Detroit’s Archbishop Allen Vigneron may finally be experiencing the ‘Francis Effect,’ as it seems he has softened his stance on Communion for pro-marriage equality Catholics. The new statement comes just as a Catholic organization with negative attitudes toward lesbian and gay relationships is meeting in his archdiocese.
In a statement to the Detroit Free Press, Vigneron reversed his 2013 claim that Catholics supportive of civil marriage equality should refrain from Communion. He urged Catholics with questions about communion reception to consult their pastor about making a decision. Since each person or family’s situation is unique, each may come to different responses. He stated:
“The Church and her pastors are there to help harmonize these priorities — of being faithful to and open about the truth, and of being loving and compassionate to fellow Catholics in their personal and family lives. Given the variety of circumstances which go into a person’s particular situation, the best way forward for one person may not be best for another.
“In every situation the best solution is the one that assists Catholics to express their love for a family member in accordance with the conviction they solemnly affirm in receiving Holy Communion, that is, their commitment to think and act in communion with Christ and his Church. Whenever it comes to Communion, the objective is never to steer a person away.”
These remarks starkly contrast with those made by Vigneron in 2013 in which he suggested that Catholics who support marriage equality should deny themselves Communion. Catholic parents and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton strongly criticized that statement, encouraging all to keep receiving Communion.
Vigneron is now responding to marriage equality’s expansion across the United States following the Supreme Court’s June ruling, which will mean more same-gender weddings involving Catholics. His greater openness is being lauded by LGBT advocates, like New Ways Ministry’s director Francis DeBernardo who told the Free Press Vigneron’s new statement is signficant:
“It recognizes that people, in their consciences, have to weigh the church’s teachings in their own lives and relationships. That is authentic Catholic teaching. He’s not watering down anything. He’s proclaiming the church’s teaching more accurately than he did back then.”
Linda Karle-Nelson and Tom Nelson, parents of gay children and leaders of Fortunate Families, also focused on the conscience dimension of the statement, saying it was “an invitation” and a “Jesus response” of welcoming all to Communion.
Vigneron’s statement comes at the same time that a conference co-sponsored by Courage International, a Catholic organization with a negative assessment of homosexual orientation, convenes near Detroit. The archbishop will celebrate the conference’s closing Mass later this week. His softened message seems more in line with Pope Francis’ tone of mercy and inclusion, and is in contrast with some conference speakers such as Janet Smith.
Smith, a Catholic academic, has defined the “gay lifestyle” as being marked by “promiscuity, anonymous sex, heartbreak, sexually transmitted diseases” and suggested marriage equality will lead to the legalization of incest. She also discouraged parents from attending their child’s same-gender wedding, a claim from which even Courage’s director Fr. Paul Check distanced himself.
DeBernardo critiqued views like Smith’s as ignoring current reality, noting that those with such views need to face new facts:
“They have to live and work with the fact that gay and lesbian people are going to get married, and those are people who work in their employment, their communities and their parishes. The people who work with them are going to be their family members and friends. . . They can’t pretend it’s not there. And it seems that’s what they’re trying to do.”