Earlier this week, Pope Francis gave a surprise TED Talk on “Why the Only Future Worth Building Includes Everyone.” The pope covered many topics in the seventeen-minute address, including appeals for inclusion and love. Francis said “we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone,” and continued:
“How wonderful would it beif the growth of scientific and technological innovationwould come along with more equality and social inclusion.How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets,to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.How wonderful would it be if solidarity,this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word,were not simply reduced to social work,and became, instead, the default attitudein political, economic and scientific choices,as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries.”
Pope Francis also called for a “revolution of tenderness,” which is “the love that comes close and becomes real.” He explained what this revolution will require of people:
“In order to do good,we need memory, we need courage and we need creativity. . .Yes, love does require a creative, concreteand ingenious attitude.Good intentions and conventional formulas,so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough.Let us help each other, all together, to rememberthat the other is not a statistic or a number.The other has a face.The ‘you’ is always a real presence,a person to take care of.”
LGBT Catholics, their loved ones, and allies may experience a dissonance reading these words. Pope Francis’ mixed record on issues of gender and sexuality may weaken his strong call for inclusion. But this address could also be the foundation from which Catholics can build greater inclusion of LGBT people. Catholics, especially church leaders should apply the pope’s principles to the ways they approach LGBT people and topics.
Is Pope Francis’ call for inclusion and equality harmful or helpful? What would you like to see from him on LGBT issues? Leave your reactions in the “Comments” section below.
This weekend, Catholics are gathering in Chicago for New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” Today’s post reflects on Sister Margaret Farley’s groundbreaking work, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. Farley, whose justice-oriented sexual ethic has greatly advanced the conversation on LGBT issues in the church, addressed Symposia in 1992, 1997, and 2007. She also received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award in 2002.
Unsurprisingly, the 2010 Notification that Margaret Farley received from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about her book, Just Love, missed not only the forest for the trees; it missed the trees for the minutiae of their bark.
Far from engaging Farley’s vision, intentionally laid out as she weaves tradition with contemporary knowledge, the Notification issued is a poor, proof-texted engagement. But a reader more receptive to Farley’s work easily sees not only the forest, but the horizon to which this theological giant is leading, and gratefully joins the path towards it.
Questions of sexuality and gender have progressed rapidly in the decade or so since Just Love was published. Yet Farley’s insights, deeply drawn from her first section on traditions, still speak to new and emerging issues. [To read a summary of Just Love’s ethical principles, click here.]
One example of these issues is the Synod on the Family. The synod process made clear how inexperienced many Catholic bishops are at negotiating cross-cultural ethics.The Synod also raised an old question in a new way: In a truly global church, can the Vatican really pronounce on universal norms beyond the most fundamental of principles? In other words, are issues of family life, sexuality, and society today too complex and diverse for a one-size-fits-all approach?
Emerging churches, particularly in Africa, have resisted more permissive stances on sexuality with claims of “ideological colonization,” a term notably used by Francis, the church’s first pope from the Global South. Farley identifies the troubling dynamic driving many such claims: sexual control has been central to Western colonization and postcolonial regions are still grappling with this damaging legacy. Acknowledging these traumas is absent from magisterial discourse today, even as theologians have welcomed such necessary dialogue through international conferences such as Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church.
Another emerging issue is gender and its relation to sexuality, now hotly contested in many contexts due to the expansion of transgender rights. Farley’s technical treatment of intersex and trans identities needs some updating given new research in this area, but, more significantly, she remains open to the realities of such persons, writing that “[n]o one ought to pass judgement on any configurations of gender [emphasis added].” This outward-looking stance paired with compassion means her larger points retain their integrity.
No statement of Farley’s is more relevant for today, when “gender wars” are rapidly and harmfully intensifying, than when she observes that “[g]ender wars would cease if we saw that we are not ‘opposite’ sexes but persons with somewhat different (but, in fact, very similar!) bodies.” Farley’s sexual ethic, with its roots in justice, is wonderful for slowly shifting the conversation beyond a primary concern with whom one has physical intimacy (raising questions of sexual and/or gender identity) to a primary concern about how one has sexual intimacy (raising questions of bodies, abilities, pleasures, and participants).
