Bishop: Pastors Must Deny Funerals to Catholics in Same-Gender Marriages

An Illinois bishop has released guidelines about same-gender marriages that may greatly restrict participation in his diocese’s parishes by people in such marriages.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki
Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield issued his “Same-Sex Marriage Policies Decree 6-12-2017” earlier this month, which instructs lesbian and gay Catholics along with pastoral ministers on several aspects of ecclesial life.

Addressing the sacraments, Paprocki said people in same-gender marriages should neither seek to receive nor be admitted to Holy Communion because their relationships are of an “objectively immoral nature.” Most strikingly, the bishop decreed about funeral rites:

“Unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death, deceased persons who had lived openly in a same-sex marriage giving public scandal to the faithful are to be deprived of ecclesiastical funeral rites. In case of doubt, the proper pastor or parochial administrator is to consult the local ordinary [bishop], whose judgment is to be followed (cf. c. 1184).”

Further restrictions on people in same-gender marriages include the following prohibitions:

  • “[They] are not to serve in a public liturgical ministry, including but not limited to reader and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion”;
  • “[They may] not serve as a sponsor for the Sacraments of Baptism or Confirmation”;
  • “[They are] not to be admitted to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) or receive the Sacrament of Confirmation unless he or she has withdrawn from the objectively immoral relationship”.

Paprocki’s decree also includes restrictions for pastoral ministers. No church worker, acting in a professional capacity, may participate in same-gender weddings. No church properties may host such weddings, and the bishop even forbids “items dedicated or blessed for use in Catholic worship” from being used in such ceremonies. Church personnel are also forbidden to bless same-gender marriages.

Pastors are further instructed to accept children whose parents are in a same-gender marriage for the Sacraments of Initiation, though pastors must use “due discretion in determining the appropriateness of the public celebration of the baptism.” Likewise, such children are to be admitted to Catholic schools and religious education, but the family “must agree to abide by the Family School Agreement.” To read more about that Agreement, which is LGBT-negative, click here.

Finally, the bishop threatened pastoral ministers that a “culpable violation of any of these norms can be punished with a just penalty.”

This Decree is not entirely novel. Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput sought last summer to bar LGBT people from both Communion and liturgical ministries in his restrictive pastoral guidelines. Elsewhere, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit and former Archbishop John Myers of Newark both told LGBT Catholics and their allies not receive Communion. What is notable about Paprocki’s guidelines is its treatment of funeral rites and threat of punishment for pastoral ministers.

The Decree is also not Bishop Paprocki’s first damaging act against LGBT people and their families. Last year, he implicitly criticized Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich for suggesting that reception of Communion is to be determined by each person according to their conscience. When Illinois passed marriage equality in 2013, Paprocki held a public exorcism because of the law, and had previously suggested that supporters of marriage equality should be disciplined like children.

Beside the obvious pastoral insensitivity, there are a few other things wrong with Paprocki’s new guidelines. In canon law, Canon 1184, which the bishop referenced in regard to funeral rites, says restrictions on such rites should be imposed on “notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics,” those persons who are cremated for “reasons contrary to Christian faith,” and “manifest sinners” whose funerals would be publicly scandalous.

It is discrimination to target LGBT people when, in a certain sense, all Catholics could be deemed “manifest sinners.” Who among us, including Bishop Paprocki, does not publicly sin at different moments? Yet, funeral rites are not denied to Catholics who pay employees an unjust wage, publicly advocate for the death penalty, or deny climate change.

It is cruel to suggest that people who have, by the dictates of their conscience, entered into same-gender marriages should uniformly be equated with apostates and heretics.

Secondly, threatening Catholic pastoral workers with a “just penalty” is improper for someone who is to be a loving shepherd for the diocese. It borders on spiritual abuse to tell pastoral ministers and LGBT Catholics that, should they adhere to a most fundamental church teaching and follow their properly formed consciences, they could be punished by ecclesiastical authorities.

