The most prestigious U.S. Catholic theological organization for the first time has awarded its highest honor to an openly gay scholar, the first.
The Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA), the primary professional associations for this area’s scholars, presented its John Courtney Murray Award to Orlando Espin, a professor of systematic theology at the University of San Diego, a Catholic school in southern California. Espin, who was awarded the honor at the society’s meeting in June, was cited for his work on intercultural issues. The citation announcing the award praised him for having “wrestled with problems associated with the historical and contemporary legacies of colonization, slavery, racism, and prejudice against LGBT persons.”
In his acceptance speech, Espin included thanks to his husband, Ricardo Gallego, who was present at the meeting, which occurred in Puerto Rico. Gallego is director of Latinoa Services at the San Diego LGBT Community Center. They have been married since 2008, though they have been a couple for 23 years.
In a statement to Bondings 2.0, Espin said that he thanked Gallego for his work with vulnerable minority populations, noting: “I write theology. He lives it.” His speech received a standing ovation.
The citation additionally praised Espin for being “a pioneer and leader in the field of Latino/Latina theology” who “has played a central part in promoting the highest scholarly standards for Hispanic/Latino theology.” According to The National Catholic Reporter, Espin also “founded and directs the Center for the Study of Latino/a Catholicism. He is also a founder of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States (ACHTUS) and has twice served as its president.” He is only the third ethnic minority to receive this prestigious award, and the first openly gay theologian to do so.
Espin led a workshop on LGBT ministry in the Latino/a community during New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in 2012.
The theme of this year’s CTSA meeting was “Justice and Mercy,” examining themes that are key to Pope Francis’ papacy. The theme very similar to the theme of New Ways Ministry’s upcoming Eighth National Symposium, which is “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” It will be held in Chicago, April 28-30, 2017. (For information send an email to info@NewWaysMinistry.org or phone 301-277-5674.)
In addition to Espin, two previous New Ways Ministry guest speakers made presentations at the CTSA event. The National Catholic Reporter quoted Fr. Paul Crowley, SJ, a professor at Santa Clara University, who gave the keynote speech in which he stated:
” ‘Religious institutions can be the source of so much good, as the holy church most surely is; but they also can be the source of so much suffering and even violence,’ he said, adding that ‘the church is itself the bearer of sin, not only through its members but as a body.’ “
The same news story quoted Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, professor emerita at Yale Divinity School:
” ‘Without justice, mercy has no power to meet the truly wounded or give hope to the truly broken. . . .
“In a world and church where ‘things are falling apart,’ forgiveness — out of all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy — is the work of mercy for our time, Farley said. Forgiveness is active, not passive, ‘a decision to let go of something within ourselves,’ she said, describing the need for ‘anticipatory forgiveness’ of those with no remorse or regret, even as resistance continues.”
LGBT issues were mentioned in one of the conference’s daily public Scripture reflections. M.T. Dávila, a Catholic professor of Christian Ethics at Andover Newton Theological School, Massachusetts, commented on the story of the woman who washes Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50), by noting:
“And we like this woman, we have cried at the absurd exclusion of our black and Latin@, Indigenous and Asian, and LGBTQ realities from syllabi and reading lists, department faculty rosters, promotion lists, conference themes, and all the other forms of exclusion at which the academy is so adept.”
Referring to the woman’s action in the Gospel story as an “extravagant interruption,” Dávila observed:
“While Jesus had been at this home for a certain amount of time, it wasn’t until the woman’s extravagant interruption that Jesus became woke. For the #BlackLivesMatter, #TRANSLIVESMATTER, and other recent movements for social justice, STAY WOKE or BE WOKE means working toward that social consciousness that finally wakes us up to the realities of suffering around us and in which we participate or bear an impact, whether we know it or not. They too choose extravagant interruption to make us attentive to their tears. Because of the woman’s actions Jesus woke up both to her sacred affection and the deep emotion that brought on her tears, and also to how this contrasted with his host’s fumbles and omissions in hospitality.”
Theologians have been one of the groups leading the way on moving our church toward an appreciation of the fact that LGBT equality and justice are not just accommodations of the Catholic tradition, but are intimately linked to the Catholic tradition. The events of this year’s conference show that LGBT issues are becoming part of the central fabric of these scholars’ discussions.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry