A few weeks ago, this blog asked “What happened to ‘respect, compassion, and sensitivity’?” on the part of the US bishops? A new column from Portland’s Archbishop Alexander Sample reveals these values are not quite gone totally. Could this shift be due to Pope Francis?
Responding to the May 19th court ruling which legalized marriage equality in Oregon, Sample’s column in the diocesan newspaper this week show the ‘Francis Effect’ may just be alive and well in Portland.
The archbishop condemns marriage equality in the Catholic Sentinel, relying on familiar arguments about anatomical complementarity and procreation as the primary functions of marriage. Yet, he refrains from the harsh, even apocalyptic, language that often surrounds such condemnations. Sample interjects positive statements about lesbian and gay people beyond trotting out the line about “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” often tacked on to anti-marriage equality statements as an afterthought. He writes, in part:
“Let us be clear. We all know people who identify themselves as gay or lesbian. They are our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, and members of our own families. We love and cherish them.
“On the specific issue of same-sex marriage, we are deeply aware that this is a complex and very sensitive issue. In no way do we wish to add to any existing discrimination against those who identify as gay or lesbian. The Catholic Church fully teaches that all human persons, including those who are gay, are sacred, valued, have an innate dignity, and are loved by God. We believe that all people should be treated with love, dignity and respect, regardless of what they think, how they act, or who they are. We welcome those who are attracted to people of the same sex into our churches and into our hearts.”
Towards the end of the column, Sample admits that harmful mistakes have been made during the hierarchy’s crusade against marriage equality, and he seeks dialogue to heal some of the wounds:
“Our teachings are not meant to engender attitudes of disrespect or hostility, and perhaps we don’t always do the best job of stating them. The Catholic Church is not interested in numbers in the pews or money in the collection basket, but only in bringing people to Jesus, serving the poor, reaching out to the lost and the broken, and in helping lead all to eternal salvation in Christ. Where we are failing in these areas, we need to change, but we cannot change Christ’s call to be faithful to the truth of the Gospel.
“Further dialogue is needed to ensure that each individual’s civil rights are being upheld.
“As this dialogue and discussion continues, we wish to extend a full welcome to every person who wishes to be a part of our faith community, knowing some of these tensions will not be easily resolved.”
Sample’s column contrasts with a statement from the Oregon Catholic Conference, which Sample leads, that displays language more common for the bishops and calls marriage equality’s legalization a “travesty of justice.”
His column also contrasts with the archbishop’s previous actions on LGBT issues, having once called opposition to equal marriage rights a “top pastoral priority” when Catholic Oregonians for Marriage Equality began organizing. He also banned a local parish from marching in Portland’s 2013 Pride parade, though parishioners stood in solidarity with the LGBT community and marched anyway.
Could Archbishop Sample’s new style be attributed to Pope Francis who wants to open doors to LGBT people and their allies instead of causing divisions and exclusion? Perhaps the archbishop is following the pope’s lead and ‘smelling like his flock.’ He could be listening to Portland’s Catholics in their widespread support for LGBT rights. Perhaps he read Harvey Thoennes’ letter published in the Catholic Sentinel last year, which says, in part:
“The persons we need to learn the truth about are the gays and lesbians in our communities. If we reach out to them we will find out that they want and deserve the same things that we do: to live without persecution or bullying, to be in a committed relationship with the person they love and to have this relationship acknowledged by society through marriage. If we ‘love our neighbors as ourselves’ we should support and work for the right to marry for gays and lesbians.”
Whatever the cause, let us hope more bishops in the US will follow Archbishop Sample’s and respond to the legalization of marriage equality in their area with a renewed sense of “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” — and perhaps, even more.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry