Pope Francis and Uganda’s Bishops Should Link Catholic Principles to LGBT Issues

November 27, 2015

Pope Francis’ arrival in Nairobi, Kenya.

New Ways Ministry and its supporters, through our #PopeSpeakOut campaign has called upon Pope Francis to use the occasion of his visit to Africa to make clear that Catholic Church teaching does not support the criminalization of sexual orientation/gender identity and that discrimination and violence against LGBT people is morally wrong and should be opposed vigorously.  The Pope’s voice is needed because African bishops have been mostly silent when it comes to these particular issues.

In two separate gatherings yesterday–an ecumenical meeting in Kenya and at a Mass at the University of Nairobi, the pope made general reference to protecting human dignity and opposing prejudice, though he did not make specific reference to LGBT people. At the first meeting, he said:

“In this light, and in an increasingly interdependent world, we see ever more clearly the need for interreligious understanding, friendship and collaboration in defending the God-given dignity of individuals and peoples, and their right to live in freedom and happiness. By upholding respect for that dignity and those rights, the religions play an essential role in forming consciences, instilling in the young the profound spiritual values of our respective traditions, and training good citizens, capable of infusing civil society with honesty, integrity and a world view which values the human person over power and material gain.”

At the second meeting, he said:

“Let the great values of Africa’s traditions, the wisdom and truth of God’s word, and the generous idealism of your youth guide you in working to shape a society which is ever more just, inclusive and respectful of human dignity. May you always be concerned for the needs of the poor, and reject everything that leads to prejudice and discrimination, for these things, we know, are not of God.”

It is easy to see how these references could be applied to LGBT people.

In a similarly general way, Ugandan Catholics have not been without some guidance from their bishops in moral and political decision-making.  In August 2015, the Uganda Episcopal Conference issued a pastoral letter that unequivocally calls for respect, tolerance and love towards all Ugandans, though it does not mention sexual or gender minorities specifically.

The document, Free and Fair Elections: Our Common Mission to Consolidating Democratic Gains in Uganda was written in anticipation of Uganda’s national elections in 2016.  In it, the bishops concerned themselves with “how citizens and various institutions concerned with [the election] process should conduct themselves during this period.”

Free and Fair Elections focuses on the electoral process itself, noting that “elections guarantee peace, stability and prosperity as they offer avenues for alternative ideas and approaches for the development of society.”

The bishops first identified what they see as the critical issues.  While noting a variety of topics, they confined themselves to speaking about “more contextual and pressing” issues” that “requir[e] urgent action if peace and harmony is to prevail before, during and after the 2016 general elections.” The specific issues the bishops addressed were conflict within political parties, the commercialization of elections, voter apathy, intolerance in politics and the role of Ugandan police and seeming legitimization of para-military groups.

Next, the bishops presented a set of guiding principles for the election process.  These guiding principles are reverence and humility in leaders, active citizenship, unity in diversity, love and respect, and justice and fairness.  It is in this section where a clear message of respect, tolerance and love for all Ugandans can be found.

The bishops first called for servant leaders, that is, men and women with a demonstrated passion for leading the crusade for “the dignity of every human person . . . commitment to the common good as the purpose and guiding criterion for political life.”  Servant leaders exhibit humility, love and respect.

Viewing renewal of the temporal order as part of Christ’s redemptive work, the bishops next called for Catholic Christians to be active citizens and to be led by their conscience.  The bishops state that Christians are “bound by” their conscience “to elect people who demonstrate commitment to our common aspirations, namely, restoring our country to the divine path and a life of respect and dignity.”

Cognizant of “divergent political ideologies and agenda” that exist in the country, the bishops called all Ugandans to “one mission, to make our country a place befitting all its citizens.”  In order to succeed, “we will need to appreciate this diversity and focus more on our common mission than the agenda of our individual parties and candidates.  We will be required, in the spirit of the Scriptures . . . to cultivate a spirit of unity, tolerance and coexistence in order that every Ugandan will have an opportunity to express himself or herself without fear of reprisal.”

