The Many–And Wrong–Definitions of ‘Gender Ideology’

Earlier this month, the bishops of Panama met with Pope Francis, and the conversation turned to the Vatican buzzword of “gender ideology.”   It is difficult to define exactly what is meant by that term which only church leaders seem to use.  It has never been clearly defined.  In a Crux news story about the meeting, Vatican correspondent Inés San Martín  initially defined gender ideology as:

“. . . [A]ttempts by Western governments and NGOs to impose a permissive sexual morality on poor countries as a condition of development assistance.”

Just two paragraphs later, she changed the definition to:

“. . . [T]he idea that sexual orientation and identity are self-determined rather than given in nature, and it’s seen as a cornerstone of a secular Western vision.”

Cardinal José Luis Lacunza

Cardinal José Luis Lacunza, bishop of David, Panama who publicly discussed “gender ideology” with the press after he met with the pope, seemed to put forward yet a different definition that deals with sex education in schools.  According to Crux:

“Lacunza too brought up the issue of gender theory, saying that in Panama, teaching a liberal, Western form of sexual education in schools is considered a human right, but ‘from our perspective of faith, this has nothing to do with human rights.

” ‘The human rights homosexual people must have are in respect to their dignity, their choices, and that they are not discriminated against,’ Lacunza said. ‘But to go from there to pushing so that society should accept those choices as something good, desirable, digestible, and that it is taught to little children, we are not willing to go there.’ “

One of the main problems of keeping the term “gender ideology” so undefined is that it allows users of the term to let it fit it to whatever idea they want to criticize.  So, while sometimes it is used to describe new ideas of gender roles, it is also used to denigrate gender transition and transgender people, as well as to oppose legal rights for lesbian and gay people.

No educational curriculum that I have read about forces people to make choices about their gender or their sexual orientation.  No one really chooses such things.  Rather, people discover these identities within themselves, just as they, in the normal process of adult development, discover other parts of their psychological and emotional make-up.

So, while the cardinal talks about accepting “choices as something good, desirable, digestible,” in fact he is not talking about the real lives of LGBT people, but about a myth and stereotype about them.

Archbishop José Ulloa Mendieta

Another prelate who met with the pope, Archbishop José Ulloa Mendieta of Panama City, defined gender theory in yet another way, and characterized it as “diabolical.”   The National Catholic Reporter quoted him:

“Ulloa said that gender theory, which argues that male and female characteristics are largely malleable social constructs, is ‘diabolical’ in that ‘it wants to break a bit with the reality of the family.’ “

Again, this is simply incorrect.  For example, transgender people do not say that their gender identity is malleable or socially constructed, but rather that their stable, interior identity does not match their physical body.

Diabolical? Nothing can be further than the truth.  Growth in self-knowledge is not diabolical, but, indeed, it is divinely inspired as people develop an awareness and acceptance of the way God has blessed them to experience the world and to love other people.

Using the term “gender ideology” is a rhetorical strategy.  First of all, using the term makes it sound like it is an alternative to something natural and de facto.  But, for LGBT people, isn’t the promotion of  heterosexual and cisgender norms a form of ideology?

Secondly, it is a strategy to make a set of ideas sound sinister.  Whoever thinks anything that is an “ideology” is good?  Furthermore, the term makes it sound like there is a master plan lurking behind the “ideology,”  when, in fact, what is behind most of our discussions about gender and sexuality are people who are struggling to live honest and authentic lives.

Pope Francis himself has used the term “gender ideology” as a reference to supposed programs about gender with which he disagrees.  Unfortunately, he, and many other church officials, are often misinformed about the reality of new ways of living out one’s gender.  Church leaders need so much education on gender and sexuality so that they will not use such meaningless and incorrect terms to describe the most intimate facets of people’s lives.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 25,  2017

Catholics Angered by Bishop’s Attempt to Exclude Lesbian and Gay Couples

Catholics have reacted strongly against Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s decree prohibiting people in same-gender marriages from participating in the church’s life.

Bishop Paprocki (1)
Contact Bishop Paprocki

Bondings 2.0 reported Thursday on the decree released by the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois. In it, Bishop Paprocki instructs pastors to bar people in such marriages from receiving Communion, participating in liturgical ministries, entering RCIA programs, and being granted funerals. You can find an initial report by clicking here.

Yesterday, Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, released an open letter to Bishop Paprocki that you can find by clicking here. Today’s post highlights from other Catholic leaders.

Fortunate Families, a network of Catholic parents with LGBT children, published its own letter to Paprocki. The Board referred to the decree as “a hard-hearted document” in which the bishop shows “no pastoral sensitivity, no attempt to dialogue about the positions taken and no effort to reach out to our LGBT children.” The letter continued:

“In denying [LGBT people] the reception of Communion and funeral rites you effectively excommunicate them. Your decree indicates that a dying person who is living publicly in a same sex marriage may be given Holy Communion only if he or she repents. Is being in a same sex marriage on the same level as a person who denies the Creed? Imagine someone in a committed loving relationship for his or her entire life having to choose on his or her deathbed whether to discount a life of love and receive the Body and Blood of Christ or continue a commitment of integrity.”

Fr. James Martin, S.J., who recently published a book on Catholic LGBT issues based on an address he first gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge-Building Award, posted on Facebook:

“If bishops ban members of same-sex marriages from receiving a Catholic funeral, they also have to be consistent. . .they must ban anyone who does not care for the poor, or care for the environment, and anyone who supports torture, for those are church teachings too. More basically, they must ban people who are not loving, not forgiving and not merciful, for these represent the teachings of Jesus, the most fundamental of all church teachings. To focus only on LGBT people, without a similar focus on the moral and sexual behavior of straight people is, in the words of the Catechism, a ‘sign of unjust discrimination’ (2358).”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said in a statement:

“It is simply cruel and shameful to refuse burial or Communion to those who seek the grace and comfort that our Church offers at some of the most difficult moments of life. This is reminiscent of the appalling practice of denying Communion, funerals, and burial to people dying of AIDS at the height of the epidemic. . .[The decree] is unchristian and demeaning. It is totally unworthy of our Catholic faith.”

John Freml, a married gay Catholic in the Diocese of Springfield, told The State Journal-Register the decree “puts priests and other church workers in a difficult position.” Another Catholic in the diocese weighed in:

“Cindy Carlson Rice, also a Springfield Catholic, said she was implicitly told she couldn’t approach for communion because of her support for her daughter’s same-sex marriage. . .said the decree was ‘a smack across the face’ to those LGBT Catholics who have stayed involved in the church.”

In the same article, Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said that Bishop Paprocki’s decree goes beyond previous restrictions imposed by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and other prelates. DeBernardo added, “Paprocki is an anomaly and is not in the mainstream of Catholic thought (with this decree).”

Also quoted was Christopher Pett, the incoming president of DignityUSA, who said:

“Bishop Paprocki’s decree makes it very clear why so many (LGBT) people and their families feel unwelcome in the Catholic Church and why so many leave it. . . .

“This document is mean-spirited and hurtful in the extreme. It systematically and disdainfully disparages us and our relationships. It denies us the full participation in the life of our Church to which we are entitled by our baptism and our creation in God’s image.”

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter told NPR News that he “can’t imagine a cruder thing more at cross purposes with what the Holy Father is trying to do,” and that “privately, 95 percent of other bishops in the U.S. are reading [the decree] and are horrified. Even the ones who are pretty arch on same-sex marriage think this is too far.”

Bishop Paprocki is defending the decree, telling The Washington Post, “These norms are necessary in light of changes in the law and in our culture regarding these issues.”

New Ways Ministry recommends you to send your own letter to Bishop Paprocki, and we encourage you to communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with him. 

Contact information:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Catholic Pastoral Center

1615 West Washington Street

Springfield, Illinois 62702-4757

Phone: (217) 698-8500

Email:  tjpaprocki@dio.org

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 24, 2017

Related Article

The Chicago Tribune, “Springfield bishop: No communion, last rites, funerals for same-sex couples

 

Dear Bishop Paprocki: An Open Letter

As we reported in yesterday’s Bondings 2.0 post, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, has issued a wide-ranging decree barring lesbian and gay couples in civil marriages from communion, pastoral leadership, being granted funerals, among other things.  The following is an open letter to Bishop Paprocki in response to that decree from New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo.  

New Ways Ministry recommends you to send your own letter to Bishop Paprocki, and we encourage you to communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with him.  

Contact information:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Catholic Pastoral Center

1615 West Washington Street

Springfield, Illinois 62702-4757

Phone: (217) 698-8500

Email:  tjpaprocki@dio.org

 

Dear Bishop Paprocki,

Your “Decree Regarding Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ and Related Pastoral Issues” has been received by Catholics across the nation with one of the strongest negative reactions that I have witnessed in almost 25 years of ministry with the LGBT community in the Church.

While there have been many harsh and negative statements from church leaders over the past quarter century, I think the reason that people responded so emotionally to your edict is that it addresses two very core Catholic areas:  sacramental experience and life/death issues.

bishop_thomas_j_paprocki
Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Of all the responses that I have heard and read in just the last day–and they have been numerous–the directives you issued which have wounded people most deeply are your prohibition of communion reception by married lesbian and gay people, and your denial of funeral services to the same group.  Catholics just do not understand how such regulations correlate with a Church that preaches love and inclusion.

Most Catholics are well aware that you do not support civil marriage for lesbian and gay people and respect the legal right of Churches not to marry such couples. But Catholics do not understand how this one area of disagreement can lead to such draconian measures of exclusion–especially at times of death, loss, and grief.

Despite whatever good intentions may have motivated you to issue these regulations, you need to know they will, in fact, do no pastoral good, and they will wreak much pastoral harm.  You have not singled out any other group for such negative pastoral treatment.  It seems as if you consider civil same-sex marriage to be the ultimate sin, beyond the pale of any of the countless ways that human beings do not follow church teaching.

Regardless of whatever doctrines you think you are enforcing, the effect of such enforcement will be that more and more Catholics–gay, lesbian, heterosexual, bisexual, transgender, and all in-between–will leave the Church because of the negative images of LGBT people and the Catholic Church that you have communicated.  And many will never return.

What’s more, the negative messages that you sent will be heard by many young people (and some who are not so young) who are struggling with their sexual and gender identities.  They will interpret this message as one more piece of evidence that the Church and God do not love them.  That message will move them many steps closer to psychological harm, self-destructive behaviors and tragically, for some, suicide.

Many gay and lesbian couples are leading lives of heroic devotion to each other, their children, and their communities.  Many, too, are leading lives of struggles and stumbles, where they are seeking support from churches.  Those couples who are Catholic seek nourishment for their spiritual and human journeys.  They seek a community where they can share and develop their faith through education, relationship, service, and ritual. They seek Eucharist.

Catholics, who are often very aware of how their lives in many ways do not conform to ideals that the church has presented them, are ready and eager to welcome these lesbian and gay couples into their communities and their hearts.  No Catholic, not even the pope who famously offered the primary definition of himself as a “sinner,” is perfect.  All fall short.  All depend on grace.  The many who seek grace through membership and participation in the Catholic Church should not be denied God’s free gift.

I hope and pray that you will reflect not only on the harm that this decree will cause but also the good that can occur if you withdraw it.  Please welcome lesbian and gay families back into the Springfield Diocese’s Catholic parishes.

Sincerely,

Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry, June 23, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Hawaii Bishop Raises $$$ to Oppose Marriage Equality

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

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

Hawaii Bishop Raises Funds Opposing Marriage Equality

One of the earliest U.S. cases to sue for the right of same-sex couples in Hawaii was the Baehr v. Miike case in Hawaii, which was in state courts from 1990-1999.  Perhaps not surprisingly, it was also one of the first instances where a Catholic bishop became involved to prevent a marriage equality outcome.

In 1993, Baehr v. Miike was decided by a split Hawaii Supreme Court decision which sent the case back to a lower court to be retried.  The Supreme Court put the burden on the state to show that it had a compelling interest in the matter of marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples.

Hawaii responded with a legislative commission to study marriage equality, and in 1995 recommended the passage of a law granting marriage rights to lesbian and gay couples.

In response, some legislators proposed a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as being only for heterosexual couples.  The amendment was put on the ballot for a state-wide referendum in 1998.  And that’s where the Catholic bishop of Hawaii stepped in.

bishopportrait
Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo

A June 19, 1998, news story in The National Catholic Reporter revealed:

“In a novel move, Honolulu Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo has appealed to his mainland colleagues to urge wealthy lay Catholics to back a Hawaii lobbying group opposed to same-sex marriage.

“The Hawaii State Supreme Court’s effort to mandate same-sex marriages has to be stopped, DiLorenzo wrote last month in a letter to all U.S. bishops.

In the letter to his brother bishops, DiLorenzo warned that the Hawaii case had “implicates for all the people of the United States.”

The newspaper reported the type of donations he was seeking:

“DiLorenzo wants donations (not in excess of $1,000 per person) to go to a ‘grassroots, nonreligious, nonpartisan, non candidate political action committee, Save Traditional Marriage 98.’  DiLorenzo said at an opening fundraiser that STM needs ‘almost a million dollars.’

The Hawaii campaign against marriage equality was successful in 1998, and the constitutional amendment passed.  In  1999, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that, in light of the new constitutional amendment, their earlier decision was no longer in effect.

Hawaii passed a marriage equality bill in 2013, after the U.S. Supreme Court case United States v. Windsor invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act and similar laws.

Bishop DiLorenzo was appointed as Bishop of Richmond, Virginia, by Pope John Paul II in 2004.   Marriage equality became legal in all 50 states in 2015.

Many millions and millions more dollars were spent by Catholic officials and organizations to oppose marriage equality.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 18, 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.

korte
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