Jesuit Political Analyst Suggests Compromise in the LGBT Religious Liberty Debate

Has the Republican electoral victory in the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives ushered in a new moment in the debate about religious liberty and LGBT rights?  Jesuit Father Thomas Reese thinks so.  In a blog post for The National Catholic Reporter, Reese, who has been serving as the chair of the Obama administration’s U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, makes the case that the new national mood means that it is now “Time for compromise on gay rights and religious freedom,” the title of the essay.

Reese says that the days of thinking of the debate as a “zero-sum game where no compromise is possible” should end.  He describes the current political context of the debate:

Father Thomas Reese, SJ
Father Thomas Reese, SJ

“The Republican sweep should give gay activists pause. With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and the White House, it is unlikely there will be any more gay-friendly legislation or regulations. While Trump does not appear to be a homophobe, he is appointing to his administration people who would like to roll back gains of the gay community, and his judicial appointees will undoubtedly look askance on expanding gay rights. Although he will not press for a reversal on gay rights, he will probably sign any religious liberty legislation he gets from the Republican Congress. . . .

“The best the gays can hope for is a retention of the status quo. But it is just as likely that they will see roll back in some areas. Will this encourage the gay community to compromise or will it make them dig in for a longer fight?”

And religious liberty advocates might be tempted to view the new mood as a total success for their perspective, but Reese cautions that this kind of thinking would be a mistake:

“The danger is that they will see [the defeat of Hillary Clinton and the success of Republican candidates] as a total rejection of the gay agenda and an opportunity to reassert their power. But it would be a dangerous mistake if they overreached.

“They should remember those polls that show growing sympathy for gays, especially among young people. In addition, the business community has been willing to use its economic power to push states like Indiana to reverse religious freedom legislation if it is seen as anti-gay.

“Nor should they forget that Donald Trump says that same-sex marriage is here to stay. He even spoke of protecting LGBTQ citizens in his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, a first for a Republican nominee. While Congress and his administration will be filled with people who have opposed gay rights, this opposition is not a priority with Trump. And if history continues to repeat itself, the Democrats will be back in the White House in four or eight years.”

Reese surmises that this atmosphere which is fragile to both sides’ goals “presents the country with an ideal opportunity to discuss compromise.”  Reese’s vision of one possible compromise is as follows:

“In broad strokes, it would see an extension of nondiscriminatory laws to cover gays while providing limited exemptions for religious believers and institutions. People could no longer be discriminated against in employment, housing, and public accommodation based on their sexual identity or orientation, but church institutions would retain the right to employ and serve on the basis of their faith claims.”

Reese sees the following benefits for the gay community in such a compromise:

“They get national legislation outlawing discrimination in all but a few instances of employment, housing, and public accommodation. Most of the pie is better than nothing. In addition, they get to appear gracious in victory, knowing that the real challenge is not getting legislation passed but winning over most people to a recognition that gays should be treated with respect. As long as they are seen as attacking religion, they will meet opposition from people for whom religion is a central part of their lives.”

Religious leaders would gain the following:

“More certainty about what is legal or illegal. The ability to run their institutions according to their beliefs without state interference or the fear of being sued. Clear exemptions that protect their institutional freedom. An end to being portrayed as homophobic.”

Reese’s proposal has its appeal, but it has its flaws, too.  For one thing, he sees the debate as much more black-and-white than it actually is.   We are not in a situation of gays on one side and religious people on the other.   What about all the LGBT people who themselves are religious and who want their faith institutions protected?  What about the many religious people who see religious freedom as primarily protecting religious people and their consciences, and not just institutions?  The reality of the debate is a lot more complex than two totally separate, opposing camps.

Related to this idea of complexity is the situation of LGBT people being fired from employment or dismissed from volunteer opportunities with religious institutions.  Reese does not really address that important question in his essay.