For the Ugandan bishops, being patriotic is tantamount to loving “our country and our fellow citizens.”  The bishops offered 1 Cor. 13:4-6, St. Paul’s famous definition of love, as explicit guidance:

“Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceitedness or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable. Love does not keep a record of wrongs. Love is not happy with evil but is happy with the truth”

It is clear that nothing in these principles would exclude support of LGBT people’s human rights and personal safety.  If Ugandan bishops would follow their own advice, they would be speaking out more boldly in support of sexual and gender minorities in their country.

While the focus of the pastoral letter is the electoral process itself, the principles expressed by the bishops can guide individual as well as political conduct.  Ugandan Catholics should be heartened by “Free and Fair Elections,” and its call to respect, tolerate and love their fellow citizens, including LGBT Ugandans.

–Cynthia Nordone, New Ways Ministry





For What Are YOU Thankful This Year?

November 26, 2015

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 our blog readers and commenters who continue to make this social media outlet a wonderful discussion site for Catholic LGBT issues.

Some of New Ways Ministry’s staff members, board members, and volunteers have each offered their top three gratitude items 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.

Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director:

  1.  I am grateful to New Ways Ministry’s supporters and volunteers whose generosity of time, talent, treasure, prayer, and encouragement are the lifeblood of our ability to continue our work.
  2. This past year, I had the privilege of receiving press credentials to cover the synod on the family at the Vatican.  I am grateful to God for this opportunity, to the Vatican officials who allowed me this experience, and to New Ways Ministry supporters whose contributions made it possible for me to travel to Rome.
  3. I’m grateful for having the opportunity to meet so many courageous, compassionate, and loving people because of being involved with LGBT ministry.  The Catholic Church–rightly understood as the People of God–is blessed with so many wonderful souls.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder:

This year I am thankful for a “triple crown” of success for marriage equality:

  1. On May 22, 62% of Irish voters earned Ireland the distinction of being the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. [Editor’s note:  If you are interested in joining Sister Jeannine on an 8-day pilgrimage to Ireland in 2016, click here for more information.]
  2. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 26 that same-sex couples can marry in all states and that every state must recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state.
  3. The German Bishops’ Conference decided on May 6th that lay employees who form same-sex civil unions should no longer automatically lose their jobs in Catholic schools, hospitals, or social service agencies.

In my more than 40 years of LGBT ministry, I never imagined I would see these changes. Thanks be to God!

Brother Brian McLaughlin, SVD, Project Volunteer:

This year, I am thankful for:

  1. A community of persistent advocates who tirelessly work for change in church and society.
  2. LGBT Catholics who refuse to live in fear and still proclaim their rightful place at God’s Table.
  3. Laudato Si and the care of ALL of God’s creation.

Matt Myers, Associate Director:

I am thankful for courageous Catholic activists in Africa, like Frank Mugisha, who regularly face extraordinary dangers during their work to secure basic rights for LGBT people in church and society.

Claire Pluecker, Board Member:

I am thankful for the sisters, priests, and bishops  here in the United States that are supportive of our ministry to the the LGBTQ. May they be a shining light to the remaining.

Bob Shine,  Social Media Coordinator:

  1. Trans* Visibility: The T in LGBT is finally approaching parity in the broader movement for equality. Catholics in the pews are leading their leaders when it comes to justice for and inclusion of trans* communities in the church.
  2. St. Mary’s Academy, Portland, Oregon:  After first firing lesbian counselor Lauren Brown, school administrators quickly reversed their decision and implemented an inclusive nondiscrimination policy in a prophetic witness for the church institutions which are still expelling LGBT and Ally church workers.
  3. ‘Francis Bishops’: Those like Archbishop Blase Cupich, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, or Bishop Johann Bonny who prioritize a church of mercy which accompanies people in the realities of their lives. They have been willing to listen closely, smell of the sheep, and, increasingly, imagine publicly new ways of being church.

Vern Smith,  Weekly Volunteer:

  1. I am thankful for the quiet, respectful people who manage Catholic schools and churches across the country who did not fire an lgbt person for coming out or marrying their partner.  May we appreciate those unsung people who we may never know about, because they followed their consciences and quietly ignored social and hierarchical pressures to act unjustly.
  2. I am thankful for Pope Francis’ imperfect means of handling LGBT related issues.  We need his pastoral fallibility. We cannot engage in genuine discussion with one who is “always right,” or presents oneself as infallible.
  3. And I am thankful for my partner of over 21 years whose love is always there regardless of the political winds that blow in the Church. Standing together for so long, even when stormy winds prevail, has become more like dancing in the rain.

For what are YOU thankful, this year?  Share your gratitudes with other readers by posting them in the “Comments” section!  Happy Thanksgiving!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Addressing LGBT Issues Other Than Criminalization on African Papal Vist

November 25, 2015

As Pope Francis arrives for his pastoral visit in three African nations today, the world’s LGBT community has its eyes and ears open to take note of any opposition he may articulate to the terrible trend of laws which criminalize LGBT people.

Pope Francis greets African bishops at the Vatican.

I’ve been reading press reports all week about LGBT issues in the three nations he will visit–Kenya, Uganda, and the Central African Republic–and one item in particular has caused me pause to consider the true gravity of the situation.

In a Voice of America article, two Catholic Ugandan lay leaders were quoted, each noting their support of Pope Francis’ more tolerant, welcoming attitude toward LGBT people.  Yet, at the same time, both leaders said they supported their nation’s 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Law.  While neither of these people are church officials, their statements reveal the influence of cultural standards–a force that is sometimes stronger than orthodoxy:

One of these leaders, Joanne Banura, said she supported Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” sentiment, and emphasized that she believed there is a religious imperative to welcome gay and lesbian people:

“Jesus never condemned anybody so that’s what he’s [the pope] also doing. He’s representing the image of Jesus Christ on Earth. So if homosexuals come up and they tell us ‘we are homosexual’ and want to be accepted, we shall accept them being as they are also created in the image of God.”

But Banura made an important distinction between church acceptance and civil acceptance:

“When they come to the Church, they will not be condemned.When they come to the community in Uganda, they will be condemned by other people, because the law of the country will take over.”

I found this to be a curious distinction, and I wished that the reporter had elicited more thoughts from Banura to explain how she could hold such a seeming contradiction.  I wonder, though, that her reasoning might be similar to the other lay Catholic quoted in the story.

Joseph Ntuwa, the parish secretary of Our Lady of Africa Church in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, stated:

“I believe Pope Francis when his message might be about us not condemning the homosexuals, but us trying to help them because you get some of them who were just trained. Who were recruited when they were still young. And we’re judging them harshly. So I think his message will be more into how to help them and accommodate them in our community.”

Ntuwa’s attitude reveals an incredible lack of knowledge about sexuality and sexual orientation.  No one is “trained” to be a homosexual.  No one is recruited to be one, either.

This lack of knowledge is most likely what fuels much of what Banura referred to as the local customs which do not support homosexuality.

Awareness of this glaring lack of information makes me realize that, while a message of support for LGBT human rights by Pope Francis is certainly needed, it is also certainly not enough. What is also needed is education.  I see three important ideas that need to be clarified.

The first is the notion that homosexuality is something that is somehow learned or forced upon someone.  Those ideas existed in other countries until research proved them wrong.  That research needs to be shared.

The biggest obstacle I see to Pope Francis or the Vatican sharing such research is that in a sense, they haven’t fully accepted it yet themselves.  We–and by “we,” I mean the entire Church–need a clear statement from church leaders acknowledging that sexual orientation is a naturally occurring variant of human sexuality.

