Two stories from London’s Tablet magazine show how far our Church has come on LGBT issues, and also how far we yet have to go.
One story reports on a parish priest in Bürglen, Switzerland, who blessed a lesbian couple’s relationship in a public ceremony in the parish church. The Tablet said it was “a service closely resembling a marriage ceremony.”
In the short article, Fr. Wendelin Bucheli explained his rationale for granting the couple’s request that their partnership be blessed:
“The question he had asked himself and those he consulted was, ‘Can I perform this blessing in the name of God and is it God’s will?’ The conclusion he had come to was, ‘As animals, cars and even weapons are blessed nowadays, why should it not be possible to bless a couple who want to go their way with God?’ ‘As for the form [of the service], this blessing was not very different from a church marriage [ceremony],’ he added.”
The story reminds us of the growing trend of positive statements and regard that many church leaders, including some high-ranking cardinals and bishops, have been exhibiting over the past few years. It is also reminiscent of the Bondings 2.0 post a couple of months ago which described a New York City parish bulletin affirming the 44-year relationship of a lesbian couple who are parishioners.
The positive vibes of this Swiss story, though, are somewhat dampened by the fact that another Tablet story recently described the experience of a gay Catholic man who was denied absolution during the sacrament of reconciliation because of his sexuality. Aaron Saunderson-Cross, a 29 year-old gay Catholic in an eight year-old committed relationship, was denied absolution during one of his regular experiences of the sacrament of reconciliation. He describes the occurrence:
“For the first time ever, the priest refused me absolution. The experience left me angered, saddened and confused.
“I accept the irregularity of my situation as existing outside of the Church’s normative structures of family life and yet I am resolved, by God’s grace in the life of ‘complete continence’ (Familiaris Consortio 84), to live out my call to holiness as detailed in Lumen Gentium.
“It is always difficult when visiting a new confessor and language so often fails in our feeble attempts to give a full account of the complexity of our lives . . .”
From the depth of reflection that Saunderson-Cross, who converted to Catholicism five years ago, expresses in his blog post, it is obvious that he has studiously and prayerfully informed and resolved his conscience. One comment particularly stands out as he describes the confessor’s response to learning about the partnered relationship:
” [The] bonds of affection that are Providential in our redemption are less important to the homophobic mind than the presumption of our genital transgressions.”
The denial of absolution does not fit in with the more pastoral approach towards gay and lesbian Catholics that was promoted at the synod, particularly by London’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols. Saunderson-Cross writes:
“I returned to that priest the next afternoon. He distinguished between being refused and deferred absolution, yet this distinction failed to acknowledge my relationship – in Cardinal Peter Erdo’s words from the recent Synod – in the ‘light of the law of graduality’ which Cardinal Nichols explains is a ‘law of pastoral moral theology which permits people, all of us, to take one step at a time in our search for holiness in our lives.’ The grace of sacramental absolution is ‘sweetness to the soul and health to the body’ (Proverbs 16:24) and necessary to the mental health of gay Catholics who labour in faith to integrate their lives to the perfect will of God.”
The story was resolved by the penitent returning to his regular confession to receive absolution. The discouraging aspect of this story reminds us of so many times that LGBT Catholics are denied sacraments. Pope Francis’ message of pastoral outreach and inclusion cannot be implemented soon enough.
Just like the synod of a few weeks ago, these two stories show how much opinion in our our Church is divided about LGBT people.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry