Priest Asks Church About ‘What Happens Next’ After LGBT People Are Welcomed?

With an increased welcome for LGBT people in the Catholic Church, one priest is asking what comes next after hospitality is shown and doors are opened?

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Fr. Alexander Santora

Fr. Alexander Santora, pastor of Our Lady of Grace and St. Joseph parish in Hoboken, New Jersey, cited as good news both Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s welcome of LGBT pilgrims to the Newark Cathedral and Fr. James Martin, SJ’s new book on LGBT issues. But, in a piece for NorthJersey.com, he raised new questions about “what happens next?”:

“How will the LGBT community come back to a church that has no positive theology on homosexuality and no consensus on how to even begin to fashion one? Even if preachers and priests refrain from repeating the tired shibboleths against gay men and lesbians, what will they hear in church? Where do they find comfort in the Scriptures proclaimed from the pulpit? And how will the local parish minister to them?”

Santora not only asked questions, but provided an initial answer for how hospitality at parishes can evolve into deeper accompaniment. He said parishes need to be holding local community discussions that include both LGBT people and parish leaders. Questions explored could include:

“What are the perceived hurts? What struggles do gays search for help from church? How can they heal the rifts within their families who do not support them?

“But taking Martin to heart, gay men and lesbians need to hear how church leaders search for ways to make sense of the lived gay experience, which are varied and stereotyped. Honest, two-way listening and affirming are needed.”

Pope Francis has said the church must “make sense of the ‘night’ contained in the flight of so many,” and “know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture” of why Catholics leave the church. This reality must be part of any discussion.

Santora also said evolving parish work on LGBT issues needs to be informed by contemporary theological and scientific research. These insights shed light on how to pastorally implement church teaching in the manner favored by Pope Francis, which emphasizes conscience.

Using the Archdiocese of Newark as an example with its several Catholic colleges, Santora said “[s]urely there are theologians who can lead a summit on where we go in light of the latest scientific research as it applies to the LGBT community.”

Santora recommended that theological research at local levels begin with John McNeill’s The Church and the Homosexual, published originally in 1976:

“Though [McNeill’s] Jesuit superiors initially gave its imprimatur, the Vatican forced them to rescind it and silence McNeill, who eventually was bounced from the Society of Jesus.

“He continued writing, but he also served as a psychotherapist to the gay community up until his death at the age of 90 in 2015. His book tackled the real implications of a fixed orientation, which requires a new moral and theological paradigm. His reasoning offered gay men and lesbians hope and affirmation to lead a moral life.”

Santora’s recommendations are good, and there are certainly more ways by which hospitality becomes walking together in parishes. Such actions, in his words, “put flesh on the vision of Francis.”

It is a hopeful sign that the bridge-building which Catholics began as early as the 1970s, and have continued along the way, is being picked up by church leaders in a new way today. It’s now up to the faithful to act in the ways  Santora and others are advocating, and to help move the church from welcome to inclusion.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 27, 2017

Related articles by Fr. Alexander Santora:

NJ.com:  Bringing gays and the church closer together”

NJ.com: “N.J. cardinal offers historic welcome to LGBT community”

 

Pope Francis Offers Support for Nun’s Ministry with Transgender Women

Pope Francis has written a supportive note to a Catholic sister who works with transgender women.

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Sr. Monica Astorga, right, and Romina

Sr. Monica Astorga ministers to transgender women in Argentina, particularly those women who are in sex work or have substance abuse issues. Crux reported on her most recent interaction with Pope Francis, whom she has known for many years:

“Astorga wrote an email to Francis last Thursday, to update him on the new developments in the ministry she does in the southern Argentine province of Neuquen. It didn’t take long for her to hear back from the pope: She told Crux his answer came in the next day, on Friday.

“Astorga had written to the pope to inform him that the city had given her a plot of public land, where she planned to build 15 one-room homes for the transgender women she works with.

“‘I have you and the convent close to my heart, as well as the people with whom you work, you can tell them that,’ Francis wrote in his message.”

Pope Francis had visited Astorga in 2009 when he was then-archbishop of Buenos Aires. At the time affirmed her work, telling the sister in a note, “don’t leave the frontier work you were given” because transgender women were the “lepers of today.” In that 2009 note, Crux reported, the future pope notably used female pronouns for the trans women.

Church leaders, including the local ordinary, Bishop Virginio Bressanelli, have supported Astorga’s ministry, even when the local community has rejected and even harassed some of the women Astorga helps.

The ministry began over a decade ago when Astorga first encountered a trans woman, Romina. Bondings 2.0 covered her work in 2015, which you can read about here. The nun described the experience of meeting Romina:

“I listened to her for two hours without being able to say a word. . .I invited her to search for others who wanted to leave prostitution, and she came back five days later with four more. I invited them to pray, and then asked them to tell me their dreams. . .I felt stabbed when Katy told me, “I want a clean bed where I can die.”‘”

The ministry has cared for 90 transgender women in various ways, including housing, addiction recovery, and employment help. Astorga also keeps growing the ministry:

“[S]he’s received a house where some of the transgender women live on a temporary basis, and she’s now working on building a home for the elderly managed by transgender women, because they ‘have a special sensibility but also the strength needed.’. . .her ministry is now growing beyond those who look for her in the convent. She’s been added to several Facebook groups around the world by transgender women in similar situations.”

Sr. Astorga’s faith and Carmelite community have helped her branch out into this ministry, but she also notes the role that trans women’s faith has had on her, saying:

“They’ve always told me that ‘without believing in God, we wouldn’t survive. Each night, before going out on the street, we light a candle and ask God to take care of us.’ “

Trans women, especially those involved in sex work, are extremely vulnerable in Argentina, as in many places around the globe, where there are high rates of abuse and violence against them. But Astorga presses onward, and offers these wise words that should  inform the global church’s respond to trans people:

“I always say that to accompany one of them, we have to listen to them from the heart.”

Pope Francis’ note to Sr. Astorga is a positive mark for the pontiff’s mixed record on transgender issues. Last fall, the pope responded to a reporter’s question about how he would care pastorally for a person who is gender dysphoric. Francis answered by saying he had “accompanied people with homosexual tendencies,” even since being elected pope. He also spoke about meeting a transgender man, Diego Neria Lejárraga, in 2015. In his response, the pope used the man’s correct pronouns, and said at one point, “He that was her but is he.”

In that same interview, however, Francis’ joked that the press should not report “the Pope blesses transgenders.” He criticized as well, as he has done repeatedly, undefined concepts of “gender theory” and “ideological colonization.” The pope told a strange anecdote of a father who found out his child was being told in school that gender could be chosen.

When Pope Francis follows the path of Sr. Astorga, listening from the heart to trans voices, his response is always pastoral. The pope’s trans-negative moments seem to come when he stops listening from the heart and, despite his own critiques of such thinking, speaks about ideological theories that are entirely separated from lived realities.

It is good that Pope Francis wrote to Astorga and affirmed her ministry; it would be great if he learned from her witness, too.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 26, 2017

 

 

 

Catholic Parents’ Story Reveals the Love, Struggles of Having Transgender Child

Time and again, it is the love of Catholic parents for their LGBT children that continues to define healthy relationships, both in families and with the Catholic Church. The story of Teresa and Bill (pseudonyms), and their transgender daughter, Grace, is no different.

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Bill and Teresa

In Australia’s Catholic Leader newspaper, Grace, 50, told the story of how she came out as a trans person to her parents nearly two decades ago. Then presenting as a male, Grace had come home to give her parents an article, “Boys Will Be Girls,” and then she told them, “I’ve decided I want to live as a woman.” The report continued:

“Bill stood up from the couch, looked his son in the eye, and wrapped his arms tightly around him.”. . .

“‘I see this as a blessing because, to me, that particular day, when that news came, I just know that I did not have to think about it (giving his son a hug). . .I knew it was love in me that made me do it.’

“‘It said to me that even though I may not always show it, I actually do love my children unconditionally as any parent should – that there wasn’t anything they could say or do – I might disagree with them, which I still do – but it doesn’t stop you loving them.'”

A previous blessing helped  informed that moment. Bill had taken a bioethics course six months before, and it had dealt with transgender healthcare issues from various perspectives. Bill said he still thought gender-confirming surgeries were “going a bit far,” but he affirmed the reality gender dysphoria, the controversial mental health diagnosis sometimes given to trans people.

Grace transitioned a year and a half after coming out to them, and informed them that she chose her new name because, in Bill’s words, “she was looking for the grace to become a woman.”

What most troubled Bill and Teresa was the church’s response to their daughter. She could not find “any sympathy or understanding within the Church,” and left. Teresa said she doubts Grace will ever return. The Catholic Leader continued:

“Teresa said she struggled to reconcile the Church’s position on gender dysphoria with her own Catholic faith, though it has not made her less faithful.

“‘I get very upset about their ignorance, that they don’t seem to listen to all the new psychology information that has come out about gender dysphoria, and most still seem to see that people who want to change their gender are mentally unstable,’ she said.

“‘I really wanted to do something about it and shake them and say, “Listen to them – don’t you understand that your position is so antiquated?”‘”

Bill also challenged the church’s response, saying “people with no knowledge of embryology” are making scientific claims they should be more cautious about. Gender identity, he said, is different than sex characteristics. Bill and Teresa rejected the idea that gender is a choice. Bill said:

“‘I even heard the Pope say it’s not a matter of choice; I also say it’s not a matter of choice – it’s just a fact. . .For a transgender person, it’s not saying “I choose to be this”, or “I choose to be that”, but “I am, I am a woman but I have been given an XY chromosome”– but that is semantics.'”

Though supportive of Grace, it is important to note Teresa and Bill are still struggling with aspects of trans equality. They have fears that children are transitioning too early, and hesitations about widespread use of gender-confirming surgeries.

This story of Teresa, Bill, and Grace, notably published in the Archdiocese of Brisbane’s diocesan newspaper, reveals the tensions with which many Catholic parents often grapple. Fitting together the realities of their LGBT children and the church’s weak response is not easy. On the other side of this grappling, parents often become some of the most committed advocates for equality in the church.

Whether Teresa and Bill can be considered fully-affirming advocates or people still grappling with trans issues is not clear in the story, but what is clear is that they are refusing to settle with failed pastoral care and simplistic answers.

Editor’s Note:  Fortunate Families, a ministry of Catholic parents with LGBT children, is seeking a new part-time executive director. If you or someone you know might be interested in the position, you can find more information here or by contacting Michael Duffy at michaelduffy.duffy@gmail.com

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 25, 2017

How a Vatican Priest Learned to Build Bridges from LGBT Catholics

Of the many different reviews and assessments of Fr. James Martin’s new book, Building a Bridge, this summer, none was more personal than Fr. Thomas Rosica’s, CSB.

Fr. Rosica is the head of Salt and Light Media,  a Catholic Canadian ministry which provides education, information, and inspiration through television, radio, print, and online materials. He also serves as the English language media liaison for special events at the Vatican.  In that former role, he became well-known in U.S. Catholic media during the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

In a blog post on Salt and Light Media website, Fr. Rosica introduces his comments on Fr. Martin’s book by telling telling a story about the trepidation he initially experienced a few decades ago as he prepared to deliver a week-long mission at Most Holy Redeemer parish, San Francisco, which by then had already become known as having a mostly gay congregation.  Rosica explained that he thought the parishioners would be dismissive of Catholic ideas, and he also worried if he would have a relevant message to the many parishioners who at the time had HIV/AIDS. As he explains it:

“They knew what it meant to live on the fringes of society. I remember my reticence in accepting the invitation from the then-Archbishop’s office – thinking that no one would really come and listen to a Gospel message of hope and joy in the midst of a devastating epidemic, or that those who would come would have many difficulties with Church teaching. I was uncomfortable with the thought of being protested, dismissed or rejected by what I had believed to be left-wing radicals and Church dissidents in California!”

But Rosica said he experienced a “surprise”:

“What I experienced at Holy Redeemer Parish that week was a very powerful and moving week of prayer, dialogue and openness to the Word of God. If ever I felt to be a bridge-builder and healer, it was that week. . . . .I heard many touching stories from the elderly men and women of various ethnic backgrounds [at the parish] and their gay friends who ministered together to HIV/AIDS patients at home or in hospices, worshipped together, and served the homeless poor together in the neighbourhood. As part of that week-long mission, I spent hours hearing confessions and visiting those who were sick and alienated from the Church for various reasons. I shall never forget the moving celebration of mass and the anointing of the sick that drew hundreds to the Church one summer evening.”

Rosica said he learned a powerful lesson from the experience:

“Many of the gay persons who I met that week revealed a deep spirituality and faith. And most interesting of all, the people I met asked that we, as ministers of the Church, be people of compassion and understanding, and not be afraid to teach the message of the Gospel and the Church with gentleness and clarity even in the midst of ambiguity of lifestyle, devastation, despair and hostility. As a Church and as pastoral ministers, we still have a long journey ahead of us as we welcome strangers into our midst and listen to them.”

What I consider the most important sentence of his reflection is this one:

“Authentic teaching can only begin when we welcome others and listen to their stories.”