The second idea in need of correction is the idea that one can be compassionate to a person in Church, while at the same time working against their human rights in civil society.  That Banura’s and Ntuwa’s religious message is compassionate while their civil judgment is harsh is a major contradiction.  If church people believe in human dignity, which is the basis of a compassionate response, they need to be educated about how to put that into practice in the civil realm.  Pope Francis’ message of mercy should not be reduced to a message of pity, while, at the same time, working against the human good for a segment of the population.

I sincerely hope that Pope Francis speaks out against laws which criminalize LGBT people, but I also hope that he will initiate educational programs that help people come to a better understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as understanding a Christian’s responsibility in civic life.

Encourage Pope Francis to speak out for LGBTQI human rights. Join with Catholics across the world who using the #PopeSpeakOut campaign to ask Francis to send a clear message with 

To send a message to Pope Francis and add your voice to the many Catholics openly critical of institutionalized homophobia, visit the campaign’s website by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Huffington Post: Uganda’s Gay Community Has High Hopes For Pope Francis’s Visit”

AFK Insider: “Pope’s Trip Is Still On. African Gays Want Him To Preach Tolerance” 


Cloistered Argentine Carmelite Nun Reaches Out to Trans Women

November 21, 2015

Regular long-time readers of Bondings 2.0  may remember our posts about Sister “Monica,” a U.S. nun who pioneered ministry to transgender people.  We’ve covered her involvement in this groundbreaking work a few times (here and here, for example), and you can read about her ministry and why she chooses to remain anonymous, using only the pseudonym Sister “Monica” when she appears in the media.

Sister Monica, third from right, with her group of trans women in Argentina.

In another part of the world, another Sister Mónica has emerged who is doing similar outreach work with the transgender community.  This Sister Mónica (which is her real name) lives in the Neuquén province of Argentina and is a member of the Discaled Carmelite Order, a contemplative community.  Her ministry has even attracted the attention and support of Pope Francis.

Her story first appeared in OhLaLá, an Argentinian web magazine for women.  Thanks to “Rebel Girl,” the blogging name of a contributor to Iglesia Descalza, a site for progressive Catholic reflection, we have an English translation of the article featuring Sister Mónica Astorga Cremona.

The story recounts how Sister Mónica’s pastoral life has always been with those on the margins of society, and that an encounter with a young transgender woman focused her attention on the needs of this community.  The nun described the story:

” ‘I feel that God wants me to accompany the wounded and that’s why I take responsibility. They often tell me I stand with them; it’s that I feel that from that place I can understand them. Because when we look at them from the other side, it’s impossible. I get in deep,’ the sister adds.

“And because of this kind of attitude, it’s not surprising that in December 2005, when Romina, a trans woman, approached Lourdes parish, the bishop decided this was a job for her.

“Romina went at that time to the church because she wanted to donate a tenth of her wages. ‘When the priest asked her where it came from, she told him from prostitution, and she explained that that was the only work she could get. At that point, the priest called me and told me about the case.’ “

Sister Monica Astorga Cremona

Sister Monica describes the poignancy of many of the simple hopes that some transgender women face, as well as the crushing obstacles to living with dignity:

” ‘The first time I came to see the group of trans women, I asked them to tell me their dreams. One of them, Kathy, told me that hers was to have a clean bed on which to die,’ says Mónica. At that time the nun contacted a priest, told him about the case and got an abandoned house which eventually became the refuge of the girls, as Mónica calls them.

“As she got to know this group of women, she learned how they lived — that they couldn’t hold any job except prostitution because they weren’t accepted in any position, that they often didn’t finish their studies because they were discriminated against in school, and that hospitals threw them out when they were about to die, so that in most cases they died alone and abandoned.”

As with many pastoral ministers who stand in solidarity with the marginalized, Sister Mónica has had her detractors, though she also seems to have the ability to turn those detractors into friends sometimes:

“Mónica admits that within the Church itself there are conflicting opinions as to her work with these people, but says she has the support of Pope Francis and that in her community small advances have already been achieved.