Second, he sees religious people as motivated by conscience and faith, and the LGBT community motivated by achieving political reform.  That is why he urges the LGBT community to engage in a pragmatic compromise so that they can achieve some, if not all, of their goals.  He blames the inability to compromise on LGBT leaders, not the grassroots:

“Most gays would accept these exemptions, but sadly the activists are not interested in compromise.”

While it is certainly true that leaders and the grassroots don’t often share the same opinions (Catholic bishops and lay people are an excellent example), in the case of LGBT rights vs. religious liberty advocates, I think that the leaders and grassroots are on the same page.

From the perspective of LGBT people, especially those at the grassroots, the issue is not one of mere pragmatism, but one of being legally and politically considered as second-class.  The debate for LGBT people is as much a matter of closely-held principles (such as human dignity) as it is for the religious liberty advocates.

A third problem with the argument Reese lays out is that he seems to minimize the details of what compromises might involve. He states:

“”The details of the compromise need to be negotiated, and the results might be different in different localities. How small should be the family businesses that are exempted? What about an individual employee who has a conscience problem? What if there is no alternative business or employee available to the gay person? For florists and bakeries, should the exemption only cover same-sex weddings and not other purchases? Should exemptions for religious institutions cover all employees, including janitors, or only those considered “ministers” and teachers of religion? Can issues like bathrooms and locker rooms for transgender persons be postponed for a later day?”

These details are important, and involve some very important practical concerns as well as principles.  Compromising on many of them could mean allowing for discriminatory practices to still exist.

A final weakness of Reese’s argument is that the definition of religious liberty is not something that should be dictated by leaders of religious institutions alone.  If religious liberty laws are going to allow exemptions for secular businesses run by religious leaders, then that already is an admission that religion is not just a matter of institutional concern, but personal concern, too.  So, religious liberty proposals need to take into account the religious concerns of LGBT people and their supporters, too.

Despite my critique of Reese’s argument, I think he is sincere in his efforts to try to resolve this debate in a way that allows LGBT people to gain steps toward equality.  He is certainly not motivated by homophobia, but more from a desire to see LGBT people win some political gains during what promises to be a difficult four years. The overall weakness of his essay is that it doesn’t take the LGBT perspective seriously enough to see what values, as well as practicalities, are at stake for them, or how they view the issue.

Fr. Reese has been a strong supporter of LGBT equality.  You can read about a number of his previous statements about LGBT issues by clicking here.  I thank him for using his powerful voice to advocate for LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 5, 2016

 

 

Australian Priest’s Campaign Against ‘Gay Panic’ Defense Reaches Parliament

An Australian Catholic priest’s long campaign to end his “gay panic” defense in his state of Queensland may finally be successful.  Just two days ago, Attorney General Yvette D’Ath introduced the bill to Parliament, the end of years of lobbying by Fr. Paul Kelly.

The “gay panic” defense has been allowed in murder cases where the accused claims he did not have control of his mind because of being provoked by what is perceived as a homosexual advance towards him.   The defense allows for charges to be lowered from murder to manslaughter, thus avoiding a possible life sentence.

Fr. Paul Kelly delivers his petition signatures to Queensland government offices.

Fr. Kelly, who is pastor of St. Mary’s parish in Maryborough, 330 kms north of Brisbane, began the campaign after a heterosexual man was beaten to death in the parish yard in 2008 by two men who thought he was making an advance toward them.  The priest began a change.org petition which has collected  over 290,000 signatures.  Through his efforts, he persuaded politicians of all political stripes to work to eradicate this defense from law.

The Guardian reported on Kelly’s reaction to the bill finally being introduced.  The priest stated:

“It’s been a massive effort, unfortunately. At one point both sides [of politics] were sort of saying, aw no, the law didn’t exist and doesn’t need changing – but suddenly everyone’s saying it is a problem and does need changing, so that’s good to hear.

“This is as far as we’ve ever gotten and I’m fairly confident it will [pass].”

Kelly had used even stronger language in his change.org petition:

“I’ve made it my mission to see this revolting law abolished – it belongs in the dark ages. I have no words to describe how offensive, harmful and dangerous it is that two of our governments uphold that a person can be panicked enough by gay people to justify murder. The common law can really be only over-ridden in this respect by explicit legal ammendments to the Code of Criminal law covering murder and the partial defence of Provocation. Gay panic will continue to be a part of the law of these states until expressly excluded.  I am also concerned that even when cases are not formally and specifically pleading the ‘gay panic’ defense, the mere bringing in of suggestions that the victim made a non-violent homosexual advance, (whether true or not), poisons the waters and taps into deep-seated homophobia and bigotry and ought not be brought up at all in any way in the hearing of a jury. The victim is not on trial here.”

Kelly also reported that when he started the petition, he only expected about 100 to sign it.  The overwhelming response delivers a strong message, he said:

“When it took off I hadn’t seen anything like it and it really opened my eyes the power of the community. But in some ways it was a no-brainer. The fact it’s taken so long sends a message. But that this law’s being changed now sends another message that the law is the same for everybody. It’s not going to give certain members of the community less protection from violence.”

You can watch a video clip of Fr. Kelly delivering his petition signatures by clicking here. A parliamentary committee will report on the bill by February 21, 2017, reported The Brisbane Times. 

While it is gratifying that it looks likely that this archaic law will soon be abolished,  it is even more gratifying that a Catholic priest has led the campaign.  Fr. Kelly is a shining example of how the Church’s teaching on the defense of human rights for LGBT people can be applied to concrete political and legal situations.  To use Fr. Kelly’s own words, there are many similar “no brainers” for Catholic leaders to follow his example. Decriminalizing sexual orientation and gender identity are one case.  Pushing for stronger anti-bullying programs is another.  And speaking out forcefully when violence against LGBT people occurs is still another.

Our church needs more leaders like Fr. Paul Kelly.

For previous Bondings 2.0 posts about Fr. Kelly’s campaign, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 2, 2016 

Vatican Nuncio and Mexican Cardinal Strike a Different Note on LGBT Issues

Throughout the past autumn, Bondings 2.0 has been reporting on the same-sex marriage debate in the heavily Catholic nation of Mexico.  As we reported,  Mexican bishops, supported by Pope Francis,  led the opposition to the campaign for making marriage equality, which already exists in several Mexican states, a reality throughout the entire nation.

Earlier this month, the proposal for marriage equality was defeated with a vote of 18-9 by the Commission on Constitutional Matters in the lower house of the Mexican legislature. Yet, despite the loss, the experience may be a positive turning point for the Mexican Catholic hierarchy in terms of taking steps, however small, towards respect for LGBT people.

Archbishop Franco Coppola

Key to this change is the Vatican’s nuncio to Mexico, Archbishop Franco Coppola, appointed in July 2016 by Pope Francis .  In response to the marriage equality proposal,  Coppola called for a more civil discussion of this, and other controversial topics.  The Catholic Herald  reported:

“Amid the activism, comments on same-sex marriage from the new apostolic nuncio to Mexico appear to suggest the Vatican would prefer a less confrontational approach.

” ‘Mexicans, rather than confronting each other, making proclamations or marching, have to sit down at the table and talk to each other,’ Archbishop Franco Coppola told reporters.

” ‘When we are speaking of the constitution, it has to become something that all Mexicans, or at least a great majority of Mexicans, can share.’ “

The Pilot reported that some observers see the archbishop’s comments as a Vatican decision to soften anti-gay rhetoric:

“Some media, such as the Spanish newspaper El Pais, interpreted the remarks as the Vatican ‘de-authorizing the anti-gay marches.’ “

Earlier in the marriage equality debate, Coppola also spoke words of reconciliation and outreach to gay and lesbian people.  The Yucatan Times reported:

“. . . [T]he apostolic nuncio, Franco Coppola, said it is necessary to recognize gay rights as any other citizens’ rights.

” ‘The doctrine of the Church is the doctrine of the Church, but we have to adapt it so we can offer answers to men and women of different times,’ the new representative of the Vatican in Mexico told reporters.”

Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera

Coppola is not the only Catholic leader in Mexico who has softened his rhetoric.  Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, Archbishop of Mexico City and Primate of Mexico, recently apologized for negative comments he made about the sexual acts of some gay men, and he invited “people attracted to the same sex” to meet with priests, acknowledging that church ministers need education.

The PanAm Post reported:

“In the past, Cardinal Carrera maintained that he would not apologize for his rhetoric toward the LGBT community even if it was considered offensive by some people, but something seems to have changed in him, as he recently came out on behalf of the Archdiocese of Mexico and asked for forgiveness if at any moment they had used ‘inadequate expressions’ to refer to the gay community, saying ‘you should know that it was never my intention to offend anyone.’  “

The cardinal also stated:

” ‘You have asked me about people attracted to the same sex coming to the vicarage to discuss the subject, and I not only see it as an agreeable idea, but as a necessary one,’ he said. ‘Priests shouldn’t be expected to know all that there is to know; many times, they must also be taught about a topic.’ “

The statements made by Coppola and Rivera Carrera are good first steps.  Perhaps the extremism of the Mexican debate on marriage equality made them realize that the hierarchy’s rhetoric was too heated and pastorally harmful.  Perhaps the example of Pope Francis has awakened them.  At a minimum, let’s hope that Rivera Carrera learned his lesson not to be so focused on particular sexual acts, as if they defined the totality of a person or a relationship.

These small steps of openness need to be built upon, and the next time Mexico looks at a marriage equality proposal, perhaps the nation’s bishops will conduct themselves more civilly. If they don’t these recent statements will sound like a noisy gong and clanging bell.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 29, 2016

Related article:

PinkNews.co.uk: “Catholic Church in Mexico apologises after saying ‘man’s anus is not designed to receive’ “

QUOTE TO NOTE: U.S. Bishops Were Virtually Silent on Trump

computer_key_Quotation_MarksIn a scathing essay which excoriates Catholics who supported Donald Trump for U.S. President, Boston College theologian Stephen Pope also took to task U.S. bishops who were mum about so many of Candidate Trump’s statements which were directly opposed to Catholic teaching, particularly social teaching.

In a particularly strong passage, Pope compares the bishops’ reluctance to speak out against Trump with their loud and strong rhetoric about marriage equality and religious liberty.  In his Commonweal essay entitled “Not the Time for Reconciliation: First Confront the Danger of Trump,” he states:

Donald Trump

“. . .American bishops showed a stunning lack of leadership at a time when it was needed most. Some bishops publically expressed concern with Trump’s description of Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers. To their credit, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Bishop Kevin Farrell, and some other bishops expressed public concern over Trump’s immigrant-bashing rhetoric, but they did not offer a direct and sustained criticism of the substance and tone of his campaign as a whole. . . . Yet no bishop had the courage of Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore to denounce Trump in no uncertain terms as a ‘walking affront to the Gospels.’ Most obtuse was Archbishop Charles Chaput’s assessment of both major-party candidates as ‘equally problematic.’ Truly problematic are prelates who raise their voices against same-sex marriage, but not against overt racism and misogyny. Or bishops who defend the religious liberty of Catholic institutions regarding contraception, but not the freedom of persecuted Muslim refugees who wish to immigrate to our shores.

“In his post-election statement, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, outgoing president of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that he ‘looks forward to working President-elect Trump’ on issues of life, immigration and refugees, religious persecution, and marriage. Kurtz said nothing about poverty or climate change—concerns Pope Francis has made central to his papacy.

To read the entire essay, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 28, 2016

Five Years–And Counting!!!

Time really does fly when you’re having fun!  I can’t believe that it was five years ago today that I sat down at my computer at New Ways Ministry and typed into Google the words “how to start a blog.”  I spent the day learning about platforms and scheduling, and by the time 5:00 p.m.rolled around, I had my very first post for a blog I dubbed Bondings 2.0.  The Bondings part of the name was taken from New Ways Ministry’s paper newsletter, published continuously since 1978.  The 2.0 part was a nod to the fact that this was a social media version of Catholic LGBT news.

I started the blog that day with the hope that I would post something three times a week.  However, I so much enjoyed the work of blogging that I found myself posting every single day.  And for the past five years, we have put up at least one post (sometimes two or three) every single day.  This isn’t just bragging about our epistolary stamina.  The fact that there is something to post every single day for five years attests to the fact that Catholic LGBT news and opinion has blossomed and is one of the main stories of our contemporary world.

One of the main joys of this work is that I get to interact with wonderful people:  our readers!  Your comments on individual posts have helped to open my eyes to perspectives and information that are truly enlightening.  I’m grateful, too, to the many readers who send me “tips” in the form of news links to articles I might have missed.

I also have been blessed with great co-workers over the years who have kept this blog vibrant.  Of course, at the top of this list is Bob Shine, a tireless writer and investigator who does the lion’s share of the work in producing posts week in and week out.  And of course, my colleagues at New Ways Ministry who have written several posts over the years–Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Matt Myers, Cynde Nordone, Glen Bradley–have also added to this great conversation.

Last, but not least, are our guest contributors, too many to mention by name, but whose writings have brought new dimensions to this ongoing conversation.  Our latest guest contributor debuted yesterday, in an Advent Scriptural reflection series written by young LGBTQ theologians.

Only twice a year do we come to our readers and ask for financial support for this project.  Tomorrow is “Giving Tuesday,”  a day set aside to make holiday donations to non-profit organizations and charities.  We would be deeply honored if you could assist this blog project by making New Ways Ministry one of your charitable donations this year.   You can donate by clicking here, filling out the form, and writing “blog” in the comments box at the end of the form.  You don’t have to wait until Tuesday to make your donation.  Do it today so that you don’t forget!   Of course, your donation is tax-deductible.

If you prefer not to donate on-line, you can call our office 301-277-5674, during business hours, Eastern U.S. time, and we can take your credit card information over the phone.  Or you can send a check made to “New Ways Ministry” to 4012 – 29th Street, Mount Rainier, Maryland 20712.  However you decide to donate, your gift is tax-deductible.

At this anniversary time, we also like to let folks know about our criteria for approving “Comments” to individual blog posts.  Some of the criteria are very common to many blogs and some are particular to ours. Here are the guidelines that we use:

Common to many blogs;
1. No obscenities or anything offensive
2. No personal attacks or name-calling
3. Be relevant to the material posted
4. Argue politely
5. Avoid sarcasm
6. Nothing that is patently self-promotional
Particular guidelines for our blog:
1.  Nothing that would be pastorally harmful to our readers (e.g.,  “you are going to hell,”  “God hates gays,”  etc.)
2.  No condemning people–even people who are anti-LGBT
3.  No blanket calls to leave the Catholic Church, or invitations to join other churches (e.g, “All LGBT people should leave Catholicism,”  “I don’t know why you all don’t become Protestant”).

Blogging has been a wonderful adventure these past five years!  Each day, we learn something new.  We look forward to many more adventurous years with you in the future!  Thanks so much for being a part of this online community!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 28, 2016

Counting Our Blessings and Giving Thanks!

Happy Thanksgiving to all Bondings 2.0 readers! We hope that you have much to be thankful for this year.

At New Ways Ministry, we are particularly grateful for all those people around the globe who support us spiritually, financially, and in many other ways great and small.  We are also thankful for all our blog readers and commenters.  Your thoughts and reflections make this site a wonderful place for discussing Catholic LGBT issues.

Our tradition on Bondings 2.0 for Thanksgiving is to gather thoughts of gratitude New Ways Ministry’s volunteers, board members, and staff. Their reflections are below.

What are you thankful for this year, especially items that may pertain to Catholic LGBT issues? We invite you to share your items in the “Comments” section of this post.

Glen Bradley, Staff Associate:

I am thankful for all the inclusive and supportive people in my life who helped me find God’s love for everyone, including myself.  I am also thankful for all the safe spaces that our LGBTQ+ siblings and allies build with great devotion, particularly those prophetic spaces in Catholicism.

Mary and Joseph Byers, Board Members:

This Thanksgiving, as all other Thanksgivings and always,  we are grateful for our blended family of gay sons and straight daughters.  They are a blessing to us and each other.  Together they bring joy to our family and a shining example to others.

Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director:

This year, I am thankful that so many Catholics are speaking out about LGBT equality.  I’ve worked in this field for 24 years, and I can’t remember a year when so much discussion has happened as in this past year.  We may not have achieved our dream of full equality in church and society, but I think we have reached a point where the discussion cannot be stopped.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, Co-Founder:

I am grateful that Pope Francis recently named three U.S. cardinals who smell like the sheep and are not afraid to defend their sheep. I’m thinking, in particular about Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican’s new Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, who said he does not agree with Archbishop Chaput’s guidelines that exclude LGBT people from church ministries and same-gender couples from Communion. These “Francis bishops” give me hope for the future of the Church and LGBT ministry.

Brother Brian McLauchlin, SVD, Volunteer:

I am grateful for Church hierarchy who are willing to speak out on behalf of LGBT people and issues.  Bishop McElroy of San Diego, for instance, who named the anti-gay prejudice in connection to the Pulse nightclub massacre.  In general, I think Bishop McElroy is someone who would be willing and able to dialogue on LGBT issues.  Also, I am grateful that noted members of the clergy, like James Martin, SJ, speak out in favor of LGBT people.  I pray that next year, I will be even more grateful that more and more bishops and members of the hierarchy will address LGBT issues and open themselves up to constructive dialogue.
Robert Shine, Social Media Coordinator:
I am grateful for:
1. Younger LGBTQ theologians who are helping to guide the church into healthier and more liberating understanding of gender and sexuality;
2. Transgender Catholics who call our church to greater fidelity to the Gospel by courageously sharing their stories and educating others on trans realities;
3. Catholic youth and young adults who reject treatment from church leaders that is anything but fully equal and respectful of LGBTQ people, and seek a church that is “a home for all.”

Vern Smith, Volunteer:

I am thankful for those individuals who, when treated with bigotry and injustice by the church hierarchy, have spoken out and told their stories.  Many have lost their jobs or their ministries merely because they were married or came out as LGBT+.  I have heard so many painful, touching, and courageous stories by those who experienced terrible treatment by their official church.  They are powerful, important stories that must be heard. I am so thankful that the spirit has moved them to speak out honestly, in their own voices, bringing light to the implications of hierarchical actions.

Cristina Traina, Board Member:

I am grateful for :

1.LGBTQ Catholic groups, both local and national, especially the group at my parish, St. Nicholas, in Evanston, Illinois.  Thanks to you all for your faithfulness, joy, hospitality, and visible involvement in parish life;

2. Catholic theologians and ethicists, because throughout Catholic history major changes in official teaching have come after they have laid the groundwork for it;
3. Gay and lesbian parents, whose matter-of-fact involvement in the church life is a quiet witness of hope.

When the U.S. Bishops Rejected the Language of “Objective Disorder”

History-Option 1“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions ofBondings 2.0’s predecessor:  Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

November 1990: When the U.S. Bishops Rejected the Language of “Objective Disorder”

In mid-November 1990, the U.S. bishops issued a 185-page document entitled “Human Sexuality:  A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning,” designed to set the course for Catholic education on sexual topics.

Davenport, Iowa’s Catholic Messenger newspaper carried an article on the document with the headline “Bishop asks: Are we credible on sex?”   The article explained:

“Passage came only after debate which highlighted underlying questions about the Church’s credibility on artificial contraception, the proper pastoral approach to homosexual persons and long-standing controversies between educators and some Catholic parents over sex education in schools.”

On the topic of homosexuality, the debate centered around the use of the language “objective disorder,” a term which had only been recently coined in 1986 in the Vatican’s “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.”

The news article reported:

Cardinal John O’Connor

“. . .[A] spirited discussion on homosexuality was set off by an amendment proposed by Cardinal John O’Connor of New York and Bishop Raymond Lessard of Savannah, Ga.  They asked for the addition of language from a 196 statement by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to state that a homosexual orientation is ‘objectively disordered.’ “

Not all bishops agreed with this proposed addition.  The newspaper continued:

“Auxiliary Bishop Peter Rosazza of Hartford, Conn., objected, saying that phrase in the doctrinal congregation document ‘has caused untold damage in the homosexual community.’

Archbishop John Quinn

“Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco agreed but said the problem arises because ‘the statement is misunderstood.’

” ‘It is a philosophical statement; about tendencies and their objects, not a statement about persons, he said.  ‘Every individual has disordered tendencies–to anger, to greed, the seven capital sins.’

“But because the Vatican statement ‘is read’ as meaning that the person with the tendency is disordered, it has presented a pastoral problem that ‘is difficult to overcome,’ he said.”

The newspaper account said that several other bishops joined in the discussion on both sides of the debate, but that ultimately they rejected the O’Connor-Lessard amendment to include “objective disorder” in the document.

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin

Instead, an alternative was proposed by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago and Archbishops Quinn and Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile, AL.  The article explained the new, accepted language:

“The approved amendment said that a homosexual ‘orientation in itself, because not freely chosen, is not sinful.’ It added a footnote quoting the doctrinal congregations’ reference to such a tendency as ‘objectively disordered’ and an explanation, drafted by Archbishop Quinn, of the meaning of that phrase in the Vatican document.”

The headline of the story, “Bishop asks: Are we credible on sex?” referred to another debate about the document’s language on contraception.  Bishop Kenneth Untener of Saginaw, Michigan, questioned a passage which said that the logic on contraception teaching is “compelling.”  He questioned the use of that term “knowing in fact that the logic is not compelling–not compelling to people in general, not compelling to many bishops.” He continued:

“When we speak that way, some would compare us to a dysfunctional family, unable to talk openly about a problem that everyone knows is there.”

Bishop Kenneth Untener

Untener made a case for the sensus fildelium–the Church doctrine that says that the sense of the faithful about a particular teaching must be taken into account by the magistgerium. He reported that he asked his 23-person diocesan pastoral council to give their anonymous opinions on how the  “Human Sexuality” document treated the topic of artificial contraception.  The vote was 22 to 1 against the document’s content. Untener explained to the bishops:

“You must understand these are not dissidents. They are farmers and city people, men and women, middle-aged and older.

“I don’t know what would happen if you did the same with your pastoral council . . .  your presbyterate (priests).  I don’t know what would happen if we did it with each other right here.  . . . “

Though speaking on artificial contraception, the same logic could easily apply to LGBT issues. Two years later,  Bishop Untener would apply similar thinking to the issue of homosexuality when he was a speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium on Lesbian/Gay Issues, in Chicago.

At the 2014 and 2015 Vatican synods on family life, we saw that bishops from around the world were publicly questioning the use of the language of “objective disorder.”  It’s worth remembering that the U.S. bishops had for a long time been reluctant to use that language in their own documents.  They did not use it in their 1997 pastoral letter “Always Our Children” addressed to parents of lesbian/gay people, until the Vatican directed them to add the language in footnotes for a revised version one year later.

More importantly, it’s important to remember that bishops meeting can, have, and should be opportunities for debate and discussion.  We have seen some of that spirit already some some the bishops appointed by Pope Francis, who have raised challenging questions at bishops’ meetings. Bishop Untener’s example also shows that the opinions of lay people, especially those affected by a church teaching, should also be part of the discussion.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 22, 2016