Global Network of Rainbow Catholics To Hold Second Assembly

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC), a growing international coalition of organizations and individuals who work for LGBTQI justice and equality in church and society, will be hosting their Second Assembly in Munich/Dachau, Germany, in the late fall of this year.

 

 

 

 

The Assembly will gather Catholic advocates, both LGBTQI and allies, under the theme and title “Hear a Just Cause” (Psalm 7:1) on November 30-December 3, 2017,  at the  International Youth Guest House (Jugendherberge Dachau) in Dachau, a suburb of Munich.

A GNRC invitation letter describes the purpose of the meeting:

“After decades of an ‘ice age’ on LGBTQI issues, Pope Francis has opened up the church for new approaches in pastoral work with LGBTQI people, while the moral doctrine seems to remain sealed. This situation creates tensions and controversies: Some parishes, dioceses and regions use this new opportunity for creating more inclusive and welcoming spaces, while others react even more hostilely to societal progress such as equal marriage. In the midst of these contradictions, it is more important than ever for the Catholic Church to “hear a just cause”.

“Since its creation in October 2015, the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) brings together groups and organisations, which provide pastoral care and work for justice for LGBTQI people. The Network strives for inclusion, dignity and equality of this community in the Roman Catholic Church and in the wider civil society. The GNRC held its 1st Assembly in October 2015 in Rome at the conference, ‘Ways of Love,’ with 80 participants from 30 countries. To this date, the GNRC represents 25 allied groups across all continents. . . .

“The assembly has two goals: 1) to consolidate the organisational development of GNRC and 2) to define strategies in key areas such as

  • dialogue with leaders of the Catholic Church.
  • promoting best practices of pastoral work with LGBTQI people and their families
  • campaigning for a Catholic statement against criminalization of LGBT people
  • confronting the anti-gender rhetoric within the Catholic Church.”

As part of the Assembly, participants will visit the Concentration Camp Memorial in Dachau,
Christmas market in Munich, Mass at the “Bürgersaalkirche” in Munich, and a Bavarian dinner gathering.

You can apply to attend the Assembly by clicking here.  For more information about GNRC, click here.

New Ways Ministry was involved with the genesis of GNRC, having been present at the inception meeting in Rome in October, 2014, and the First Assembly in Rome in October, 2015.  New Ways Ministry Co-founder Sister Jeannine Gramick spoke at the conference day of the Assembly in 2015, and Executive Director Francis DeBernardo has served on the GNRC Steering Committee for the past two years.    DignityUSA and the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith office also sent representatives to the 2015 Assembly.  For a full list of international organizations which have been involved in GNRC, click here.   To see the list of Steering Committee members, click here.

After participating in the 2015 Assembly, I wrote the following as part of a reflective blog post on the meeting:

“One thing I learned from participating is how different Catholicism is around the globe and how different the LGBT experience is.  It helped me to see that in the United States, Catholic lay people have many opportunities to participate in the life of the church–even though we are still denied participation in many decision-making processes.  I also realized how privileged the U.S. LGBT community is.  Again, we still have work to do in terms of full equality in employment and other areas, but the level of repression, violence, and state oppression against LGBT people is much greater in many places around the globe.”

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics holds promise for a strong voice for LGBTQI equality and justice in the Church.  If time and finances are available for you, please consider attending this important meeting.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 18, 2017

The Time Is Now for Church’s Sexuality Dialogue

The National Catholic Reporter’s editors have called for a “Time for dialogue on sexual ethics” as a response to recent developments in the world of Catholic LGBT issues.

The publication of Jesuit Father James Martin’s book,  Building a Bridge, which examines the relationship between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church, along with Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s recent decree banning lesbian and gay married people from most of parish life, have highlighted, respectively, a path to better dialogue in the church and an example of the worst of episcopal excesses in regard to sexuality.

These events have drawn the NCR editors to focus in on LGBT discussions as the linchpin for a wider issue in the church:  the need for doctrine on all sexuality to up examined and updated. The consternation that LGBT issues cause traditional Catholic thinkers brings to relief the fact that the very foundations of church teaching about sex is dangerously antiquated.