” ‘Once, when Romina had just come to the church, a lady came to find me and told me,”There’s a transvestite.” I replied that she was a trans woman, and then she asked me what she was doing in the church, to which I replied, “What are you doing here?.” At first, she continued questioning me about Romina’s presence, until I asked her what would happen if that were your child,’ she says.

” ‘After a couple of days, she came back and apologized to me, and at the following Mass she went looking for Romina to give her the sign of peace,’ she adds.”

As for the papal support she has received, the nun explains that she has been in email correspondence with Francis:

“. . . [S]he affirms that Pope Francis knows of the work she is carrying out with this group of women and that he supports her. In an email he wrote her: ‘In Jesus’ time, the lepers were rejected like that. They [the trans women] are the lepers of these times. Don’t leave this work on the frontier that is yours.’ “

The nun sees the possibility of a society that is free of oppression of transgender oppression, noting that such oppression is what causes these women to live lives of poverty and addiction:

“The girls make a huge effort against the stream. We have to help them and integrate them. They are capable and intelligent people, but they are abused. We ourselves are the ones who lead them to the streets. If society would open the door to them and give them a chance, we could help them get out of this. . . .

“. . . I think who is that person to judge like that and bury another live.”

The witness of Sister Mónica should challenge all of us to take one more step along the journey of advocating and standing in solidarity with trans people.  It is people like her who are building God’s reign of justice and peace in the world and in our Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

On Transgender Day of Remembrance, Looking at Gifts and Challenges

November 20, 2015

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a time set aside each year to remember those trans people who have been beaten and murdered because of their identities.  It can also be a time to remember the gifts of trans people to church and society—especially their spiritual gifts.

The transgender experience is more intimately connected to divine reality than usually imagined says a scholar of gender and religion.

In an essay on the Huffington Post, Professor Susan M. Shaw of Oregon State University wrote that “the biblical witness itself proclaims that God is One who transcends gender. Trans means “across,” “beyond,” “through,” “changing thoroughly,” “transverse,” “on the other side of.”  The transcendent God is the one who crosses over, the one who moves beyond and through boundaries. God encompasses all gender and is therefore trans-gender.”  Shaw continued:

“Those humans who are transgender also reflect this crossing over, this moving beyond boundaries. They too are people created in God’s image, reflecting yet another aspect of God’s transcending and encompassing gender. Therefore, they are not outside God’s creation but are a reflection of the very diversity that is the being of God.”

This understanding would resonate with Julie Chovanes, a Catholic transgender woman and advocate, who was interviewed recently by NewsWorks.  Chovanes, who is also an attorney, runs the Trans Resource Foundation, which offers legal and social services to transgender community in Philadelphia and provides professional training about trans people to the broader community.  She sees herself as neither male nor female, but as transgender, and as a part of the diversity of God’s creation.  But as a Catholic, Chovanes is disheartened by the Church’s response to her and the transgender community.

Many Christians see transgender persons as outside God’s creation, while at the same time preaching a message of love and opposing the bullying transgender persons often experience, according to Shaw.  Shaw also noted that,

“[W]ithout irony, [these Christians] suppose that they can tell us something is wrong with transgender people and then assume they are not partly responsible for the climate that has led to . . . murders [and] all the other acts of violence against trans people that happen every day.”

Chovanes recited the statistics of such oppression:

“90 percent of us are harassed, mistreated or discriminated against on the job; 57 percent experience family rejection; 41 percent attempt suicide; 61 percent are victim of sexual assault; 64 percent are victim of sexual assault.”

Chovanes herself has experienced the misunderstanding and judgment of people who are not transgender.  She personally felt rejected when Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia refused to allow a Catholic parish to let New Ways Ministry to hold a workshop on gender diversity in their facilities during the World Meeting of Families.  Chovanes was a speaker at this event, which eventually took place in a nearby Methodist church.

Acts of violence can occur when a person or group is seen as the “Other.”  According to Shaw:

“[t]he ‘Other’ is any of us who are outside the mythical norm (In the U.S., that includes those of us who are people of color, women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer, poor, immigrants, non-Christian). When the dominant culture constructs a group of people as ‘Other,’ it dehumanizes them, it makes them less than, and it provides justification for mistreatment.