In a moment when a growing number of church leaders, led by Pope Francis, are opening doors to LGBT people and their families, it is tragic that Bishop Paprocki has chosen to act so harmfully. Despite his claims, it is the Decree itself which is the real scandal in this incident.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 22, 2017

As U.S. Bishops Strengthen Religious Liberty Committee, What Does This Mean for LGBT Equality?

U.S. bishops voted last week to strengthen their committee on religious liberty. What might this vote mean for the bishops’ engagement with LGBT rights?

Bishops gather in St Louis for spring general assembly
U.S. bishops meeting in Indianapolis

Meeting in Indianapolis, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted 132-53 to make their  Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty a permanent structure. Crux reported:

“Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, committee chairman, said the need for the body stretches beyond the specific legal and public policy issues challenging religious freedom that continue to emerge.

“Lori expressed hope that the committee’s work would help ‘plant the seeds of a movement for religious freedom, which will take years of watering and weeding in order for it to grow, to grow strong and to bear fruit.'”

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter detailed the floor debate over the question of a permanent religious liberty committee. He said that listening to Archbishop Lori’s  oft-repeated allegation that expanded LGBT rights threaten religious liberty which expanded LGBT rights bring with them was like “entering a time warp.” Winters questioned “whether the histrionic approach to the issue is truthful or helpful.”

Several bishops vocally challenged making the Committee a permanent one. Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark and Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, both Francis appointees, warned sharply against continuing to press the religious liberty agenda while at the same time that the USCCB leadership was proposing to close down the working group on immigration. Winters reported further:

“Tobin and other bishops also questioned the funding of the work of the religious liberty committee: The proposal to make the committee permanent was stated to be budget-neutral and it was pointed out that funding sources dry up for a variety of reasons. Archbishop William Lori did his best to assure his colleagues that the funding was solid and not going anywhere: We know the Knights of Columbus have donated $250,000 to the committee since its inception, and Lori is the Supreme Chaplain of the Knights. But he won’t be forever, and his pal Carl Anderson won’t be Supreme Knight forever, either.”

(Note: The National Catholic Reporter recently published an in-depth analysis of the Knights’ spending. You can read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of how that funding impacts LGBT issues by clicking here.)

The Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty has spearheaded U.S. bishops’ opposition to LGBT and reproductive rights in recent years.  A main part of their program has been the USCCB’s annual Fortnight for Freedom, which begins today and runs until July 4th.  In April, the USCCB supported the so-called “Inclusion Act,” a federal bill that would allow religiously-affiliated social service providers to discriminate against LGBT people. They have long opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), defending what they understand to be “just” discrimination. And they have acted thus despite the fact a majority of U.S. Catholics oppose religious exemptions from LGBT non-discrimination protections.

Since Pope Francis’ election, many Catholics and observers have wondered if and when the pope’s vision for the church would be realized in the U.S. episcopacy. There has been little movement to this point; indeed, the bishops’ notably stuck to their conservative, anti-LGBT priorities in 2014 and 2015. But the Indianapolis meeting may finally reveal changes. Winters said, “the tide is turning and the ice cracking in the conservative chokehold of the conference.” He explained:

“The turning of the tide was obvious in larger ways, too. In 2016, the bishops overwhelmingly adopted with only a handful of negative votes a strategic plan that was little different from the previous one, despite requests that the new strategic plan better address the changing focus of Pope Francis. The one major change on the strategic plan? They made religious liberty one of their five areas of special concern. Wednesday, however, 53 bishops voted not to make the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty a standing committee. That was insufficient to defeat the proposal, but it showed that Team Francis is not simply going to sit quietly and go along.”

There are genuine attacks on religious liberty in our world. Even in the United States, Muslims and other non-Christians face increasing assaults on their civil rights and their personal safety. Catholics are right to be concerned about these injustices, and to seek recourse in such a way that the religious rights of all people are defended.

The U.S. bishops’ work on religious liberty so far have given little indication that they are concerned about attacks on people of other faiths. Religious liberty has become a nearly empty term when used by them, a tactic in their strategy to undermine LGBT civil rights. Hopefully, in Winters’ term, “Team Francis” bishops will reclaim real religious liberty as the bishops let go of their partisan anti-LGBT agenda that has been all too present in recent years.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 21, 2017

QUOTE TO NOTE: Stop Church Teachings that Kill, Says Sr. Margaret Farley

Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, the theological ethicist who wrote Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, said the church has “not gone far enough” on gender equality because “we still hear the cries of women, through the centuries and today.”

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Sister Margaret Farley

Farley’s comments are readily applicable to the movement for LGBT equality, too. After receiving the Catholic Theological Society of America’s (CTSA) Ann O’Hara Graff Memorial Award earlier this month, she told the gathered women theologians:

“Ideas oppress and repress. . .When the church’s secondary teachings cause sickness and death, there is something wrong with that teaching. . .Just as cultural practices may have been fine until they kill people, so the church’s teachings may have been fine, even harmless, until they kill people.”

Farley’s scholarship has greatly advanced efforts to expose and transform oppressive church teachings on sexuality and gender. For her efforts, Farley was censured by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2012.

I wrote on Bondings 2.0 in April that, even more than ten years after her book was first published, Just Love is still a radical text that challenges Catholics to reorient our church’s teachings and practices on sexuality towards justice. At CTSA’s 2017 meeting, Sr. Farley has once again spoke with precision and prophetic clarity about how Catholic theology can, should, and must serve better the people of God.

You can read a full report on Sr. Farley’s reception of the CTSA award at the National Catholic Reporter by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 20, 2017

 

 

 

Students Protest Catholic School’s Decision to Remove Rainbow Flag

Controversy over LGBT issues in one of Canada’s Catholic school systems has once again made headlines, resulting in unfortunate harm during Pride celebrations.

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Students protesting at Blessed Oscar Romero High School

To mark Pride, students at Blessed Oscar Romero High School in Edmonton, Alberta, hung a rainbow flag in the school with some additional rainbow decorations. The next day, students drew a rainbow flag in chalk at the school’s entrance. CBC reported what happened next:

 

“On Tuesday morning, student president-elect Francis Nievera was called into the principal’s office. He said he was told all the decorations must come down because the chalk was being tracked inside, which he said was understandable. But those weren’t the only reasons.

“‘They said putting up flags was a political statement and it made some people uncomfortable and we need to make everyone feel comfortable,’ said Nievera, an openly transsexual and transgender Grade 10 student. ‘To have it all torn down in less than a day kind of sucked.'”

Lori Nagy of the Edmonton Catholic School Board denied claims the decorations were authorized, and said the school’s principal was willing to support other pride celebrations. Nonetheless, Nievera’s invitation, students protested, according to the CBC: 

“Prior to the protest, a video shows an emotional Nievera, near a handful of supporters including the school mascot, address students from the stage in the school cafeteria.

“‘We have to take down all the decorations today,’ he said, setting off boos from the crowd. ‘But I just want to say because of this I really don’t feel safe.'”

“‘If you guys want to help support pride week, even though all of this will be taken down, feel free to come outside and protest.'”

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The chalk rainbow flag in dispute at Blessed Oscar Romero High School

Students gathered at the chalk rainbow flag as other students used power washers to remove it. According to the CBC, “More than 30 students refused to return to class.”

Kennedy Harper, who helped organize the school’s Pride celebrations, said administrators threatened protesting students with suspension. She commented further:

“‘It seems like along with the chalk they were just washing away their identity. . .It felt really good for a little while, seeing the school really come together and standing up for the rights of minorities whether they’re part of the LGBTQ community or not.'”

Shortly after all the decorations had been removed , school administrators then said that the flags would be allowed for the remainder of the week.

