The Pope’s Reaction–Maybe–to Two Former Nuns Marrying

By Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 19, 2016

Two weeks ago, Bondings 2.0 reported on the story of two former nuns in Italy who joined together in a civil union, noting that the lesbian couple expressed their commitment not only to one another, but to their Catholic faith.   A few more details have emerged from that story which make it even a more poignant tale.

The headline -grabbing follow-up was that the pope has seemingly expressed some sadness about the couple.  London’s Daily Mail reported that a Vatican official disclosed in a tweet that the pope was was downcast when told the news about the women.     Vatican Deputy Secretary of State Archbishop Angelo Becciu tweeted:

“How much sadness on the pope’s face when I read him the news of the two married ‘nuns’!’ ”  (This is a translation of the tweet which was originally written in Italian:  “Quanta tristezza sul volto del Papa quando gli ho letto la notizia delle due ‘suore’ spose!”)

The news story further explained that it was the pope’s famous “Who am I to judge?” remark which inspired the two women (for privacy’s sake, known only by their first names Federica and Isabel) to see their feelings from one another as a graced phenomenon, or, in their words “a gift from God.  The story reported:

“The couple revealed they decided to act on their feelings when Pope Francis encouraged those in the Catholic Church not to judge others. . . .

“The two nuns said: ‘That phrase has opened our hearts.’

“They took advantage of a law passed this year that offers homosexual couples legal recognition in Italy – one of the last countries in the West to do so.”

The tweet from Becciu is irresponsible because of the vagueness of the message.  Did the pope speak any words?  Was he sad because the women had left religious life? Because they were lesbians? Because they entered a civil union? Because their union was public?

Was Becciu counting on the fact that his audience would “know” why the pope’s face showed sadness?  Was he counting on relying on his followers’ negative opinions about civil unions for lesbian and gay people?  Why did he call them “nuns,”  and put that word in scare quotes, when it was obvious that they were former nuns?

If the pope had something to say on the matter, why didn’t he do so in an official statement instead of through ambiguous facial expressions?  If his facial expressions were not an official statement, why did the Vatican Deputy Secretary of State feel empowered to suggest that they might be by tweeting such news?

Our Church really needs better communications.

On a happy note, though, it is so nice to hear that among the many things that the “Who am I to judge?” remark has prompted, it has also prompted a faith-filled, committed love between two women.



Yes to Religious Liberty. But What Does That Actually Mean?

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 17, 2016

If asked, most Catholics today would agree that religious liberty is an essential part of the church’s social teaching and most people would identify religious liberty as a constitutive democratic principle.

But questioned further, these same people would offer very different understandings of just what the religious liberty they so affirm actually means. While there are genuine threats to religious liberty internationally, in the United States, religious liberty has become mostly a prominent campaign issue for the right and a puzzling obsession for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Organizations on the left have pushed back against these forces, and even more issues have arisen as civil rights expand for LGBT people.

peaceful-coexistence-report_269_350A new report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights explored the complicated questions of nondiscrimination protections and religious liberty in a new report, Peaceful CoexistenceThis 300-page report from the independent and non-partisan federal agency examined issues like the ministerial exemption to employment protections and included statements from noted scholars, as well as these words from Commission Chair Martin R. Castro:

“The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance. . .

“[T]oday, as in the past, religion is being used as both a weapon and a shield by those seeking to deny others equality. In our nation’s past religion has been used to justify slavery and later, Jim Crow laws. We now see “religious liberty” arguments sneaking their way back into our political and constitutional discourse (just like the concept of ‘state rights’) in an effort to undermine the rights of some Americans.”

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, in his capacity as chair of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, joined a handful of more conservative religious leaders in objecting to this report and specifically the words quoted above. Their letter called for President Barack Obama and congressional leadership to reject Castro’s statement and other assertions that religious liberty is being misused.

But new data from the Pew Research Center suggests Catholics in the U.S. are at odds with the bishops’ policies, reported America:

  • 54% of Catholics believe business should not be exempted from LGBT non-discrimination protections, five points higher than the national average;
  • 65% of Catholics do not believe an employer’s religious affiliation should exempt them from providing contraceptive services as part of health insurance coverage;
  • 64% of Catholics believe homosexual activity is either morally acceptable or not a moral issue.

91542022-rev-patrick-mahoney-of-the-christian-defense-coalition-crop-promo-mediumlargeSo what are Catholics to make of religious liberty in the United States, especially if we consider equality and justice for marginalized communities like LGBT people to be high priorities?

Some people might agree with Chairman Castro’s contention that “religious liberty” has become a weapon and a shield used against marginalized communities. Sunnivie Brydum wrote at Religion Dispatches that the use of scare quotes around the phrase now seems appropriate:

“This new, mutant form of ‘religious liberty’ does indeed deserve scare quotes. When Mississippi lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a law that determined what kind of intimate relationships are worthy of protection, they also lost the ability to claim that they were seeking to protect faith-based views broadly speaking. Laws like this have less to do with making sure people can freely practice their faith—they are written to privilege one ideological perspective over all others. . .

“Religious freedom is indeed a central tenet of American democracy. . .But when freedom of religion is used as a weapon to infringe on civil liberties—especially in the public square—it deserves the scare quotes that the Chicago Manual of Style says are ‘used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard (or slang), ironic, or other special use.’ “

More centrist Catholics have cautioned against understanding religious liberty as a zero-sum issue. The editors of Jesuit weekly America called for reasoned discourse that seeks a solution amid the competing goods of religious liberty and non-discrimination protects, concluding:

“But if Catholics are to make a full-throated defense of robust religious liberty, we should also acknowledge the ways the church itself has contributed to the atmosphere of distrust around this cause. Asserting religious liberty primarily on ‘culture war’ issues draws attention only to the church’s policing of moral lines, to the detriment of its proclamation of the good news and service to those in need.

“For generations, the church in the United States has provided succor and support for millions of Americans, regardless of religion. This is not a historical accident but the result of the good works of myriad Catholics and an American context that allows believers to freely practice their faith in all spheres. This tradition must continue.”

Elsewhere, Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese wrote in the National Catholic Reporter that religious freedom and women’s rights could be strengthened together in an argument applicable to LGBT rights as well. Reese, who chairs the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, made this important point:

“A way out of this apparent conflict is to emphasize that religious freedom is a human right that resides in the individual not in a religious tradition. ‘The human right to freedom of religion or belief does not protect religious traditions per se,’ explained Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, ‘but instead facilitates the free search and development of faith-related identities of human beings, as individuals and in community with others.’

“Religious freedom does not protect religious belief or religious institutions from challenge. Rather religious freedom protects the right of an individual to believe or not believe, to change one’s religion if one desires, and to speak and act on those beliefs. It protects believers not beliefs. Religious freedom includes freedom of speech and press on religious topics, which allows individuals to challenge religious beliefs and traditions.”

This understanding, Reese commented, reveals religious liberty “in its true meaning” as a source of empowerment for people to live according to their own beliefs and consciences.

Reese is clear that this approach does not resolve every issue related to religious liberty and gender equity, and therefore neither would it resolve every LGBT-related issue, but it effectively counters the idea that religious liberty and civil liberties are “two essentially contradictory human rights norms.” Much good could come if differing sides focused on points of agreement rather than points of contention.

In the world of U.S. Catholicism, progress on religious liberty seems to be simultaneously advanced and stalled at this moment. On the one hand, the Pew numbers reflect a Catholic faithful who conscientiously discern how to advance the common good while upholding goods that can at times be in tension, and this discernment has led them to positions which affirm LGBT rights in such a way that religious liberty is actually strengthened.

But, on the other hand, the Catholic bishops restrain progress, about which Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter cautioned:

“In his response to the USCCR report, Archbishop William Lori, chair of the ad hoc committee on religious liberty at the USCCB, claims that the church only wants the ‘freedom to serve.’ What’s stopping you? As has been argued here and elsewhere repeatedly, there is really no reason, so far as our church’s teaching on cooperation with evil is concerned, for the Catholic church to insist that the accountant at Catholic Charities not get dental insurance for his gay partner. . .

“As they prepare for their plenary session in November, the bishops need to start thinking through two issues if they want to be both serious and successful in their defense of religious liberty. First, they need to abandon the idea that religious liberty extends as far as any particular believer wants it to extend in civil society: The wedding cake baker, bless his heart, is not being asked to participate in anything sinful when he bakes a cake for anybody for any reason. The protections we seek should be for our religious institutions, period. Second, the bishops need to follow the example of their Mormon brethren and reach out to the LGBT community. If this continues as an ‘us versus them’ fight, the bishops will lose.”

The Catholic Church’s endorsement of religious liberty at Vatican II is considered by many theologians to be one of the most notable outcomes of the Council. Dignitatis Humanae, the document on religious liberty, was heavily influenced by bishops and theologians from the United States, especially Jesuit Fr. John Courtney Murray. Where Murray and his collaborators had once been treated with hostility for their views on the issue, they became pivotal in shaping the course of Catholicism in the late 20th century.

LGBT non-discrimination protections are a good affirmed in church teaching, just as religious liberty is affirmed. Our task today is to understand how to strengthen both together. Catholics in the United States should remember the history above, history which calls us to ever more deeply engage and earnestly enact religious liberty in all its complexities.

The only clear answer is that there are no clear answers. We must not only say yes to religious liberty, but come to know more fully that which we are affirming. Bu if we are committed like our predecessors in faith, we can and will find a way forward that is faithful to the church’s tradition while meeting the needs of all in our contemporary world.






Controversy at Irish Seminary Prompts Conversation on Gay Priests

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 13, 2016

This summer’s controversy at Ireland’s national seminary over the use of a gay dating app by students has quieted, but it has since inspired many worthwhile commentaries on homosexuality, ministry, and the future of the Catholic Church. Today’s post features excerpts with links provided if you would like to read more.

St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth

Earlier this year, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin removed three archdiocesan seminarians from St. Patrick’s College Maynooth over allegations of a “gay culture” there. But he also expressed more general concerns about the closed, strange world of seminaries, and proposed that new models of priestly formation would be needed. Other bishops have rushed to defend the seminary, and a review with an eye towards reform has been conducted.

Michael Kelly’s column in The Independent speculated that the review of priestly formation now underway could actually “kickstart an authentic reform and renewal of Irish Catholicism.” He noted that, according to history, the concept of seminaries was itself a response to problems in the priesthood, but now:

“The world has changed and the way that Irish priests are educated needs to change to meet the needs of the modern world. Pope Francis – that great herald of Church reform – recently observed that Catholicism is not living in an era of change, but a change of era.”

These changes must include the church acknowledging and affirming the presence of gay and bisexual men in the priesthood, said former Irish president and LGBT advocate Mary McAleese. She told The Irish Times:

” ‘We have the phenomenon of men in the priesthood who are both heterosexual and homosexual but the church hasn’t been able to come to terms with the fact that there are going to be homosexuals in the priesthood, homosexuals who are fine priests.’ “

McAleese tied this problem to church teaching and its damaging language about homosexuality as “intrinsically disordered.” Thislabelling  has resulted in Maynooth’s culture where “policing celibacy is more important than pastoral service” and where they seem “to be concentrating on the wrong things.”