That sentence, so filled with true Catholic wisdom, serves as the transition to Rosica’s reflection on Fr. James Martin’s book.  He notes that the book has received many vicious attacks.  I don’t think he was discussing reviews which have had some criticism of specific points in the book, but other screeds whose tone and approach are angry and destructive.  Rosica writes:

“I shook my head in bewilderment several times as I read venom and vitriol in some of the critiques. It is one thing to critique and raise questions. It is another to condemn, disparage and dismiss. I sensed palpable fear and anger in some of the negative commentaries. I made it a point to read the book in one sitting last weekend. I was astounded that what I read in commentaries, blogs, some bishops’ messages, had very little to do with what I considered to be very mild, reflections offered by a well-known Jesuit priest who simply invited people to build bridges with those who are on distant shores. . . . Some of the criticisms reveal more about those writing them, about their own deep fears, confusion, uncertainties, anger and frustration, than they do about those for whom this book is written.”

Rosica focuses in on one of Martin’s major points: the use of proper language to refer to sexual and gender minorities.  In doing so, he notes that Martin’s proposal for more humane language is actually one that bishops around the world have also suggested:

“At the last Synod of Bishops on the Family, I was inside the Synod and watched how some courageous bishops and Cardinals of the Church challenged their brother bishops and Synod delegates to be attentive to our language in speaking about homosexual persons. . . .I am especially grateful to New Zealand Cardinal John Dew who made a fervent plea to examine our ecclesial language of ‘intrinsically disordered’ to describe homosexual persons. Such vocabulary does not invite people into dialogue nor does it build bridges. No matter how well-intentioned scholastic theology tries to describe the human condition, some words miss the mark and end up doing more harm than good. Reality is more important than lofty theological or philosophical ideas.” [Editor:  Link to blog post in this section was added by Bondings 2.0 staff for informational purposes.]

Rosica concludes with a plea for Catholics who criticize other Catholics to do so civilly and constructively.  His powerful words are instructive for all of us:

“To preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ without having a passion to build bridges, enter into dialogue and listen to others is to fail in our mission. To preach the Gospel and claim to be a faithful Catholic while using blogs, videos and messages to disparage, condemn and denigrate attempts at building bridges has nothing to do with Christianity. To use clerical status, episcopal authority, or other forms of leadership to dismiss, disparage or slam the efforts of those who simply want to reach those on the peripheries is not befitting of shepherds, pastors or servants of the Lord. It has nothing to do with the Gospel! It is not who we are!”

Fr. Rosica’s message should be heeded not just in regards to discussions of Fr. Martin’s book, but in all Church discussions about LGBT issues.  As Fr. Rosica noted,  authentic teaching will only develop when we listen to each other’s stories.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 24, 2017

 

 

 

Supporting Transgender Students Is “Exaltation of Dictatorship,” Says Church Official

A Catholic official in Minnesota has described a transgender education guide as the “radical exaltation of a dictatorship of the subjective self.”

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Jason Adkins

Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, harshly criticized the state education department’s “best practices” guide for supporting transgender and gender non-conforming students in public schools. When he testified to a legislative committee which would approve the guide, Adkins said the initiative was “another example of the ongoing evisceration of the purpose of education,” reported The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper of St. Paul.  He added:

“The truth is that this toolkit fits neatly into a world of alternative facts, fake news, climate change denial and trigger warnings. . .Science matters only when it serves an ideology. As a result, our public school system and its leaders have contributed greatly to the decline in civil discourse and a denuded public culture, where the loudest, most powerful voices — not the truth — win; this toolkit is just its most recent and radical exaltation of a dictatorship of the subjective self.”

Adkins said the guide would punish those people who hold dissenting views on trans issues, in what was “a modern version of the tale of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes'” But the state’s Department of Education has been clear the guide is merely a resource that aims to develop safe school environments, not a binding document.

Disputes over transgender policies in schools are increasing, and Catholics are right in the middle of them. Adkins and Minnesota’s bishops whom he represents are pushing a trans-negative agenda despite there being no formal church teaching about gender identity on which to base their objections. The narrative they propose, however, is being pushed by other church leaders as well. This push includes Pope Francis, who has said in an interview that he heard children were being told in schools that they could choose their gender.

Adkins’ most recent statements are not just misguided. They are harmful. Such rhetoric leads to anti-trans actions. A Catholic high school in New Jersey rejected a transgender student last fall, and performances of educational play about gender identity were cancelled by Catholic schools in Ontario, Canada. It took a trans student being shot with a BB gun before one Catholic school in England took action to create a safe environment.