The magisterium’s disapproval of genital same-sex relationships is based on what the editorial calls  “an indissoluble connection between the procreative and unitive meaning of the sexual act.”  Re-evaluating this concept could bring about “far-reaching consequences for all Catholics, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”  The procreative norm is harming a lot more people than just the LGBT community.  A reexamination of it could produce healthy and holy results for all.  The editorial provides the following example:

“Much is often made about the church’s teaching that same-sex relations are ‘intrinsically disordered.’ But equally harsh language is used for other sexual transgressions of the church’s procreative norm. For example, the catechism declares that every action used to render conception impossible, such as use of contraceptives, is ‘intrinsically evil’ (2370). The catechism also condemns masturbation as an ‘intrinsically and gravely disordered action’ because ‘the deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose’ (2352). . . .

“The institutional church’s vocal objections to same-sex marriage often mask the fact that church teaching is fundamentally opposed to sexual acts that a majority of human beings participate in. The church condemns any sex acts — including those engaged in by married couples — that do not respect the procreative norm. Therefore, in reality, few Catholics ever live up to the church’s moral norms governing sexual activity. . . .

“If bishops like Paprocki were more vocal about their opposition to masturbation, in vitro fertilization or vasectomies as they are in their campaign against same-sex marriage, perhaps more Catholics would realize how urgent the need is to rethink the entirety of the church’s sexual ethics.”

While the editorial calls for laypeople and bishops to dialogue about all matters sexual, it also recognizes that “dialogue can have its limits, particularly if those in leadership do not demonstrate an openness to developing the church’s teaching on sex and sexuality.”

The modern dialogue on sexuality began at Vatican II, the editorial notes, but it was “stalled by the hierarchy’s unwillingness to loosen its rigid interpretation of millennia-old ideas about natural law and the procreation norm.”  While theologians and other scholars in the Church have produced great insights into Tradition and modern views of sexuality, “those who have made the greatest contributions to deepening our understanding of sexual ethics, such as Fr. Charles Curran and Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, have been silenced or had their work condemned by bishops and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

Congratulations and thanks to The National Catholic Reporter for this insightful analysis and helpful recommendations!  Since at least 1968, with the publication of  Humanae Vitae, the Church has been aware that its sexual ethics doctrine was not received by the majority of the faithful. Leaders, for the most part, have kept their heads in the sand.

The success of the movement for LGBT equality in the U.S. and around the globe highlight that new understandings of sexuality can be life-giving and holy.  This new reality also has brought opposition to the church’s antiquated sexual ethics teaching “out of the closet” and into the open.  Church leaders can continue to keep their heads buried, or they can courageously move forward with a dialogue that has been waiting to happen for 50 years.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 12, 2017

 

In Interviews In All Kinds of Media, Fr. Martin Offers Insights to His New Book

As I’ve noted before, Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s new book Building a Bridge:  How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity has been the top Catholic LGBT story of the summer.  As bloggers, the Bondings 2.0 team has been challenged to keep up with all the publicity and reviews that the book has generated.

Fr. James Martin, S.J.

We’ve already covered a number of reviews of the articles, as well as posting New Ways Ministry’s analysis, so today we are presenting you a “round-up” post of the many interviews in diverse media outlets that Fr. Martin has given this past summer.  You can click on the link for each interview to read the entire text.

1. In a brief interview for America magazine, “Father James Martin answers 5 common questions about ‘Building a Bridge’ .”     When asked,  “How can you ask the L.G.B.T. Catholics to treat the church with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity’?” Fr. Martin responded:

“I should have been clearer about this in the book. The onus for bridge building is on the institutional church—clergy and church officials, including lay people. Because it is the institutional church that has marginalized the L.G.B.T. community, not the other way around. But we are all called to be respectful of one another, including L.G.B.T. Catholics in the relationship with the hierarchy. Why? Because we are all Christians.”