Promoting an atmosphere hostile to gay clergy was most noticeable, McAleese said, when Maynooth was visited in 2012 by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Edwin O’Brien. She commented:

” ‘They wanted to be reassured that neither place was, in their words, ‘gay friendly’ . . . so they walked away happy that they were gay unfriendly, hostile to gay people – what sort of message does that send out to young men who are there who are gay, to priests who are gay?’ “

One commentator, Tom Clonan of The Journal, suggested that focusing on gay seminarians and priests is driven by external prejudice, and i misses the actual crisis in the Irish church:

“To be honest, I believe the sexual orientation of seminarians or priests is largely irrelevant in the context of the grave challenges that confront the institution of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Indeed, much of the coverage has been voyeuristic and gay shaming – perhaps unwittingly revealing a deep-seated homophobic bias among some commentators.”

But in general, Irish Catholics have said that a main, if not the primary, issue at Maynooth this summer has been a toxic culture around gay and bisexual men in the priesthood. Voices like Senator Jerry Buttimer, a former seminarian, and Fr. Tony Flannery, CSsR, have affirmed gay priests. Others have rejected outright the allegations of gay dating app use which prompted this controversy.

This question of homosexuality in ministry is not limited to Ireland, however, and affects the global church. Some priests, like Fr. Warren Hall and Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa have been sanctioned because of LGBT issues. Too often conversations are problematically focused around the question of celibacy, rather than the gifts and opportunities gay and bisexual priests offer the church. Ignored is the faithful service of gay men like Fr. Fred Daley, Fr. Michael Shanahan, and Fr. Ron Cioffi, who has said:

“Yes, I am a gay person whose self-identity includes an abiding call to ministry in our church. . .my orientation is a blessing from God for use in and for the church that is called to help each of us discern and celebrate the good and always affirming love of God for all persons.”

The Maynooth incident has been yet another ugly scandal for an Irish church already crippled by the clergy sex abuse crisis. Instead of turning inward and implementing new restrictions on seminarians, which only further remove them from reality, the nation’s bishops should welcome gay and bisexual men (and, ultimately, people of all sexual and gender identities) to the priesthood with open arms. To paraphrase Pope John XXIII, this is a clear moment to throw open Maynooth’s windows and let the fresh air in.

Former Nuns Celebrate Civil Union in Italy, as Ousted Priest Marks Anniversary of Coming Out

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 3, 2016

Two women in Italy who had formerly been in religious life celebrated their civil union last week,  just about a year after a priest working in the Vatican  publicly came out as gay.

screen-shot-2016-01-20-at-6-01-42-pmFederica and Isabel celebrated their civil union in the city hall of Pinerolo, where they live, reported The Guardian. The ceremony was held a day early because “the media were alerted to the story and the couple wanted to avoid a media frenzy.” Mayor Luca Salvai, who officiated for the couple, said the town respected the couples’ desire for discretion and a simple ceremony. Theirs is only the second civil union in Pinerolo, a town near Turin in the north of the country.

The couple met while they were Franciscan sisters working at a rehabilitation center with people suffering from addiction. They left religious life, critical of the church’s teaching on homosexuality, and have entered not only a legal partnership, but will make their marriage vows in an unofficial religious ceremony. Franco Barbero, a resigned priest and friend of Frederica and Isabel, will preside at a religious service for the couple. He commented, reported The Irish Times:

“They are two lovely people, of intense faith and with serious studies behind them. . .They prayed a lot about this and they reflected at length during a difficult process.  In the end, they took their decision knowing that not many would approve….

“Mind you not everyone in the church disapproves…. They were criticised but also understood by their fellow nuns. Just like there are many decent priests who do not condemn this type of choice. I can also tell you too that this is not the first time that I have married two nuns.”

Having exercised their civil rights, the couple affirmed that they remain faithful believers and called publicly for greater respect from the Catholic Church, according to The Telegraph. Isabel said, “God wants people happy, to live the love in the light of the sun,” and Federica added, “We call upon our church to welcome all people who love each other.”

