UPDATE: The election results are in: Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston was elected president and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles was elected vice president. It looks like the bishops chose the most moderate leaders from the slate of ten described below.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) elects its new leadership for the next three years this morning, and will discuss as well its strategic plan for implementing priorities adopted last November. Each time the USCCB has met since Pope Francis’ election in 2014, observers have wondered when U.S. bishops would come around to the pope’s more pastoral vision for the church. Today’s post focuses in on the slate of ten presidential/vice-presidential candidates and their record on LGBT issues.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans is considered among the more pastoral candidates, including his approach to LGBT communities. In 2013, he announced a new outreach initiative in the archdiocese, and apologized to the LGBT community for the Church’s silence in 1973 when 32 people were killed and dozens wounded in an arson fire at a New Orleans gay bar. Aymond encouraged Catholic parishes to maintain affiliations with the Boy Scouts after the organization accepted openly gay leaders in 2015. That same year, the archbishop personally apologized to a gay man denied Communion at his parent’s funeral. Aymond was a candidate in the last USCCB election at which point he told the media, “I think that there are really people who believe, unfortunately, that the church is against people who are [gay and lesbian] or we don’t honor or give dignity to people who are of same sex orientation, and that is not true.”
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia just last month called for a “smaller, lighter” church of those he deems orthodox, and he issued pastoral guidelines this summer barring several categories of people from public ministry. One gay man has already been banned from being a lector under these guidelines, and other church workers have been sanctioned in the archdiocese in recent years. Chaput is no fan of Pope Francis and was a detractor of the Synod on the Family, along with ejecting LGBT groups from holding workshops on Catholic property during the 2015 World Meeting of Families. He is noted for ejecting children with same-gender parents access from Catholic school and voicing the antipathy of right-wing Catholics towards Pope Francis’ more welcoming style, even as a Villanova University study (in his own archdiocese) identified LGBT issues as a leading cause of declining Church attendance.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston was elected by his peers in the Conference to participate in the 2015 Synod on the Family. While there, he was among thirteen cardinals who signed a letter to Pope Francis essentially criticizing the pope’s handling of the 2014 synodal assembly. The Associated Press reported that DiNardo commented on Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” comment by saying it is really just what would be said about anyone. Last year, the cardinal opposed changes to the USCCB’s document on elections which had been criticized for its fixation on opposing marriage equality and a handful of other issues.
Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles is a leading Hispanic Catholic figure and presides over one of the US’ largest archdioceses. Gomez opposed the teaching of LGBT history in California state education and signed onto a letter by several bishops opposing the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act because it now includes ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as protected classes.
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore criticized President Barack Obama’s executive order in 2014 to protect LGBT employees from discrimination. Lori led the USCCB’s religious liberty efforts, including the “Fortnight for Freedom,” which claimed the Catholic Church’s freedom was being attacked in part because of expanding LGBT equality. After moving to Baltimore, he opposed marriage equality in Maryland. He initially tried to downplay Pope Francis’ gay-friendly comments, but, in a hopeful sign, he said he will now rethink statements on LGBT and other controversial matters to see if they truly bring people to the Gospel.
Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit has compared breaking up same-gender relationships to the Exodus where Moses led the Hebrews to freedom. In 2015, he attempted to ban Catholics who support marriage equality from Communion. His comments prompted outcry from Catholic parents in Michigan, and from Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton (links here and here) and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson. He also banned Fortunate Families from using church property because of their speaker, Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami criticized Vice President Joe Biden earlier this year for officiating at a same-gender wedding, and has been quite critical of LGBT rights. This summer, Wenski even so far as to attack publicly his brother bishop, Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, for saying the church’s rhetoric had a role in the Orlando massacre. After marriage equality became legal in 2015, Wenski warned church workers in a letter that they would lose their jobs if they supported LGBT equality. Previously, Wenski wrote a letter to Catholics in which he opposed marriage equality by saying that it would open up the path to polygamy. Prior to being made archbishop of Miami, he was bishop of Orlando, Florida, where he closed down a well-established diocesan ministry to lesbian and gay people.
Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe has a more moderate record than most other candidates when it comes to LGBT issues. Last year, he supported non-discrimination legislation in Utah (where he was formerly bishop). Wester said the law “honored the rights of both the LGBT community as well as the religious community. It allowed us to have our beliefs in the public square and to have people in the LGBT community not being discriminated against in such basic things as housing and employment. We felt it was in line with our Catholic social teaching.”
Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City criticized a court ruling that legalized marriage equality in Oklahoma in 2014. Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville has no strong record on LGBT issues.
Essentially unrepresented on the slate of presidential candidates are any true “Francis Bishops,” like Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, who will be made a cardinal later this month, or Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego. John Gehring of Faith in Public Life commented to the National Catholic Reporter:
” ‘There are bishops who recognize the pope’s pastoral approach and priorities are exactly what’s needed to begin recalibrating the church’s voice in the public square. . .Other bishops seem more comfortable doubling down on an approach that hasn’t been successful at inspiring people.’ “
Later today, the USCCB will also consider a strategic plan for its priorities adopted last November. These priorities were criticized by observers and even some bishops for not reflecting Pope Francis’ vision for the church. Archbishop Joseph Tobin, who was recently appointed to lead the Newark Archdiocese and who will be elevated to the College of Cardinals later this month, was among the critics. He said while there are no real problems with the priorities, they did not reflect the “newness that Pope Francis is bringing to the church universal.”
Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese said it was “too late and too embarrassing” to revise the priorities, but suggested that a resolution endorsing Pope Francis’ major documents — Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si, and Amoris Laetitia — as guidelines for their strategic plan would help. The bishops need to practice “more dialogue, more pastoral sensitivity, and more compassion,” said Reese who also commented in the National Catholic Reporter:
“Such a resolution would put a different spin on the meaning of ‘evangelization’ and ‘marriage and family’ in the USCCB priorities. It would mean that evangelization programs in the U.S. should reflect in content and tone Evangelii Gaudium. It would mean that programs on marriage and family should reflect the content and tone of Amoris Laetitia. All old programs and policies would have to be reexamined to see if they reflect these documents. . .How the church approaches and accompanies divorced Catholics, gays, and those who disagree with the bishops would therefore have to change.”
Failing to shift their work will only perpetuate the harm already done. Michael Sean Winters wrote in the National Catholic Reporter:
“The conference has continued to make their priority a crusade for religious freedom that has damaged the brand in ways their enemies could not do. . .They have since wedded the fight for religious liberty to efforts to discriminate against LGBT Americans, further damaging the cause by associating it with bigotry and alienating millions of young Catholics in the process.”
Winters concluded by asking whether the bishops would follow Pope Francis or “continue to let their actions and views be informed by the Catholic alt-right?”, and continued:
“No one should be sanguine about the [bishops’] antipathy towards Pope Francis. Electing culture warriors to leadership of the conference is a direct refutation of the guidance offered by Pope Francis and we all know it.”
Whatever the outcome, it is clear that many bishops in the United States are still clearly opposed to the vision of a church that is inclusive and merciful so frequently promoted by Pope Francis. For bishops like Charles Chaput and Allen Vigneron, when it comes to LGBT people this opposition to the pope’s outreach is doubly true.
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 14, 2016