Finally, though Just Love can and should speak to many emerging questions, conversations about consent could benefit greatly from her just sex framework. To the detriment of healthy sexual relationships, consent has been reduced to saying “no,” or under affirmative consent thinking, the absence of an active and enthusiastic “yes.” While such models are being used to educate youth and young adults, particularly in higher education, as correctives against society’s historical failure to address sexual violence, they are not adequate.
Despite their good intent, such models are actually doing harm because they employ a mechanical understanding of sexual acts that excludes context and relationality. Farley is clear that free consent and respect for bodily autonomy are minimal norms for just sex, but she is equally clear that sexual justice means more. She insists that sexual acts cannot be separated from the contexts in which they happen, and the foremost context is relationality. Incorporating Farley’s theory of sexual justice into understandings of consent would both help curb sexual violence and promote healthier relationships.
Ten years on, it is clear that Just Love’s relevance has only grown, and that Christian ethical reflection has yet to receive fully its wisdom. Farley’s writing is precise and thorough, reflecting the years she spent laying the foundations for her sexual ethic. Behind her clear argumentation are complex layers of meaning with which the reader must repeatedly grapple. Her closing section on contexts for just love, addressing matters like same-gender relationships and persons who are divorced and/or remarried, is really the springboard Farley provides for Christians to employ her framework in their own research, contexts, and lives.
But what may be most clear of all is that Vatican’s fears were, in one way, fully warranted. Just Love is a truly radical text, which, received more and more fully by Christians, has and will continue to alter radically our lives and the life of our churches. It lays before us a road to full equality for LGBT people, one recognizing the beauty of diverse sexual and gender identities, the goodness of same-gender sexual intimacy, and the gift that every family is to our church.
These questions are not just similar: they are deeply interrelated. Indeed, the cause of women’s equality in the church is inextricably linked to the cause of LGBT equality, and vice versa.
DeGeorge described the genesis of the book and its title:
“[Wexler] is not a theologian or historian, she writes, nor does she intend the book to be a definitive work about the views of Catholic women. She seeks instead to inspire conversations among women who, like her, are ‘torn between the faith they love and the institutional church that often sets their teeth on edge.’ . . .
“There is a reason, Wexler says, that she titled the book CatholicWomen Confront Their Church rather than their ‘faith.’ For these women and so many others, it’s not a matter of confronting their faith, but rather confronting an institution that is led exclusively by men.”
Among the nine Catholic women that Wexler profiled are two involved with LGBT advocacy: Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of DignityUSA, and Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK who is most known for her leadership of “Nuns on the Bus.”
Other women in the book include: Teresa Delgado, a Latina feminist theologian; Frances Kissling, founder of Catholics for Choice; and Diana L. Hayes, a theologian who was the first African American woman to earn a pontifical doctorate.
The chapter on Marianne Duddy-Burke follows the contours of her journey as a devout Catholic and lesbian woman. Wexler explained at one point:
“Catholicism is just too important to Duddy-Burke to abandon. So she’s found a different space to practice her faith, a space outside the norms of the institutional church. The Catholicism she practices, she contends, more authentically follows the gospel. . .
“Whatever steps Pope Francis may take to soften the church’s position on same-sex marriage and LGBT issues, she believes that real change has to come from the people in the pews, not the church hierarchy. And she continues to immerse herself in a Catholicism that embraces the sacraments and service to the poor and marginalized.”
Sr. Simone Campbell’s advocacy for LGBT people has increasingly been a part of her larger efforts for social justice. Her organization, NETWORK, is linked with New Ways Ministry in a particular way: the two organizations were singled out by the Vatican in its 2012 investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for allegedly promoting “radical feminism.” Campbell offered the following wisdom, as reported by Wexler:
“One might have thought that the public denunciation. . .would have signaled to the sisters to lie low until the flap blew over. But Campbell did not express any sense of remorse. ‘When you don’t work every day with people who live at the margins of our society, it’s so much easier to make easy statements about who’s right and who’s wrong.’ Campbell said, ‘Life is way more complicated in our society, and its probably way easier to be eight thousand miles away in Rome.’ . . .