A year ago yesterday, former priest Krzysztof Charamsa came out as a gay man with a similar message. He has offered thoughts on the church in a new book, The First Rock. A Vanity Fair report on the book says the former priest criticizes a culture at the Vatican which “built the perception that homosexuals are sick and pedophiles” as a “move that serves to maintain homophobia within the Church.” Charamsa claimed further that allegations of a gay lobby were false, but propped up by ranking church leaders who “favored a corrupt system that allowed them to hide any suspicion of sexual abuse.”

CharamsaStonewallA former Vatican theologian and professor in Rome, Charamsa announced his coming out just days before the 2015 Synod on the Family, a moment that was a “big step for himself and the Church” according to New Ways Ministry. He has since moved to Barcelona with his partner, having been suspended from priestly duties.

In the interim, Charamsa has lectured and written widely, including an appeal to Pope Francis to end the “immeasurable suffering” the Catholic Church inflicts on LGBT people. He has said, “Today, I am a better priest. . .The paradox is that today, I cannot exercise my being a priest,” and that, “The church needs a Stonewall.” To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of Krzystof Charamsa’s journey, click here.

Charamsa said in October 2015 that he hoped to be “free, happy, out of the closet, and serving the same ideals and the same values for which I became a priest” in a year. As he celebrates today the anniversary of his coming out, and as Federica and Isabel celebrate their love, may we echo their joy, the joy which comes from living as one’s authentic self, as one is created by God to be.

Amid Increasing Tensions, LGBT Group in Mexico Outs Allegedly Gay Priests

A participant holds up a placard during the Gay Pride Parade in Mexico City
LGBT advocates demonstrating in Mexico City. Using the hearts on the sign to represent the word “love,” the message reads “I am gay and I love myself.”

A leading LGBT organization in Mexico publicly named nearly forty Catholic priests and religious as gay, the latest move in the country’s escalating debate over LGBT rights.

The National Pride Front released the names of 38 priests and religious who are allegedly in same-gender relationships, reported The Telegraph. Front spokesperson Cristian Galarza explained the decision to release these names:

” ‘Everyone deserves the right to be in the closet. . .But when you come out and condemn homosexuality, condemn gay marriage, and try to influence a secular state, you’ve lost the right to the closet.’ “

The Front said they were not condemning the relationships, but the double standards of church leaders in them who then forcefully oppose marriage equality. The list included ranking church officials and, according to Galarza, not only consensual relationships but “also cases of sexual abuse.”

The decision to publish this list has not only been criticized by conservative opponents of LGBT equality, but by LGBT groups who are upset that anyone would be forcibly outed. Enrique Torre Molina of All Out told The Telegraph: 

” ‘They can spin it anyway they want, but they’re ultimately using someone’s sexual orientation as a tool against that person, which is exactly what the LGBT movement is not about. . .If anyone knows how tough it can be to have your sexual orientation used against you, it is a gay or lesbian person.’ “

The list’s publication came ahead of demonstrations against LGBT rights last weekend, organized by the church-backed National Front for the Family. Because some LGBT groups opposed the release of the list of allegedly gay clergy and religious,  the organizations skipped counter-protests organized by the National Pride Front.

Some counter-protestors, however, used the demonstrations as an opportunity to practice a different approach to their opponents: dialogue. La Jornada reported:

“For example, a group of people, young and old, straight and gay, stood in front of the Gate of the Lions armed with posters, water bottles, and benches.

“Two poster boards carried by Saúl Espino, one of the first to stand in place, summed up their motives: Our goal is to deactivate hate through dialogue and give a voice, history, and face to diversity. The other sign: I’m a Catholic and I’m gay. I want to talk with you!”

Marriage equality and other rights for LGBT people are hotly contested issues in Mexico after President Enrique Peña Nieto announced in May that he would be pushing Congress to approve such laws.For further context, see Bondings 2.0’s coverage of Mexico earlier this week by clicking here.