This is hardly the first time Edmonton’s Catholic school system has been roiled in LGBT-related controversies. A student at the neighboring St. Joseph Catholic High School was also asked to remove a rainbow flag he wore during a school ceremony. The Edmonton Catholic School Board’s actions in 2015 around a transgender policy saw meetings erupt into a “shouting match” as the Board approved a draft policy allowing  “just discrimination” of some youth. Elsewhere in Alberta, a former bishop referred to LGBTQ policies being implemented in Catholic schools “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic.”

The situation at Blessed Oscar Romero adds to this list of avoidable, damaging incidents where LGBTQ students are made to feel less than comfortable and even unsafe in Catholic education. No harm was caused by allowing some minor Pride decorations to be displayed, but much harm was done by power washing them and ripping them away.

Once again, it is young students in Catholic schools who are the ones leading our church to be more just and inclusive for LGBT people. And of these students’ commitment to justice for all people, Monseñor Romero would likely be very proud.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 19, 2017

 

 

Bishop Rejects Prayer Service for Pride, But There May Yet Be Hope

After giving his initial approval, a bishop in the Netherlands has rejected a prayer service that would have coincided with Pride celebrations.

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Bishop Gerard de Korte

The Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch’s cathedral was set to welcome Pride celebrants to an ecumenical prayer service on the day of the city’s Pink Saturday events on June 24th.

In a pastoral letter to the local church, Bishop Gerard de Korte explained his decision to welcome people celebrating Pride to come to the cathedral for prayer. But later, in a second letter, de Korte expelled the service from the cathedral because, in his words, “priests and other faithful have protested the prayer service.”

Mark de Vries of the blog In Caelo et In Terra provided English translations of both letters In one text, de Korte described homosexuality as “a sensitive topic in our Church, leading to much emotion.”

The first letter was a response to the diocese’s presbyteral council, which requested that de Korte clarify his position on the prayer service and homosexuality generally. Of the former issue, the bishop said the cathedral’s pastoral team had “primary responsibility” for the service:

“The cathedral administrator ultimately made a positive decision. It is very important that the service is prepared by the administrator and three preachers from ‘s-Hertogenbosch. They trust each other and are aware of the concerns of a part of the faithful. I have full confidence that the service will be serene. . .Those present at the prayer service will hopefully be encouraged and strengthened in their faith that God loves us unconditionally in Christ. The cathedral administrator and the preachers have asked me, as bishop, to conclude the service with a brief word and a blessing.”

De Korte, who was appointed by Pope Francis in 2016, said there will be events on Pink Saturday which do defy church teaching, but that there is no reason to deny people who desire to pray the opportunity and venue to do so.

About homosexuality, the bishop said it was his responsibility to both uphold church teaching on marriage and sexuality, but also “to continue seeking out dialogue, no matter how difficult it often is.” De Korte wrote:

“A great part of our own Church people is influenced by modern secular culture. The result is a deep chasm between the word of the Church and the experience of many outside, but also inside our Church. One thing and another often leads to misunderstanding, anger and regret. . .The Church’s ideal and stubborn reality regularly clash. It is pastoral wisdom to not use the teachings of the Church as a stick to strike with, but as a staff to lean on.”

On a pastoral note, de Korte reached out to lesbian and gay people, and their families. The church’s pastoral care for them should be one of “kindness and friendship” and about “the acceptance of every person as God’s creature.” In his conclusion, de Korte said that in both doctrinal and pastoral concerns conscience is “the final and ultimate authority”:

“Faithful are called to relate to the norms of the Church and form their conscience. . .A tension may possibly continue to exist between the truth of the Church and the conscience of every individual faithful. When parents find that one of their children is homosexual, they are called to surround that child with all care and love. The same is, I am convinced, true for the Church as mother.”

Unfortunately, de Korte undercut the goodness of his letter by reversing the decision to allow a Pride-related prayer service at the cathedral. A second letter released a week after his initial approval explained the reversal.

The bishop said some Catholics’ concerns about the prayer service meant unity in the diocese could be threatened, and he therefore had to cancel the event, even if it is “a disappointment to more than a few.” But de Korte also said not allowing the prayer service at the cathedral would not stop him from “looking for a proper form of dialogue, both internally and externally, no matter how difficult and thankless that may often be.” He concluded:

“People, of any orientation, should find, in our Catholic community at least, kindness, security and friendship. Every person is welcome in our faith community. . .When I was installed as bishop in the cathedral, on Saturday 14 May 2016, I spoke about the importance of mutual trust and unity. I strife [sic] for a clear but also hospitable and friendly Church. I hope and pray that every faithful in our diocese wants to contribute to that, especially at this moment. Especially now, we are called to hold on to each other as a community around the living Lord.”

The ecumenical prayer service will now be held at a Protestant church with Catholics being represented by the cathedral administrator. I offer two thoughts here about this incident.

First, de Korte is a bishop who knows the church needs to reach out in a way that is grounded in reality. His concern for lesbian/gay people and their families seems genuine, and this one incident will not stop his desire for dialogue among the faithful. De Korte may be stuck behind some doctrinal language about secular culture, just as Pope Francis sometimes is, but his heart is in the realm of the pastoral.

Second, his decision to disallow the prayer service may mean he is a bishop unwilling to take risks in the face of controversy. But it could also mean he is humble enough to make decisions in collaboration with his priests and be concerned for the entire church walking together on hard issues. Such attributes are lacking by so many bishops appointed by Pope Francis’ predecessors; thankfully, they are appearing more and more in the current pope’s new bishops.

The bishop’s reversal is problematic and a loss where there could have been a courageous step forward. Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s welcome of LGBT pilgrims to his archdiocese’s cathedral was recently described as a “miracle” by some. Similar good could have come by Bishop de Korte and other Catholic leaders welcoming Pride celebraters into the church. But these two letters reveal dynamics at work which go beyond a singular incident, and which leave me ultimately hopeful that LGBT issues in the church are moving forward bit by bit. The proof will be in how well de Korte fulfills his promise to dialogue with the LGBT community in the future.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 17, 2017 

 

Orlando Anniversary Is a Time to Reflect on Church/LGBT Relationship

This week’s one-year anniversary of the massacre of LGBT people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, became an occasion for John Gehring to evaluate the relationship between the LGBT community and the Catholic hiearchy in the U.S.  His essay appeared in The National Catholic Reporter.

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John Gehring

Gehring recalled that only very few bishops publicly noted the LGBT dimension to the Orlando attack. In the past year, some positive and negative things have occurred between church hierarchy and the LGBT community.  According to Gehring, who is the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, the quality of that relationship is one of “cautious hope,” given the mixed bag of responses on a variety of issues that we’ve witnessed over the past year.  For Gehring, the problems are deeply rooted in Catholic hierarchical thought and begin with the issue of “dehumanizing language” to describe homosexuality:

“While the Catechism of the Catholic Church rejects violence and ‘unjust discrimination’ against LGBT people, it also calls homosexuality an ‘inclination’ that is ‘objectively disordered.’ Before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led the Vatican’s chief doctrine office for more than two decades. In a 1986 ‘Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,’ Ratzinger described homosexuality as a “tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil.” Seventeen years later, he wrote that growing recognition of same-sex civil unions legitimized the ‘approval of deviant behavior.’ Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, even celebrated a public exorcism in 2013 to protest the Catholic governor’s signing a same-sex marriage law. The bishop presided over what was formally called ‘Prayers in Supplication and Exorcism in Reparation for the Sin of Same-Sex Marriage.’ When a church leader literally demonizes LGBT people and their commitment, those called to be stewards of a Gospel rooted in the love of Christ send a toxic message about the unworthiness of them.”

But you don’t need to take only Gehring’s word for it.  He quoted two Catholic leaders about the destructive effects of this type of language:

Dehumanizing language has consequences. ‘It doesn’t reflect that our experiences as gay and lesbian persons are a gift, something that brings us closer to other people and to God,’ said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an organization that works to build bridges between LGBT Catholics and the church. ‘People are alienated by this language and feel rejected. It ends conversations rather than begins conversations.’ San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, who has played a key role in encouraging the U.S. hierarchy to adopt Pope Francis’ more inclusive attitude, has suggested the church needs to rethink language such as ‘intrinsically disordered.’ In an interview with America, a Jesuit magazine, he called that terminology ‘very destructive language that I think we should not use pastorally.’ He explained that ‘in Catholic moral theology it is a philosophical term that is automatically misunderstood in our society as a psychological judgment.’ “

Such damaging language threatens to force many Catholics out of the church, as they become increasingly more supportive of LGBT issues.  This problem is particularly significant with the younger generation who are strongly supportive of LGBT people. Gehring offers the following example:

“Rachel Nagengast, 25, went to Catholic schools from grade school through Fordham University, where last year she earned a master’s degree in theological studies. But as a self-described queer woman, Nagengast increasingly felt alienated by her church’s teachings on homosexuality. She hasn’t gone to a Catholic Mass in years. ‘I feel like an outsider in what should be home,’ she said. ‘LGBT Catholics are expected to be patient, but I was really tired of being satisfied with baby steps or being expected to applaud even the tiniest effort.’

Gehring offers the following advice to stave off this mass exodus:

“If they want to retain the next generation of Catholics — including LGBT people and their allies — Catholic leaders should listen more closely and learn from the experiences of gay and transgender people. . . . Church leaders can’t stand with LGBT people without taking the time to listen to them. Bishops could take a simple but powerful step by setting up forums to meet with and learn from LGBT Catholics. Vatican officials also need to take seriously the need to update and humanize language in church documents that don’t reflect the fullness of LGBT people’s lives. While making official revisions to the catechism is a complicated and lengthy process, bishops communicate through pastoral letters, op-eds and increasingly through social media. These opportunities present a chance to ditch language that casts LGBT people to the peripheries and bring them to the center of authentic conservations.”

The author suggests that bishops not only follow the example of Pope Francis, but also heed advice from a U.S. Catholic deacon who spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, and who also has contributed essays to Bondings 2.0:

“If Catholic bishops really want a church that listens, heals and goes to the margins as Pope Francis does, it’s far past time to build a culture of encounter with the LGBT community. I recently met a Catholic deacon from St. Petersburg, Florida, who had a wake-up call after his son transitioned to a transgender woman. ‘I was blissfully ignorant of all things LGBT until it came to my family,’ Ray Dever told participants at a conference, ‘LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.’ The Catholic father and others like him have a lot to teach bishops and priests who have rarely if ever sat down with a gay or transgender person. ‘There are so many families who reject their LGBT kids and that’s tragic, especially when that is done in the name of faith,’ Dever said. ‘I’m no expert, but what these families need to hear is God created these kids just the way they are and that God loves them.’

Gehring’s essay is a good survey of the major trends in Catholic LGBT issues since last June.  If you want to read it in its entirety, click here.  Gehring is the author of The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 16, 2017

 

 

Cardinal’s Welcome to LGBT Catholics ‘Felt Like a Miracle’

Last month, Newark, New Jersey’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin welcomed a pilgrimage of LGBT Catholics to the archdiocese’s Cathedral of the Sacred Heart–a gesture that is being hailed as a major step forward in the pastoral care of LGBT people here in the U.S.  — one participant going so far as calling it “a miracle.”

New York Times article entitled “As Church Shifts, a Cardinal Welcomes Gays; They Embrace a ‘Miracle’ “ captured not only the spirit of the May 21st event but also the reactions to it of some Catholic leaders who address LGBT issues.

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Cardinal Tobin welcomes people to the cathedral.

For example, one New York gay Catholic leader described what the action meant to him personally:

” ‘It felt like a miracle,’ Ed Poliandro, a member of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Manhattan and a clinical social worker. ‘It was a miracle to have church leaders say, ‘You are welcome; you belong.’ And I felt, after a lifetime of struggle, that we are home.’ “

Similarly, a New Jersey gay deacon spoke of the power of this symbolic gesture:

” ‘He brought [Pope] Francis to us,’ said Thomas M. Smith, 66, a deacon who serves the deaf community at the Newark cathedral. ‘I’ve been waiting 25 years for this. I’m a deacon in the church and I’ve had to be careful. And afraid.’

“He teared up, remembering how his parents had died thinking he would go to hell if he found someone to love. ‘This is amazing to me,’ he said.”

New Ways Ministry’s director also commented on the significance of this event:

” ‘It’s the beginning of a dialogue,” said Francis DeBernardo, the executive director New Ways Ministry, a group that ministers to and is an advocate for gay Catholics. ‘The church leadership, for the past 40 years, has just been so silent, and unwilling to dialogue, and unwilling to pray with L.G.B.T. Catholics that, even though this isn’t the ultimate step, it’s a first step,’ he said of Cardinal Tobin’s welcome.”

The Times story also noted the very personal and scriptural way in which Cardinal Tobin welcomed the LGBT pilgrims:

” ‘I am Joseph, your brother,’ Cardinal Tobin told the group, which included lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics from around New York and the five dioceses in New Jersey. ‘I am your brother, as a disciple of Jesus. I am your brother, as a sinner who finds mercy with the Lord.’

“The welcoming of a group of openly gay people to Mass by a leader of Cardinal Tobin’s standing in the Roman Catholic Church in this country would have been unthinkable even five years ago. But Cardinal Tobin, whom Pope Francis appointed to Newark last year, is among a small but growing group of bishops changing how the American church relates to its gay members. They are seeking to be more inclusive and signaling to subordinate priests that they should do the same.”

While in the Cathedral, the pilgrims participated at a Mass celebrated by Fr. Francis Gargani, CSsR, who was one of the organizers of the pilgrimage.  Auxiliary Bishop Manuel Cruz, the cathedral’s rector, was also on the altar at the Mass and added his welcome to the pilgrims.

DeBernardo noted that this event was in line with a changing attitude toward LGBT people in the U.S. Catholic church, offering the following examples:

“The diocese of Jefferson City, Mo., for example, last month said it would permit transgender students in its Catholic schools. In October, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego held a diocesan synod on the family that called for improved ministry toward gay and lesbian Catholics. At a New Ways Ministry national conference in April, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Ky., said he admired and respected lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who remained steadfast to the church even though the church had not always been as welcoming.”

[Editor’s note:  More on the Jefferson City diocesan policy in a post later this week.]

Perhaps the most significant detail about the event is the following observation made by the Times reporter:

“But Cardinal Tobin’s welcome to Mass on May 21 has been the most significant of such recent gestures, because of the symbolism of a cardinal welcoming a group of gay Catholics, some of whom were married to same-sex spouses, to participate in the Sacrament of Holy Communion at the center of a cathedral, no questions asked.”

Fr.  James Martin, SJ, whose new book, “Building a Bridge,” about Catholic LGBT issues is being positively received, and Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics, were also quoted in the Times story.

Cardinal Tobin’s action was a simple one, yet a very profound one.  It is definitely one that can be replicated by bishops across the U.S.   If bishops would first open their hearts and minds to LGBT people, they will find it much easier to open their cathedral doors to them, as Cardinal Tobin has done.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 14, 2017

Related articles:

Gay Star News:  “Catholic Cardinal welcomes ‘LGBT Pilgrimage’ to his Cathedral”

LGBT Interparish Collaboraive:  “LGBT Pilgrimage to the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ on May 21, 2017″