World Deserves More Than Rumors About the French Ambassador to the Vatican

April 26, 2015

Two weeks ago, on April 12th, we published a post with the headline “Did the Vatican Reject France’s Openly Gay Ambassador?” which noted that the Vatican has yet to credential a new French ambassador who is openly gay. Speculation abounded around the topic, but with neither the Vatican nor the French government would make a statement about why Laurent Stefanini has yet to be approved by the Holy See.

Pope Francis

Two weeks later, we still don’t know the definitive answer, although this week there has been plenty of unconfirmed reports that Pope Francis met Stefanini and told him that he was not approved.  The U.K.’s Daily Mail reported:

” ‘There was a meeting between the Pope and Mr Stefanini,’ government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told a regular briefing, confirming a report by satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine but dismissing the newspaper’s assertion that his candidacy had been finally rejected during the April 18 meeting.

” ‘Nothing has changed: France has proposed a candidate and for the time being we are waiting for the Vatican’s reply after the usual discussions and review of his candidacy.’ “

The reason for Stefanini not being approved might not have anything with him, though, and may have to do with the Vatican’s displeasure with the French government for having legalized marriage equality two years ago. The Daily Mail article stated:

“Earlier this month the French Catholic daily La Croix cited an unnamed source as saying the Vatican considered it a ‘provocation’ that France’s Socialist government, which in 2013 legalised gay marriages, had proposed a homosexual for the post.”

Laurent Stefanini

Based on French news reports, The Guardian newspaper reported that the pope indeed did inform the ambassador-nominee that no approval was forthcoming:

“In a meeting over the weekend, the pontiff allegedly cited his displeasure with a controversial 2013 gay marriage law in France as part of his reason for the decision, according to the report in satirical title Le Canard Enchâiné.

“Pope Francis also allegedly said he did not appreciate the manner in which France had tried to put pressure on the Vatican by nominating a man – 55-year-old Laurent Stéfanini – who French officials knew would be controversial given the church’s views on homosexuality. The Vatican declined to comment to the Guardian about the veracity of the report or whether a meeting took place.”

Yet a Religion News Service story reported only a part of the French newspaper’s account was true:

“ “There was a meeting between the Pope and Mr Stefanini,’ government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told a regular briefing, confirming a report by satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine but dismissing the newspaper’s assertion that his candidacy had been finally rejected during the April 18 meeting.”

Still, a separate Religion News Service  story offered a different view of the meeting:

“Another French media report said that the unusual meeting between Stefanini and Francis — a pope rarely gets directly involved in the appointment of an ambassador — was friendly and lasted 40 minutes, and ended with the two men praying together.”

The same story also offered the following details about the nominee:

“55-year-old Stefanini is described as brilliant and a devout Roman Catholic who secured support for his candidacy from Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris. He is also a known quantity at the Vatican, having served as a top official at the French embassy to the Holy See a decade ago.”

The upshot of all these reports ends up being that it is impossible to decide which details of this story are true. Unless the Vatican and/or the French government (and Stefanini) offer more accurate and detailed information, the world cannot be sure of the truth of any of these and other reports.

The Vatican, though, has a lot more to lose than the French government about why no action has occurred.  Pope Francis’ reputation as being progressive on LGBT issues is very much at stake.  Regardless of the repercussions, though, the Vatican has a responsibility to make a statement to clarify this situation.   If they don’t then their continued silence will no doubt be interpreted as confirmation of the rumors that their unwillingness to confirm Stefanini is motivated by gay issues. Stefanini, the French government, and the rest of us deserve better from the leadership of the Catholic Church.  At the very least, we deserve to know the Vatican’s truth about the rumors that have circulated.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Case of German Lesbian Fired from a Catholic School Poses Moral Questions

April 25, 2015

The disturbing trend of Catholic institutions firing lesbian and gay church workers because they choose to legally marry their partners is spread across the U.S.    Even more disturbing, though, is that we have now seen examples of this discriminatory trend popping up in other countries, as well.  Last year we reported on a gay volunteer being dismissed from a Catholic relief organization in the U.K., and a lesbian teacher being fired from a Catholic school in Italy because rumors had spread about her orientation.

The Caritas kindergarten in Holzkirchen, Bavaria, Germany

This past week in Germany, it became public that a lesbian kindergarten teacher at a Catholic institution in Holzkirchen, a small Bavarian town, was made to sign a severance agreement after she informed her employer that she was making plans to legally marry her female partner.

WorldCrunch.com reported the story, noting that because of a confidentiality agreement between the teacher and school, the teacher’s name was not made public.   There are similar factors to cases in the U.S.  Like most cases here, the article reported that the crucial issue is a contract morality clause:

“The Catholic charity, Caritas, which runs the school, refers to Article Four of the ‘fundamental order of ecclesiastical duties in an ecclesiastical setting, with which everyone who works for a religious agency is familiar. This document states that all employees are expected to ‘recognize and follow the principles of the Catholic faith and ethical teaching.’ This is considered particularly relevant in the cases of educational and executive personnel.”

And like most cases here, the article reported that “The parents are also at a loss to understand the reasons for her having to leave.”

But the German situation is slightly different, too, from most U.S. cases.  In Germany, all kindergartens, even those sponsored by religious groups, receive public funding, so the church-state issue is more complex.   Another unusual twist in this story is that Caritas, the employer, offered the fired teacher “a post that did not entail any educational or executive duties but she refused the offer.”  It raises the interesting suspicion that they just did not want her in a position that would influence children, and that the moral gravity of her situation is actually somewhat relative, and not absolute.

Because the fired teacher is not speaking publicly, some local politicians have come to her defense:

“Ulrike Gote, a Green Party’s spokeswoman in the state of Bavaria, accuses the Catholic Church of ‘hypocrisy.”

” ‘The Church should actually be delighted that someone wants to marry their partner,’ Gote says. ‘These are the kinds of double standards that we have had to deal with for a very long time.’

“The mayor of Holzkirchen, Olaf von Loewis of the Christian Social Union, who is a practicing Catholic, also has difficulty accepting the stance his Church has taken towards homosexual relationships.

” ‘I am very familiar with the rules and regulations of the Church as an employer,’ Loewis says. ‘And I deem them to be wrong.’ “

As I read these similarly sad and tragic stories over and over again,  two questions always come to my mind:

1) Why is homosexuality, and in particular, committing to a legal marriage, the main reason that people are being dismissed from jobs in these morality clause cases?  There have been pregnancy-outside-of-marriage stories, but these, thank God, have been few.  The cardinal sin these days for church employers seems to be gay and lesbian people committing themselves in love to their spouses.  The fact that this issue has been singled out over all others should be proof enough that this is not about morality, but politics.

2) Though principals and church administrators often use the line that the morality clauses have to be enforced to set examples for children, do they ever think of the example that they themselves set in firing someone from a job they love, that they have been performing well, that they receive praise from those they serve, and that is their livelihood?  What lesson do children learn from such actions?

Church leaders need to start being self-reflective about their actions and policies.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Editor’s note:  There were many articles in German about this case on the web, but WorldCrunch.com was the only one in English that I found.

 

 


Sr. Jeannine Gramick Calls on Irish Population to Vote for Marriage Equality

April 19, 2015

A Catholic nun is calling on Irish citizens to vote for marriage equality this May, the latest in a series of voices hoping to legalize same-gender marriages in the country through a nationwide referendum.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister JeannineGramick, SL, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, has been in Ireland this past week for a gathering of Catholic Church reformers. She also has been meeting Catholic LGBT organizations there.  In an interview with The Independent, she commented on the upcoming referendum:

” ‘You can be a Catholic and vote for civil marriage for lesbian and gay people because it is a civil matter – it has nothing to do with your religion.’ “

She added that the bishops were “like little children” with their threats that priests would stop performing civil marriages, adding:

” ‘I think [the bishops] would be punishing heterosexual couples in the sense of making it more difficult for them as they would have to have two ceremonies and it wouldn’t hurt the gay population.’ “

In a radio interview, Gramick also said she imagines a future where priests are married to either men or women. You can listen to an audio file of this interview by clicking here, and scrolling down to the bottom of the text of the interview to find the audio file.

Mary McAleese, the former president of Ireland who has been an outspoken advocate for church reform, added her support for a “Yes” vote. Invoking the 1916 Easter Proclamation (which established the Republic of Ireland), she framed the referendum as a matter of good for children, telling The Irish Times

” ‘[My husband and I] believed it to be about Ireland’s gay children…We owe those children a huge debt as adults who have opportunities to make choices that impact their lives, to make the right choices, choices that will allow their lives grow organically and to give them the joy of being full citizens in their own country…We want, in the words of the proclamation, the children of the nation to be cherished equally.’ “

Challenging the language of “intrinsically disordered,” McAleese added:

” ‘The danger of calling it intrinsically disordered and at the same time calling for the love, Christian love for those who live the homosexual life meant people have been forced into the shadow, have been forced into self doubt, deeply conflicted.

” ‘[It] is a terrible thing for a young person who has grown up, for example in the church, and have been told they are loved absolutely to discover at 15,16 or 17 that all the language they have heard – particularly the homophobic language that they may have heard, the locker room language – applies to a person like them and applies to them.’ “

However, the Association of Catholic Priests, founded by Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, has refrained from taking an official position on the marriage referendum due to a variety of opinions in the organization.

The referendum, scheduled for May 22, could be the first time globally that marriage equality is affirmed in a popular referendum and, according to The Boston Globe, both sides say the “Yes” side is likely to win. One anti-LGBT leader has admitted that marriage equality could “win by a landslide,” but this has not stopped the Catholic bishops from mounting a campaign against the measure.

Regardless of the outcome, Tánaiste [Deputy Prime Ministr] Joan Burton of Ireland’s Labour party has already made clear that there will be no “right to discriminate” clauses written into Irish law that would allow businesses to deny service to LGBT people. This is a direct response, reports The Independent, to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s request for such clauses if marriage equality passes.

Finally, much of the debate in Ireland is playing upon Catholic values so ingrained in this historically Catholic nation. The ad below from “Yes” campaigners is a prime example, asking voters to “bring your family with you” on May 22:

Elsewhere campaigners talk of justice and faith, such as this video from two Catholic parents making their own appeal for equality.

It seems that in Ireland, as all over the world, Catholics are once again voting for marriage equality because of their faith and not in spite of it.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Priest Blesses Same-Gender Couple’s Engagement in Malta; Archbishop Remains Calm

April 15, 2015

Fr, Montebello, left, with the couple, Nicholas John Vella and Edward Borg Bonaci, after the ceremony.

A priest in Malta will not be reprimanded for blessing rings at a commitment ceremony between two men. Those involved in this incident are revealing what the intensified mercy called for by Pope Francis earlier this week might look like when it comes to LGBT issues.

Dominican Fr. Mark Montebello attended the engagement ceremony of Nicholas John Vella and Edward Borg Bonaci last week, and while present blessed their rings. Photos of the event, including Montebello’s presence, appeared on Facebook and this moment was soon reported on by The Malta Independent. A Facebook group emerged almost immediately in support of the priest and has gained nearly 1,500 supporters.

However, once news of the event broke, Montebello was summoned, along with his Dominican provincial, by Malta’s Archbishop Charles Scicluna. They met for an hour on Tuesday, the outcome of which was reported by The Malta Independent with the following excerpt from the archdiocesan statement:

” ‘During the cordial meeting, the Archbishop encouraged Fr Mark to continue his outreach to gay people, and requested that he continue to follow Church practice and discipline in his ministry, especially in the celebration of sacred rites and Church rituals.

” ‘Fr Mark thanked the Archbishop and the Vicar General for their support and agreed that in his pastoral ministry to gay people he would continue to follow Church practices and discipline.’ “

What lessons can we gain from this incident?

First,  set against the potential punishments other bishops might have imposed upon Montebello, the archdiocesan statement has a strong positive side. It is valuable in that it respects the priest in question, even affirming his ministry to the LGBT population and encouraging him to keep going. No punishment besides a request from the bishop is meted out.

Second, while there is no validation of Montebello’s actions in blessing a same-gender relationship, it is interesting to note the statement restricts its request to “Church practice and discipline” rather than making a doctrinal appeal, about the nature of marriage or homosexuality. In Archbishop Scicluna’s estimation, it seems this is clearly a very low-level issue, and its impact is limited. He is not obsessed with stopong LGBT rights at all costs, behavior for which Pope Francis has criticized other bishops.