Shaw believes the Gospel calls us to “embrace the Other,” a phrase she borrows from theologian Grace Ji-Sun Kim.  In her book, Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love, Kim wrote that the power of the Spirit “opens our hearts to cross boards and embrace the Other.”

For people of faith in a God who transcends all, no one or group should be seen as the “Other.”  As Shaw concluded:

“If God is the One who transcends, transgresses, transforms, the One who crosses over, then surely all of God’s people should be people who cross over — who cross over prejudices and stereotypes and bigotry — to embrace God’s transgender children as fully human, fully created by and loved by God, fully welcome in God’s family and in our churches.”

The City of Philadelphia gives witness to the welcoming approach advocated by Shaw.  Chovanes refers to Philadelphia as the “best city in the world for trans people” and cites its anti-discrimination laws and the support of Philadelphia mayors past and present.  Indeed, the “City of Brotherly Love” has much to teach the local and universal Catholic Church.

–Cynthia Nordone, New Ways Ministry




USCCB Voting Guide Retains Focus on Marriage, Against Protests by Some Bishops

November 19, 2015

U.S. bishops at Baltimore meeting

Despite protests from several vocal bishops, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) passed a revised version of the election-year guide, “Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship,” retaining a key emphasis on their opposition to same-gender marriage, now the law of the land throughout the U.S.

David Gibson of Religion News Service noted that the bishops’ discussion of the document at their annual Baltimore meeting revealed “unusually sharp disagreements on how much they can, and should, adjust their priorities to match those of Pope Francis.”  Though they didn’t follow Francis’ advice to not obsess about same-gender marriage, the “bishops at least had taken to heart the pope’s admonition to engage in robust debate, ” observed Tom Roberts of the National Catholic Reporter.

The document states:

“Some issues involve principles that can never be abandoned such as the fundamental right to life and marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

According to Rachel Zoll of the Associated Pressthe bishops cautioned voters against voting for candidates which support these issues:

“They said voting for a candidate specifically because the politician favors a ‘grave evil’ such as abortion rights amounts to ‘formal cooperation’ with that evil by the voter.”

But for the first time since 2007 when the current version of this voting guide was issued, a strong opposition was put forth by a number of bishops who felt the document was unhelpful and outdated.  They specifically cited Pope Francis’ new agenda for the church in their opposition.

Gibson reported:

Bishop Robert McElroy

” ‘In the most impassioned objection to the voter guide, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy took the floor to argue that the document — which was a reworking of an 84-page treatise first written in 2007 — should be scrapped because it did not reflect the way that Francis has elevated the battle against poverty and for the environment as central concerns for the Catholic Church since his election in 2013.

“ ‘I believe that this document is gravely hobbled,’ said McElroy, who was an outspoken advocate for the church’s social justice teachings even before Francis named him to the large and growing Southern California diocese earlier this year. . . .

“Apparently referring to political conservatives who argue that Catholics cannot vote for candidates who support abortion rights or gay marriage, McElroy said the new draft still ‘provides a warrant for those who will misuse this document outside this room to exclude poverty and exclude the environment as key issues and say they are secondary, and cite this document as they have done for the last two election cycles.’ “

Roberts reported another passage of McElroy’s intervention:

“The framework [of the voter guide], he said, ‘does not take into account the fact that Pope Francis … rapidly transformed the prioritization of Catholic social teaching and its elements — not the truth of them, not the substance, but the prioritization of them. [He] has radically transformed that in articulating the claims that fall upon the citizens as believers and disciples of Jesus Christ.’ “

Gibson also cited two other bishops who spoke out against the revised guide:

“ ‘I think we need a new document,’ said Tuscon Bishop Gerald Kicanas. ‘I think it was a mistake to try to revise a document from 2007 when so much has happened since then.’ He called Faithful Citizenship ‘very complex and not helpful.’ ”

“Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockon, Calif., agreed that ‘the times have dramatically changed’ and said the ‘cumbersome’ new draft needed to be scrapped.