2. Salon.com‘s Mary Elizabeth Williams spoke with Fr. Martin, and at one point highlighted his point that LGBT people are already part of the Catholic Church.  He responded:

“For Jesus, there is not ‘us’ and ‘them.’ There is only ‘us.’ For Jesus ,there is no one who is ‘other.’ His own ministry is about inclusion and going out to people who feel like or are treated as other and bringing them into the community through healing, through talking to them.

“LGBT people are part of the Church by virtue of their baptism, period. They’re as much a part of the Church as me as their local bishop or as the Pope. I submit that they are sometimes better Catholics because they put up with so many hateful comments, and they still persevere in their faith. That to me is real faith. The people that I know who have persevered in the Church in the face of horrible comments, who have forgiven pastors for insulting them, and who continue to participate in the life of the Church, is extraordinary. Their perseverance and their forgiveness is a real gift.”

3. In an interview with National Public Radio’s Scott Simon, host of the popular “Weekend Edition” show,  Fr. Martin explains that church leaders need to get to know LGBT people on real and deep levels.  At one point, he states:

“I think that the church has spent too much time – by that, I mean the institutional church – speaking at, preaching at, tweeting about, publishing about LGBT people without actually getting to know them and listening to their experiences and asking them questions like – what’s your experience of God like? Who is Jesus for you? What’s your experience of the church like? – because the Holy Spirit resides in LGBT people. And the church really needs to listen and to pay attention to how the Holy Spirit is operating.”

4. Brian Lehrer of WNYC Radio had Fr. Martin as a guest on his talk show.  In the interview, Lehrer asks for an example of how LGBT Catholics feel excluded by the Church, and Martin answers with a terrible tale of a priest who refused to visit a gay man dying in a hospice.

5. In an interview with Crux, Fr. Martin responded to a question about how LGBT issues were treated at the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family with the following statements:

“That these issues came up means that the Holy Spirit is agitating among the faithful and among the bishops, and that these questions are important questions.

“The Pope asked for the bishops to bring to the Synod the sort of questions that are being circulated in their dioceses, and they did. I think people were afraid of some of the issues, and the Holy Spirit can be frightening sometimes, but fear not!”

6. While talking with Religion News Service’s Jonathan Merritt,  Fr. Martin was asked about the Catholic Catechism’s language concerning homosexuality.  He responded:

“I’m no theologian, but I would say that some of the language used in the catechism on that topic needs to be updated, given what we know now about homosexuality. Earlier, for example, the catechism says that the homosexual orientation is itself ‘objectively disordered.’ But, as I say in the book, saying that one of the deepest parts of a person — the part that gives and receives love — is disordered is needlessly hurtful. A few weeks ago, I met an Italian theologian who suggested the phrase ‘differently ordered’ might convey that idea more pastorally.”

7. When asked by The National Catholic Register’s Judy Roberts as to why he focused on “respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” and not sexual ethics, Fr. Martin responded, in part:

“The reason I didn’t talk about chastity in my book is because Church teaching is clear on that matter, and it’s well-known in the “LGBT” community. I don’t think there’s any “LGBT” Catholic alive who doesn’t understand that teaching. By the same token, there seem to be few “LGBT” Catholics who have accepted that teaching. Theologically speaking, you could say the teaching has not been “received” by the “LGBT” community, to whom it was directed. So rather than focusing on a topic where the two groups — the institutional church and the “LGBT” community — are miles and miles apart, I preferred to try to build a bridge over areas that could be places of common ground.”

8. The Jesuit Post, a blog produced by young Jesuits, published a two-part interview with Fr. Martin about the book,  In the first part of the interview, Martin reflects on what the experience of publishing the book has taught him.  In the second part,  he discusses some specific church issues facing LGBT people (such as church employment), as well as explaining the genesis of the oft-neglected spirituality section, which comprises the second half of the book:

“For many years I’ve done–like many Jesuits, priests and religious, and lay pastoral workers–a kind of ‘informal ministry’ with LGBT people.  And I’ve found that some passages from Scripture have consistently been helpful for LGBT people who are struggling with their faith.  Psalm 139 (‘I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made’) is one of them.  It’s such a powerful tool for people, and helps unlock things for them in prayer.

