the Mass intended to offer.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Queering The Church:  “London Cathedral Hosts LGBT Mass of Welcome”

 


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