Some Catholics, however, are taking a more positive approach to trans issues. An English Catholic school apologized to a trans student before offering her greater accommodations when it comes to restrooms and uniforms. In India, Carmelite sisters helped found a school for trans youth who had dropped out of the education system for various reasons.

Theologian Fr. Bryan Massingale drives to the heart of these two contrasting Catholic paths when he wrote:

“And there lies a major challenge that transgender people endure and that the faith community has to own: the human tendency to be uncomfortable and fearful in the face of what we don’t understand. It’s easier to ridicule and attack individuals we don’t understand than to summon the patience and humility to listen and to learn.”

Judging from Adkins’ remarks, he still has a lot to learn about trans people and gender identity. If he had been more aware of the reality of trans lives, its doubtful he would have used the language of “fake news” and “dictatorship,” or have criticized a guide to keep vulnerable trans students safe.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 23, 2017

 

“Land O’Lakes” Statement Paved Way for LGBT Welcome in Catholic Higher Ed

It was fifty years ago this weekend when Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, president of the University of Notre Dame, welcomed 25 other educators to reflect on how Vatican II should be received in Catholic higher education. The resulting “Land O’Lakes” statement  greatly altered the trajectory of church-affiliated schools, and it very likely paved the way for LGBT inclusion in these institutions.

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Fr. Hesburgh (left) walking with students

To begin, a bit of history. The prestigious group Hesburgh gathered included university presidents, church leaders, and a handful of laymen. They were some of the best Catholic minds in North America, though by today’s standards they were limited in diversity (for instance, in the previous sentence”laymen” is actually an accurate description, not a sexist slip). Catholic historian David J. O’Brien explained:

“For the university presidents attending Land O’Lakes, a primary aim was to affirm their universities’ Catholic identity in ways that would satisfy Rome while achieving their goal of academic excellence. . .These competent academics in turn insisted on academic freedom and shared responsibility for academic policy. . .For the new generation of vigorous, optimistic presidents who led the major institutions, the time had come to modernize governance, finances and administration, and to reform relations with Church authorities in order to achieve academic respectability and influence. Vatican II gave the reformers what they needed from the Church. The ecumenical council boldly affirmed the autonomy of the human sciences, the primacy of conscience in religious matters, the need for ecumenical dialogue with non-Catholics and the importance of lay participation and leadership in church and society.”

By 1967, Catholic higher education had for the most part accepted academic freedom and other standards followed by secular universities. Given some church leaders’ desire for control, conflicts with schools were inevitable, but those gathered at this meeting affirmed Catholic campuses as places of inquiry and education. Here are a few points I would emphasize from the statement:

  • In the Preamble, the group’s secretary Neil G. McCluskey, S.J. affirmed the need to welcome non-Catholics and “those of other views” because they “bring rich contributions from their own various traditions”;
  • Given the importance of theology, there is a “double obligation” at Catholic universities to preserve academic excellence according to contemporary standards, including academic freedom, in this field;
  • Theologians are exhorted to pay specific attention to “all human relations and the elaboration of a Christian anthropology,” and to be in conversation with other disciplines;
  • Catholic universities serve the church as a source of objective reflection on “all aspects and all activities of the Church”;
  • Undergraduate education should prepare students to confront the “actual world” and therefore there are “no boundaries and no barriers. . .no outlawed books or subjects” in intellectual pursuits”;
  • Universities should also be concerned with students’ flourishing as fully developed human beings.

The question I want to look at here is how the statement and its wisdom have come to impact LGBT issues in Catholic higher education institutions, which have become the vanguard for how the church can be more supportive and inclusive of LGBT people. I make the three following points.

First, inspired by Vatican II’s openness to the modern world, “Land O’Lakes” opened Catholic universities to all types of diversity in their communities. This openness has come to include a welcome to LGBT students, faculty (including theologians), staff, and alumni. New Ways Ministry’s LGBT-friendly Catholic colleges and universities listing, available here, attests to how widespread that welcome has become. This openness now increasingly includes an appreciation for the “rich contributions from their own various traditions” that LGBT people offer schools.

Second, “Land O’Lakes” shattered boundaries that had constrained Catholic theological exploration because educators firmly defended academic freedom. This claim did not mean it was easily implemented.  In some cases, it erupted into major conflicts.  The saga of Fr. Charles Curran and The Catholic University of America began that same year. But as society grappled with new issues in sexuality and gender, theologians at Catholic universities began to do so as well. The profound re-thinking and reclamation of tradition that has happened in the area of sexuality, including enriched theological anthropologies, continues to be a key foundation of Catholic efforts for LGBT equality in the church. Though not considered to be such by many church leaders, these efforts have been a true service to the people of God.