“Likewise, I wanted to include selected passages from the New Testament that I feel can help people gain insight into the ways that Jesus treated people who felt marginalized in his time—like the story of the Roman centurion’s servant, and Jesus’s encounter with Zacchaeus.   In the book, I invite readers to use some of the practices of Ignatian contemplation with these passages.  What might God want to tell us in our prayer?”

9. The Millennial Journal’s  Robert Christian asked Fr. Martin about what church members do to help stave off anti-LGBT violence globally, such as in Chechnya and Uganda, as well as locally in the form of bullying.  He responded:

“First of all, speak up.  The Gospels impel us to stand with those who are being persecuted in any way.  I don’t know how much clearer Jesus could be: he sided with those who were on the margins.  Catholic social teaching urges us to understand the meaning of solidarity. And the Catechism asks us to resist any forms of ‘unjust discrimination’ directed against LGBT people.  So in places where LGBT people are being actively persecuted, the Church should stand with them, publicly.  Other issues can clearly be seen in the light of Church teaching.  What is suicide among gay teens other than a life issue’?

“So we need to make LGBT people feel visible and valuable. We need to let them know that they are beloved children of God who are as much a part of the church as the pope, their local bishop, and me.  We need to listen to them and enter the mystery of their lives.  We need to accompany them.  We need to stick up for them when needed.  We need to be compassionate to them.  And we need to let them evangelize us.  In a word, we need to love them.”

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 11, 2017

Pope Congratulates, Blesses Gay Couple on the Baptism of Their Adopted Children

Pope Francis, through an aide, has sent his congratulations and apostolic blessing to a legally married Brazilian gay couple on the occasion of the baptism of their three adopted children.

david-toni-reis-arquivo-pessoal
The Reis-Harrad family with the parish priest after the three children’s baptism.

According to Business Monkey News (the only immediately available English language news story), Toni Reis and David Harrad received a letter from Monsignor Paolo Borgia, advisor to the Secretary of State Vatican, which read in part:

“Pope Francisco wishes you congratulations, calling for his family abundance of divine graces, to live constantly and faithfully the condition of Christians.”

The couple, who were married in 2011, and they adopted three children–Alyson, Jessica, Felipe–between 2012 and 2014.   They wrote to the pope in the spring of 2017, informing him of the upcoming baptism of their children, who are now young teens.  They live in the city of Curitiba in Brazil’s Paraná state.

Reis posted a photo of the letter on his Facebook page.

20620900_1908359132785962_6362050348424843834_nThough the Vatican is downplaying the significance of the letter, saying the pope responds to many of the personal letters he receives, its impact on pastoral care cannot be underestimated.

Pope Francis knows the impact that his messages, even personal ones for private occasions, will have around the world.  He is savvy enough, based on his history of making headlines with LGBT-positive statements, to know that his gesture would be made public.

The way I see it, Pope Francis is giving a clear message to bishops, priests, and pastoral ministers around the world about how they should treat families headed by gay and lesbian couples.  His message is “welcome and bless.”

I am not under any illusion that Pope Francis approves, theologically, of same-gender marriages.  Indeed, he has publicly opposed laws intended to spread marriage equality.

But, he has consistently promoted a positive pastoral response to LGBT people and their families. He seems to recognize that there is a difference between political reality and personal reality, and he is courageous enough to respond positively to the personal reality, even if it conflicts with his political ideas.

Our bishops need to follow his example.  Of course, the first to come to mind is Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, who made headlines last month because of his draconian barring of married lesbian and gay people from most of parish life.  As we’ve noted before, Bishop Paprocki could learn from Bishop Patrick McGrath of San Jose, California, who instructed his priests to “not refuse sacraments or Christian Burial to anyone who requests them in good faith.”

The words of Toni Reis should ring in the ears of bishops and LGBT people around the world:

“It is a great advance for an institution that burned gays during the Inquisition and now sends us an official letter congratulating our family. I am very happy, as I can die in peace.”

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 9, 2017

 

Scottish Bishop Says ‘Chaste Life’ Must Be Part of Gay Ministry

A Scottish bishop has asked his priests to include the church’s regulation of celibacy for lesbian and gay people in any ministry that is directed toward them.  The bishop’s guideline comes after a parish in his diocese publicized an extravagant welcome to gay and lesbian people on its Facebook page.

The Catholic Herald reports:

“The Bishop of Motherwell [Scotland] has asked his priests to encourage those experiencing same-sex attraction to ‘lead a chaste life.’ “

“Bishop Joseph Toal issued his statement after a diocesan priest published a Facebook post that was subsequently widely shared. The priest, Fr Paul Morton of St Bride’s Church in Cambuslang, wrote: ‘We must do everything we can to redress the harm that has been done in the past by the negative stance we seem to have taken up [about gay people].’ “

Bishop John Toal

“Bishop Toal said he had been asked about the subject by a number of priests. ‘One such approach commended to me is to make available the Courage ministry/programme,’ he said.”

” ‘This encourages those who live with same-sex attraction to live a chaste life – which is also expected of all heterosexual Catholics who are not married – supported by the sacramental and prayer life of the Church.’ “

This kind of pastoral approach is not only demeaning to gay and lesbian people, it is also ineffective and goes against a principle which the Vatican itself promoted in its 1986 “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.”  That document states, in part:

“The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a ‘heterosexual’ or a ‘homosexual’ and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”

In promoting pastoral ministry whose main focus is chastity, Toal not only looks at gay and lesbian people as primarily homosexual, but also assumes that the main struggle that they have is with sexual activity.  This is a demeaning assumption.

Gay and lesbian people show up to church for myriad reasons.  They come with an equal amount of challenges, struggles, strengths, and joys as their heterosexual counterparts.  They come as children of God seeking to deepen their relationship with God.  Pastoral ministry with them must begin with their particular issues and not assume that sexuality is a focus for them.

Most–or I daresay, all–gay and lesbian people who come to a Catholic parish already know the magisterium’s prohibition about sexual activity.  It’s not a secret.

This phenomenon is mirrored by their heterosexual counterparts who know that contraception, masturbation, and pre-marital sex are equally forbidden by the magisterium.  Yet, no one is proposing that pastoral ministry to heterosexual people start with and focus on the church’s sexual teaching.  That simply is not good pastoral ministry, especially in the age of Pope Francis who has been urging accompaniment, encounter, and dialogue as the more effective modes of pastoral care.

The Courage ministry which Toal seems to recommend is a flawed pastoral approach in that it understands a homosexual orientation as a flaw which can be controlled by a 12-step addiction model.  In the U.S., a number of bishops have explicitly rejected such a model.

Bishop Toal needs to look at the flourishing movement of LGBT-friendly parishes who use a more holistic model of ministry that emphasizes welcome, acceptance of gifts and blessedness, and encourages integration of sexuality and spirituality.  He could start by looking at New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBT-friendly parishes by clicking here.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 6, 2017

 

The Impact Fr. Martin’s New Book Is Already Having

The Catholic LGBT sensation of the summer has definitely been the publication of Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s book, Buidling a Bridge:  How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.   Even before its publication in mid-June, and continuing up to today, I have been receiving daily emails about the book–reviews, inquiries, suggestions for how to use it–and the pace doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

Why has this book made such a splash, when there have been many other books about Catholic LGBT issues published over the past few decades?  It’s hard to say for sure, but I can think of several possibilities.

First, I think it is important to notice who the author is: a priest.  While there have been numerous books about Catholic LGBT issues written by theologians, advocates, scholars, and people in the pews, it has been a very long time since a priest has authored such a book.

Moreover, while some priests have written about pastoral care or theological subtlety, I can’t think of any who has tackled the thorny issue of the relationship between the institutional church and the LGBT community. I think that the topic of developing a good relationship between these two groups is comparable in intensity to the highly emotional topic of sexual ethics.

Another reason for the book’s popularity is that it has been put out by a major publishing house, HarperOne.  This gives the book more of a mainstream audience than most Catholic LGBT books which are usually published by religious or LGBT presses.

Of course, Fr. Martin’s renown plays a role in the book’s popularity, too.  Already well-known as one of the top contemporary spirituality writers, Fr. Martin is also much sought after by the news media as a commentator on Catholic news topics.  While his fame certainly plays a role in the book’s distribution, it’s also important to remember that Fr. Martin also took a major risk in deciding to address an issue which is fraught by controversy in the Church.

While there have been plenty of reviews of Martin’s book, it’s important to note that not all of them have been positive.  Reviewers from both progressive and conservative Catholic camps have faulted him for not writing about sexual ethics.  While the first group hoped he would be critical of church teaching about sexual relationships, the second group hoped he would have defended it more.

Some of these reviews, however, miss the main point of the book: Fr. Martin is analyzing the relationship between the institutional church and the LGBT community, not the sexual ethics teaching.  The sexual ethics teaching is, of course, important, but it is not the only issue that stands between better relations between the institutional church and the LGBT community. Much healing and reconciliation needs to be accomplished, and Martin is correct that “respect, compassion, and sensitivity”–a quote from the Catechism which are Martin’s three themes of bridge-building–need to form the basis of that healing and reconciliation.

Fr. James Martin

As I have been traveling to various Catholic meetings and speaking with Catholic people who work in the institutional church across the country this summer,  almost every person I meet has told me how inspiring Fr. Martin’s book was to them.  That bit of evidence, unscientific but absolutely true, tells me that the most important audience for this book are church professionals.  That is exactly the group that needs to hear Fr. Martin’s message the most, and my experience tells me that he has been wildly successful in that regard.  The news earlier this week that Cardinal Cupich endorsed Martin’s recommendation that church leaders should use the identifying terms for the LGBT community which its members prefer is evidence that the book is having an impact in the hierarchy.

I’ve also met two groups of pastoral ministers in two different parts of the country who, independent of each other, both had the same idea:  they want to send Martin’s book to diocesan and parish leaders, including their bishops.  I believe that Fr. Martin’s message can soften the hearts of church leaders in a way that others have not been able to do.

You don’t even have to open the book to see the impact that it can have on the hierarchy.  On the back of the dust jacket are blurbs recommending the book from two cardinals (one a Vatican official) and a bishop.  What’s even more intriguing is that they are in the company of two advocates from the Catholic LGBT community–theologian James Alison and New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeanine Gramick–who also strongly recommend the book.  If anyone needs evidence that this book can build bridges, it’s right there in the fact that this disparate company of folks have been able to find common ground.

Not commented on by mostly all reviewers is the second part of Martin’s book, which is a collection of prayers, guided scripture reflections, and spirituality material.  It’s a shame that this section is not noted by reviewers because it contains some very moving, helpful, and insightful material.  If the first part of the book is the plan for building a bridge, this second part can serve as the material for that work.  It would be wonderful if church leaders sat with LGBT people and reflected with them on some of the topics presented in that second half.

While people may legitimately differ on the details of Martin’s suggestions for how each side of the debate shows “respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” what I think is beyond dispute is that this book is having an immense impact on the discussion of the Catholic LGBT debate.  It has reached influential people in the Church who are in positions to make important decisions about pastoral care programs, local policies, and bridge-building opportunities.

The success of Fr. Martin’s book is the fact that he has gotten the discussion started again, and he has done so at a time when it is ripe for the wider church.  His book may not please all advocates on left and right, but he is reaching two gold-mine audiences: the mainstream of the Catholic Church and its leaders.

At New Ways Ministry, we believe in bridge-building, and have been striving to do this activity for 40 years.  One thing we have learned is that bridge building happens “by little and by little.” Fr. Martin’s book is one more little step in the right direction.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 31, 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