While legislative movement has stalled, opposition from anti-LGBT groups has swiftly increased. Earlier this month, a spokesperson for the Mexican church warned of a “gay dictatorship” and approved of reparative therapy. Certain LGBT groups have responded in kind, filing discrimination complaints against dioceses and church leaders in several states.

In my previous post on Mexico, I said de-escalation was needed from both sides so that dialogue could replace divisive statements. De-escalation is especially important because of the release of this list, which is to be condemned in the strongest terms. There is no justification for forcibly outing any person, even priests and religious who may be actively opposing LGBT rights and relationships. The question of gay and bisexual men in the priesthood is a personal, as well as a public matter. The church’s negative treatment of them has caused much suffering. It is also deeply troubling that acts of sexual abuse were included in this list given conservative efforts to conflate homosexuality and abuse.

LGBT advocates should not be adding to the pain which LGBT people in ministry and survivors of clergy abuse have already had to endure by uncritically publishing this list. Rather,  LGBT advocates should always and everywhere overcome the prejudices and fears driving LGBT-negative figures by responding with love and compassion.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

Religion Dispatches, “Global LGBT Recap

Transgender Catholic Legislator Appeals to Peers for LGBT Protections

Geraldine Roman

The first transgender person elected to the Philippines’ House of Representative, who is a Catholic, has powerfully asked her peers to pass LGBT non-discrimination protections.

Geraldine Roman addressed the House last Monday for over an hour about the “Anti-Discrimination Bill on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.” Roman filed the Bill in June, but there has been little progress towards passing it for the highly Catholic nation. She appealed to legislators in a personal way, reported Inquirer.nettelling them:

” ‘I cannot turn my back at a group of people, who have long suffered discrimination, and have long been denied adequate legal protection. How can I turn a blind eye to the suffering that I myself have experienced at some point in my life?’

” ‘We are your brothers; we are your sisters; your sons and your daughters, and nieces and nephews. We are your family. We are your friends; your schoolmates; your colleagues at work. . .We are human beings.’

” ‘We love our families. We love our country. We are proud Filipinos, who just happen to be LGBT. The question is: do we, as members of the LGBT community, share the same rights as all other citizens? Does the State grant us equal protection under our laws?’ “

The Bill, if passed, would establish non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in employment, education, and healthcare, and it would train law enforcement on LGBT issues. Sanctions would be imposed for violations which, in addition to jail time and fines, could include human rights education or community service.

Her speech also identified specific problems facing LGBT people in the Philippines. She noted that there have been only 164 hate crimes reported in the last twenty years, due largely to issues with the police. Human Rights Watch reported:

“[LGBT-specific police] initiatives are essential given that LGBT rights advocacy groups have warned that hate crimes against LGBT are on the rise and that the Philippines has recorded the highest number of murders of transgender individuals in Southeast Asia since 2008.

“[Healthcare access] is crucial because the Philippines now has the world’s fastest growing HIV epidemic driven by new HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSMs). Her support of the bill in such a public and heartfelt manner will hopefully motivate lawmakers to take meaningful action to protect the rights of LGBT people by supporting its passage.”

Roman said she was “one voice among many” urging passage of the Bill because LGBT people “simply ask for equality. With inclusiveness and diversity, our nation has so much to gain.” Despite some positive reviews, her speech and the bill for which she advocates have faced resistance. CNN Philippines reported:

“She was glowing. She would glow even as she fought back tears later on, a few minutes upon delivering her first privilege speech before the session hall. She would glow as she parried questions from her eight or so interpellators, including Rep. Rolando Andaya, Jr. of the first district of Camarines Sur, who would repeatedly address her as ‘Congressman.’ “

Elected with 62% of the vote in her district, Roman has not only made history but is now working to advance LGBT rights. She relies upon her Catholic faith in this work, saying previously that the church had been “a source of consolation” and that “If Jesus Christ was alive today, he would not approve of discrimination. I firmly believe that.