Third, the identities involved matter because they are a priest and prelate already open to mercy when it comes to sexual and gender-diverse people. In a country that is officially Catholic, with more than 90% of citizens belonging to the church, such figures are tremendously powerful in advancing LGBT justice. Montebello and Scicluna were both nominated for awards last year by the Malta Gay Rights Movement, and though they declined, they are helping this cause more than not.

Fr. Montebello is clearly a committed advocate for LGBT rights, declaring his support for marriage equality and civil unions as early as 2005, when he said “there needs to be a change in vision” and promised to bless same-gender relationships if asked. This recent incident is merely the fulfillment of that commitment.

Archbishop Scicluna has a more complicated record, repeatedly denying that same-gender couples can marry and opposing a civil unions law in Malta that ultimately passed. He has also said that Pope Francis was “shocked” at the idea of gay couples adopting, though this comment was never confirmed. Yet, Scicluna also apologized to lesbian and gay people for harm done by the church and publicly criticized a lay man’s harsh letter against same-sex relationships. He even participated in the International Day Against Homophobia last year.

Between the two, a divide over the goodness of same-gender relationships remains. Fr. Montebello seems to understand Archbishop’s Scicluna’s words that “Love is never a sin. God is love” better than the archbishop himself. It is refreshing, however that Scicluna is allowing a priest the flexibility and trust so essential to do ministry on the margins and, when there is disagreement, always ensuring that mercy is foremost.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Did the Vatican Reject France’s Openly Gay Ambassador?

April 12, 2015

Did the Vatican reject an ambassador because he is an openly gay man?

News reports that the Holy See has not accepted the new French ambassador are spreading quickly, but due caution is necessary before conclusions can be drawn. If true, however, this is a troubling sign for a papacy which, so far, has had a pretty good record on LGBT issues.

Laurent Stéfanini

Though nominated in January, Laurent Stéfanini, France’s choice as Ambassador to the Holy See has not yet received official recognition from papal officials, and the Vatican Press Office is refusing to comment on this delay.

The Guardian  reported that an anonymous source inside the Vatican, said that Stéfanini met with Archbishop Luigi Ventura, Apostolic Nuncio to France, in February. Reportedly, the nuncio asked Stéfanini, who has previous experience at the French embassy at the Holy See, to decline the nomination because he was openly gay. Further rumors, reported in the French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, claim that it was Pope Francis himself who sought to replace Stéfanini.

What then to make of this potentially tragic scenario which, if true, could undermine much of the progress Pope Francis made on LGBT issues? Michelle Boorstein writes at The Washington Post that Stéfanini is a qualified candidate with support from many, including church leaders, but there may be greater politics at play. She writes:

“No matter what’s going on privately at the Vatican over the appointment, the decision to appoint an openly-gay ambassador to the Vatican (even one as experienced in Paris-Vatican diplomacy as Stéfanini) was interpreted by some Vatican watchers as both a provocation and a challenge to the Vatican by the French government.

“That being said, the appointment reportedly had the support of the archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, who is said to have written a letter to the pope in support of the nomination.”

Also necessary to consider is that the Vatican has previously rejected nominated ambassadors for their personal lives, often related to their marital status. The Post reports:

“In 2008, France tried and failed to appoint several candidates to the same job after its previous ambassador died. ‘The first candidate was divorced … another Protestant, and the last not only homosexual but … stably united with an official companion,’ Italian paper La Repubblica reported at the time.”

Official sources at the Vatican and the French Embassy are remaining quiet, leaving these reports grounded in unnamed Vatican sources. The Vatican should be transparent about the reasons for this delay and, if they are rejecting France’s nominee, be clear about the reasons why an otherwise qualified person is being denied.  At the very least, the Vatican should confirm or deny whether Stéfanini’s sexual orientation is at issue.

There is no clear link to Pope Francis, and given his previous statements on gay people, this rejection would seem uncharacteristic of him. Remaining silent about the charges leveled, however, only leads to potentially damaging misinformation and France, along with worldwide Catholics, are owed an explanation.

Though reports about this matter are plentiful, prudence dictates that no hasty conclusions be drawn about why Stéfanini has not yet been credentialed as France’s ambassador yet. At this point, though, the Vatican’s silence is as harmful as rejection. Let us hope it is for reasons other than his identity as created by God.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Puerto Rico’s Archbishop Calls for Referendum As Marriage Law Is Ignored

March 26, 2015

Puerto Rico will no longer uphold its defense of marriage law which only permits heterosexual couples to marry and will not recognize same-gender marriages from other jurisdictions.  But the archbishop of San Juan was not happy with the decision and has called on the island’s government to hold a referendum on same-sex unions

Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves

According to Latino. FoxNews.comArchbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves responded strongly to the decision by Justice Secretary César Miranda, stating:

“We urge our people to launch a process so that a decision of such historical magnitude and significance can be decided through a referendum in which (voters) can express themselves. If not, this would be a dictatorial imposition by the government.”

Gonzalez Nieves called the decision “”very regrettable and disconcerting.”

Miranda, on the other hand, views the decision as a victory for human rights. According to a Reuters article, the Justice Secretary said:

“The decision recognizes that all human beings are equal before the law. We believe in an equal society in which everyone enjoys the same rights.”

Miranda’s decision was announced just before the deadline for the Puerto Rican government to respond to a Court of Appeals case, being heard in Boston, in which five same-sex couples were challenging the prohibitive law.  The jurisdiction of the Boston court also includes five states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Ricky Martin

Other prominent Puerto Ricans applauded the government’s decision, including openly gay singer Ricky Martin, who stated, in Spanish, on social media:

“My thanks to Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla for demonstrating that he is a leader who is not afraid of the challenges of the present. His support for the determination of the Boston Court on marriage equality does justice to equality. My appreciation to Senators and Representatives and my sisters and brothers who joined this struggle for equality and human rights.”

“Today is a great day for my island, my heart beats fast in my chest. How proud I am to live in a country of equality. I love you Puerto Rico.”

In a statement quoted by Reuters, Governor Padilla pointed to the changing attitudes in the United States, of which Puerto Rico is a territory, stating that there was an

“undeniable consensus that does not allow discriminatory distinctions as that contained in our Civil Code with respect to the rights of same sex couples.”

Padilla, a 43-year old practicing Catholic, who in the past had supported the law, added:

“Everyone knows my religious beliefs but political leaders should not impose their beliefs.”

Though not a state, Puerto Rico has enormous cultural exchange with the United States.  It will be interesting to see if this Latin island nation, where 56% of the population is Roman Catholic, will follow the tide of growing acceptance of same-sex marriage both in the U.S. and Latin America.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Filipino Bishops Reverse Position on LGBT Non-Discrimination Bill

March 25, 2015

Archbishop Socrates Villegas in preparations for the papal visit

In a reversal from their earlier position, the Catholic bishops of the Philippines have endorsed an LGBT non-discrimination bill, with only one reservation.

Earlier this month, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines sent a pastoral guidance letter to dioceses endorsing non-discrimination as a “Christian imperative,” reports Gay Star News. Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the conference’s president, said further:

” ‘Insofar as the proposed piece of legislation renders illegitimate the relegation of persons with sexual orientation and gender identity issues to citizens of a lower category enjoying fewer rights, the CBCP cannot but lend its support to this proposed legislative measure.’

” ‘We must however reiterate that none must be demeaned, embarrassed, or humiliated for reasons of sexual orientation and gender identity.’ “

This support comes as legislators are about to pass a Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity bill, which the bishops opposed in 2011. During a committee hearing earlier this year, a representative of the conference actually opposed this current bill saying some forms of discrimination were acceptable. The only caveat desired by the bishops now is that they retain full control of who is admitted into the priesthood, reserving the right to discriminate including due to sexual orientation.

The bishops’ initial opposition to protecting the rights of all people has clearly changed.  Perhaps it is due to Pope Francis’ recent visit and his ongoing emphasis on mercy and the dignity of all persons: the Francis Effect. Now, Archbishop Villegas is telling Filipino Catholics that sexual orientation and gender identity are gifts from God and, as such, are not chosen. What other fruits can we expect for LGBT equality in this heavily Catholic nation?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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