“‘I wish I knew what was in their [the Vatican leaders’] brains. . .The leadership doesn’t know how to deal with strong women.'”
In her latest supportive act for LGBT Catholics, Campbell will lead “Justice and Mercy: Our Faith Challenge?“, a retreat preceding New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium this week. For information, please click here.
Teresa Delgado is a feminist theologian who is both Puerto Rican and a survivor of sexual violence, influenced by liberation and womanist theologies. These aspects of her identity have, in her words, “allowed me to speak in a way that is authoritative around issues of sexuality and faith.” While not explicitly focused on LGBT issues, her work to integrate sex and faith has obvious implications. Wexler wrote:
“Delgado has remained a Catholic despite her deep reservations about the church’s approach to sexual issues, and its misogyny. She regrets that an institution that developed a nuanced ethical position on the concept of a ‘just war’ has failed to explore the nuances of sexual ethics. Within her classroom, where she teaches Christian sexual ethics, she faces students deeply confused about how to apply Catholic principles to their sex lives. Her goal, she says, is to offer them a safe place to discuss their feelings, and to share her own insights about navigating these moral dilemmas.”
Reading the stories of these nine Catholic women is moving, and Wexler’s advice, especially for younger women, is compelling by the end: “Don’t give up on Catholicism just yet. Make it work for you. Fight for it.” DeGeorge’s concluding words will ring true for readers:
“In conclusion, she notes the dangers facing a church that is unwilling to allow women a greater role and voice. . . .[The reader will] come away with a deeper conviction that there is a place for visionary feminist women in the church. Wexler’s book deserves to be read widely, especially among parish-based women’s groups and young women who struggle with their Catholic faith.”
To read Gail DeGeorge’s full review inthe National Catholic Reporter, please click here.
In a ruling released last week, a federal judge has said a Catholic parish was legally justified in firing a gay church worker. The Washington Blade reported:
“In a seven-page decision, U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras determined Tuesday the Holy Family Parish, which is under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Chicago, had the right to terminate Colin Collette because the worker’s position was ministerial in nature.
“‘By playing music at church services, Collette served an integral role in the celebration of mass,’ Kocoras said. ‘Collette’s musical performances furthered the mission of the church and helped convey its message to the congregants. Therefore, Collette’s duties as Musical Director fall within the ministerial exception.'”
Collette sued Holy Family and the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2015 claiming employment discrimination under federal, state, and county laws. It was hoped Collette’s case would add to the small, but growing number of legal victories for church workers who have lost their jobs over LGBT issues.
Judge Kocoras did not, however, rule on whether Collette was discriminated against by the parish; he ruled on whether the firing was protected under the so-called “ministerial exemption.”
According to the Blade, the judge’s actions preceding the ruling show he “entertained the idea Collette’s position wasn’t ministerial in nature and therefore protected under the civil rights law.” But that was not where Kocoras ended up, as he explained in the ruling:
“[A] position can be found to be ministerial if it requires the participant to undertake religious duties and functions. . .Here, Collette worked with church volunteers to choose the music that would enhance the prayer offered at mass. Choosing songs to match the weekly scripture required the group, including Collette, to make discretionary religious judgments since the Catholic Church does not have rules specifying what piece of music is to be played at each mass.'”
Collette was fired in 2014 as Holy Family’s music minister because his engagement to longtime partner and now husband, Will Nifong, became known to church officials. The firing was traumatic for the parish, where Collette had served for 17 years. Some 700 parishioners attended a town hall about it and there welcomed Collette with a standing ovation. One parishioner expressed anger and disappointment at the treatment of Collette, saying: “Everybody was welcome…That’s become a lie.”
The firing is problematic not only for the parish, but for the Archdiocese as well. Archbishop Blase Cupich has said the consciences of LGBT people must be respected, and even endorsed legal protections for families headed by same-gender partners. Yet, the Archdiocese has continued to defend the firings of Collette and another gay church worker, Sandor Demkovich.
This latest ruling should not be celebrated by church officials because, while it may be legal justice, it has not advanced social justice. Archbishop Cupich could, however, freely choose to act for the common good by apologizing to Collette and taking the lead in reconciliation efforts at Holy Family.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 25, 2017
If you would like to learn more about the issue of LGBT church workers in Catholic institutions, consider attending
Leslie Griffin, a professor of law, will give a plenary session talk on “Religious Liberty, Employment, & LGBT Issues” at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. During one of the focus sessions, three people affected by the firings, Colleen Simon, Margie Winters, and Andrea Vettori will give personal testimony about “The Challenges of LGBT Church Workers.” For more information, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
Editor’s Note: Content in today’s post may be disturbing to some readers as it deals with violence against LGBT people, including a brief description of such violence.
Pope Francis is celebrating a liturgy for contemporary martyrs today, held at the church of St. Bartholomew in Rome which functions as a shrine for martyrs of the 20th and 21st centuries. Those remembered will include persecuted Christians, pastoral ministers killed because they worked for justice, missionaries, and resisters against totalitarian regimes, reported Vatican Radio.
I want to remember LGBT martyrs as well: those people who have been killed because of their gender and/or sexual identity or because of their advocacy for LGBT human rights. In particular, I remember LGBT people in Chechnya who are en masse being kidnapped, tortured, and even murdered. One Chechen gay man told the BBC:”If beating you with their hands and feet is not enough, they use electric
“If beating you with their hands and feet is not enough, they use electric shock. . .They have a special black box and they attach wires to your hands or ears. The pain is awful. It’s terrible torture. . .They used to detain people before all the time to blackmail them. . .Now [the aim] is the extermination of gay men, so that there are none left in the republic.”
Once they are released from these torture scenarios, the now outed victims have faced reprisals from their own families, including at least two honor killings, according to TheNew York Times. While Chechnya’s president denies any persecution, human rights groups based in Russia are secretly helping to evacuate LGBT people from the country.
Critics will contend LGBT victims of violence are not martyrs; they were not killed because of odium fidei (hatred of their Christian faith). But in early Christianity, the word “martyrdom” meant a witness to the truth of faith. Today’s LGBT martyrs are witnesses to the truth of how God created them, and thus witnesses to the Creator. They include high-profile leaders who demanded equality, like Ugandan LGBT rights activist David Kato or U.S. gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk. They also include those who simply refused to deny a God-given identity, like the many transgender people, particularly women and people of color, murdered each year.
Though it is the Easter season liturgically, this is also a time of crucifixion for too many people. Blessed Oscar Romero, himself a martyr, challenges us, as the people of God, with these words:
“For the church, the many abuses of human life, liberty, and dignity are a heartfelt suffering. The church, entrusted with the earth’s glory, believes that in each person is the Creator’s image and that everyone who tramples it offends God. As holy defender of God’s rights and of [God’s] images, the church must cry out. It takes as spittle in its face, as lashes on its back, as the cross in its passion, all that human beings suffer, even though they be unbelievers. They suffer as God’s images. There is no dichotomy between [the person] and God’s image. Whoever tortures a human being, whoever abuses a human being, whoever outrages a human being abuses God’s image, and the church takes as its own that cross, that martyrdom.”
No, murdered LGBT people are not universally martyrs odium fidei, but I consider them martyrs odium amoris, or for “hatred of love.” This designation is an emerging, though not yet canonical, category for those killed because they died acting for the common good. As such, they demand to be remembered and honored by the church.
Pope Francis may not share my thinking or specifically include LGBT martyrs in his prayers today. Sadly, he has too often remained utterly silent about LGBT victims of violence. I am unaware of any church leader who has expressed solidarity with LGBT people in Chechnya. This makes our prayers, as LGBT people and allies, all the more important and urgent.
Who are the LGBT martyrs that are special to your heart? Please name them in the “Comments” section of this post so that we can pray to them and with them today and in the future.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 22, 2017
Next weekend, Frank Mugisha, the head of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the leading LGBT advocacy organization in that country where homosexuality is criminalized, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. For more information, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
The Vatican’s 2016 document on priesthood, which renewed a ban on gay men, is “disrespectful” and “insulting,” said a national organization of American priests.
This week, the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP) released its statement on “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation,” which had been released by the Congregation for the Clergy last December. The AUSCP describes its mission as “to be an association of U.S. Catholic priests offering mutual support and a collegial voice through dialogue, contemplation and prophetic action on issues affecting Church and society.”
AUSCP criticized the document’s inclusion of the terms “homosexual tendencies” and “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” because this language is”ambiguous and disrespectful of the personhood [of gay people].” The National Catholic Reportersaid the statement continued:
“‘We find it also unfounded and insulting,’ the group said, adding that the clergy congregation document ‘implies that ordained priests with a homosexual orientation who serve the Church with distinction “find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women.”‘
“If the Congregation for the Clergy document had stated that heterosexual and homosexual persons who are living chaste lives can be admitted to ordination to the priesthood it would have been more respectful and inclusive. The issue for discernment is whether the applicant or candidate has integrated his sexual identity with Catholic Christian faith and spirituality.”
The statement, which came from AUSCP’s leadership team, has been sent to every U.S. bishop, as well as to “the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors, the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, and the National Association of Hispanic Priests of the USA.”
Since December, many Catholics have been left wondering how the same pope who said “Who am I to judge?” in reference to a gay priest could also approve such an exclusionary document. Some critics have challenged the document for using imprecise or even inaccurate information in its treatment of homosexuality, and the document has done little to end the harm caused by forcing gay priests to remain closeted and by perpetuating homophobia in clerical spaces.
AUSCP’s statement keeps up pressure against the harmful Vatican document, and the statement is particularly incisive coming from the people most affected by “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation.” U.S. Catholics in the pews have not wavered in their support of gay priests: some 1,500 people signed New Ways Ministry’s “thank you” to them, and Catholics wore white ribbons in support at Easter Masses last weekend.
Still, gay and bisexual men in the priesthood have yet to have a “Stonewall Moment,” as theologian Lisa Fullam phrased it in December, when the principle behind “Who am I to judge?” would really allow such priests to live authentically and to minister openly for the benefit of the entire people of God.
An Australian court has rejected an attempt by a set of Catholic birth parents to stop a same-gender couple from adopting their daughter.
New South Wale’s Supreme Court ruled the girl, known as “CJD” in court documents, could be adopted by the two lesbian women who have raised her since she was six months old, and could take on their surname.
“[T]he birth mother opposed the adoption because the foster parents would not commit to raising the child as a Catholic.
“The NSW Supreme Court heard the birth mother was ‘a practising Catholic and she is not comfortable with the placement of CJD with the proposed adoptive parents because of her upbringing and religious values’.
“The lesbian couple, who are both university educated, have been in a stable and loving relationship for almost a decade. However, they told the court they couldn’t raise CJD as a Catholic given the religion’s longstanding opposition to homosexual relationships.”
Barnardos, the adoption agency, said that because the couple “would not be able to facilitate her involvement and development with Catholicism due to their sexual orientation,” it was best not to baptize the child.
Social services removed CJD from her mother’s care because the mother was convicted of manslaughter in the death of another child and because of her substance abuse issues. The father, who also sought custody, wanted CJD raised Catholic as well.
But custody by either birth parent was not in the girl’s best interests, according to Justice John Sackar, who said:
“‘Religion of course is only one of a multitude of factors the court is to consider in determining CJD’s best interests. . .While the birth parents’ religious beliefs must be respected, the proposed adoptive parents’ attitude to the Catholic faith requires equal respect.'”
Though CJD will not be raised Catholic, the adoptive parents have said they will keep her in contact with her birth parents, and expose her to Christian faith in other ways, ultimately supporting any future religious beliefs she may develop.
Adoptions are an increasing point of controversy for LGBT equality. Catholics have frequently been involved as adoptive parents, as birth parents, as social service providers, as church communities in these cases. In some instances, this involvement has been positive. But in other instances, Catholic involvement has only exacerbated the complexity and pain of such situations. Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 reported on the U.S. bishops’ support for legislation that would allow social service agencies to discriminate against LGBT adoptive parents.
In complex and painful cases involving children, Catholics should be prioritizing a child’s well-being. A safe and loving home regardless of the parents’ gender and/or sexual identities should take precedent over all other considerations; for Catholics, this is the option most faithful to our tradition.