You can watch an interview with Roman, who speaks about her own journey and her LGBT legislative aims, by clicking here or viewing it below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry



Polish Bishops Warn Against “Sinful Fancies” as Catholics Seek LGBT Rights

przekazmysobieznakpokoju-655Polish Catholic bishops are strongly  criticizing a  new reconciliation campaign designed to build bridges between the Church and the LGBT community.

Earlier this month, the “Let’s Exchange a Sign of Peace” campaign was launched by several Polish LGBT groups, including the “Campaign Against Homophobia” and “Faith and Rainbow.” The campaign, which has the support of Catholic media, features billboards “depicting clasped hands — one with a rainbow bracelet and the other with a Catholic rosary,” reported the National Catholic Reporter.

There are plans, too, for meetings across Poland between Catholics and LGBT advocates, to remind the country’s faithful that foremost in church teaching is “the necessity of respect, openness and willing dialogue with all people, including homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals [sic].” These efforts have been joined by a group of Catholic parents with LGBT children who appealed earlier this year for  Pope Francis to speak out against the hatred their children experience.

Poland’s bishops are pushing back against these mounting efforts. The Polish Episcopal Conference released a statement “attacking Wiez, Znak and Tygodnik Powszechny [Catholic media outlets] by name, and rejecting claims that the Polish church was homophobic.” It said specifically of the ad campaign featuring hands held in a sign of peace:

“But if extending hands to others means accepting the person, it never means approving their sin. . .Members of a community gathered in the liturgy have a permanent duty to be converted, and meet Gospel demands by turning away from their sinful fancies. We fear this action, extracting the extended hand gesture from its liturgical context, assumes a meaning incompatible with the teaching of Christ and the church.”

This statement was backed by individual statements from Cardinals Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw and Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, the latter of whom said Catholic LGBT advocates were “falsifying the church’s unchangeable teaching.”

But, importantly, several Catholic media outlets in Poland remain committed to being spaces where questions of gender and sexuality can be openly discussed, and progress is happening. Dominika Kozlowska, editor of Znak, said “the bishops’ reaction is only a first step — what matters is that they’ve now felt it necessary to take up a position on LGBT issues,” including acknowledging, even in a rudimentary but novel way, that LGBT people deserve to be respected.

Catholics will keep the conversation going, Kozlowska said, urged on by the example of Pope Francis who visited the country in July for World Youth Day celebrations. Continuing the conversation necessarily includes church leaders, as NCR reported:

“Having refused to recognize homosexuality as a genuine orientation, and seen it only as something sinful, Poland’s Catholic bishops now have to consider the subject more carefully.

” ‘The institutional church must start offering adequate pastoral support for this part of our society, rather than just treating these issues ideologically,’ the Znak editor told NCR. ‘I think Francis is offering a way out of the deadlock, by proposing new ways of thinking, acting and speaking, and giving a new quality to church reflections. This is something quite new for Poland, and conservatives and progressives here should all learn from it.’ “

Editors from the three Catholic publications criticized by the bishops said they were not pushing a political agenda, but questioning whether LGBT people’s pastoral needs were being met. They wrote in a joint statement:

” ‘Our involvement as media patrons of this campaign was aimed solely at stressing those elements of church teaching which are little known and disseminated in Poland. . .Polish Catholics have now received a clear call from their pastors to treat homosexual brothers and sisters with dignity and respect. If our involvement in this campaign was improperly understood, perhaps this was a felix culpa, or fortunate mistake.’ “

Studies reveal that Poles are asking more questions and breaking away from issues once considered settled in the highly Catholic country. Faith and Rainbow, a group for LGBT Christians, prompted conversations at World Youth Day by hosting an LGBT Welcome Center. These latest efforts at conversation and at reconciliation should be welcomed by the bishops, instead of  allowing LGBT people and their families to be  marginalized in the church and in Polish society.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry