Signs of Openness on LGBT and Marriage Issues from Two European Church Leaders

Two European prelates have made statements recently which point, once again, toward a more open discussion of LGBT and marriage issues, topics which will be discussed at October’s Synod on Marriage and the Family.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

In Ireland, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin acknowledged that some people in the church have used doctrine “in a homophobic way.”  The Irish Times reported that the archbishop made these comments in a discussion about the upcoming national referendum in Ireland about the legalization of same-gender marriage:

“Discussions have to be carried out in a ‘mature’ way so that people can freely express their views, while at the same time being respectful and not causing offence, he said. He said that in general he believed it was the person who was offended who defined what being offended is.

” ‘Anyone who grew up in Ireland would have told jokes that were pointed at the gay community; at Travellers [gypsies]; it is part of the culture we grew up in, but we have to grow out of it,’ he said. He said church teaching was that marriage was between a man and a woman, exclusively, but that this approach did not exclude gay people from celebrating their union by a different means.”

The Independent quotes Martin as saying further:

” ‘God never created anybody that he doesn’t love.’…

“Speaking to the Irish Independent, the senior cleric said this meant that ‘anybody who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic if they do that – they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people’…

“He added: ‘We all belong to one another and there is no way we can build up a society in which people are excluded or insulted. We have to learn a new way in Ireland to live with our differences and for all of us to live with respect for one another.’ “

According to RTE.ie, a leader of Ireland’s Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), was disappointed that the archbishop did not address pressing issues facing the LGBT community there, but affirmed his statements about the damage that cultural attitudes can cause:

“GLEN’s Brian Sheehan described it [the archbishop’s comment] as ‘a missed opportunity’ to tackle the role of the church and church teachings in creating what it said were ‘some of the difficult realities for lesbian and gay people in Ireland today.’

“However, he welcomed Dr Martin’s acknowledgement of the impact that a culture, which still has homophobia as part of it, has on those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.”

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn (standing) and Austrian bishops meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna made some surprising statements about the hierarchy’s views on marriage, at the time of the Austrian bishops’ ad limina with Pope Francis. The National Catholic Reporter stated:

“In several interviews shortly before leaving Vienna, Schönborn advocated a more rational, down-to-earth approach toward family relationships. ‘For the most part, the church approaches the [family] issue unhistorically,’ he said. ‘People have always lived together in various ways. And today, we in the church tacitly live with the fact that the majority of our young people, including those with close ties to the Catholic church, quite naturally live together. The simple fact is that the environment has changed.’ . . . .

“Schönborn said he regretted that the Austrian bishops haven’t dared to speak out openly on necessary church reforms in the past. They haven’t had the courage to address the need for greater decentralization and to strengthen local churches’ responsibilities, he said. ‘We were far too hesitant. I beat my own breast here. We certainly lacked the courage to speak out openly.’ “

Schönborn had high praise for the work and message of Pope Francis, and said he sees the promise of change occurring in the church:

“Schönborn said he was convinced that far-reaching church reform was on the way, ‘but it will not be achieved through big words and programs but through people like Pope Francis.’ One could already see that the pope has become a role model, Schönborn said. ‘The atmosphere is changing and his behavior is making itself felt,’ he said. What impressed him most about the pope was his charisma. ‘You can feel his inner devotion to God from which his compassion, his warmth and his infectious sense of humor emanates,’ the cardinal said.”

Though U.S. bishops have not yet embraced the new era of Pope Francis, it seems that some of our European church leaders are, in fact, taking steps toward a new era of less judgement and more discussion and openness of the reality of people’s relational lives.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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13 thoughts on “Signs of Openness on LGBT and Marriage Issues from Two European Church Leaders

  1. Terence February 11, 2014 / 4:40 am

    Both of these stories deserve close attention.
    In his observations, Archbishop Martin made at least three important points, not all of which have received adequate attention.
    He directly criticized any form of homophobia, particularly in relation to debates over marriage
    He acknowledged that the Catholic Church has at times been guilty of homophobia
    He joined the long list of senior bishops who expressed support for civil unions as an alternative to full marriage.

    Cardinal Schonborn was one of the first bishops to state (semi) publicly that it was time for the church to move away from an obsession with gay genital acts, and look instead to the quality of our relationships – and also to reconsider the pastoral response to divorced people. Since then, many more have said much the same thing. When the senior bishops of the world gather in Rome for the synod on marriage and family later this year, these two men, and many others who are thinking like them, will be present. Ideas such as these will certainly be aired and fully discussed.

    The NCR report carried the headline, “Cardinal Schonborn: Pope Francis has already changed the Church”. Indeed he has. One of the most important ways in which the church has already changed, s that it has genuinely become a listening church, and that includes for the first time, genuine listening to the voices of the laity. With this new willingness to listen, comes a responsibility – to articulate and make known our thoughts and concerns.

    In a useful comment to a post at Queering the Church (on the global survey results), Martin reminded us:

    I believe these various surveys herald a wake-up call to all of us. That is, not to become dependent upon a top-down decision to change the Church’s teaching. Although the present Bishop of Rome’s words have not indicated any change in doctrine, there is a definite development in contextual awareness; the words of the song stay the same, but the music is different!

    Those people of God directly affected by the various issues of personal, sexual, gender, and reproductive ethics should take seriously the reference to ‘hierarchy of truths/levels of Church teaching’ in Evangelii Gaudium – The Joy of the Gospel, along with the core teaching on ‘primacy of conscience’. We should then take personal responsibility for our decisions and not abrogate this to allow the Church’s hierarchy to take those decisions for us. As the 2nd Vatican Council constantly reminded us, the people of God have their own legitimate autonomy, experience and expertise to draw on.

  2. Lydia Lombardo February 11, 2014 / 9:05 am

    Why are the American Bishops, in particular, so stubborn? Why are they so unwilling to listen to the laity? It is so counter the American personality. Even before Vatican II and with older priests after the conclave, they were willing to listen to us, to help us, because as Pope John 23re said: Life is hard; our bishops don;t try to alleviate some of the hardness. The message in many churches with priests trained under John Paul II and Benedct is still punitive and so wrapped up in abortion and contraceptives and anti-women. It is so hard to remain Catholc. Yes, Francis is making it better, and I do believe there will be some reform, but I’m 81 and time is running out. Only the Eucharist keeps me coming back.

  3. Friends February 11, 2014 / 9:01 pm

    I certainly hope Ireland’s Archbishop Martin is elevated to the rank of Cardinal in short order. His wise voice needs to be hugely amplified — and, God knows (literally), he would be a superb Papal candidate to succeed our beloved Pope Francis, when The Lord eventually calls Francis home to his well-earned Heavenly Glory.

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