The bishops passed the document by a vote of 210-21, with five bishops abstaining.

Writing before the vote on the document was taken, the National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters offered what looks to me like one of the strongest criticism’s of the bishops’ guide.  At first he focused on their strange emphasis at this moment on marriage:

“If the bishops adopt the proposed draft of ‘Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,’ their quadrennial document issued in presidential election years on the responsibilities of Catholics as citizens, they should have the honesty to rename it ‘Forming Consciences for Fighting Same-Sex Marriage.’ By my count, the issue is mentioned 10 times, which is strange. First, Pope Francis did not think it necessary to mention the issue directly even once during the six days he was here in the U.S. Secondly, the issue will not appear on any ballots next year, candidates may speak about it but they cannot really propose to do anything about it unless there is a court-packing scheme of which I am unaware. Finally, at a time when racial tensions are at their worst in my adult lifetime, the proposed text equates same-sex marriage with racism, calling them both intrinsic evils, even though civil same-sex marriage is not, and cannot be, an intrinsic evil. I can scarcely imagine a comparison better designed to alienate young Catholics. “

In his conclusion, he criticized the bishops for ignoring Pope Francis’ advice to them when he visited the U.S. earlier this fall:

“To be perfectly clear, if the bishops accept this document as is, it will be impossible for any reasonable observer not to conclude that the bishops of the United States have collectively decided to ignore what the pope said to them at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, as well as what he said to the U.S Congress. Set this text alongside the Holy Father’s Address to Congress and compare them. The bishops like to stick together and they are loath to permit a sign of disunity to mar their proceedings. But, the unity of the Catholic hierarchy is not the result of a vote, it is a unity with and under Peter, and this text reads like it is from a different planet from what he has said and taught.”

Sad it is that the U.S. bishops appear to be resisting Pope Francis’ new priorities and continuing on the road to vocal opposition to marriage equality, an issues squarely resolved in the nation’s law, and, more importantly, in the hearts and minds of millions of U.S. Catholics who support the law.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

National Catholic Reporter: “Francis’ priorities vs. the priorities of the U.S. bishops”



In Florence, Pope Francis Makes Dramatic Call for the Church to Change; Theologian Comments on How LGBT Change Can Happen

November 11, 2015

In one of his most powerful speeches about reforming the Church, Pope Francis told a national conference of Italian Catholics that the church must be open to change.

Pope Francis in Florence.

According to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR),  the pontiff told the audience:

“We are not living an era of change but a change of era.

“Before the problems of the church it is not useful to search for solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of obsolete conduct and forms that no longer have the capacity of being significant culturally.

“Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts, interrogatives — but is alive, knows being unsettled, enlivened.It has a face that is not rigid, it has a body that moves and grows, it has a soft flesh: it is called Jesus Christ.”

“The reform of the church then, and the church is semper reformanda  … does not end in the umpteenth plan to change structures. It means instead grafting yourself to and rooting yourself in Christ, leaving yourself to be guided by the Spirit — so that all will be possible with genius and creativity.”

The NCR said that the pope’s comments, offered in the Florence cathedral, were “remarkable in their breadth, emphasis, and forceful nature of delivery,” and that “he was interrupted about a dozen times for applause.”

The pope encouraged the bishops and lay people assembled to be brave and daring:

“Assume always the Spirit of the great explorers, that on the sea were passionate for navigation in open waters and were not frightened by borders and of storms. May it be a free church and open to the challenges of the present, never in defense for fear of losing something.”

The Crux report on the speech highlighted a few statements on dialogue the pope made:

“Dialogue, he said, doesn’t mean negotiation, but ‘seeking the common good of all.’

“ ‘We must not be afraid of dialogue,’ Francis said. ‘In fact, it is discussion and criticism that help us to prevent theology from becoming ideology.’ ”

This talk by the pope, his first major address on the life of the Church since the closing of the synod last month,  undercuts the refrain repeated at the synod that the purpose of the meeting was not to change Church teaching.  While that may have been true for that particular meeting, Pope Francis’ comments seem to indicate that he is open to the possibility of change through means other than the synod.

James Alison

Will this opening on change apply to LGBT issues?  Of course, we certainly hope so.  Recently, The Tablet published an essay by James Alison, a prominent gay theologian, who examined synod participants’ statements and processes for clues to how change may come about.  Alison noted that though the final report may not have shown any change on the traditional approach to homosexuality, this may have been a good thing:

“I suspect there was enough of a recognition that there is no genuine way out of the impasse without raising a question of doctrine, for it to be better to go quiet on the issue, and punt further study and discussion of the matter to the Holy Father – and quite possibly to the new dicastery he has announced dedicated to laity, family and life. If something like this was what happened, then I’d like to say: this is a really big deal. For the first time in my memory, the bishops seem to have faced up to having a genuine problem on their hands that is their problem, not that of LGBT people, and no apparent way out of it without help.”

Alison, in fact, believes that Pope Francis may have foreseen and hoped for exactly that sort of outcome:

“It is here, I think, that we see something of the genius of Pope Francis. I had feared that his statements about not changing doctrinal matters, but focusing on the pastoral, were a sign of weakness in the face of intransi­gent hardliners and would lead to cosmetic solutions. What a joy to be wrong! It seems rather, that he wanted people to run up against the dead ends of many current positions together so not only would they begin to dare to ask each other, and the Pope, the sort of questions which might lead to a more adult discussion of the matters at hand, but it would actually lead to a consensus of teachers realising that they need to, and want to, think more.”

Alison sees Pope Francis’ emphasis on the process of discussion as a significant contribution to the Church, and also, a powerful instrument with which to bring about change:

“The signature achievement of Pope Francis’ synodal process has been, I think, to begin a practical recovery of this element of Vatican II’s breakthrough. He emphasised before, during and after the synod that it is the walking together, which is what “synod” means, that is what it is all about. He let participants understand that the point of the Petrine ministry is to reassure people concerning the presence of the true Master, the one living teaching authority, who is walking alongside them, teaching them starting from where they are, as they discover things that are new and true along the way. In this way, the experiential element of our being taught by Christ will at last be allowed, even by church authority, to be received as what it is.”

As with much of Alison’s writing, this essay is packed with gems for reflection, making it difficult to summarize succinctly.  I encourage interested readers to examine the entire text to get the full flavor of his thought.  (For New Ways Ministry’s version of how the synod has already changed the Church, click here.)

Pope Francis’ speech to the Italian meeting offers great possibility for a church that is more open to new ideas and to responding to pressing pastoral needs, such as LGBT issues. The National Catholic Reporter’s  Michael Sean Winters noted in his column that this speech was

” . . . a kind of re-boot of the vision of the Church he outlined in Evangelii Gaudium, his programmatic apostolic exhortation issued in the first year of his pontificate. He doubtlessly returned to the themes articulated there because they have not entirely been absorbed.”

Winters expressed hope that the U.S. bishops, who will be meeting in Baltimore, November 16-19, would take heed of the pope’s call for change, and offered them this suggestion for the beginning of the week:

“When the session opens on Monday morning, the bishops should set aside the agenda, read this entire talk, pray over it, maybe have small group discussions of it, and then return to their agenda in the afternoon. How do they evaluate their ministry, individually and as a conference, in the light of the pope’s remarks? The Holy Father said this morning, ‘We are not living an era of change but a change of era.’ Will that change of era be manifest in Baltimore next week?”

Regardless of what the U.S. bishops do, this speech by Pope Francis may indicate that the expected apostolic exhortation based on the synod discussions that he will write some time in the future may be more radical than even the most progressive of Catholics have hoped for.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related post:

Queering The Church:  “Has the Synod ‘Opened a Door’ to LGBT Inclusion?”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,007 other followers