Third, “Land O’Lakes” desired that undergraduate education  be oriented around human formation that encourages free inquiry in conjunction with service and spirituality. This kind of thinking paved the way for Catholic universities to create formal supports for LGBTQ students. In Jesuit terms,  attention to cura personalis or “care of the whole person” means sexual and gender identities cannot be ignored if church institutions are to truly help form young people. This desire also created space for programming that educates all students on matters of the day, including LGBT issues.

As we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the “Land O’Lakes” statement, the question raised is how Catholic higher education continues to receive Vatican II in the present moment. Since the 1960s, Pope John Paul II released Ex Corde Ecclesia, an apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education that in some ways challenged “Land O’Lakes” ideas.  Even today, new challenges remain unsettled, and the path of LGBT inclusion has not been easy.  But without the Land O’Lakes conference, we would never have been able to have come as far as we have on LGBT issues on Catholic campuses. So on this 50th anniversary weekend, I am grateful for how far we have come and hopeful for what is to come in the next fifty years.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 22, 2017

 

 

Cardinal Schönborn Says Church Must Meet All Families Where They Are

A top cardinal has endorsed the idea that the church support all families, including those not considered traditional by the Magisterium’s standard.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna made his remarks while attending a conference in Ireland entitled, “Let’s Talk Family: Let’s Be Family.” He told journalists, per The Catholic Herald: 

“Favouring the family does not mean disfavouring other forms of life – even those living in a same-sex partnership need their families. . .[Family is] the survival network of the future [and] will remain forever the basis of every society.”

Before the conference held in the city of Limerick, Schönborn addressed the idea of family as it relates specifically to Ireland, reported The Independent:

“‘Ireland is synonymous with family, a country that traditionally has had family at its core. . Second unions, divorce, same-sex unions; these are all part of a new narrative around the family in Ireland. So there is a lot of change and the church must show mercy in the context of that change. It must be willing to meet families where they are today.

“‘Ultimately, and this is certainly the case with Ireland, for all the crises in the institution of marriage the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people.'”

Schönborn added that “the weakening of family” threatens society and, as such, “Reinvigorating family is perhaps our great mission today.”

Schönborn’s comments are grounded in his understanding of moral theology. He expounded on this topic during his Irish visit, and Crux quoted the cardinal as saying, “Moral theology stands on two feet: Principles, and then the prudential steps to apply them to reality.” The report continued:

“The problem, he said, was that conscience came often to be seen merely as “the transposition of the Church’s teaching into acts” but in fact “the work of conscience is to discover that God’s law is not a foreign law imposed on me but the discovery that God’s will for me is what is best for me. But this must be an interior discovery.”

“He was ‘deeply moved’ when he read the famous paragraph 37 of Amoris, which complains that too often the Church fails to make room for the consciences of the faithful, and that the task of the Church is to ‘form consciences, not replace them.’

That meant understanding that people operated within constraints. . .’The bonum possibile in moral theology is an important concept that has been so often neglected,’ said Schönborn, adding: ‘What is the possible good that a person or a couple can achieve in difficult circumstances?'”

Grounding his remarks in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the cardinal summarized the document’s message as “marriage and family are possible today,” and said it was noteworthy that even when “everybody can get married. . .so many choose not to get married.”

About pastoral care to families, Schönborn said the reception of Amoris Laetitia is “a long process.” He criticized both rigorists and laxists “who have rapid, clear answers.” Accompaniment, the cardinal said citing St. Gregory the Great, “is an art and it needs training.” Indeed, he admitted the Synod on the Family and Amoris Laetitia were not a set of rules that would be applicable in all cases.

What is refreshing about Cardinal Schönborn’s remarks in Ireland is his willingness to admit reality, and then do theology from it amid life’s messiness rather than dictate from idealized models. Being the child of divorced parents likely helps his more merciful understanding of so-called irregular families. His desire to seek the good that is possible in all situations, including same-gender relationships, is too rare among church leaders.

Schönborn’s visit comes a year before Ireland hosts the 2018 World Meeting of Families, which could be accompanied by a papal visit. There may be no more fitting backdrop for the Catholic Church to consider family than Irish society, given its rapid changes, but this will only be true if church leaders are honest about the realities around them.

Hopefully, the next World Meeting of Families takes up Schönborn’s approach, and focuses on how the church can support all families instead of just those which fit the strict parameters of the Magisterium.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 21, 2017